How I Ended Up in the YA Section of a Belize Library

Last month I attended a writers conference and retreat…on a cruise ship! Cruising Writers hosts fabulous Caribbean cruises that are a mixture of workshops, writing/editing time, travel, and fun with other authors.

The ports we visited were Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. I had shore excursions in Honduras and Mexico, but I left Belize open. Instead, my husband and I just walked around downtown Belize City, soaking in the sights, the culture, and the people.

After many blocks of our walking tour, we saw a shop selling Mayan chocolate. I definitely wanted to go in and buy something for myself and a friend. A few truffles later, we stepped back out onto the sidewalk, and my husband pointed two doors down. “Let’s go see the library.” Sure enough, the city’s library was on the same block, and we were eager to pop inside and see what treasures it held.

Now Belize is an English-speaking country, having been a British colony from 1862 to 1981. So the books they had on their shelves were, of course, in English. But the library was small, the fiction section requiring only a few bookcases. I was glad to see titles I recognized but saddened by how few books they shelved.

And then I found the YA section, which put a smile on my face:

ya-section-of-belize-library

Until I saw how little was in the YA section:

ya-bookcase-in-belize-library

My small town library has bazillion more YA books than this! One sweet girl who appeared to be about 12 years old strode in to say hello to the librarian, and as I looked at her, I thought, What happens when a bookish girl like her runs out of books to read?

I don’t know exactly what I want to do about this situation. I am looking into options for sending books to this struggling library (they had a whole empty bookcase they could fill with YA books).

But I thought it worth noting how spoiled I feel in the United States to have books so easily at my fingertips. And that’s clearly not the case around the world — even though we know how important reading is to success for an individual and a community.

As I got back onto the cruise ship (which had a pitifully small library too, but whatever — I was there for a week), I had this nagging feeling that authors and readers need to look for opportunities to share our love with those who don’t have easy access to books. I’m placing this goal on my 2017 resolution list.

How have you contributed to providing books for young readers and teens? What ideas do you have to help struggling libraries like the one in Belize City?

Advertisements

Fabulous First Lines

Fabulous First LinesThe other day, I was perusing my bookcase to decide which novel to read next. I have a stockpile from which to choose, but I was in an impatient, wow-me mood so I grabbed a few books off the shelf and simply read the first line. The first two were okay, but the third one grabbed my attention:

I cracked my first lock when I was three.

Immediately, I wanted to know who this teenager was that cracked locks so young and why that was important to her life story.

I got swept into this novel about a spy girl, ALSO KNOWN AS by Robin Benway. It was a great read, and that first line promised a story and tone that the author delivered on the page.

In celebration of other fabulous first lines, I wanted to share a few from books I’ve recently read. Congrats to these authors on penning a great hook for their readers.

I woke up to the smell of Lysol and the end of the world. — TORN, Erica O’Rourke

Where is this girl? Why is she smelling Lysol? And why is it the end of the world? Is that figurative or literal? Clearly, I wanted to read on. (Actually, I read on through all three books in the series, TORN, TANGLED, and BOUND.)

She’s so lovely, so fragile. Those haunted eyes. Those rosebud lips . . . they’ll scream so prettily. — POISON PRINCESS, Kresley Cole

Creep a reader out, will ya? That certainly set the tone for something sinister to come. This line appears in the prologue, and the first chapter is quite different. But it sets the mood properly to let the reader know that this book will delve into dark places.

Trevor Dunham talked quite a bit about his man part just before he drowned. — THE LIFEBOAT CLIQUE, Kathy Parks

A blurb on the front promises that this is a “savagely funny book,” and that first line cracked me up immediately. As I was picking up books at the Houston Teen Book Con, this first line sold me and I immediately decided to purchase. Sure enough, the book had a great balance of heartache and humor that this first line captured perfectly.

We found the monster on a rocky ledge high above the lake. — THIS DARK ENDEAVOR, Kenneth Oppel

What a perfect first line for the first book in the series The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Having read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a YA twist of the story, but I was eager to delve in when we started right away with “the monster.” (Who, by the way, is not Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein was the creator of the monster.)

