Top 10 YA Books I Read in 2015

As soon as I typed that title, I knew I’d leave someone’s book out of my list. If it’s your book, please forgive me. My memory isn’t the best, and I failed to keep a definitive list of what I read this past year!

But even if some amazing novel is missing from my list, I vouch that the following books are worth reading. Here are my favorite YA novels I read in 2015.

1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (fantasy). The Reds are commoners, while the elite Silvers have special powers and rule the country. Except when Mare starts working in the palace, she discovers a power of her own — which could throw off the balance, endanger her life, and threaten her family and her heart.

Not only does this book have a fabulous cover, the story within is a compelling tale of fantasy, relationships, romance, and betrayal. It’s a pretty entangled plot, but more than that, I enjoyed the characters who kept me guessing what they would do and how things would turn out.

2. They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire (suspense). Kenzie somehow got voted onto a list of the hottest girls in high school. Every year, that list is the ticket to popularity, parties, and romantic perks. This year, however, if you’re on the list…you have a target on your back. When girls on the list start dying, Kenzie must figure out who’s behind it before someone takes aim and kills her first.

What a concept, right? And St. Claire pulled this off very well. Kenzie is a relatable character, and the plot twists and ticking clock keep you on your toes and cheering for her to figure out who’s behind the killings. There’s also interesting friends, a cute boy, and more. Just a great read.

3. Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs (superheroes). Kenna lives and works in a community of superheroes who oppose a society of villains — yet she is powerless, an ordinary. When she encounters a band of villains seeking to save one of their own, she finds a way to fight against them. But the encounter leaves her questioning her view of heroes and villains and what it means to be good.

When I picked this up, I admit thinking to myself, Seriously? What more can be said about superheroes? Yet Childs and Deebs approached the subject in an original way, infusing the story of superheroes with deeper questions, interesting relationships, and stellar dialogue. Powerless is the first in their Hero Agenda series, and I will be reading the next one.

4. The Murder Complex by Lindsey Cummings (dystopian). In this dystopian society, the murder rate is higher than the birth rate — by design. Meadow has been taught by her father to fight back and survive, but when Zephyr, a government-programmed assassin, puts Meadow in his sights, she’s thrown into an entirely new challenge that requires all her skills, courage, and determination. Not to mention her heart.

I’ll warn you now: The body count in this novel is high. This is a dystopian society on steroids. But I loved this fast-paced novel with fresh characters, plot twists, and high stakes. It’s the first in a two-book series, and I immediately read the follow-up, The Death Code, which I also recommend.

5. Find Me by Romily Bernard (thriller). Wick’s got a promising new foster home, courtesy of her dad being arrested for his felonies. She’s also got amazing hacker skills, a snarky attitude, and a cop in her heels who’s convinced she helped Daddy Dear with his crimes. But when a former friend’s diary ends up in Wick’s hands with the words Find Me, Wick’s hacking skills and criminal contacts might just help her find Tessa’s killer.

Wick is the kind of resilient teen I love to read about. She has a billion ways life has kicked her in the butt, yet she wants a better life for herself and her sister. Bernard weaves a marvelous thriller plot in with deep emotional stakes for Wick and those around her. This was that kind of novel that made me push my bedtime way late into the night to read “just one more chapter” again and again.

6. Winter by Marissa Meyer (sci-fi fantasy). Winter is a sci-fi retelling of Snow White, right along with the super-bad stepmother and a huntsman who isn’t willing to kill the princess. But the whole story is set in a futuristic setting with Earth and the Moon at war and weaves in characters from the three previous retellings of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.

This is the fourth and final book in the Lunar Chronicles, which began with Cinder. Whether you know anything about the classic fairy tales, these retellings are highly engaging — but the way Meyer weaves details from the fairy tales into her world is nothing short of brilliant. This is the series I have most recommended to friends over the last couple of years.

