YA Lit Revisited: What About Old Young Adults? OYA Lit, Anyone?

It’s been almost a year and a half since I first addressed this question: “What is YA, Anyway?”

Here’s what I had to say in July of 2013:

In libraries it’s still called “Juvenile,” but everywhere else in the world of books you see this label: YA. It stands for Young Adult. Problem is, YA Lit seems to include everything from Judy Blume’s finding-out-about-your-adolescent-emotions books to some pretty dark, vampiry stuff, not to mention drugs, sex, and language that sounds like plain old Adult, without the Young. So what, exactly, qualifies a book as YA?

Sometimes publishers will subdivide YA into Middle Grades, meaning “Tweens”–11 and 12, I guess–but there’s still this question: what defines it? Is it a book where the main character is 12? Or one which mostly 12 year-olds read? Under that definition, the first two Harry Potter books both would and would not qualify. When those books first came out, I knew as many grownups in love with young Harry as I did kids. (I was one of ‘em!)

Or maybe the definition of YA/Middle Grades is silly, and who cares? Well, I do, but only for this reason: there seem to be certain rules about what you can or can’t publish under these categories. In later posts, I’m going to examine this question, and I’m going to be asking for your input. Whether you are a young reader, a parent, a teacher, a librarian, or all of the above (?!), your opinion is valuable to me as I wend my way through the thickets of YA publication.

Stay tuned.

Still tuned? Good.

It’s now November, 2014. In the past nine months I’ve published two YA/middle grades books–to give them the label that would seem to qualify best, based on genre, story content, age of heroine. Problem is, I keep getting excited, “can’t-put-it-down, when-is-Book-Three-coming-out?” reviews from people in their 30s, 40s, 50s…on up through 70s. (And one 84 year-old, but yeah, my dad doesn’t count.) So IS this YA?

Young people seem to like my first book too–phew!–but I haven’t heard from very many. Clearly, it’s not the “grabby” kind of book most teens and tweens have become accustomed to. It contains no wizards, vampires, zombies, werewolves, nor boyfriends. (Book Two has one of those beings, but it’s only been out for ten days, so I haven’t heard the results yet.)

I’m not complaining. I wrote the story I wanted to write. But I’m still scratching my head over what to call it.

What genre is THIS? (Courtesy Pinterest)

What genre is THIS? (Courtesy Pinterest)

“YA lit for young adults of all ages” is what I find myself saying more and more these days. “A coming-of-age story.” Or, if I’m feeling a little snarkier, “I don’t know–what would you call To Kill a Mockingbird? Is that Tween lit? Well–there ya go.”

Disclaimer: in no way am I claiming to be a writer on par with Ms. Harper Lee. But the point is still valid, right? Can’t you have a story about a young person without it being a story FOR young people?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this–especially that last question. Anyone?

Confessions of an Imperfectionist, Part II

I have finished another landscape quilt, and I’m bursting with pride. Please, look at my pictures! But don’t look too close.

004 (5)

“The Enchantments”–based on my Happy Place in the central Cascades.

005 (4)

Detail of the bottom. I like to have the picture overflow out of the border.

007 (4)

A look at the variety of stitching on the back. I try to match the quilting with the picture.

About a year and a half ago, I blogged about my imperfectionism as it relates to quilts. Here’s what I said:

I’m a lousy carpenter. So I never thought I’d make it as a quilter either, and I never tried. Till I discovered landscape quilts.

Landscape quilting is just what it sounds like: you create a landscape, like a painter, substituting appliqued cloth for paint. The effect can be as realistic or impressionistic as you choose. Me, I’m all about the impressionism. Who cares if that flower has eight petals in real life? On my quilt, it gets five, and it’s still pretty.

Nice and sloppy, just like nature.Another way landscape quilting is like impressionist painting is in its wonderful, inherent sloppiness. Who cares if my stitches are uneven, or if I miss an edge here or there which might fray? Nature’s full of ragged edges, weird curves, asymmetry. It’s a gorgeous slop-fest out there! Too much precision = unnatural-looking landscape…or so says I.

