Three things a reader should remember at the end of the summer…

Ever since a main part of my employment included teaching college classes, I have really gotten on board again with the idea of summer being, well, pretty awesome. Also, my kids are a great age now for traveling, exploring, and watching fun movies, so I don’t sit there thinking, “I’d really like to see you back in school.”End-of-Summer

Don’t get me wrong. I love teaching classes, and I simply adore–ADORE–fall activities, but I will mourn the end of summer. One of the reasons for that is the end of several months of breaking from my rigorous writing schedule to read and edit older work.

Now, reading is an integral part of every month of the year for me, but in the summer, it’s less about getting through a TBD pile and more about picking books that appeal to me. A retelling of Scheherazade? Bring it on, The Wrath and the Dawn (Renee Adhieh)Another retelling? Come to my Kindle, A Thousand Nights (E.K. Johnston). I’ve also caught up with some of my daughter’s favorites: Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell (Chris Colfer) and Story Thieves (James Riley).

Is that all? Of course not. There’s fare such as The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)and The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) in there as well. But this could take all day, so let me tell you three things I’m doing at the end of the summer to keep that sunny sunshine feeling going throughout the year…

Don’t forget to read for pleasure. My life has been littered with bouts of higher education, book clubs, and research, but one thing I’ve found is that once or twice a month, I need to walk through the library or a book store and pick something that makes me feel so excited to put my nose in a novel. Because if you always tell yourself you can’t have a cookie, you forget how good they taste!!!!

Don’t forget to keep a “best of” list. I can’t tell you how many times a friend has asked for a recommendation, and my mind does the worst thing! It blanks! How is that possible? Maybe because there are a million books squeezed up in that brain, but if I’d just keep a genre-based list of my favorites, how much easier would it be to steer someone immediately to a perfect fit read?

Don’t forget to give back: review the author’s work. “I loved it!” “I couldn’t put it down.” “This is my favorite book!”

It’s great to pass on a word-of-mouth recommendation, but authors NEED reviews. And if you really love a book, then you should let the writer and other readers know why it worked for you. There are enough trolls out there hating on books, so give your favorites a boost. And if a book was so-so, be willing to say why in a way that’s constructive, humble, and introspective.

And read on! 🙂

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Best YA romance (as I see it)

Okay, I’m a sucker for any good romance, but YA is the genre where I specialize, so I’ve read a fair share of it. I found a few good lists online, but below I will list my all time favorites. Most of the time, I love romance where the guy is vulnerable (not some perfect hunk) and the heroine convinces us she doesn’t need his love to survive (sorry, Twilight–I mean, I consumed you, but there were some issues).

So here’s a quick list of my top three favs if summer boredom or travel is making you want to feel the love. Why did I pick them? They are straightforward (contemporary, real life), and because I went out of my way to buy the hardback version once I finished them…you know, for the inevitable re-read.

JennyHanTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
by Jenny Han

From Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

I’m sorry. No, wait, I’m not going to apologize. Han has me LOLing maybe more than any other YA author (Jojo Moyes holds that title for me in the adult genre). I absolutely adore Lara Jean, the way she can seem so in charge of herself, and at other times seem a little clueless. But the book has this way of making ordinary life just sing, and we haven’t even gotten to the romance! One heads up…you may need to read all three books to get the full romantic scoop on Lara Jean!

E&PEleanor & Park
by Rainbow Rowell

From Goodreads: Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

There’s some grit in this story–from language to themes–but in all, it is full of lines that will make you smile and a plot that ends so lovely that it’s impossible not to share. It’s not your classic romance, which, obviously, makes it way better. Oh, and for those of us who are children or teens of the eighties, get ready for a trip back in time.

nextdoorMy Life Next Door 
by Huntley Fitzpatrick

From Goodreads: The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, messy, affectionate. And every day from her rooftop perch, Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs up next to her and changes everything.

As the two fall fiercely for each other, stumbling through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first love, Jase’s family embraces Samantha – even as she keeps him a secret from her own. Then something unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha’s world. She’s suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

Political intrigue. Summer setting. First love. Does it get any better? Jase and Samantha are your new kind of star-crossed lovers–people whose families just don’t fit. And the secrets that can come between them could ruin everything. Ah! I love it.

Feel free to post your favorite (real-deal) romances below. Don’t get me wrong… I love paranormal, fantasy, and sci fi. But it takes an author with a great deal of heart to write something real life and make it so incredibly intriguing.

 

Don’t diss English lit

I happened to be sitting with several women the other day at a b-day party who all have science-heavy educations. They were a very nice sort, but not my usual crowd, who has learned to put up (very graciously) with my curiosity about every subject under the sun (blame it on my journalism education) and my overwhelming passion for books, both old and new.

Now, I love science. I consume it, learn it, for any topic I want to write about. I worked several years for the CDC in PR, and my agency’s tasks fascinated me. I totally see how critical the pursuit of science is.

However, this more science-minded group started to discuss language arts education, and said they didn’t really understand the point of looking deeper into classic literature. Why did English teachers ask them to go beyond face value, basically?

I thought about holding my tongue (well, not really), and then said something like: “English language arts is as important to society as science. We have to learn to think more critically, ask questions, and express ourselves in ways that make people listen. Otherwise, it takes the humanity out of our lives.”