7. A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin (historical). It’s the age of Napoleon, but Georgiana’s biggest problem is her parents sending her to a severe boarding school after a few of her science experiments went slightly awry. The rumors about Stranje House promise a life of both poise and punishment, but the school holds more far more interesting secrets. And Georgiana might fit in after all.

Great setting, smart heroine, intriguing characters, page-turning plot, and brilliant writing. I can’t wait for book 2 in Baldwin’s Stranje House series!

8. Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander (contemporary). Charlie is a math genius, but definitely not a genius at love. Until he meets an unusual girl in a donut shop who defies all logic and captures his heart. But when the new girl Charlotte turns out to be dealing with a serious illness, Charlie’s world isn’t just lopsided — it turns upside down.

You might think this is The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s not. Yes, there’s a sick girl, a lovesick boy, and a romance. But much of the book is the unfolding of their relationship and intriguing twists about these characters. It sounds totally cliché, but yeah, I laughed, I cried, I loved it.

9. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (contemporary). Alex is a normal teenager in many ways with concerns about school, family, and love, but everything in her world is also colored by her daily struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. How can she know what’s real and what’s not? And can she somehow find inner peace and romantic love?

Amazingly written, Made You Up also lets you see all these events through the unreliable point of view of someone with paranoid schizophrenia. What The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time did to help readers understand Aspergers, Made You Up will do for this poorly understood mental illness. I felt the challenges Alex faced and couldn’t help but root for her throughout.

10. Finding Paris by Joy Preble (contemporary). Sisters Paris and Leo must rely on each other; they certainly can’t rely on their flaky mother or gambling stepfather. But when Paris goes missing from a Las Vegas diner one night, Leo and a brand-new friend must track her down with clues Paris has left around the city. Why has Paris disappeared? And what family secrets does she hold?

I’m not a re-reader of books. Once I’ve read a novel, it’s rare for me to go back and read it again — even years after. Yet as soon as I finished Finding Paris, I wanted to turn back to page one and read the whole thing again. I resisted the urge at that moment, but I have every intention of re-reading this quirky, intense, wonderful novel in 2016.

That’s it! My top ten.

What did you read in 2015 that you recommend others read in 2016?

Advertisements

The Best Books You’ve Read (Lately)

Some books you really enjoy, and some books stay with you — as ones you’d recommend to others. The last novel I read was one of those, a story I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

So I looked back at my Goodreads account, and, while there are many books I’ve enjoyed lately, I wondered which ones stuck with me. Here are the last three that got meright here. (You know what I mean.) And they’re all very different in tone.

Love & Other Variables coverLove and Other Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander. From the book jacket:

Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswered questions. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck.

The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy at the donut shop — until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy.

By the time he learns she’s ill — and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness — Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second squared).

This one’s a beautifully emotional ride, with lyrical yet authentic prose. It’s not a typical happily-ever-after, but a hopeful ending nonetheless. If you like novels that tug — or yank — at your heartstrings, you won’t be sorry you picked this one up. (You know, I think I liked it a bit more than The Fault in Our Stars.)

Don't Lick the Minivan coverDon’t Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids by Leanne Shirtliffe. From the book jacket:

As a woman used to traveling and living the high life in Bangkok, Leanne Shirtliffe recognized the constant fodder for humor while pregnant with twins in Asia’s sin city. But in spite of deep-fried bug cuisine and nurses who cover newborn bassinets with plastic wrap, Shirtliffe manages to keep her babies alive for a year with help from a Coca-Cola deliveryman, several waitresses, and a bra factory. Then she and her husband return home to the isolation of North American suburbia.

In Don’t Lick the Minivan, Shirtliffe captures the bizarre aspects of parenting in her edgy, honest voice. She explores the hazards of everyday life with children such as:

  • The birthday party where neighborhood kids took home skin rashes from the second-hand face paint she applied.
  • The time she discovered her twins carving their names into her minivan’s paint with rocks.
  • The funeral she officiated for “Stripper Barbie.”
  • The horror of glitter.
    And much more!

