My Latest Review

Thanks to Isla Mcketta, I have a new review which you may check out here. When I was writing LKS, I was really struck by the parallels to our present time: social and civil unrest, racial tensions, terrorism (though in 1969-1970, this was largely domestic), and a general sense of upheaval and uncertainty. I love this review because it lets me know that these issues came forward in the way that I hoped they would. On inauguration day 2017, I feel especially blessed to be considered as a writer who has offered at least one reader hope. May we all forge a path to a brighter future together.

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Writing the Story You Can’t Tell

When I entered my MFA program in 2014, I had no idea what a cathartic process writing is to most people who write. Sure, there had been times as a preteen or teen where I’d thrown some anger down on a page and called it poetry. But writing to me was something I loved that was separate from my personal feelings. Stories were all around us, and I reveled in the romance of bygone eras and Cinderellas waiting to happen. I didn’t need to be a maligned scullery maid to cheer when the heroine became exalted to her rightful place of respect and security and happiness. When my life was bad, I escaped into someone else’s by reading, or I escaped into some made up world I had created. Writing for me was about creating a story that someone wanted to read and those stories were all around us, but my life didn’t seem “bad” enough to intrude onto my pages.

So when I got to Lesley, it was almost remarkable to me how many of my fellow students openly embraced the therapeutic aspects of writing. My program includes five genres – Writing for Young People, Writing for Stage and Screen, Fiction (adult, because, of course you wouldn’t need to specify that), Creative Nonfiction, and Poetry. I think that the Lesley program is, at least among low residency programs, one of the more diverse in this broad range of writing disciplines. Yes, many of us overlap from one to another. I write poetry. I’ve written personal essays. And the program is designed to allow us to work within our genres but also to interact meaningfully with each of the other genres. Friendships cross genre lines, they cross semesters, they cross borders. It didn’t take long for me to realize that many of us, especially those in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, viewed their writing as a therapeutic detox and residency as a form of emotional rehab.

Within days of coming to my first residency, people were spilling their guts all over the place-in classes, in their writing, in the dining hall. I began to see the way writing is, for many, many people, a type of therapy. People even half-joked on our student Facebook page about their MFA being better than their therapist, and cheaper.

Then, somewhere along the way of my MFA and post MFA years, my life became a soap opera without me being able to stop things from spinning out of control. There were days when it seemed that the harder I worked to stabilize things, the worse they got. Every day became an emotional war zone, and 2016 was, without a doubt, the worst year of my life to date. And somewhere along the way, my writing began to reflect this.

Last year, a Lesley alum who graduated from the program before me released a young adult book about a girl whose mother is a novelist who turns the girl’s mistakes into a bestselling YA book. In Katie Cotugno’s 99 Days, the protagonist is returning home for the summer before college after having fled town when her mother’s book exposed her betrayal of the boy she loved and his whole family. It’s a great premise, mostly because, when we use writing as therapy (whether through fiction, nonfiction, or poetry), we usually aren’t just telling our own painful secrets.

Creative nonfiction writers in particular grapple with these questions of how much is acceptable to reveal and whose truth matters. Placing the personal into a fictional setting allows us to circumvent some of those issues, but even then we are often faced with revealing more than we should if we dare to tell the story we really want to tell. Often we can’t take the risk, we can’t be the selfish mom in 99 Days who sees her daughter’s intimate life as marketing fodder.

The down side to not using writing as therapy, though, is that it stunts our growth, as both human beings and writers. Since my time at Lesley, I’ve realized that my writing has changed. It has become more personal, even when the subject matter is not explicitly linked to my current life. For instance, my latest WIP is a contemporary realism about a girl in mourning for her mom. I haven’t lost my mom, but 2016 was a year of deep grieving for me in other ways. Somehow, that grieving has found its way into the pages of my story, and my story is better for it.

I know what I want my next story to be about. But, like the mother in 99 Days, the story is just a little too personal. There are people it would hurt who don’t deserve to be hurt, and that means that I can’t write it. At least, I can’t ever try to publish it. I may write it for my own healing, or at least bits and pieces and scenes. I may write it as a type of therapy, like so many of my colleagues at Lesley have done. But even if I don’t write it, I know that the emotions that are roiling inside of me right now will somehow find their way onto the pages of my next book, and that’s a really good thing. Because writing is cathartic. It is a way to heal. And so is reading, which is why so many people love to read. In the end, these human connections we make through writing and reading enable us to process emotions that are sometimes too vast, too oppressive, too taboo. Through writing and reading, we label these beasts inside of us, corral them, and tame them.

