I recently finished a novel by a bestselling YA author. This blog post isn’t to knock her writing by any means, which is why I'm not mentioning her name or the book title. The book was entertaining contemporary teen fiction. It didn’t have a big plot, but it was full of interesting, loveable characters interacting with each other. While it’s not my favorite kind of book, I didn’t dislike it either.
The reason I bring up this book is because of something in the writing that surprised me. This author used the word “look” a lot. So much. All the time.
I just looked at her.
She looked at me and said…
He gave me a look.
I looked at him, feeling…
Why is this a big deal? Well, I’ve been writing for a while now. With writing comes lots of workshops, classes, reading books about writing, critiques of my work, etc. Something that came up early on with an editor of my work (and continues to show up in articles about how to write well) is to limit the use of non-descriptive words like “look”. Other words in that ranking are “turn” and “said”. These are words that are used too much and don’t offer a lot to make a work sparkle with lovely prose.
If two people are in a conversation, I feel it’s unnecessary to write that they are looking at each other. They should be looking at each other. That’s a given. What is more interesting is when someone looks away.
He looked at her and said, “I love you.”
is much less interesting than
His gaze dropped to the ground, and he kicked at a pebble before saying, “I love you.”
Or maybe returning his gaze to her might be interesting, if he’s been looking elsewhere.
After being fixated on picking at his fingernails, he raised his eyes to look directly into hers and said, “I love you.”
Now, in our everyday vernacular, we use the word “look” all the time. It’s easy. Teens and young adults especially use it. I hear my daughters all the time telling me about how someone gave them “a look” and that usually means something bad. I myself have said to my 16-year-old, “Wipe that look off your face” or “What is that look supposed to mean?” So, it’s okay to use the word once in a while in your fiction to make it ring authentic. It’s overuse that bothers me, especially when used without any qualifiers to spice it up.
I strongly feel that a word this bland should be avoided or used sparingly. The book I mentioned above was an audiobook, and it didn’t help that the narrator almost emphasized the word “looked” every time it was used. It got to a point that I would chuckle.
And each time she specifically said “he looked at me” or “she looked at me” I would start singing. Why? Because a while back I wrote a song called “He Looked at Me”. It was something I wrote when an actor in the show I was in glanced at me in the middle of his song, possibly indicating that he just might have a little crush on me. I wrote this song about how I obsessed over it. There’s a second verse about how I completely misconstrued that look, and it really meant nothing. Someday I hope to put this song in a musical.
Yes, this is a video of me singing make-up-less and a cappella in my car. No, I wasn't driving.
Okay, tangent over… back to the book by the famous author.
Surely, this had to be one of this author’s first books. Nope. I researched her and found that it is one of her most recent books after about a dozen. Not indie or self-published, either. All with Penguin/Random House. So, this makes me wonder if her editors are less ‘hands on’ now that she is super successful and didn’t push her to rethink the excessive use of this word. Or did she simply like it this way and insist on leaving all of them?
For fun, I thought I’d do a little challenge. I went through my Juniper Sawfeather books and No One Needed to Know to see where my first use of the word “look” shows up.
Okay, embarrassing… Cry of the Sea, literally the first line: “You ready to see how the next big change in your life is going to look?” I use the word five more times over the next 12 pages, always as an action, such as: “Terrific. When I get back next week, we can look it over together.” All right. This was my first book as D. G. Driver. Let’s see how I do with more recent work.
Whisper of the Woods, first use of the word ‘look’ is again on page 1: My dad agreed that the protest was a more pressing issue than finding the lost mermaids, but it would be concluded soon and maybe we could look into tickets for Hawaii over Winter Break. The first time I use it the way I’m arguing against above, however, is on page 12: “I didn’t think anyone would leave before the New Year started.” He looked back at me. “Guess I was wrong.” I should point out that that there are three people in this conversation, and he was returning his focus to Juniper.
Echo of the Cliffs. Page one - again: He was coming after me, but I didn’t look up to see his progress. On page 10, I wrote this: I gave her a sharp look to try to get her to shut up about it. I’m pretty sure I thought that by adding the adjective “sharp” made a difference. Not sure if it did. Maybe I could have used a different word choice altogether.
No One Needed to Know. Last line of page one (I almost made it): “Getting closer every second. Looks like he’s going to ram us. Shoot him quick or brace for impact!” On page 3: Donald looked at me and adjusted his glasses is followed by a paragraph describing Donald’s complicated facial expressions that are caused by his Autism.
Am I defending my writing too much? Possibly. I do make a point during revisions to use my ‘find’ and ‘replace’ buttons to seek out all my uses of “look” or “looked” and replace them with something more interesting or that convey more information. For example, instead of “I looked at him” might be “I gawked at him.” I may work harder at this for future projects.
Okay, so let me extend my challenge. I’m going to pull a couple bestseller YA novels off my shelves and find the first use of the word ‘look’.
Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys, page 15: I couldn’t stand to look at her, at the streaks of dead Russian splattered down her sleeve. A few pages earlier she uses the word ‘scanned’ as opposed to ‘looked’.
Mosquitoland, David Arnold, p. 5: “You can go on back,” said a secretary without looking up.
Vanishing Girls, Lauren Oliver, p 8: I set it down next to a platter of cold pigs in blankets, which look like shriveled thumbs wrapped in gauze. A couple pages earlier she writes, Dara’s eyes flick to mine instead of using the word ‘looked’.
The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner, p. 3: Dill set his jaw and looked at her. “I don’t want to. I hate it there.”
In conclusion, here’s what I think. In some cases ‘to look’ is the right verb for the sentence. I feel like this is especially so if surrounded by other descriptors or included in a compelling sentence or paragraph. In most cases, however, this dull word choice could be replaced by something much more interesting. I definitely feel like having it used too often sounds repetitive and takes away from a story. Look at your WIP (see what I did there?) and see where you might consider some changes.
I’d love to know your thoughts. Comments are always welcome.
I had the opportunity to read and review a wonderful little picture book called Unlikely Friends. It is written by David Dilsizian and illustrated Mykyta Harets. I’ve been following David on Instagram for several years because he is a talented singer and often posts videos of his performances. When I learned that he had put out a children’s book about Ella Fitzgerald, one of the great singers of the golden era of jazz music, I was intrigued. I’m a bit of a singer myself, jazz standards being the genre of music I love to sing the most, and Fitzgerald is among my favorite singers.
Unlikely Friends is very short, 14 pages from beginning to end. It tells about one instance in Fitzgerald’s life – when Marilyn Monroe, the most famous female actress of the 1950s, became a fan and helped promote Fitzgerald’s career to the next level. Despite an economy of words, this book is about big themes, such as friendship, being supportive, overcoming racial barriers, and perseverance. Dilsizian relates this story simply, in a way that young children will be able to understand. The illustrations are colorful and are a perfect match for the story.
These days we hear the word “influencer” used a lot. It is well known amongst creatives (artists, musicians, actors, writers, designers) that the way to really get onto the fast track of success is to be discovered by someone who already has a wide following. If a famous actress tweets that she likes a blog, people will follow that blog. If a famous author touts a book by an unknown author, that book will sell copies. If a famous model is photographed in a boutique shop, that shop will get new clients. If a famous singer shares a youtube video of an up-and-coming talent, that kid will get a recording contract.
This isn’t a new phenomenon, even though “influencer” is the current word to describe those people of acclaim generous with their praise and support. It also only works when the person being helped is genuinely talented in their own right. Unlikely Friends is a reminder that “influencers” existed back in the 1950s, and that support from someone with a foot in the door is invaluable. It also makes clear that Ella Fitzgerald was a rising star in her own right before Marilyn Monroe’s help and continued to soar with her talent after this experience.
Personally, I would like to see Dilsizian write more of these stories, each one featuring a different jazz era person of color. Surely there are interesting anecdotal tales about other prominent musicians like Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Billie Holiday, etc. I imagine a classroom set of eight or ten of them to be used in 2nd or 3rd grade classrooms or for elementary school music classes.
I liked Unlikely Friends so much that I asked to interview David Dilsizian for Write and Rewrite.
This is a short story about a pivotal moment in Ella’s career. How did you learn about this important relationship between her and Marilyn?
David: I have been a fan of Marilyn for a very long time. If you read about Marilyn (even a little bit) the name Ella Fitzgerald comes up over and over. She was Marilyn’s favorite singer. Marilyn even tried to mimic Ella’s singing in her movies. So, ironically it was because of Marilyn that I started listening to Ella.