A delayed encounter with postpartum depression helps Shirtliffe to realize that even if she can’t teach her kids how to tie their shoelaces, she’s a good enough mom. At least good enough to start saving for her twins’ college, eh, therapy fund. And possibly her own. Crisply written, Don’t Lick the Minivan will have parents laughing out loud and nodding in agreement. Shirtliffe’s memoir might not replace a therapist, but it is a lot cheaper.

I related entirely to the challenges of motherhood, attempts at humor to relieve tension, strange things you find yourself saying, not to mention the intense aversion to crafts. And I laughed out loud many times. Yes, there are close-to-your-heart mommy moments, but just as many close-to-the-wine-bottle moments as well. Which just about sums up motherhood these days!

Aces Up coverAces Up by Lauren Barnholdt. From the book jacket:

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Shannon Card needs money. And lots of it. She’s been admitted to Wellesley, but her dad just lost his job, and somehow she has to come up with a year of tuition herself. But Shannon’s dream of making big bucks waitressing at the local casino, the Collosio, disappears faster than a gambler’s lucky streak. Her boss is a tyrant, her coworker is nuts, and her chances of balancing a tray full of drinks while wearing high-heeled shoes are slim to none. Worse, time is running out, and Shannon hasn’t made even half the money she’d hoped.

When Shannon receives a mysterious invitation to join Aces Up, a secret network of highly talented college poker players, at first she thinks No way. She has enough to worry about: keeping her job, winning the coveted math scholarship at school, and tutoring her secret crush, Max. But when Shannon musters up the nerve to kiss Max and he doesn’t react at all, the allure of Aces Up and its sexy eighteen-year-old leader, Cole, is suddenly too powerful to ignore.

Soon Shannon’s caught up in a web of lies and deceit that makes worrying about tuition money or a high school crush seem like kid stuff. Still, when the money’s this good, is the fear of getting caught reason enough to fold?

It takes a while to figure out what kind of novels you enjoy writing, but I recently concluded that my own voice is a lot like this: Take an outrageous concept, add interesting, real-life characters, and produce a whimsical, yet heartfelt story.

That’s Aces Up. It’s a fun romp of a novel, with a serious heart underneath.

As you can see, my tastes run the gamut here. I cried in the first novel, laughed a lot with the memoir, and let my heart skip happily in the third book. All of these books, however, had a strong voice. They left me feeling like I really knew these people.

Now it’s your turn to share! What are the best books you’ve read lately, and why?

Dare to Be Different: The Beauty of a Girl

boaw-logo-2015-originalThis post is part of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2015.

Deirdre.

I still remember her name. Not because we were friends. She was a senior while I was a freshman in high school. Sure, we were both in the flute section of band, but she was first chair and I was way back in the second row hoping to make my way up to the front row someday. My dad knew her dad, but that didn’t make us cohorts. No, I remember Deirdre for one thing in particular: being different.

Different in appearance.

I don’t mean she bucked the trendy stuff and went all rebel—she wasn’t emo when everyone else was hipster. She didn’t conform to a different standard or subculture. She didn’t even seem to make a point of standing out, but she did.

Why? Because she was essentially her own trend.

Her hairstyle wasn’t the fad of the day. Her fashion was fun and quirky (and really nothing I saw on the racks, so I wondered sometimes how she did that). Her demeanor was confident, without being “hey, look at me!”

And I think about her sometimes. Because if I had to do high school over again, I’d be like Deirdre.*

I wouldn’t copy her fashion. Rather, I’d own my own version of beauty. I’d wear what I wanted, choose a hairstyle I liked, walk with a lot more confidence. I’d dare to be different. I’d be me.

Girl with interesting hairdo with flowers on it + blog post title

I’d choose a look that made me feel good about myself—whether it matched or clashed with current expectations.

Instead of worrying what designers said was “in,” I’d consider my body shape and dress to show it off. Instead of wasting hours with home perms, curling irons, and Aqua Net hairspray (the thing at the time), I’d let my straight hair be straight. Instead of comparing myself with a taller girl, a curvier girl, or just a prettier girl, I’d look in the mirror and take stock of my own assets. Instead of wallowing in self-doubt and body-image issues, I’d lift up my chin and walk with confidence.

