Tag Archives: publishing

Dust Tracks on a Road #BlackLit #Autobiography

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Dust Tracks on a Road #BlackLit #Autobiography

Dust Tracks on a Road is Hurston’s autobiography, though it doesn’t read like a traditional autobiography. The book is broken into sections. First, it reads like the story of her life, but then she moves into chapters about friendship, collecting folktales in the Caribbean, bringing “true Negro dancing” to the the U.S., and what it means to be an individual instead of a member of a race. Hurston died in obscurity in (1891- 1960). As scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. notes in the afterward:

Hurston’s fame reached its zenith in 1943 with a Saturday Review cover story honoring the success of Dust Tracks. Seven years later, she would be serving as a maid in Rivo Alto, Florida; ten years after that she would die in the County Welfare Home in Fort Pierce, Florida.

How could the recipient of two Guggenheims and the author of four novels, a dozen short stories, two musicals, two books on black mythology, dozens of essays, and a prize-wining autobiography virtually “disappear” from her readership for three full decades?

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In 1975, Alice Walker (the author best know for The Color Purple) wrote an essay about Hurston, which was published in Ms. magazine. The article launched a Hurston revival, and more people have read Their Eyes Were Watching God between 1975 and today than did between 1937 and 1975.

Dust Tracks on a Road begins with a bit about the development of Eatonville, Florida, starting with two Brazilians. For reasons not fully clear to me, black and whites worked together to help black folks create Eatonville, which is sort of attached to Maitland, Florida (the geography is confusing). Hurston explains, “Eatonville, Florida, is, and was at the time of my birth, a pure Negro town — charter, mayor, council, town marshal and all.” For this reason, Hurston is not aware of racism to the extent that other black Americans are; not once to my memory does Hurston mention an incident involving race in this book.

Unexpectedly, I visited Eatonville a few weeks ago. I visited my ol’ Granny for spring break, leaving behind the mushy Indiana weather. One day at breakfast, while wearing my “Zora t-shirt,” I began to discuss the writer and explain her hometown. A quick tango with Google revealed we were only about an hour from Eatonville, so we made the trip.

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We didn’t stay too long, but we ate Jamaican lunch at Momz’s, visited the Zora Neale Hurston museum, and tried some key lime cake at Be Back Gordon’s Fish House (don’t you love that name??). Some things had a Maitland address, while others were Eatonville, though all locations were within blocks of each other. Everyone simply calls it Eatonville.

 

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Understanding Eatonville is key to understanding Dust Tracks on a Road. It’s also important to know about “the Dozens,” which Hurston doesn’t explain in detail, but is a game played in black communities that has become part of the culture. I cover “the Dozens” when I teach African American literature. “The Dozens” is cleverly insulting someone, and while the person doing the insulting may not have any formal education, people get creative. When Hurston first goes north, she learns that she is different. Southern children are “raised on simile and invective. They know how to call names.” Here is a great passage that may help you next time someone has it coming:

It is an every day affair to hear somebody called a mullet-headed, mule-eared, wall-eyed, hog-nosed, gator-faced, shad-mouthed, screw-necked, goat-bellied, puzzle-gutted, camel-backed, butt-sprung, battle-hammed, knock-kneed, razor-legged, box-ankled, shovel-footed, unmated so and so! Eyes looking like skint-ginny nuts, and a mouth looking like a dishpan full of broke-up crockery!

There is a mean little person in me that loves this list, mainly because I have learned from my own story-driven kinfolks that name-calling is one of the richest places to get inventive. Hurston uses idioms the entire book, making it a rich read.

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Hurston has a book titled I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…& Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive (ed. by Alice Walker)

This is an autobiography full of storytelling, because that’s the heartbeat of her community. One time, her “Aunt Cal’line” tripped a lady off the church steps to see if she was wearing underwear; the woman was not, so Aunt Cal’line spit on her naked bits and rubbed the spit in with her foot. One time, Hurston tried to kill her stepmother with an ax. One time, Hurston interviewed one of the last living slaves who came from Africa. He was in his 90s and wondered if his kinfolk in Africa still missed him. Sadly, Hurston’s studies revealed that whole village had been murdered the day he was captured by a rival African village and sold into slavery.

It’s possible that Hurston’s unique upbringing is what makes her one of the most independent thinkers I’ve ever read about. She fits with almost no one from her time. When other blacks in America (and not all are African American, hence I use “black”) are fighting for equality, Hurston sympathizes with the black man who owns a barbershop that served only whites. One day, a black man comes in and demands to be served, but everyone throws him out. If rumor got around that the owner had served another black man, his white clients would not only ruin his business, but he would have to close the 6 other shops he owned. Hurston argues that helping one black man achieve equality wasn’t worth all the jobs the black employees had.

In fact, Hurston took a while to even begin writing a book because she was told “Negroes were supposed to write about the Race Problem.” She argues she doesn’t want to talk about the “Race Problem” and spends an entire chapter explaining why — mainly that she judges folks individually, not as a group. Hurston gives explains the feeling of “hopeless resignation”:

For example, well-mannered Negroes groan out [“My people! My people!] when they board a train or a bus and find other Negroes on there with their shoes off, stuffing themselves with fried fish, bananas and peanuts, and throwing the garbage on the floor. . . . Now, the well-mannered Negro is embarrassed by the crude behavior of the others. They are not friends, and have never seen each other before. So why should he or see be embarrassed?

Hurston goes on to argue that the “well-mannered Negro” feels so badly because people focus on race instead of pointing to the folks dumping the trash on the ground as problematic individuals. I know that this viewpoint will cause a lot of discussion on the pros and cons of race solidarity, but I applaud Hurston for arguing her point carefully. She has an entire chapter entitled “My People! My People!” in which she discusses what she calls race pride, race prejudice, race man, race solidarity, race consciousness, and race. “My people” is always said with an “ermehgerd” sort of tone, as if the person can’t believe how embarrassing other people in their race can be.

