Cath Techs Are Superheroes

I should probably be writing about books; I’ve been to two release parties and read about eight books since my last post. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

My husband often works late. I’m not complaining; we’ve both accepted that this is one of the realities of being on call. He’s usually home by eight. Last night, he didn’t get home until almost three. And he didn’t complain.

It was a particularly trying case from what I gather, and not just because it was nine hours long and he still wasn’t convinced that the patient could make it through the night. He was on his feet for almost that entire period of time–and he ended up covered in feces. At the end of the night, he sent me a text telling me to thank one of his colleagues for being particularly stellar.

On his way home, he bought me french fries to apologize for being so late.

The moral of the story: Be nice to people who work in hospitals. Chances are, their job is way harder than yours.


Hey babe, don’t kill me for posting this one 😉

Quotable Moments From NoVA Teen 2016


Okay, so this photo has nothing to do with anything that was said at the event. But somebody involved in planning OWNS this bad boy, and I want to know who!

Last Saturday, the third annual NoVA Teen Book Festival was held at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA. Thirty young adult authors were in attendance and engaged in a variety of speaking engagements and game panels, followed by Holly Black’s keynote and a book signing in the school cafeteria. It was a busy day of books and personal connections, and it would be impossible to write up an overview that would do it justice. So, instead, I’ve collected my favorite quotes, which I’ll be putting forward with little context (other than including who said them and which panel they were part of at the time).


Left to Right: Natalie C. Parker, Lisa Maxwell, Holly Black, Jon Skovron (moderator)


“I’m terrified of everything… I guess some of [my creepy writing] comes from that.” (Holly Black)

“How do you deal with a world that’s slightly off-kilter?” (Natalie C. Parker)

“I started out trying to write romance, but then people started dying.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“The fairies in my book will eat you.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“The story of a special person who becomes incrementally more special is not a compelling story.” (Holly Black on why we like an underdog)

“Heightens the sense of vulnerability.” (Natalie C. Parker on why we like underdogs)

“When people talk about having these muses that come and tell them what to write, I get really angry.” (Holly Black)

“Memory is what makes us human.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“Small towns are creepy to me.” (Jon Skovron)

“One of the things I love about the South and small towns is this sense of collective memory.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“They’re all kind of sociopaths because they don’t have memory, they don’t have empathy.” (Lisa Maxwell, on the characters in her Neverland)

“If [a story] is told wrong, it becomes dangerous.” (Lisa Maxwell on cultural memories and the romanticization of Peter Pan)

Coldtown was hugely a love letter to the vampire novels that I loved in the Eighties.” (Holly Black)

“If there was a walled city of vampires streaming video, would I watch it? Clearly I would. What does that say about me? That I’m a sociopath.” (Holly Black on The Coldest Girl in Coldtown)

“I do want to do some commentary in my books, but I want to do it fairly.” (Natalie C. Parker)

“Part of what I’m doing is resurrecting those stories that are lost or forgotten.” (Natalie C. Parker)

“The thing I come back to again and again are changeling stories.” (Holly Black)

“My first book came from one of our wedding photos. … The photographer said, ‘That smudge there is a ghost.'” (Lisa Maxwell)

“I grew up in a haunted house… but I never saw anything [strange or supernatural]. It’s the great tragedy of my life.” (Holly Black)

“I have been pursuing that kind of event.” (Natalie C. Parker on supernatural occurrences)

“I like the idea that the world is bigger for it.” (Holly Black on the supernatural)

“Sound is really important to me.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“I start with an image and then… intentional language.” (Natalie C. Parker)

“Blood isn’t scary.” (Lisa Maxwell)


Left to Right: Tommy Wallach, Maggie Thrash, Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely, April Tucholke

Rebel, Rebel

“The biggest challenge for me was the truth… having confidence in my memories.” (Maggie Thrash)

“I hate [writing] in the first person.” (Tommy Wallach)

“First person has a space of intimacy… being let in on a secret.” (Brendan Kiely)

“Young people are more emotionally present than adults.” (Maggie Thrash)

“Teenagers live in their own world.” (Jason Reynolds on writing in the first person)

