Everything’s coming up rainbows!



Congrats, 2014 Rainbow Book List authors!

What’s a Rainbow Book List?  It’s “a joint project of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association.  The Rainbow Book List presents an annual bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content, which are recommended for people from birth through eighteen years of age.”

Check it out —> 2014 Rainbow Book List 

And by the way,  you had me at  RAPTURE PRACTICE.

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Loss and Honor

It’s not my intention to post items that I consider to be too personal in nature on this blog or on any social media outlet. But this subject also has to do with my writing and my current work in progress, so I’m going to make an exception. I lost my best friend of 11 years this week, my dog pictured above. She was a dog’s dog, and I miss her terribly. She was one of the main inspirations for my middle grade novel, and her loss has me wanting to double down on my efforts to see the work published, in her honor. She was amazing and noble and intelligent, and athletic and cuddly – just the best dog there ever was.

Advice I Can Live With

Writers get plenty of advice. It’s available on Twitter and Facebook and blogs, magazines and journals and books. It comes from all directions – other writers, editors, agents, PR folks, social media experts, my mother, my 8 year old, and more.  I’m a particular fan of lists, like Best Blogs For Writers To Read in 2012, so much so that I made it into one: The Virginia Quarterly Review‘s 14 Writing Prompts.  I do regular check-ins at places like Query Shark and closely follow my favorite hashtags on twitter like #editortips and #MGlitchat.

I’m fairly new to writing, about a year in now, so all of these things have been essential for me to understand the process and business of publishing. I have learned so much in a short amount of time. Now, however, I’m going to take the advice of a vlog I watched during the WriteOnCon online children’s writer conference, wherein publicist Meredith Barnes suggested that writers not blog about writing. Instead, she says, blog about things that you find interesting. I love this advice. I have way more interest in subject than process.  Besides, the things that interest me greatly just so happen to be the things I’ve written into my novel. So from here out, I’m blogging anew. Expect a lot of animals. And learn about kind, genius people such as John Bartlett and the brilliant designs he’s created to help the animals.

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Author Interview: Amber Dermont

Someone explained fluidity in writing to me recently. They summarized: a novel is fluidly written if you pick it up in a bookstore and the next time you lift your eyes from the page you are fifty pages in. Consider the following novel fluid. I didn’t expect to get drawn into a story about a boarding school for wealthy kids who spend lots of meaningful time on sailboats. It was just not something I had really spent much time thinking about or wondering about. Then someone handed me this book.  Amber Dermont‘s debut novel THE STARBOARD SEA is so poetic and beautiful, each turn of phrase so perfectly chosen, that I meandered happily in and stayed put.  But that’s just me. The New York Times Sunday Book Review says her book is “engrossing,” “captivating and inspired.” Dermont graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions about writing, inspiration and her future projects.

AVJ:  So you are either a meticulous researcher, or you know from experience your way around a jib and a spinnaker and the prep school scene?

AD: Yes, I grew up on Cape Cod and am a veteran/survivor of the prep school wars. New England boarding schools are rich in tradition, mystique and scandal. I’ve known a lot of people who were expelled from good schools and I wanted to create a haven for damaged kids who’d broken rules and become victims of their own unchecked privilege. True, I went to prep school, but Bellingham Academy is my own invention. Personally, I’m grateful for all of the challenges I faced during my adolescence. None of it was easy but in the end, I received an excellent education, had a number of dedicated teachers and developed lasting friendships. The first creative writing class I took in high school was team-taught by two gifted educators, Abner Oakes and Bo Manson. We had a talented group of students. The funniest and smartest guy in the class, Mark Wenham, worked as a writer for Jon Stewart and another of my classmates, David Roderick, became an acclaimed poet. David’s beautiful collection of poems, Blue Colonial, won the American Poetry Review Honickman Book Prize—one of the most prestigious prizes in the country. David and I hadn’t seen each other since high school but we met again several years ago at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and have been pals ever since. I’m lucky to be able to look back on my early days as a writer with a friend who has made similar sacrifices and commitments to craft.

Our prep school was built up around a picturesque harbor. In terms of sailing, I am happiest out on the water. Though I love Atlanta and Decatur, it hurts being this far away from the ocean. When I lived in Iowa, I used to drive to this lonesome lake once a week just to stare at the glassy surface. When I was in grad school in Houston, I would cruise out to Galveston Bay and weep over the offshore drilling rigs. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a good deal of time in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. There’s no industry in Croatia and the water and air there are so pure and invigorating. As a writer, the sea is a constant source of inspiration and a reminder of how small and insignificant our lives are in the face of the changing tides.