Most children today will have no idea who these two women are. What inspired you to write this book for children?
David: In February of 2016 while shopping at Target, they had a little display of children's books for Black History Month. It was then that I remembered the story about Ella and Marilyn. I thought the story of their friendship was still very relevant. I also thought it would be a great way to introduce these two wonderful women to a new generation.
What do you hope children will take away from this book?
David: I hope they learn that anything is possible, and to stand up for others that are being mistreated.
I know that you are a talented singer and often are singing standard jazz songs. Could you tell a little about why this style of music appeals to you?
David: I think my love for jazz music has slowly evolved over the years. My latest album is all jazz standards. I always thought I would end up working in musical theatre. Through studying theatre I fell in love with old Broadway musicals. Most of the music from the musicals of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s went on to become what we now call jazz standards, so it was kind of a natural progression.
Do you have a favorite song recorded by Ella? A favorite movie featuring Marilyn?
David: I love Ella’s version of “Summertime”, her voice is like velvet on that song! My favorite Marilyn movie is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
A side note: I used to have Gentlemen Prefer Blondes memorized and could do a fairly decent Marilyn impression.
Is this your first book or attempt at writing for children? Did you enjoy it? What were the challenges?
David: I’ve started many books before this, but never finished any of them! I never thought I would write a children’s book. I always thought I would write something more autobiographical. However, I loved creating a children’s book. When creating for children, the sky is the limit to where you can let your creativity take you. My biggest challenge has been figuring out the right marketing campaign. Most people don’t think of children when they think of jazz music and Marilyn Monroe! I’ve had to convince many people that the lessons in this book are universal.
The illustrations by Mykyta Harets are lovely. Was this a project you came up with together or did you hire Mykyta to illustrate for you? How did you two connect?
David: I found Mykyta online, I spent a few months just thinking about this book. I finally wrote it out and did some rough sketches myself. I thought it was something I would do down the road. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew my sketches weren’t good enough, so I started looking for a professional illustrator. When I saw samples of Mykyta’s work, I knew she would be a perfect fit for this project.
Do you plan to write other stories like this or create a series?
David: Probably not with these characters, but I have thought about writing about other jazz legends.
Yay! I hope you do.
This book is multicultural and speaks to the African American experience of racism the 1950s. I notice that both you and Mykyta have names from other cultures. Would you mind sharing what your heritage is and how it might have factored into writing a book about overcoming racism?
David: My heritage is Armenian. My great grandparents moved here to escape the Armenian genocide, so cultural and racial divide are a large part of my family’s journey. I don’t want to speak for Mykyta, she lives in the Ukraine (where she was born and raised), and to be honest I don’t know much about her heritage.
As far as why I wanted to share the story, I feel like in recent years we as a country have taken several steps backwards in regard to racial relations. I feel like we need to teach the next generation about our mistakes so they can learn from them. If we teach love and acceptance at a young age, hopefully it is something they will take with them throughout their life.
Do you have a website or page where people can learn more about your music or writing?
David: For more information on my music you can find me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/daviddilsizianmusic/
For more on my writing, check out our official Instagram for the book www.instagram.com/unlikely.friends.book
Where can people get a copy of Unlikely Friends?
Please feel free to leave a comment for David Dilsizian or myself below. Do you have any favorite movies stars or singers from the 1950s? Tell us about them!
Oh, and hey! Don't forget that the 3rd and final novel of my Juniper Sawfeather YA fantasy trilogy, Echo of the Cliffs, releases on Tuesday, June 6th. Make sure you preorder your copy before the price goes up! For more info, scroll on down to the previous post, or visit www.dgdriver.com/echo-of-the-cliffs.html
In honor of Mother’s Day (a day late because my internet service bailed on me), I thought I’d share some thoughts about my process in creating a mom character in a young adult fantasy series that is believable and important to the plot.
Meet Natalie Sawfeather, the mom in my Juniper Sawfeather Novels trilogy. When reviews for Cry of the Sea (the first book in the trilogy) started coming in, I noticed there was not a lot of love for this pushy, demanding, impatient environmental lawyer.
“I wasn't fond of Juniper's mother, she was pretty over bearing and didn't have many redeeming qualities.” I Loves 2 Read
“The mom sounded a bit fake to me who really wants glory and not just this cause she was fighting for. Then at the end she suddenly became a very dear mom who's very supportive of her daughter.” Versus the Writer
And the thing is, these reviews didn’t upset me. They actually made me happy, because, being that the book was written from 17-year-old Juniper’s point of view, I didn’t want people to like Natalie that much. She is over-bearing. She has high expectations for her daughter while at the same time not letting her be her own person. A constant issue throughout the series is Juniper wanting to leave Washington to go to a school in California, while her mother wants her to go to the same college as her, have the same major, follow in her footsteps, and fight the same causes. Juniper admires her mom for all that she has done for the environment, but she also can’t stand her and wants to get away from her to find her own path.
That’s when my mom said it. Those words that said everything about how much my mom cared about the environment and how little she cared about me. Because if I didn’t want to grow up and be just like her then nothing I wanted to do would be good enough. “You don’t have the slightest idea what you should do with your life!”
And that’s when I said my equally hurtful words. “No, I know what I want. I want to get away from you!” (Cry of the Sea, chapter one)
When the going gets tough for Juniper, she leans on her father instead of her mother. There is a moment ¾ of the way through the book where some genuine feelings by Natalie are shown, and at the end she is clearly trying to be more loving. Still, it isn’t a solid mother/daughter relationship.
When I began writing book 2, Whisper of the Woods, I thought a lot about the power struggle between Juniper and her mother. I wanted it to develop further. There were a couple things I focused on. One, Natalie never saw the mermaids (except in a video) in the first book and, despite everything that happened, is still a bit on the fence about magic being real. Two, how will someone as no-nonsense as Natalie handle her daughter getting trapped in a tree? I can tell you without spoiling much, she doesn’t handle it well. Worry and concern don’t sit well on this woman. Neither does not being able to control what is happening to her daughter.
“I am also happy to know that while things don’t seem to be exactly great, Juniper’s relationship with her mother seems to be improving from where it left off in Cry of the Sea, and I feel like the third installment of this series will probably be a big one for the both of them.” Anita Loves 2 Read
I decided that Natalie needed a character arc just as much as my protagonist. She goes through some emotions and changes in this novel. While I don’t think 18 years of being difficult and dismissive is waved away, and they’ll be painting each other’s nails and having mommy/daughter days, you can definitely tell that love is there, and respect is building. In the end, I hope Natalie comes across as more authentic and real, if still somewhat difficult to love.
“We aren’t bad parents,” she choked. Mom dropped to her knees on the carpet in front of me and put her hands on my legs. She locked her eyes on me in that uncomfortable way where she shifts her gaze from one of my eyes to the other, like she couldn’t quite bear to look at both of them at once.
“Are we, June? Are we bad parents? Am I a bad mother?”
“No, of course not.” She was frustrating, over-bearing, pushy, and critical. She was also brilliant, driven, passionate, and inspired. I despised and idolized her in equal parts. “You’re a great mom. You guys are great role models.” (Whisper of the Woods, chapter sixteen)
Now there is book 3, Echo of the Cliffs (scheduled for release on May 23rd), and I’ve done something rather unusual for a young adult novel. I have Mom – and Dad – actively participating in the entire story. Juniper goes on quite an adventure in this novel, and her parents are tagging along.
What? No! Juniper is 18! This can’t be! Everyone knows parents are supposed to die, divorce, vanish, abandon, or be negligent, unaware, awful, distant… Yes, I know. I did a blog post about the absence of mothers in children’s and YA books a couple years ago. You can read it here. http://www.dgdriver.com/write-and-rewrite-blog/where-are-the-moms-in-ya
The thing is, while the main story of these novels is about Juniper’s connection to the mythical world and unraveling its mysteries, there is also a theme about her finding her own identity as separate from her parents. They are important figures in the environmental activist world, but Juniper has a voice and strength, too. Instead of having an adventure and coming back to tell them about it, I felt like she needed to show them herself. She needed to be the leader, tell them what to do, and prove that she is worthy of their respect. I also wanted to show that Natalie loves her daughter more than the readers suspected. Despite it all, she doesn’t want to see her daughter in danger or pain. She’s not great at expressing it, but the feelings are powerful and deep. Perhaps, by the time you’re done reading this book, you’ll see that Natalie has gone through an emotional journey right alongside her feisty, determined daughter.