I’d own my beauty.

Knowing it was unique to me.

I don’t have high school to do over again. Instead, I have these days to dress how I want, choose the look I want, walk with the self-confidence I now possess.

And I can encourage young girls to do and be better.

Young ladies, when I see you all in the school parking lot with the same hairstyle, I wonder who had to wrestle and wrangle with hair products, tools, and self-criticism to get that look…and if you ever want to do something different.

When I see a fashion trend catch hold, and school hallways filled with the latest thing, I wonder if you all love it for what it is…or if you ever want to wear something different.

When I hear you criticize your appearance and complain about your hair, makeup, body shape, or style, I wonder if you believe that down deep…or if you ever want to believe something different.

Believe in your beauty. It’s there—inside and out.

And go ahead. Dare to be different. Dare to be you.

When you’re my age (yes, a long time from now), you’ll be glad you did.

~ ♀ ~

Wrapping Up ROW80 & Looking Ahead to 2015

I hope your Hanukkah, Christmas, or other holidays were peaceful and enjoyable. For those who struggled with the holidays this year due to hardships in their lives, my heart goes out to you. I pray that everyone faces a hopeful year in 2015.

But here at year’s end, I’m doing a little wrapping up and looking ahead for me, my writing, and my blog.

ROW80LogocopyFinal ROW80 Check-in

It’s been years now that I’ve been involved in A Round of Words in 80 Days. I’m aware of other writing challenges, but I like this one particularly because it’s flexible to the participant and the season. Writers set their own goals for a round that last 80 days, and then report their progress and receive encouragement from others.

I haven’t been quite as on top of ROW80 this time as I like to be. But I did participate once again, and here’s my final report.

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I edited both, but I need more feedback from critique partners before polishing and publishing. Thus, these releases will happen after the first of the year.

2. Read 12 books. I read 10 books. And I’m still trying to get through Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Honestly, if this one hadn’t tripped me up, I’d have made my goal. I feel bad about my slow progress, but Mansfield Park is often named as Austen’s least engaging novel and it involves a lot of telling and dialogue — more than I recall in her other works. Yes, yes, that’s all rationalizing, but I have sworn to myself that I will finish this book and I plan to make it through before the end of this year.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I completed Immersion, made necessary edits based on what I learned there, and have only a couple of scenes to fix to be completely done. In addition, at the encouragement of Immersion mates and others, I entered my manuscript in the Golden Heart contest.

2015Looking Ahead to 2015

It’s good to take a look back and where you’ve been and what you can improve, but I don’t believe in dwelling there. Take stock, sure, but then look ahead to what’s next.

So here’s my overall list of writing goals for the New Year:

1. Revamp my website. Yes, I’ve done this before, but I’ve never been supremely happy with how it’s all going here. In fact, I wrote not that long ago on Blogging: What’s the Point? I’ve had some ideas stirring around in my head for months, but I haven’t had time to get to them. I’m planning to change that in 2015 and reboot the blog.

2. Publish three paranormal short stories. I have three more short stories to put out for my Paranormal Playground series. I’ll be releasing those, hopefully in the first half of 2015.

3. Publish “Color Me Happy.” This young adult contemporary short story was published in an anthology, but I’d like to publish it as a single as well. I’m aiming for perhaps a summer release.

4. Query Sharing Hunter. This contemporary young adult novel has been my heart’s work in 2014, and I believe it’s ready to go out to agents and publishers. It’s already been sent out a few times, but it’s in better shape now and I’m eager to query my manuscript.

5. Edit The Year of Firsts (working title). I wrote this middle grade novel a couple of years ago, then let the draft sit. I like the story and the characters, but after much thought, I’ve decided to edit it into a young adult novel. Of course, that means more like rewrite than edit, but I think this will be a great follow-up project. (And yeah, I no longer like that title, so I’ll be trying out new ones.)