AVJ:   Your story is so beautifully wrought that I forgot I was supposed to be annoyed with reliving the Reagan eighties.  What about this time period, including Black Monday, appealed to you?

AD:  I still remember overhearing a conversation at my prep school the day after Black Monday. Writers are natural eavesdroppers and I heard two of the administrators talking about the stock market crash and its potential damage to the school and its students. I always knew that I wanted to include the crash in The Starboard Sea. To this day, economists and analysts are still unable to explain Black Monday. It’s a “black swan” event and that mystery spoke to me and seemed worth exploring especially in our current economic crisis.

I’ll never understand the appeal of Ronald Reagan but I remember going to people’s penthouses and summer homes and seeing photos of my friends as children shaking hands with the President, like he was Santa Claus. For some people, the 80s were a golden age, a prosperous time of excess and permissibility. 1987 marked the decline of that excess and it occurred to me that writing about the past would be a way of addressing some of our culture’s present concerns regarding class, privilege, economic abuses.

AVJ:   In addition to being a successful author, you teach English and Creative Writing at a women’s college, Agnes Scott College, in Decatur, GA. What writing prompt gets you the most unexpected results from your college students?

AD: Agnes Scott is an absolute gem of a school. My students are so smart and committed to their writing.  They also tend to be a little frightened of me because I demand a lot and grant them tremendous freedom. On the first day of class, I invoke Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town and let the class know that just like Hugo, I believe that students will never learn to become writers until they realize that everything I tell them is wrong. I encourage my students to develop their own intuition, their own inner critic and voice. This makes a lot of my students suspicious. “Why is this professor telling me not to listen to her? This must be a trap.” I let them off the hook and then I try to give them lots to listen to, lots to consider. I put a great deal of effort into my critical comments and this sort of detailed feedback can feel overwhelming. Hopefully, my students realize that only someone who cares about their work would take the time to line edit their stories.

I have this one complicated writing prompt that is wild, ambitious and crazy complex. It’s called “Fifteen Things” and it is basically a series of writing obstructions. I have my students create a list of fifteen details triggered by a variety of questions. While the students are creating the list, they have no idea how the details might be connected. My theory is that if I put them in a certain frame of mind, all of the details they write down will already be connected in their unconscious. The assignment is rigid and specific but these constraints often open up the students’ imaginations. They wind up writing a story that they otherwise never would have written.

AVJ:  My last English class was Susan Van Dyne’s American Women Poets over twenty years ago, and after that, a whole other kind of career. What advice might you have for people who are pursuing writing outside the academy, or even in spite of it?

AD: That’s such an important question. Probably the single most significant advice I’ve ever been given about writing was by Frank Conroy. He was the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop when I was in grad school. Frank would begin every semester by inviting small groups of students to his office for orientation. His main message to us was that the best thing a writer can do for herself is to figure out when she is able to write and to protect that time. A lot of people wind up in grad school simply as a means of buying time for their writing lives. If you can figure out how to create the time and space in your life for writing then you will begin to take your own work seriously.

Writing is a job. You have to put the hours in if you want to develop your voice. You also need readers. I think it’s important to find people you trust and to share your work. It’s a pretty lonely pursuit so if you can create your own supportive, constructive community and if you and your fellow writers can give one another deadlines, you’ll feel motivated and encouraged. If you are looking for readers, a lot of independent bookstores and libraries have writing groups. You might consider volunteering at a literary journal, attending writing conferences, starting a book reviewing blog or a reading series or your own small press. There are so many different types of writing communities available now and there is no one right path.

AVJ: Are you an intense outliner or a seat of the pantser?

AD: I’m pretty intuitive, especially where short stories are concerned. I follow my instincts and curiosity as far they lead me. When I feel stalled, I step back and listen to my characters. I’m patient and willing to stalk and pursue a story for as long as it takes.

Where novel writing is concerned, I found that once I had a hundred pages of the story, it was useful to outline the rest and to take accountability for what I was writing toward. I don’t think it would have been helpful for me to begin with an outline, but once I knew the world of my novel, I knew the world well enough to imagine the second and third acts.

AVJ:  Please tell me about your upcoming projects, and how you chose them?