Now, I wasn’t sure how to read the looks I got, but I am rather convinced that my argument wasn’t bought hook, line, and sinker. In fact, as my husband urges my children toward scientific pursuits (I have backed this up by signing them up for robot camp), and many of the college freshmen I work with turn up their noses at mass communication careers (“I want to actually make money”), I find that I’m in the position of many who teach humanities, arts, and social sciences.

I’m trying to convince you that these are just as important as science. But I feel like I’m trying to tell you that you need water to live.

And trying to convince others that stories are important can be even more challenging. But consider what motivates you? What makes you think? What makes you want to change the world?

Stories do that. Whether it’s a movie or a book, or fiction or nonfiction, stories are what motivate us to be better. It’s how we get people to join causes. It’s how we get people to treat one another better. It’s how we help people heal.

But if you can’t come to realize this on your own, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to convince you. The best thing I can do is say, “Pick up a book that interests you. Pick up a book that sounds contrary to what you believe. Pick up a book that many people are reading, and try to find out why it’s popular. Pick up a book and think up your own story…ask yourself why you’d write it.”

And finally, to the person who says, “I don’t read”? Well, I’d say they are wasting something that many generations fought to give them.

Reading is power.

So, there you go.

Fancy hair for novel inspiration…

I love writing historical fiction. Sometimes it’s historical fiction with some fantastical element, or it’s history with a science fiction theme thrown in (think Victorian steampunk). Sometimes it’s just straight up using the real-life drama of past days to create interesting and diverse characters.

When I took on my first Victorian-era novel, I decided I wanted to get better at doing some “fancy hair.” I had also just read Jenny Han’s contemporary YA series, where the teen is always doing cool things with her hair. (You want to laugh and fall in love with a character? Read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.) So I sat down with one of my favorite research tools. Oh yeah. It’s awesome.

I love you, Pinterest.

So here were some of my favorite hairdos…

You like these? Check out more in my “Hair I will someday do” Pinterest album.

Otherwise, take a look at this handy-dandy chignon I tried on myself while doing 1920s research:

IMG_20180513_151232

It’s so fun. Somedays I want to cut my hair in a cute summer cut. But then, I’d have to use my 8-year-old’s hair for practice, and she “doesn’t have time for that.” 😉

Lesson from Racing: When you want to stop? Don’t.

In a recent speech for an SCBWI meeting, I compared the publishing business to running a long distance race. The difference? In publishing, the finish line is never defined, and it’s not the same for everyone.

However, I do know that on my 13.1 mile run in the Oklahoma Memorial Half Marathon on April 29, that I was thinking around mile 11 that the perseverance needed to keep running and to keep working toward our dreams is very similar. Sometimes, it would seem easier to just sit down or sit out. But what would we miss if we didn’t keep going?

So here I am, sweaty, tired, and aching at the finish line. But you’ll notice I’m smiling:)

race

Flight of creativity: Never underestimate a theme park

IMG_20180418_103430When I first started scheduling my family’s trip to Orlando, it was with the thought that this would be a “kids’ trip.” With my children’s birthdays a week a part in the middle of April, I decided that one week of missed school would be worth a family getaway, because the theme parks wouldn’t be quite as busy as usual, what with spring break over and summer not yet begun.

I figured the kids would enjoy it. As for me and my husband? We’d suffer through.

Not so. Our plan to go during less busy times really paid off. But that’s not all. My husband and I had more fun than we thought possible.

IMG_20180420_123459Also, I had a creative epiphany.

Not only did I come home with a new concept for an MG series that I’m PUMPED to write (generally, I’m always pumped to write, but this time, my fingers are simply flying, and the characters already feel like real people), but I had a renewed committed to my art. Witnessing an attraction built around J.K. Rowling’s imaginative world of Harry Potter, or walking through an exhibit about Walt Disney, really puts the power of art in perspective. Activities such as watching my children undergo Jedi training or riding the Seuss Carousel  gave me a renewed sense that stories can take us ANYWHERE.

So find your inspiration. Be it a writer’s conference, a personal retreat, or a family vacation, dig down deep to remember why you started this journey in the first place. And then start typing!

 

All in the Family

IMG_20180407_161951.jpgThis weekend, I attended a writer’s conference put on by the Oklahoma chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It wasn’t my first time, and it won’t be my last.

It had been a long week for me, and to be honest, although I am fiercely passionate about my writing, as a busy journalist and adjunct professor, as well as a mother of two young kiddos,  I wasn’t certain I had the energy–mentally and physically–to devote to that passion this weekend.

But of course, as with many SCBWI events, the conference was everything I needed–and more.

The best part? I took my mom.

You see, writing for me has always been a family thing. My family are story-tellers by nature (my brother can make it difficult to breath, the stories he tells make me laugh so hard, and my sister always provokes deep thoughts with her essays). But it’s my mother, more than anyone, who has always enjoyed the pacing and delivery of storytelling, and I know it has had a mighty impact on my own writing.

But that’s not all. Mom has devoted countless hours to reading, critiquing, and proofing my work. It takes a lot of trust to give someone your early draft, and she is “it” for me. While my husband and many friends are constant cheerleaders whom I couldn’t do without, no one has quite devoted herself to helping me as much as Kay McAndrew.

So while the speakers were extraordinary (informative, engaging, and funny), and the fellowship of other writers was like a breath of fresh air, I’m still thrilled that I got to spend an entire Saturday sharing my passion with the person who helped pass it down to me.

Thanks, Mom. Every step forward is because of you.