6. Serve as RWA chapter officer. Next year, I am the vice president of special events for my RWA chapter. Some moments, I think I was crazy to agree to add another item to my already full plate, and other moments, I’m really excited to get to do this job. Wish me luck!

Perhaps I’ll get even more done in 2015. But I’m keeping my list right there for now.

What have you accomplished this past year? What are you looking forward to doing in the New Year?

Memorable Spy Gadgets: What Would You Want?

My fabulous friends and authors Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes have just published a terrific novella called The Spy Bride, which is part of a Risky Brides collection.

In honor of their release, I got to thinking about some of the memorable spy gadgets from TV and film. Here are some of my faves:

Maxwell Smart’s Shoe Phone

Maxwell Smart holding shoe phone, from Get Smart

Sure, in the days of cell phones, transmitting messages over a shoe might seem silly. Plus, this baby would be caught in two seconds in a TSA security line. But when Get Smart aired in 1965, a portable phone was a swank idea. And hiding it in your shoe seemed pretty spy-cool. These days, I’d probably be happier if the bottom of my shoe had a different gadget, like maybe a Roomba so I could clean my floor just by walking around.

Men in Black Neuralyzer.

Men In Black, Agent J holding neuralyzer

This handy-dandy device erases memories with a flash, which can then be replaced by a different version of events. While useful for hiding the existence of aliens from the common citizenry, I think a lot of people would love to have this gadget to erase the memories of others in their lives who might not have seen their best side and could use a new perspective.

John Steed’s Umbrella.

John Steed & umbrella from The Avengers

John Steed, of the British spy series The Avengers, was known for carrying an umbrella which he used as a weapon. If needed, the umbrella contained a saber he could pull out in a pinch. Currently, my umbrella only protects me from rain, but I could come up with a few handy tools I’d love to tuck into an umbrella.

Mission Impossible Self-Destructing Tape.

Mission Impossible -- smoking tape player

Who can forget the way missions were delivered in the Mission Impossible series, and films following? An agent picks up the recorded message, listens to the instructions, and then hears, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck…” Yes, I know we don’t have tapes or players like this anymore, but the notion of self-destructing gadgetry is an appealing one. As a parent, some days I’d like to have a “should you not get off this video game and do your homework in the next ten seconds, your cell phone will self-destruct.” (Yeah, I’m fun like that! ;))

Chuck’s Intersect.

Intersect computer from Chuck

The Intersect from Chuck stores all the intelligence data the United States government possesses and recognizes patterns that help catch the bad guys. Unfortunately, this big pile of data gets shoved into the brain of one unsuspecting geek named Chuck. But this would be very handy for an agent, don’t you think? Or even for your daily life, to be able to shove everything you know or should know onto a drive, stick it in your brain, and access it at will? That sounds like a gadget I could use.

James Bond’s Aston Martin.

Aston Martin in Q's lab

The first car to be equipped with gadgets in a James Bond film was this beauty, the Aston Martin from Goldfinger. It had GPS, machine guns, smoke screen, tire slashers, and more — all the things I need to get around in my Houston traffic. (Kidding…just kidding!) But hey, a bunch of cool spy stuff in your car? And not just any car, but an Aston Martin? Yes, please.

So there are a few of my favorites. Hope you’ll share some of yours in the comments!

And now for a quick ROW80 Update! A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) is the writing challenge that knows you have a life:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I did some editing this week and worked on blurbs as well.

2. Read 12 books. Read The Best Medicine by Tracy Brogan. That brings me up to three.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. Attended a couple of weeks back and just got back comments from a valuable critique partner.

Also, I recently learned that I placed 2nd in the YA category for the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book contest! Congratulations to the other winners, Jessica Ruddick and Ann LaBar.

Now what are your favorite fictional spy gadgets? And how was your week?

Risky Brides book coverEight novellas.

Great authors.

Wonderful price.