Overall, whether you agree with her opinions or not, Hurston brought African dance, music, and stories into the United States. She made it okay for black men and women to write using their own tongues (dialect, idioms, words that live under the words) when many authors thought they had to write in Standard English to be accepted (I wonder if some of those writers thought, “my skinfolks but not my kinfolks — my people!” about Hurston…).

If you love language, you have to read Zora Neale Hurston. If you love independent women, you have to read Hurston. My only regret is that I can’t describe and quote everything I highlighted. I’ll end with a Fun Fact:

This independent lady was a writer and an anthropologist, and it was rumored that when she would hang out with famous poet Langston Hughes in Harlem, she would stop random people and ask if she could measure their skull circumference.

Extra Goody: listen to this five minute interview in which Hurston describes what a zombie is. She met them in Haiti, you know…

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Meet the Writer: Lori A. May #writerslife #interview

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Meet the Writer: Lori A. May #writerslife #interview

I want to thank Lori A. May for answering my questions. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (which May just started!), or visit her website to learn more!

GRAB THE LAPELS: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

LORI A. MAY: I fell in love with paper and writing—not just storytelling—at a young age. There must have been something about that tactile experience that appealed to me so early on. Of course that led to actual writing and falling in love with the page in a different way, the way it opens us up to worlds both real and imagined. Everyone knew I was a kid who was going to grow up to write but it was in my twenties when I began to take it more seriously, to consider what I could do with words. I read nonstop, wrote about anything and everything, and probably found my groove when I hit my thirties.

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GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?

LAM: It’s important to always push the creative mind and to enjoy the playfulness of writing. I like to remember that writing is fun—and that reminder comes in handy on those days when deadlines are looming or something out of my control just isn’t working out. It was an important lesson in my MFA program—I went to Wilkes University—to cultivate a lifestyle that supports the creative process, be that in exploring advanced craft issues or simply keeping up a walking routine to make sure the body has movement throughout the day. Writing can be all-compassing and I like to exercise the body and mind to ensure I give my brain the space it needs to create freely.

GTL: What would you like readers to know about your new book, The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & the Writing Life?

LAM: We certainly can’t do it all and be involved in everything, but it’s so beneficial to find one’s tribe and to feel a genuine part of the community. The Write Crowd shares inspiration and ideas for connecting with others, creating opportunities in our communities big and small, and cultivating a sustainable and enjoyable literary lifestyle. Whether working with nonprofits and small presses, mentoring other writers, or setting up chairs at an event, everything we put into the community benefits the bigger picture. Dozens of writers and readers are interviewed in The Write Crowd to share their experiences, and I hope readers will find tips to apply to their own literary lives.

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GTL: Many times writers find a creative niche and community. What do you think is yours?

LAM: I’m very community-oriented, as evidenced by my interest in literary citizenship, but that means I enjoy working with others and talking to writers groups. I’m a bit of a ham when I speak to a crowd and I love inspiring others, sharing experiences, and encouraging developing writers to do what they love. There’s so much discouragement elsewhere in the world and writing isn’t always easy. I love helping others see that it’s possible to follow their dreams and pursue writing as a vocation.

GTL: What inspired you to write your first book, The Profiler? (*you can read a sample at this link!)

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LAM: Fiction is one of my callings and my first book is a criminal suspense novel. It came about from one of those magical moments we hear about—I woke up remembering a vivid dream that basically outlined the story that became a book. Waking up with an idea is one thing, but I felt drawn not only to the story but to the process of writing a novel. For me, it takes a bit of a special space in my creative mind to commit to a novel-length project and it’s a different process than nonfiction or poetry, I find. But it’s an enjoyable challenge and one I look forward to revising soon.

GTL: What are your current projects?

LAM: It’s already been a busy year with a new poetry book, Square Feet, published by Accents this past January, and now The Write Crowd out with Bloomsbury, but I am indeed looking ahead. In May 2015, my book, Creative Composition, which is a collection of essays about writing that I co-edited with Danita Bergwas, was published by MLM. I’m also tweaking and revising a narrative nonfiction manuscript that I hope to send out soon. In between those and my frequent travels, I write poetry and articles and tinker with another project that’s waiting in the wings. I’ll be on the road a bit in the coming year, too, and readers can track me down via my social media links. You never know when I pay a visit to a town near you!

Meet the Writer: Bonnie ZoBell #writerslife #interview

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Meet the Writer: Bonnie ZoBell #writerslife #interview

I want to thank Bonnie for answering my questions! Read more about Bonnie here and check out her virtual book tour that we put together here!

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The beautiful banner my husband created for Zobell’s book blog tour tour last year

What was the first story you ever wrote about?

It was a story called “The Bridle Path,” published in some obscure magazine. At least this is the first one I can remember. It was a story about kids and class and racial distinctions, but apparently the magazine that published it was made uncomfortable by some of it. They renamed one of the main characters intentionally nicknamed “Whitey” to “Whitney” without talking to me about it and other changes along those lines.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

How long do you have? I had more majors in college than almost anybody I know. The fact is that I’m slow and methodical, which works well with writing and teaching, but not so good for waitressing, which I got fired from when several customers wrote letters of complaints about me at the Bon Marché lunch counter in Spokane, Washington.

Do you think writing is taught, that we know how to do it instinctively, or both? Why?

I think it’s some of both, to be wishy-washy about it. I think some of it is instinctive, but even much of that is shaped by our backgrounds, what we grow up to value, our experiences, and so on. I think you can learn to be a much better writer, not so much from books on craft, I’m sorry to say, but by reading as much as you possibly can.

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?

