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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Writing What You Know, Stitching Together a Thousand Tiny Truths

IMG_3563If you write creative nonfiction, you’re surrounded by questions about the truth. How much truth is too much? What is the author’s truth versus that of his or her subjects (characters)? Is it okay to invent part of the narrative and still call it nonfiction? What about the things you don’t remember or the things you can’t be sure of firsthand? Can we presume what a real person’s feelings were at a particular time, or is it okay to surmise based on the events surrounding them?

One of my creative nonfiction friends from school said recently that she gets paralyzed in her writing when she has to try to expose her own truth. She’s so afraid of the judgments she might get, especially from family and friends, that she hasn’t written lately.

I suggested (only partly in jest) that she call her writing fiction. It’s not like there’s a mandate that prevents someone who got her MFA with a concentration in creative nonfiction from writing fiction, too. I told her that fiction isn’t really that different in the end because it’s a thousand tiny truths stitched together.

The more I thought about this, the more true it became to me (and we are talking about truth, after all). When I look at my fiction writing, it’s filled with things I’ve experienced or seen or been told. It’s centered on emotions I’ve felt or tried to sympathize with. It’s inventions created with the excess bits and pieces that are laying around my emotional junk drawer.

My mother recently read one of my ARCs for my new book, Leaving Kent State, and she said afterward, laughing a little, “I saw all the Fedels and my family scattered through there.” It made me laugh. “Write what you know,” I said. She nodded. “Write what you know.”

I’m not trying to diminish the seriousness of calling something nonfiction that isn’t (yes, I’m referencing that whole James Frey debacle). Writing creative nonfiction requires authenticity and truth. But what I am suggesting is that in every work of fiction, there is more truth stitched throughout than we care to admit. It doesn’t matter what the context is, whether it’s fantasy or historical fiction or sci-fi. It doesn’t matter whether it’s romance or a thriller. Sometimes it’s just the truth of our desires or the truth of how we wish the world could be. But it is still truth, whether it’s our own or someone else’s. The emotions and goals of the characters must ring true for a reader to become engaged in the story.

Sometimes, I know exactly how my friend feels. I often don’t write something into a story or don’t tackle the story I’d really like to because I’m afraid of the truth there. I’m afraid that someone might discover that truth and might be hurt by it or worse, exposed by it. And there are so many stories to tell, I don’t know how much it matters if I let some slip away. Maybe it’s me who can’t really face the truth of those stories and I need to write what scares me, as they say.

Whatever I write, though, I know that at it’s gooey, chocolatey center or it’s hard, diamond core, it is in fact the truth. Because, in the end, it’s the truth of your story that readers are craving. And in the end, only the truth will set you free.

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The Broken Window

This is a new poem. It’s fresh, so it’s not polished. But that’s where I am right now, so there’s that.

The Broken Window

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When your world spins
penny sided, copper streaked
like blood from the runway slit
on his wrist when he landed
on the other side
of the window
when he cried and told you
the truth of his heart
threw it at you like a bible
the corner piercing into your motherhood
a sacrifice til the blood ran
copper streaked and dizzy with his
stitches in the ER at 1:00 a.m. his
pretty nurse making him
hold still, a moment,

one moment
and you watched as he
centrifuged down circling
circling around and down
and then he
stopped.

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Five Young Adult Books for the Mom in Your Life

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It’s almost Mother’s Day, so here is my list of YA novels you may want to consider if you are looking for a great book for your mom. Nothing is hotter than YA right now, and for good reason-bookstore shelves are stacked with lots of wonderful YA reads. YA is honest, accessible, and just plain dreamy:

5. Being Henry David, by Cal Armistead. When a teen boy wakes up at Penn Station with no memory, he follows the only clue he has-a copy of Walden. Mom’s will be drawn right in to this lost boy thriller.

4. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I never promised they would all be modern classics. In this coming of age story, Jane tackles adversity, a Gothic mansion, and a lot of mystery.

3. I capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. Yes, that Dodie Smith. The one who wrote 101 Dalmatians. In this charming tale, a young English girl, sequestered with her has been author father and an assortment of family oddballs in a dilapidated castle, discovers that life can bring you surprises in the most unlikely of places.

2. Zel, by Donna Jo Napoli. This retelling of the classic fairy tale brings us the story of Rapunzel through the eyes of the three key characters, Rapunzel, the Prince, and the Witch. Every true mom’s heart will soften when she reads the witch’s side of the story. This is a book that reminds the reader what it is like to be young.

1. Reckless, by Cornelia Funke. If your mom likes fairy tales and magic and a little romance, this is the story for her. Let her escape for a while to another time and place where fantasy reigns supreme. Funke’s imagination and beautiful language never fail to captivate.

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Foolish Thoughts

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As we say goodbye to April, some thoughts on foolishness keep demanding my attention in their uncomfortable fashion. You can’t be an artist without feeling foolish sometimes. We put our best work out there only to find out that we hadn’t looked at it with enough of a critical eye. We misspell agents or editors names in our attempts to get something out even though we are submitting bleary eyed as a deadline looms. We find typos immediately after we have pressed the send button.

We also write about characters who live through raw emotions: love, hate, fear, grief, rejection, failure. If our characters don’t ever fail, then they aren’t very interesting. If a character is never a fool, then there is nothing for them to learn, no journey for them to go on. They have to want things, to try, to fail, and sometimes to be foolish in all these things as they follow their quest.

We fall in love with our characters because we share their shame as they make fools of themselves. We seek their redemption as if we are seeking our own. In a way, we are. Every one of us has played the fool, we all know how much it hurts and how hard it is to take that first step after we pick ourselves up, how hard it is to walk with a head held high when we’ve trusted the wrong person, or jumped a chasm we couldn’t possibly land, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, or stood helplessly when we should have fought like a badger.

But it’s just that foolishness that makes our readers fall in love with our characters, too. They don’t want characters who sit quietly and look pretty. They want characters they can relate to. Characters who make mistakes. Characters who play the fool. Because they’ve been there, too. We write so that we don’t feel alone. But we read for the very same reason.

So the next time you are foolish, be glad. There is a reader waiting somewhere out there for a character who is just as foolish as they are, and, because you’ve been foolish, too, you can give them that character in all his or her splendor.

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