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

6 Reasons to Write a Short Story

Today, I’m over at Writers in the Storm, an award-winning blog for writers, talking about why you might want to pen a short story. Enjoy!

Writers In The Storm Blog

Happy Friday to all our friends here at WITS! We’re doing some extra special posts this week as an advance thank you for helping us migrate to our new site next week. All will be unveiled on Monday!

Today our pal, Julie Glover, is here. *Jenny jumps up and down* Here’s an example of why she’s one of our favorite peeps. When we told her y’all love nice meaty posts, Julie responded with:

“I hope I delivered. I’m even hoping it’s bacon. All posts should be like bacon.”

Enjoy!

*  *  *  *  *  *

My Sister's Demon, paranormal fiction by Julie Glover, @julie_glover

As a novel reader, I always believed I was meant to write full-length books. Yet I find myself entering the self-published market with a collection of short stories instead.

I wrote the first one on a lark—merely a story premise I wanted to get out of my system. But I liked the result…

View original post 978 more words

Bonus Post: Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction is a style of writing for extreme brevity.  I found a great Flash Fiction challenge posted by fellow author Haley Whitehall.  Here are the rules of the challenge, with a May 1 deadline:

    • You must start your story with the sentence: “She had been warned, but now it was too late.”
    • The story must be 500 words or less.
    • I’ve read a lot of flash fiction stories that express an incomplete idea so for my challenge I am challenging you to make sure your story has a clear beginning, middle and end.

Without further ado, here is my first ever Flash Fiction story (at 497 words – 3 words to spare!): 

Just Desserts

She had been warned, but now it was too late.

Notes and printouts scattered across the floor like unraked autumn leaves.  Tracy had sifted through every page, gasping with each revelation.  She slumped against the wall, cushioned by dresses and coats on her side of the walk-in closet, and moaned.

The heady eight-week romance had dragged her from a mundane life to a miraculous one; Joe was everything she didn’t know she wanted.   When the tall, athletic accountant proposed, Tracy knew that Fate was finally delivering her just desserts.  In fact, Joe was a red-velvet cake with creamy white icing, chocolate shavings, and a scoop of French vanilla to boot.  Despite her sister cornering her after the engagement and insisting that “Something isn’t right about this guy!,” they eloped, honeymooned, settled in, and began married life with odds in their corner.

Now less than a year later, she studied her wedding ring in the dim glow of a 60-watt bulb and wondered where she owed allegiance.  Legally she couldn’t be forced to testify against her husband, but morally could she let a crime go unanswered?

Tracy’s cell phone rang and Joe in a Rangers baseball cap smiled at her from the screen.  She let the call go to voicemail, then listened to his message: “Hey, Sweetheart. Getting off early.  Be home soon. Love you.”

She gathered and stacked the papers in order, dropped them into the box, and sealed it carefully.  Using the stepstool, she returned the evidence to its place on the dusty shelf.

***

Her text to Joe was brief, “Found the papers. Called the police. Leaving.”  It had been a grueling week deliberating her options, but her conscience had prodded her like a woodpecker’s beak.  Principle trumped passion.

As Tracy ambled with her suitcase down the driveway, a taxi pulled up and Joe jumped free before it halted. “Thank God I caught you!” he yelled. “Got your passport?”

Panting and perspiring, he ran with eyes blazing and suit coat flapping at his sides.

“What?”

“Passport.  You’ll need it.”

“Joe,” she whispered.

“Tracy,” he said breathlessly, “I’ve been gathering that info to turn it in.  Our phones are bugged. They’ll be coming to kill us.”

“What!” she shrieked.  “Who?”

“Can’t explain now.  We’ve got to go!”

Joe grasped her wrist and pulled her toward the house.  Tracy’s brain vacillated between anxiety about Joe and the word “they.”  But familiarity trumped fear.

She ran up the steps with him, watched him toss basics into a duffle bag and grab the box from the closet, and wheeled her suitcase out the front door a second time.  Before exiting the house, Joe yanked passports from the study desk.