Am I making a virtue of necessity? Cheering myself up for being lazy, not to mention bad at arithmetic?

You betcha. But hey: I’m quilting, aren’t I?


Now, a year and a half later, my quilts are no less imperfect. Or no more perfect. And I’m still okay with that…in quilts. But in writing? Good enough has never been good enough. That’s why I write draft after draft, that’s why I’m still re-re-re-re-re-revising Headwinds even when it’s in its final proofs.

And lo and behold, with my next community concert looming in a week and a half, I’m starting to apply that perfectionism to musical performance.

You: “What do you mean, starting to? You mean you’ve been performing up till now without caring how good you are?”

Me: “Nnnnyeah….well…not exactly. See, when I first got onstage, it was really kind of a lark. I didn’t think of myself as a “real” performer. So what if I couldn’t nail the hard chords? Isn’t that what the other musicians were there for–to cover for me while I distracted the audience with my singing?”

You: “You’re really buying this?”

Me: “Well…the alternative was to practice a WHOLE LOT more than I wanted to. So…yeah.”

You: “Wow.”

Me: “I know, right? I sat on a stool for my performances because I’d never used a strap with my guitar and I didn’t want to learn. I used a music stand in case I forgot the words or chords. I glanced at my fingers all the time, even when that meant singing away from the mike.”

You: “So is there something you’d like to say to your audiences now?”

Me: “I’m SORRY! I’ve upped my standards. Come to my concert on October 26th and you’ll see.”


You: “Yeah. But you still could have brushed your hair for the promo poster.”

Me: ***sigh…***

OK, all you fellow imperfectionists: where do you draw YOUR line? Where do you let yourself slide, and where do you NEVER let yourself slide? Are you trying to work on sliding less, or sliding more? I am very interested to hear.




Hunted: Why My Book Would Be Banned in Russia

If you’ve been paying the slightest attention, you would know that Russia is not a good place to be gay right now. If you have any doubts, Ben Steele’s documentary, Hunted: The War on Gays in Russia, clears those doubts right up.

I’m not going to post the trailer of that film here. It’s too disturbing. Go to the official website to see for yourself. But here is the synopsis:

In modern-day Russia, where it is estimated that just 1% of the LGBT population lives completely openly, a recent anti-gay amendment to a “propaganda” law has triggered a rising number of assaults on gay men and women by vigilantes who, more often than not, go unpunished for their crimes.

Directed by Ben Steele, the startling expose HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA looks at this climate of hostility. Matt Bomer (Emmy® nominee for HBO’s “The Normal Heart”) narrates.

Homosexuality was legalized in Russia 21 years ago, but gay people in the country have yet to win mainstream acceptance. In fact, attitudes in Russia appear to be moving backwards. With jobs and relationships at risk if their sexual orientation is exposed, most gay Russians remain closeted. As one gay man who lost sight in one eye during a recent unprovoked attack says ruefully, “Hunting season is open…and we are the hunted.”
HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA features disturbing insider footage of homophobic Russians who, in the name of morality or religion, beat and torment gay people, posting graphic videos of their encounters online with few or no legal repercussions. These vigilantes see homosexuality as related to pedophilia, stating publicly that their justification for violence is protecting Russia’s children.



Mainstream US media like MSNBC agree with me, reporting on this phenomenon while choosing not to show the worst images from the documentary. Mainstream US media!

The original law in Russia focused on “practices.” But, according to Wikipedia’s unusually well-documented article on this subject, “The 2013 amendment, which added “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” as a class of harmful content under the law was, according to the Government of Russia, intended to protect children from being exposed to content that portrays homosexuality as being a “behavioral norm”. Emphasis was placed upon a goal to protect “traditional”family values; bill author Yelena Mizulina (the chair of the Duma’s Committee on Family, Women, and Children, who has been described by some as a “moral crusader”),[20][21][2]argued that “traditional” relations between a man and a woman required special protection under Russian law.”