“The art was not fun at all.” (Maggie Thrash on her graphic memoir, Honor Girl)

“Comics are, for telling your own story, very therapeutic.” (Maggie Thrash)

“There’s not a single zit in Honor Girl.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It was so smooth.” (Jason Reynolds on writing with Brendan Kiely)

“So much of writing together felt like Jason and I were on a fast break [in basketball].” (Brendan Kiely)

“Co-writing is so much fun. It’s inspiring.” (April Tucholke)

Breakfast Club really holds up in a way that Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles do not.” (Tommy Wallach)

“The book was more about giving [the issue of police brutality] more complexity.” (Jason Reynolds on All American Boys)

“People talk about books as windows and mirrors. … It’s also our hope that our book is a doorway.” (Brendan Kiely on All American Boys)

“My books don’t feel ‘weird’ to me.” (April Tucholke)

“Darkness, particularly in YA, is pretty easy [to write].” (Tommy Wallach)

“It’s easy to write a despairing story… as opposed to thoughtfully and not sentimentally writing about hope in the world.” (Brendan Kiely)

“I think we need to take the constraints off of what it means to be ‘a reader.’ … Books are not the only things that can be read. I used to read rap lyrics.” (Jason Reynolds)

“Give them the books that are going to be like, ‘This is insane!’ And they’ll be hooked.” (Jason Reynolds on getting boys to read)

“It’s a power trip.” (Maggie Thrash on knowing that people read her book in one sitting)

“It’s a huge compliment.” (April Tucholke on knowing that people read her book in one sitting)

“To all the fast readers: Don’t be afraid to read a book one more time.” (Jason Reynolds)


Left to Right: Randy Ribay, Jen Gangsei, Sandy Hall, Melissa Gorgelanczyk


“I’m really interested in paradoxes. … We are main characters, but we are not main characters.” (Randy Ribay)

“I plotted the book out on index cards, and each index card was a point of view.” (Sandy Hall on Signs Point To Yes)

“I tried to give each [point-of-view] character a plot point/turning point.” (Melissa Gorgelanczyk)

“I tried to imitate real life as much as possible.” (Randy Ribay on An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes)

“Each of my characters has a different playlist that reminds me of who they are. … I also use scent memory to remind me what I’m working on.” (Melissa Gorgelanczyk)

“I worked a lot off of a plot map.” (Jen Gangsei)

“I kind of imagined myself as a cameraperson.” (Jen Gangsei)

“I can tell a richer story by switching around and giving you other points of view.” (Sandy Hall)

“I kind of have a short attention span.” (Randy Ribay)

“The Excel spreadsheet has been my faithful friend.” (Randy Ribay)

“There’s more pressure.” (Randy Ribay on writing from a female point of view)

“One thing I like to do is free write for each character.” (Melissa Gorgelanczyk)

“Sometimes when I write with pen and paper I feel like I remember them more.” (Sandy Hall)

“I’m the worst chapter ender ever.” (Sandy Hall)

“Emotionally, characters in my book are like me.” (Melissa Gorgelanczyk)

“Every character you create takes a piece of you and expands on it. … It would be impossible to relate to them as you’re writing them without that little bit of you.” (Jen Gangsei)

“I like to tell people that I’m like Voldemort.” (Randy Ribay, likening his books to horcruxes)


Left to Right: Lelia Nebeker (moderator), Maggie Thrash, Josh Sundquist

Larger Than Life

“I don’t really have a problem baring myself to the world.” (Maggie Thrash)

“I had that fear, that if it wasn’t ‘true enough,’ I would get slammed litigiously.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It’s about first dates that I went on that never went anywhere.” (Josh Sundquist on We Should Hang Out Sometime)

“People in this book know who they are.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It was a very odd self-development project.” (Josh Sundquist on We Should Hang Out Sometime)

“‘You know that weird thing you did? That would be a good book.'” (Josh Sundquist)

“I warned the girls in the book seven days before publication.” (Josh Sundquist)

“This whole book is about my inability to express my love to this girl and it turns out I did.” (Maggie Thrash)