All of these books turned out to be novels I would recommend.

What are some wonderful first lines from books you’ve recently read or picked up? Share your favorites!

Questions for YA Authors: From Teen Book Con

Authors entering
YA authors entering the packed auditorium at Teen Book Con 2016.

I had the joy of attending the 7th annual Teen Book Con at Alief Taylor High School in Houston, Texas on Saturday. There were 25 young adult authors in the line-up, with a fabulous keynote address from Ruta Sepetys, author of Salt to the Sea, and six topical panels.

For the most part, teens asked the questions for the author panels. I was so impressed with the quality of their queries that I jotted several down. And I thought I’d answer them myself — see how I’d do on an author panel.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

Authors are often asked about the best writing advice they’ve received, so this question was a nice reversal. I’d say the worst advice is anytime someone says there’s a single process for writing a novel. Whether it be plot this way or you must never edit while writing the first draft or use this method and you’ll turn out bestsellers, it’s just wrong. Not wrong for everyone, but wrong for some. It’s silly to assume that the way one writer turns out a great novel is the same process another must use. That would be like saying, “There’s only one route to New York,” when one of you is coming from Pennsylvania and the other from Africa. We’re different people coming from different places, so find whatever route gets you to the destination of Great Novel.

How often does the ending of your book surprise you?

When I write mysteries, I’m definitely surprised. I’ve written two mystery manuscripts, and both times I didn’t know who the perpetrator was when I started. I wrote more than half of those books with three different possibilities in mind — which made it easier to provide “red herrings,” I guess — but as the books progressed, it became clear whodunnit.

If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

This is a hard question, because I’d like to hang out with several of my characters. However, I’m currently writing a novel, Daring Charlotte, about a teenage girl who adores musicals. As a musical fan myself, I’d love to spend a day with Charlotte just watching musicals in a marathon movie event. The trouble would be narrowing it down to which ones we’d want to fit into our 24 hours.

IMG_2703
Who I did spend the day with — my fabulous critique partner and brilliant YA author, Christina Delay.

What is your hidden talent?

I can touch my tongue to my nose. Actually, now that I say that, it doesn’t sound a talent — more like a weird trick.

What’s your favorite part of the book to write?

First chapters. I love that fresh moment of a story idea falling onto the page, when I’m excited to meet these characters and eager to find the hook that gets readers interested in knowing more. I’m sure I spend way more time on the first chapter of a book than any other, because I believe it’s that important. (And that fun.)

What’s a romance trope you hate?

Bad boys turned good, solely because of the love of a nice girl. Seriously, ladies, if he’s only changing because he thinks it will get you to go out with him or get you in bed, it ain’t gonna last. Love does not cure drug addiction, bad ethics, or prison-worthy behavior. And it doesn’t make a jerk into a prince. A guy can be flawed, but he’d better be a good soul before he has a shot at the worthwhile female characters in my books.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Be willing to write crap and be willing to edit it into something wonderful. You can get so wrapped up in writing perfection that first time that you don’t get words down on the page. Set yourself up for the reality that you will delete or change quite a bit of what you write, and that’s okay. Excellence demands perspiration, so just commit to writing and then be willing to rewrite to make it better and better and better. Until you realize that what you wrote overall is pretty darn good, and worth sharing with others.

If your main character was real, what would they be doing right now?

I immediately thought about my YA novel Sharing Hunter (out on submission) and those two main characters. Chloe is wearing a small bikini, breaking into the hot tub at a local hotel, and inviting her love interest (no spoilers) to join her in the foam already. Rachel is carefully sketching a portrait of her and her love interest (no spoilers) to give to him for their __-month anniversary.

How would you answer any of the questions above? Or what questions would you ask of your favorite authors? 

RT Convention in Dallas: Come Say Howdy!

The Romantic Times Book Reviews  is a genre-specific website and magazine. It doesn’t deal only with straight romance, but any novel category that includes romance. And it hosts a huge reader-focused convention each year, with this year’s soiree happening in Dallas, Texas.