Headwinds is not a book about gays. But two side characters are gay, and this author makes it very clear that sexual orientation, like flying, is a personal characteristic that others have no business trying to stifle.

That would be enough for Putin. Homosexuality a “behavioral norm”??!! I am officially “promoting” the “pedophile lifestyle.” Headwinds would be banned. I could be arrested.

(image by Lanphear Design)

(image by Lanphear Design)

That makes me feel equally proud and sick to my stomach.

Not sure what to do about this, other than what people are doing: keep talking. Keep the lines open. Listen to those on the front lines for their advice on what people who care about their Russian (or, for that matter, Arab, or African, or Asian, or American) neighbors can do to remind people that love is not a crime.

And go see that documentary. Maybe that will give you your own source of inspiration.

Thoughts? I don’t have a specific question here, but I’d like to hear what you have to say at this point, so I’ll stop. Sigh…


Happy Back to School, Y’all: You’re all Fresh-men

This month marks the start of my fifth year out of the classroom. I can no longer recite the schedule of my former high school. I don’t know whether teacher workdays are this week or next, or whether they’re calling them LIDs or PRADs or some other stupid fun acronym.

I still don’t miss it. And I still miss it.

I DON’T miss the stomach-rocks at the thought of losing delicious summer freedom. It’s not that teachers don’t work in the summer. Most teachers I knew actually took only about three weeks completely “off.” The rest of our summer included workshops or meetings or curriculum development, or all three. But we could generally schedule that work at our discretion–no ringing bells telling us where to go. That made all the difference.

If I let myself, I can still feel those stomach-rocks. I’ll bet most of you former students and teachers can too.

I DO miss that happy adrenalin of “THIS-year-I’m-gonna-try_____”; of fresh, new, empty lesson plan pages waiting to be filled; of that first packet of “Dear Ms. Wing” letters I’d make my students write on Day One. (At the end of the year, I’d write back.)

What other job is as cyclical in nature as teaching? What other job follows such a prescribed rhythm, allowing what’s new to stand out in such beautiful contrast?

(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia)

(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia)

I can’t think of one. Can you? What jobs out there have you had which allowed such a lovely sense of starting fresh?



To Market, To Market: What’s a Nice Author Like You Doing in a Farmers’ Market Like This?

“You’re selling your book at the Farmers’ Market?”

I could try for a real metaphorical stretch here.

“See, my book, it, like, grew from my imagination, and I, uh, watered and tended it through several drafts, and, like, weeded the extra words out, and then, like, harvested it and cleaned it up all nice. So, yeah. It’s really fresh, and, oh! Totally organic. And local. And gluten free. Want to try a sample?”

But I really don’t have to go there. Let me refer you to the Lopez Island Farmers’ Market Vendor Guidelines:  “…products must be produced, grown, gathered, created, hand crafted or prepared by the vendor.”

Produced–check. Created–check. Crafted–check, though not EXACTLY by hand. And…prepared? All those drafts, you kidding? Most definitely Check.


Gotta give credit where credit is due: I never would have thought of book-selling at our Market, much as I love it. My friends Ty and Nora, fellow garden fairies, gave me the idea.

What a blast!


The first time I went, over July Fourth Weekend, I sold 15 copies. Granted, seven of those were to people I knew, so that probably won’t happen again. And of course I bought some stuff: eggs. A bunch of lavender. Salmon-and-goat-cheese crepe. (Did I mention our Farmers’ Market ROCKS?)


But still, even with the Market dues, I came out ahead, financially. And socially? Off the charts.