***

She held his hand and looked through the smudged airplane window.  Joe had insisted on getting out of the country before contacting the FBI.  Three times, Tracy’s life had changed in a moment – meeting her husband, calling the police, trusting Joe.

Time would reveal whether Tracy’s devotion trumped doubt.

Obsessive-Correcting Disorder

I stand in the local Hallmark store staring at the handmade sign above the card rack.  The words are written in black Sharpie pen – the same kind of pen I just happen to have in my purse.  The misspelling is egregious.  The clerks are busy with other customers.  I slip out the pen, glance around furtively, and then add the missing letter onto the sign.  Aaah!  A wave of relaxation passes over me.  Now, I can continue my shopping, knowing that I have benefitted the Hallmark company and all of the customers that will pass this display after me.  The world has been made right. 

You know you’re a grammar or punctuation stickler when you start pointing out printed errors to the staff of restaurants, stores, or other businesses.  When a poorly punctuated brochure or a conspicuous misspelling on a menu cry out to you for justice.  When you arrive at your friends’ home, view the welcome sign by her front door, and wonder if you should inform her that the “Smith’s” (possessive) do not live here, but the “Smiths” (plural) do.

But you know you’ve joined the ranks of the obsessive-compulsive when you begin correcting signs yourself!  My best friend was first to cross the line of idiosyncrasy when she revised a menu item written in chalk at a restaurant before being escorted to a table.  I was more secretive in that moment when I finally realized that I had been given a gift that must be used for the greater good, to right the wrongs of incorrect language usage.  And really, at some point, it is easier to do it yourself than to try to explain to the manager or another employee why the word should be “its” instead of “it’s” or how to spell “specialty.”

Needless to say, this can be embarrassing to any companions who are with you at the time.  Alright, alright . . . bowing to pressure, I will admit that it is not potentially embarrassing; it is downright shudder-inducing to your family and friends!  They may take several large steps away from you, deny that you are in their party, and ignore your repeated attempts to get their attention, even if those efforts include shouting, waving your arms like a chicken, or sobbing uncontrollably.

Still, you are right.  Stick to your guns.  It is appalling how many spelling and grammatical mistakes are tolerated in our otherwise high-achieving society!  The world needs your knowledge and candor to point out where it can improve!  To maintain the highest standards of communication for the dignity of all people!  To preserve the written word and carry it forward untarnished to the next generation!  You are on level with superheroes, world leaders, and religious icons in preserving the values for which we live!

Does society frown on the world-class swimmer who jumps in the pool to save a drowning child?  Do people look down upon the medically-trained citizen who performs the Heimlich maneuver on a choking diner?  Do others condemn the What Not to Wear hosts when they call attention to crimes against fashion?  Of course not!  Neither should they fail to recognize the benefit you bestow on mankind with your keen eye and willingness to act for the sake of rescuing the errant sentence or phrase!

Use the talent given to you.  But remember, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

And if you happen to notice any errors in this blog post, please inform me.  (But do so gently.  I may not take it very well.)

It Begins with a Hurricane

While 104 mile-per-hour winds rattled and ripped apart our roof and rain swirled and surged into our dining room, we slept soundlessly on the brass bed of a relative’s home.  Hurricane Ike was assaulting the shores of Southeast Texas, and we, like many Houston area residents, didn’t hang around to eyewitness the destruction or experience the weeks-long power outage afterward.  Having stuffed enough clothes and toiletries for a week as well as some precious mementos and important paperwork into our compact car, our family had evacuated to San Antonio.

With a suddenly open schedule and open laptop before me, I decided to start writing a novel.  I had written in the past – songs, poetry, newsletter articles, a novel chapter or two.  I was likely embarking upon another hopeful but fruitless attempt.  I began Chapter 1.  Then I wrote a plot line.  Next, I wrote Chapter 2.  Hey, this was actually going well!

