Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 25 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling When I found You, Pay It Forward, Don't Let Me Go, and Take Me With You.


123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789


You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.



Filtering by Category: Better Than Blurbs

Better than Blurbs: Nobody's Girl by Barbara Amaya

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the fifteenth post in the series. The author is Barbara Amaya, and the book is an important memoir about a very serious subject. It's called Nobody's Girl.

Me: Barbara, please tell us about the book, and the experiences that led you to write it, in your own words.

Barbara: Writing this book has meant so very many things to me. During my life the few people who heard snippets about my past have each said to me 'you should write a book!' A lot easier said than done, at least for me.

Nobody's Girl is about the many years I spent growing up in the streets of New York and Washington D.C. while I was under the control of a vicious human trafficker and his criminal associates. It's a cautionary tale for potential victims and a story about overcoming adversity and the strength of the human spirit.

I believe inside each of us is the ability to change our lives and also make differences in the lives of others. If you would have asked me two years ago if I believed that, I would have said no. I feel I have a responsibility to share my story in hopes that it can help others. One element of the criminal world of human trafficking, and of any atrocity against fellow human beings, is silence. I will never be silent again for me sharing 'my story' and speaking out is a real statement, of saying I've found my purpose and taken my life back.

Me: This was one of the most striking aspects of your book, in my mind: You managed to pull yourself out of your abusive circumstances, but in many ways that was not the turning point in your story. The turning point seemed to be the moment when you saw a news story about human trafficking. That seemed to change your whole perspective of what had happened to you. There was a name for it, and others were going through it. Then you realized it was not your fault. I mention this because I feel it makes your book a very important one, as you’ve shown that the very act of shedding light on this issue can prove redemptive. What is your biggest dream for the book and what do you hope you can accomplish in the lives of vulnerable young girls?

Barbara: One of my greatest hopes is that my book will reach vulnerable populations and the people who work with them. And that while Nobody's Girl serves as a cautionary tale and it touches people. That it shows readers that it is possible for us all to experience great change in our lives. That transformation can happen and that within all of us the will to move beyond just surviving and onto really finding and living our purpose is waiting to begin.

Part of the problem is that victims do not self identity as victims incredible as that sounds. It shows how expert the manipulation and exploitation of traffickers is as they prey upon their victims. And is exactly what happened to me.

Me: People in our society seem to want to blame the victim. I think it makes them feel a thing like this could never happen to them or their loved ones, when of course it could. Have you had experiences with victim blaming as you’ve shared your story? Do you anticipate any in response to this book? How will you handle that?

Barbara: Sure I think when people don't clearly understand something, or are afraid of it they sometimes blame the closest person: the victim. No one wants to think something as horrible as abuse or the horror of being exploited and trafficked for monetary gain could happen to themselves or their loved ones. Sadly it happens every day right here in the United States. The thing is, human trafficking happens to vulnerable people whether it's a 35-year-old man desperate to fed his family whose needs are preyed upon or a 12 year old run away like I was, who is seeking love and understanding and those needs are met in a twisted way by a human trafficker. What I mean is traffickers know how and who to target, and without education and awareness victims will continue to be exploited. I've had people ask me why I would choose to share my story now and my reply is I chose to never ever be silent again. Silence is a great part of the problem and I believe it needs to be broken.

Me: How hard is it to publish something this personal? What are your hopes and fears as it makes its way out into the world? What drove you to overcome those fears?

Barbara: Wow it's so hard! And the closer I get to launching my book it seems the more afraid I get! Just writing some of the text especially the first chapter about my early abuse was terribly hard for me to get onto the page. I had to push forward and keep telling myself this book needed to happen so it could get out there and hopefully help others. I still have fears they are not all gone! But I hope that readers will feel my intent and that this book really helps people understand the form of human trafficking I experienced. Just thinking about who I could help kept me moving forward. One of my fears is that people won't 'get' my intention on writing this book. I can't stand the term misery memoir, my book is so far from that. Far from being miserable it is a story of transformation of going from being completely beaten down so many times and somehow rising up and moving forward. So I hope readers get that.

Me: When I was a young girl in school (I can now see, looking back) I was programmed to accept abuse from my peers. I had low self confidence, and other kids could see it and feel it, and they pounced on it. People I had never met would tease and torment me in ways that bore a striking resemblance to past abuse. So I understand at a deep level the way we can be “set up” at an early age. When you’re in the middle of that, it’s nearly impossible even to see it, let alone find your way out. So I understand that aspect of human nature, and this next question does not come from my own doubts. But some who read the book may expect the kind of human trafficking in which a girl is kidnapped and literally held captive. What do you say to those who ask why you didn’t run away?

Barbara: This is a great insight and a good question! One I love to answer when I do presentations about human trafficking. Why don't they just leave? Why did you stay? How is it possible you were trafficked for ten years? I am not a doctor but I do my best when I get these type of questions to share what I have learned about what I went through mentally during the years I was being trafficked. I was experiencing the same things that those who experienced Stockholm Syndrome experience, it's called trauma bonding when a captive bonds with their captor. The same thing happens when during domestic violence when a battered and abused wife stays with her husband. Why doesn't she just leave? She cannot explain it but she feels compelled to stay. I was a child when I was exploited and manipulated and inside I was scared and reacted like the child I was. During the trauma and violence I began to bond with my captor, my mental captor. I did sometimes try to run away but would find myself returning either by force or of my own accord. The mental chains he put in place were stronger than any metal chains would ever have been.

Me: Who, if anyone do you still blame? And what advice would you give to parents who want to raise their girls to be safe in this world?

Barbara: Sadly I feel we as a society are to blame. Human trafficking is about supply and demand bottom line. And until we teach young men and boys how to love and respect themselves and the women in their lives, there will be men who grow up and think they have the right to 'buy' a woman. Until we learn that we are all connected by our very humanity, that we must all love and respect each other enough to believe fellow human beings should not be bought, sold and exploited for financial gain there will be victims and traffickers to exploit them. I have had to let go of anger and blame especially blame for my mother, and it's been a long journey doing so. I know now that she was only doing the best she knew how to do.

Learning to stop blaming myself has been even harder, but today I finally understand I was a child and I was preyed upon and it was not my fault.

I would tell parents to arm their children with self love and self esteem so that they are not vulnerable to the type of trafficking I experienced. Human traffickers prey upon those they consider weaker than them, a child with high self esteem is harder to coerce and control than one such as I was at age 12. I was pretty much a walking target with non-existent self esteem.

Me: What’s next for you? Do feel you have one book in you and this is it? Or can we expect more from you in the area of published work?

Barbara: This is not the end! I have actually published a graphic novel, The Destiny of Zoe Carpenter, and an accompanying Curriculm aimed at middle school age students and other readers. I wrote the book in hopes of educating young readers about human trafficking. The main character Zoe is a crime fighting super hero who along with her sidekick Carl discover their unique destinies and a powerful amulet that helps them fight the bad guys! ( I tried to be creative and hold young readers attention while also giving real facts about trafficking!) I am also working on a collection of short stories from my own life as well. Writing Nobody's Girl was difficult for many reasons, one was having to pick and choose what to include in the book. I pretty much grew up on the streets of New York and Washington D.C. From the age of 12. So many things happened that got left out of Nobody's Girl so I'd like to give my readers the rest of my stories in another book!

Me: Please ask your own question and answer it. 

Barbara: I'd like to ask myself if I could go back in time and go through all of the trauma again would I?

That's a hard question to answer! I'd like to say of course I would go back and go through it all again because it all made me the person I am today, someone who has the ability and compassion to help others so they never have to live through what I have. And that's mostly true. I honestly don't want to change who I am today, I just wish that my younger self didn't have to suffer so much horrific trauma and that she didn't have to lose so much time as she found her way and purpose in life. I do feel that I've taken my life back and I know I'm helping others. My greatest hope is that my book gets into the hands of those who will benefit from reading it the most.

Me: The book is being released in May, but I'm posting this blog interview now because you can currently purchase the book at Animal Media Group. You can learn more about Barbara and her books on her website.

Better Than Blurbs: Dissonance by Lisa Lenard-Cook

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the thirteenth post in the series (hope you're not superstitious, Lisa). The author is Lisa Lenard-Cook and the book is a favorite of mine, Dissonance.

Me: Will you please tell my readers a little about the book in your own words?

Lisa: In other interviews (including the readers’ guide on my website), I’ve talked about the three seeds for the book. But because, twenty years after I first wrote it, the reissue gave me the opportunity to reread it myself, I’ve read it as a reader. So I’d love to answer this question as if I were writing a review.

At its heart, Dissonance is about love, war, and forgiveness. It begins in 1995 when Anna Kramer, a piano teacher in Los Alamos, New Mexico, learns she has inherited the journals and music scores of Hana Weissova, a concert pianist originally from Prague whom she does not think she knows. As Anna reads Hana’s journals, plays her music, and learns about Hana’s experiences in the concentration camp Terezin during World War II and in New Mexico when the war is over, what she discovers about Hana and her life helps her come to terms with the mysteries and misunderstandings of her own.

In addition to these interwoven stories, music theory is sprinkled throughout the book. Some readers may be put off by this seemingly disembodied voice. (The first sentence is, “The piano is unique among instruments for its double stroke.”) What is it doing? Why is it here? Part of the answer lies in the opening section of music theory, when we are told that dissonance “is a fitting metaphor for what this [the 20th] century has wrought.” But if we also ask that the first sentence of a fiction contain all that comes after, then we need to look more closely at that “double stroke.” I’ll leave the many possibilities open to the reader.

Me: To throw a little of my own experience in here, I not too long ago began to write a book that was to be set in Warsaw during the Nazi invasion. I never ended up finishing the book. I may still at some point. But I have to say it, the research dragged me down. Yet Dissonance never dragged me down. It never felt overwhelmingly heavy. Can you tell us about the research you did for the book? Do you have any idea how you pulled off a book that touches on the Holocaust but is not depressing? Because it’s really quite a feat.

Lisa: What a lovely compliment. Let me begin by saying I never planned to write a book about the Holocaust. For one thing, I didn’t live through it, although many of my friends’ parents in North Buffalo did. But the more I’ve thought about the Holocaust aspect of the book over the years, the more I’ve realized how much Hana Weissova’s indefatigable spirit owes to Gerda Weissman Klein, my childhood friend Leslie’s mother, whose memoir All But My Life I highly recommend. Hana’s story has little in common with Mrs. Klein’s. But among all the survivors I knew when I was growing up, only one—Mrs. Klein—chose to share her story. In doing so, she became an inspiration to others, and in particular to me.

[Me, note: I should probably mention at this juncture that Lisa and I have some interesting coincidences between us. I also grew up in North Buffalo, though we didn't meet there, and my father's side of the family is Jewish. His mother, my grandmother, had come over from Germany/Poland (the boundaries changed with time and war) long before World War II. But she had a good friend in the neighborhood, Esther Bestry, who had the tattoo on her arm. And I watched Night and Fog in high school knowing how easily that could have been me. But back to Lisa]

But you asked about research. Despite an undergrad degree in History, I’m a peripatetic researcher, or, in more contemporary terms, perhaps an ADD-afflicted one. I dip and taste, then flit off to the next tidbit. I seldom read history or science books straight through, but rather flip each book open randomly, until I’ve read everything. Sometimes I read them backwards.

Each day, when I sat down to work on Dissonance, my sources lay open around me on my desk (an enormous library table my husband built for me when I finished grad school). I’d open one of the music theory randomly, read what was there, then reconsider it in my own words in the notebook where I wrote the book (I was still writing longhand then). Not all of the music theory I first wrote about remained. But a lot of it did.

In the case of the Holocaust, and in particular Terezin, I already knew a great deal, first of all because I was raised Jewish and knew survivors, and second because I’d read Holocaust fiction and memoir both as a girl and an adult, beginning with Leon Uris’s flawed-but-important Exodus. So the books I chose for my research as I wrote Dissonance were specifically about Terezin, about Prague, about people who’d been at Terezin (as well as about the Manhattan Project). I also reread Mrs. Klein’s book and a number of other memoirs, including Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. These two particular memoirs succeed—connect, resonate—because of their voices, and I think that Hana’s story is, as you put it, “not depressing,” because hers (like Anne Frank’s—who can forget that line just before the end: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart”?) is a hopeful voice. As Hana herself says, “Remember and forgive. There is time for little else.”

Me: I rarely ask questions like this. Non-writers are usually the ones who ask, “How much of this is from your personal experience?” I tend to figure fiction is fiction. But the observations about music in Dissonance seem to go above and beyond what research will provide. So will you tell us about your personal experience with music?

Lisa: I’m a piano lesson dropout! My husband is a blues guitarist (with a day job), but, while I do occasionally play the guitar inherited from my father (who was emphatically not a musician), and love to croak along with love ballads on my solo road trips, my own experience with music has been more as a listener—an educated listener, perhaps, but a listener nonetheless.

But it wasn’t really music that captured me—it was music theory, more specifically the language of music theory—harmony, rhythm, consonance, dissonance—and how these words seemed emblematic of much larger ideas, abstract concepts we have trouble getting our minds around. The voice (because in the first draft, it was just a voice) talking about music and music theory in Dissonance seemed able to articulate questions I myself had (have) grappled with in ways I hadn’t previously considered. As an example, there’s the discourse at the beginning of the book’s third movement which ends, “Music implies a god.” I would not have arrived at this unexpected conclusion without that voice to guide me.

Me: As you know (but my readers may not) I read this book many years ago, around the time Coyote Morning came out. And I’ve always loved it. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, and I recommend it often. I needed (and wanted) to read it again to prepare for this interview. One thing I had forgotten was the connection to the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima. (And still she manages not to be depressing!) You approached the subject with a remarkable lack of judgment. Can you tell us why the bomb was included? Was any parallel to the Holocaust intended? If not, how does the juxtaposition of the two advance the book, in your opinion?

Lisa: The juxtaposition became intentional only after I’d finished the first draft. When I read the manuscript after I’d put it aside for a few months, the parallel was clear, so I tweaked it a bit, but, as with everything in the book, I didn’t push it. One of effects I am always after is to let as much as possible speak for itself, to just lay out the facts and let the reader draw her own conclusions. That’s why, in Dissonance, there’s extra white space between sections, to allow the reader to think.

In all my fiction (and here I include the many unpublished novels in my closet) my goal is to present all sides of an issue (not “both sides,” note—there are as many sides to any issue as there are interested parties) without taking a narrative stance. This isn’t easy, because I, the author, always have a stance. But what I’ve found is that using leitmotifs (like the music theory in Dissonance), repetitive elements outside the story (the letters to the editor and Coyote Facts in Coyote Morning), and metaphor allow me to show all those sides without insisting the reader think as I do. In the case of Coyote Morning, I knew I’d succeeded because both the coyote lovers and the coyote haters in the New Mexico village where I lived when I wrote the book believed I was on their side.

The other aspect of this I’d like to mention is how views change over time. Our generation believes that dropping those bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is unforgivable. But our parents’ generation believed, as it says in Dissonance, that they “helped end a war that had already gone on far too long.” Revisionist history is fascinating because it imposes a contemporary lens on the past. I’m always amused when someone suggests that history is “objective” or “true.” Like all events retold, history is created—and recreated. As a fiction writer, I believe that we’ll find our larger Truths in fiction.

Me: Of course, I was delighted to hear that this book was being rereleased. It’s a wonderful opportunity for a book that so richly deserves it, in my opinion. It’s unusual, though, for a “small” (though it shouldn’t be) book to get that chance. Will you tell us more about the arc of its publication and re-publication?

Lisa: Despite the book’s many awards and honors, UNM Press had, of course, moved on to promote other books. So, in 2008, at the encouragement of a friend in the business, I got the rights back to the book, thinking that perhaps I could sell it to a bigger house. Unfortunately, the publishing industry was soon in as much of an upheaval as the economy itself. Then, in the summer of 2013, I got an email newsletter from Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP). As I’m sure you do, I get lots of these newsletters and aggregations and headlines and blog announcements and the like. But, for some reason, I read this one, and clicked through on some of the links, in particular a Washington Post Magazine article about SFWP’s founder, Andrew Gifford (and boy, has he got a story!). Once I’d finished reading the article, my well-tuned intuitive guide system told me I had to send Andrew Dissonance.