Another thing, too, is that when I was in the throes of writing and revising Cry of the Sea, my daughter was quite young. She was in middle school as I worked out Whisper of the Woods. She is in high school now, and my relationship with her is more strained than it used to be. As a teenager, she is more secretive, keeps things to herself, has many moments of her life with her friends that I don’t know about. She and I have similar interests, theater in particular, and she’s not super open to my advice or ideas. She wants to do things her own way, and I have to learn to respect that. So, maybe Natalie has a little more of me in her than in the earlier stories.
“Everything will wait,” Mom said. “My daughter has been almost killed in a tree and drowned in the ocean in just the past month. If she’s determined to put herself in danger again, I’m damn well going to be there if she needs me. I’m not sitting on the sidelines. I’m not going to hear about it later. I will be at her side.” She ran her hand down my hair and then flicked it back behind my shoulder. “Besides, I still haven’t seen a mermaid. I was promised.”
“Yes, you were, Mom,” I said, reaching out an arm and pulling her to me for a very rare hug. “Yes, you were.” (Echo of the Cliffs, chapter eight)
So, Happy (belated) Mother’s Day to Natalie Sawfeather. If she were real, I’m sure she’d be nibbling at a veggie burger, drinking some herbal tea, and reminding her daughter not to kill a tree for a greeting card. I can hear her saying, “If you really want to do something for me, go fill out that college registration form I put on your desk. It’s overdue.”
If you’ve read Cry of the Sea or Whisper of the Woods, what are some of your feelings about Natalie? Feel free to share. If you haven’t read these books, this is a great time to get started. Spend your summer with Juniper.
Do you have any other moms from YA or children’s books that you love or hate? Why? Comments are welcome. And please, sign up for my mailing list.
Last weekend was my second consecutive year at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green. As well as having a signing table throughout the event, I was selected to be part of two panels. On Friday I was in a group of authors (which included one of my favorite local authors Tracy Barrett) about writing YA fantasy. On Saturday I was on a panel with amazing Middle Grade authors discussing the craft of writing.
I have participated in many bookselling events over the past three years since I began publishing as D. G. Driver, including book festivals, fantasy conventions, and school-based events. As soon as I finish writing this post I'll be joining a group of Nashville authors to hawk books at a local arts and crafts festival. Of everything I've done, SOKY Bookfest is my favorite. There are several reasons for this.
1. It's free! We don't have to pay to have a space to sell books. Authors submit their books ahead of time and are chosen to participate. And they aren't like some festivals that only choose books published by the big 5 companies. There were people with small publishers (like me), and even some self-published authors. Not everyone who is selected to have a table gets to present on a panel. Last year I was on one panel on Children's Day. This year they had me on two.
While I've never had to pay to be a panelist and sign for a few minutes afterward at any event, I have always had to pay something to have a table or booth (or even just have a copy of my book on display) for the entire event. Then I have to fret about having to sell enough books to make back what I spent to be there. That doesn't always happen. At this event, all of the books were sold through Barnes and Noble. They either ordered books ahead of time, or they worked on consignment. I make a much smaller profit going through them than if I sell them directly, but that's okay. All the authors are in the same boat in that regard.
2. All of the authors are given equal respect. Again, at many events there is a clear dividing line between those authors with the hardback covers from New York, and those of us with print on demand. At this festival the authors are lined up in rows, side by side, organized by age group. The room goes from picture books, Middle Grade, YA, and up. So, bestselling authors can be sitting beside a gal who only sells a couple copies a month.
3. And there's no over-the-top fanfare! We aren't allowed to bring posters or banners. Just the books and some small swag like bookmarks or candy. You aren't overpowered by someone's eye-catching, expensive ads or cover models walking around. In this way, people walking through actually stop and pick up your books and talk to you about them. It's so much more personal, and more like a bookstore where you have the opportunity to talk to the authors as you pass through.
4. It's so organized! It's put together by Western Kentucky University Library and Barnes and Noble. I'm sure there is lots of fundraising and behind the scenes work to put it together. It's been happening for years and years, so they've got it down to a science. Local schools bus their book clubs to the event on Children's Day and raise money to do so. One volunteer told me she starts fielding questions about the event in October of every year.
5. The panel moderators read your books! I have been to so many events where the people organizing the event haven't even read my book before (which includes school visits I've done). So, it is nice to be asked questions at a panel by an enthusiastic young person who enjoyed my book. One of our moderators was the same lovely lady as last year, and she told me how happy she was to now have both Juniper Sawfeather books and that she loves my writing. My heart was so full.
6. The people are awesome. All of the authors are fun to chat with and so nice. The people who come to the event are book people, and they like to talk. For a shy gal like me, this is a joy. I got to hug some friends I haven't seen in a while. Teri Polen came by and gave me a copy of her horror novel Sarah that I endorsed for her. (Spooky ghost story you should read). I went to a 'Meet the Authors' reception and had a lovely time talking with authors and people from the community while eating yummy food and drinking wine.
7. Oh! And they feed us, too. Free lunch, coffee, soda, and a reception with plenty of hors d'oevres.
Now, I live near Nashville. It's a little over an hour to get to Bowling Green, so I didn't stay there. I drove back and forth each day. To that end, I made a little profit that weekend. Not much, but I am proud to say I didn't lose any money. There are a lot of authors that attend this even that travel. The author next to me at my table was from Florida. I don't really know how this benefits them financially. Most of the authors were not paid to be there. I'm sure the keynote authors like R. L. Stine got some money, and maybe the authors who were teaching the writing workshop that was going on simultaneously. However, all the signing authors in the big hall were probably there on their own dime. It's a fun day, but if I didn't live nearby I don't know that I would be willing to spend the money to be there. I have often turned down events that I couldn't drive to easily for this reason.
And now for some other news!!! If you've been following me, you know that my Juniper Sawfeather Novels recently go a makeover, all to prepare for book 3, Echo of the Cliffs to come out on May 23rd. Well, the change is officially set at all the vendors. So the only copies of Cry of the Sea and Whisper of the Woods left with their original covers are the small amount I have left at my house and the couple that are for sale at Parnassus Books in Nashville. (There might be used ones sold on Amazon, but who wants that, right?)
I have had a couple people contact me about wanting the original covers. So, here's how you can get one. Who knows? Maybe they'll be collector's items someday. One can only hope. I have a handful left to sell. I am willing to lower the price to $12.00 per book (cheaper than Amazon), and add $3.50 for postage. You'll need to fill out this form, letting me know if you want one of the books or both of them. I'll send you a PayPal invoice, and as soon as you get your receipt, I'll sign them and pop them in the mail to you. I will include a handmade mermaid tail bookmark, too.
And if you're more comfortable ordering from a store than a person. You can get signed copies of both books from Parnassus Books in Nashville. If you write PERSONALIZE in the order comments, they'll have me come to the store and write a personal note.
Cry of the Sea
Whisper of the Woods
Ah! I have to get going to the Franklin Craft Festival! I'm running late. Please feel free to leave a comment. I always enjoy hearing from you.
Sixteen authors published by Fire and Ice YA Books have banded together this month to promote the strong female protagonists of our young adult novels. We’ve been doing Twitter talks on Friday nights about it. We’re hosting a Facebook party on the 22nd. Several of us have written short stories base on our characters for an anthology that was released this weekend and is FREE! A bunch of our books are being knocked down to 99 cents all next week. And! We’re doing a rafflecopter giveaway (see below for details.).
So, this begs the question, what the heck do we consider to be Kick Ass Girls? To me, that term sparks images of Buffy doing roundhouses and slaying vampires. Being that none of our books are about martial arts or superheroes, we aren’t talking about the literal kicking of asses, for the most part. We’re talking about outstanding young women who have grit, fortitude, determination, and courage. Girls who are outspoken, willful, smarter than average, and cunning.
I read a lot of YA books from the famous books to barely-heard-of indies. In my honest opinion, nearly all of them feature strong female characters. Yes, there is the occasional really sad-girl-being-sad book (ugh), but for the most part YA books are about girls surviving, overcoming, or making things happen. It’s why I like them so much. In YA you rarely find leading females that are just pretty props for handsome boys to do their heroics. (That’s so pre-millennium) No, even in books that prominently feature a guy in the lead, you usually find an equally satisfying female character as their friend or girlfriend.