So write the story you cannot tell. Write it any way you have to, and burn it afterward if that’s what is best for the people you love. But leave the seeds of those emotions in your writing garden, and grow them. They are what make your stories real.

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Tips to Keep You Motivated with Writing and Reading

Our celebrations of January 1 as our New Year has a somewhat murky history. According to the History Channel, we have Julius Caesar to thank for determining this date as our marker, when he followed the advice of an Alexandrian astronomer who told him to replace the lunar year with the more accurate solar year followed by the Egyptians. They incorrectly calculated the solar year to be 365 and 1/4 days (yes, Caesar is to blame for the original concept of leap year, too), and chose January 1st to begin the year.

By the middle ages, though, this miscalculation was messing with people’s calendars, so celebrating the new year on January 1st had fallen out of fashion. This led to our current Gregorian calendar.

The website Earthsky adds that January was also a natural choice based on the Roman feast of Janus, God of beginnings and doorways. Janus was depicted as having two faces, one that looked back into the past and one that looked ahead to the future. A god we can all relate to.

And so we choose this day of all days to celebrate Janus, to look behind us one last time before we start refreshed and reinvigorated. The question then becomes, how do we maintain this enthusiasm, particularly where our writing and reading are concerned? Here are my favorite tips for staying strong in the new year:

5. Build your community. Social media makes it easier than ever to find like minded people who share your love of reading and writing. Whatever your favorite platform is, twitter, instagram, Goodreads, or some other one I don’t even know exists, there are book lovers waiting to connect with other book lovers. Find them, they are your people.

4.  Even when you don’t have time to read all the books, stay up to date on the latest releases, make wish lists even if they are only in your head, and when you are able to commit to a book, you will have a vast selection collected from which to choose. Some great resources for finding books are Bookriot, Litpick, and NPR.

3. Steal time. Steal time to write and to read. Don’t wait for permission from anyone. Forge your own path toward your writing and your reading.

2. Be fearless. Write fearlessly. Read fearlessly. If you hate the book you’ve chosen, give it to charity. Make paper sculptures from its pages. Leave an honest review. But don’t blame yourself for not liking a book, even if its been hyped to the sky. Not every book is for every reader. Don’t try to write for every reader. Write the story you believe in and only that story.

1. If you truly love books and truly want to be a writer, don’t give up. No matter what. If there are days you don’t write or don’t read, that’s okay. Just don’t ever give up. It’s wrong, it will trespass on your soul and leave you feeling empty. Remind yourself that tomorrow you will write. Tomorrow you will read. For as many tomorrows as it takes.

These are my favorite truths to stay inspired. What are yours?

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December Happenings

Hi Everyone!

We had a great book launch on the 10th! Thanks to everyone who came out to join us! I’ll be having another Amazon giveaway soon, so please watch for that.

Today, I have a poem up with Mothers Always Write and you can check it out here. I hope you enjoy it-if you have a daughter, you will understand where this poem came from.

I’ve just finished my fall semester at work, grades are in (I’m SO happy about that) and I will be spending the next two weeks getting some projects ready for submission. I hope that you’ll get to spend this holiday season doing some of the things that you love to do.

If you read Leaving Kent State and are so inclined, please leave a review for it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the indie store where you bought it, or Goodreads. Reviews really help readers to decide to take a chance on an unfamiliar author, so leaving a review is a great way to let someone else find a book you’ve enjoyed.

If you’re ordering from an indie bookstore, you may want to mention that LKS is available through Baker & Taylor as well as Ingram. If your ordering site says temporarily out of stock, please go ahead and order, as my publisher is busy printing and will have them to you in the shake of a lamb’s tail (or two!) It shouldn’t take more than seven days to get it shipped out to you.

Stay warm!

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Leaving Kent State Giveaway!

Hi Everyone!

I”ll be giving away the bookmarks featured here to celebrate the release of Leaving Kent State on Friday. To win one of these handmade bookmarks, leave a comment below or visit my twitter and retweet the giveaway (@writeawhile). The giveaway ends this Friday, so hurry!


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Five Star Review for Leaving Kent State

img_3885I am happy to share that Leaving Kent State has received a five star review from a student reviewer at Litpick. You can read the review here.

The book will be available in just ten days, but you can pre-order here at Amazon.