I brought my guitar and sang away, quietly, as people strolled by. Pretty soon I realized the horrible acoustics of the Great Outdoors meant I could sing as loud as I wanted to. Bingo. People heard me, smiled, stopped. The songs provided a bridge between us: no uneasy eye contact (“Oh shoot, if I look at her she’s going to try to sell me something!”). Plenty of time for folks to peruse my display, reading the words from Amazon reviews which I’d enlarged and posted (on fluffy paper “clouds,” since my book’s about a flying girl 🙂 ).

Most of all, plenty of good feeling. They immediately liked this person, sitting there singing-not-“selling,” and felt good about talking to her. After we’d chatted a while, even if they had started out thinking, “What in the world would I want with a Young Adult book?”, they might then think, “Y’know, the neighbors’ kid likes to read…I’ll get this for her.”


Thanks, Ty and Nora! And thank you, Kristen Lamb, for the reminder: buying a book from someone you don’t know is a risk. These days, it’s an author’s job to reach out and take that risk away.

Who knew it would be so much fun?

I’ve met folks from Belgium, Japan, Mexico, and Australia. I’ve talked to random strangers about their flying dreams. (“In YOUR dreams, do you fly arms-out like on my book cover, or do you have wings, or…?”) I’ve sung harmony with other music friends who happen by. I’ve had my own, private Cute Dog Contest, watching the pooches stroll by (puppies win by default).

So I feel just fine about busting into this new gig, selling my “produce.” And hey. Did I mention my book is also gluten free?

Want to weigh in on Farmers’ Markets? Do you think they should just be for farmers? Or do you like having craftspeople there? Ever sold anything at a market yourself? Or…if you could, what would you sell?

What is a “Clean Read”? Walking That Fine Line We Call a Book Review

A modern-style friend of mine (meaning someone I’ve only met online, although we seem to share a great deal) recently paid me a big compliment: she featured my novel on her blog about books for Tweens, Bookworm Blather. Since Michelle Isenhoff has over 3,200 book-loving followers, this is a great shot in the arm for me and The Flying Burgowski.

Michelle, the author of several series for Tweens, has the goods. So far I have only read the first two books of the Mountain trilogy, Song of the Mountain and Fire on the Mountain,

Book One now available FREE on Kindle and Nook!

Book One now available FREE on Kindle and Nook!

and I found them to be strong examples of the classic Quest book for young readers, along the lines of The Black Cauldron, mystical enough to intrigue, but peopled by real-life characters with real-life yearnings.

I have not yet read her tween sci-fi series,

Book One also now available FREE!

Book One also now available FREE!

but it’s on my list. She has an historical fiction series too. (Really, when does this woman sleep?)

Michelle did not tell me she was reviewing my book until after she was done, and frankly, I was pleasantly surprised at the positive review.

Gretchen has a natural talent—a very distinctive voice, great timing and a good punch, creative imagery, and a super sense of humor. I absolutely loved the story. And I have to admit, I didn’t see the ending coming. 

I was surprised, not because I doubt my own writing chops–people, please!–but because the one area in which Michelle and I differ widely is in the political. 

From each other’s postings, Michelle and I can easily tell where each other stands on certain social issues that tend to divide our society. And in such sensitive territory, certain words, or avoidance of them, tend to wave like red flags to readers: “I’m on YOUR side!” or, “Don’t read this–it stands for everything you despise!”

Bookworm Blather is a blog that tends to promote “clean” books for kids–no sexual situations, no profanity, and, as far as I can tell, no gratuitous violence.

Profanity–or, as reviewers diplomatically put it, “language”–this can be one of those parental red flags.

I struggled with the decision to include swearing in my book, which I knew was aimed at ages 11 and up. In the end, the artificiality of non-cussing teenagers just seemed too weird to stomach, so I minimized the blue language, made fun of it where possible (“But at least he did say ‘frickin’ this time”), and, when I deemed it necessary for authenticity, I used dashes (s—, f—) and let folks deal with it as they’d deal with profanity in real life.

Here is how Michelle handled this issue in her review: “I do want to give moms a content advisory: there is quite a bit of mild language and some teen subject matter.”