The SFWP website  described a number of projects SFWP was (is) engaged in—a contest, a journal, and general submissions. I selected the latter. Not five minutes after I’d electronically submitted Dissonance, Andrew emailed back: “Are you sure you’re in the right place?” he asked. Yes, I told him. “Do you own the rights?” Yes, I said. Within days, Andrew was posting about his reading of  Dissonance on Facebook. A number of mutual friends told me I’d better friend this guy. I did more than that. I sold him the book.

SFWP is in a far better position to support a small literary novel than either a big commercial publisher or a university press whose primary focus is not fiction. And Andrew loves reprints, and loves the books he publishes. Agents and editors toss the word “love” around a lot—but Andrew makes sure SFWP lives that way.

Me: I couldn’t decide whether to ask this, because I thought it might be a spoiler. But I noticed you revealed in the reader’s guide on your website that the woman whose music and diaries your protagonist inherited was, much to her surprise, her mother’s lover. I loved that about the book, because usually LGBT themes are much trumpeted, as though only gay people will be looking for them. They are so rarely a surprise. And I like what you’ve said, both to me and in public, about this aspect of the book. So will you please tell my readers a little bit about your discovery of this plot element, and why it felt right for this book?  

Lisa: I think you’re referring to the fact that this was an absolute surprise to me. In fact, when Anna cries, “No!”, that was actually me—I was that shocked at this turn in the narrative. And frankly, as I continued to write the first draft, I thought that it didn’t belong, that it was a wrong turn.

But when I returned to the book a few months after writing that draft and read it through, I realized that this was one of the most important elements of the book (and this is a book with a lot of important elements!). Because the book is about love, in all its manifestations. It’s about accepting others, especially those different from oneself. And most of all, it’s about accepting those closest to us as they are, not as we wish they were. The latter, I think, is the hardest thing of all.

Me: What’s next for you?

Lisa: My agent is currently shopping a novel called Long Division to editors, and I’m working on a new novel, called Dear Lucia, about a woman whose mother leaves her family in 1975, when the daughter is 12, then surfaces a year later with a book that becomes a bible for second wave feminists. I’ve also got three short stories I’m working on—short stories take me much longer to write than novels—and two memoir pieces. Beginning next year, I hope to spend a week each month working in San Francisco, where my daughter lives, because I’ve found that a change of venue reinvigorates my writing.

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Lisa: You spend a lot of time working with writers, talking to writers, and helping writers. What would you like to say to readers?

First of all, thank you. Translating pictures in my head into words that you read and then translate into pictures in your head is half of why I do what I do (the other half is because, like all writers, I’m compelled to use language to try to make sense of the world). Post-structural theory holds that a text is recreated by each reader, that it doesn’t even exist without readers. I’m always struck by the questions readers ask, by the texts that readers create, because those who write to me tell me that they believe in the healing power of love, the transformative possibilities of forgiveness, and the strength of what we know in our hearts, not because I preached (E. M. Forster’s term, not mine), but because they found it within themselves while reading my book.

Thank you, Catherine, for your time, for your belief in my book, and for all the wonderful things you do.

Find out more on Lisa's website & blog

Find her on Facebook and Twitter

Better Than Blurbs: Feral by Holly Schindler

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the twelfth post in the series. The author is my old friend (we've never actually met in person, but since when did that ever stop a friendship?) Holly Schindler, and the book is Feral.

Me: Please tell us about the book in your own words.

Holly: Claire Cain endures a brutal gang beating in her hometown of Chicago.  This happens after she steps in to save her best friend from being wrongfully accused of distributing drugs.  When Claire, a journalist, runs stories to vindicate her friend, the gang retaliates.  She spends the next several months healing physically and insisting that she has healed emotionally as well (though she’s still tortured by nightmares and unrelenting anger).  When her father gets the last-minute offer to spend his sabbatical in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire agrees to go, jumping at the chance to get away from Chicago.

But Peculiar offers no reprieve.  Claire’s struck by one similarity after another once she crosses the city limits: the town is hit with an ice storm, just as Chicago was the night of her beating; her school uses lockdowns and uniforms; the town’s feral cat population stalks her, just as the gang did in Illinois.  And soon after arriving, Claire stumbles upon the body of Serena Sims, a classmate.  The town is quick to chalk Serena’s death up to an accident.  But Claire suspects otherwise…and the deeper she digs into circumstances surrounding Serena’s demise, the closer she gets to learning a horrific truth about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley…

Me: Years ago I wrote a short story called Alice Needs This. It was about a child molester who skillfully wins over a fourteen-year-old girl. I tried to write it from Alice’s point of view, but just couldn’t get it to go. Finally I dropped into the fictional head of the child molester and it all fell together. Except, as I was writing it, I kept realizing I was scaring myself. While writing Feral, did you ever scare yourself? (You scared me!)

Holly: I have to say that I love that I scared you!  Mission accomplished!   It’s funny—I didn’t scare myself while writing it.  (But your story sounds utterly terrifying—there’s nothing more frightening than a scenario lifted straight out of the real—rather than paranormal—world, is there?) 

Also, my experience with FERAL is completely different than my readers’.  My readers jump into the cold, brutal waters of FERAL cannonball-style.  I slowly inched my way into the book one toe at a time.  The book started out as a straight MG mystery (the Serena Sims death was a cold case involving an old student at the protagonist’s school); as I revised, it got increasingly darker.  So dark, I knew it needed to be bumped up to YA.  That might sound easy enough—you keep your characters and put them in high school instead of middle school, give them cars instead of bikes—but it’s actually a complete overhaul.  I had to reinvent a new main character (we aren’t the same people at seventeen that we are at thirteen), and had to reinvent several plot points as well (for example, “cheating” took on new meaning in the YA version). 

Brainstorming my new protagonist, I discovered the beating backstory.  And I knew I also wanted the deeper message of the book to be about recovering from violence.  It was also at that point that I knew the book would be a psychological thriller, rather than straight mystery or even horror. 

I continued to darken details—especially the beating scene with Claire—as the book went through development at HarperCollins.

Me: Why are you trying to ruin my relationship with my very good-natured cat?

Holly:  I’m a cat lover, too, actually.  I grew up with two cats I adored.  Tuffy, as her name implies, was born feral.  She was living near my parents’ home right after they got married.  It was driving Mom nuts to see her eating out of their trash cans, so she adopted Tuffy.  In the midst of trying to figure out if she was actually going to stay with them permanently, a litter of kittens arrived.  Mom found homes for three of the kittens and kept Peter.  Pete and I were always together when I was growing up—I kind of always suspected he thought of me as his pet, since he was part of the family before I was. 

Tuffy kept my mom in line when my brother and I (we’re just a year apart) were little.  Every single time one of us would cry when we were babies, she’d run to find my mom and bite her ankles! 

Cats are so cool—I’d love to have another, but you know I’ve got the most spoiled dog on the planet, Jake.  He’s a complete only child, and hates sharing—with anyone!  I think bringing any other animal into the house would result in a total bloodbath. 

Me: You made some reference to this book falling through some genre cracks. Maybe not being quite what people wanted to box it into being. Can you go into that for my readers? I think it will help people understand exactly what it is and who will enjoy it.

Holly:  I’m a big fan of vintage movies.  Love anything black and white.  Big, big fan of Hitchcock—and that definitely shows in FERAL. 

FERAL’s a psychological thriller in the classic sense.  While the book features mystery, horror, and paranormal elements, the emphasis is on the “psychological” rather than thriller / action.  The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development (here, we’re exploring the inner workings of the main character, Claire Cain).  Speaking of Hitchcock—even the feral cats are a nod to THE BIRDS.

Essentially, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting.  The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and here is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s “frozen” inner state).  The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley.  Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche. 

Ultimately, as I said, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too.  The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that process in a dramatic, scenic way.

It’s really been fascinating to read the response to FERAL (I read all my reviews—reader reviews, blog reviews, trade reviews).  I went at FERAL assuming some genre conventions are just intrinsic…but I have to say I do think that the psychological thriller is changing as a genre.  When I try to brainstorm favorite recent psychological thrillers, I get to MEMENTO or WHAT LIES BENEATH, and then I start to stall out—but I saw those movies years ago, in college!  Perhaps as a result of the classic psychological thriller being a bit underrepresented right now (especially at the box office), I absolutely think that modern readers see the term “psychological thriller” and assume that the emphasis should be on “thriller” rather than “psychological.” 

The strongest positive response I’ve received are from somewhat older readers—those, like me, who are fans of or remember some of those classic psychological thrillers.  Those who remember not wanting to get in the shower after watching PSYCHO or getting goose bumps at the sounds of pigeons at the park after watching THE BIRDS. 

 Me: Over the past year or so, I’ve watched you go through some growth spurts in the publishing business. I know you’ve had to learn how to stand your ground when you know the work is right, and some other lessons. I know some may involve other people, which might prevent you from going into detail. But all in all, can you give us some idea of the changes that have allowed you to move your career forward?

Holly: You know, I think every author goes through a similar process: first, all you want to do is just get IN the industry—you want to sell a book.  Then, once you’ve signed a contract or two, you’ve got to figure out your own way within the industry. 

One thing I’ve learned is that I sometimes disagree with feedback I get from industry insiders—and that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean that I’m a crummy writer, and it doesn’t make the person I happen to be dealing with a crummy [fill in the blank here—editor, agent, publicist, publisher, etc.]  It only means we disagree.  I’ve learned that it’s my responsibility not to simply swallow my disagreement, but to voice it.  No one knows I disagree if I don’t say anything. 

The cool thing is that by saying what I think, I wind up getting new feedback—engaging in a conversation that helps me find my way with a WIP.  That recently happened with my next MG.  It’s based loosely on a family story, so that made it easy for me to pipe up during revision requests and say, “Here’s what this book is, and here’s what it isn’t.”  It resulted in a really great conversation, and I thoroughly enjoyed revision.  It’s under submission right now.

Me: You do an amazing job, I think, of writing for different age levels. This book, Feral, and A Blue So Dark seemed on the mature end of YA, and yet you struck such a perfect middle-grade voice for The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky. Is it as effortless as you make it look? Does it take time to shift gears? Do you get to tell your creative process who you’re writing for on the way into a novel, or does it tell you? Anything else you want to add about age-driven voice?

Holly:  Thanks for that—I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve tackled different genres and age groups.  So far, I’ve done contemporary realism, romance, psychological thriller, YA, MG…There’s definitely something to be said for author branding, but I know I’d feel stymied pretty quickly. 

Finding the right age category can, sometimes, be a no-brainer.  Aura came to me really quickly for A BLUE SO DARK.  The original book was drafted and edited in two months.  And though it went through several rounds of revision, her voice remained the same. 

Other times, the process of finding the right age category can be pretty tough.  FERAL and THE JUNCTION were harder, for instance…FERAL, as I said, started out as an MG, and THE JUNCTION started out as a picture book.  Early response to the PB version of THE JUNCTION was that the concept of folk art was too advanced for the readership, and I was encouraged to bump it up.  (Several phrases from the PB version made it into the MG version, which shows the book should have been MG all along, I think.) 

So it can happen in all sorts of ways: you can hear a voice and know it’s a teenager talking to you.  Or you can get feedback that makes you realize where you need to take a project.  Or a project you try to make fit in one genre keeps refusing to click—like your experience with Alice Needs This—and you know you need to take it in a different direction.

One thing that can help is to think of specific people at certain ages: a family member, a niece or nephew, a neighbor.  When I was drafting my earliest works, I was also teaching guitar and piano, and I sometimes go back to those students.  I think, “What would ten-year-old Mitch do at this point?”  Or, “Would sixteen-year-old Megan be responding this scenario in this way?”  It can help drive specific scenes, and it can help give you a better feel for which category the book should be, especially during the initial process of character brainstorming.

Me: Can you tell us about what’s next for you?

Holly: I’m branching out into hybrid status.  This is definitely part of my “growing” stage.  I write quickly, and I write where my heart takes me—which means sometimes generating manuscripts that don’t fit the traditional platform.  It’s so cool that the line between indie-pubbed work and traditionally-pubbed work is no longer the line between bad and good.  It’s just that some books don’t fit the traditional platform.  And, again, rather than trying to force a manuscript to be something that it was never intended to be, I’m going to be taking those manuscripts that are best for the indie format and putting them up myself.  I’m incredibly excited about this prospect, and will be blogging about the entire process at Holly Schindler’s Character Driven.  You can also follow along at Twitter and Facebook.

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Holly:  You like to branch out and write in different genres—but what genres would you like to revisit?

I don’t think you can beat a great contemporary read—and I do tend to think readers also connect most strongly with characters in contemporary books.  But I also thoroughly enjoy writing love stories.   I can’t wait to return to books like PLAYING HURT

FERAL, as I mentioned, plays with several different genres—and I’d love to tackle both a straight mystery and a straight horror novel (I actually have outlines for them both). 

The first genre I’ll be tackling in the indie format is a romantic comedy.  I think I’ve had sprinkles of humor—often darker humor—in some of my other books.  It’s a delight to dive into something that’s just full-on funny…

Better Than Blurbs: A House of Light and Stone by E.J. Runyon

Catherine Ryan Hyde


Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the eleventh post in the series. The author is E.J. Runyon, and the book is A House of Light and Stone.

Me: Eve, will you please tell my readers about the book in your own words?

Eve: Strangers. It’s about all the ways a world can be filled with strangers. How we can be strangers within even the closest family. Strangers to our immediate environment, like Duffy’s Mother is in the new neighborhood she’s moved everyone into. How old, good friends— like she and Mrs. Bettencourt, ‘Lise are, how they end up treating each other when they reconnect. How being a stranger even to your own self, as Duffy is, can affect whom and what you let yourself be. So, that’s the biggest thing it’s about.

On a literal level, it’s about a 10 year-old’s quest to try and be what she feels a ‘real girl’ should be. Duffy’s a kid from a world, back in 1966 & ‘67 East Los Angeles, where what she sees on TV is a world of white folks. And she’s, as she puts it, “just Duffy, with the brownest eyes and as jet-black hair as you could get.“ Even though all her four brothers and sisters are half white-half Mexican, she feels she’s different. So there again, we’ve got a stranger within her own tribe. A stranger, she feels, to her own people.

There’s the whole world of folks around Duffy who treat her like she’s family. And family members who she thinks have problems treating her that way. There’s the second thing this book’s probably about: disconnects that life can seem to be made up of. Mama and “Lise take forever getting on the same wavelength, no matter how attracted they are to each other. Duffy feels she’s always a step behind those who like her and want to help. Her actions turn from well-meaning to failure at nearly every turn, because she’s not had any way of seeing life done well.

Hopefully, by the end of the novel, we’ll see it’s about an inimitable quest for what self-knowledge can bring to one single soul. Duffy becomes a much stronger person. A butterfly out of a chrysalis, a wholly new girl. One she can be proud to be. Mama finds that being her true self is not the end of the world. And though some family members are lost to the city around them, some are gained, and a family’s balance is restored.

Me: Talk to us about the word “literary.” Because I feel this book is a great example of literary fiction, using the term in the most flattering possible way. But most people, at least in the publishing industry, don’t use it as a compliment. Literary fiction is a hard sell to publishers, and often another hard sell to readers. Any thoughts on where we slipped off track with this?

Eve: I think you and I spoke about this many years in the past. How I wanted my work to not be categorized. How I wanted it to stand as Literary, over genre. I haven’t changed. And I will argue, we don’t need to if our literary fiction works are, at the same time, accessible as genre work is to the reader. Sure there are themes here in Duffy’s story of Childhood - Growing up - Abusive relationships - Innocence - Love and friendship.

But I wrote this as a single little girl’s story, using my finest storytelling abilities I could bring to this. And perhaps those themes are only list-able, now in retrospection of what I’ve created. Not because I planned or built them in there. Perhaps my novel won’t be another hard sell to readers, because of that storytelling tact.

Me: You told me once, many years ago, of a time when your whole very large group of siblings was gathered together one morning and sent into foster care. If you don’t mind doing so, will you talk a little bit about that experience? Did it inform Duffy’s story in a significant way? If so, how?

Eve: Actually, even though I have my memories of that time. It involves others and their realities are their own. I hesitate to give too much weight to this book vis a vie my own background, as I didn’t write this as a roman a clef. There were times of great joy because I was with my brother and sisters, and some awfully hard times also when we’d get split up. I basically felt motherless in my early youth. Unlike Duffy who has a very present mother in this novel, I was 6 months old going into foster homes and nearly six coming out. We lived in more than one home.

