Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Interview with Author, Nancy Bo Flood, and a Giveaway of her novel, NO-NAME BABY

A month ago, I received a blind inquiry from an author asking if I was willing to read her book and perhaps feature her on my blog. She’d seen an interview I’d done with a fellow Namelos publishing author and reached out. Perhaps she thought I was doing her a favor. But in receiving and reading Nancy Bo Flood’s heartfelt and tender novel, NO-NAME BABY, I was the one who was granted the favor. It’s a rare book that actually causes me to shed real, wet tears, but NO-NAME BABY did just that.

Then I received her answer to my interview questions and I was blown away even further. Nancy said use chunks or quotes, whatever I thought would work. I’m choosing to use it all. And to extend the gift again, you can sign up on the Rafflecopter form below to win a signed copy of NO-NAME BABY.
Namelos Page

The Great War, like all wars, left wounds that rippled through communities and families, sometimes in unexpected ways. To survive World War I, Sophie’s family did the best they knew, the best they could, even if it meant burying family secrets. And then, life changed. No-Name Baby is an intimate portrait of an adolescent girl as she discovers the truth about herself and her family.

First - I have to know - is there a personal connection to this story?
As far as I know, in our family there are no secret "no-name babies," but sometimes secrets stay secrets.  My first and strongest connection is my grandmother's story about how her first child was born two months early.  He was not much bigger than a scrawny bony half-grown chicken - plucked.  Her Italian mother-in-law kept that premature baby alive, massaging him regularly with warm olive oil, swaddling him in soft cotton, and keeping him warm in the oven of their wood stove.  The box in which he slept was a cigar box! 

Something I wrote which I believe: " One writes a story, and then rewrites to get it the best the story can be, because of the people who have touched our lives.  Through story we hope to extend this connection of human hearts."

I wrote No-Name Baby for reasons I never knew until the discovery of story unfolded.

When I was reluctantly pregnant unexpectedly with our second child – and our first child was not yet a year old – I visited with my new neighbor.  She was seventy-six.  I was twenty-six.  Her old rambling house was pristine clean, the outside painted white, the porch scrubbed clean, the lilacs blooming, the rhubarb picked and being simmered into sauces and pies.  How lucky she was to have uninterrupted time!  

She looked at my blooming middle and her eyes watered up.  She had had six pregnancies.  And six still-born babies.  Her home had never held a living child.  It was many years later that medical science could explain to her that it was not her sins of commission or omission that had killed her babies.  Rather, her Rh negative incompatibility had taken them.

At that time I was also a newly graduated PhD psychologist keen to do something significant in my areas of interest.  Two areas of human development were my favorites – little kids and old people.  I felt so lucky to get a part-time consulting job at the local State Psych Hospital, touted as being one of the best in the country.  I walked through the dark dismal halls of the women’s geriatric unit then sat down with a stack of patient files, each nearly a foot thick.   I glanced down the hall way.  Old women sat hunched over on chairs that lined the barren halls.  Mostly all I could see was stringy gray hair and rounded boney backs.  The fragrance of old pee permeated the wooden floors.

I looked through file after file and was horrified.  Most of the women had been committed (incarcerated) as young adults or young gangly teens, back in the 1920’s.  Most of their diagnosis was not what I expected – not schizophrenia or depression, no bipolar or character disorders.  Their diagnosis was their sin, premarital sex.  Unwed mothers.  Victims of rape.  Accused and cursed, girls of loose morals who had tasted sex or vomited on it.  The finger had been pointed at them.

After commitment most of the women in the half-century of “treatment,” had experienced over 500 electric shock treatments, sometimes insulin shock treatments, or for a while, the treatment of choice was being wrapped and dunked in freezing water.  Other experimental courses of treatment included a variety of psychiatric drugs.  I wondered if any woman ever again tasted freedom.

Their insanity was sex.  Even my own mother during WWII had to choose between marriage and college.  Married women were meant to stay home.  Pregnant women were not to be seen and certainly not appropriate teachers for our children.  Yes, World War II did change women’s employment status and ability to work outside the home. And then the sexual revolution.  But women’s freedom to have reproductive control over her body is so very new, and so very fragile.  Currently an issue being fought about in state and federal  houses of legislation.  Women’s rights.  Women’s choices.  Dear daughters, please do not take your freedom to choose, to work, to be educated, for granted.  Women’s rights are new and fragile.  And still deeply controversial.

There are secrets in every family.  It takes courage to seek them out, to face them. 

How important was knowing your character's back stories to the process of writing this novel?
Knowing my character's back stories was essential  to developing them as real people.  To write No-Name Baby I had to know my characters as real people (aren't they real people?). Funny, in thinking about this question, I realize that Sophie and Aunt Rae, and everyone in the book are still "real people" talking to me from time to time.  There is even one character, Aunt Sarah, who I needed to take out of the book after many revisions.  She stands with her hands on her hips still a little cross with me.  When am I going to write HER story, she frowns?

  Understanding the character's motivations, showing their reactions to events, creating their conversations with each other - all of this really, is coming to feel what is in their hearts.  As an author I can feel what is in their hearts once I know their personal histories.  Just like real life!  We begin to understand another person as we begin to learn about their life.