AD: I’m currently completing my short story collection, Damage Control, which will be published by St. Martin’s in spring 2013. The stories are about people who find themselves cast as unlikely caregivers to those in need of profound care. One of the stories, “Lyndon,” was published in Zoetrope: All-Story and has been anthologized in Best New American Voices, Best American Nonrequired Reading and The Worst Years of Your Life. It’s my “Free Bird.” In the story, a young girl’s father dies leaving her with her difficult and distant mother. The girl and her father enjoyed touring Presidential landmarks together and the daughter insists that her mother continue this tradition and bring her to the Lyndon Baines Johnson ranch. The title story, “Damage Control,” was published in American Short Fiction, a wonderful journal out of Austin, Texas. It takes place at an etiquette school in Houston in the backdrop of an Enron-type scandal. Another story, “Stella At The Winter Palace,” appeared in Tin House and is about a young widow who works as a fake granddaughter, accompanying other widows on their vacations. Nearly all of the stories come out of my own personal obsessions and fascinations. I am also working on a novel set within the backdrop of the 1962 Orly plane crash that took the lives of so many of Atlanta’s art patrons. When I heard the story, it spoke to me so deeply and had such a profound impact that I felt as though I wanted to explore, honor and pay tribute to those lives.

If, like me, you want to keep up with Dermont and her writing adventures, just follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Quote of the Day

Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe.

                                                                                                                                                              -Truman Capote


Author Interview: Amanda Kyle Williams

Amanda Kyle Williams is a break-out star with a thrilling story to tell. Her first in a series novel, The Stranger You Seek, garnered her a 2012 nomination for the prestigious Townsend Prize for Fiction. Williams will appear at this summer’s Decatur Book Festival in support of her second book in the series, Stranger In The Room, which debuts August 21, 2012.  On the eve of the award ceremony for the Townsend Prize, I offer a re-posting of my original interview from 2011.


This not-for-the-faint-of-heart crime thriller is set during a steamy Southern summer and is full of believable, interesting characters living in the Atlanta that I know and love. Don’t be fooled by the setting, this is not a sleepy Southern novel. It is terrifying and creepy, and often very funny. At times it will even make you hungry. Williams’ love of the South shows throughout the book as she takes the reader on ridealongs with lead character/former FBI profiler Keye Street. Williams’ skill at capturing particular time and place means you can almost feel the midsummer heat hitting your face from the passenger seat of Street’s ’69 convertible as she cruises Atlanta’s streets looking for the killer.

I was excited to interview Williams because her personal story is as fascinating as any of her characters’. According to her bio, she has contributed to short story collections, worked as a freelance writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, worked as a house painter, a property manager, a sales rep, a commercial embroiderer, a courier, a VP of manufacturing at a North Georgia textile mill, and owned Latch Key Pets, a pet sitting and dog walking business. She also worked with a PI firm in Atlanta on surveillance operations, and became a court-appointed process server. You will see a bit of all of these in her novel’s character developments. Williams signed on with the South’s oldest and largest feminist bookstore Charis Books as her signed bookdealer. So when you order from her website, you are doing good in more ways than one. She graciously allowed me an advanced read of her novel and then answered my very random blogger questions.

AVJ: I freely admit to being brand new to reading crime thrillers. I’m at once horrified and fascinated at the human mind and how a perfectly nice individual such as yourself could dream up the most lurid and macabre scenes, not to mention the unexpected plot twists, that you have. One theory is that, if you write about crime, you can control it, and that creates less fear for the writer. Does this resonate with you at all? What drew you to this genre?

AKW: I’m fascinated with all things crime. Not just crime and criminals, but the people who spend their lives fighting it and dealing with the terrible repercussions of violence on family and community. Cops, field agents, profilers, the techies that are constantly working to make criminal databases more effective, medical examiners, grief counselors, forensic scientists from all disciplines. What makes these exceptionally dedicated people tick? What’s a day in the life? How do they handle the pressure and the darkness? My protagonist Keye Street, as you know, is a former FBI behavioral analyst. What drives my books are the needs that drive her. I’ve tried to educate myself about what her process might be. I’ve made contacts in law enforcement and forensics. I’ve ended up with some great consultants that inform my writing.