Beyond that, I tried to write here a story about a girl who knew the type of life I did, but who was her own little soul. Not me. Like you mentioned once, to the question about ‘if your characters are based of folks in your life’, you said something like, you tried making them busy enough being themselves, that they didn’t need to be based on anyone you knew, yes? No matter who you may think you know I am, this is Duffy’s tale—not mine. [Me, note: I never doubted that. I know how it feels to give a character one tiny aspect of your history and still have her be 100% her own person.]

Me: Duffy worries at one point during the book (on her way to creative writing class) “What if they say I’m stupid? Or too Mexican? Or that this neighborhood isn’t the one I should’ve come to”? I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a trace autobiography there, simply because how could you grow up in this culture and not feel those pressures? Is it ever a temptation simply not to mention it—not to give people what might feel like ammo for them to use against you? And, if so, what are the associated burdens?

Eve: I like to think I write for three reasons. And those reasons have informed my whole body of work, fiction, poetry, short stories, or plays. I find myself speaking for those who’ve gone though the harsher things— so, through my attempted empathy on the page, others will know what’s happened in the quieter lives. Not my personal life, but any small life out there. Then, doing that, I also speak to a reader who really may have no idea that some lives roll the way they do, with so many valleys and peaks. I have to mention things aloud to them there on the page. And lastly, I write about folks who do their worst, SO that folks will see that yes, that type of behavior is out there; being done to us smaller souls. And they can't hide any longer. Folks are writing about their lives as well.

I’d definitely allow Duffy to voice all those truths she feels; facing them is how we are able to hold ourselves upright and walk right past those inner fears and outer abuses. And if anything, I wanted Duffy to be that deeper thinking little soul. Speaking her own truth to the powers she sees surrounding her.

Me: Duffy has a very positive influence in her life in Mr. St. John, the social worker. And this is somewhat unusual. The foster care and child welfare systems are full of good people, certainly, but also rife with abuse, and we tend to hear more about the abuse, both in real-life news stories and in fiction. What made you decide to show that system in a positive light?

Eve: That dynamic between those two just came to me. I didn’t write ‘A House of Light & Stone’ as a condemnation of a system. So there was no need to go the other way with their interactions. As you mentioned before our time here, you felt this novel was one that was ‘pure character-driven literary fiction, rather than having an obvious theme or issue to discus’. So we aren’t going to find sensationalism here.

I think it was less a decision to show that system in a positive light, and more of a light touch with what it was I did show about the man as a positive, hopeful guy faced with a very tough nut to crack in our little Duffy. And this is set in 1967 Los Angeles, there were more idealistic folks in the system at that time, I think.

Me: Authors tend to be people who love creative writing (well, duh) and books. But it’s fairly unusual for those loves to bleed over into their main characters. Will you talk a bit about why Duffy shares those passions with her author?

Eve: Okay, _smiles_ I’m going to give away a huge secret here. I came up with the last lines of the book first, where Duffy paraphrases the prayer. That was the first inkling this novel was built on. From that ending scene I built backwards. So seeing her say that, I then had to have scenes after scenes about why this little kid would have said that in the first place. It wasn’t planned, her wanting to be a writer; it grew from her uttering that phrase on my pages. I had to follow her path from there.

And then of course, there’s the adjusted adage I teach my coaching clients, it’s less a case of writing what you know, as it is using what you know in your writing. I knew I’d be a writer from a very small age. Before I could write in handwriting even. And that came through here, me using some sense memory of what I know.

Me: Will you tell my readers a little about the coaching and other services you offer to aspiring writers? There maybe be someone within the sound of our virtual voices who would be interested.

Eve: The next logical step to my 1-on-1 coaching that I’d been doing since 1997, was to expand into an online business. I quit my Software career, sold my house to go back to school, got a BA in Creative Writing, and did graduate work in Online Teaching and Learning. Then, my 2008 National Novel Writing Month effort ended up getting published as my writers guide, ‘Tell Me (How to Write) a Story’.

That came out last year from my UK Publisher, Inspired Quill. But between 2008 and 2013, in 2010, I built a writing website called ‘Bridge to Story’. That entailed creating 52 free lessons. I’m all about the service of midwifing creativity. I’m glad to give all that to folks without charge. One client revamped the whole site for mobile users, he liked what I did for him, coaching-wise, so much. So that social enterprise vibe is strong in my work.

With my 1-on-1 private clients, I spend 1.5 hour sessions with them on Skype, sharing their screen, working about the same stretch of time I run my Community Ed courses. They get my undivided attention and we work, literally, right on their own pages, as I coach them in stronger ways to do what they have in mind.

Folks give the most surprising feedback on my method. And several have their books out to agents and publishers; others have already published what we’ve worked on too. Some are getting some glowing reviews. One client calls me a Bodhisattva, and another was so happy with the level his work was brought to, he sent me a MacBook Pro as a thank you. I guess you could say, I enjoy my twin-calling as a coach and author, it’s going well. I’m on Facebook, and welcome anyone who wants to speak to any of my clients about what I do and how it’s done.

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Eve: Do you feel this novel would make a good, ‘little film’ for some Indy filmmaker?

Do you remember the small film quite a while back called 'Echo Park'? With Tom Hulce? It came out in the late 80s I think. It was set in a L.A. neighborhood. And it told a sweet story about people’s lives. Like 'Laurel Canyon', or the one called 'Quinceañera', that’s another one. If I remember, that came out about a dozen years ago, that film, too, was also called 'Echo Park' in it’s L.A. release. (That’s weird! Hah.) Well, that was another one set in L.A. and telling a tale of real lives intersecting and making ripples.

No gratuitous shoot outs. Just the damage of living in our worlds. Especially in the Los Angles area. I think this book is in that vein. Close, small lives. But very watchable. I could see it being translated well, by some ardent new director. Someone who can see the potential of telling the quieter lives on film, so yes. If the fates allow. I could see that.

Me: Thanks, Eve! Eve's website is here, or you can follow her on TwitterFacebook, or Google+.

Better Than Blurbs: Again by Lisa Burstein

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the tenth post in the series. The author is Lisa Burstein and the book is Again.

Me: Lisa, please tell my readers about your book in your own words.

Lisa:  I've written before about my experience being sexually assaulted by my ex-boyfriend when I was seventeen years old. You can see a post about that here. But response is about something else. This is not about me, or the boy who raped me, this is about the boy who watched.

The boy who saw what was happening right in front of him and left.

The boy I considered a friend who saw me being assaulted and chose to do nothing.

The boy who made me wonder what he did with his guilt.

It was this boy who made me want to write Carter as a character who does the same thing. In Again, Carter witnesses a sexual assault about to occur at his fraternity during his freshman year, but does nothing to stop it. He leaves. He doesn't know the girl his brothers are going to assault, but the guilt he feels is immense, intense and cripples him for years after.

How would you react in a similar situation? How would I have reacted?

If you have a friend who you see needs help; you help, right?

Or is it more complicated than that when it involves sexual assault, especially when you are a guy? When maybe it seems easier to stay out of it, or ignore it. 

I’ve thought about this a lot.

For years I've wondered how my friend felt after walking away from me that night.

What he did with what must have been the gnawing feeling in his gut as he walked away? If he could go back would he have done things differently?

With Carter and Again, I've fictionally given him a second chance.

Additionally, I’ve always wanted to write about someone who truly rewrites their life. Who sees no other option but to literally go back in time. I think that wish is something we all have sometimes. It was enlightening to travel to that place with Kate. I got the idea for Again from my own feelings about turning 30. 

Who was I? What had the choices I'd made turned me into? What the hell was I doing with my life?

Kate in Again feels like her whole life has been a series of bad decisions. The only way to fix them is to go back and make new ones.

I found this idea so appealing. If I had the option to go back to college and make different decisions knowing what I know now, would I make better ones?

Would you?

Me: Many of my readers might not be familiar with the genre NA, or New Adult. It's fairly new on the scene, and might not be all that well understood. Will you please bring us all up to speed?

Lisa: New Adult is a genre that has come about in the last couple of years. It consists of characters that are not Young Adult, but not Adults yet either. Usually it includes characters that are between 19-25. In Again, I wanted to combine this genre with the contemporary romance genre so I decided to make my protagonist a 29 year old who pretends to be 19. She is "acting" like a new adult even though she should be an adult.

Me: As I began to read, I noticed that the structure of the book had a lot in common with the romance genre, in that the love interest is right there in the first scene, clearly setting up the goal of what's important here. This is not an insult, or even a judgment in any way. Clearly, if it's a type of romance, it's a very modern take on the genre. Maybe you could tell us in your own words how you think they are similar, how you think they are different.

Lisa: New Adult is different from a typical contemporary romance in the fact that new adults are not only dealing with their romantic relationships but also with trying to figure out their place in the world, who they really are, without the safety net of parents. You are over eighteen and out on your own. In Again specifically, Kate at 29 is completely unhappy in her place in the world and who she is. This is why she goes back and tries to live her life over "again" by pretending to be 19.

Me: I was interested in the fact that your main character struggled with alcoholism. Probably because I’m an alcoholic with 25 years of recovery. At first she tried to go it alone. She mentioned rehab, and mentioned AA once. I know you wanted us to see her struggle, but I wonder if there’s a reason why she didn’t use the AA program as her life resolved itself. Did you feel that the target audience would not be open to 12-step programs, or not see them in a positive light? Or is it just something that is foreign to you as the author as well? Was any research involved in capturing the feelings of an alcoholic (which, by the way, I think you did well)?

Lisa: I have struggled with alcohol abuse as well. I have gone for treatment, but never AA or rehab. I guess I saw Kate as someone who would try to fix herself before she asked for help. It was about who she was as a person. She is extremely immature for her age and believes she has control over something that in many ways is uncontrollable-- alcoholism. I am certainly not against anything that helps a person deal with their issues. I wanted to write a book about someone who thinks she can go it alone and realizes her addictions are stronger than she knows.

Me: Based on your original description of why you wrote this book… well, many things come to mind. That it’s brave. That I can understand how our struggles to understand the behavior of others can turn into novels. But my question is this. We’re all people at some level. All human no matter how badly we behave. And yet not everyone who commits an act like this feels deep remorse. Which do you think is worse? To feel there are people in the world who are inherently “bad”? Or to know that basically decent people can do terrible things?

Lisa: I think it’s far worse to see people as inherently bad. It was why I wrote Carter the way I did. I think everyone has to have at least some good in them, some part of them that feels guilt for doing anything that hurts someone else. I might have rose-colored glasses on here, but I guess making Carter someone who felt the impact of what he did so deeply, helped me come to terms with what my friend did to me. He might not have struggled with it the same way Carter did, but working through that guilt with Carter allowed me to finally forgive my friend.

Me: You made a reference to sexual attraction as being “another kind of addiction,” but it didn’t seem to come up again, at least not so clearly. This is a book that very much concerns itself with sex. How much do you think sex and love can become confused, or used addictively, in people of this age? And how much of that felt important in the writing of this book? 

Lisa: I think in your twenties sex and love are sometimes the same thing. I think both women and men can become caught up in that aspect of a relationship where it becomes all that matters. How they define themselves, how they wield power, how they feel. Before Kate meets Carter it is one of the main ways she defines herself, as a sexual being. That is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but throughout the book she learns that sex can mean more than just sex. 

Me: In my older books, I have some adult material, some brief sex that is described in a relatively detailed way. And all of my books include some level of what people call “language.” And I’m surprised by how much grief I get about it in user reviews. There are people who write that they never would have read a book if they had known it contained “swearing.” As the author of a book with a fair amount of sex and language, do you get negative feedback from some readers? Or is this a difference in our two audiences?

Lisa: I usually don’t get grief for this. I think in romance and New Adult specifically people expect a certain level of language and sex. I have a Young Adult book titled Dear Cassie that has over 200 mentions of the F word. Perhaps we have different audiences. ;) 

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Lisa: What do you hope readers get from Again?

I hope they find that any mistake you make isn’t too big to forgive yourself, once you come to a place to accept that forgiveness.

Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of Pretty Amy, The Next Forever, Dear Cassie, Sneaking Candy and The Possibility of Us. As well as a contributor to the essay collection, Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors On Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself. Again is her self-publishing debut. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats.

Like Lisa on Facebook or Follow Lisa on Twitter (I do). 

Better Than Blurbs: Much Ado About Mother by Celia Bonaduce

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Photo by William Christoff

Photo by William Christoff

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the ninth post in the series. The author is Celia Bonaduce and the book is Much Ado About Mother: A Venice Beach Romance. But before the word "Romance" causes you to tune out, please give us a chance to adjust your thinking.

Me: Celia, will you please tell my readers about the book in your own words?

Celia: Much Ado About Mother is the third book in my VENICE BEACH ROMANCE Trilogy.  If you’re now frantically mousing away from this page because you are not a fan of romantic novels, please hang around.  When Kensington Books (a highly esteemed publisher of romance) told me they wanted to buy my series, I was stunned.  Grateful to be sure, but stunned. Because I didn’t think I was writing romance.  I thought I was writing comedy.  Book One: The Merchant of Venice Beach is probably the closest to a classic romantic novel as this series gets, since the protagonist is very focused on seducing a mysterious dance instructor in and around Venice Beach, California. But it’s very tongue-in-cheek. While the emphasis of the story is Suzanna’s maniacal pursuit of an emotionally unavailable man, the theme of the book is about a woman finding herself.  Book Two: A Comedy of Erinn is about Suzanna’s older sister, Erinn, a had-been Broadway playwright who moves to Southern California ostensibly to be near her sister, but basically because she has no where else to go.  She is jobless and friendless.  If Suzanna refuses to face adulthood, Erinn is old before her time.  While there is a romantic element – actually, several romantic elements -- once again, the point of Comedy of Erinn is that Erinn has to come to terms with herself. It’s not about the guy.  Which brings us, finally, to Much Ado About Mother.  In this third book (the characters appear in each other’s books, but each book can be read as a stand-alone.)  Erinn, Suzanna and their mother, Virginia each have a say in “ADO”.  In this book, I was writing in all three voices, and named each chapter ERINN, VIRGINIA or SUZANNA as a way for the reader to be clear who was speaking. I learned that from you at that seminar in Big Sur a few years ago.  

Much Ado About Mother is the story of three women – a mother and her two grown daughters – who all feel that life has been good, but not great.  I thought it would be interesting to look at life from three different age groups (Suzanna is in her early thirties, Erinn in her early forties, Virginia is just turning seventy). Each of the woman is thinking “Is That All There Is” – which of course, is flawed thinking.  Unless you’re dead, it’s never all there is.  This book is about family. It’s about how, when all is said and done, no matter how the dynamics change, your family can be the greatest joy – while being the greatest thorn in your side – in your life. And yeah, there is some romance.

Me: I’m actually not a fan of romantic novels. But I’m a fan of this one. And I agree that for a romance it’s very much not a romance. How do you feel/how does it work to have your work put in a box that may not quite fit? It opens you up to new readers, yes. Does it shut you down from others? Or do people see that the book transcends its genre, so no problem?

Celia: I’ve tread lightly into Romance territory.  The description of my books “not quite fitting into a box” is accurate.  That’s one of the reasons I am so grateful for Sharon Bowers – my agent and Martin Biro – my editor at Kensington – for taking a chance on me.  I’d like to think there are readers out there who normally wouldn’t touch a romance were happy when they stumbled upon my books.  To be honest, though, from the few really stinko reviews I’ve gotten on Amazon, there were those romance readers out there who felt tricked by the covers and description.  Frankly, I think they had a valid point.  If you order a soufflé and someone serves you Eggs Benedict – it doesn’t matter if the Eggs Benedict are terrific or not.  You wanted a soufflé, you ordered a soufflé and that’s what you were entitled to get.  On the whole, though, my reviews have been very positive – although a goodly number of those reviews said “This was not what I was expecting, but I really liked it.” Next series out, I’m hoping people continue to like my work, but won’t be surprised.  The Eggs Benedict crowd will already be with me!

Me: Talk to me about quirk. I found this to be delightfully quirky, encompassing characters who are, among other things: 1) named Dymphna; 2) a herd of Angora rabbits; 3) a not very likable Chihuahua named Piquant, whom we tend to like anyway; 4) a man who runs into a burning building to save his ex-wife’s moose head art sculpture, and 5) a large tree. Do you purposely infuse quirk, or is your mind just naturally quirky?

 Celia: I guess my mind is just naturally quirky!  I will say that I am always on the lookout for the unpredictable!