Statistics. There was the WHY? factor. Why did I need to know this? (because for about a week in college I’d decided to go into fashion merchandising and it was required). But probably the biggest reason is that my brain works in a completely opposite way. I didn’t get it.

Are you reading anything right now?

I’m finishing Richard Peabody’s awesome Blue Suburban Skies, full of all kinds of strange and wonderful characters and stories.  And I’m starting Roxane Gay’s painful and beautifully-written An Untamed State.

Are you writing anything right now?

Since my new book, What Happened Here, was just released by Press 53, I’m mainly writing interviews like this one and trying to get more people to read it. Soon, I will go back to a novel I started a long time ago. I’m looking forward to that!

The Diverse Books Tag #diversebookbloggers

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The Diverse Books Tag #diversebookbloggers

Naz over at Read Diverse Books has challenged everyone to read more diversely. If you have read a book that fits into the category, share it! If you haven’t, go find a book that fits into the category with the goal of reading it. Here we go:

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Find a Book Starring a Lesbian Character:

I’ve got this one in spades. Books with lesbians come to me easily — or perhaps I seek them out? — but mostly, I look for excellent stories, and I never shy away from those stories if the protagonist is a lesbian. In fact, in some instances, the leading lady being a lesbian is what drew me in!

Checking out the following:

Find a Book with a Muslim Protagonist:

Okay, my reading is not as great in this area. There is one book that I have read probably half a dozen times and taught each semester for several years now: The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. This book surprises my students because Malcolm is a Muslim minister for the Nation of Islam, which is a different branch of Islam than what you would encounter in the Middle East. After Malcolm did his pilgrimage to Mecca, he disavowed the N.O.I. and went Orthodox.

Looking at Goodreads, I would like to check out Ms. Marvel, a new comic book series. I also want to read Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, which I saw in Barnes & Noble.

Find a Book Set in Latin America:

This is another category with which I have more experience. I’ve also seen Junot Diaz twice; the dude has stood two feet away from me (he likes to wander auditoriums when he talks). And my god, does he swear a lot (I love it). The last time I saw him, he asked where the Latino/as in the audience were. Then he asked where his Africans were. Very few people raised their hands, and he said that wasn’t his fault, but the college’s (we were at the University of Notre Dame). Here is my list:

  • Ayiti by Roxane Gay (Haiti)
  • Unaccompanied Minors by Alden Jones (Costa Rica)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic)
  • Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War by Deb Olin Unferth (Nicaragua)
  • Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (Mexico)
  • Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti)

I have a number of books I’ve read by Latino/a authors who live in the U.S., such as Lolita Hernandez, Salvador Plascencia, and Desiree Zamorano. I’d like to read The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara (Mexico).

Find a Book About a Person with a Disability:

This is a tough one because I feel awkward reading a book about a person with a disability written by someone without a disability. I’ve noticed that most of the books with people who have disabilities I encounter are on the mental health spectrum as opposed to a physical disability, so I’ll keep my eyes open for more books with people who have disabilities.

  • Half Life by Shelly Jackson (conjoined twins)
  • American Genius by Lynn Tillman (mental illness)
  • Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon (self-harm, anxiety)
  • Sweethearts by Melanie Rae Thon (deaf)
  • Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulemia by Marya Hornbacher (mental illness)
  • Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher (mental illness)
  • Annie’s Ghost by Steven Luxenberg (disabled legs and mental illness)
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (mentally disabled)
  • Lily of the Valley: Chateau of Flowers by Margaret Rome (blind)

Find a Science Fiction or Fantasy Book with a POC Protagonist:

I don’t read a ton of sci-fi or fantasy, but when I do, it tends to have POC in it. Perhaps because I find that when an author who is a POC writes sci-fi or fantasy, he or she includes deeper messages of race and gender than a white writer may.

  • Soul Resin by Charles W. Cannon
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Bald New World by Peter Tieryas
  • The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

I have Kindred by Octavia Butler on my list. She wrote so many sci-fi/fantasy novels with POC; she is ultra prolific.

Find a Book Set In or About An African Country:

Find a Book Written by an Indigenous/Native Author:

  • Ledfeather by Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
  • Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones
  • It Came From Del Rio by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
  • After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (grew up on Spokane reservation, but has heritage with several tribes)

Okay, so I’ve read a lot of Stephen Graham Jones. Technically, he would fit really well into sci-fi and fantasy starring a POC because he writes lots of mind-bending horror with time warps and craziness. I’ve read essays by Leslie Marmon Silko and Joy Harjo, and I would like to read Louise Erdrich soon. I’d also like to read Ojibwe authors, as I grew up on the Saginaw Chippewa reservation.

Find a Book Set in South Asia:

  • Palestine by Joe Sacco (Israel-ish, depending on your viewpoint regarding what to call this territory)
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran)
  • Love in a Dead Language by Lee A. Siegel (India)
  • The Question of Bruno by Aleksander Hemon (Sarajevo)
  • Currency by Zoe Zolbrod (Thailand)
  • The Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret (Isreal)
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (India) I incorrectly remembered which book this was! It is mostly set in the United States and focuses on Indian-American families. My mistake 🙂
  • Of Marriageable Age by Sharon Maas (India, British Guyana)
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (India)
  • Dragonfish by Vu Tran (Vietnam) This book is half set in Vietnam and half in Las Vegas.

Find a Book with a Biracial Protagonist:

  • Sweethearts by Melanie Rae Thon (Crow/white)
  • The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss (almost every person in the book is biracial)
  • Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evens (black/white)
  • Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen (black/white)

Find a Book About a Transgender Character or that is about Transgender Issues:

  • Cloud 9 by Carol Churchill
  • Woman’s World by Graham Rawle
  • Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

I also have Janet Mock’s memoir on my to-read list, of course!