“You can do brave things, but if you don’t feel brave while you’re doing it… that’s not how you’re going to remember yourself.” (Maggie Thrash)

“What was wrong with me was thinking that there’s something wrong with me.” (Josh Sundquist)

“I start with words and do all the visualizations second.” (Maggie Thrash)

“When you’re writing a memoir about a specific thing, you have to be super organized.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It might be important to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s interesting in narrative form.” (Josh Sundquist)

“With memoir, the essential element of editing is cutting.” (Josh Sundquist)

“Literally there’s an infinite amount of things that can happen.” (Josh Sundquist on writing fiction)

“I just jump in and maybe there’s a wizard. I don’t plan anything.” (Maggie Thrash on writing fiction)

“As a memoirist you’re trying to choose what’s the dramatic thru-line of this moment.” (Josh Sundquist)

“I need art and writing. I have to have it all.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It’s hilarious to me, the concept of writing fiction after having written two memoirs. … ‘I will pay you to write lies.'” (Josh Sundquist)

“I got paid to violate everyone’s privacy.”

“Authors are all sociopaths.” (Maggie Thrash)

“I would never recommend reading memoir to learn to write memoir.” (Josh Sundquist)

“I always genuinely had a crush on Luke [Skywalker].” (Maggie Thrash)


Left to Right: Lisa Maxwell, Randy Ribay, Kelly Zekas, Patricia Riley (moderator)

I Write the Book

“You have to finish something. … Anything you can do to get it on the page–just do it.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“When you come across something [a story] you really love, find out why you love it.” (Randy Ribay)

“I don’t believe it’s ever sunk time because you learned from that failure.” (Lisa Maxwell, on unsold or scrapped writing projects)

“Every word you write makes you a stronger writer, regardless of whether you get published.” (Randy Ribay)

Write Something New is the mantra for dealing with anything

“You control the next words you put on the page. … That’s what keeps you sane.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“The real writing happens in revision.” (Randy Ribay)


Holly Black during the Keynote

Keynote – Holly Black

“I was scared all the time.”

“I had never planned on astral projecting but I spent a good amount of my childhood like, ‘Stay in your body! Stay in your body!'”

“In self-defense, I began reading folklore.”

“I wanted to explore the power of story–the ones we tell about other people, the ones we tell ourselves.”

“Fantasy is not necessarily a retreat from the world.”

“In realism we say ‘his heart is broken.’ In fantasy, a heart can literally break into a thousand pieces, and they [the character] can have to go on with shards as sharp as glass.”

“I think some part of the collective ‘us’ still believes in magic.”

“I write fantasy novels without being ashamed; I read fantasy novels without being ashamed.”


Me and Holly Black! This lovely lady took the time to talk to me about my current writing project, and said, “It will never be this hard again. Your first book is always the hardest.” I can’t express how much I appreciated her heartfelt encouragement.

What We Learned From V.E. Schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab, whose newest book A Gathering of Shadows came out this week, and her best friend-turned-beta reader Patricia Riley were both playful and informative during their visit to One More Page Books last night. If you weren’t able to make it (or fit through the door–it quickly became standing room only!), here are some highlights.


Schwab says that her stories always begin with an image. Often, they involve doors, walls, characters in fabulous clothing (long billowing coats!), different dimensions, or a combination of all of these. “I don’t get to mine my dreams for stories,” says Schwab. (This was preceded by, “I had a dream about zombie puppies the other night… It was very stressful because I like animals.”)

“I don’t remember anything about my writing process!” says Schwab, laughing. Every book she completes in shrouded in nostalgia, while memories of sleepless nights and tears shed are buried. Riley adds, “It’s like having a child; you have to forget [labor], or you’ll never have another one!”

“Magic has always been that one true spark for me, for fantasy,” says Schwab, reflecting on how she grew up in real-time with Harry Potter, and how that has influenced her own writing.

She’s made her living by selling about three books a year, across age-groups and genres. “I swear by my sticker method,” she says when asked how she organizes her time. “Stickers are glorious.” (For more information on this, check out her social media accounts!) “There’s always some kind of thing in the creative-way,” she concludes.

“I would write whether I was an author or not. I just like to write!”