Our book launch party will be December 10th at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, but you may pre-order through them (give an indie some love, please!) here.

Thanks for your support, and Happy Reading!

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Researching Historical Fiction in the Digital Age

9781941861240-Perfect.inddAlmost every young adult novel written requires some research to bring it to life. Poll YA novelists and you’ll probably find them researching everything from medieval weapons and magic spells to lacrosse and drivers license requirements in South Dakota. Change that contemporary realism novel to historical fiction, and you’ve got yourself a writer who probably should be teaching college history at an Ivy League university. To upperclassmen.

With the exception of the whole distraction debate, the internet has been the biggest boon to historical fiction writers since the advent of the Gutenberg printing press. There was a time when historical fiction writers had to leave stories withering on the vine because they couldn’t afford the travel or the time off of work to visit the place where the records they so desperately needed to search were archived. The internet, and the continual effort of libraries and museums to bring their treasures into the digital spotlight, have changed that for many. There are still times when visiting a site is imperative. It can still be difficult to gain access to records held in distant places. But more and more, writers are benefiting from the ever increasing trove of documents and records that can be accessed at the click of a mouse.

How should a writer take advantage of this plethora of internet abundance? Cautiously and gratefully.

The internet is a perfect starting place for historical fiction subjects. When I was writing Leaving Kent State, I was continually consulting the omniscient Google (TM) for information on everything from left-handed guitars and cameras made in 1970 to the weather in Kent, Ohio, on any given day between January and April. Did the 1970 Ford Mustang have cassette capability? I consulted my Google (TM) crystal ball, and, booya, yes it did.

But just because the internet tells you something is true, doesn’t mean it is. So how do you verify that the information you need is accurate? One way is to check multiple sources. Look for sources that are highly respected or have authority. Most companies, for instance, have their company history available online and you may just find the information you need there. Scholarly articles and recognized news outlets are also worthy sources to double check the veracity of your research. For some items, government records may support the information you’re finding on that maybe-kinda-sounds-legit site your search engine offered up. Some sources carry their own authoritative stamp of approval. I trusted The Farmers’ Almanac, for example, for weather (although I also noted the weather patterns when I read local newspapers of the day).

Almost every source you find can be vetted one way or another, and this can be critical to ensure that your information is valid. When I was researching a biography of a colonial era woman, I found repeated misinformation on the internet about her. At first, I believed this information because it was prolifically scattered across the internet. But that research led me to a biography written about her by a college history professor in a well documented book that used primary sources and contradicted the rampant misinformation about this woman, and even explained how it had come into existence.

To thoroughly research your topic, you should always make that extra effort to vet your sources. The internet is a wonderful starting place, but anyone can post anything, and you don’t want to risk your reputation as an author on misinformation. Someone, somewhere, will realize you’ve made a mistake and be sure to call you out on it.

Of course, we can’t always ensure that we have every detail of something that happened in the past correct, but every effort you can make to guarantee that the information you are putting on the page is true will help your readers believe in the past you create and that will help transport them to that past.

There are times when the internet just isn’t going to be enough. Even then, if you can’t travel, you may be able to find nonfiction books that cite primary sources for you. Or you may be able to access the primary sources yourself as libraries and museums bring more and more data online. Contact historical societies and other institutions for information. When I needed to know the application requirements for Pratt University in 1970 for my protagonist, Rachel, I emailed Pratt. It took me a few tries to get to the correct person, but when I did, she was more than willing to help me and gave me the precise requirements on when the application had to be in. Double booya.

When all else fails and you find you have to travel, the research you’ve already done on the internet or through phone calls and emails can help you limit the time you will need to be at a primary resource. I made a lot of trips to Kent, Ohio, while writing Leaving Kent State, but without the internet, I would have had to make twice the number of trips.

There’s nothing quite as good as standing in the place of an historical event and seeing for yourself what it might have looked like. There is no substitute for primary resources when you have to get the facts, as much as they are known, right. And there is something to be said for seeing the topography, viewpoint, and sentiment of a place for yourself. But research in the digital age owes a special debt of gratitude to the wonders of the internet and those who work to make primary information accessible to us all.

Do you have research tips to share? I’d love to hear them!