Today I shall not write about Juniper Sawfeather (although Cry of the Sea is part of this promotion). I will instead write about the other Fire and Ice heroines I’ve read so far. There are seventeen books in this promotion event, and I’ve read six of them. Not a bad dent. This is only a fraction of all the YA and NA books published by Fire and Ice, so I will probably never catch up. Still, I’ve been impressed so far with the variety and quality of writing coming out of this small publishing company.
Because I’m a fantasy author, I’ll start with that genre:
Aimee from The Haunting of Secrets by Shelley R. Pickens has a horrible, frightening supernatural power. When people touch her, she soaks up their memories. And surprise! Not all memories are good. Some are downright evil. She’s comes across very emo to make herself as invisible as possible to people and covers every inch of her skin with black clothing, hoping to avoid accidental touches. At the start of the book, you’re thinking “that poor girl”. That doesn’t last long, though, because a bomb goes off in the school cafeteria, killing kids and sending everyone else running. Her clothes are ripped and someone touches her, someone who happens to be a serial killer. She can see his sickening memories of kidnapping and killing girls. No longer is this book about a sad girl with an unfortunate power, but instead is about a girl who uses her power to try to catch the murderer. She does wind up doing some real kicking of asses, too. This is the first book of an intriguing series.
Amanda in The Doors by Alice Black is a modern girl thrust into a good old-school ghost story. It’s set in an old, gothic English house that is full of secrets and curses. Amanda becomes obsessed with the history of the house and these doors to a secret room that have a mosaic that changes and sends her mysterious messages. She winds up finding a way through them and ends up in a frightening alternate world with a vindictive witch and has to find her way back. She is a smart girl who keeps her wits even when things seem hopeless. I really liked her combination of curiosity and courage.
Talia in Taming Tigers by Daisy White is living in a dystopian world of poverty and war. She escapes the village where she has been living to try to get to her fiancé in a town far across the desert. There is an accident with the train on which she’s has stowed away, and she must walk across the barren land (infested with tigers and other dangers) to get to her destination. How can she possibly survive? Taming Tigers reminded me a lot of the best parts of Crossed, the second book of the bestselling Matched series by Allie Condie. This book is a bit older, more New Adult. Talia is so brave and her will to survive is incredible. She has a bit of a spiritual journey as well.
Now for the contemporary fiction:
First off, this cover, right? Does it not beg you to read it? Chloe from On the Brink by Christina Hoag is a girl who knows what she wants when it comes to her career. She wants to be a journalist and proves it by getting a job over summer vacation at the local paper when everyone else is hanging out at the pool or mall. However, she’s not as smart in dealing with guys and has been hurt and used a few times. So, she doesn’t see Kieran for who he really is at first. He’s handsome and charming, but he is also possessive, manipulative and abusive. She gets caught up in his flip-flopping behaviors, defends him, and falls for his apologies so much, you might begin to get angry with her and think “oh no, don’t be a victim.” Stick with the book, though. You’ll like how she comes around to find her inner strength and self-worth and becomes a kick ass girl in her own right.
Brynlei (I adore this name) from Trail of Secrets by Laura C. Wolfe is a talented equestrian and spends the summer at Foxwood Riding Academy. This book (which is a good fit for middle school and younger teen readers) has everything you could want from a summer camp story. It’s got the bratty rich kids, the loner good girl, the creepy groundskeeper, and a ghost story/mystery. Brynlei is the one who senses the presence of a girl who went missing a few years ago and is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, even if it means breaking the rules and risking her chances of winning the big competition. She is daring, curious, and open-minded, on top of being just a really nice kid. I like her a lot and can’t wait to read book 2. I hear it’s scarier and has spooky dolls.
Cathy from Swimming Alone by Nina Mansfield is a modern Nancy Drew. I thought this summer mystery book set in a small beach town was so fun and full of just the right about of “eek!” I think it can be read by kids as young as 11 with no issues. Cathy is a bright girl, curious to a fault, and maybe a little paranoid. I think I would be, too, if there was a serial killer in my town. Her paranoia and curiosity are what help her see what others don’t, though, and she finds the clues to piece this puzzle together. I hope there will be more of these mysteries in the future. I’d love to see a TV series based on her, ala Veronica Mars.
I’ve read a few other Fire and Ice books, but they aren’t part of this event. I’ve definitely got several more of them on my TBR list. The Twell series, Sortilege Falls, and The Ashes and The Sparks are among the ones that definitely have sparked my interest.
So dive in and meet some new female heroines to root for and admire. All of the above mentioned books are going to be only 99 cents at Amazon and Smashwords the 17th-23rd. Click here to get to the Fire and Ice website and find links to all the books.
Also, you can read short stories from some of the F&I authors in The Kick Ass Girls of Fire and Ice YA Books as a sampling to see what appeals to you.
From fantasy and steampunk, to mystery and thriller, to contemporary social issue and romance, the authors in this book have all written novels that feature strong girls as protagonists. This book contains short stories starring the heroines—or other characters— from the worlds depicted in our novels.
For this collection, I have written a short prequel story to my Juniper Sawfeather Novels called “Beneath the Wildflowers” where Juniper encounters a bit of magic half a year before she finds the mermaids in Cry of the Sea. I’m eager to see what you think of it. This book is FREE at Smashwords, Nook, and Amazon (currently still 99cents at Amazon, but it will drop to free soon).
And finally, the rafflecopter. Want to try to win a couple of these books? Enter below.
I’d like to know what you think makes a Kick Ass Girl? Do you have any favorites from books, movies or shows? Leave a comment below.
And join us on Friday evenings from 9:00-10:00 EST on Twitter to chat about it using #kickassgirlsofya.
Here it is! The cover for the third (and final) installment of the Juniper Sawfeather Novels.
Actually, the whole series got a facelift. Why? Well, it's hard to believe it, but it's been three years since Cry of the Sea was released and a year and a half since Whisper of the Woods came out. Caroline Andrus, who designs my book covers for Fire and Ice YA Books, and I discussed the fact that the series needed a new, fresh look. Apparently, faces on covers are no longer the trend. More artistic covers with symbolic images are popular, and we want to be with the times.
Also, frankly, we weren't totally sure how to do the same kind of Juniper profile with a cliff in the background and make that look good. I've always loved the previous covers, especially the blue of Cry of the Sea. Blue is my favorite color. However, they never totally spoke "fantasy" to me, and I think these new covers have a more magical flair to them.
I realize that some people who have bought print copies of books 1 and 2 in the past might be irritated that the third book won't match. I am genuinely sorry about that. Feel free to donate them to a library and get new copies (wink wink). The majority of sales for these books are ebook, though, so I don't think the change affects a lot of people. We're hoping that having all three books out in this new look will attract new readers who like to purchase complete series.
Why is there a killer whale on the cover of Echo of the Cliffs?
Cry of the Sea is about discovering mermaids, so there is a mermaid on the cover. Whisper of the Woods is about a girl trapped in a tree with an ancient spirit, so the cover has a girl with leaves in her hair. Okay. Why doesn't the cover of Echo of the Cliffs feature a cliff? I can hear you thinking that question.
Cliffs are kind of hard to represent in a small symbolic image. Also, killer whales feature prominently in the story, both in the environmental mission the Sawfeathers are dealing with and in the magical mission Juniper is on. As with the previous books, Echo of the Cliffs features environmental activism mixed with American Indian mythology.
What is Echo of the Cliffs about? Here is the blurb:
Three warriors asked the sun to grant them wishes of immortality to protect their people forever. One was turned into a merman, another was turned into a tree, and the final warrior was turned into a stone.
Juniper Sawfeather has learned there is truth to this American Indian legend. She knows how it connects the mermaids she saved from an oil spill and the ancient spirit that trapped her in the branches of an Old Growth tree. Now she wants to find out if the final part of this legend is true, that some kind of magical stone exists. A lone mermaid finds her and shares a vision of a cliff along the ocean shore. This must be the place, and June knows she needs to find it.
Tragedy strikes when her parents take Carter and her on a mission to collect evidence of construction run-off pollution, and they are attacked by a killer whale. June is convinced that the killer whale was led by mermaids, and she is desperate to find out why they attacked, where they are hiding, and what it has to do with the cliff from the mermaid’s vision. Once again, Juniper is on a heroic mission, the most frightening adventure yet. A thrilling ending to this award-winning trilogy!
I don't have an exact date, but Echo of the Cliffs will be released in May.