Me: What do you like to read, and is humor a big factor in what you look for as a reader, or do you read different tones for different moods?

Celia:  I read all kinds of stuff – humor, classics, non-fiction, travel books.  One favorite genre is “southern women writers” – from Flannery O’Connor to Fannie Flagg to my new favorite Joshilyn Jackson.  These women rewrite true, believable characters infused with humor and love.

Me: In your own opinion, are you funny in person, in the spoken word, or more so on paper? Do you speak easily and comfortably in front of a crowd, with this same lighthearted manner you use when you write?

Celia:  Well, this is certainly a “toot my own horn” moment, isn’t it?  I humbly submit that I am funny in person, on paper and in front of a crowd.  While I long to be an introspective artist, who is quietly pondering big questions when not “at work”, sadly, I attempt hilarity 24/7.

Me: Will you please tell my readers, many of whom are writers, about your road to publication? 

Celia: My road to publication was long and filled with rejection.  I expected that, though.  My parents were both professional writers, so I knew from a very young age, that rejection was part of a writer’s life and you couldn’t take it personally.    I also had the great good fortune to go to a writers’ conference early in my foray into novel writing – where I met you, Catherine, and Jodi Thomas.  I’m sure the readers of your blog can visualize what a boost it was to have these two wildly successful women take the time to tell me that my “voice” was unique as well as funny.  You both encouraged me to get in touch if I felt stuck or frustrated (and I don’t have to tell you, I availed myself of that more than once!)  Both of you warned me that my style “didn’t fit on a shelf” – and there would be rejections from agents and publishers, but to believe in myself and my work.   Also, my feeling has always been “ You only need ONE.  ONE agent. ONE publisher. I just needed to stay true to the process.  As each rejection came it, one new submission went out. Sharon found me.  Kensington found me.  I knew they were out there and I just needed to hang on until they did.

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Celia: Do you “cast” your characters, either with actors or with people you know?

I actually don’t have a physical sense of my characters at all.  I HEAR them.  It’s actually one of the most intriguing parts of writing for me.  I’ll create a character and I can suddenly hear them speaking to me.  Currently, I am writing a character who sounds exactly like Johnny Mathis.  It’s awesome!

Me: Thanks, Celia. Those who want to know more about Celia and her work can visit her website and/or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Better Than Blurbs: Lost in Transplantation by Eldonna Edwards

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the eighth post of the series. The author is Eldonna Edwards, and the book is Lost in Transplantation: Memoir of an Unconventional Organ Donor.

Me: Eldonna, please Tell us about the book in your own words:

Eldonna: Lost in Transplantation isn't just a chronicle of a living donor, it's a book about life and the decisions we make when given difficult choices. The memoir is interwoven with stories about growing up as a Bible-thumping preacher's kid, my work as a massage therapist, raising children—mostly as a single mother—and the seesaw transitions of menopause. There’s a good deal of humor in the book to balance the serious topic. My goal is for others to relate to me as a real person rather than putting me on a pedestal for giving a kidney to a stranger, thereby dismissing me as an anomaly. I believe we are all capable of being someone's hero and you don't have to undergo surgery to achieve that end.

The memoir describes my journey as an organ donor but it also tells Kathy's (my intended recipient) story and hopefully the reader's as well. We all struggle, we all have dreams and hardships, but it's our attitude that alters one’s perception of those challenges.  Lost in Transplantation seeks to connect with that place in each of us that wants to make a difference. My hope is to inspire others to take steps—no matter how small—toward balancing the inequality and unconscionable inhumanity that persists in the world. You never know exactly how far the results of your actions reach— and the life it alters the most just might be your own.

Me: I want to ask a set of questions that will establish my focus on organ donation in the past. So I’ll ask you (and I suppose ask my readers at the same time): Have you read Second Hand Heart, which is about organ donation, but not living donation?

Did you know that one of the UK editions included a real-life living kidney donor story that I also wrote about on my blog? And for those who have no access to that UK edition, I also wrote it up for Positive Impact Magazine. (But I can't seem to establish a direct link, so readers can use the link to their home page and search for Betty Ann and erin or organ donation). 

I’m also wondering if you’ve heard about Garet Hill and the National Kidney Registry. They form donation chains that start with an altruistic donor like yourself, and just keep going. (He was kind enough to be in contact with me, because the Pay It Forward connection is easy to see). They even made it into the New York Times.

Yes, I realize this is a long question. I also realize that no two living donors are alike. So can you tell us how you feel when you read these stories? How much are they like you, and in what ways are they different? How much change do you think we might see in the world if this kind of giving gets a foothold?

Eldonna: I have read Second Hand Heart. What interests me most is the cellular memory aspect of the story. I’ve communicated with many transplant recipients who voice a strong desire to reach out to the families of cadaveric donors. I think that in addition to gratitude, recipients feel a connection beyond what can be explained or expressed. My recipient claims to have lost an appetite for a few things that I don’t care for, like lamb and ice cream. I’m still waiting for my former kidney to switch the recipient’s political parties. ;-)

In answer to the second part of your question, my surgery was the very first at CPMC (California Pacific Medical Center) to occur as a result of a National Kidney Registry match! I was the initial domino in a series of surgeries beginning December 16, 2010. Fortunately transplant chains have since become the norm. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Alvin Roth, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. The algorithm he co-developed increased NKR matches by up to 167% over the previous method.

Me: Of course the best way readers can get this question answered is to read your book. But it’s on everyone’s mind. So please give us a sneak peek at the answer to the big question: Why?

I get this a lot. Here’s how I explain it in the book:

Wealth might make you comfortable but it can’t save you from eventual death. Education might keep you from poverty but it can’t prevent disease. Geography might help protect your civil rights but it can’t protect you from unpredictable tragedy. Where we’re born and most of the opportunities we’re born into all come down to chance. Some disease is generated by bad habits like smoking or diet, some is environmental like chemical exposure or lack of available prenatal care, and some is just wonky DNA.

Perhaps one day science will figure out how to prevent or cure a lot of the diseases that are inherent in our society. I recently heard NASA has invented a 3-D printer that can print “food” for astronauts so it doesn’t take up valuable space. Maybe printing a human kidney isn’t that far off. But for now, beyond one’s belief in a higher power, all we have to sustain our hope is the grace of our fellow human beings to help us through our struggles.

A logical or left-brained person might look at the data, decide the evidence is overwhelming against self-sacrifice to aid others, and leave it to politics or science to determine another's fate. And here is where I invite Captain Obvious into the conversation to state that I am not left-brained. In fact I am so right brained that I sometimes wonder why my head doesn’t rest on my right shoulder. I’m a touchy-feely, tree-hugging, artsy-fartsy human being who truly believes we are all brothers and sisters in this world, and that by helping one person you help the collective. I believe each of our deeds, good or bad, creates a ripple. Birth might be about circumstance but life is about choices within the events that occur year to year, day to day, and most importantly, moment to moment.

The encounter with Lucy might or might not have been chance—I don’t know. Had I not moved to California with my son, had he not attended Cuesta College, had I not chosen one class over another, I never would have met her. What looks random in the immediate moment might seem like fate for those that believe in predestination. For me, it was merely an encounter with another human being who raised my consciousness about a particular form of suffering and I chose to act upon it.

No matter how hard I try to communicate the need for donors, people remain skeptical. No matter how deeply I underscore the extraordinary sense of purpose in helping another human being, I continually bump up against fear. What I’ve gradually come to understand is that it’s naïve to presume anyone’s motivations for donating or not, other than my own.

Me: I know you have a writing background that predates this book. Will you please tell my readers more about how you came to the written word and what else you have done?

Eldonna: I love language and have always taken great delight in the satisfaction of stringing together a tapestry of words that results in a good story or poem.  I used to facilitate journal-writing workshops and later turned the exercises into a couple of journaling workbooks. Loose Ends and Journaling from the Heart were published in 1999/2000 respectively.  I currently have other works-in-progress but I set the novels aside to work on this memoir. Living donation is a timely subject and I'm compelled to get it out there ahead of the fiction.

Me: I have no idea if anyone reading this is considering becoming a living donor. But I know it must be a big decision. And I know that, no matter how sure the donor may be, it’s often a hard subject to broach with family members. Any advice to someone considering this gigantic act of selfless giving?

The best thing a potential donor can do is to become informed. I regularly participate in several living donor and kidney patient forums where people like me offer support, encouragement and advice to potential donors. In terms of sharing plans with loved ones, you have to stay centered in your intention and not let well-meaning family members pull you off course. When challenged, I would usually say, “I hear your concerns and I appreciate you supporting me in my decision.

Me: Can you sum up for us how this act and this book changed your life? Yes, I do know it’s hard to compress it. But if you had to write a paragraph or two about it, what seems like the most important thing to say?

Eldonna: Having witnessed their pain and suffering up close, I am truly humbled by the strength and determination of all the people on dialysis who don’t know if they’ll get a kidney in time. The act itself didn’t change me so much as it reinforced my belief that when you help others it takes you out of yourself and your own struggles. But I definitely came away from the donation with a deeper sense of purpose and believing my life had more meaning. People talk about what an amazing gift I’ve given but I feel equally blessed by the experience.

As a donor, my goal was to inspire people. As a writer, I hoped to inspire readers in an entertaining way. Since writing the book I’ve been overwhelmed by enthusiastic support not only from the standpoint of living donation, but from readers who reported that they were moved to “be a better person” after reading Lost in Transplantation.  I can’t tell you how much it means knowing this story has had such a profound an effect on people. I’m unable to read the reviews without tearing up. It’s one thing to tell a story that touches people, but to be acknowledged for the art of the telling itself is icing on the proverbial cake.

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Eldonna: You were the subject of a documentary titled “Perfect Strangers”. What was that experience like?  What’s next? (You meant two questions, right?)

While researching living donation I couldn’t find a single film on the topic so I contacted Jan Krawitz, the Director of the M.F.A. Documentary Filmmaking Program at Stanford. I told her someone needed to make a film about this so that the tragic need for donors would reach more people. We met in a coffee shop and talked for four hours. By the time the meeting ended she’d decided to make a film and I’d agreed to let her follow my journey. Her crew was amazing and I often forgot they were in the room. (Word of advice to anyone thinking of being in a film: Turn off your wireless mic before using the bathroom!)

Over the course of four years Jan and I became dear friends. I’ve attended several screenings of the film, which has played to enthusiastic audiences all across the country. I think she did a fantastic job of artfully capturing the experience of both donor and kidney patient. We’re hoping to show it locally again soon but I also host public and private screenings. The DVD will be available this summer. You can view the trailer at

As a result of the film and the book, I’ve been invited to book clubs, film Q&A’s, and conferences to speak about my experience. I realize not everyone is a candidate for living donation (but hopefully some of you are!) so I tend to talk about altruism in the grander sense of how one can find happiness through kindness and compassion.

I love my work as an advocate for living donation, but I’m also making time to write. What’s next is a coming-of-age novel set in the sixties about a psychic little girl born into a fundamentalist Christian family who feels threatened by her paranormal gifts. The opening of This I Know recently won the Lillian Dean Award for fiction.  The novel is planned for publication in 2015.

Thank you so much, Catherine, for all that you do to promote kindness through your non-profit and to support other authors through this blog. In hopes of inspiring others to offer hope to desperate patients, I’m asking your readers to spread the word about Lost in Transplantation. You can find me on Facebook and on the web at my website, where I’ve just started a blog. I’m available to answer questions about how to donate as well as inquiries about speaking engagements.

The book is availableon Amazon as an eBook and in paperback, and at Barnes & Noble. It’s also available for Kobo and iTunes.

Better Than Blurbs: Long Live the Suicide King by Aaron Ritchey

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the seventh post of the series. The author is Aaron Ritchie, and the book is the brand new YA novel Long Live the Suicide King.


Me: Let's start in the usual way. Aaron, please tell us about the book in your own words.

Aaron: Long Live the Suicide King came out of my own experiences with addiction, depression, and suicidal ideation. 

Well, that’s not a very happy way to start, but I did get to use the word “ideation” which is cool.  Yes, it’s a contemporary YA novel with addiction, depression, and suicide in it, but it’s more of a young man’s search for meaning in this beautiful, broken world.  And the book is funny because the world is funny and good.  A bad world wouldn’t have donuts, and we have donuts.  I could say don’t read it for the deep, spiritual themes, read it for the donuts.

Uh oh, now I’m talking about spiritual themes, which leads people to think I’m talking about religion, which is going to alienate readers.  Dang.  What was the question again?  My own words.  My book in my own words.

Friendship, meaning, desire, kindness, selflessness, compassion, sorrow, death, divorce, mocha lattes, and race relations in America.  Oh, and Christianity, Buddhism, atheism, and Geddy Lee from the progressive rock band Rush.  These are a few of my favorite things.

Okay, now that I’ve confused everyone.  I’m ready to start the interview.

Me: You strike me as someone who could write just about any damn thing you please and do it well. What drew you to YA fiction? It’s okay to be honest if the answer is the health and fitness of that genre in an otherwise ailing industry. But if there’s something that draws you to YA, I’d like to hear about it. Will you always write YA, or is this just one of many directions you see yourself going?

Aaron:  Gosh.  Thanks, Catherine.  Gosh.

About genre.  Genre!  Why do you task me so?

Short answer is that I spent the first ten years of my writing working on  doorstop-sized multi-genre masterpieces no one could read.  Part sci-fi, part epic fantasy, part Russian novel, part lost Gnostic gospel.  I couldn’t pitch these books.  I didn’t know how to talk about them.  They were too epic!

And then I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  And I said, hey, what about doing a book like that?  Then I sarted reading YA, and boom, I could write cross-genre novels, call them YA, and they would have  a shelf to sit on.   

But more than genre, having young adult readers is awesome and talking books with teens is fun, and there’s just so much excitement there.  My YA books have an edge, though.  They’re not happy angels or lovesick werewolves.  At the same time, they aren’t full of eviscerations and R-rated skinny dippings.

And I like that.  My parents can read my books, grandmothers can read my books, I’ve cornered the YA market for octogenarian nuns (I have two such fans), and I don’t have to be embarrassed by what’s inside.  

Will I always write YA?   I think so.  I like the characters, I like the conflict.  I like the coming of age themes.  Someday I’ll come of age.  I have faith.

Me: What do you say to Meghan Cox Gurdon? For those (fortunately, in my opinion) unfamiliar, she is the author of the Wall Street Journal article “Darkness too Visible,” criticizing YA fiction for not being cheerier.

Aaron: I wasn’t familiar with the article, but I’ve thought about all of those things while I was working on my books.

I think there is a line drawn between YA and adult books.  A definite line, and I would argue that line is more about rating than genre.

I approach that line, but I don’t cross it. My books are rated a solid PG-13.  In real life, all of my characters would walk around cursing with staggering grammatical displays of vile genius, but what’s the point of that?  To show I can cuss?

In some ways I agree with her.  If someone is throwing F-bombs and going into graphic details about sexual abuse, is that YA?  Yeah, I’m thinking the author crossed the line and it becomes an adult book with YA characters.  Most readers read up, so really, a lot of the YA readers are in middle grade.  Something I  keep in mind.

So rating is one thing, genre is another. 

Darkness, violence, despair, troubling sexuality, all fit perfectly fine in the YA genre. 

For example, I found adolescence horrific.  Suddenly, the fairy tales of my youth were stripped away and I was presented with reality, where people do cut themselves, people are sexually abused, and bad stuff happens. 

I couldn’t run back into the fairy tales.  Once you know the world is broken, you know. 

Instead, I read lots and lots of Stephen King because I had this passion to try and understand the gore, the horror show, the nightmares.  Which I think is why teens are drawn to darker themes in YA literature.

As a writer, I’m still trying to understand the suffering, sadness, and sorrow in the world.  And what’s a better way to do that than walking with someone who is in the middle of suffering, sorrow, sadness? [Me, note: I agree completely. You don't pretend there is no darkness. You light a path through it.]

Jackie Morse Kessler’s Riders of the Apocalypse series is brilliant.  In Hunger, an anorexic teenager becomes Famine.  Is it all prettiness and sparkling vampires?  Uh no.  Is it real, gritty, gruesome?  Yes.  Is there hope and salvation?  Yes.  Because a key component in many YA novels is change.