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8 Things Teens Today Probably Don’t Know About 1970

We’re only one month away from the release of Leaving Kent State, so to celebrate, I thought I’d offer a list of things that teens today probably won’t know about the year 1970:

8. It’s called Penny Candy because each piece actually cost a penny. What’s penny candy, you ask?  It’s those individually wrapped candies that you can buy separately, one piece at a time: Tootsie Rolls, Root Beer Barrels, Carmels, Sweethearts, and Hershey kisses were common choices in 1970. The Tootsie Roll was the first individually wrapped candy in the U.S. and was first made in 1986. This was quickly followed by Sweethearts from the Necco Company and Hershey Kisses in 1907. Sometimes the candies, if they were really small, came in little packages like Sixlets and Boston Baked Beans. You could buy Penny Candy at drug stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, and even some hardware stores and gas stations (the kind without a convenience store!)

7. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel was the number one Billboard single of the 1970.

6. In 1970, a first class U.S. postage stamp cost 6 cents, a gallon of gas cost 36 cents, and a Barbie Doll would put you back $4.77.

5. If you wanted to make a phone call and you weren’t at home or at someone else’s house (or at a place like school or work), then you had to find a payphone, which was usually placed in it’s own little booth. These were often in buildings or on street corners or in parking lots. You also needed a dime (or someone willing to take your call “collect” who would pay the charges on their phone bill). Most phone booths looked like this.

4. At night, sometime after the Johnny Carson Show or the late movie (which usually started at midnight), the television stations went off. Like completely off. They called this signing off, and some stations would play America the Beautiful, or the Star Spangled Banner at the end of their last show. Sometimes you would get a colored screen with the station’s logo on the screen, but sometimes it just went to snow. Snow is a bunch of gray, scratchy lines that was the television trying to get a signal from stray signals. If you were a teen and it was the weekend, you probably tried to stay up until the station signed off.

3. If you went to the movie theater and you were late, you could stay in your seat until the next showing and catch the beginning of the movie (assuming you hadn’t waited until the last showing of the night, of course). If you really loved the movie, you could sit through the whole thing, but often people would get up and leave once they got the the part where they had come in.

2. The Beatles released their last album together in 1970.

1.  When you drove into a gas station (usually referred to as a filling station or service station because most of them also fixed cars), you would drive over a hose that rang a bell. One of the mechanics would stop working on whatever car he was fixing and would pump your gas, clean your windows, and sometimes check your oil and windshield washer levels, topping them off for you if they were low. If it were the afternoon, then the gas station might have a teenage boy working the pumps in an after school job. Most service stations had dogs that belonged to the owners, usually German Shepherds or other breeds who were good watch dogs. Sometimes the dogs slept at the stations to guard them. My uncle had a shepherd at his station, but he took her home every night with him. Gas stations were closed at night, on holidays, and on Sundays. So you had to plan ahead if you didn’t want to run out of gas!

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Goodreads Giveaway Complete!!

Hi Everyone,

Thanks to those of you who entered my giveaway for two signed ARCs of Leaving Kent State. The giveaway is completed, and the lucky winners are Doreen M. and Kim T.

I’ll be sending those copies out in the next couple of days. For those of you who missed out, watch for another giveaway of the final copies of the book coming soon!

Happy reading!

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The Turn of a Decade

img_3744Leaving Kent State will be hitting the shelves before I know it, so I wanted to share with you some fun things about the late 1960s and early 1970s leading up to the release on November 11th.

In setting the stage for the time period, I relied on iconic images that I associate with my childhood. Coca-Cola, Camel cigarettes, the music of the era, and, of course, Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. Did you know there is a Charles Schulz museum celebrating all things Peanuts? Well, there is, and you can check it out here.

As the 1960s ushered in a new period for American identity, fraught with the Vietnam War, women’s rights, and political and racial unrest, companies like Coca-Cola scrambled to find new ways to relate to their younger demographics. Coke needed a way to reflect what was hip (as they used to say) and still keep its wholesome, all-American image. In 1969, Coke came up with the slogan “The Real Thing.” To cement its appeal with young people, Coke turned to rock music and, in 1971, released its iconic “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” jingle. The ad, filmed on a hilltop in Italy, featured twenty-somethings from all over the world singing about bringing a weary world harmony and peace, while it reminded viewers that Coke was “the real thing” that could glue us all together.

Rachel’s father is a lot like my dad was. A World War II vet who smoked Camel cigarettes nonstop, my dad didn’t want me to go away to college, either. He won that battle. To see if Rachel wins with her dad, well, you’ll just have to read the book.

Happy Thursday, Everyone!

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