Follow me on Facebook or Twitter for announcements.
In the meantime, catch up by reading books one and two (for the first time or again) and please leave a review.
And now for more exciting news!
A bunch of the authors that work with my publisher
Fire and Ice Young Adult Books are banding together in April for a big promotion: The Kick Ass Girls of YA!
We are celebrating what makes a strong female protagonist. Is it brains, courage, fortitude? What do you think? We'd love for you to chime in at our Facebook party or Twitter chats. Just use the hashtag #kickassgirlsofya
There will also be a big sale of all of our first titles
(which includes Cry of the Sea),
an Instafreebie collection of stories based on our characters (including a prequel to the Juniper Sawfeather series!),
and fun stuff happening on Instagram, too.
The whole thing is kicking off with a Rafflecopter giveaway!
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As always, I'd love to read your comments. Let me know what you think of the new covers. Please feel free to spread the news about the new covers and the #KickAssGirlsofYA events and giveaway. Any help getting the news out about these books is greatly appreciated.
I am currently working on edits for Echo of the Cliffs, the third and final Juniper Sawfeather novel, due out in May. This new book will be the most exciting of them all, featuring mysterious killer whales, vengeful mermaids, and a new monster living deep inside an ocean cave.
In chapter two, Carter and Juniper are celebrating Valentine's Day. They didn't have a lot of luck with Christmas or New Year's, so here's hoping this holiday goes a little better for them. This is a freshly edited sneak peek at my new book. I hope you enjoy it.
Oh, and if you haven't started this series yet, now is the perfect time to download Cry of the Sea (book 1) and Whisper of the Woods (book 2). Learn how Carter and Juniper meet and watch them try to rescue mermaids from an oil spill and save an ancient enchanted tree from being chopped down.
I got myself a sketchbook and some drawing pencils. I’d never been good at art, but I decided to see if practice could improve my skills a bit. I’d seen a lot of interesting things this past half year, and I wanted to remember them somehow. It took me many tries to get my mermaid’s eyes just right, and then it there was a lot of crumpled up paper again until I could get her whole face. Clearly, drawing the whole mermaid was outside my abilities. I decided instead to try to draw the landscape from the mermaid’s vision. Nature came a lot easier to me, and my drawings of cliffs and caves weren’t that bad. After a couple weeks I actually got brave enough to show them to Carter.
It was on Valentine’s Day. Carter promised me a great, romantic date to make up for all that went wrong on New Year’s Eve. I was to meet him at his parents’ house, and he was going to take me out for a nice dinner and maybe a walk on the beach afterward. I’d gone to the forest earlier in the week to gather up some twigs fallen from my Red Cedar tree. I was hopeful that if I tossed them into the ocean it would somehow beckon another mermaid to us.
Only, surprise! It was raining. Storming, in fact. Just driving to his parents’ house, an hour away from mine put my life in jeopardy. My car needed new tires and wipers I learned in a super scary way. By the time I got to his house, I was a wreck. His mom and dad welcomed me in and set me down in their all white living room in front of a fire, and I soon had a cup of hot chocolate in my hands. Mr. and Mrs. Crowe were pretty upset about the weather, too. Their evening plans had to be canceled as well. Mrs. Crowe was dressed in a beautiful white suit with a pink blouse and matching pink high heeled shoes. That was definitely not a going out in the rain kind of outfit.
Ultimately we all decided to stay in and wait it out. She heated some frozen spinach and cheese quiches and made a big salad for all of us to have for dinner. After we ate, they made their way upstairs and left us alone. Carter was devastated.
“I’m so sorry, June,” he said for the tenth time. “I can’t get a break with these holidays.”
“It’s okay,” I responded for the tenth time. “I’m just happy to be with you.”
He put his arm around my shoulders, and we stared at the fire as it crackled. “I am enjoying this, though,” he told me. He nuzzled against my ear and kissed it gently. Whispering, he said, “It’s a little romantic, isn’t it?”
I giggled, a sound that rarely came out of my body. “Yes, I guess it kind of is.”
“I’ve got something for you.”
He walked over to the cabinet under the counter where their landline phone existed along with a very orderly collection of magazines and mail. While he leaned over to pull out what I assumed was a Valentine’s present for me, I hurriedly grabbed at my message bag. I didn’t own a big purse, so this was all I could find to hide the box of chocolate and corny card I bought for him. I got it out and put it on the coffee table in front of me before he came back. I looked up to find him holding a very large package wrapped in red heart paper with a big bow.
“Wait!” I said. “What’s that? I didn’t get you anything big.”
“You didn’t have to,” he said, placing the box in my lap. It was heavy. He picked up the candy and card from the table and waved it at me. “This is exactly what I wanted. And a kiss.”
I kissed him. Just a quick one.
“I feel guilty.”
“Don’t. It’s mostly from my mom anyway. She helped pick it out, and paid for it.”
“I am nothing but.”
I untied the ribbon and tore off the paper. The box was from a department store I’d never been brave enough to enter because I knew the smallest thing in the store probably cost more than I could ever think to afford. I glanced at him, unsure. “Um, is this really okay?”
I opened the box, not sure what to expect. A beautiful black wool pea coat was folded up inside. I pulled it out and marveled at it. “It’s gorgeous.”
“You needed a new coat. A good one,” he said. “You can’t keep borrowing your mom’s. Put it on.”
I stood up and slipped my arms into it, enjoying the smooth satin lining. They got the size right. The sleeves went down to my hands. The length of the coat reached my hips. It had a wide collar I could flip up. I buttoned it. It was so warm and cozy. With my hands in the deep pockets, I twisted my shoulders back and forth as I modeled it for him.
“I love it. I don’t want to take it off.”
Carter laughed. “Well, I do! I thought we’d be outside tonight, and you’d get to wear it, but instead we’ve got this nice fire and a cozy couch. I’m kind of hoping some layers will come off.” I flicked my eyes to the staircase, and he waved my concerns away. “They’re up in their room and won’t come out. I promise.”
My own smile was so big it hurt. I took off the coat and folded it back into the box. In addition, I took off my cardigan sweater, eliciting an approving wink from him. I tossed it in the box. Then I slid it under the table with my feet as I sat back down, acutely aware of my bare arms and the thin material of my blouse.
Carter ran his fingers down one of my arms. I thought he was about to take my hand, but he reached for a piece of candy from his box instead, teasing me. “Delicious,” he said with a mouth full of candy. After he swallowed, he ran his fingers through my hair, spreading it out around my shoulders, exactly the opposite way my mom always did. I wondered if he knew he was doing that. My cheeks were warm. I blamed it on the fire.
“So, what did you want to show me?” he asked.
I reached for my bag on the floor and pulled out my sketchbook. “Don’t laugh, okay. I’m really more of a photographer than an artist.”
“No laughing, I promise.”
I wasn’t sure if I totally trusted him on that, but I opened up the book anyway. I flipped the pages to show him the different drawings I’d done of beaches, cliffs, forests, and caves. After I was done, he took it from me and went back to the first page. He looked at each picture much slower, taking his time to really inspect them.
“These are good, June,” he said as he came to the last one. “I mean, they are much better than I expected.”
I smacked his shoulder. “Nice.”
“No, I don’t mean that in a bad way. They’re really good.” He turned to the picture that was most panoramic of the cliffs dropping off into the ocean, the one I tried my hardest to match the image that mermaid had put into my mind. He tapped it with his finger. “Have you tried looking on the internet for any place that looks like this?”
“How would I even do that?”
“What if we reverse-image search?”
“You sound like Haley with your technological fancy-talk,” I told him. Instead of responding to me, he pulled out his phone and took a photo of my drawing. He went on the internet to a site I wasn’t familiar with and uploaded the picture. In seconds he got a screen full of photos and paintings similar to my sketch. I was completely floored. “My world has just expanded.”
“That’s my goal,” he told me with that gorgeous grin spreading across his face, “to expand your world on a daily basis.”
We started thumbing our way through the images until I saw a photo fairly similar to my drawing. Not an exact match, of course, but definitely the same kind of landscape of steep cliffs falling into the sea, caves almost hidden at the bottom, and trees sprouting from the tops. “Click on that one,” I said.
It took us to a website about Olympic National Park. This stretch of shoreline was captured by a kayaker on vacation. Carter began reading the article when my own phone rang. It was my mom. I didn’t want to answer, but I knew she’d keep calling if I didn’t.