Notice how she walks the line? The warning is there, but couched in very non-judgmental terms. “Mild,” in fact, bends over backwards to reassure. I wish all reviewers of “clean reads” would do the same.

Full disclosure: as applied to books, “clean” is a red-flag word for me. 

I dislike gratuitous sexual scenes, profanity, and above all, violence probably as much if not more than the next reader. There are certain scenes stuck in my head–some written by Stephen King excellent authors, that I wish had never been written so that NO ONE would have such images in their gray cells.

But sometimes bad stuff happens to good people, and they have to deal with it. In my book, a character the protagonist is close to is almost raped. To depict that scene without profanity would be to scrub it of its full horror. Not to write that scene at all would be to soften the harshness of the world in which my heroine must learn to operate. She has a pretty good life, actually. But millions of kids don’t. I like to think I’m writing for them–as well as for those kids who might not be able to relate, but need to learn empathy for those less fortunate.

Speaking of fortunate, I feel lucky to have “met” someone who can get beyond the red flags in the world of literature.

Do you have literary red flags? Are there certain “types” of books you find yourself avoiding because you think they will rub you the wrong way? Or…how do you feel about profanity in young adult literature? Go ahead–Wing’s World is open for comment.

On Teenagers, Butcher Paper, Writing, and Confidence: What Have We Learned Today?

Hey, I got to play with butcher paper, markers and stickers again! I got to spend my day with teenagers, then leave without carrying any of their essays with me!

Doesn’t get any better. Plus, it made me think harder about my own topic: What it means to be a writer.

Anacortes High School has about 800 students, mostly white, mostly working-to-middle class. It also has a super-energetic, friendly librarian who invited me to come in and speak to some classes, and to any interested students after school, about being an Author. I did  read them a bit of my novel, The Flying Burgowski, but first I wanted to stir the pot a little.


So here’s an exercise I ran with three different classes of 9th graders.

  1. handed out two stickers to each kid
  2. posted a piece of butcher paper marked with the numbers from zero to ten on its long side, headed “I Think I’m a Writer”
  3. asked each kid to stick one sticker next to the number which best matched how they’d agree or disagree with that statement

Then we all took a look at the distribution of stickers. I asked kids to share why they might have put theirs in the middle, then at the top, then at the bottom. Responses were pretty predictable: “I know I CAN write, but I only do it when I have to.” “I love writing; I write all the time.” “I hate it.”



Next, we ran the exercise again, but this time the statement at the top of the butcher paper read, “I Think I Could Be a Writer.”

And that’s when things got interesting.

Period One was full of what are usually labelled “Honors” students. This wasn’t Honors English, but one honors course anywhere in the schedule tends to clump that level of students together. Period One had a few stickers at “10” on the first paper, but on the second? Double the number. These guys were confident. When we discussed the difference, their statements tended to be about unlocking their potential and releasing their inherent creativity. They did not use those words exactly, but when I did, summarizing their comments, they all nodded eagerly–Yup, that’s me.

Period Two was the opposite. Remember those clumps of students? This was the clump that would never identify themselves as Honors students–whether they could have been or not. They also had a few stars at “10,” a handful of kids who thought of themselves as writers. But when the statement changed to reflect possibility and the future…those stars fell. Down to 6 and 7.

K and R

“What happened?” I asked the class, and they were ready. Their answers all included references to professional standards, deadlines, being paid, being good enough. Even the kids who thought they were writers now did not think they could pass muster “out there” in the “real world.”

Period Three was larger–in fact it was a class and half, as another teacher brought some students in to join us–and more mixed, harder to categorize. Their sticker pattern polarized on the “I Could Be a Writer” butcher paper, with many 9-10s and 0-2s, and almost no 4-7s.

D and C

So, what conclusions do we draw from this? I have my own theories, but I prefer to use Wing’s World as a classroom today (just as it once was). So, consider this me calling on y’all. Who would like to share first?