One last F-word on this subject.  In Long Live the Suicide King I use the F-word once.  I debated long and hard if I should keep it in.  Then  I talked with a fourteen-year-old hardcore homeschooled Christian kid about it, and he said, “Keep it real, man.  If you can’t curse God, who can you curse?”  So it stayed.  It fits.  And I use it once.

Me: You said a few things to me that suggested that the road to publication didn’t go the way you expected. Of course you realize that doesn’t make you stand out much among your fellow authors. It really just makes you… a writer. Please tell us as much as you are willing to tell about your writer’s journey. The brick walls, the eventual breaks. (Breaks in the wall, breaks in you—we’re wide open here.)

Aaron: Oh, Catherine, oh me, oh life.  I wanted to be rich, famous, lauded as a genius, given keys to cities, honorary degrees, lear jets.  Instead, I write words, unagented, ignored by the big huge publishing industry, and really without a lot of external praise and certainly not the adoration I want. 

Which is probably good in the long run.  I can totally see me Lindsay Lohanning into flames.

I’m like a guy who couldn’t find a prom date.  I went around and asked all these agents and editors to go to the prom with me, and they all said no.

I went to prom anyway.  I might be out on the dance floor by myself, but I’m publishing books I adore, and I’m dancing.

And I’m not alone.  I’m dancing with editors from small presses, I’m dancing with other writers, and I’m dancing with readers.

But make no mistake, I’m dancing.

Me: I love Inga Blute. And her dog. I think she makes a great counterpoint of light to play off JD’s darkness. And I think she’s a wonderful way for the reader to see the value of life, even if the protagonist currently can’t. Okay, that’s a comment. It’s not so much a question. But if you wanted to speak to her character for a bit—what she means to you, how it felt to write her, what part she played in the development of the story in your head—that would be a good thing.

Aaron:  Inga in a very real sense saved the book.  Thanks, Inga!  But guess what?  She wasn’t in the first drafts.  After getting feedback from beta readers and contest judges, I knew some people just didn’t like JD, my main character, my POV character!  So I knew I needed to add someone who would let the readers know that JD is a good guy.  He’s a hot, suicidal mess, but he’s still a good guy. 

That’s where Inga comes in.  JD takes care of her, worries over her, and in the end, is transformed because of some of the things she said. 

Inga wrote herself.  I would sit down, and she would tell me things, and I would write them down.  Not to spoil anything, but I had no idea that she had a long history of mental illness before I wrote her scenes. 

Yeah, I love Inga too.  And Schatzi, her very happy dog.

Me: I’m interested in your choice of an overtly Christian teen character, Marianne Hartley. Her religion is, of course, at predictable odds with your protagonist. But as the books goes on, she becomes more and more layered and human. Refreshingly so. There’s such an enormous rift this days between the religious and the secular. Talk to us, please, about your choice to bring her into the story.

Aaron:  Yes, there is an unfortunate rift between the religious and the secular.  Not to make a gross generalization, but too often the religious can be ignorant and the secular can be narrow-minded.  Gross generalization.  Ew. 

Both sides should remember that trying to understand God is like trying to pour an ocean into a thimble. 

While Inga has rebellious, heretical theology as far as God is concerned, Marianne Hartley seems like a goody-two shoes Christian girl who prays to Jesus at night, does her homework, and reads Sweet Valley High novels.  No dark YA for Marianne Hartley. 

JD think he has her all figured out.  Except one of the major themes in the book is the Grand Canyon gap between our perceptions and reality. 

Marianne is human.   Painfully so.  Between her and Inga, they give JD the answers he needs. I have lots about God in my book, which I know will push some readers away, but these are the books I was born to write.

I love being an atheist. I can’t accept any sort of god running the universe.  And I love being a Catholic, because how can there not be a God?

If God can’t be bigger than that paradox than he’s like some crappy Walmart god and shouldn’t exist.

I’ve known lots of girls like Marianne Hartley. Not in the biblical sense either. So that was some of my own history shining through.  And I’ve learned, as JD does, don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides. 

Me: I won’t do spoilers, but when we find out more about what has this guy in such a dark place, it feels very textured and honest and real. There was another very successful book on teen suicide; I’ll let it be nameless. I never bought the suicidal reasoning in that one. I think that, unless we are suffering from overwhelming depression already, we don’t want to kill ourselves because we blame others, or because of our opinion of others, or because of what others do. I think the problem is with ourselves. How much did your personal experience inform these choices? Or is there a place early on in the writing process where imagination kicks in and Jimmy is just different, just himself? Or both?

Aaron: My book really is an autobiographical novel. 

And I had trouble with that other nameless suicide book as well.

If you haven’t been in front of a mirror, trying to slash your wrists, I think the average non-suicidal person likes the idea that people kill themselves because of some specific reason.  The Ordinary People reason for suicide.  I let my brother drown, so now I want to die.

It’s clean.  It’s tidy.  It makes sense.  I couldn’t write a suicide book like that.  That wasn’t my experience.  Like JD, I had all the outside stuff, but I needed meaning.  I needed answers.  My brain doesn’t work sometimes and I needed help to manage my thinking, which can be horribly negative. 

There’s an old joke about two kids on Christmas morning.  One wakes up to a roomful of toys, and one wakes up to a roomful of horse poop.  The first kid plays with some of the toys, gets bored, gets angsty, and wanders off.  That’s me.  Give me a roomful of toys, and I’m going to tell you in great detail, which toy is missing, why the toys aren’t right, and why life sucks.

The other kid?  He is playing around in the horse poop, running around, all happy.  Someone finally asks him, “Hey kid, what’s your damage?”

He replies, happily, “With all this manure around, there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

That’s who I want to be.

Me: What’s next? Do you have another novel “in the can?” If so, how much are you willing to tell us about it, and when do we get to find out for ourselves? In what ways is it like Long Live the Suicide King? In what ways is it unique? If you don’t have anything else finished, you can just imagine where you’ll go from here and answer anyway.

Aaron: Actually, I’m juggling four different projects, all so much fun.  I got a contemporary romance (very different), I got a YA sci-fi romance (Blade Runner meets Twilight), I have a YA steampunk family drama (very Firefly), and I have what I hope will be my next published book, Elizabeth’s Midnight.  I’m in talks with another small press, but I haven’t signed a contract yet.

Elizabeth’s Midnight is a contemporary YA with fantasy elements.  Oh, it’s so great.  It has France in it, and treasure hunting, and love, and doing the impossible.

It’s about an overweight, emotionally handicapped teen who finds herself on the run with her grandmother.  Both are being chased by the teen’s mother, who wants to stop them from travelling to France to see the grandmother’s lover from World War II.  You don’t know if the grandmother is crazy and lying, or if she is telling the truth about her lost love, since yeah, she claims he’s a sorcerer-prince from another world.

It really is a sweet book, solid PG, and Meghan Cox Gurdon would approve.

However, there is some darkness in the book.  Elizabeth starts out so shut-down, so out to lunch, and her mom is such a monumental dragon lady.   But those are the characters I like: real, hurt and hurting, dragging themselves through their days until that special something happens, that spark, which drives the wounded character forward until they find healing.

And we can be healed in this world.  Perhaps, that is exactly why we are here in the first place.  To find healing.  To find a home.

So we can dance and dance.

Life is sweet.

Me: (Everybody gets this one:) Please write your own question, and answer it.

Aaron: Your questions were so good!  I couldn’t add another one!  Perfect interview!

My bio:

Aaron Michael Ritchey's first novel, The Never Prayer, was published in March of 2012 to a fanfare of sparkling reviews including an almost win in the RMFW Gold contest. Since then he's been paid to write steampunk, cyberpunk, and sci-fi western short stories, two of which will appear in a new fiction magazine, FICTIONVALE. His next novel, Long Live the Suicide King, will give hope to the masses in April of 2014. As a former story addict and television connoisseur, he lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses posing as his daughters. 

For more about him, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit He's on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets - @aaronmritchey.

Better Than Blurbs: Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall

Catherine Ryan Hyde


Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the sixth post of the series. The author is Michelle Theall and the book is Teaching the Cat to Sit, a memoir that fits in very well with my well-known position on LGBT issues and equality. (I'm for it. Equality.)

Me: Let's start in the usual way. Michelle, please tell us about the book in your own words.

Michelle: While the book covers a lot of ground, family, religion, parenting, bullying, sexual identity, gay adoption, social and cultural norms—at its heart, it’s a mother/daughter story. The importance of that first relationship that we have with our mothers tends to imprint (positively and negatively) on children like we’re goslings. It’s inescapable. But no one can live up to a parent’s expectations completely, which means we have to learn to navigate disappointment, loss, maybe even abandonment, in order to find our own way in the world. I was so desperate to hold onto my mother’s approval that I lied and acquiesced to get it. What’s funny is that as long as I was pretending to be someone else or compromising, I could never know she loved the “real” me—just some semblance of me. It was easier to be ostracized by the church, friends, the pope, and society than to risk losing my mom. You’d think it wouldn’t take over forty years, but maybe I’m a slow learner. In fits and starts of bravery, I had to let her truly see me in order to start living my life. Of course, then all hell broke loose. 

Me: I know you are probably already “out.” When you’re raising a child with another woman, you can’t very well be in. But with the release of this book, you’re out in a whole different way. Any qualms? I think it’s a great thing to do (as anybody who knows me will know), but I think it’s important that people understand how it feels to do it.

Michelle: I’m terrified. Anyone who reads the book will know straight away what a chicken I am. I’m afraid of being judged, wounded all over again because I stuck it out there. I’m afraid of the crazies who are out there hating gays. I’m afraid for the book to do well because if it does the story (and I) will embarrass my mom, feed that shame that’s still smoldering. On the flip side, I’m afraid no one will read it or care—that I just spent years of my life on something completely irrelevant. Did I mention I’m terrified?

Me: I love both the cover image and the title. Will you please tell my readers how the title fits in with the overall story? (I know, but they probably don’t yet.) Did you get any argument from the publisher for using that title rather than something more sensational? And the cover image… did the cover designer simply find it for you, or is there a story behind it? It certainly is a perfect fit, and very appealing.

Michelle: Teaching the Cat to Sit is a real thing and also a metaphor. I was a lonely kid growing up and about the only friend I had was our cat, a long-haired Siamese/Himalayan mix, named Mittens. But, I wanted a dog. So I forced her to learn to sit and shake. She did all those things because she loved me, but she was never going to be a dog, and I should have accepted her for the awesome cat she was. Same thing with my mom wanting a certain kind of child, and getting me instead. On another layer, I’m the cat and I need to learn to sit still and accept who I am, instead of running from it. For the title, I got lucky. My agent and editor loved it and didn’t want to change it. The cover designer just found that photo. My agent and editor also loved it, but I needed some convincing. I thought it looked a bit too sad and maudlin. My book has some humor in it that the cover doesn’t convey. But in the end, I think they got it right. I think seeing that first cover shot they sent me just made it real and scary.

Michelle T old cat photo.jpg

Me: I bookmarked page 98 while I was reading. Because someone once said to me, well-meaningly I suppose, that for me to be hurt by what she was saying suggested I was giving her too much power over me. We’ve all heard the theory that no one can hurt you without your permission. But there’s a level at which that’s bullshit. And I said so. I said, “Imagine if I were to say to you, ‘Screw you. I don’t care about you.’ And then, when you looked hurt, said, ‘Well, if you choose to be offended by what I said…’” If nine out of ten people would be hurt by it, it’s probably hurtful, and if a good number of people find it offensive, it probably is. But there’s also a level at which there is truth to it. If someone is judging me, I can give up caring about their opinion. But it’s not absolute, and it can’t be done all at once, like throwing a switch. Okay, too late to make a long story short. Are you any more able, as a result of the way you’ve been judged, to, as they say, “consider the source” and feel less damaged?

Michelle: Nope. Rejection hurts, and no one is all bad or all good, which means it’s tough to dismiss anyone out of hand. I really don’t think people can control what they feel…that’s why they’re called feelings. It’s like a pain response if someone were to physically strike you. We can control what we do about those feelings, but not whether or not they come up for us. That said, my mom is the queen of saying things she doesn’t mean the minute she feels it, out of anger or an attempt to manipulate (probably both), but she does still love me. I can put up better boundaries or decide to sever the relationship altogether. Right now, we’re at the boundaries stage. I’d like to tell everyone with bad or mean things to say the same thing I tell my eight year old when he loses his verbal impulse control, “Please keep your words inside your mouth.”

Me: I’ve now received a hardcover copy with the most astonishing list of praise I think I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. Other than the fact that it’s a good book (in my opinion), how were you able to get so many people to weigh in? Or is this something your editor was able to accomplish? I ask the question because this blog is followed by a lot of writers, and I thought they’d be interested.

Michelle: It was a mixture of my asking and my editor and agent asking. I think the key is not to be shy and to simply ask. I wanted Jeanette Walls and Augusten Burroughs to blurb me, and sent a personal note with an advance copy to each of them. But they didn’t bite. I love their work, so I would have been over the moon to know that they had even read a paragraph of something I put on paper. But it didn’t happen, and that’s okay too. Piper Kerman (Orange is the New Black), Kelley Corrigan (Glitter and Glue) and Sara Corbett (A House in the Sky) were so generous with their praise for my book, and it was really humbling. I guess all new writers should know that almost every published writer was once in the same place you’re in, with their hat in their hands asking for blurbs for their books. Even J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Me: A quick note. I got the same kind of cold request from Augusten Burroughs, back before the release of Running With Scissors. I liked the book, but I figured most of my fan base, which was highly Pay-It-Forward-related at the time, would not. So I ultimately had to turn him down. Which further cements my feelings about the death of the blurb. (As with equality, I'm for it. The death, not the blurb.)

Now. I looked at your website to see if this was a debut. It seemed both that it is, and that your career in publishing is extensive. Will you tell my readers a little bit about your background?

Michelle: I’m currently the editor-in-chief of Alaska magazine, coming off a year with Backpacker [Me: I subscribe!] and Climbing magazines. I’ve been in publishing for 20 years, mostly with niche adventure sports and travel titles. I started Women’s Adventure magazine in 2003 for the 74 million women who participate in outdoor adventures and travel. I sold it in 2008 and continued to run it for the new owners through 2010. I stepped away to focus on writing Teaching the Cat to Sit. I actually wrote two “little” health and fitness books in 2007, but this is my first “real” book. Oh, and when the spirit moves me, I run writing and photography conferences   

Me: This is an unanswerable question. But, lucky you, I’m going to ask it anyway. What do we do about this mess? LGBT people want the same rights as everybody (myself included) and religious people want the religious freedom to reject those rights. And yet, as I’m fond of pointing out, freedom of religion also guarantees freedom from religion. Well, that’s easy for me to say, because I never tried to be accepted by a church. But back to the original question. How are we, as a society, ever going to box our way out of this paper bag? Are you confident about the future?

Michelle: You’re right that there is no answer, except maybe live and let live…agree to disagree. It’s weird to come back to what I tell my elementary school child, but here it is: You have the right to be angry, sad, indignant, or furious, but you don’t have the right to hurt me or others. We have the right to our feelings and beliefs, and we have many options if we don’t want others who are different from us to inhabit our space. If I don’t like the laws of this country, I can move to Canada. If the United States is too liberal, people can move to Uganda. I’m not asking to be married in the Catholic Church or for people who believe that being gay is wrong to change their minds. If you believe being gay is wrong and that it’s a choice, then don’t be gay. I can choose which tax-exempt church I belong to, one that accepts me and my family. But, I do pay my taxes and I am a US citizen, so because there is a separation of church and state, I expect to be afforded all the same rights as all US citizens. None of this is an answer. But I know for sure that hate and discrimination aren’t either.

I just read yesterday in the New York Times that conservatives have come out with a new study about how children raised by gay parents do in school and society. They are using this to fight against gay marriage in Michigan. The study seemed to focus less on gays and more on broken families of both kinds. I have to wonder what this means for the 400,000 kids languishing in foster care in the US, who have no parents or families at all. My partner and I are in the process of being recertified as foster parents seeking to adopt one or two more children for our family. Is being raised by us worse than having no family at all? Where’s the morality in that? And yes, I’m confident about the future. Progress is being made.

Me: Please ask your own question, and answer it.

Michelle: What happened to some of the people in your book? And, is your mother still speaking to you?