She got right down to business. “The rain is supposed to head out of here around midnight or so,” she told me. “This big of a storm is going to cause a huge run-off. Your dad, Randy and I are all headed up to the San Juan Strait in the morning to get some fresh samples. Would you like to be part of this? We’re going to need to leave about four.”
“That’s early,” I said.
“Yes, so you’ll need to come home now if you’re going to get any rest.”
I looked at the clock over the fireplace mantel. It was only nine-thirty. I glanced at Carter who was still reading the article on his phone.
Mom was still talking, I realized. “…work tomorrow?”
“Do I work tomorrow?” I repeated, assuming that was what she was asking. “No. It’s a day off for me.”
“This will be important data,” she reminded me. “Pollution from that construction run-off is causing the extinction of many sea creatures, including the orcas.”
I knew this. Mom and Dad had been discussing this issue a lot over the past several weeks. Apparently a Killer Whale body had washed up on San Juan Island a couple weeks ago. Testing had been done on its blubber to find that it had toxic levels of poison so bad that they had to bury it in a nuclear waste depository. Dad had learned from his contacts in Canada that the number of orcas in the area was down to only eighty. It was a bad situation, worsening every day.
I wanted to help. Marine Biology was still my favorite subject, and whenever their causes aligned with my love of sea life, I always wanted to participate. I just didn’t want to give up my nice evening with Carter. Even though it hadn’t turned out the way we’d expected, it was still cozy and kind of romantic. The lights were low and the fire warm. I fully anticipated some great kisses and caresses coming a little later on.
“Are you coming or not?” she asked.
Clearly, I was taking too long to answer.
“Hang on, Mom,” I responded, equally impatient. I put my hand over the phone and tapped Carter on the knee. He looked up from his phone. I liked how he immediately turned it over, showing me I had his whole attention. “Mom needs my help on a project tomorrow morning. They’ve got to head out very early, so that means I’d need to leave now.”
His face darkened, his blue eyes flicking over to the fire, and then settling on the back of his phone. Just guessing, but I think he was looking forward to what was going to happen on this couch in front of that fire later on, too. He jutted his chin out like he was about to say something, but then he let it relax and simply nodded. “Sure. Fine. I mean, if you need to.”
I hated this. I didn’t want to ruin our Valentine’s evening. Evenings like this were so rare for us. “Hey,” I said, leaning into him so that my long black hair fell over his hands and forced him to look back up at me. “What if you come too? I mean, we’re studying ocean pollution to help save killer whales. Maybe that might be interesting to you.”
The darkness fled almost as if someone shot a spotlight on him. He grinned. “No trees this time?”
“Ocean, baby,” I said with a shimmy. “You love?”
“I love.” He said that while looking right into my eyes.
Like I said above, this is a great time to get the two previous books. Cry of the Sea is discounted to only 99 cents at Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes until the end of the month. Whisper of the Woods is only $2.99. Book three continues the story from the moment where book two leaves off, so get caught up now.
Have you already read them and are looking for some more fantasy to pass the time until Echo of the Cliffs comes out? check out this sweet Valentine's Sale listing from my Fellowship of Fantasy author group, where you can be sure to find a great book free of explicit language or graphic sex. I know I'll be filling up my Kindle with some of these this week.
In my newest book No One Needed to Know, my main character, Heidi, is 11-years-old and in 6th grade. The premise of this book – an adolescent girl becomes aware that her older brother is Autistic, what that means and how that affects her, is based loosely on my personal experience. I do have an older brother with developmental challenges, and I wasn’t fully aware of his differences until I hit 11 or 12 years old.
While this book touches on some real life feelings and moments of my life, it is a work of fiction. One of the challenges I faced when writing the novel was that some of the memories I have with my brother are in situations that might not necessarily exist today. I was in 6th grade in 1981. The editing and revisions of this novel were done in 2014 when my daughter had just finished 6th grade. Also, I grew up in the perfect planned community of Irvine, in southern California. My daughter is growing up in a suburban sprawl in the country outside Nashville, Tennessee. These make for some pretty big differences.
My mother suggested I should just set the story in the early 80s, but I felt there were enough issues going on in the book to not also make it a historical novel. I felt it needed to be current and relevant to kids today. The solution was to blend my past with my daughter’s present. In some cases this was tricky.
Here are a few examples of how the world has changed.
My brothers (I have two actually) and I grew up when playgrounds were terrifyingly fun. I mean, I grew up in the age of spinning merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters that went fifteen feet in the air. There was a two-seat swing in the Kindergarten playground at my school with no straps that easily could swing six feet high or more and was made of aluminum.
The park nearest my house was almost entirely cement, sculpted to look like giant sea creatures surrounding a sunken ship. My oldest brother had to get stitches one time after banging his chin hard on a squid’s tentacle. I know there were dozens of broken bones from neighborhood children over the years, thus explaining why the playground no longer exists. In No One Needed to Know, Donald and Heidi frequent a park that has a giant ship in a sandbox next to an alien-ship-looking-structure full of tunnels. This was a real place too. I went on Facebook to discuss it, and my old friends have very foggy memories of it (one friend who lived near the park informed me that what I thought was a spaceship was supposed to have been a volcano).
Most of these parks are gone. My daughter grew up going to bright playgrounds with plastic slides and soft groundcover or mulch underneath. To me, they are fun for climbing and sliding, but not great for imagination. To rectify that a park like the one Heidi loves exists but is unusual, I had her lament the loss of the good playgrounds:
This park, the only one of its kind left, had a life-sized boat stuck in a sandbox to look like a shipwreck. It was full of places to hide and climb—and probably spiders. I tried not to think about that too much when I played on it. Right next to it was this bizarre cement structure with tunnels to creep through. It looked like a flying saucer. Both were great for playing make-believe. The orange and blue “big toys” were not good at all for that kind of playing. Occasionally they might have a steering wheel randomly hitched to a protective railing, but what fun was that? Were we kids supposed to think we were driving a funky jungle gym through space? Driving it through the ocean?
Because this was the only park worth my time, I planned my weekends around playing there. It was a long bike ride from home. We had to take this bike path that connected three different subdivisions, pass by two different elementary schools, and cross a bridge that went over the train tracks to get there. So a considerable chunk of a Saturday afternoon had to be spent just getting there and back again.
And how did we get to the crazy, dangerous playgrounds? We rode our bikes. We stayed out all day and we went far from home. Irvine was full of bike paths and bike lanes. This crazy park was out behind my middle school, where I rode my bike to and from most school days. It was (and still is) a very bike-friendly place. I don’t know if kids still ride their bikes much. Even if they do, I sincerely doubt mothers are allowing their 11-year-old daughters and special needs children to ride their bikes 5 to 10 miles (or more) from home, unchaperoned, like we did.
There are no bike lanes or paths anywhere near where I live now, and the traffic is too congested to brave riding without them. To take a good bike ride, you have pack your bikes in your car and take them to designated trails. Yeah. So, my daughter hasn’t actually learned how to ride a bike (she’ll hate me for writing that). Walking or riding to any of her schools would be flat-out dangerous. Kids today get picked up from school by their parents or take the bus. Few walk or ride home on their own anymore. Parents stick close by on outings. I didn’t even let my daughter walk unaccompanied at the mall with her friends until she was in 7th grade. I still stayed at the mall to be available, just not with her the whole time.
And speaking of the mall. Heidi and Donald have a few scenes where they are at the shopping center, without parents. One of the biggest scenes in the book is Heidi being followed and taunted by bullies while alone in the shopping center.
Well, as in most children’s books, I couldn’t have the action taking place if Mom was nearby. Bullies would not bully in the presence of a parent. Donald is 16, but he’s much younger developmentally. I had to explain their bike and shopping center freedom by describing the layout of their neighborhood:
When the park got too crowded, the two of us would head to the shopping center to get hamburgers before going home. Our house was in a subdivision set off the main road in town. Basically, it was a few blocks from our house to get to that street. We only had to cross through one light to get to the shopping center, so all the kids in my neighborhood biked or walked there. My mom was always telling me how our town kept growing bigger and bigger on the outside, but this little part in the middle stayed the same. That’s why my parents bought a house there, not far from the house where my mom grew up. She liked the safety and convenience of it all.
I always liked having everything so close, too, because we had a lot more freedom in our neighborhood than kids in other areas. My mom felt pretty secure about letting us wander around without her, as long as we checked in regularly by phone.