The-DiverseBooks-Tag

This is what revising LOOKS like! #amwriting #romancenovels #writerslife

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This is what revising LOOKS like! #amwriting #romancenovels #writerslife

I want to thank romance author Rebecca Brooks for taking the time to answer my questions. Last year, I reviewed her romance novel Above All and noted that it steered clear from the cheesy tear-jerker stuff and was both funny and super hot. This post was born out of my curiosity at a Tweet she shared. It looked like a giant roll of paper and was an example of how Brooks edits. I wanted to see how a writer revises! Here is what Brooks is working on — in the final stages of her forthcoming novel, Make Me Stay.

Grab the Lapels: What is your newest manuscript about? Do you have a title yet?

Rebecca Brooks: The manuscript I’m currently working on is called Make Me Stay, and it not only has a title, but a (tentative) release date! It’s coming out in Fall 2016 from Entangled Brazen, and it’s the first in my new Men of Gold Mountain Series, set in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. I’m working on the edits now—you can see the massive outline I worked out to help me think through my revisions (more on that below).

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Dining room table taken over by 22-chapter outline

Make Me Stay is an enemies-to-lovers story with a hidden identity twist. It’s about a prestigious Seattle executive, Samantha Kane, who’s poised to develop sleepy Gold Mountain, Washington, into the most profitable ski resort in the country…until she falls for Austin Reede, a rugged Olympian and racing coach who’s determined to stop the deal from going through.

Both Sam and Austin have secrets about who they are and why they’re in Gold Mountain—secrets that unravel as their one-night stand turns into something more. In this story I’m interested in how trust works in a relationship, how two people come to open up to each other and share their full selves, and how much falling in love changes our best-laid plans.

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This is where the series is set *dreamy sigh*

GTL: What has your writing process been like so far?

RB: I wrote this novel in the spring of 2015. I’d been planning it for a while and had a detailed outline, so the first draft didn’t take long. I remember thinking that, since this was my third romance, I must really be getting the hang of things now. From here on out, this whole writing thing was going to be easy! Cue major eye roll from present self to former me.   

I wrote Make Me Stay as a single title romance (my first two novels, Above All and How to Fall, are both single title). With thumbs up from my agent and me, my editor wound up placing the novel, and the Men of Gold Mountain series, in a category imprint. It’s a great fit for the book and I was excited, but I knew this would require some pretty big structural changes. Even though I was prepared for it, I was still pretty overwhelmed when I got my edit letter. Whether or not you agree with your editor’s suggestions or want to make the changes asked for—and how to process an edit letter in the first place—are blog posts for another day.

(Un)fortunately, as a writer I know all about getting stuck, so I have some methods for unsticking myself. After a day to let my thoughts percolate, I got out the GIANT roll of butcher paper I use to map out storylines when I can’t figure out my next steps.  

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Dining room table taken over by 22-chapter outline

I don’t know why, but it’s helpful for me to write everything out so I can see it at once, which is why I use this huge roll of paper. Doing this by hand and not on a computer is key. I feel like a 108-year-old Luddite when everyone else is using Scrivener, but I’ve found something that works for me, so I’m sticking with it.

I started my outline with two columns. On the left I put the bare bones of the original plot. On the right was what I’d have to change. I included all the possible changes I was considering, so I could see each step mapped out from chapter to chapter and know I wasn’t missing anything.

The outline focuses on the issues I needed to fix in my edits: strengthening and clarifying the conflict from the very beginning, trimming the B-plot and making it directly tie into the main romantic conflict, and making the hero’s major flaw more legible early on. The outline is color coded according to each of these issues. If my edits had focused on a different problem, I would have centered the outline on that. (I’ve done outlines where each character gets his or her own color, for instance, to help me see where each person is in the narrative at any one time.)

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I wrote out the two columns then used colored markers to box the text.

For the record, this took me two days, six hours per day, and was tiring but very, very satisfying.

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It’s growing.

Then I went through my Outline of Awesomeness and did the edits chapter by chapter. I also kept a legal pad next to me as I was writing so I could jot down notes that came up. If I get stuck, wondering what a character is supposed to say or do, I like to turn to the legal pad and write out what I’m trying to accomplish in this scene. This usually helps me figure out the problem I’m having and keeps me on track.

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Sometimes there is wine.

This was a LOT more work on edits than I thought I was going to have to do. Previously, I’ve tinkered with character arcs and rewritten a scene or two, but I’d never done so much throughout the entire manuscript. But the actual rewriting went pretty quickly because I had such a clear sense of what needed to happen. I wasn’t floundering trying to figure out what came next or how that small change to one line in chapter three was going to impact the black moment two hundred pages later. I wish I’d been able to do this earlier in the writing process—like, why couldn’t I have written this draft the first time around?? But I know that’s not how writing works.

I’m writing this interview the day after I sent the edits back—YAY! I can’t wait to hear what my editor thinks and move on to the next steps—line edits, proofreading, seeing the sexy cover revealed…and finishing the next book in the series! 

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Happy to have my table back!

GTL: How has your writing process evolved from your previous experiences writing novels?

RB: I have a much better sense of who I am and the kinds of stories I want to tell (well-rounded characters, gorgeous settings, rugged guys, lots of heat…). That’s helping me be more focused as I think about what’s next, and I feel more confident that I can make the worlds I imagine come through on the page. I’ve also gotten more ruthless about edits. It can be the perfect scene, but if it’s not the perfect scene for the book it’s in, it has to go.  

But as much as experience helps, there are always new challenges. Whereas the first draft for Make Me Stay went pretty easily for me, the next book in the series, Make Me Beg, was much harder. It was my first time writing with a deadline and out of a sense of obligation—I already have the contract, so I’m writing with a new kind of pressure now. It’s also my first time working on a series. This is a good kind of stress to have! But the truth is that the difficulties don’t go away, they just shift.