I’m working on my web site in giving updates on all the people in the book who readers might wonder about: Father Kos, Holly, Ann, and others. You’ll have to stay tuned regarding my mom and her reaction to the book. She has told me that she won’t read it, and I’m relieved. But, I have to be realistic that the shit will hit the fan and it’s only a matter of time. I have learned that I have a choice in whether or not to have her in my life and expose my son to her bouts of rage and condemnation. But I will always hope it doesn’t come to that. I also don’t want her to completely abandon me—because as I say in the book—who is the child whose mother cannot love her? It’s complicated. It always is.

An update to this blog and interview: Teaching the Cat to Sit is now available in paperback.

I received this cover image in an email from Michelle, with the message: "I’m attaching a copy of the paperback cover of Teaching the Cat to Sit, in case you want to comment on how much courage it takes to use your own gawky, childhood photo on your memoir. The paperback edition is out. Thought the attached, at the very least, would make you smile."  

It does. And my comment would be that it's brave, but it makes a very good cover. If you were waiting for a less expensive paper edition before giving the book a try, here's your opportunity. It's gotten terrific reviews.

Better Than Blurbs: Loren Kleinman and Indie Authors Naked

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the fifth post of the series. The author is really the editor in this case, though she is an author as well, with a second book of poetry due out this year. She is Loren Kleinman, and the book is Indie Authors Naked. Which you just know will lead to a good discussion on the state of independent publishing.  

Me: Let's jump right in. Loren, please tell my readers a little about the book.

Loren: Indie Authors Naked explores and defines the world of independent publishing. 

Comprised of a series of essays and interviews by indie authors, booksellers and publishers, readers will get a look at the many aspects of the indie community, where publishing professionals of all types come together with the simple goal of creating something unique; something that speaks directly to the reader, no middleman necessary.

Some of our contributors include James Franco, Hugh Howey, McNally Jackson Books, Sarah Gerard, OHWOW Books, Raine Miller, David Vinjamuri, Toby Neal, Rachel Thompson, Eden Baylee, Christoph Paul, Jessica Redmerski, Dan Holloway, Orna Ross and more.

Me: The thing I like best about this book is that it explodes myths about the new direction of publishing. And these are myths I’ve been trying to explode for a long time. (I guess I’m saying the thing I like best about this book is that it backs me up.)

I particularly like that you include an interview with a representative of a bookstore that has an Espresso Book Machine. This explodes two important myths at once. First, that the indie/digital revolution is synonymous with the end of paper books. Second, that it will put little independent bookstore out of business. Will you tell my readers more about this book printing machine and what you imagine for the future of the little bookstore?

Loren: The best way to describe the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) is that it offers Print On Demand (POD) publishing. What’s amazing about EBM is that it allows readers to access books that might have been out of print as well as have immediate access to various book titles. An author can send a PDF version of the book to the EBM operator and the machine binds and trims a paperback.  The idea of the EBM was that it could also fit into a small store, which would allow smaller shops or libraries to be able to offer quick and accessible print runs.

I think McNally Jackson said it best in their interview with IndieReader: “Independent bookstores are committed to bringing a wide variety of new and exciting books to their customers. As the technology grows and becomes more economically feasible, I would imagine not only bookstores but also libraries and universities introducing self-publishing programs.”

To add to that, bookstores will become much more than bookstores, they’ll become a user/reader experience so to speak. While Amazon will offer readers opportunities to discover new books and authors, bookstores will offer a complete reader/writer experience: reading clubs and events, self-publishing options, and individualized attention to readers’ tastes. I don’t foresee independent bookstores fading any time soon. If you’re like me, while I love ordering a book on Amazon, there’s something primal about pulling a book from a wooden shelf and curling up in a corner of the store with a coffee and getting lost. Independent bookstores will have to look to other ways to make money rather than just selling books. McNally Jackson is an excellent example of offering a reader experience from in-store events, to their EBM, book recommendations and online bookstore featuring EBM books and various other services. They’re an example of the future of independent bookstores. They do it their way and I love watching them evolve.

I consider reading a very intimate experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love eBooks; I also love my stack of paperbacks on my nightstand. 

Me: There are a number of different ways traditional book contracts can hurt authors, but to my mind maybe none more extreme than the fact that ebooks have freed us from the concept of “out of print.” In general this is a great thing, but when working with traditional publishers it often results in rights that never revert to the author. Do you think this is a big factor in why so many authors are reluctant to give Trad a try? Do you hear much mention of this when talking to indie authors? It seems to me a bit of a hidden trap, and maybe most authors are concerned with broader topics such as rate and speed of payment and artistic control. But it’s one drawback an author can’t eventually reverse. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.

Loren: OK. So there are two themes I notice when talking to indie authors about choosing to self publish:

1.     They want to have artistic control.

2.     They might want to get picked up by a large press (which does and/or might happen as a result of an author’s success).

And, to traditionally publish:

 1.     Distribution and marketing perks. Though, marketing is becoming more and more the author’s responsibility. 

I think the best way to go is hybrid. Traditionally publish and self publish. Why not? You experience the best of both worlds (pardon the cliché). But, seriously, as a hybrid author you can have creative control and you also get help with distribution. Some books you can choose to self publish, while others you might want to go the traditional route. Again, it’s the writer’s preference, but I think gaining perspective from both sides of the street make for a healthy authorial mix. Such a mix could allow authors to make more money, reach more readers, and allow for more cross promotion and networking.

Again, I always think it’s best never to pigeonhole yourself. Branch out. You have so much to gain from opening yourself up to various opportunities. The whole point, after all, is to write, is to create, is to share that creation. Otherwise, why do it? [Me: Note, as a decidedly hybrid author, I second that.]

Me: I’m wondering how much of a rift you see in the indie world between those who meticulously produce their books, such as hiring professional copyeditors, cover designers, and proofreaders, and those who feel that indie has finally freed them from the need to jump through those hoops. Do you have thoughts on this, and have you seen any public clashes on this subject break out?

Loren: I think finding a good editor is like dating. You have to find the right fit both emotionally and professionally. It’s so important to produce the best work you can. Now, everyone’s best varies. I’m a bit obsessed with producing the perfect book. But, really, is that possible?

I often see the misrepresentation or misunderstanding of the word “raw.” Raw does not equal a literary “mess.” Raw (to me) means the writing moves you to a feeling that is humane and basic. I don’t mean to say basic as simple, but basic in the way that it is from the earth, it is true to its own being, and that truth connects you to your truth.

There are too many books that lack copyediting, proper formatting, etc. It seems a rushed job. That is raw in the unfinished sense. Writing is a process. You can’t rush the process. If the book takes you three years then it takes you three years. If the book takes you three months then it takes you three months. If you rush the process readers will notice.

It took me seven years to write, edit and publish my second collection of poetry The Dark Cave Between My Ribs (Winter Goose Publishing). Indie Authors Naked took two years between the interviewing, editing, etc. My point is it’s called a process for a reason. If you rush it then you don’t trust it.

Essentially, my feeling is to always put out the best work you can. That should be a promise you make to yourself. It’s also the first rule of Write Club, or maybe that was to not talk about Write Club.

Me: I can’t help noticing that the schism between traditionally published authors and indie authors can be quite vitriolic at times. It’s easy to see how the sides line up: everybody is backing their own interests. That’s not necessarily bad, but only great fear could create such venom. Seems to me more choices can only be good. Do you have any theories on why we can’t all just get along?

Loren: Writers want readers. So naturally we’re battling for their attention. Though it sort of feels as if we’re raising our hands in a sea of raised hands.

I think I mentioned this in a previous question, but reading is an intimate experience. It’s up to the reader who they want to read. I respect that. It’s important to me that readers have the option of exploration.

This idea that indie is taking away from traditional publishing’s readers and vice versa is a bit self-indulgent. There are plenty of traditional books that I’d prefer not to read and the same goes for indie. But that’s my choice.

All I know is that the most professional writers have me hooked. The moment I see “bashing” I’m turned off. I think some writers kill their careers before they happen by becoming venomous.

Writers could get so much more from the publishing experience by cross-promoting such as connecting with readers you might not have gotten as a traditional or indie author. You never (never) know how things play out.  Sometimes by letting go of control we can experience a much more heightened, more enjoyable reader-author connection.

Me: Other than reading this book, which I think would be excellent advice, what advice would you give to an indie author just starting out—or to an author who is still weighing publishing paths?

Loren: Stop worrying about publishing. Think about your book first. Write the best one you can.

Writing a book is one of the hardest, most grueling things you can chose to do. And it is a choice.

Write the best book you can. When you’re done, do your research. Review your options. I spent months reviewing publishing houses. Not every publishing house will be interested in what your writing, specifically genre and topic. Take your time and interview editors and formatters and ask for references.

But besides all of that, focus on the craft. Focus on improving your writing. I mean I never met a writer that got worse.

I’ll leave it at this: “Your job as a writer is making sentences…most of the sentences you make will need to be killed. The rest will need to be fixed. This will be true for a long time” (Verlyn Klinkenborg).

Me: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?

Loren: My second poetry collection, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, will be out in 2014 via Winter Goose Publishing. I started writing the poetry collection back in 2004 and finally hunkered down to re-write most of the collection this past year. The book is about love and loss, but also about letting go and being open to love, again. The book was primarily inspired by a traumatic experience I went through in 2003, I started writing the book as a way to heal. The process of writing resembles the process of grief in way. In as sense I went through the emotions, explored the sadness through writing, and through revision found a new voice, found new possibilities to live again. While I wrote the book as a way to heal, the book is not just about healing, love and loss are part of the human condition; they are real and raw experiences. Death is part of life, love is part of life, and loss is natural as well as the process of grief. I wanted to write a book that celebrated life, celebrated loss, and love.

I’m also writing a New Adult literary romance novel This Way To Forever. The novel explores how young people deal with love and ambition and the choices that come with each.  Other themes the novel explores are choosing romantic love over security, love as an ideology, and long distance love/dealing with long distance relationships. I’m still working on revisions, and hope to be done with a solid draft to submit for publication by February 2014.

Me: Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog, Loren! 

Better Than Blurbs: Elizabeth's Landing by Katy Pye

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the fourth post of the series. The author is Katy Pye, and the book is Elizabeth’s Landing.

Me: Katy, please tell us, in your own words, as much as you care to about Elizabeth’s Landing.

Katy: Short answer:

“A classic girl-meets-turtle story, well told.” Christie Olsen Day, Gallery Bookshop

Long, “beware of asking the artist for meaning” answer:

I started Elizabeth’s Landing knowing zilch about writing a novel. I’m prone to map and think things out, but everything I read warned against setting up themes to define characters or tell the story. Just write. I did. And didn’t need to look back until you asked the question. It turned into a voyage of rediscovery.

Bits from Gary Snyder’s essays in The Practice of the Wild kept popping up as I rooted around for a way to talk here about “meaning” instead of plot. His insights inspired my early thinking, but thankfully disappeared during the long writing process. Re-reading the collection last week I found that rather than having forgotten, I had internalized these Snyder touchstones.

  • nature (the wild “in us” and “out there” are not truly separate)
  • home and family (the “hearth” we leave in order to learn, returning to sing as “elders”)
  • community (the local, but also larger “cosmic family”)
  • grace (living and acting out of our true place in the whole)

These frames both hold and expand the story. They drive the action, deepen the stakes, and cement character roles and reactions. Elizabeth instinctively gets it. She’s grown up in nature around Picketts Pond, been warmed by family and community fires. The move to Texas blows this world apart, forcing her to travel uncharted lands. Once loose, her need to restore but also widen her definition of place ignites every impulse. She has no choice but to challenge the story bullies—Grandpa, Pete, Larry Wilkes—and draw from strong allies—Grandma, Maria, Tom, even Becca. But this is no hero conquering evil scenario. Elizabeth engenders the widest opportunity for redemption—the antidote to loss.

All the main characters, including the environment, have been undone by design, circumstance, or accident. Through Snyder’s prism, the story asks what happens when we lose or abandon our individual and collective center? Do we reach out to connect or lash out to divide? Do we run, or stay put to battle things through? Some characters, like Grandma climb back from despair, others, like Elizabeth’s father and Grandpa deny and struggle to stay afloat, a few, like Larry Wilkes, drown. Elizabeth sings at the campfire, beckoning us home.

“Nature is not a place to visit, it is home…” -Gary Snyder, “The Etiquette of Freedom”

Me: Still glad I asked. I was surprised when I began reading the materials surrounding the book, for example the info on your Amazon author page. It never occurred to me that you researched for the book. I assumed you had a background in marine life, shrimping, the Gulf. (That’s a compliment.) If it’s not from your own experience, what made you choose these elements?

Katy: Thanks. The core story elements pull from my experience, especially the activism parts. But I figured a novel around gravel mining (see next question) lacked an audience, and pairing kids with animals is a natural portal to exploring environmental and social issues. Sea turtles are such engaging, iconic creatures and, like their ocean habitats, face life-threatening challenges. As an information junkie, research ranks second only to my chocolate addiction.

Me: I know you have a strong environmental background, but will you tell my readers a little bit about it?

Katy: Summers in the redwoods were an antidote to anxieties I felt as a kid. My relationship with nature was strictly personal and a refuge until my early 30s.

In the 1980s, that view shifted. A friend convinced me to join the fight to stop gravel mining on a neighborhood stream. Water levels in a critical aquifer were dropping. Stream bank erosion was peeling off expensive farmland. Suddenly, my “nature” wasn’t out there, taking care of itself; it was under attack in my backyard. Deeply entrenched factions killed productive discussion.

Our group hired a geographer, a respected mining consultant from the University of Ontario to discuss options, mainly to prove us right. Instead, he blew apart the narrow frameworks dominating all sides in the debate. He agreed, get mining out of the creek, but added, mining won’t stop. The off-channel floodplain held most of the remaining premium-quality gravel in northern California. Society runs on—demands—resources, he said, but consumers and the mining companies should pay the true price. Including all environmental and social costs. Instead of the two cents a ton county fee, a dollar would be more equitable. Mining companies should resurface roads damaged by their trucks, plus and devise reclamation plans that restored, even added value to the land and for wildlife.

Ten years of draining, yet inspiring work on the mining issue set my environmental passion. The geographer’s big-picture concepts “re-channeled” my future. I wanted to learn how to help people talk about environmental issues, to better articulate the problems and solutions. My next chapter included returning to U.C. Davis and graduating at 42 with a major in natural resources and communication.

Hired by the Yolo County Resource Conservation District, I completed my move from combatant to facilitator. For decades agricultural practices on individual farms and ranches degraded soil and water supplies throughout our model watershed. Our innovative grant proposals funded integrated fixes on demonstration farms and ranches. Farmers built sediment ponds, returning soil to the land instead of sending it downstream. Native plant hedgerows and grassed irrigation canals and roadsides gave new homes to wildlife and beneficial insects. They also reduced or eliminated erosion and pesticide use. In the hills, ranchers planted native grasses with many times the soil-holding capacity of annual weed species. Herd management systems controlled gully erosion. We won awards and the practices were copied within the state and beyond.

My environmental background began in meeting an emotional need, then moved to feeling powerless against the odds. The more involved I became, the bigger the issues and stakes, but the more I grew. I learned to be a team player. And when I had to tackle the narrative structure and the issues in Elizabeth’s Landing, I was ready.

Me: Your book touched on two issues close to my heart. One is the environment, and the way all of life is interconnected. And the foolishness of thinking we can do damage to the earth—drive a species to extinction, for example—and it won’t come back to bite us. The other is the way the political process works. And in my experience it’s definitely true at the local as well as national level. Money interests are served, the environment is sacrificed, individual constituents are kept in the dark as much as possible. It’s nice to see a fictional triumph, but in real life, do you think there’s a way out of this bind? Are you optimistic?

Katy: Ah, finally the novelist controls the world.

Sadly, your experience is widespread. Big money has nullified political judgment, gutting financial and environmental laws and crippling enforcement agencies. We know the nature of that beast, the real rub is (back to the gravel mining issue) we’re part of it. My life expectations of what I “deserve” stress the big E environment. They either contribute to the conflicts, ensure the status quo, or make things worse. Corporate and political greed and short-sightedness are rampant, but I think we hold many more cards to the future than we realize. It’s a complex responsibility, but we’re here to help each other. Business can’t stay in business without customers and I’m trying, in my own ways, to act on that power. I’m also starting to shift a key aspect of how I think about and interpret the “bad news.”