And I have an interest in the violent serial offender, too. Let’s face it, most criminals are not masterminds. They’re just thugs and opportunists. But someone smart enough to evade law enforcement efforts for years, like the Green River Killer or the Long Island Killer who is out there hunting right now, someone utterly egocentric who sees victims as fill-in-the-blank objects, now that interests me. What I mean by fill in the blank is, whatever his fantasy or desire, he’s just inserting a victim. He’s completely detached from their suffering. It’s about him, his need. Writers take a lot of criticism for writing books about serial offenders—rapists or murderers. But thrillers and mysteries keep selling. Cop shows and CSI type shows continue to have good ratings. I don’t think anyone wants to glorify these monsters, but we have a natural curiosity about that kind of psychopathy. I think we want to know what it’s like to look through the cold eyes of a killer from a safe distance. I do. I want to know what fantasy he’s acting out, what fuels it. I learned something really valuable when I was taking criminal profiling courses to prepare for this series. Homicide isn’t always the motive. It’s merely the result of behaviors manifested at the scene. That’s what draws me to the genre—a desire to understand those behaviors. I don’t know that it gives me a sense of control. I’m as fearful as anyone else of violent crime. That’s why we love crime fighters. They fight back. They protect us. Continue reading

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Getting Over the First Rejection Letter

Well that’s easy. Just go over to The Rejection Generator Project, enter your email address and pick any of the continuously rotating options to receive a rejection letter straight to your inbox. Brilliant!  

Explained so: “[i]nspired by psychological research showing that after people experience pain they are less afraid of it in the future, The Rejection Generator helps writers take the pain out of rejection.” Well done, well said. I picked the Big Chakra Dosing Agent letter. It let me down easy and existentially.

Better get it out of the way before I get something like this:

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Under the Influence

So I’m in the middle of revising my young-YA manuscript (in some quarters categorized as a tween book), and I’ve been thinking about what books influenced me growing up, and are still at work today. I have some obvious choices, and some that I’m sure I’ll think of later. I can’t leave out recent reads either, that, while perhaps not written for young readers, illustrated to me an unflinching look at a subject and informed me to dig deeper. I’m predisposed to making lists, so here is in no particular order, authors whose works I readily sought out at our little public library growing up, and ones who through word of mouth, I read as an adult:

Jack London

Marguerite Henry

Octavia Butler

Ursula K. LeGuin

Phillip Pullman

JK Rowling

Upton Sinclair

The Bronte Sisters

Dorothy Allison

Stephen King

James Herriot

Jane Austen

Suzanne Collins

Who kept you (or keeps you) up late at night with a flashlight under the covers? Bonus points for favorite childhood authors who influence your writing today.

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Write a Lot and Read a Lot.

I grew up, in a way, reading Stephen King. I didn’t read all of his books, but off and on, I’d pick one up and usually enjoyed them. I think my first was The Stand in 8th grade, back in 1978? No wonder I’m obsessed with the apocalypse. He started me off early. Then naturally there was The Shining, and Jack Nicholson burned that one in even further. Somehow I missed out on Carrie the book, but Sissy Spacek and her bloody visage, wow. Now that I’m trying to do a bit of writing, I decided to take a look at his critically acclaimed book on the craft of writing. So yesterday I read King’s book On Writing in one sitting, and I’ll just go ahead and say I highly recommend it. Is he known for scholarly, cerebral or “important” literary works? Nah, but wow is he prolific, successful, creative and funny. The book is part childhood biography, a self-aware glimpse of important moments in his life that instructed his creative impulses. It’s also part English teacher (he used to be one) lecture on the mechanics of writing and getting published.

It’s a fast, interesting read which includes his base line advice (see title). I especially like it because he so adamantly enjoys hating on TV, aka “the glass teat.” He writes every day of the year, and likens writing to uncovering a fossil. His work is an uncovering of the fossil, narrating the discovered bits as he goes. He also says plotting a novel is like using a jackhammer to uncover a delicate, breakable fossil.  Finished after his 1999 near-death experience of  being hit by a van on a Maine roadside, his book provides the reader an honest, thoughtful and self-deprecating look at his work. He opens up about his struggles with addiction, and talks of missing out on several of the books he wrote because he was wasted out of his mind when he wrote them. He also is incredibly loving towards his wife and kids. All in all, a great glimpse into the process from a hugely successful writer. You’ll love all the behind-the-scenes stories of how he got the ideas for his colorful, miserable characters. Speaking of Misery, which King masterpiece kept you up at night? I’m sticking with my first.

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Fruit of the Proverbial Tree

If, as they say, the fruit falls not far from the tree, then it is fitting that this stack of books sits on my 7 year old’s bedside table.  It’s even more fitting that, after seeing me take the photo, she insisted I should post it on my blog right away. So, here it is. And so also, are she and I, all in one unplanned photo for you.


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