Oh, did you catch that part about the phone? That’s an obvious change from then and now. Cell phones. We didn’t have them. So, we’d ride our bikes far from home and play at life-threatening playgrounds. What happened if we got hurt? We’d ride home bloody. That’s how it went.
Now kids can call for help. And the mom that’s sitting on a bench in the park or at the food court in the mall can come running. Kids have their own phones. Some even as young as nine or ten. I gave my daughter her first cell phone when she turned 11, right before 6th grade, because she’d be riding the bus home instead of staying at after school care. I was behind the curve, for most of her friends had them already. I gave her a smart phone in 8th grade when the peer pressure was wearing me down too.
Kids now have computers, internet, infinite television/movie choices, and amazing video games. There is no reason to go outside. Ever. But I wanted Heidi to be an outdoorsy girl. I made her athletic, good at soccer, and just the kind of kid who’d rather be on the move than sitting still.
When I was in 6th grade we didn’t have a lot of choices in video games. Just Atari or going to the arcade. I wasn’t into it at all. My oldest brother struggled with video games. In a scene where Heidi is trying to make her brother act his age, she encourages him to do more things 16-year-old boys do:
“Right now your room looks like it belongs to someone my age or younger. Since you’re sixteen and not ten, it’s time to get your room updated.” I reached up and took down several posters and pennants. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the store and buy you some rock music posters. Got any favorite bands?”
“Then we’ll listen to a bunch of music on the Internet until you find one or two. Would you like a poster of a supermodel in a bathing suit or a calendar of them? It’s kind of a gross thing that most teenage boys have.”
“I guess that’s okay.”
I went to the shelves and pulled off several of the most poorly made airplanes and put them on Donald’s lap. “Next we’ll get you some new hobbies. Hmmm. Maybe a book or two would be nice. We could get you some games like chess or checkers. Let’s think about some video games too.”
“Too fast for me,” Donald said.
I wasn’t sure whether he meant the video games or my whirlwind approach to changing his lifestyle. “You’ll learn,” I replied.
My editor questioned me about the ‘date’ that happens in this book. He wasn’t sure kids Heidi’s age would be on a date. Fact is, that part hasn’t changed as much as you’d think.
In the summer between 5th and 6th grade, I dated a boy named Kirk. Unlike the jerky Kirk in my book, this Kirk was sweet and gentle. We spent a lot of time at the park near his house. (Another horrifying place we all loved with a metal slide coming out of a tall wooden tower four stories high.) One time we rode our bikes unaccompanied to the movies to see The Muppet Movie. Yep. The first one.
I broke up with him to date Greg, a popular boy at school who was into me. So cliché. And dumb. Thankfully, Kirk and I eventually became friends again. In fact, he was one of my best friends in high school, sang at my wedding, and is still a good friend to this day. I remember an afternoon with Greg, a friend of his and that guy’s girlfriend having kissing contests to see who could hold a kiss longest. I’m not talking anything sexy. These were literally pressing lips together and counting. So lame, right?
My daughter had a boyfriend briefly in 5th grade. I let her go to the movies with him once, but I sat in the back of the theater. She didn’t have another relationship until 8th grade and that didn’t go anywhere. Her friends, though. Goodness. This is an area where, strangely, parents haven’t decided to be overprotective. A lot of kids she knew in 6th grade were dating frequently, unchaperoned, and several claimed to have performed some kind of sexual act before graduating junior high.
For the sake of No One Needed to Know, I kept dating in the story old-fashioned and clean.
Kirk and I decided to ride our bikes and meet at the movie theater in the shopping center so that we wouldn’t have to get our parents involved. This way neither of our parents knew it was a “date,” and no one would be given a hard time about it. My parents were used to me going out to play with boys, and Kirk’s parents thought he was out with Tom.
We met half an hour before the movie, giving us plenty of time to buy popcorn and change our minds about which movie we wanted to see. We each planned to buy our own boxes so we wouldn’t have to touch buttery fingers. It would just be too distracting. It was only a first date, after all.
IS 6TH GRADE ELEMENTARY OR MIDDLE SCHOOL?
For me, 6th grade was the top class of elementary school. Junior high or middle school was 7-8th. Here in Tennessee most 6th grades are in middle school. The school district around Nashville has middle school starting in 5th grade. Too young, I say!
It was important to me that the kids in No One Needed to Know were at the top of the hierarchy and not at the bottom. I needed them to feel like they were in control of everything happening. They had to be cocky. When 6th graders are at the bottom of the heap, they aren’t as free with their opinions and behaviors. They don’t want to get picked on. I also didn’t want Heidi to have older friends in school available to help her out.
I did consider making Heidi a 5th grader, but that was pushing it for the freedom and dating situations I needed her to be in. I didn’t think anyone would buy a modern day 10-year-old gallivanting around town on her bicycle or going on an unchaperoned date. Or dating at all, for that matter. One year does make a difference.
I did some research and discovered there are still some schools in the U. S. that have 6th grade in elementary school. Due to school overcrowding, it is rare, but it does happen.
Cathy and I could finally start our visit with each other. We talked about which teachers we hated the most and what it was going to be like when we finally got to start junior high.
“My cousin is in sixth grade and is already in middle school,” Cathy told me. “I’m so jealous.”
“I don’t know,” I commented. “I kind of like being in elementary school one extra year. Junior high seems scary. Everyone’s so tall.”
Speaking of school… My oldest brother graduated from high school in 1984. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) didn’t give a definition for Autism until 1987. It wasn’t included as a Special Education category until 1991. That was the year I graduated from college – 10 years after the life moment in which my story takes place. My mom had been a teaching assistant in a Special Education preschool, and after I graduated college I began working with her and then eventually moved to a private school for Special Ed up in Los Angeles. Over time, my mother and I learned about what Autism was, and we unofficially concluded that my brother was on the Spectrum. He is not “slow” or “brain damaged” like the teachers had proclaimed when he was in school. Nor is he “retarded” like all the kids taunted back in the day.
Nowadays, we have better Special Education. We have better Early Intervention. We have more knowledge. In 6th grade my daughter volunteered to work in the SEEK program at her school where kids assist special needs students. I think kids today are more familiar with the terms Autism, Down Syndrome, and Developmentally Disabled. They are more tolerant than they used to be, although it can still be better. There is an active effort in schools to stop using the “r-word” as an insult. It still happens, and it will always give me the shivers. It is my hope that my novel No One Needed to Know will be part of improving sensitivity toward kids who have learning challenges and are differently abled.
“Ms. Anderson?” I bit my lip and then blurted it out. “I know you can’t talk about the other kids in your program, but can you tell me about Donald? He’s my brother and all, and I would love to know more about why he’s, you know, the way he is.”
Ms. Anderson sat down with me by the concession stand and took the time to explain to me how Donald had a combination of disabilities. She said he was on the higher end of the Autism Spectrum. Along with that he had poor eyesight and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. That made him, in simple terms, slow to understand things and mature.
“Do my parents know all this about him?”
“Yes. We have meetings a couple times a year to discuss how he’s doing and make goals for him.”
I focused on the group around my brother’s bowling match. My mom and dad sat at a table behind them, cheering for him like he was a five-year-old in a T-ball game. “Why have my parents never told me about his condition?”
Ms. Anderson gave a tiny shrug and offered, “I couldn’t say. Perhaps they didn’t think you were ready to hear it?”
All those times I got in trouble for yelling or making fun of Donald, doing mean things like locking him out of the house or just being impatient with him—I hadn’t exactly been proving myself to be very mature. No wonder my parents thought I wasn’t old enough to handle this kind of information. I was grateful that Ms. Anderson was giving me this chance to understand.
If you’re interested in learning more about No One Needed to Know, visit my page about it. You can order a print copy from Amazon for the purposely low price of $6.99 today.
I hope you enjoyed this little walk down memory lane with me. I’d love to know some things that existed in your childhood that are different now. Feel free to comment below.
This is my 3rd year as an author sponsor for Multicultural Children's Book Day. I'm always happy and proud to be part of this wonderful, informative event. This year, I signed up to be a reviewer as well. Author Francesca Forrest supplied a copy of her YA novel Pen Pal for me to read in exchange for an honest review
Pen Pal is a story about a 12-year-old girl named Em who lives in an unusual place, a village of floating homes just off-shore in Alabama in the Gulf of Mexico. She puts a message in a bottle, introducing herself, and sets it afloat. With a little intervention from nature, a friendly postmaster, and fate, the bottle winds up half-way around the world in the hands of an imprisoned activist named Kaya in an island country in the Pacific Ocean. The two write letters back and forth over the course of a year.