Not About the Sales: My Kind of Author Reading

Social Media Maven Kristen Lamb had this to say on yesterday’s blog post: “Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?”

This girl may have agreed in theory before, but after Tuesday night’s Book Launch Party for my YA novel, The Flying Burgowski, now I KNOW how true those words are.

Not because I didn’t sell books. I did. But those sales are not what sent me home that night feeling so high on blessings that it took me forever to turn my brain off (even though I had to wake up @ 3:45 to bake for the opening of Holly B’s Bakery–but that’s another story).

Blessings? At an author reading? Oh, let me count the ways.

1. I got four of the neatest kids on our island to join me in reading various parts from the chapter. All four have had extensive experience in our island’s Community Shakespeare performances, and so they needed no coaching in delivery or projection.


{All photos courtesy of Lorna Reese.}

2. Yup–we have Community Shakespeare, all age groups onstage together, once a year. Which I am DYING to be a part of…if only I could figure out how to fit it in with the writing and the baking and the singing and the buying-groceries stuff…but yes. Just the fact that it exists = major blessing.

3. For a reading of a YA novel, I had a library full of people whose hair color was…let’s just say more silver than gold, OK? YA readers might not turn out for readings, but their parents and grandparents do, especially if they KNOW (or know about) and RESPECT the author (which was Kristen Lamb’s point).

4. Every time I looked out at my audience, I saw friends and future friends.


5. Our amazing librarians, Heidi Larsen and Lou Pray, not only introduced me, they asked questions during the Q & A, and set up a room full of art supplies and yummy treats for after the reading.

6. Art supplies? At a reading? Yes!!! Since my book is about a flying girl, my idea was to invite folks to make some art on the theme of “If I Could Fly,” and then have the results posted in the library. In the middle of my reading I thought, “Oh! That’s so lame! No one’s going to do that!” But lo and behold, when I got done signing books…there was a room full of happy artists of all ages, inner children as well as real ones.

7. Radio archives. Really. Our community radio station, KLOI, captured the event for a future radio show–introductions, reading, Q & A and all. Do I think many people will listen to it? Of course not! Do I LOVE living in a place where community radio records author readings? Yes, yes, yes–and not just because it’s me. (Well, maybe a little.)

I could probably go on listing blessings indefinitely. I didn’t mention all the one-on-one conversations during the signing, all the leads and ideas people threw my way–“Have you talked to So-and-so at Such-and-such?” “Ooh, my aunt’s a librarian, I’m sending her a copy.”  I didn’t mention the wonderful questions I got from the audience, many of whom are authors themselves, like Iris Graville, author of Hands At Work.

All I know is, THIS is why I published my book: to get it into people’s hands, to get them talking about it, and with me. To CONNECT. Bring on the author readings!reading

Does this match with anyone’s experience? Ever been to an author reading that was more than just a reading? Have any other ideas I can steal for my next one? Please share!

OK, Fine, Twist My Arm, I’ll Talk About Writing: The Writing Process Blog Tour

Even though I’m a writer–maybe BECAUSE I’m a writer–I don’t usually blog about writing. But when my friend and writing/publishing mentor Iris Graville invited me to take part in a Writing Processblog tour she joined through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program, I was thrilled to say yes.

(Therefore you too WILL BE THRILLED to read the results–got that?)

What am I working on? Having just published my first YA/tweens novel, The Flying Burgowski, earlier this year, I am dividing my writing time now between promotion & distribution (not very fulfilling) and finishing the final draft of the sequel, The Flying Burgowski Disaster (extremely fulfilling).

Like thousands of other writers, I have learned in the past couple of years to quit whining about the challenges of independently publishing, a.k.a. taking responsibility for one’s own marketing and distribution. I’m still astounded at how a batch of phone calls and emails relating to author readings/book signings, or questions about consignment, can eat up an entire morning! But I try to stay grateful for the opportunity to do this at all.