If you’re interested in exploring Schwab’s reading list, she suggests that you start with The Library at Mount Char. “I like to read books twice, if I can,” she says, “first as a consumer, and then as a writer.”

As for future releases, Schwab hinted that Savage Song is going to be “Romeo and Juliet without romance”–not to mention a character who steals people’s souls with his violin. “There’s no romance, and there’s a lot of bloodshed, and I love it!” she grins. (For her more artsy fans, Schwab says that she can’t wait to see fan art in the shape of violins–or even on a violin!)

Schwab is in the process of pitching the pilot for the Darker Shade of Magic television series. If it gets picked up, readers can expect a faithful, one book-to-one season adaptation. If the director had wanted it any other way, Schwab says, she wouldn’t have been the right writer for the show. “I would like a female badass team,” says Schwab about her ideal team for the show. “I’m not saying there aren’t equally qualified males in the world–I’m just saying that they have more opportunities.”

Above all else, Schwab is grateful and genuinely humbled by her tour experience. “I keep expecting people to realize they’re at the wrong event!” she said during the book-signing.

The Day I Became an Outhouse

This week is going to involve a lot of waiting. My order from Book Depository is taking much longer than I had hoped. I won’t know if I got a job that I’m really hoping for until at least Friday. Ryan and I have applied for a gorgeous apartment, and we’re not sure exactly when we’ll hear back. On the upside, my wedding rings got fixed overnight, so I can’t complain about that.


It’s like they were never broken! Courtesy of Eternity Jewelers in Alexandria, VA.

So, to amuse myself while we wait, I’ve been reading My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. It’s a cute contemporary romance set in Connecticut. I’m a fan.

Dreamy Boy Jase has a menagerie of pets. His corn snake, Voldemort, escapes, which leads to this gem of a quote:


Amusing on its own, sure–but why would I find it memorable? Gather ’round, children. It’s time for Twirly’s Anecdote From Junior High.

Long before I was Twirly, before I’d ever touched a flag or a sabre, before I went to public school, I was a seventh grader at Portsmouth Christian Academy in Dover. (Say that five times fast.) PCA is one of those schools with charmingly strict dress codes: polo shirts of certain hues (I was once written up for wearing a purple shirt; purple is the Devil’s color, apparently*), Docker style pants in khaki or navy, gym clothes with the school logo emblazoned on them. The only day when we were granted any form of freedom was chapel day. My favorite chapel outfit was a stretchy skirt of pinks, blacks, and yellows with a frilly black shirt to match. What does this have to do with defecating corn snakes? We’re getting there.

*No, I was not told that Purple Is The Devil’s Color. That’s my own commentary. PCA is not one of those Christian schools. It was a good school with great staff, and dress codes are equalizers, blah blah blah. Not the point.


Ah, yes. The days of sneaking disposable cameras into school… and Steven jumping out the window during class. (Note: This photo was actually taken during eighth grade, but you get the idea.)

Until seventh grade, I was deathly afraid of snakes. It didn’t matter that I’d practically lived in the woods until that point, or that I’d done enough research to know that most of the snakes in our area weren’t poisonous (and that stripes that were red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, venom lack). They were in the same category as siders: if you saw one, you screamed.

You can imagine my horror, then, when my seventh grade teacher, Mr. Hafner, announced that our class would be hosting his pet corn snake. Corny the corn snake, to be precise.

My peers clustered around the cage  to watch Corny eat (crickets, if memory serves) while I sat calmly with my head on my desk. I wasn’t the only squeamish one, but it felt like I was.

That afternoon, while waiting for my mother to pick me up, Mr. Hafner took Corny out of his cage. I watched, transfixed, from the other side of the room.

“He won’t bite,” Mr. Hafner said to the only other student in the room (a boy, of course). “You can hold him.” The snake wrapped around the boy’s hands, lazily curling his spine. “Leah, do you want to try?” Mr. Hafner asked.

“She won’t; she’s too scared.” It wasn’t vicious, or even accusatory. But I had a paralyzing crush on the boy in question, so it felt like a challenge.