Though I don't think the setting is ever named, I'm assuming it's midwest based on Aunt Rae's move to Chicago. You did such a skillful job with the farm setting, I'm guessing this is a life you have lived?
Yes, I grew up in an Italian - Czech family in the small town of Braidwood, just south of Joliet, Illinois.  Train tracks divided the Italian side from the Czech side.  My grandparents were farmers and I spent summers on the farm chasing cats from the milk house, picking eggs with my grandmother and playing wild horses with cousins.

Tell us about this book's journey to publication. My writing mentor, Joy Neaves, works for Namelos as a free-lance editor and I keep hearing wonderful things about your editor, Stephen Roxburgh, and about Namelos as a whole. How did this book come to be?
I brought the manuscript to a Whole Novel Workshop offered by Highlights Foundation.  Stephen Roxburgh led the workshop.  After he had read the manuscript we met to discuss its strengths and problems.  I was shaking as I sat down across from him. Why did I ever think I could write, I kept asking myself.  I knew this novel was very different from my previous work.  We both agreed that one challenge in this story is that at one level, nothing really happens.  No big action scenes.  No chase scenes.  I shall always remember  his first comment, something like this - this story made me cry.  It has heart.  

I cried.  And then he began to ask the questions to deepen character development while eliminating anything extra, including a few characters (sorry, Sarah). Stephen Roxburgh is an amazing editor.  He asks the hard questions that are needed to see one's manuscript with fresh eyes, to see the problems.  He somehow gives one the confidence that "yes, I can. I can write this story."

Namelos uses a new publishing structure.  Books are available in traditional hard-cover format or in ebook format.  A manuscript goes through the same traditional editing, copy-editing and design process but publication is then print-on-demand

So, an unrelated question. You live in Arizona on the Navajo Nation Reservation near Flagstaff. Tell me about that! I lived in Arizona for a year after college and am still in awe of that incredible landscape.
Yes, I live in the southwest and yes, the landscape is incredible, poetic, sparse.   I teach as an adjunct instructor of Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff) on the Reservation.  I used to teach for the Navajo Community College, Dine' College.  My husband is a pediatrician, working at the hospital at Chinle - Canyon deChelly. We both work with local organizations to increase the awareness of the importance of early literacy.  More books, more libraries, more programs are needed to continue to connect books with families.  I love the local rodeos, the skill of the riders - young women and men - is amazing.  Cowboy Up, Ride the Navajo Rodeo is my attempt to give tribute to these riders and their horses.  This book of verse, poetry and photographs is being published by BoydsMills Press and will be out early next year.

And finally, a few trivia questions.
Your favorite book (or books) from childhood?
Little Women

Your favorite dessert?
vanilla ice cream (I can't allow it in the house, it disappears.....)

Describe your writing routine
Usually my writing routine is to do a little yoga, do my household daily "chore stuff,"  take a long walk up the mesa with my dogs, come home and write for about four hours or more.

If you received a large sum of money - with the directions to regift it - who would you give it to?
Large sum of money?  hmmm - I would give it to UNICEF for the kids in Haiti...or Amnesty International.  Or I would work to develop local public libraries across the Reservation. 

Thank you for such an amazing interview,

Where to find Nancy:
Nancy Bo Flood
Chinle, Navajo Nation, AZ  86503  (USA) 
No Name Baby new YA, 2012
Warriors in the Crossfire 2010  
ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
Booklist Editor's Choice: Top Ten Historical Novels
Notable Books for a Global Society
Cowboy Up!  Ride the Navajo Rodeo, photographs by Jan Sonnenmair, BoydsMills, 2013

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Agent Hunt

Like the proverbial needle in the haystack, I am once again an author in search of an agent.

As I polish and revise my current WIP, I'm starting to think about being agented again and what I want in that relationship. I realize my former agent did me a massive good favor - I now have a base line of what I hope to find, what I hope to add, and what I hope to avoid when I sign on the dotted line.

So given that, here are some of my thought processes and the questions I'll be asking potential new agents.

  1. My former agent was a quick reader. I wasn't left waiting for months to hear back on revisions, usually it was a week at the longest. I think in some ways former agent was highly unusual in this regard, but I liked it.  (How long does it take you to read new work or revisions?)
  2. Former agent was an excellent return communicator. I tried to be respectful of not filling up the inbox and would lump questions or thoughts. Return e-mails were always quick, no more than 24 hours and if former agent was out of the office, there would be an auto e-mail. (What kind of communication do you like to have with your clients? Any unspoken rules? How much is too much? Not enough? If I e-mail you, what is a reasonable amount of time for me to expect a return reply?)
  3. Former agent sent me lists of editors being submitted to and forwarded any return communication that addressed the manuscript (pass/R&R/accept e-mails) Will I be kept in the loop during the sub process? Will I know who you are submitting to? Will I receive copies of the e-mails containing their thoughts on the ms?

Now here are a few other things I'll be looking at, either that I didn't have with former agent, or weren't relevant at the time, or I want to be different.

  1. Is the agent social-media savvy? I think this is important as we are expected as authors to have that platform. It's also a nice informal way to keep in touch without being obnoxious.
  2. Does the agent have a good sales record? Are they respected within the industry (sort of a no-brainer and I would say, particularly on the editorial side, my former agent had both)
  3. Does the agent see themselves as career partners with the author? I'm not interested in an agent who only thinks they can sell this one book and if it doesn't fly within their prescribed time they're done with the author/agent agreement.
  4. Are they an editorial agent? If yes, (which is good) how do they feel about an author feeling the need to stick to their guns on certain issues? 
  5. How do they deal with conflict? Though the split with my agent was abrupt, in the long run, it was good. I wasn't left hanging out wondering if I'd done something wrong with no communication.
  6. Finally, what is it about my writing, my story, me, that makes you want to represent me? And also, what is it about you and your agenting that make you the agent for me?
So that's it. If you're searching or happily agented, what is the essential question for you?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pop On Over and Say Hi!