In the Brave New World of publishing, the Big Scary Gatekeepers have lost their power. Or, looked at another way: I am now my own big scary gatekeeper. Let’s just say I have learned a great deal, but have a long way to go before achieving my Masters in Gate-ology.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? The Flying Burgowski is a coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist. Like Harry Potter, or like Stephen Messer’s Windblowne or Joni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest, the heroine, Jocelyn Burgowski, discovers that she has special powers. Joss can fly! But unlike those novels–in fact, unlike nearly every other YA fantasy novel I have read, The Flying Burgowski is set very much in the real world.( I suppose I could draw a parallel with the Twilight series in that respect, but the similarity ends there. Oh, wait, no–my book is set in Washington State as well. But that’s IT. No vampires, sparkly or un-. And no sexy werewolves.)

I greatly admire authors who can build effective fantasy worlds. I lost myself in Tolkien’s and C.S. Lewis’s books at a young age, and I am a thoroughly unapologetic Potterhead. But I find more personal meaning and challenge in imagining how one might deal with magic in THIS world. Kids these days have some pretty awful issues to deal with, and so does my heroine. How does a superpower help or hinder the scaling of an obstacle like, for example, an alcoholic parent? That’s what I’m interested in.

I should add here that Victoria Forester’s middle-grades novel, The Girl Who Could Fly, is nominally set in the real world. But that world is drawn with such exaggerated characters as to be nearly fantasy, in this writer’s opinion. The Flying Burgowski’s darkness is a more recognizable, straight-from-the-news-headlines kind of darkness. That said–it’s not a sad book! I promise it will make you laugh, no matter how old you are.


Why do I write what I do? I did not set out to write for young adults. In fact, the first two novels I wrote–one which will remain forever in the bottom drawer where it belongs, the other which I hope to publish someday–are for adults. The Flying Burgowski story idea simply visited me one day and took me for a ride. I’m still riding. But I don’t assume I will necessarily stay in this age-group for future projects. I do love that readers are finally figuring out that YA writing can be right up there with the best, though. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have helped expand the readership. There are some great YA books out there! (Check out this Goodreads YA group to see what I mean.)

How does my writing process work? First of all, I am extremely blessed in being able to write as my part-time “job,” (along with working part-time in a bakery), since walking away from my 20-year career as a high school teacher a few years ago. In those days I had to get up at five to write for 45 minutes before leaving for school. I hated that routine, but it did produce my first rough draft. Now my kids are grown and gone, and I am financially able to do what I want for the most part–a blessing for which I am unendingly grateful.

Secondly, I am married to the most wonderful man, who created a Writing Barn for me. Well, it’s the upstairs half of a barn; he gets the downstairs for his shop. But up there I have a large, mostly empty space with cedar walls, a little decorative pottery, a toilet, a hot-water kettle for tea, and a beautiful (but not too dominating) view. Best of all: no internet! Therefore, no distractions.

It is COLD up there, especially in the winter, and since I never write for longer than 4-5 hour chunks, it’s really not worth heating all that space with the wood stove, cozy as that sounds. So I have a space heater on a timer, to pre-heat my writing spot, and…don’t laugh…I write in a sleeping bag. I’ve always written from a semi-lounge position on a bed or sofa, so the sleeping bag fits right in.


I always start by reading aloud what I wrote the day before. Then I pick up from there. If I get stuck on an issue of plot or character development, I go back to my Outline page and just blah-blah-blah as though I were having a conversation with myself. Though it’s tempting to delete the blah-blah-blah from the outline after I’ve solved it, I leave it there as a reminder of my thinking process. It usually comes in handy thinking through the next snag.

Next week the Writing Process Blog Tour continues with another writer I admire. Shan Jeniah Burton lives a passionately playful life filled with lovely chaos, intertwined with her chef husband,  two endlessly fascinating children who keep outgrowing their clothes, and a rotating cast of furry companions.  She’s traveled the country, and counted among her backyards the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Everglades, only to settle on the same sleepy country road in upstate New York where she grew up.  She is particularly fond of words and dreams, imagery and photography, nature, history, music, and fictional people with green blood and pointed ears. Please click here to go to Shan Jeniah’s blog, Lovely Chaos.