“I’ll do it,” I said, speed-walking across the room. Before I could take it back, Corny was wrapped around my left arm.

He wasn’t so bad, to my surprise. I’d never been brave enough to feel real scales before, and the sensation was fascinating. I still didn’t love his eyes or mouth, but watching his body twisting around was soothing. Perhaps my fear of snakes had been unfounded.

Suddenly, I was coated in a foul odor. Mr. Hafner snatched Corny away from me as the boy made retching sounds through his laughter. I looked down: my favorite chapel outfit was streaked with putrid yellow ooze. My sister heard me scream from down the hall.

I was forced to wear one of my father’s sweatshirts on the way home, my clothes crumpled up in the trunk. I no longer feared snakes; I hated them.

Dear Diary, E.P. Thompson Here

For those of us who grew up reading the works of Beverly Cleary and Marissa Moss, Judith McLaughlin’s Dear Diary, E.P. Thompson Here is a callback to our roots.

Emily Paul Thompson is anxious to chronicle her sixth grade experience in the diary her mother gave her. It starts like any other year: the dreamy boy, the best friend, the physical changes (or lack thereof). Then, things start going wrong. Emily’s best friend ditches her. She’s paired with the class pariah for a project. And somebody has started stealing money and supplies from the school. While Emily finds closure in writing her secrets down, she knows that, sooner or later, her words will have to become actions.

McLaughlin has struck the perfect middle grade voice–two parts innocent charm, one part confusion and discovery. She introduces thought-provoking subject matter in a Romona Quimby voice, which holds the potential for discussion among children and adults alike. Reading Dear Diary is one of life’s simple pleasures, a reminder of the joys and pitfalls of junior high–and that people are not always who you expected them to be.

Dear Diary_Judith Natelli McLaughlin_Author Pic


For more, be sure to check out these links!







Discussing Diversity

Last night, I went to a panel event at the lovely One More Page Books. Authors in attendance were Marieke Nijkamp (one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books), Robin Talley, Kat Spears, and Miranda Kenneally. The conversation centered, of course, around their books–broaching the topics of poverty, school shootings, sibling relationships, gender identity, publishing woes, and the many-faceted issues that young people face daily.

I am not the kind of person who would normally ask a question at the end of this kind of event, but I felt my hand going up as if it had a mind of its own. Lelia, our moderator, called on me, and my mouth started moving, as much to my surprise as anyone else’s. I said, more or less,

“I know that gender diversity and racial diversity are a big deal right now, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on religious diversity in YA–whether it exists, and whether it needs to move in a particular direction.”

The ladies were all diplomatic in their responses. Spears said that she has known many people for whom religion was not a defining factor, and that she prefers to focus on what makes us similar, rather than what makes us different. She mentioned that message-driven literature often seems preachy, and that can be boring or dangerous, depending on how it’s done. Talley and Kenneally were both surprised by how their childhood church attendance has bled through into their writing. Nijkamp’s response was inclusive, saying that it doesn’t matter what kind of diversity is trendy; she simply wants to see more diversity in books, period. She would like religious characters to be seen as “normal,” just as much as she wants to see characters of color or LGBT characters.

I’m going to tell you what I think now, and I want to make one thing very clear: I respect all of these women and their opinions. They were not unkind when they answered my question, and I do not intend to be unkind in my response to what they said. I am not being critical of them as human beings; I’m simply taking the conversation one step further than we were able to last night.

Religion is one of those topics that you don’t talk about at cocktail parties or at family holiday dinners. It can be divisive, cause conflict. But there’s a reason for that: religion is all-encompassing. To steal words from a friend of mine, it “majorly contributes to your sense of right and wrong, shapes your principles and morals, and governs the way you live your life.” This is true of any religion, not just Christianity.

You can imagine, then, my surprise at the idea that religion is somehow considered a smaller part of one’s identity than race or sexual orientation, socio-economic status or family situation. In many cases, religion is the trump card, defining how one deals with all of those things.