The novel is told primarily in letters, journal or diary entries, and some extra material like newspaper articles or emails. There isn't any outright narration. The chapters alternate POV from Em to Kaya. The majority of the plot is revealed in their journal entries.
I enjoyed this book. It is a very interesting and compelling read. Both Em and Kaya have intriguing stories, and I liked learning about both of their extremely different lifestyles and how they wind up helping each other when their situations become dire.
Em is impoverished, has a brother in jail, and lives in a makeshift home that floats on rubber tires. Her way of life is threatened by public opinion, local politics and hurricanes. People look down on the people from Mermaid's Hands (the name of her village) because of their chosen way of life and that her family and friends have a strong belief in the "seafather" who provides them with what they need from the ocean.
Kaya, on the other hand, is in her twenties. She is from an unnamed island (called W----- in the novel) where the classes of people are divided by lowlanders (wealthier and educated) verses the mountain people (poor and uneducated). The mountain people have a strong belief in their mythology and legends. Kaya is especially intelligent for a mountain girl and wins a scholarship to a lowlander school and then goes to college in America. But she is back home because she had a dream that the Lady of Ruby Lake (goddess of the island's volcano) wants her to organize a celebration for her. She comes home and does this, but the government sees the celebration as an act of insurgency and arrests her. She is imprisoned in an isolated temple protruding over the volcano.
It took me a bit to get into this novel. The reason being, I didn't know that Mermaid's Hands and the island Kaya was from were fictional at first. I thought, being a multicultural book, it was based on real places. It isn't clear for a long time in the book where these places are. It is well into the book before you learn Mermaid's Hands is near Mobile, Alabama. I thought it was off Louisiana up until that point. Also, it isn't until the final third of the book that we learn the island "W-----" is near Indonesia. Being that the characters are writing letters and journal entries, they don't actually describe themselves very much. I guessed, but wasn't sure, that Em was African American until it was made clear quite a bit into the story. Also, I didn't picture Kaya as Pacific Asian at first. I was imagining her as from somewhere like India or even Morocco.
There is no front or back matter in this book from the author discussing where her inspiration and research came from, and I wish there had been. A few chapters into the book, I went searching for "Mermaid's Hands" and came up empty. There is no such place. The closest thing to it is a place in Cambodia that I've seen on a CBS Sunday Morning special. I did wind up going to the author's website to learn more about why she wrote this novel. She has some good information there and artist renderings of Em and Kaya. I recommend visiting the site if you read this book.
Once I realized these places were from Forrest's imagination, I enjoyed the story as pure fiction and stopped trying to read more into it. The ending of the novel is tense and exciting and totally worth the wait. It is awesome to see female characters so courageous and forthright.
I will admit to getting frustrated with the occasional grammar hang-up. It only happened during Em's diary entries. I didn't mind the aints and double negatives, because she was from the South. It's just that her poor grammar and spelling weren't consistent. 90% of the time her grammar was spot on, making the times when she writes things like "could of" instead of "could have" look more like author error instead of a character thing. I feel like it either needed to be clear that Em had trouble with spelling and grammar by doing it all the time, every time, or it needed to be removed completely.
I know Pen Pal is targeted for Young Adult readers. It is fairly unusual to have a YA novel without any teenagers in it. While a teen reader could enjoy the book, especially if they are an avid reader, I feel like it is actually more of an adult novel like the way Secret Life of Bees, The Book Thief, or Kite Runner feature children but are actually not children's books. The story is pretty complex and requires the reader to apply their own knowledge to put all the puzzle pieces together.
Want to have a pen pal of your own?
As an environmentalist, I'm not a big fan of dropping bottles in the ocean. However, I am a big fan of letters in the mail. If you (or your students) would be interested in trying to get a pen pal, especially one from another country or culture, go to International Pen Friends. They have sign-up forms for individuals and full classes. They will match you with a recipient, and you can make a new friend.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books
Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O'Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
MCBD Links to remember:
MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i
According to Goodreads, I read 36 books this year (not including the picture books I read to my babies at work). That's more than usual, and I'm kind of surprised. I've become a pretty slow reader. I tend to only read for a few minutes at lunchbreak and at bedtime, or when I'm stuck in the car waiting for my daughter to come out of rehearsals. The second half of this year, a lot of my bedtime reading has gone away in favor of watching The Daily Show or election news coverage. Also, I read a couple of my own unpublished projects this year to decide what to work on next. That took some time.
My new addiction to audiobooks has definitely made a difference in my reading output. It has also helped my sanity during my long commute to and from work. I don't love every audiobook I get, but most of them are fantastic. Listening to audiobooks is also a way for me to get through more bestsellers, because I don't tend to purchase those as often as indie books or books I can get autographed.
So here we go: My favorite book of the year. This was a hard choice to make because I read a lot of great books this year. Still, I have to go with Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. It's an historical fiction told from four different points of view. Even though you know from the beginning of the book that it will end tragically, you still grow to love, laugh with, and sometimes despise these characters. They are very real, and Ruta has done another amazing job. She's sooooooooo talented. And look! I got a signed copy!
Okay, so that means Salt to the Sea can't be my answer for any other categories, even if it fits.
My favorite big publisher book I read this year: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. This story swaps the pov between two twin siblings, a boy and girl. What's tricky is that the boy's story is from when they were 11, and the girl's story is from when they were 16. It's a complicated puzzle that had me riveted and emotionally wrecked. Such brilliant writing. I feel that English/Writing teachers need to use this book in their classrooms to study how it all comes together in such a genius way. Incredible.
My favorite indie pubbed book of the year. (In my opinion indie pubbed means self-published or published with a small press). The winner here is Trail of Secrets by Laura Wolfe. Yes, this book is with my publisher Fire and Ice YA Books, but that isn't what makes me partial to it. Although, I will confess that I wouldn't have probably discovered this book if it wasn't with my publisher. I haven't read a horse book since Black Beauty in elementary school. This is a great YA mystery that is more about competitive teen girls than horses, though. I thought it was fun and kept me guessing like a good mystery should. I look forward to more books by this author.
Favorite book series I read this year. This is a toughie. I read three series this year. Libba Bray's Diviners Novels, Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, and Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking. I also read the final book of the Raven Boys series by Maggie Steifvader. All of these books were AMAZING!!!!!! I listened to all of them on audiobook too. This is an incredibly difficult decision to make, so I'm going to judge on the quality of the writing as well as the acting of the narrators. To that end, I'm choosing the Patrick Ness books. You must read these (or better yet, listen to them).
Favorite book by a local (Nashville or SCBWI Midsouth) author (besides Ruta Sepetys). This was tough too because Sharon Cameron had a new book out (The Forgetting), and I love everything she writes. Helene Dunbar's book What Remains and Jeff Zentner's book Serpent King both broke my heart. Still, I have to give this one to Brooks Benjamin for his fun middle grade novel My Seventh Grade Life in Tights. I just adored this story about a middle school boy who wants to be a dancer instead of a football player.
The book that surprised me the most this year. It might sound self-serving, but I swear it's not. The book that I expected not to like at all and wound up enjoying immensely was Tomato Slices. Yes, this is the anthology of tomato themed stories, poems, and recipes which features my fairy tale "The Tomato Quest". It was a couple years between submitting and the book coming out, and I didn't know what to expect from it. The book's release was nearly silent, and nobody knows the book exists. I was paid in advance for my work in Tomato Slices, so it doesn't affect anything but my pride if people pick it up. That said, the stories are sweet, sentimental, fun, and in some cases adorable. The recipes look delicious, although I haven't tried any yet. If you know anyone into gardening, cooking, charming stories, or tomatoes, this would make a great gift.
What's next up for me? I'm currently reading Girl on the Brink by Christina Hoag, Fire and Ice YA Books. It's great so far. Chilling. I still need to read the other stories in Fantastic Creatures, the brand new anthology featuring my horror story "Mother's Night Out". It's FREE on Kindle, BTW. Then I need to read a book to review for Multicultural Children's Book Day. I'm leaning toward a book called Pen Pal by Francesca Forrest for that.
What books have you enjoyed this year? What books are on your to-read list? Feel free to comment below. Also, scroll through to read some other blog posts or visit the rest of my site to see if anything I've written might be a good fit for you.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.