Fast forward to a return trip to our home halfway between Houston and Galveston, the discovery of a huge hole in our roof, and the kids’ return to school.  In between the many insurance-related phone calls, I committed to write for at least an hour a day.  As I wrote, everything around me blurred into a fog and evaporated.  I soon realized that I could sit at my laptop for 3-5 hours at a time, delving into characters and weaving the plot for my mystery novel.

At some point, I emerged from my bedroom to announce that I had 50 pages, and my adolescent son said, “Way to go, Mom!”  Then I had 100 pages, then 150, and so on, until my 250(ish)-page first draft was complete.  It took months of writing and editing to get a final product, but eventually a manuscript was birthed.

Now I could say with confidence:  I am a writer.  An author.  A novelist.

It’s April 2011, and I am not a published novelist (but will be!).  Yet I have begun other projects – a juvenile fiction book and a couple of young adult novels.  After schlepping around the house with my laptop for months – from study desk to bed to living room couch to bedroom desk and back – I finally took a section of our guest bedroom and created my own writing nook.

Looking for inspiration from authors, I found Virginia Woolf’s famous quote:  “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  How true!  Thanks to my hard-working husband, the finances are taken care of, and now I have that room of my own.

But of course, that’s only the beginning.  You also must have ideas, time, commitment, a working computer, perseverance, a willingness to edit with a machete at times and a scalpel at others, and the notion that someday, somehow, somewhere, someone will read what you have written . . . and like it.

A Round of Words in 80 Days Update: 5,354 words last week; two blog posts; starting my first middle-grade novel edit this week.

The Write Challenge

Tooling around on Twitter, I linked over to the Round of Words in 80 Days challenge through another writer. Aha! I thought. This is just what I need. After spending the last few weeks toting my car from one shop to another for repairs that made me wonder if a car payment wouldn’t be preferable, learning that the pipes under my house were clogged with debris and required replacement, and checking off about a billion family-related errands that needed doing but did nothing to further my writing goals, I wondered if I should be shooting for the moon with this author thing anyway.

By SMU Central University Libraries (A True Girl of the West. Uploaded by PDTillman) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But I’m a Texan. We like shooting down here. So after a minor (10 minutes maybe, an hour, no more than a half-day) pity party, I decided I needed some goals and direction so I could get busy, catch up, and see some progress. I wrote a few goals for the month of April.

But I’m the only one who would know if I met these goals.  All too often, the cluttered kitchen table clamors for attention, a girlfriend calls to chat about nothing in particular, or the thought of a pedicure sounds much more relaxing than staring down a blank page with that “it’s you or me” confrontation. And that doesn’t count the sometimes constant interruptions of family members. It’s easy to get distracted, discouraged, or downright deranged in this writing process.

A little encouragement and accountability, though, goes a long way. Ask the dieter who has an exercise buddy, the football player who has his cheering fans, the employee who has a complimentary boss. I immediately loved the idea of setting an 80-day goal and knowing that I was in a group challenge where we would be secretly and publicly giving attagirls and attaboys to the participants.

So here are my Round of Words in 80 Days goals:

1.  5,000 words per week on middle grade novel (working title: The First Time).  I thought this seemed ambitious until I counted the words I banged out in 70 minutes time, and it was 1515.  Hopefully, this is a realistic goal for me. If I keep this pace, I will finish this WIP long before the 80 days are up.

2.  If first draft finished, edit through once.  If I do indeed finish my draft, I want to go through the novel and revise it once. I typically edit several times over, but the first few trudge-throughs are the hardest. It’s particularly difficult to yank out whole passages that you like but don’t add to the story. Still, it’s necessary.

3.  Two blog entries per week. Having started this new blog, it is my intention to post on Tuesdays and Fridays . . . faithfully.

That’s it.  I have plenty of other personal goals, like keeping my toenails painted, starting to work on a tan, and seeing if my old swimsuits fit. (It’s almost 90 degrees here, and I’m itching for the beach.) But I need to keep my writing goals in mind! I’m looking forward to the 80 Days Challenge.