I’m not saying that I want every book I read to have a Christian protagonist. Quite the contrary: Life would be incredibly dull if that were the case. I’m also not saying that I want message-driven novels; those are what you’d call “vomitrocious.” What I’m saying is that I want books that start conversations about what it’s like to be religious in high school right now, books that I could have related to in high school. I want to see characters who grapple with how their religion fits into their everyday life–and I don’t just mean Christian characters. If we’re going to fight for diversity, we should be fair; I can’t say “I want more religion in books” when I mean “I want to see more Jesus in books”.

I want a story about an immigrant girl figuring out how to interact in American culture, and the role her native religion plays in that transition. I want a book about a boy who loves Jesus and happens to be part of the in-crowd. I want stories with characters of faith to be normal, not niche. I want teenagers to have outlets that begin conversations about faith in locations that are not sanctioned by their churches or places of worship–because we grow more when we are challenged.

I want to live in a world where faith is discussed as often as gender identity or race. Is anybody with me?

What We Learned At The THEIR FRACTURED LIGHT Release Party

I admit it: I have yet to read Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s Starbound Trilogy (These Broken Stars, This Shattered World, Their Fractured Light). I’ve been drooling over their covers for ages now, but haven’t gotten around to actually buying them–until last night. When I heard that One More Page Books was hosting a release party for the final installment, and that both authors (one of whom is from Australia) would be there, I couldn’t resist. Here are some of the highlights:

On How They Met And Started Writing Together

“It was an online role playing chat room… There are levels of nerdiness. And this was before geekery was cool.” (Meagan Spooner)

“Like in kindergarten: You meet someone and you dig them and then you’re like, ‘We’re friends now.'” (Amie Kaufman)

“We like space. And we like shipwrecks.” (Spooner)

“Then you end up with a Weekend at Bernie’s taxidermy situation.” (Spooner)

On Their Characters

“Gideon’s this glorious jerk.” (Kaufman)

“Gideon is Iron Man because technology and sass.” (Kaufman)

“Dog tags are hot.” (Kaufman)

On Upcoming Projects

“Our next one is Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider in space.” (Spooner)

On One Another

“Meg would not thrive in the wild. She’s an indoor pet.” (Kaufman)–This was followed by an anecdote in which a koala urinated on Spooner’s tent when she and Kaufman went camping together.

“When someone says, ‘You can live in my house rent-free so you can live your dream,’ you damn well live your dream!” (Spooner)

On Writing

“With us, there really are no stupid ideas.” (Spooner)

“Less sass, lady.” (Kaufman, on writing characters unlike herself)

“We know what readers think they want, and we know what readers need.” (Spooner)

“Write what you know to be true. Write from your emotional experience.” (Kaufman)

“Joss Whedon… has this great balance between humor and destroying your heart.” (Spooner)

On The Walking Dead

“Who’s mowing all the lawns?!” (Spooner)


Left to Right: Meagan Spooner, Amie Kaufman, and Me!

Twirly Tries YALLFest

Friends, if you haven’t heard me screaming about YALLFest, you must be wearing earplugs. It’s only the coolest literary festival of all time. No less than sixty young adult authors (and a few of their industry counterparts) gather in Charleston, South Carolina to sign books, meet fans, and discuss pertinent topics on any of the twenty two panels. (Am I sounding like an advertisement yet?) There’s books to buy and people to meet, information to glean and food to eat. And free stuff, too! But don’t just take my word for it; let the photos speak for themselves.


This is Gail Carriger, author of The Finishing School series, in addition to The Parasol Protectorate and The Custard Protocol. She is an absolute delight (and we’re going to be best friends, she just doesn’t know it yet).


“To Leah Grover, May the bladed fan be with you. Gail Carriger.”


This is E. Lockhart, best known for We Were Liars, although it’s not her only title. (When I gave her my card, she thought Twirly Writes was adorable, which made my day.)


This is Scott Westerfield, author of The Pretties and The Uglies, among others.


We thought these Epic Reads balloons were just adorable.


From left to right: Rae Carson, Gail Carriger, Ryan Gaudin, Elizabeth Wein, Carole Weatherford, Libba Bray (moderator)


The first panel that my party attended was about world building, moderated by Libba Bray. The entire presentation was stellar, but my favorite moments included Rae Carson citing Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a source for good pacing, Gail Carriger’s moments of archaeological nerdiness, and Elizabeth Wien’s… well, Elizabeth Wien in general, but specifically when she asked Bray to play the French national anthem that evening, to honor those affected by the tragedy. And, on a lighter note, the Hamlet hand-game that she came up with as a teenager.