Which is, in Texas terms, like my back yard. Only a few hours’ drive from the Houston area, I’m coming up this next weekend to enjoy the festivities on Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16. If you’re planning to be there as well, I’d love for you to come say howdy!

Where can you find me? I’ll be at the Shooting Stars Gala on Friday at 10:00 a.m. hosted by The Bent Agency and The Seymour Agency. I’m also planning to go Line-Dancing with the Literary Stars at 12:20 p.m. I’ll attend a few workshops as well and the awards ceremony that evening. On Saturday, it’s book fair time!

How can you find me? I will be looking like my picture (mostly) and wearing cowboy boots (at least on Friday). Because yes, cowboy boots go with just about everything.

If you’re in the area, be sure to come by! Day passes are available, and the Giant Book Fair is only $10. There’s a Teen Day Program as well for only $30. It would be well worth your time and money to come by, where hundreds of authors will be hanging out and signing books. Check it out at RT Convention.

And if you can’t make it, HOWDY anyway! Because a virtual howdy is better than none at all.

My Writing Process: Vlog Edition

My lovely friend and author extraordinaire Christina Delay tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Hop. Christina writes fabulous young adult novels with a mythological bent. If you want to check out her writing process, click here.

Since I’d written before about my writing process, I decided to give this one a go through video. Hope you enjoy my vlog answers!

I’m tagging three writers, all of whom I recently saw at the RWA Conference in San Antonio: Diana Beebe, Callene Rapp, and Angela Quarles. As usual, if you’ve already participated or want to pass, feel free to skip.

The questions:

  1. What are you working on right now?
  2. How does your writing differ from others in your genre?
  3. Why do you write what you do?
  4. How does your writing process work?

Readers, feel free to answer any of those questions below!

Lucky 7 & An Unlucky Fairy Godmother

One of my very favorite indie authors, Kait Nolan, tagged me for the Lucky 7 challenge. The rules?

Go to page 7 or 77 in your current WIP.

  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 sentence or 7 lines — as they are!
  • Tag 7 people and do the same

A Little Fairy Dust coverSo here’s my entry from page 7 of A Little Fairy Dust, the next short story coming out (hopefully) in August! Faye is a fairy godmother in training, Jet is her ex, and she gets caught working a little magic.

“What is it, Faye?”

“Why should I tell you?” I dropped my caught-off-guard tone and moved to my he’s-still-a-liar tone. He’d hid plenty from me, so whatever I was up to was none of his business.

“Because you might be doing something else to sabotage the team.”

“Something else? What did I do before?”

Jet tilted his head and held up his casted hand, like it was a smoking gun.

“I didn’t do that,” I answered. “You punched the wall.”

[Now imagine a serious, booming voice.] “Why did Jet punch the wall? Why is he blaming Faye? Is Faye sabotaging the football team? Why is this guy named after a plane?

“Find out when you read A Little Fairy Dust — coming soon!” 🙂

ROW80 Goals

It’s time again to announce my goals for the next round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Last round, I set only five goals and did reasonably well reaching them. I’m going to keep it streamlined once again.

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. I’m already making better progress on this, by the way.

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. Release dates will probably be mid-August and late September.

3. Read 12 books. This remains a good number for me, and my reading will include both fiction and nonfiction.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. The conference is July 23-26.

That’s it! A few specific goals that are do-able, yet stretch me all the same.

I am forgoing sponsor duty this time around, since summers are kind of crazy for me, but I’m glad to stay involved. ROW80 has been a boost to my work productivity and a great chance to support other authors. If you’re a writer looking for some inspiration, motivation, and/or accountability, check it out here.

How’s your writing or your week gone? What goals have you set for yourself? And, just for fun, who’s your favorite fairy in fiction?

How Much Should You Cuss in YA?

I’ve wanted to take on this subject for a long time, but I vacillated about the risk of creating controversy. But then Mark Alpert of The Kill Zone wrote What the %#$@? in which he talked honestly about cutting out the curse words for his young adult novel and how that affected his writing.

So I’m tackling the subject today.