But, as always, I love hearing from my own dear readers. Can you relate to my writing process? How does it compare with yours, or the one you hope to have someday?

Quest Teaching: Know an Independent-Minded Teacher?

Road Trip IV, Days 38-40: Durham, NC to Indianapolis

First, a word about the weather: WEIRD.

Depending on where you live, this word means different things to you, but you can relate nonetheless. Since I’ve been driving around the country for the last 5 1/2 weeks, I’ve seen all types of weird. California drought suddenly doused by mega-rainstorms. North Carolina suffering wave after wave of ice storm. (Can you say “firewood”?) And now here we are zipping through America’s heartland under sunny skies while states at lower latitudes to our east and south are running out for more de-icer. How can any American doubt climate change? We’re like the poster child!


And now, a completely different topic: lesson plans.

I’m a writer, but I’m also a teacher, remember? True, I’ve been out of the classroom for nearly four years, but teaching is a permanent condition, like having stubby toes. I can’t NOT look for learning opportunities in, for example, road signs. (Ohio’s US highway 35 is the Welsh Way? Why? Did the Welsh come here to mine coal?) I can’t NOT listen to The Mate’s ESPN College Sports Radio without vowing to find out why no one’s giving out NIT scores. (Is ESPN under contract to discuss the NCAA only?) And I can’t NOT correct commentators’ grammar when they say things like “can’t not.”

So you can imagine how my pulse quickened when I heard about Quest Teaching. This is a site started by tween author Sharon Skretting to provide teachers with lesson plans based on brand-new fiction–lesson plans written by the authors themselves!

Author? Teacher? Hey, they’re playing my song!

At first I was doubtful when Sharon invited me to write a lesson plan using my middle grades novel, The Flying Burgowski. It’s fantasy, after all–not wizards-or-vampires fantasy, but still: it’s about a girl who can fly! Sure, it’s a great read, but…a lesson? About what?

Then I thought about it. My heroine, 14 year-old Jocelyn Burgowski, may have a superpower, but she lives very much in the real world. And her real world includes a mom who is a mess. Joss’s mom functions with apparent normality until stress catches up to her and she devolves back into dependency on alcohol and prescription drugs.

Dark topic for middle grades readers? Yeah. Also nothing terribly out of the norm from what I observed in my 20 years of teaching. And I think kids deserve to see their real world reflected, and successfully negotiated, in books written for them.

So I took Sharon’s offer. I chose Chapter 12 of The Flying Burgowski, a chapter in which Mom melts down and Joss and her brother have to figure out what to do, and I wrote a lesson plan about finding positive strategies to deal with negative behaviors.


I hope a teacher somewhere finds this lesson and uses it. (If you’re that teacher: the book is free, with copying privileges.) If not my lesson, I hope a teacher goes to Quest and tries one of the many and varied lessons there.

For example: Michelle Isenhoff’s lesson about using primary sources with her Civil War-era novel,The Candle Star. Or Lars Hedbor’s lesson using his Revolutionary War novels. Or Sharon’s own Jewel of Peru. Makes me want to teach again! Or be a student.

I know that many (most?) teachers have little wiggle room when it comes to choosing their own materials. I know that there is no shortage of safely tested literature out there, used year after year to good effect. But I also know how many students are budding writers themselves and how thrilled I would have been, as a student, to know I was reading a chapter by a writer I could email with questions. A writer who was interested in MY learning. A writer who might encourage ME.

That’s why I’m psyched to be part of Quest Teaching, and that’s why I have no problem asking you to send this link to any middle grades teacher, student, administrator or librarian you know. Let’s see where this takes us, shall we? Life is, after all, a Quest.

Also, if you know any other middle grades authors who might be interested in participating, please put them in touch with me!