Left to Right: Brandon Reichs (moderator), Brandon Mull, Curtis Jobling, Renee Ahdieh, and Kiera Cass

From there, we scuttled a few blocks away for the “That Time I Sucked” panel, in which authors talk about their greatest failures. They started with a variation on Mean Tweets, in which each person read a particularly entertaining negative review they received. Kiera Cass referred to Amazon as “The Garden of Pain,” while Curtis Jobling (in his lovely British accent) read a colorful review in which “the reader suggests I preform some acts upon myself that are physically impossible… then there’s a string of emojis showing me how.”

Nuggets of hope were imbedded in a discussion of whether or not writers should pay attention to naysayers on the internet. Brandon Mull said that his mantra goes a little something like this: “If people hate my books, they don’t hate me; they just hate my imagination and everything that I think is cool in the world… Everyone has different judgement. There’s people that hate everything.” Cass added that, “If everyone loves your books, you’re not reaching enough people.” And Jobling says, “If you can accept the good stuff, don’t read the bad.”


Left to Right: Renee Ahdieh, Soman Chainani, E. Lockhart (not pictured), E.K. Johnston, Marissa Meyer, and Danielle Page (moderator)

I love fairytales. Love them. So it should come as no surprise that we attended a panel of fairytale rebooters. Naturally, each author was given a headpiece befitting his or her station as royalty. I garnered a list of new titles to explore, as well as a few academic concepts (for example, princesses and witches are basically the same character; think about it).


Left to Right: Sarah Burnes (moderator), Jo Volpe, Emily Meehan, Barry Goldblatt, and Erin Stein

Like a good little adult, the last panel I attended was a Q&A with three agents and two editors. I didn’t glean much brand-new information, but it was still an edifying–and entertaining–experience.


Brandon Sanderson and Brandon Mull

Our weekend ended with what I’ve dubbed The Brandon Show–the closing keynote with fantasy authors Brandon Sanderson of the Misborn series (and many others), and Brandon Mull of the Fablehaven series. It felt like watching two friends chat about the fantasy genre and what it meant to them. Mull says, “I like to think that I build rollercoasters for a living. I build fun rides for readers.” Sanderson (who first found himself enjoying a book when a fantasy novel helped him to understand his mother) added that fantasy is like crunches for your imagination, and that “You can do anything that anybody would want to do in a fantasy novel–plus you can have dragons.” But both men realize that everyone is allowed their own personal taste: as Sanderson puts it, “Books are like shoes.” Reading the wrong book is like wearing the wrong shoes–it’s worse than simply going barefoot.

I’m Alive, I Swear (Or, Twirly Tries NaNoWriMo)


I recognize that it’s been a while since I’ve published a blog post. And by “a while,” I mean “an embarrassingly long time.” I keep telling myself that it’s okay, I’ve been in full-blown novel mode–and I needed to be. And while that’s true, it doesn’t excuse slacking in other areas of life.

Ah! Novel Land; my new home. It’s a lovely place, lush with foliage and opportunity. But also, like Eden after the Fall, a place with thorns in the ground, where work is not only available, but required. Sometimes, Novel Land is a very unappealing home–so I take detours to Television Station and Lunchtime Haven. They’re lovely places to visit, but ultimately not very productive.

Enter National Novel Writing Month: A time and place when and where writers, like myself, disappear into cocoons of words and hot beverages. I’ve written almost 12,000 words in five days, and I have never felt more accomplished. However, I fear that I might not be writing a novel–that, in fact, this particular work won’t reach 50,000 words. I’ll be ejected from Novel Land to Novella Straits! But, really, who cares? Once I’ve finished my story (and that’s the real goal, after all), I’ll have made a huge accomplishment.

Then it will be revision time, which is just as daunting as the aforementioned word count.

After that will come querying, which is the most horrifying prospect of all.