Teenage girl holding book

Here’s my own truth. I allow myself to cuss in first drafts. If I truly believe a teen character would say s**t, I type s**t in that first draft. I turn off the editor and put on the page whatever seems to work for the scene.

But my final goal is to limit cussing as much as possible. Why? Do I think teens must have squeaky-clean books? That they should be placed in a bubble?

No, I don’t. However, there are some good reasons to limit the curse words on the page.

Setting a higher standard. People learn language when they read. Reading has vastly improved my vocabulary, and a lot of that learning happened in those formative teenage years.

Plenty of teenagers are near-experts in the use of the F-word, but maybe by reading other ways to express themselves, they’ll expand their language options. Hey, I’d love for my kids to learn to insult more like Shakespeare:

“‘Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck!” – 1 Henry IV

“The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.” – Coriolanus

“A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats.” – King Lear

Thank goodness he didn’t simply use the same curse words over and over. And if the Bard can set that standard, I want to aim for it too.

Extraneous cussing can offend readers I want. I don’t know anyone who won’t read a book just because it’s cuss-word free, but I know plenty who won’t pick up a book with a lot of cussing in it. I want everyone I can possibly have as a reader to pick up my book. Of course, my subject matter and style won’t appeal to some, but if it’s merely some cuss words I can easily eliminate, I figure that’s worth doing.

I won’t shortchange the story, and some stories are simply made for older audiences, but I still watch my words to keep my story as accessible as I can.

Going deeper and getting more creative with words. Cuss words can be shortcuts, like when we know a character is angry because he utters “dammit.” Mark Alpert talked about having to go deeper to find ways to express emotion on the page without resorting to cuss words.

I recently went through this process of trying to figure out what a character would call this total jerk. In my first draft, she called him the apt a**hole. But that was easy. I dug deeper to what she really wanted to say and found a story-themed phrase that worked way better (waste of flesh). When I pushed myself for that more creative epithet, I reveled in the final product. It was right for her and for the scene, and it was more original.

It’s fiction, not real life. The reason I most hear from writers for the inclusion of many curse words is realism. I totally get that. Sure enough, if you’ve got a gang member selling drugs on the street, he’s isn’t going to say, “Jeepers, the cops are here!” So sometimes a cuss word is exactly what’s needed.

But this is fiction, not real life. If I wrote real life dialogue between teenagers, I’d also use the word like a billion times. “He was like, ‘Hey, Babe,’ and I was like, ‘No way,’ and then we like went to her house and she was totally like ‘Why didn’t you get with him?'”

Or we’d include a bunch of ums and uhs. But we don’t. Because those are unnecessary words. Instead, we streamline words and dialogue to keep things realistic yet well-paced. So I think about that standard when I consider using cuss words. Do I need this word? Or is it more of a “like” or “um” choice?

I want my family to be able to read what I write. On a personal level, I want my parents, my siblings, my children, my nieces and nephews, and my someday grandkids to all be able to read what I write — and me not feel any need to blush or apologize. As a devout Christian, I try to keep my own language clean and positive, so I want to model that life principle on the page as well. Such unspoken accountability to my family keeps me within the standards I’ve set for my own life.

So yeah, to some extent this is a personal choice. But I also believe it’s a good professional choice to limit cussing in YA when you can.

ROW80 Update

And now for my weekly update for A Round of Words in 80 Days. Has my progress evoked a stream of cuss words in my head or some yahoos instead?

1. Read 12 books. I finished Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Done! 12 of 12 read this round.

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. Still editing and will be for a while, but I’m supremely happy to have found an excellent critique partner nearby. I rewrote a chapter based on her comments and love the result. I also did some important replotting and started rewriting another chapter. Yahoo for this one.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Still waiting on comments from a couple of advance readers. One plus of self-publishing is I can move my personal deadlines back if I need that time to polish the story to where I want it. Nothing this week.

4. Publish and promote two short storiesMy Sister’s Demon is done. Still waiting on story #2. Half done!

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Checked in on the Wednesday updates from several bloggers. Some fabulous progress! Downright inspirational. Done.

So what do you think about cussing in young adult? Or any other genres? And how was your week?