The process is the same, though: start with a kernel of an idea, work it into an outline, put butt in chair, get typing.

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These are some of the rolls of paper I’ve used for other novels.

GTL: Have you learned anything from writing this book?

RB: After these edits, I have a stronger handle on how category romance works. I’ve read plenty of examples, and single-title romance follows a lot of the same beats and tropes, so in a way it’s not that different from what I was writing before. But I learned a lot from dissecting how these novels are structured and making my manuscript stronger, clearer, and more streamlined as a result.

I love thinking about genre, how books work, and how books work upon the reader, so I’m really into taking apart a text in this way. This isn’t so much about the book itself, but it gives me a lot more tools in my toolbox that I can use going forward, no matter what I write. I love that being a writer means I’m always learning.

GTL: What, so far, has been the hardest part of writing your book?

RB: Getting started! I’d had the idea for the book in mind for years, but then I was busy with the release of my second book, I had other things going on, and the notes for Make Me Stay were hanging out in a drawer somewhere, not getting written. It took me a while to sit down and say, “It’s time to do this.”

Then, starting the edits presented another challenge. I read and reread the edit letter, tossed around some ideas with my editor, and I knew vaguely how I wanted the final product to look…but it was hard to know where to begin. That’s where the outline came in. I felt like maybe I was wasting time and should just dive into the manuscript itself, but I was so daunted, I didn’t know where to start. At least once I’d done the outline, I had no more excuses.

It can be hard to stare down a first draft, and a revision, and know there’s so much work ahead. Once I’m in it, I’m thinking about the characters all the time and I love being immersed in their world. But for me, the hardest part is taking that first step and committing to such a large and long-term project. I have a feeling that nervousness might never go away.

GTL: Does your newest novel include any research?

RB: I always do research for my books, including a mix of experiential research, online research prior to starting, and more as things crop up during writing. I use the information I gather to inform my choices as a writer. I’m sure I’ve taken some liberties, but I want the story to have the details and specificity that make characters and their lives feel real.

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Researching the new series. Life is tough.

The hero to Make Me Stay is a professional skier, and he and the heroine meet on the slopes. A lot of the novel is based on first-hand experience skiing, plus a very short-lived racing career in high school (um, those race courses are TERRIFYING). Before writing I also visited the Cascade Mountains, where the series is set. I really wanted to get the feel of the place, which I could only do by traveling there. I think those details really come through and make the setting come alive.

I also did a fair amount of poking around online. I knew nothing about real estate development and had to figure out how Sam’s land deal was going to play out. Sam also gets pushback from her board as she delays the sale with Austin, so I needed to look into how and why she could be kicked out her position, and what her recourse might be.

Same thing with Austin—I researched the process to get to the Olympics, as well as life as a ski coach and a Ski Patrol member, to make his story as realistic as possible. Some of this I looked up in advance, so I’d have a better handle on his character. Other things, like what exercises he should tell his team to do for practice, I Googled on the spot and then incorporated.

I think research is a broad term that can mean everything from poring over primary sources in an archive to quickly verifying something online. I do a lot of the latter to make sure I’m including details that are evocative and help advance the story in key ways.


Rebecca Brooks headshot copyRebecca Brooks is the author of Above All, How to Fall (a 2016 HOLT Medallion finalist), and the forthcoming Make Me Stay, book one in the Men of Gold Mountain series. Rebecca lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She earned a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind in order to try something new—and find the passion, excitement, and purpose they didn’t even know they’d been missing. You can Tweet at or Facebook her!

#DiverseBookBloggers

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Recently, the hashtag #DiverseBookBloggers has been uniting book bloggers across Twitter who want to see not only more diversity in books, but in those who read and review books. The hashtag was started by Naz, a Texan book blogger who identifies as a male Latino. Read the story of how and why Naz started #DiverseBookBloggers.

Since most of the book blogging world consists of straight white women, I was sure that I didn’t count as diverse. Later, book blogger Darkowaa from African Book Addict tagged me on Twitter as an “awesome” diverse book blogger, and I wondered how that label held up. Yes, I only review books written by folks who identify as women. No, I don’t really limit what people send me (though I don’t take Young Adult lit; I am not the reviewer for this genre). Yes, I prefer to review books by women of color and who fall on the LGBT spectrum.

Yet, when I have submissions open, it’s almost always straight white women who are self-published. These authors’ requests flooded my inbox. I thought I could include diversity by accepting people who were too “edgy” or marginalized to be published through traditional means, but I soon learned that “self-published” can mean anything — from an author who wanted full control of her book, to those who have grown impatient with editing, submitting, and revising and put the book out into the world far too soon (editors do serve a purpose).

I promptly closed my submissions and started asking authors or publishers for books that sounded bold or diverse. Or, I would seek out books by marginalized authors from my library. I started Grab the Lapels because I wasn’t reviewing diverse books when I worked for magazines. If a book by an author who identifies as male grabs my interest, I publish that review on another fantastic blog — the blogger is great about letting me review what I want, so long as it’s from a small press.

But.

What does Naz from Read Diverse Books blog consider “diverse”? Do I live up to the label? Here’s what he says:

What do we mean by “diverse”? Who qualifies as #DiverseBookBloggers?

#DiverseBookBloggers are not white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied bloggers who write predominantly about authors of that same description.

They ideally blog about #ownvoices authors and advocate diverse reading habits for all. This includes white bloggers who write about diverse literature regularly.

They find themselves in the LGBTQ+ spectrum or are people with disabilities and blog about books that represent them when possible

The hashtag more generally includes any person who is LGBT, a person of color, or a person with a disability who also is a book blogger. But diverse reading is preferred.