This is the new dude in my life. My daughter, who came to me when she was twelve, made a detour in life that had me in a whirl. Summer after graduation from high school, this little guy came into her life. Now nine months later, he's in my mine. I'm pleased to introduce baby Toney, a little guy at 5 lbs. 10 oz. born on May 15th.

I feel the farthest thing in the world from a (eep, I can't even say it) grandmother, but I guess I am. He's pretty special. And he's helping daughter realize she does need us, and he's helping his daddy realize there are more things in the world than video games - we all can celebrate Toney's dad's new job. It's a rough road ahead for these young people, but with support and love, and this little guy, I think they may make it.

And if you feel like it, I'm guest posting on Marilyn Almodovar's blog today. She posed the question "What makes a strong female lead in Ya books?" I posed the question to my students. You might enjoy their answers.  Go here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memories of High School You - Meradeth Houston

As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion and music have changed but that overall quest-for-self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I share these bi-monthly interviews:  Memories of High School You.  

Buy it here
I'm pleased to introduce, Meradeth Houston. Meradeth is one of the fabulous members of my critique group. Her book, COLORS LIKE MEMORIES, was released last week by Muse It Up Publishing. And just like her main character, Julia, I'm going to ask Meradeth to take us back to remember an earlier time in her life.

(And here's the shameless commerce plug. Buy her book! It's a love story with history, friendship, the Civil War, and Sarys all rolled into one - but since I'm lousy at blurbs, I'll just let you follow the link above to find out more - besides you're here to get the dirt on teenage Meradeth anyway.)

Meradeth then
Meradeth now

Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location?
--I went to a large (2000+) public high school in my medium-sized town in Northern California (outside of the capital Sacramento). My graduating class had over 500 students. We were very diverse—lots of Latino, Hmong, and Middle Eastern students. 

Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
--There were totally cliques: the theater kids, the band kids, the stoners, the nerds. I mostly hung out with the band kids, which in my school was a pretty nerdy group, I have to admit. I had friends in other groups, but I really wasn’t into being popular during high school and didn’t care much what people thought, especially when it came to who I hung out with or what lunch table I ate at.

Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
--This is something that came to mind last summer when my 10 year reunion came up (not that I attended, but I did think about my favorite teachers). Anyhow, my history teacher I had for 10th and 11th grade—Mrs. Correa—was totally awesome. It was her influence that really got me “ready” for college. And she made history fun! That’s some serious magic right there. My sister had her too, and we both thought she was an awesome teacher. 

Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
--Yeah, I was already writing a lot in high school. I didn’t talk about it a whole lot, but my friends knew I wrote, and I let a few of them read my (really horrible) early work. I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do with my writing, other than getting it published. I was one of those random kids who knew what they wanted to do with their life from a young age (I knew I wanted to go into anthropology in elementary school—wow, am I nerd!), and I knew writing would always be something I would continue working on, though probably not full time (I was pragmatic like that, *snort*). (I once had a first grader tell me he was going to be a pharmacist - both of his parents were very blue collar - I think it must be something he came in to life with and I feel certain he may end up doing just that - sort of like you!)

What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
--Er, can I pass on this one? I can’t pick just one! (I know, it's like letting you only pick one chocolate.)

What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember?
--I wasn’t into music much in high school. My husband doesn’t believe this, because I listen to music all the time now, but back then, I just didn’t get it. I listened to a lot of classical (haha, this interview is making me sound even stranger than I normally do!) and instrumental soundtracks. I got the CDs for the music to Titanic (which I’ve never actually watched), and Ever After (the one with Drew Barrymore) and listened to those a lot. It wasn’t until college that I started branching out more and finding music I loved.  (But you were in band!)

What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
--Oh, wow, even thinking about this is making me blush. I was pretty much fashion incompetent in high school. I’m not too much better about it now, though I do put more thought into it at least! Anyhow, I’m going to have to go with my cute overalls I got in 10th grade. They were totally in style, and I loved them! (My current MC is an overalls girl)

Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
--I was a good kid. Really, I kind of had to be. High school started off with some really tough times in my family, and I ended up living full-time with my mom, while my siblings went back and forth between my mom’s and dad’s. Life at home was a mess. I wasn’t about to add to the stress of my mom, so I did my best to stay on the straight and narrow. Honestly, I think I broke curfew like once. *Sigh* I was boring.

Did you have a favorite phrase or slang word?
--Because I’m from California, I used “dude” a lot, haha! And “hell’s bells” for some random reason that I still don’t really recall. I was queen of the random phrase, probably because I found some turn-of-phrase in a book I was reading and wanted to try it out. I may still be guilty of this…  (sort of like giving yourself a "word of the day"?)

If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
--“You know your biology teacher that walked up to you after school one day and told you that you’d be one of those people who’d do really well in college? He was right. Survive high school. Enjoy college.”