But I digress.

Now that I’m writing a book-length project of my own, I’m having thoughts about how I’d like it to look when it comes into physical being. I know this is silly, since such things will be out of my hands once I’m under contract. But, as a second-tier creator, I’m allowed to have feelings about titles and book covers, right?

For example, you know those books whose covers are photographs with the heads cut off? Those make me nuts, especially when the clothing can be easily dated. Sometimes, the covers with faces are just as bad. So I suppose that means that photographs are straight out. Skylines are okay, I guess, but my story isn’t set in any easily recognizable city; so that’s an issue. Cartoony things are fine when done right, but, poorly executed, are just cheesy.

What I’m saying is, I want a cover that’s kind of abstract and colorful; one that says “sweet college romance” without screaming “GIRL MEETS BOY!!! FLUTTERS AND KISSES!!! GOOEY GUSHY LOVEY DOVEY!!!” (Incidentally, I don’t think there’s going to be any kissing in this story. As of now.)

Which brings me to titles. If it ends up being my decision, I will publish my book under its working title. I like my title. To me, it’s a good balance of quirkiness, honesty, and (if you’re very clever) wit*. It hints at the end without spoiling anything, while being a fair representation of the story as a whole. Always the Best Friend. In my heart, this title is The One.

But The Industry might beg to differ. Who knows?

That question really sums up my being right now: Why knows? I don’t know how long or even how good this project will turn out to be. I don’t know if I’ll ever get published–and I don’t know how involved I’ll be in the process after my work has left my hands. But I’m actually creating something. My work is becoming more and more concrete (thanks, in large part, to NaNoWriMo). And that, in itself, is gratifying.



*It’s a play on an old phrase. If you know the phrase, you’ll probably get the reference. If not, you won’t. I still think it’s a pretty good title in its own right, though.

Six Struggles of a Night Writer


Every writer has his or her own comfort zone. Many write while drunk. Some wake up early and write as the sun comes up. Hundreds write a certain number of words each day before stopping. I’ve heard of writers who can’t get anything done without a certain beverage in hand, or a certain outfit on. I am discovering, to my dismay, that I am a night writer.

Being a night writer is fine, but inconvenient. I spend all day trying to write, but the moment I shut the light off, words start connecting and ideas start flowing. This would be lovely, if not for these six struggles.



  1. Lack of Sleep: Even when I’m exhausted, my brain won’t shut up. There’s something about the quiet, the dimness, and my husband’s gentle breathing that makes my words go into overdrive. It’s both exciting and vexing. But, as the saying goes, “I don’t have a sleeping disorder. I have a good idea and inadequate respect for tomorrow.”
  2. Daytime Productivity: Writing during the day, for me, is challenging at best and agonizing at worst. I try to write first thing in the morning, before I’ve read anything. This often leads to hours of staring at a blank page, battling with writer’s constipation. The words are there, but they won’t come out.
  3. Ideas: I’ve been known to keep a notebook on my nightstand for the ideas that keep me awake. Unfortunately, writing in the dark (in order to let my husband sleep) is difficult, and I don’t always understand my notes come morning. What I really need is a pen with glow-in-the-dark ink.9a641df9afd06b09da15bf4c899a1638
  4. Dreams: Try as I might, I rarely get to take note of every idea that flies through my head as I attempt to sleep. When left to their own devices, my ideas manifest themselves in vivid (if bizarre) dreams which I inevitably can’t remember properly. For example, this morning I woke up from a dream involving a sabotaged airplane, a young woman whose blood was being poisoned, dinosaurs, and a lot of guns. Starring Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones (or possibly Nathan Fillion; it’s difficult to say), of all people.
  5. Schedules: My husband is a morning person. I am, obviously, a night person. This makes weekends… interesting.
  6. Involuntary Naps:The combination of taking two hours to fall asleep, only to be launched on exhausting adventures when I finally do, results in a Leah who requires some more proper rest. I find my eyes drooping while reading, writing, eating, and even when trying to wake up. I try not to give in to the impulse, but sometimes it just can’t be fought.


When are you most productive? Does it interfere with your sleep habits, like mine?