Deadly Design

I’m so looking forward to 2015 and the release of my YA thriller, Deadly Design!

Though identical twins, Connor and Kyle couldn’t be more different. Star of the track team, valedictorian, and all-around golden boy, Connor has always overshadowed his sarcastic loner brother Kyle. Though identical, the brothers were born two years apart to help better their chances of survival. Kyle always thought being born second meant he was the unlucky one, that is until kids conceived at the same fertility clinic start dying on their eighteenth birthdays. Now Kyle has two years to find the elusive Dr. Mueller, who not only created them, but who genetically manipulated them, turning them into virtual gods.

In a race against time, Kyle sets off to find the missing doctor and to unlock the secrets hidden in his genetic code, because eighteen isn’t long enough. And he doesn’t want to be yet another perfect, blue-eyed corpse.

Writing for Your Reader

This week I was discussing a short story assignment with a student. She’d shared her story with a writing group and found that they took issue to her not telling whether or not a character was male or female. She stated that it was her goal to keep this hidden from readers so there would be surprise at the end when the readers realized the sex of the character.

The whole discussion led me to how Stephen King opened his lecture at Wichita State University last week. He started with a “dumb joke” only we never got to hear the punch line because when reading the joke online, he’d gotten stuck. The joke starts, “Two jumper cables walk into a bar”. How does one visualize this? How exactly do jumper cables “walk into a bar”?  I thought of this because when reading my student’s story, I was stuck in trying to visual a character that was not described in any sense or ever referred to using “he” or “she”. (And we all know how annoying it can be to constantly read a character’s name over and over again instead of the usual substituting of a pronoun.)

My advice to her was that as readers, we need to visualize what we’re reading. We need to see the characters, or in Stephen King’s case, the jumper cables. If hiding the character’s gender is really important to the story, she has to find another way to help the reader see that character, to know that character.

As with all advice, we have to be able to take it ourselves. Last week I got an email from my agent discussing how a character in my new YA novel needs to be fleshed out more. In my mind, I had intentionally made this character somewhat vague because the main protagonist doesn’t want to know her. Told in the first person, the protagonist has lost everyone she loves, so she guards herself against getting to know or love this new person.

But then there are the readers– the people we write for.  What if they want to know the character more? What if they want to fall in love with her?  What if they want more than superficial descriptions? What if they want to know everything about her?

Then to my horror, I realized that I don’t know everything about her. I had grown so close to my protagonist, I had refused to get to know this character as well.

As a writer, I had to ask myself why it was that I’d kept my character at arms length and most importantly, I had to knock it off!

Every writer has their own way of dealing with character development. For me, it’s sitting down at the keyboard and basically conducting an interview. I plan on doing just that this afternoon. Since I used to be a therapist, I might even imagine my character sitting on a sofa in my old office as I try to delve deep into what makes her tick, what her fears are, and her aspirations. And then at some point, I might need to stretch out on the sofa myself, and ponder what it is about this character that makes me hesitant to know her too well.

Stephen King said that it’s impossible to keep ourselves completely out of our stories.  I think Sigmund Freud would agree. If there’s something that keeps us from revealing our characters to our readers, or to ourselves, we might want to do a little self reflection.

In the end, we owe it to our readers to know our characters, and in getting to know our characters, we might just get to know ourselves a little bit better.

Writing Idols — We all need them

We all know that writing is a lonely job. And with no audience to applaud (or maybe boo) our narrative choices, it’s also a job that comes with a lot of self-doubt. Instead of the typical ‘angel’ ‘demon’ most people have on their shoulders, writers have a critic and, if they’re lucky, a miniature version of their literary hero, or heroes, reminding them that success is possible.

Last night I got the opportunity to hear Stephen King speak on the campus of Wichita State University. I’ve always been a fan, but to be honest, it was when Stephen King wrote his book On Writing, that I became more than a fan. He gave me permission to write. Okay. He gave permission for all of us to write, or to do whatever it is we love to do because hey, isn’t that what life is supposed to be about. We’re supposed to do what we love, with or without a guarantee that we’ll ever make it onto the shelves of a bookstore.

I’ve made reading his book a summer ritual and since I have the audio version, I get to hear his voice reading his words about the craft of writing. It’s a must read for any writer!

Okay, I’ll try to stop being a Stephen King cheerleader for a moment and get to my point. Because writing is something we do alone, because writers, published or not, are filled with self-doubt and insecurities, we need idols. Early on, mine was Flannery O’Connor. I loved and still love the way her hand can reach out through the page and literally slap the reader across the face. I have other idols as well. Cormac McCarthy is one. And then of course, there’s Mr. King.

Our writing idols do more than inspire us. They push us to be our best, to find an even better word than the one we just agonized over for thirty minutes. They refuse to let us settle for mediocre, and most importantly, at least for me, they let us see what’s possible.

I love Olympic figuring skating. I can’t skate. I doubt I could even walk with skates on, but watching them glide across the ice, then spin at dizzying speeds after doing some triple, double, cow thing in the air is amazing. Did I ever aspire to do that? No way! I’d break my neck and probably the part of my body I happen to be sitting on right now. But I love watching them because they remind me of what humans are capable of. Do I believe I will ever be able to craft words the likes of O’Connor or McCarthy or King? No. But the great writers show us what humans are capable of. And while I know that there are elephants who can paint pictures, last I heard all writers are humans.

We can be capable of greatness, our own form of greatness. I like my miniature version of Stephen King sitting on my shoulder, telling me that what I just wrote needs to be highlighted and deleted ASAP! IT SUCKS!  But I also like the little voice that sometimes say, “Hey, not bad kid. I think you might really have something here.”