The media lavishes attention on the bad actors. That’s good because we need and should demand to know. Bad news without balance ramps up despair. Yet every day untold numbers of quiet, dedicated people worldwide walk the line, do the science, share tasks, spread the word, stand up for animals, plants, air and water, and support others in astounding ways. Some receive death threats, some are shouted down or ignored, others are hauled off to jail for peaceful protests. Their stories and example are powerful. The kids heroically working to bring about change completely blow me away. When I get down-spirited over what’s happening, I re-read their stories or write them into my blog (or into a novel). If we greatly intensify our focus on what’s working as we move forward, I believe the ranks for change will swell. Previously uninvolved, even uninformed people, will feel empowered to act.

Scientific evidence commanding change is expanding. The public is waking up, thanks to publicity on issues like climate change, Fukushima, ocean health, the BP (et al) catastrophe, plastic pollution, and now fracking disasters. Education is critical and the Internet is a powerful tool for mobilizing and unifying constituents. We’re not close to a package of solutions, but despite, perhaps because of industry and political blow-back, our collective voice is amplifying. Will our overloaded ship turn around in time? No one knows. The life we’ve known is changing. It’s in our nature to survive and more and more oars are hitting the water.

Me: I liked the fact that there was a lot more going on than just the turtles. Family backstory, a new friend with a disability, tough characters like the grandfather who became many-faceted as the tale went on. So, this was your first novel. How did you pull this off? Did you have intricate outlines? Keep your research in special ways? Or did you find you were able to do all of the layers of the story “by feel”? Or is this the first novel you’ve published, but you’ve written many?

Katy: This is my first work of fiction over fifteen pages. I wrote “by feel” until I hit the oatmeal of the middle chapters. An early critic kept saying, “where’s the conflict, where’s the tension?” Drove me nuts! I had to get off my ego and figure it out. Robert McKee’s book, Story, was an invaluable resource for that. Paraphrasing, “People say it all the time, ‘I like to write, love stories, vacation’s coming up, I think I’ll write a novel.’ No one would ever say, “I love music, I think I’ll write a symphony.” Oh, silly me. The writing shifted to studying how to write a novel, what makes good story-telling. That included reading lots of kids novels, mapping storylines, figuring out what I liked and didn’t in others’ books, and why. Re-write, rinse and repeat.

I worked in critique groups (invaluable) and yes, I used complicated charts. Everything was at the mercy of the sea turtles’ hatching schedule—all logged on a calendar and chapter action outline. A sea turtle vet helped verify wounds, illnesses, and procedures. I was fortunate to have technical support and a few story ideas from several of the world’s top turtle conservationists. A renowned Texas shrimper-turned-environmental and social activist corrected my fishing techniques. My second draft was almost finished when the oil spill hit in April 2010. It had to go in the story. I went to Texas that summer to ground truth parts of the story and see the first Kemp’s ridley hatchling release from Padre Island National Seashore, the most important nesting beach for the species in the U.S.  It was bitter-sweet.

I had wonderful teacher/editors along the way, all gifted writers who helped me push the story wider and deeper. “By feel” came back after I’d created the world, asked “what if,” and listened to “it gets worse,” over and over. I knew enough about my characters to finally leave them alone and hear their voices over mine. They polished it up.

Me: When you decided to tell this story, what made you choose a young adult protagonist/audience?

Katy: Kids, especially around Elizabeth’s age, are stretching out, looking for measures of who they are and want to be. It’s a challenging ride, the road between innocence and adulthood. Thirteen to sixteen remain my most difficult years.

The world is a much more complex and conflicted place than when I was a teen.

From the genres and stories young adults gravitate to, it seems many are at war with their futures. Perhaps we all are. I wanted a story that says it’s okay to reach out (what I couldn’t imagine at fourteen). Maybe some of the struggle will ease, and maybe not just for you. What you do follows you. Bit-by-bit you’ll find your way. Turns out, adults are connecting with the story, too.

Me: Since this is a debut, please tell us what you have planned for the future.

Katy: I have story ideas mulling about, but no concrete plans. As an indie author and publisher, I’m trying to get a grip on how to sail Elizabeth’s story out as far as possible. The most fun, and an invigorating break from writing, is connecting with readers and booksellers, getting feedback, support, and hearing others’ stories. A double chocolate hit.

Me: Please ask your own question, and answer it.

Katy: Have you said enough?

More than. Maybe needed more jokes.

Okay, no wait, a plea: For holidays, anniversaries, or anytime consider “adopting” a sea-turtle through one of the world’s fabulous turtle rescue and conservation organizations. Give, if you can, to your favorite wildlife fund or to groups supporting education and activism toward a healthier world.

And don’t celebrate with balloons or sky lanterns. Visit to find out why. Main character, us. Story problem: environmental trash, dead animals, and a rare and disappearing noble gas.

A portion of Elizabeth’s Landing’s book sale profits supports sea turtle conservation.

Thank you, Catherine.

Me: Thank you. I want to mention to my readers that the paperback is 40% off at CreateSpace until December 15th. Use code: B9GBX97Y at checkout. E-books are also discounted at Kindle, Kobo, and Nook. That should make it extra tempting for you to give this one a try. And don't forget the turtles benefit from each sale.

You can learn more about Katy at her website and blog, follow her on Facebook, or check out her YouTube channel.

You can also learn more about the Yolo County fight to stop gravel mining and click this link about added value to the land and for wildlife.

Hope you'll give this one a try.

Better Than Blurbs: The Other Man: 21 Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity & Moving On

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I'm launching a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the third post of the series. The author is really the editor in this case, though he is very much an author. He is my friend Paul Alan Fahey, and the book is The Other Man: 21 Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity & Moving On

Let's jump right in. Paul, please tell my readers a little about the book.

Paul: The Other Man: 21 Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity, & Moving On is a collection of personal essays by and about gay men and their relationships. Several of our most acclaimed writers, many Lambda award winners and finalists, relate their experiences being the other man, suffering the other man or having their relationships tested by infidelity. The book represents a three-year labor of love and was designed as the “gay” companion to Victoria Zackheim’s wonderful anthology, The Other Woman. And to accentuate more positives, a portion of the profits will benefit the It Gets Better Project, a charity near and dear to all of our hearts.

One of our contributors designed a very intriguing one minute video that can be viewed HERE.

The essays in The Other Man are varied in tone, voice and writing style. These examples will give you an idea of how a few writers tackled the topic of infidelity:

Glen Retief, in his early thirties and living in Spain with the man he believed was “the love of his life,” experiences the ultimate betrayal when he confronts his lover’s deception head on in “The Rival With a Thousand Faces.” 

Mark Canavera, while working for a large international organization in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), discovers that men, gay or straight in that culture, would never think of divulging an indiscretion to their partners. Telling would be viewed as an insult. In “Complicity,” we discover, as expected, that other man troubles are universal in scope. 

Perry Brass responds to an intriguing letter from a married—soon to be separated—fan in “A Pitiless Love” and finds himself sucked into an “emotional vacuum” that threatens his mental and physical health.  

Erik Orrantia is in a committed relationship when he falls out of love with his partner. Unable to make a clean break, Erik invites his new lover to move in with the unhappy couple. We learn from “Ballad Echoes” the importance of honesty, especially in matters of the heart, and that triangles are best left to the study of geometry.

David Pratt’s partner juggles two other men on the side while pursuing his dream of becoming a professional actor in the Big Apple. In “Way Off,” Mr. Pratt offers a personal tour of the Great White Way and points out the traps and pitfalls for those seeking fame and adulation on the Broadway stage. 

In “Husbands,” Austin Bunn looks back on his thirties in Louisville, Kentucky. Loneliness leads him to a succession of liaisons with married men: a chief researcher at a public health office, the boss of an automotive business, a lawyer, a pastor and a professor at a Christian college. Somehow, there is always an abundant and available supply.

Even with an excellent agent and with what many considered a well-written book proposal, The Other Man didn’t happen over night. It took a year-and-a-half to land a publisher and by the time the book contract was signed, I’d gone through nearly two different contributor lists—Many of my writers thought the book wasn’t happening and went on to other projects. As you can see, The Other Man finally happened, and it’s thanks to JM Snyder of JMS Books for believing in the book’s concept. You can read more about The Other Man on my website.

Me: I remember something you said as we were corresponding about the anthology. You said, “Pretty explicit here and there but I’m very proud of it.” I’m interested in the “but.” Of course, explicit content is neither right nor wrong, but the “but” suggests you might have a mild discomfort with it. Which I completely understand. When one of my books with sexual content goes out there (like the reissue of Funerals for Horses) I find myself thinking of the wide range of people who will read it and feeling uneasy about what some will think. Care to speak to this at all?

Paul: This is the first time I’ve attempted anything like this LGBT anthology. I write mainly short stories and nonfiction/memoir and have written relatively nothing about my life as a gay man until recently. Given my ten years apprenticeship editing a college literary journal, Mindprints—now sadly defunct—and online critiquing in a flash fiction workshop for many years, I had the confidence needed for the technical aspect of the book, but the content was another matter. 

In May 2012, I had the great good fortune to find a wonderful LGBT publisher, J M Snyder of JMS Books who liked my first novella The View from 16 Podwale Street and published it as an e book. Podwale Street was my first venture into LGBT lit, and I was completely surprised when the book won a 2012 Rainbow Award; both events encouraged me to attempt more semi-autobiographical novellas over the past year and gave me the confidence to be more honest in my writing. Most wonderful things in my life have come about mainly by chance and without any pre planning on my part: running off to Africa in my early twenties as a Peace Corps volunteer and staying nearly five years in Ethiopia; going on for advanced education degrees; and of course, meeting the wonderful anthologist, Victoria Zackheim, at the Central Coast Writer’s Conference who encouraged me to edit the “gay” companion to her very successful anthology, The Other Woman.

So getting back to the “but” in my statement, I think there’s still a part of that Irish Catholic kid from the 1950’s inside me who became adept at hiding who he really was. Some old habits are hard to shake. They hang around longer than they should even when you think you’ve overcome them. I guess at my advanced age, I still have some work to do in letting down my guard and being me.

Me: One thing that struck me as I was reading the book was the difference between how men approach sex, as opposed to women. I think this is somewhat masked in heterosexual relationships, because the man often wants to meet his female partner halfway. With two men, it can just be what it is. And yet I also see in the book that emotional level where—no matter how much you might view sex openly or casually—the mind has a heart of its own and tends to get involved. Any thoughts on this? Do you picture this book crossing over to a female readership?

Paul: I think there is just as much variance in gay relationships as there is in straight ones, especially when sex is concerned. To be honest when I was reading the essays for the first time, I was struck by how easily I could envision several of my straight friends relating the same kinds of episodes in their lives: casual hookups and one night stands; open marriages that both thought worked but often didn’t; being married to someone you viewed as “the love of your life” only to discover a partner’s infidelity or having been drawn themselves at one time or another to someone outside the relationship; and relationships that endured in spite of the ups and downs and those that faded. Several of my female friends have read The Other Man and have said they see parallels in straight relationships. Whether they’re talking about themselves or others I have no idea, but even reviewers have pointed this out. Lisa Horan of The Novel Approach wondered if  “monogamy was a natural human state, or if it a was a concept which sounds lovely in poetic theory but is not practical in the reality of interpersonal relationships?” I don’t think you can get more universal than that. So yes, I do believe the book does have crossover appeal to a female readership.  

Me: I once (co)edited an anthology, though it never found its way into print. But I know there’s a lot involved when you’re interfacing with so many different personalities. And a writer’s ego tends to thread through each work. Can you tell us about your editing experience? Any good stories? Ever feel like you were herding cats? 

Paul: I think I was incredibly lucky with the professional level of the writers I worked with on The Other Man project. Being an editor as well as a writer, I tried to be sensitive to the issues I faced when my work was edited for journals and anthologies. Did I spell the writer’s name correctly? Is the contributor bio up-to-date? Did I fiddle too much or intrude on the writer’s voice or style? Did I respect the writer’s wishes when he disagreed with my suggestion(s)? Along the way I discovered that, for me at least, my job as an editor was to make suggestions but not to push my opinions and just get out of the writer’s way. I hope I succeeded. JMS Books also has a staff of incredible editors—I’ve worked with several over the past year—and I felt that they as well respected the writer’s voice and writing style. 

So as far as stories go, I don’t think there are any memorable ones to share related to The Other Man; however, I had tons of problems with some of the writers who submitted their work to Mindprints—mainly issues relating to the professional side of submitting work for publication. In most cases these issues centered around submissions that could best be described as first drafts; thankfully, I was doubly blessed that this didn’t happen with The Other Man, and again this was due to the highly professional nature of the writers I worked with. 

Me: We are both of a certain age, and I know we both remember when LGBT…well, anything…was less openly discussed. (And, when it was, was called something far less P.C.) Can you reflect a little on how much has changed in your lifetime? Are there moments in history, such as the progress in marriage equality, that you didn’t think you’d live to see? 

Paul: I’d have to say that almost everything that’s happening now I never thought I’d live to see. As I mentioned earlier, growing up on the San Francisco Peninsula in my teens and early adulthood in the 1950’s, and before I left for Peace Corps, I lived a fairly closeted life. I’d had plenty of encounters and one that almost turned into a relationship but at that time, I was too immature and afraid to follow through on my feelings, especially given the climate of the times. When I returned from overseas in late 1972, and arrived home in the San Francisco area, I was amazed how much the social climate had changed. I’d missed Stonewall, most of the early stages of Gay Lib and hadn’t even heard of Mart Crowley’s amazing play and film, The Boys in the Band. It was like another kind of culture shock: one related to my “re-entry” to the states, and the other to the gay liberation that was going on all around me. 

I was very wild with the sexual freedom of the 1970’s—well, wild for me. I met my partner, Bob, in Santa Cruz and began a long and wonderful relationship with him in the mid-1970’s. Then AIDS struck and we lost nearly all of our friends. We both retreated from the gay scene. My mother was dealing with the last stages of ovarian cancer and I was emotionally a mess for most of the 1980’s. We moved back east in the early 1990’s and lived in a very small, isolated area in upstate New York where I taught college. Isolated, out of the mainstream and with very little contact with gay friends. Sound familiar? To be honest, looking back I can’t recall any gay friends during that time. The late 1990’s brought us back to California, for another teaching position. We’re still not very involved today in the gay social world around San Luis Obispo, other than for my LGBT novella writing and the writer friends I’ve met along The Other Man trail. I hope somehow this will change, but at the back of my mind, I wonder if it might be a bit too late. Age has a way of cementing you in your ways, so the jury is still out on that one. We’ll just have to see what develops.  

Me: I always close with this: Please write your own question, and answer it. 

Paul: I have a lot of important questions, mostly relating to our health, but none I would dare write about. (Catholic guilt strikes again as well as the pessimism I was brought up with: “Sing before breakfast, cry before dinner,” so I’ll leave those concerns alone.)

1. Right now I’m wondering if I’m doing all I can to promote The Other Man, especially since so many wonderful writers are involved as well as the It Gets Better Project? 

2. I’m also in the final lap of finishing the first draft of my WIP and wondering if I’ll ever finish it?  But that’s two questions.

The answer to both: I only hope I can. 

Me: Please visit Paul at his website at

Better Than Blurbs: An Altered Existence by Melody M. Nuñez

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I'm launching a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the second post of the series. The author is Melody M. Nuñez and the book is An Altered Existence.

Let's Get started. 

Me: Melody, please tell us, in your own words, as much as you care to about An Altered Existence.

Melody: An Altered Existence is a collection of 14 illustrated short stories.  Each story is illustrated with a vintage photo that I "altered", and each photo is directly linked to the story somehow.  Some stories are set in the present - some in the past.  And though the stories are all quite different, they're connected: through the vintage photo illustrations and through the universal feelings and experiences of the characters.  

A few story highlights from the book’s back cover:

  • A photo of a bearded man with haunted eyes is paired with a silver key, and a story of a family with hoarding tendencies emerges.
  • A wedding portrait of a young couple, combined with a gold wedding band and the words “false” and “true”, yields a tale about a gentle schoolteacher who sets her small town’s rumor mill on fire when she poses for a photo with a local scoundrel, though they’re not engaged, or married.
  • A young girl’s portrait, when paired with vintage buttons, births a story that many can relate to: loss, and the subsequent struggle to feel whole again.

Love, loss, birth, death, personal growth, salvation, and self-acceptance are just a few of the things the characters experience.