Thinking of the characters you’ve written, is there one who embodies more of your high school self than others? What attributes do you have in common? Differences?
--Oh wow this is a tough, but good question! So, the character I resembled most in high school would have to be Marcy from Colors Like Memories. She’s got a whole lot on her plate at home, and she can’t help having it bleed over into everything else. Not that I ever got to the point Marcy’s at in my book (she’s at rock bottom and contemplating ending her life). Still, she compensates by studying too much (something I totally did). I found myself channeling a lot of the troubles I had back in high school while I was writing about her. (And I did notice that Marcy spent a lot of time at the science department when she and Julia went on their college visit :0))

How do we find you now? 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

There's a Horse in the Barn!

Today I was out walking the dog on the road to the neighbor's house. This road runs between my two horse pastures. The horses, all four of them were secure behind their fence. So when I came upon a relatively fresh and relatively large pile of manure in the gravel I was perplexed.

The dog finished what he needed to do and I pondered on the poo some more. Did someone come riding through in the early hours to look at my horses. Weird, but possible. More likely, one of mine got out and sweetie put him or her back in the fence unbeknownst to me. I planned on going straight to the house to ask, but then a little voice said "Go check the barn."

This is what I found.

Nestled in an open stall was my goat, Goat, and this forlorn looking Appaloosa mare in a red halter. All I can figure is Goat took one look at her and said "Hey, pssst, come with me." Turns out she belongs to some new renters over the hill. I fed her carrots, gave her a good grooming, then led her back home.

I hope Goat will forgive me, but don't tell him, I sort of wanted to keep her, too.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Creeping and Trolling - Teenagers' social world on the Internet

My school received a huge grant this year which resulted in a whole slew of Macbooks. Every student in our school has a Macbook and we have wireless rigged throughout the school. While they're certainly used for education, there's a whole lot of social life going on, too.

So here's a brief run-down of stuff I've seen. Students love to use this feature - it shoots them to random people all over the world. As an adult - I think it's totally creepy. You can not only see the other people but you can talk if you both have audio capabilities. There's a pretty high ratio of pervs on this site. Unless of course you're into naked Gustav. is a similar site but without the video capability

I-chat - Great for internal school communication when you're supposed to be studying. Smilies optional.

Skype: Skype is the new tool for phone sex (though I've only heard them talk about it - I sure hope it's not happening at school) . Sorry - but there's even a name for it "Skype-urbation."

Facebook: All the kids can totally get around any block, and if they can't, it's just a matter of seconds before they find someone who can. Facebook is like the social gossip center. Stories told, photos shared. Most teenagers have no privacy blocks on their Facebook pages.

Creeping: See Facebook - without privacy blocks it's pretty easy to creep on someone else's page, check out the hot girl who your boyfriend is flirting with or his ex. This is the correct term.

Trolling: You're a troll if you only have negative comments to make and do it for fun.

Twitter: Pretty much the same as Facebook

Other Favorite Teenage Sites:

You Tube - Viral videos get spread quickly between teenagers - Funny stuff - Funny stuff

So, anyone have anything to add to this list?  As a writer, with things changing so quick via technology, the old adage of be sort of glossy with it (as in, mention it, but brush over names or specifics) is wise. It's hard to keep up when you're an adult with loads to do besides be on!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Memories of High School You - Michelle Ray

As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion and music have changed but that overall quest-for-self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I share these bi-monthly interviews:  Memories of High School You.  

I'm so pleased to introduce Michelle Ray, author of FALLING FOR HAMLET. I love Shakespeare retellings and hers is a fun one, putting Ophelia in the spotlight as a modern girl, not the dependent-woe-is-me Ophelia of Shakespeare's original. I'm two-thirds of the way through and can't wait to get home to finish it up! I've also recommended it to our senior English teachers, as they cover Shakespeare and are always looking for ways for modern kids to connect. One teacher even told me how hard a time her girls have with Ophelia - they'll love this version!

High School Michelle 
Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location?
I went to an all girls’ junior high and high school in Los Angeles, which was called Westlake School for Girls. (It went co-ed just after I left and is now Harvard-Westlake.) My graduating class had about 100 girls in it, and many of us had been in school together for six years. People assume that everyone must have been snobby and mean, but that’s not at all what I recall about it. Teens can be cruel and thoughtless and stupid, so there was all of that, but that’s because we were in high school, not because we were all girls. What I loved was that the day wasn’t about boys or who wore what (having uniforms helped). It was an incredible, feminist, hard-core academic environment. School was about learning, and girls were in charge of everything, so we didn’t have a lot of issues I hear about, like girls playing dumb or being afraid to speak up when boys are around. The day was about academic prowess and talent. 
It very much informs my writing. Many of my characters attend private school because it’s what I knew at the age of my characters. I’ve taught almost all my years in public school, so this is ironic.
(I went to an all girl's private school K-9th and finally had enough - I wonder sometimes if I'd stuck around those last three years if things might have been different - sounds like you had a great experience)

Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
I remember seeing movies like The Breakfast Club and being baffled by the idea of cliques broken down by activities and style. The social groups at my school didn’t seem so separate, the divisions not so sharply drawn. I hung out with different people. I had friends from the plays I worked on, and kids from class. Most of the boys I knew did theater and were from the local boys’ school.

Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
I was lucky to have many incredible teachers, some of whom have ended up in my books. For example, in Falling for Hamlet, Ophelia’s art and art history teachers are named for and modeled after my own high school art and art history teachers, Ms. Hall and Mr. Nordquist. Ophelia’s love of those subjects comes from my enjoyment of those classes, which, my senior year, were integrated, so we learned about a period in art history, then tried our hand at the style, and went to a museum every month to see the real works. Incredible! (Wow, what I would give to have museums to take my students to. We have cows.)
Other teachers, like Mrs. Littenberg, influenced my love of Shakespeare with her enthusiasm and by having kids act out the parts. She also influenced my sense of self by listening to what I had to say in written form and when I wanted to come to her office to talk. Now I make time for students the way she made time for me. Also, my high school had Women’s Studies, and when I write my protagonists, I wonder what Ms. Parker would have to say about their behavior. 

Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
Not at all. Apparently, I wanted to be an English teacher (though I forgot that. My high school teacher reminded me of that fact after I got back from college). In college, I trained to be a theater director because I love story telling and the immediate feedback you get from live performance, but I never considered myself a writer. I had friends who were far better writers (fiction and journalists – we had an award-winning newspaper). I had no idea what I would end up doing this.

What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
Well, I’ll stretch this to middle school and talk about reading The Outsiders in 8th grade. The characters were so vividly drawn and the relationships were so strong. It was the first book that made me feel like I was being spoken to as a teenager. I wanted to be part of that group of boys. In fact, in my mind (I never wrote my stories down since I wasn’t a “writer”), I imagined what would happen if they had a female in their circle. I was always a fan of retellings, it seems.  (Oh PLEASE write that book!)

What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember?
I was a full on theater girl, so pop and rock music wasn’t really my thing. Want an example of how lame I was? I know you do! The first time I heard “Dream On” and “Stairway to Heaven” (old songs by that point, but classics that any music literate people knew) was at a high school dance concert. A-yep. Lame. 
I listened to tons of musicals. My friends were the same, so it didn’t seem weird.
I came of age during the transition from tape to CD, but when I was young, I had records like Grease, Charlie Brown, Air Supply (haha). My first tape was Thriller. And my first CD? Uh, I can’t remember, but I was a hold out. I hate technology and change, so I waited until college even though everyone else had had CD collections for years. 

What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
Shiny blazers. I loved satin, shiny blazers, which were all the rage when I was in 9th grade or so. Shiiiiny. Additionally, I had scrunchies for my hair. Many of those. 
I remember not being allowed to get Guess jeans because they were expensive (and I wasn’t stick thin, so they wouldn’t even have looked good). But the girls who wore them were so cool and I wanted them. Oh well. I lived.

What hobbies, activities, sports were you involved in that influence your writing today?
Theater is the number one activity that I did, and the one that most heavily influences my writing. It gave me a sense of story and acting. I keenly studied human behavior and interactions, what people say, what they don’t, how they react. I don’t mind acting out scene either when I’m writing, though I hope no one walks in when I do. (I see so many references to the connection between theatre and storytelling and it's amazing to me how many of my interviewees were theatre kids.)

Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
I was soooo good. I just never understood kids who did things that were dangerous or foolish. I mean, I literally did not understand their thought process. And I never had that invincibility thing going on. I knew I could die or get in trouble and I didn’t want to. I also had such a strong sense of what I was comfortable doing and not doing, and I was not afraid to be different. I lost friendships over it, but I was willing to pay that price. 
So what’s the most opposite of “wild”? Domestic? “Domestic child” doesn’t have a ring to it, but that was me! (How about "confidently self-aware"?)

Did you have a favorite phrase or slang word?
I used “like” a lot. This was not a national phenomenon at the time. Kind of LA specific, if I recall correctly. Drove our teachers nuts.

If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
Lighten up. It’s gonna turn out fine. You will find someone nice to marry. You will find a direction. You will live past twenty. It really doesn’t matter what you think you’re going to do with yourself or what you want. None of it will happen. But that’s okay. It will be different, but great in unimaginable ways. And those girls who are making you feel bad about yourself? Ignore them. You will never see any of them after graduation, so who cares? The journey is the important part in life, so stop being goal driven and enjoy the ride. (I, uh, think my old self needs this reminder.)

Thinking of the characters you’ve written, is there one who embodies more of your high school self than others? What attributes do you have in common? Differences?
The relationship Ophelia has with Horatio is the most similar to my high school experience. My best friend at the end of high school was a guy, and it was platonic for years. I find myself writing about platonic male/female relationships in nearly every book because it’s an unusual dynamic and people don’t think it can be done. I also write about when the relationship shifts from platonic to romantic because that’s terrifying, but can be rewarding and thrilling, too. 
The character most like the high school me is probably the Beatriz I wrote for a Much Ado adaptation (a project I’ve put aside for now). She’s very concerned with rule following and getting perfect grades, and struggles to balance growing up and being independent with parental expectations.

How do we find you now? 
Facebook: “Michelle Ray writer”

Thanks for the interview, Michelle!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It's Paperback Release day for Victoria Schwab's THE NEAR WITCH! With surprises!

It's May 15th! 

Not only does THE NEAR WITCH by Victoria Schwab come out in paperback TODAY, but, to celebrate its release, "The Ash-Born Boy" is finally up over at Disney*Hyperion's website - CLICK HERE FOR THIS FREE STORY

So, what IS "The Ash-Born Boy"? 

