the love of writing

YALSA Conference: 350+ cool librarians celebrate diversity

Friday before last, I spoke on a panel at the National YALSA Conference about trends in LGBT teen lit. I had a fab time meeting librarians that have passion around diverse books.

I did a guest post about the experience at Lee Wind’s blog–I’M HERE. I’M QUEER. WHAT THE HELL DO I READ? Go there to read all the fun details.

One of the best parts was meeting up with other authors I know only from conferences or online. We could (and did) talk and laugh for hours!


Back L to R: Neesha Meminger, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Malinda Lo, Megan Frazer. Front L to R: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Cynthea Liu, Me

Cynthea bought a bottle of wine for us all to share, but we never managed to get it open with our cheap corkscrew. Oh well. We look so sad, right?

Categories: My Invented Life, Real Life, the love of writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Take Romeo and Juliet. Add The Outsiders. Mix thoroughly.

I’m the newest fan of Jennifer R. Hubbard and her debut YA novel, THE SECRET YEAR. If you’re not familiar with the book, here’s the synopsis on Amazon:

Colt and Julia were secretly together for an entire year, and no one—not even Julia’s boyfriend— knew. They had nothing in common, with Julia in her country club world on Black Mountain and Colt from down on the flats, but it never mattered. Until Julia dies in a car accident, and Colt learns the price of secrecy. He can’t mourn Julia openly, and he’s tormented that he might have played a part in her death. When Julia’s journal ends up in his hands, Colt relives their year together at the same time that he’s desperately trying to forget her. But how do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?

And the cover:

When I first read the flap copy, I was a little worried. The story sounded terribly tragic and possibly melodramatic. But not so in Jennifer’s capable hands. Instead, it’s an intriguing look at how divisions in society affect people at the personal level. The characters are beautifully drawn. And the fascinating situations had me turning the pages so fast, that I read the book in a single day.

Jennifer has mad writing skills. It’s no coincidence that her blog, writerjenn, focuses on craft.

So I caught up with her to ask her how this exquisite, gritty, heart-felt  novel came into being.

When you started writing The Secret Year, did you begin with a character, a premise, a setting, or the plot?

I started with the opening situation: a secret relationship, a sudden death, a notebook left behind. I had Colt’s voice and an inkling of Julia’s personality. I wrote to find out what happened next.

The setting for The Secret Year dovetails into the plot, and the details give the story authenticity. Is the setting based on a real place?

The river is a composite of several rivers and streams I’ve lived near–probably about half a dozen of them. Black Mountain is a composite of several mountains and hills. The town is a composite of real places I’ve visited. Essentially, I put reality in a blender and then scoop out a portion of it and shape it to my needs. I like fictional places because I can pop in any landmark or building that’s necessary to the plot, without worrying about whether it actually exists.

The premise  is both melancholy and seemingly predestined. Yet you keep the novel tense. Can you share some of the techniques you used while plotting?

I started with some plot ideas, but certain things changed as I went along or during revision. I mostly think in terms of threads. Example of my thoughts: “Which thread haven’t I picked up in a while? Oh, Black Mountain and Austin–so they should appear in this next scene. And something has to happen. What would naturally happen here? How is the tension growing; how is it playing out?”

SPOILER ALERTS:  I knew Colt would get entangled with Syd at some point, but that it wouldn’t work out. As I wrote the first draft, I actually thought he would end up with Kirby at the end, but they both rebelled. Then I thought he would end up with Syd. Of course, you can see how all that turned out!

Thank you, Jennifer, for taking the time to answer my questions.

And everyone … read this book!! And if you’re a writer, check out Jennifer’s blog for helpful discussions on craft.

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Are you always good?

Jennifer Hubbard, deep thinker and the talented author of  THE SECRET YEAR recently asked me a most excellent question: What’s your philosophy on good and evil in character development?

I love hard questions! Hmmmm.  After much pondering I figured out a few things.

1. I believe that everyone on the planet is capable of good, and everyone is capable of evil.

2. I love reading about flawed characters who (at least somewhat) overcome their glaring imperfection to fulfill a dream.

3. If a character is too perfect, I assume he or she is hiding something.

4. The road to hell is paved with good intentions stupid proverbs. Good intentions are worth a lot!

5. Writing complex characters doesn’t mean you’re providing bad role models. Readers learn just as much from anti-heros as from heros.

6. When a flawed character succeeds, it gives hope to the rest of us.

You can read my answer to Jenn’s question here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

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Heck is where you go if you don’t believe in Gosh.

A writer friend of mine recently received a nasty letter from a Texas librarian about a “bad” word she used once in a beautiful, heartfelt and otherwise “clean” middle grade novel.

What the … ?

I don’t swear much.  [Except when my life is threatened by a bad driver] But the very existence of this letter warrants a string of expletives.


Contemporary realistic novels, by necessity, reflect the world back at itself. And the world swears. A lot. I’m not saying books need to imitate reality word for word. Yet, a well placed “bad” word can show character, make the drama in a scene believable, or deepen a revelation.

And do teens or even pre-teens really learn these words from BOOKS?  Don’t be a boil-brained clotpole! My two pre-teen sons know every word imaginable. Which they learned out in the world. They also know they can’t use them around me. I’m a huge advocate of polite discourse.

And a huge advocate of discourse period.

Which is why books should not be banned.

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Bisexuality in teen lit

I wrote this for the GLBT Challenge 2010:

Bisexual characters, especially bi protagonists are unusual in teen lit. A visit to Lee Wind’s website—I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?—makes this clear. Only eight out of 200+ GLBT titles there have bisexual characters or themes. Until recently, the in-betweens hovered on the fringe of the literary rainbow world. For instance, the Lambda Literary Award only began recognizing bisexual lit in 2006, though the award started in 1988. Here are a few of the myths bis have had to overcome–

They go for everything that moves.

They’re not as committed to the gay movement “real” gays.

They prefer to date the opposite sex so they can “pass” as straight.

They’re going through a transition on their way to becoming gay.

They’re confused and indecisive.

Here’s the cool part! Two weeks ago, I bought a stack of bi teen novels and read them all from cover to cover. They were universally excellent, deep, and heart-warming.

To read the rest … and for a list of fun, heart-warming, and amazing bi books, please view the original post at GLBT Challenge  2010.

Categories: My Invented Life, the love of writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Are you a successful writer? A whacky quiz in three parts

Are You a Successful Writer?


Any attempt to measure success may drive a mildly insane writer over the edge

Part I

1. Are you published?

2. Have I heard of your book?

3. Are you on the NY Times Bestseller’s list?

4. Has Oprah called?

If you answered no to any of the questions 1-4, you stay up nights contemplating your failure.

Part II

5. Is there a member of your family, critique group, or circle of friends that admires your writing?

6. Have ever you gotten fan mail? (Even letters/emails calling you Stephanie Meyers by mistake count.)

7. Is your book in a library? Has it ever been checked out?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’ve experienced happiness. For at least a minute.

Part III – Bonus Question

8. Despite all the ups and downs, do you still love writing?

If the answer is yes, than you are both happy and a success!!

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Open Mic

This week, I’m the guest commentator on Michelle Zink’s very cool Open Mic feature. Michelle is the author of PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS. She invites writers to submit up to 300 words of a work-in-progress each week. Everyone is invited to comment.

Come check it out here.

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