Be inspired. Study your idols, and instead of reading a line and saying to yourself, “Holy crap, I’ll never write like that!”, remember that even the greats started somewhere. And as much as we may love the voices of our writing idols, the world doesn’t need another Connor or McCarthy or even, yes it pains me to say this, another King. The writing world needs a choir of voices. Let them inspire yours.

When Your Dream Comes True — Will Everyone Be Happy?

You did it! You worked, reading and writing just like your high school teacher, and of course, Stephen King told you to and finally it pays off. You can officially call yourself a published author. As most writers do, you’ve probably surrounded yourself with a few writing friends and then there are those family members with whom you’ve shared your dream. You get the call from your agent or publisher and the hallelujah chorus sounds in the heavens!

Finally, you have the validation you’ve been longing for. All the hours you spent working on your craft were not a waste of time. But how will others react? Especially those who have been right there with you, those who have been working just as hard, are just as talented, and want it just as much.

I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, but as for my own, I’m  blessed with friends and fellow writers who have been nothing but thrilled and supportive. Writers are a special breed of people. Because we all go through the same doubts and the same struggles, when one of us succeeds, we all do. And the reality is, without our support system — our cheerleaders and beta readers and the people who won’t let us give up, none of us would succeed. And it’s never a matter of if those writers in our group succeed. We know it’s a matter of when. We are walking the same path and as with anything in life, some of us arrive at our destination first.  But if we stay on the path and do what writers do — work — we’ll get there.

I’d love to say that everyone will be happy for you when you achieve your dream — whether it’s being published or graduating school or making it on American Idol. But the reality is there are those in the world who never chased their dreams. People who, for whatever reason, never got on the path to their desired destination. Maybe they grew up in environments where they were taught not to dream, not to believe in themselves. If there are those who won’t be happy about your success, it will most likely be these people.

Just as I am humbled by those who share in our joys, I am equally humbled by those who don’t. I have friends and family who have supported me, who never told me I couldn’t succeed if I worked hard enough. Some people have never had that support system and for them, it’s difficult to take joy in a success that they will never know.

Okay, honesty time. Does it bother me when I post something about my debut novel and certain relatives don’t hit the ‘like’ button? A little bit. Are there always going to be people out there who won’t care how hard you worked or for how many years you struggled to succeed? Yep.

But you know your worth. You know how hard you worked, how long your strived. You know that any success you have, was well earned and fought for. Focus on the well-wishers. Focus on those who jumped up and down and squealed when you told them your good news. And don’t forget to do the same for them when they tell you theirs. And cheers to all the dream chasers!

The Fault in our Hearts-Why I write for teens

Let’s face it, being a teenager isn’t easy. Sometimes, it flat out sucks. Especially in today’s society where some teens are expected to get passing grades, participate in extracurricular actives, help out around the house and work a part to full time job to help pay their car insurance and sometimes, the groceries. And in the background are the voices of people talking about how lazy kids today are and how they don’t know anything.

Is it any wonder that some kids and young adults yearn for something, hopefully not a terminal disease, but something to make them feel like their lives matter, that they matter. The character’s in the best selling novel, “A Fault in Our Stars” are given a wonderful gift. Not the gift of cancer, but the gift of being appreciated and valued. The gift of having parents and friends who don’t take them for granted. The gift of mattering.

I remember a young girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen, telling me that she wished she’d get into a car accident. “Not a really serious accident,” she said. “Just one where I’d get hurt enough that people would come to the hospital to see me and maybe they’d think about how terrible it would be if they lost me.”

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store and found a little girl wandering lost. She told me her name and said she was five. I walked through the store looking for her mom and when we found her some fifteen minutes later, she ran to the woman, grabbed her hand and smiled up at her. Her mom pulled her hand away and didn’t acknowledge her child in any way. Typically, I’m a non-violent person, but I wanted to shake this mother and say, “Hey, look at your kid! Be glad she’s not going to end up on the proverbial milk carton!” But the sad truth is, I don’t think her mother would have cared one way or the other.

If you feel like you don’t matter, if you feel like you don’t exist because the world goes on around you and no one ever seems to stop and just…see you…see yourself. Appreciate yourself. And I know that sucks because we’re meant to be loved. We’re meant to matter to others but sometimes people, for whatever reasons, have blind hearts. They don’t see what’s right in front of them. They don’t see what should matter most.

Since the 1950’s, teen suicide has gone up 600%. This may seem like a random fact to throw in here, but it’s not. Life is tough and sometimes we’re so desperate to get people to notice us, to value us, that we leave. We throw away our own lives and futures because the pain of being invisible, of not mattering, is just too much.

As if life hasn’t been tough enough, now bullies can post on Facebook and Youtube. They can share their cruelty and your perceived flaws, to the world. Parents are busy, some working two jobs and still not making ends meet. We’re all sleep deprived and many of us are barely holding our heads above water. But in the midst of all that shitty chaos, there’s one thing to remember above all others.

You matter. You shouldn’t have to be riddled with cancer and having daily chats with the Grim Reaper to know that. The reality is that our time could be up at any minute. We could choke on a hot dog, get hit by a drunk driver at a cross walk, and yes, our cells could start working against us and turn into that diabolical villain that’s fought with chemo and radiation and…appreciation.

I write for teens because they matter. Because every one should matter. I can’t SEE everyone. I can’t acknowledge everyone’s existence and the importance of that existence, but I can put words together that reach out from the page and can tap my readers on the shoulder and can tell them what I wish they already knew. I can tell them that no matter what is going on in their lives, they deserve to exist. They deserve to be loved. And if those around them don’t see that, it’s not their fault, but the fault in our hearts.