Well…I’m pretty sure I don’t fit. I’m a straight, married, able-bodied (though a bit lazy and totally out of shape), middle class women. However, an examination of my Goodreads “read” pile for 2016 shows that 12 out of 27 books I’ve read are from diverse voices! I include books from victims, people of color, those on the LGBT spectrum, non-Christian religious, and authors who are not from the United States. Here are some of those books:


The Rabbi’s Cat and The Rabbi’s Cat 2

  • Graphic novels by French author Joann Sfar
  • Explore Judaism and Islam in Africa
  • Comments on colonialism
  • Translated from French
  • Wicked funny

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Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary and Bogeywoman and Blue is the Warmest Color

  • Star lesbians as the main character
  • Have strong women as secondary characters who help the main character
  • Explore coming out as lesbians

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Powerful Days and Between the World and Me

  • Examine racial tension in the United States between black and white communities
  • Give anecdotal evidence of how violence against black bodies happens insidiously.

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Missoula and PHD to PhD

  • Both books examine sexual assault and what it’s like (as a result, both books can be very upsetting).
  • Describe how sexual assault victims are not taken serious because of the context of the assault, such as the victim was drinking, a prostitute, a drug addict, or friends with the perpetrator.
  • Explore how victims are ignored or not believed when facing their perpetrators due to their gender or race.

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Explosion and A Decent Ride and The Normal State of Mind

  • These books are by individuals from countries that are not the United States (Russia, Scotland, and India, respectively).
  • Examine contexts that affect the characters, such Soviet Russia and the lack of human rights, the drug and HIV epidemic aftermath in Scotland, and the rights of women in India
  • Each book taught me something new about a country and culture I did not learn from reading books by authors born in American.
  • Note that Zabrisky and Welsh both live in the U.S. at this point in time.

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I want to thank Naz for starting the conversation about diverse bloggers! I made the comment on his site that I often try to avoid book bloggers who only seek out characters with whom they can relate. To me, “relate” is another way of saying “just like me.” If you are a blogger and you feel that you sympathize or empathize with a character, make sure you aren’t accidentally saying “relate” — empathy and sympathy shows growth in a reader and helps your audience know that you are open to and accepting of new ideas and different cultures.

Meet the Writer: Leesa Cross-Smith

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Meet the Writer: Leesa Cross-Smith

I want to thank Leesa Cross-Smith for answering my questions. You can read more about Leesa at her website! I also reviewed Leesa’s collection, Every Kiss a War, an amazing short story collection.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

I totally wanted to be a ballerina. An actress, too. Also a writer.

What do you do now that you are “grown up”? 

Now I’m a homemaker and a mama and a writer and an editor. I’m also a hit-or-miss gardener, a pretty decent texter, and I make really good chocolate chip cookies and chili. I still know the ballet positions, too, so my childhood dreams are still kinda alive!

What was the first thing you ever wrote about? 

It was always something about animals. I wrote a story about two skunks lost in the rain, and another time I wrote about a girl who was wandering around her neighborhood putting up signs, looking for her lost dog. It was a white poodle and I can’t remember if she found it or not. I wanna say she did because that’s more my style. Happy endings!

Do you think there is a certain achievement a person must “unlock” before he or she can be called a “writer” or “author”? 

This is such a good question! I think the only thing that must be “unlocked” is the feeling. Feeling like you are one. And that looks differently for lots of people. For some it’s that first publication, for some it’s the first print publication. For some it’s the first book, some people need a novel or a big press. Believing in yourself plays a huge factor, fersure. I highly suggest believing in yourself and your dreams, even when it’s hard or seemingly impossible—unlocking the achievement of becoming (even more) awesome at being yourself.

Are you reading anything right now? 

I am reading the third book of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Some Roxane Gay, some Ben Tanzer, and every day I read these great little devotionals called She Reads Truth that simultaneously help me keep my feet on the ground and lift me. I’m also reading a book called The Wise Wound all about menstrual cycles because I love being a girl.

Are you writing anything right now? 

I am working on my second collection of stories and a novel, too. At this point, I’m researching a lot and also, letting things mellow. I’m in the middle of the tunnel right now, squinting to see the lights, but I think I see them!

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Meet the Writer: Robin Stratton

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Meet the Writer: Robin Stratton

Thank you to Robin for answering my questions! Robin graciously sent me all of her books recently. Truth be told, I couldn’t pick a favorite; they all sounded fantastic! Keep an eye out for my reviews of the books pictured below, and visit Robin’s website for the synopses.

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When you sit down to write, do you know the genre first? For instance, you have flash fiction, novels, and chapbooks published. How did they become what they are?

I consider myself a novelist – growing up, I never wanted to be anything else. I never wrote a short story or a poem until just a few years ago, after I participated in an intense week-long writing workshop in Virginia. The instructor impressed upon me the importance of having short fiction published in on-line magazines as a way to establish credentials and snag the interest of an agent. So the very first short story I ever wrote, “Ma Writing” (which recently appeared in a gorgeous anthology compiled by the amazing folks at The Lascaux Review) was the first step in this strategy of getting my novel picked up by an agent. Ditto, the poetry. To my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed the shorter genres. They’re fun, they can be powerful and helpful when dealing with grief (I lost both my parents within six months of each other) and they take so much less time and still provide that deep sense of satisfaction when I know I’ve gotten it “right” the way my novels do.

Whenever I think about writing a poem I get really intimidated, like I’m not “cool enough” or “smart enough” to join others who identify as novelists or poets. Do you ever struggle with switching from fiction to poetry?

This is such a wonderful question!! If you hang out with me at open mics or at my poetry group, you’ll hear me mutter, “God, I could never write like that!” So yes, I do feel that I’m definitely not in the same league as serious poets. But you have to make the choice of whether you’re going to let that stop you, or you’re going to just keep doing your own thing. Since I love doing it, I just keep going forward, and accept that I will never be in the same category.