It's a free story Victoria wrote as a thank-you to her fans, and she wrote it to answer ONE question: "Who was Cole before he came to Near?"

Now, if you've already read THE NEAR WITCH, "The Ash-Born Boy" is guaranteed to change the way you see Cole.

And if you haven't read THE NEAR WITCH yet, don't worry, "The Ash-Born Boy" won't spoil anything!

So basically, either way, you should go read Cole's story ;) 

And if you want to wait and read THE NEAR WITCH first, don't worry! Cole's story will stay up on Disney*Hyperion's website, and if it ever comes down, Victoria will carve out a space for it on her own site. It will always be available somewhere, and it will always be free. 


Cole's story isn't the only goodie to go along with the paperback release. In the back of the paperback itself, you'll find the first chapter of Victoria's new book, THE ARCHIVED, which doesn't come out until January!

So what are you waiting for? 

Help Victoria celebrate today by taking a look at "The Ash-Born Boy," and don't forget to buy/order/pick up your own paperback copy of THE NEAR WITCH!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lady Gaga and Teenage Self-Perception

One of my students gifted me a collection of Lady Gaga discs this week. I've been enamored of the Mother Monster since watching a Tevo'ed copy of her Monster Ball concert at Madison Square Garden. And so I got curious about who she was as a high school student, because what if one of my students has a Gaga lurking underneath their fragile exterior.

And it's this quote from Wikipedia that got me thinking:

She described her academic life in high school as "very dedicated, very studious, very disciplined" but also "a bit insecure": "I used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric, so I started to tone it down. I didn't fit in, and I felt like a freak."[16][17] Acquaintances dispute that she did not fit in at school. "She had a core group of friends; she was a good student. She liked boys a lot, but singing was No. 1," recalled a former high school classmate.[

People see us in one way, but inside we have our own perceptions. We take our experiences and bundle them up to create sense of self. In our teenage years, we've only just begun to explore it.

But what if this early interior sense of self is our roadmap? The kernel of who or what we are going to become? For me, I always felt a little different, like an observer, someone who sat outside and looked in. As an adult, it makes sense to me that I've become an artist and a writer. Both are professions that involve observation and both have, at times, made me feel a bit like an anomaly (yeah, figuring out I preferred a wife to a husband was part of it, too).

Maybe when we're fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, that little voice inside of us, the one that thinks we know who we are, is right. And if we can listen to it sooner than later, we might save ourselves a lot of heartache.  And then we could just stand up and proclaim "Cause baby, I was born this way!"

Friday, May 11, 2012

Memories of High School You - Mindy Hardwick

As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion and music have changed but that overall quest-for-self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I share these bi-monthly interviews:  Memories of High School You.  

This week, I'm visited again by Mindy Hardwick. I interviewed Mindy in December of 2011 when her middle grade book, Stained Glass Summer debuted. Post here. Now she's celebrating the release of her Young Adult novel, Weaving Magic. 

In the spirt of entering the Young Adult world, Mindy has dropped by to dish on her high school days. Thanks Mindy!
High School Mindy

Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location?
I attended  Kirkwood High School. KHS is public high school in a St Louis suburb. If you are from the St Louis area, then you know the most important answer to any question is: What high school did you go to? I was once on a plane and the stewardess found out I grew up in St Louis. She immediately asked me: What High School did you attend? I’m always proud to say Kirkwood High School. 

Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
I am a 1988 graduate, and cliques were huge. The Breakfast Club wasn’t that far off! There were the socs, the jocs, the nerds, the geeks, the theater group, the band geeks, and the burnouts.  I didn’t really hang with any of the groups. I fell somewhere in the middle with friends in a lot of groups.
As if the huge Footloose-era Kevin Bacon poster didn't give the decade away!

Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
My most memorable teacher was my swim coach. I swam all four years, and in my senior year, I was having a hard time at school and at home. She advocated for me when I got into a little bit of trouble, and let me serve my detention time sitting at the pool during swim practice. I am always grateful for her seeing I was having a hard time and not letting that hard time define me. Don't you love when adults have this foresight?

Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
I loved to write, and my parents are both journalists, but I had no idea the books I loved to read had a writer behind them! This is one reason why I love to do workshops with teens.

What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
Danielle Steele. I devoured all her books. I couldn’t get enough of them. When I wrote YA romance, WEAVING MAGIC, Shantel’s love for romance books came naturally for me! 
Mindy lost in a romance novel!

What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember?
I was a mixed tape, cassette player girl! I loved mixed tapes. My favorite bands were Air Supply, Tiffany, U2, Journey, and the Go-Go Girls.  

What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
Jordache skinny jeans and Calvin Klein Jeans. I stole my Mom’s Famous Barr credit card and lied about the charges to get those jeans! We were in high school at the same time :0) - I begged and begged for those Calvin Klein Jeans, but I never did manage to pull off the Brooke Shields look.

What hobbies, activities, sports were you involved in that influence your writing today?
I worked in the Games Department at Six Flags over Mid-America. I’m currently working on a collection of short stories for middle grade readers, as well as brainstorming a YA romance about an amusement park. I have the inside scoop to the games at amusement parks! This sounds like a great book in the works.

Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
Good kid—except for senior year, and then I got a bad case of senioritis which included not getting to school for first period, forging a note with my Mom’s signature, and getting caught because I misspelled “excuse.”  Dang. Where's that copy editor when you need her?