To give you a little bit of the back story, An Altered Existence is a combination of two things I'm passionate about: writing and art.  I've been an avid reader since I was a child, have always love to write, and started working as a visual artist in college.  I find myself drawn to vintage photos and objects, and started collecting vintage photos in earnest approximately eight years ago.  Their untold stories fascinated me.  Who were the people in these photos?  How had their photos ended up for sale in flea markets and antique stores?  

Since I'd never have the true answers to my questions, I invented my own answers.  Sometimes the photo alone sparked my imagination and prompted the story, and sometimes it was the combination of the photo with an object – like an old buttonhook or a pocketknife – that drew the story out.  The photos I used are known as cabinet cards, and they were popular in the late 1800s and very early 1900s.   

Me: How long ago did you find that your imagination was going to work on these old photos? Was there a time when you wondered about these people, even daydreamed little stories about them, but hadn’t yet considered that a work of fiction might result?

Melody: I first purchased vintage photos at an antique store back in my third year of college - way before I had any inkling of what to do with them.  They just got to me and drew me in.  I think my first official foray into combining vintage photos with some sort of story was in 2006 when I created a “Fictitious Family Album” project that was published by a paper arts magazine.  I combined vintage snapshots with captions, and added decorative elements.  An Altered Existence is the same basic concept, but on a grander scale.  The idea that I should create a collection of stories based on this concept didn’t materialize until 2007 – it was a pleasant surprise.

Me: I know from your blog that you are a very creative person, and very…it will sound strange to say “creatively creative” but your imagination regarding the different ways to utilize creativity is always a pleasant surprise. Is this the first time you’ve combined two different types of creative processes, or have their been other such projects?

Melody: “Creatively creative” has a nice ring to it.  Thank you!  My blog post topics include art, crafts, recipes, photography, travel, and ethnic market write ups, so I tend to think of my blog as the ultimate place to mix and match creative processes.  Not only am I writing and taking virtually all the photos on the site, often times I’m actually creating a project or some other “deliverable” to feature, whether it’s a batch of muffins, greeting cards made from beautiful paper scraps, or a haiku illustrated with a photo I’ve taken. In addition, much of my visual art incorporates text.  For example, my collages often feature text.  I’m also an art journaler.  Art journaling, or visual journaling, combines visual art with the written word, and it’s the perfect medium for me.


Me: What was your background in writing, if any, before you began An Altered Existence?

Melody: I started writing when I was a young girl.  I always excelled in English in school and was torn when it came to selecting a major in college.  I was drawn to both creative writing and to art, but ended up getting my major in art.  Most of my publishing credits thus far have been in art and crafting publications, where I’ve had several articles published.  An Altered Existence is my first significant piece of fiction.


Me: Talk a little bit about your path to publication, and your decision to bring this out independently.

Melody: It’s been a long road to publication, that’s for sure!  I wrote the stories in late 2007, put them aside for a few years, and then started working on them again in 2010.  I cleaned them up, had some folks read them, and then started querying agents.  

By the time 2010 came to a close I’d been rejected by approximately 20 agents, including one I met with in person that really loved the project.  The problem?  Publishers don’t buy short story collections from unknowns.  You either have to be a famous author and/or a celebrity, and I’m neither.  (Me: Note, publishers usually don't buy story collections from "knowns." I'm bringing two out independently after years of waiting.) 

Because self-publishing was still viewed as being a bit “sketchy” in 2010 I put the project aside again.  It wasn’t until November of last year that I decided to self-publish this collection as a present to myself for my 40th birthday (coming up in May).  So the decision was really made for me in this case, but I’m pleased with how things are working out.


Me: Will you tell my readers more about your blog and your projects? Maybe specifically (but not limited to) your projects involving getting art supplies to students?

Melody: Ooh, I’d love to talk about my ongoing passion project: the Bits & Pieces Art Program!  I bring art journaling instruction and supplies to at-risk public school children, to help nurture their creativity and to help them cope with life’s challenges in a positive way.


I gather donations and art supplies, and determine how many classrooms I can teach.  I provide each student with a blank journal and a packet of art supplies when I first visit their class.  I teach in the early part of their school year, and then return to the class during the last month of school for an art journal show – to see what they’ve created and to celebrate their artistic accomplishments!  This year I gathered enough supplies for three classrooms of students.

My mission is to provide as many children as I can with art journaling instruction and supplies.  Not only does this program nurture their creativity and provide art instruction that would otherwise be missing because of curriculum and budget constraints, art journaling also helps get the children excited about their overall educational experience.

And, perhaps most importantly, art journaling gives the children a constructive way to express themselves and process the world around them.  This is particularly important for these at-risk students, who are sometimes facing the effects of poverty, abuse, neglect, exposure to gangs and drugs, and absent parents.  I know that art and writing have the power to strengthen, nourish, and heal, and hope to plant a love for art journaling and creative self-expression in the lives of as many children as I can.  

I accept donations year-round. If folks would like to help the children receive art supplies they can contact me via my personal website or via the program website.

Me: Okay, I have to do this. I can’t resist. Please tell my readers about the bunnies. (Some long-time readers of this blog may remember they had their own More Bunny post.)

Melody: Gladly!  Cypress, our female rabbit, is the white one.  Pinto, our male rabbit, is the spotted one. We adopted from the local animal shelter.  They arrived at the shelter separately, and were bonded at the shelter.  We adopted them on March 20, 2010, and just celebrated our three-year "bunny-versary" with Cypress and Pinto.


I'd never had a pet rabbit before, but had wanted one since I was a teen.  So, when hubby saw an ad in the local community magazine saying that rabbits make good apartment pets we ended up checking it out.  I had no idea that rabbits could be litter box trained, but they can - hurray!  So here we are, with two little bun buns in our apartment.  They bring us joy, laughter, occasional exasperation, whisker kisses, and lots of love.   We're not sure of their exact ages, but think they're around 4 or 5-years old.

They have distinct personalities. Cypress, also known as "The Brute Squad" (from The Princess Bride), is pretty feisty, and can be a bit of a bulldozer - especially at mealtime.  Hubby was semi-reluctant to adopt a white rabbit with pink eyes, because of the killer rabbit in Monty Python's Holy Grail, but so far she hasn't gone for the jugular.  ;)  Some of her other nicknames include Plumpie (from "Love Actually"), Plumpita, and Plump-a-doodle-doo.

Pinto is very easy-going, but has his feisty moments too - he's our sprinter.  We think he's half dwarf, half English Spot.  They both love banana, but banana is truly like "Bunny Crack" for Pinto - he goes nuts when it's near.  He actually twitches from excitement - well, his back/coat does.  :)  His spots slay me, especially the bit of black on the end of his tail.  Pinto, named after the bean, is also known as Pinto Bean and Pinto Monster.  

We love them so!


Me: Anything else you want to say about the book (or anything else)?  

Melody: Yes.  I’d like to thank you for interviewing me and for sharing An Altered Existence with your readers!  It’s always a pleasure to connect with you, and I appreciate your support.  


Please give Ella and Jordan scratches for me!

Me: Will do, and thanks for visiting the blog.  


Better Than Blurbs: Out by Laura Preble

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I'm launching a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the first post of the series. The author is Laura Preble, and the book is OUT. Which I'd like to announce is FREE for Kindle, but today only. So read the interview, and if it sounds like your kind of book, go grab a copy. 

Laura, will you start by telling us about OUT in your own words?

Laura: The Nature of OUT  

My new novel, OUT, was born in a manger. 

Well, not exactly. It was more like a mountain lodge, with a fireplace and a cocktail bar. But it was out in the middle of nowhere. I think there were farm animals in the vicinity. I know for a fact that there was a stuffed bear on the porch. 

I had gone to a writing conference where the goal was to work on novels intensively. I was so fired up about this—as a high school teacher with two kids, I barely had time to go to the bathroom by myself let alone write. But of course, on the first day the electrical current in the quaint mountain cabin zapped my laptop, and that was that. 

I took to the lodge to drown my sorrows in Pinot Grigio. I took a yellow legal pad along for company, figuring I'd draw uncomplimentary doodles about the universe. Instead, I got the idea for OUT.

It popped into my head as an iconic image of the parallel and perpendicular symbols. In my book, Parallels are same-sex couples, and they are the ruling class, the government, and the church combined. Their symbol is two sets of parallel lines formed into a cross. The Perpendiculars are opposite-sex couples, a small minority. However, because of strict political and social controls, the Parallels have criminalized the opposite-sex couples. Chris Bryant, a minister's son, discovers that he is Perpendicular, in love with a girl. He has to decide whether he should remain faithful to what he has been taught by his church and his society, or follow his heart and risk imprisonment and possibly death. 

I've already had hate mail about this book, and it's not even out yet. People read the description and decide I'm a gay-basher, which is as far from the truth as you can get. I've been a Gay-Straight Alliance advisor for nearly twenty years, my own son is gay, and I've worked for PFLAG, GLSEN, and many other groups. This book is not about anything except love. It's a love story, just as the story of same-sex couples in our country is a love story. 

My goal was to give people who are in the lucky majority, the opposite-sex couples, a glimpse of what it would be like to be told that who you are and whom you love is deviant and unacceptable. LGBT people live every day with discrimination, both subtle and direct. I've seen it happen at my school, with my son, and with other people less close to home. I've done research; there are still people who believe in reconditioning LGBT people, or "praying the gay away." This isn't fiction or far-fetched. It exists. There are people who still believe that aversion therapy is the way to go, that psychological torture will "heal" people of their "addiction" to their same-sex attraction. 

The world of OUT is, of course, fictional. It is heightened reality. Our society does not physically imprison people for being LGBT. But in many subtle ways, the system does imprison them. People are still beaten, killed, ostracized, and disowned for being gay. I know students in my high school GSA who cannot be in the yearbook picture because if their parents found out, they'd be without a place to live. 

So, I suppose people who read the book will have lots of reactions to it, but at the core, I meant it to be a love story between two people whom society did not see as acceptable. Love is love. No matter what anyone else says or thinks, I know that is the message of my book.

Me: I think you’ll find that when people start reading the book, any idea that you are gay-bashing will disappear. Your message is quite obvious from the start: that it’s pointless and wrong to persecute people for who they love. Now the question is, are you ready for the second kind of hate messages? The ones that tell you how horrible you are for trying to teach their kids that it’s wrong to persecute people for who they love?

Laura: Hate messages do not bother me. I’ve been a GSA advisor for more than 20 years, and have had to live with persecution on my own school campus from administrators and parents who think it’s wrong to teach kids to love who they are. I do wish people would read it before judging it, though. I’ve already had really nasty, spiteful messages from people who haven’t even read one page of the book. 

Me: This is a concept that’s bound to open a lot of discussion. What would be the best thing you can see coming from that dialogue?

Laura: The absolute best outcome for me would be for people to honestly admit that being gay is not a choice. Also, I think that love is to be honored, and I hope that comes through in the book. Tolerance is not enough. LGBT people must be honored and appreciated as people. It makes me ill that I know my own son, who is gay, may not be able to marry in this country, a place that is supposed to stand for freedom. 

Me: This is not a complaint, by any means, but I found that I wished the same-sex people in the book hadn’t had to take on the characteristics of right-wing Christian Republicans. I know they had to (and I was pleased to see, as I read on, that many didn’t) otherwise the comparison would have been lost…I guess my question is, do you think it’s possible for human beings to be part of a majority without turning into oppressors? (In life, I mean. In fiction I know there has to be conflict.)

Laura: I wanted to make the Parallels in the book righteous, but not evil. In our world, the  people who think they are fighting God’s fight in this issue believe with all their hearts that they are right. It was necessary to portray the absolute conviction that people like David (the main character’s father) have to their cause, to show how they think allowing Perpendiculars to flourish would literally destroy their world. I didn’t want them to be sympathetic, but it was important that I showed them for what they believe themselves to be: holy and righteous.

I also think it is absolutely crucial that people in the majority are in this fight. In the book, some Parallels (same-sex couples) understand that persecuting Perpendiculars is wrong. They fight for the rights of the minority. Throughout history, no revolution in civil rights has ever been achieved without the assistance of people in the majority. In racial integration, it was necessary for President Eisenhower to demand desegregation. Men had to legislate to give women the right to vote. Straight people have to be allies for things to change. 

Me: I can’t help noticing that the word Anglicant—the church in your novel—sounds like an antonym for the word Anglican. Purposeful?

Laura: Yes. I had done quite a bit of research about the struggles within the Anglican church over same-sex ministers. I don’t suppose they’re the worst of the lot; obviously, the Catholic Church has some very negative attitudes about it. But I loved the wordplay, so I went with Anglicant. 

Me: So much of the point of your book is how we can’t change who we are. And yet I was interested in the fact that when rampant “breeding” threatened society in your book, society changed to a homosexual norm. And since it’s not possible to deny your true nature for long, it got me thinking of a point in my head, regarding the Bible, that I never hear anyone else discuss. It’s this: In Biblical times, the call was, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Yeah. There weren’t enough humans on the Earth. Now there are, if anything, too many. I wonder if more people are gay now than in Biblical times (if in fact they are, rather than just being more open about it) because Nature knows exactly what it’s doing, how to prevent overpopulation. Was this something of what you had in mind for your fictional societal transformation? Or am I overthinking it?

Laura: I had to really spend a lot of time living in that world, and the book was actually a lot of work because of this very question. It’s the one everyone asks right off the bat. I did think it through quite a bit, and I thought that the model of reproduction in OUT makes lots of sense. It’s fictional, a construct designed to facilitate the book’s idea, but I thought, “wow, if we had no unwanted pregnancies, no children born of rape, imagine how that would change things.”  So much of the pain and anguish of our society comes from people having unwanted children and passing on their resentment/hatred/ illness/abuse in those children for generations. But in reality, I would not want a government controlling my ability to have children. I think in this case, the move was engineered by human beings, but nature may have played a part. I’d love to write a companion piece with the details of the history if the book ever became big enough.

Me: You said in your description of the book that this is heightened reality. And of course it’s not the U.S. we live in today. But as I read it, I kept thinking… In Nazi Germany, people were imprisoned, starved, experimented on, and slaughtered for a number of reasons. Being Jewish was the most common, but being gay would get you there as well. In Uganda, they’re trying to pass a bill instating the death penalty for gays. In South Africa, and maybe many other places, men illegally conduct “corrective rape” on any woman they suspect to be lesbian, ostensibly to “cure” that orientation. And then there are the Pray Away the Gay clinics you mentioned. Not to mention the hate crimes. I’m sorry to say it, but for every example you gave, I couldn’t help thinking someone, somewhere, suffered all that and more because of his or her sexual orientation. It’s not so much a question as a comment, I guess. But if you like to speak to it, please do.

Laura: I actually did quite a bit of research on this before writing the book. I bought a video called CHASING THE DEVIL: INSIDE THE EX-GAY MOVEMENT by Bill and Mishara Hussung, a chronicle of several people who were sent to reconditioning camps to change them. I also watched a tragically funny DVD called  DOIN’ TIME IN THE HOMO NO MO’ HALFWAY HOUSE by Peterson Toscano, a funny but sad glimpse into his own experience in ex-gay ministries. People do not believe me when I tell them that there are still active ministries where people send their loved ones to be “reconditioned.” Politician Michelle Bachmann and her husband practice this. Huffington Post states that “Documentary filmmaker Kristina Lapinski, who is currently at work on "GAY U.S.A. the Movie," went undercover at Bachmann & Associates, the Minnesota-based Christian counseling clinic co-owned by Marcus and Michele Bachmann, and once again captured a staff member conducting what she described as "reparative" therapy.” I personally know of one student whose parents, psychologists, practiced aversion therapy with patients, trying to change them. So this is not extreme exaggeration, unfortunately. 

Me: This is not a debut novel by any means. Will you tell us about your earlier books, and how they differ from OUT?

Laura: I have published three novels with Penguin/Berkley Jam: Queen Geek Social Club, Queen Geeks in Love, and Prom Queen Geeks. They’re much lighter, funnier, and skewed toward a younger audience, I think. I still love them; I wrote them for all the girls in high school who don’t fit the cheerleader paradigm, the readers, the sci-fi lovers, the gamers. I still get email from girls who read them, and they’re ecstatic that somebody gets them!  That makes me feel great. I also self-published a paranormal novel called Lica’s Angel that deals with voodoo and is set in New Orleans.  I’ve written several other books, but haven’t found homes for them in the traditional publishing world.  I guess I don’t fit well in a pigeon hole. 

To learn more about Laura and her books, click here to visit her website. And remember the ebook is free only until midnight tonight.