Many times writers find a creative niche and community. What do you think is yours? Is it hard to find a niche when you write in different genres?

I began seriously writing after I got out of college – I had the kind of parents who didn’t insist that I get a “real” job and move out, so I got to indulge in my dream; but back then, this is the early 80s, I didn’t know any other writers. Living at home, writing 10 or 12 hours a day, was very isolating. When I’d meet people and they asked what I did, I’d say “I’m a writer,” and they’d ask “What books have you written?” and I’d say, “I haven’t gotten anything published yet,” and they’d say how lucky I was to be able to live at home and do whatever I wanted. Non-writers never understood not only how much work was involved, but how lonely a life it was when your friends all got married and moved away and you could never afford to do anything because you didn’t have a job, all you had was this annoying persistent need to write. So the internet was a blessing for me because I was able to connect with other writers via writing blogs, and then when Facebook came along, I really plugged into the scene and became friends with hundreds of writers, most of whom are struggling with the same issues, or celebrating the same triumphs. So now being a writer is fun; to feel like you belong to a community, it’s like being part of a family, and it’s something I really cherish because I went it alone for so long.

Read Chapter 1 HERE

Does your writing include any research? If so, why/why not, and can you talk about why you made that choice.

I am a writer who does a LOT of research for my books. I like to set a plot against a backdrop I find interesting. My first novel, On Air, is about a disc jockey, so I spent a few evenings at a radio station to get a sense of what the energy was like, in addition to the mechanics of how it works. Of Zen and Men features a woman who grows bonsai, so I made a couple of trips to this wonderful bonsai garden my mother had found, read some books to learn about the philosophy of bonsai, and then contacted an expert, who was incredibly helpful when it came time to write about the actual process. The most amount of research went into my third novel, In His Genes, which takes place in a biology lab. In order to understand a concept, I had to understand about ten background concepts first – it was a real challenge for me. I was lucky to have access to a couple of biology professors and a geneticist who all read the book, gave me feedback, and answered all my questions. I have called doctors, lawyers, and other professionals to ask questions. I’m a detail freak, and for me, research is fun.

Read the first chapter HERE.

How did you get involved with Boston Literary Magazine? What’s your involvement like?

Boston Literary Magazine was step two in my strategy of getting an agent; I figured if I was editor of a magazine, I would look more prestigious. In the spring of 2006 I called up my best friend and said, “Hey, want to start a magazine?” and she said, “Okay!” I didn’t anticipate the friendships I would make, or how many contacts would come of it. It got a LOT bigger than we expected, and even though each issue is hundreds of hours of work, it’s worth it. By the way, if anyone is wondering, yes, I did get an agent!

On your website it says you’re involved in several ghost writing projects. What is that like? How did you get into ghost writing? Have you ever been a ghost writer for the Sweet Valley Twins series, which I loved and read way too much of in the 90s?!

In the 90s I worked briefly in a bookstore and I tried to read a lot of the children’s / YA books in order to be able to recommend them to parents, and I read a few of the Sweet Valley Twins books. I can see how they’d be addictive! Re: my ghost writing projects. These came about every time I met someone who wasn’t a writer, but who had a good story that they had dreamed of turning into a book. Only two of them were paid gigs; the rest I did because I knew it was the only way the person would be able to get their story out there. It’s gratifying to make someone’s dream come true, but it’s a LOT of work for no money and no glory! A few years ago I made the decision not to do it anymore. Better to focus on my own writing!

Meet the Writer: Heather Dorn

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Meet the Writer: Heather Dorn

I want to thank Heather for answering my questions. You can read more about her on her blog. Heather is also one of the contributors to the new anthology TOO MUCH: TALES OF EXCESS. You can find a story from yours truly called “Fat Women Socializing” and SEVENTEEN awesome poems from Heather!

Could you describe the first poem you remember writing?

When I was very young I would get into trouble and my mom would make me go to my room and close my door. I couldn’t stand being left in there, alone, to think about how wrong I’d been for asking for something in the grocery when I’d promised not to ask for anything in the grocery. I would sit on the floor by my door and yell “Mom” over and over again. Just “Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom…”

After a while, I simply couldn’t stop. I knew she was going to spank me. I could sometimes hear her coming up the stairs, but it was beyond my control. My mouth persisted. And the more I said the word, the stranger it became to me.

“Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom…”

It didn’t even sound like the same word anymore or any word. It was something between word and music. It was completely new to me. That was my first poem.

Do you tend to work with a certain form or forms in your poetry, or you are freestyle? Why?

My style tends to be narrative free verse but I have written a range. I also do a lot of prose poems, collage, and creative non-fiction. I’d say that the poem (or writing) dictates the form. I don’t think it’s productive or easy to shove, say, a narrative poem into a different form. That’s just my opinion. I have nothing but a felt sense in my own work to support this though.

Unlike some other writing in the world, creative writing allows me the chance to figure out what I need (or want) to say and then find the form that does that best. Generally I have to send an email to co-workers, even if I want to make them happy, which is a shame because I’d much rather surprise them with a song: “The meeting has been changed to one! What fun, I say what fun! You can go for your run!!”

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Do you feel it’s important that the meaning of the poem be accessible to the reader? Why or why not?

I don’t want to read poems that I don’t understand. What’s the point? It’s frustrating and I could have been learning more about bees! Time is precious when you have every channel in the world and 31 flavors of ice cream!

The thing is, I truly believe in writing to heal. Writing has primarily been therapy for me. I love publishing, and I love reading, and connecting with others is the strongest high, but I wrote before any of that and I would write without it. However, I don’t send my journal writings to be published. Nobody knows who Aunt Kendra is and why I want her to get the house with the porch that has windows (because she never had anything her own that wasn’t a man’s as well) and nobody will care unless I craft it into a poem so they will.