Did you have a favorite phrase or slang word?

Who was your bestie?  Your frenemy?  Your sworn enemy?  Did you ever have one that switched to another?  Why?
My two best friends were Debbie Geison and Suzanne Schauman. We’d known each other since middle school. But, they were also my worst enemies at times. Both of them were in the AP English Classes, and I did not pass the tests to be accepted to those classes. Later, Suzanne made the pom pons squad and became an “in” girl, and at times, a three-way friendship was challenging. 

If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
Don’t compare yourself to everyone else. Eventually, you’re going to find a great place where it’s okay to be your creative self! 

How do we find you now? 
Twitter: @mindyhardwick
Thanks, Jaye!  Thanks so much for stopping back by, Mindy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

If you're looking for....

An "Oh those high school dances" blog post - I apologize. Time got away from me this week and I have no funny photos or amazing stories. Well I do, but just not here on the blog.'s a funny dog prom video instead.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reflections on A-Z Challenge

So today's the day we're supposed to spew our thoughts onto the page about the blog challenge that is A-Z.

Here are my thoughts. IT WAS UNREAL!

I mean that in the best possible way. Who knew I'd go from 50 followers to almost 150? Who knew that on a good day I'd have upwards of 25 or 30 comments.? Who knew blogging could be so gosh darn fun?

It's a true fact I could not have done it without a theme or starting in March with the writing. It was intense and I was glad when April was over. Right now I feel like maybe I won't do it again, but I've got eleven months to recover and if I don't do it again I might not meet more awesome people like:

  • Vero! (Y'all this chick's brilliant - you must subscribe to her blog)
  • Laurita at Calling Shotgun (My sister from another mother, who knew Newfoundland and Appalachia were once conjoined twins when the earth was still Pangea)
  • Susan at The Contemplative Cat (Loved her beautiful contemplative posts about times past in a small town)
  • Kern Windwraith at the Odd Particle Review  (another real smart cookie with an eye toward writing! I didn't follow her enough - more reason to revisit in 2013)
  • Donna B. McNicol (Donna is like the den mother of flash fiction writers, even joining groups of A-Z'ers together to form a new Tribber tribe)
  • Jen McConnel at Crafting Magic - Jen's the one A-Z'er I actually got to meet in person when we both attended a workshop together - how cool is that?
And there were so many more of you who I had the pleasure of meeting and reading about your world - Julie Daines, Jaycee, and more, more, more........

Thanks for a great April of blogging. Y'all sure made me feel loved.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ten Things about me....

Jen McConnel over at Crafting Magic has awarded me the Kreativ Blogger award.

The rules of this award are that I must tell you ten random and unknown facts about myself and then spread the love by passing on the award to more bloggers. So here goes.

  1. I can touch my nose with my tongue.
  2. I like painted toenails but not painted fingernails. Black is my new favorite. It looks good with everything. Currently they're shimmery blue.
  3. My uncle won a Grammy for writing the lyrics to the theme song for the Clint Eastwood movie, Every Which Way But Loose. I got to stay up late to watch him on television.
  4. I've gigged flounders and frogs with no remorse. I could still gig flounders. I might feel bad about frogs.
  5. I capture spiders and free them outside.
  6. My parents are still together, almost 50 years.
  7. I love on-line shopping. Shoes and books are my favorite. Also antique jewelry.
  8. I was a jeweler on the craft fair circuit from my late 20's to my late 30's. 
  9. I went to the same high school as Jimmy Buffet and got back stage passes from my uncle.
  10. I fancy I know what my animals are thinking and anthropomorphize their voices.
So now I must pick six of you!

As always, participate or not, whatever your time allows, but if you do answer, let me know so I can find out ten random things about you!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Feeling Exposed

I've been a creative person my entire life.

Before I came back to writing, I worked for many years as a craftsperson on the art fair circuit. I faced multiple rejections and setbacks, but I persevered. Though I never was accepted into an American Craft Council show, I did become a member of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild. Two different steps on a similar ladder.

This week, my writing world has been one fraught with despair and hope. My agent, now former agent, decided to let go clients whose work had not yet sold. The tone of the e-mail was of the "something going on in my life" variety. It doesn't stop the hurt. We were midway through the submission process with a manuscript so dear to me, that I'm now left feeling directionless.

In a fit of tenacity and pluck, I sent out a couple of queries for the manuscript I signed with, but had never been shopped. I also entered in The Writer's Voice competition. Great, wonderful, admirable. Yes. I can see that.

But today, this is how I feel.

People are on-line looking at my words, judging, testing, sampling. And I feel naked and scared and vulnerable. It's stupid how having an agent gave me a boost of confidence - "Hey look Ma, I made it." - it should all be internal, right? But I'm human. And raw. And it hurts. It really, really hurts.

But here I am, stripping the Emperor once again, because we've all been in this spot. And of anyone who could possibly know how I'm feeling, it's my other writer friends. It shouldn't matter what other people think. We shouldn't care. But when you pour yourself on the page, you do care.

And we persevere. And one day, hopefully soon, I'll trust myself on the page again. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Memories of High School You - Sheila Welch

As a young adult writer, the foundation for most of my writing starts with my own teenage experience.  Times, fashion and music have changed but that overall quest-for-self is still the same.  So in that spirt, I share these bi-monthly interviews:  Memories of High School You.  

This week, I'm pleased to introduce Sheila Welch. Sheila is a fellow Blueboarder, but in the course of this interview we've learned that we both are horse people, have both adopted older children and share a common theme of family in our work. Sheila's newest book, WAITING TO FORGET, is out with Namelos Publishing, run by many of the same folks who helped create Front Street Books, a small but highly acclaimed Asheville, NC house. WAITING TO FORGET was recently honored by being listed by Bank Street College as a Best Books of the Year, 2012 Edition.
Namelos Press Link

So without further ado, may I introduce the high school Sheila. (And I love this photo in the art studio!)

Tell us about your high school, public or private, size, demographic, location?
Boyertown Area Senior High School, for grades tenth through twelfth, is a public school located in Boyertown, PA. The town is small, nestled between rolling hills in the southeastern part of the state only about 50 miles from Philadelphia. When I attended, we had a graduating class of almost 250 students, and only two were nonwhite. No wonder I wanted to attend a large city university.

Were there cliques at your high school?  What were they?  Who did you hang with?
There must have been cliques – jocks, cheerleaders, musical kids, brainy kids, etc. But there was a good deal of mixing of the groups. This may have been because it wasn’t a huge school. I was, and still am, shy, so I had a few close friends and knew most of the brainy kids because we were in classes together.

Did you have a memorable teacher?  Good or bad?  How did they influence you?
My English teachers in my junior and senior years were excellent and encouraged me to write. Mrs. Read was instrumental in my being recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English. Mr. Hefner gave thought-provoking assignments and was always interested in what we were reading. 

Did you have an inkling as a teenager that you would become a writer?
My older sister was the writer in our family, and I was the artist. In junior high, I was already thinking about writing and illustrating children’s books. But if my sister had pursued a writing career, I probably would have concentrated totally on art. Instead, she earned her doctorate in psychology and in recent years has become a published poet. Although we are both writing, the type of work we’re creating is nothing alike. 

What book had the biggest impact on you as a high school student?  How?
This is a really hard question because I read a lot. Thinking back, it wasn’t the content of books so much as the way they were written that had an impact on me. Early in high school, I read most of Rumer Godden’s books and was fascinated by her ability to evoke settings and develop relationships between characters. As a senior, I fell in love with John Updike’s short stories. When I read his Pigeon Feathers, I was hooked and began to write a few stories of my own.

What band could you not get enough of in high school?  Were you an album or a CD kid?  Cover art you remember?
I must have been a weird high schooler. I listened to a mix of classical music – loved Stravinsky – and the recording of the original Broadway performance of West Side Story. I also loved to dance an improvised jig to life concert recordings of the Irish singers, The Clancy Brothers. It was in my freshman year at college that the Beatles first visited the United States.

What was the fashion rage - the one article of clothing you either got, or didn’t get that rocked your world?
Here again, I am weird. I can not think of any item of clothing that I wanted or felt I needed. I certainly would have been happier wearing jeans to school instead of dresses and skirts with stockings or pantyhose. Yes! That’s what we wore. Yuck!

What hobbies, activities, sports were you involved in that influence your writing today?
I lived in the country and spent many hours outside with my menagerie of pets  –  dogs, cats, goats, horses. My best friend and I often rode our horses through fields and woods, and I helped her train the filly that was foaled on her farm. Many of my stories and books feature animals, and one of my books, A Horse for All Seasons, is a collection of horse stories. At school and at home, I did a lot of drawing and painting and eventually decided to major in art. I was the art editor of our senior yearbook and did  pencil illustrations for the divider pages. As an adult, my illustrating and writing have gone together in some of my books, and a Pennsylvania setting can be found in Don’t Call Me Marda and The Shadowed Unicorn. I was ten years  younger than my brother  and six years younger than my sister, and in high school, I thought it’d be very cool to have a bigger family and often thought about adopting a sibling. Now, my husband and I have seven children, six were adopted, and several of my stories and books focus on adoption, including my most recent, Waiting to Forget. (I love that we've had similar paths - well except, you're multiply published and I'm a bit of a late bloomer, sticking with the art for many years)

Good kid or wild child or a little of both?  Details? (Mwaahaa)
Can’t you tell? Okay, I was a good kid and not inclined to follow the crowd. 

Did you have a favorite phrase or slang word?
I don’t think I ever used it aloud (thankfully!), but in my diary I often wrote “perhaps.” (you were oh so scandalous! :0))

If you could say one thing to your high school you, what would you say?
I’d tell myself, “Just as you imagine, you really will meet the love of your life while working at a summer camp, and stop writing ‘perhaps’ in your diary!” (Love this :0))

Thinking of the characters you’ve written, is there one who embodies more of your high school self than others? What attributes do you have in common? Differences?
Most of my stories and books are for middle grade readers so the characters are not high school students. I have written one YA novel, Unsaid, using the pseudonym Anika Cassidy, and the main character is a lot like I was in high school. Janice is shy, quiet, a good student, and loves animals. She’s also an observer of the  adults in her family. She keeps a journal and is interested in art. The differences are mainly in her circumstances since her family is nothing like mine, and the situations she deals with are ones that I never encountered as a teenager.

How do we find you now? 

Thanks, Jaye, for this chance to travel way back in time. (Thanks for the interview, Sheila!)