And this is where I see the difference between personal and private. Private is something we can’t understand.

There are other styles of poetry that are not too private, but are still inaccessible to the common reader or to most readers. If someone felt they were that kind of poet, I guess I would say you have to be really good and most of you aren’t. I guess I’m bitchy today. Oh well. If you can get someone else to buy it – good for you! I’ll buy ya a beer to celebrate.

In what ways did an academic environment shape the way you write poems?

(Heather did not provide an answer)too much anthology

In what ways did non-academic environments shape the way you write poems?

These answers are intertwined. I grew up really poor. Not only has this shaped the topics I write about but I believe how I write. This also shaped my desire to get an education and all the shit that entails. When I was an undergraduate, my mentor pulled me aside after a few workshop rounds and showed me the subtext in my poems, the enjambment, and the way my words worked tone. He showed me what I had been using. I didn’t go to the best schools. I barely knew anything, but this was something I had learned — maybe from reading, maybe from movies or TV, maybe from watching life spend our last food stamp again and I was using it, without realizing. Once I knew it was there, I set to learning how to use it.

Tools are obviously more powerful when you know how to use them. My son can tell you this is true because I just crouch down and wait for the shooting to stop when we play Halo together.

That’s kind of how I got through undergrad too: crouching and waiting. Workshops were hell. I hated them. Even when I knew someone’s feedback was shit and I didn’t respect it, I knew I would be nursing a jug of wine later that night. But I started to figure out who I trusted. And then who I trusted who could give me the bad news as gently as possible. My mentor’s wife and a few other students started meeting to workshop our pieces. Working with other poets during my PhD has also been immeasurably helpful in my development as a poet. They all write poems I am jealous to have not written.

Being in academe versus my upbringing brings with it a fair amount of tension as well. I sometimes feel a bit left out. I vacillate between not knowing what to say and being all too loud for anyone’s tastes. Everyone knows many things I don’t. They know how to pronounce “Foucault” and “duvet cover.” I say it wrong at first and so everyone knows I’m a fraud. I make too much money to say “I’m poor” now, but I don’t understand any of the people who live on my block.

How do your friends and family tend to respond to your poetry?

I think they like it? I’m very critical of myself, so all of my failures are my own fault and all of the successes came from luck and the kindness of others. I tend to think they are being kind.

 

Meet the Writer: Missy Wilkinson

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Meet the Writer: Missy Wilkinson

I want to thank Missy for answering my questions! You can learn more about her at her website and over at xoJane, among other places. Missy is a journalist and novelist whose first novel, Destroying Angel, was recently published by Prizm, an imprint of Torquere Press. 
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

When I was four years old, our cocker spaniel had puppies. I was smitten with one I’d named Dearie, but my mom said we couldn’t keep her. So I wrote a moving, construction-paper saga of a girl and her puppy. I could barely pen my name at the time, and my illustration of a heart being ripped in half just looked like two blobs.

My mom didn’t let me keep Dearie. I guess I’m still trying to write a book that rewards me with a puppy’s unconditional love, or the literary equivalent.

Do you think there is a certain “achievement” a person must “unlock” before she can call herself a writer?

If you write every day (or most days), you’re a writer. It’s like with babies. They’re these little pudgy helpless caterpillars, but they see people walking and know they’re supposed to do that, too. And they struggle and fall down and get up until one day, they’re running, dancing or dribbling a soccer ball. They just keep going at it.

What’s it like to switch gears between journalism and fiction?

It’s pretty great to have the two outlets. I write fiction at my desk during downtime at the newspaper. So, when I open up my novel manuscript, it feels like I’m doing something kind of indulgent. That makes it less jarring to jump into the cold pool of a fictional world — although given the choice, I’d still prefer to dick around on the Internet. My journalism has improved my writing, too. I’m way more terse, clear and forceful. And years of writing on deadline has given me the ability to turn my writing brain off and on at a moment’s notice.

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Did you do any research for your novels?

It depends on the novel. For the first two books, Hearts in Alien Hands and Spore Girl, of the Destroying Angel series (both unpublished as of now), I draw heavily from my life experiences and the city I live in, New Orleans. The third one is partially set in 19th-century New Orleans during a yellow fever epidemic. So, I spent a lot of time in library archives reading newspapers from that era (which are really crazy…everyone’s dying, there are all these mass graves and roaming dogs feasting on corpses and it’s so post-apocalyptic, but you know everything turns out OK because here were are). I do research if the story demands it, which is a pretentious way to say I do research if it’s a question I can’t answer myself, such as, “What would you find in an 1853 pharmacy?”

People are debating whether YA novels are for everyone or for young adults (about 13-18 years). Ruth Graham of Slate said adults should be ashamed for reading it. Elisabeth Donnelly over at Flavorwire says Graham is wrong. What are your two cents?

Wow, it’s crazy that this is even a debate. Why would anyone be ashamed of reading young adult literature? It’s what we all start with, where we all fall in love with story, how we become lifelong readers. This reminds me of the time I went to see Stephen King speak. He was touring for 11/22/63. I lined up, along with hundreds of other people, to hear him talk in a church on St. Charles Avenue. His craggy humor surprised me, but not as much as the effect he had on his audience. They asked him about these fictional characters with so much concern and love, they might have been asking about their own family members. When King revealed he was working on a sequel to The Shining, the audience sucked in its breath and then released an audible ooohhh. It was like watching a kid hold a wrapped Christmas present. The master storyteller transformed his audience into children. That’s what every great story does.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing (either in journalism or your fiction)?

I have a hard time sticking to one genre. I am in the querying phase (aka hell) of a young adult/new adult series that leaps between fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction and noir. Some agents and editors have said I need to define my genre, but some say it’s OK to be a shapeshifter. It might be easier to sell and market the series if I had a clearer niche.