from one bird face to another

8th grade Cindy

Cynthia T. Toney, 8th grade

I’ve written before about the years of junior high being as dystopian as they come. Like most transition periods in life, junior high is a time when we part ways with friends and make new ones (almost like the way a snake sheds its skin). Anytime a relationship is severed, be it friendship or romantic, it produces some turmoil. If one of the parties is unwilling or unable to move on, then it creates DRAMA. And that’s one of the things that makes the novel Bird Face so special. Outgrowing your friends is one of a host of other important topics that Bird Face explores in a realistic yet entertaining way. So strap on your jellies (or whatever embarrassing thing you wore in junior high), and meet my friend and writing partner, Cynthia T. Toney! 

Me: Cynthia, do you consider yourself a Christian author or author of Christian fiction? What do you think the difference is?

Cynthia: I’m an author who is Christian. I think when non-Christians hear “Christian author,” it may mean the same to them as “author of Christian fiction.” My writing reflects the fact that I believe anyone can become a better person, and I personally feel that way because of Jesus, but I try to be subtle about it.

Me: Where did you get the idea for your book? Who did you have in mind when you were writing it?

Cynthia: I witnessed and experienced a great deal of family suffering, kids growing up without knowing how precious and powerful they are, shy kids needing to be taught social skills, girls thinking their looks define who they are. It tore my heart when young acquaintances committed suicide. Somehow a story began to form from it all. But I knew it had to incorporate humor and a positive outlook in order to entertain and reach kids.

Me: I loved Bird Face because it reminded me so much of my own junior high experience, which I shared on our group blog, The Scriblerians. How were you able to write early teens so realistically?

Cynthia: I’d like to say it was because of my keen memory, but no. As an adult, I’d observed kids’ reactions to events, situations, and others’ comments—sometimes up close and personal, sometimes not. I’d read the emotions on their faces and in their body language, before they grow up enough to become guarded. And I put myself in the place of a middle-school kid, who usually reacts without thinking and blurts the first thing that comes to mind.

Me: I think I still blurt out the first thing that comes to my mind. :/

We’re friends on Facebook and most of your posts involve dog rescues. Tell us about your dog rescue efforts. How many dogs do you have?

Cynthia: I own three but often have one that I am fostering until it goes to a rescue organization that has “pulled” it to safety from a shelter. I’ve been involved with rescue in a number of different ways for dogs in shelters all over the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. When I move across the river, I will work the west side! Anyone interested in helping shelter animals (dogs, cats, donkeys, horses, rabbits, pet pigs, and all sorts of domesticated animals) can find rescue groups and organizations in every state. Search Facebook and the Internet for dog or animal rescues. You can name a particular breed in your search.

Me: I don’t know how you have the time to rescue so many dogs while trying to write. You’re amazing!

Tell us, what are you working on now?

Cynthia: A manuscript near and dear to my heart about a boy who is the son of Italian immigrants and becomes involved in a crime against his will in the 1920s. The working title is The Other Side of Freedom.

Me: I love the 1920′s as a time period. Gangsters, prohibition, and flapper dresses. It was such a unique period in our nation’s history. I’m sure that book will be fantastic as well. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

Before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

Cynthia: That I am grateful for their interest in Bird Face, and I hope they enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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EXCERPT FROM BIRD FACE

“Bird. Face.” A whisper, but the voice rang deep. He stood against the wall just inside the door.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. With animal instinct, I turned only my eyes toward the sound. Time slowed while I walked past him, so close the breath from his sneering mouth rustled my hair.

Bird Face. Those two simple little words came from John Wilson, the tallest boy in eighth grade. A Brainiac, he reminded me of Frankenstein’s monster. Not that he was hideous or scarred or anything. Other than his block-shaped head, he looked about as ordinary as any boy could—brown hair, brown eyes, glasses. He had bony arms and wimpy shoulders. Nothing scary about that.

But he had a way of creeping up on a person. I could be in the library or the bus line, and all of a sudden, there he’d be, looming in my personal space. He acted like the monster in an old black-and-white movie. I had gotten somewhat used to that, but it was weird he decided to speak. And what the heck was a “bird face,” anyway?

I kept walking. If John-Monster expected some kind of reaction from me, he wasn’t going to get one.

I didn’t stop until I got to my desk. That’s when I noticed a swatch of yellow on the seat. Another sticky-note message. Still printed, but this time signed too.

Only words.

“A FREND”

And a bad speller, apparently. I examined the little square of paper for a few seconds. The writing still didn’t seem familiar at all. An eerie sensation like someone was watching me made me turn. But when I glanced around the room, I got nothing.

A yellow note pad would be a clue, if only I could find one. Tookie wore a yellow shirt —designer, of course. Gayle wrote in a yellow notebook. Frank grinned at me with yellow teeth. But no yellow sticky notes anywhere in sight.

I slipped this one into my purse. At least someone was paying attention.

Excerpt used by permission.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing Bird Face with us, Cynthia!

You can friend or follow Cynthia T. Toney on her blog, at The Scriblerians blog, on Facebook, or via Twitter @CynthiaTToney.

GIVEAWAY 

We’re giving away an e-copy of Bird Face to one lucky commentor. Drawing will be held April 13th, so get those comments in!

Congratulations to Declaretothenextgeneration who won a copy of Rajdeep Paulus’s Swimming Through the Clouds.

And now, dear readers…

What unflattering nicknames were you called in school? Tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine. ;)

 

a must-read: mortis by hannah cobb and an interview with the author

cover image Mortis for websiteUsually I spotlight a book before inviting the author to drop by for a visit. Today, I’m extra-super efficient and doing both in one fell swoop (or slash in this case).

I’m stingy with my all time favorite reads book list. Only books that I really enjoy and will read again make it on the list. Mortis is one of those books. 

Mortis is a school that takes children off the streets during their early years and trains them to be killers from the time they can walk. They graduate at sixteen and either pass a test to become a master assassin or die–if they reach the age of sixteen.

“In Mortis, failure means death.”

The school reminds me of an evil Hogwarts. There are secret passages, traps, crazy staircases, and the teachers are master assassins. The students live and die by the assassin’s Code. But what if the Code is wrong? What if you don’t want to kill defenseless people?

That’s where Jane comes in. To say that she’s conflicted would be putting it mildly. Yet what’s a girl to do when putting her convictions first puts her life and the lives of her closest friends in danger?

The result is a fun ride with characters you love. Come and meet Hannah, read an excerpt, and see if Mortis is a book you’d like to read as well.

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Meet Hannah Cobb

In which I ask Hannah a few questions so we can get to know her better. ;)

Me: Do you consider yourself a Christian author or author of Christian fiction? What do you think the difference is?

HC: I am a Christian author because I am a Christian and I am an author. I don’t write Christian fiction—there’s really nothing definitively religious about any of the stories I write (at least so far). All authors pull from their life experience and personal beliefs, though, so my personal worldview is evident in my writing. Overarching themes of good defeating evil, redemption, and faith are there in the text, but they aren’t really why I write. I write to tell a good story, one I hope readers of any faith can enjoy.

Me: A little birdy told me that you moonlight as a librarian when you’re not writing. What type of library do you work at, and how did it influence your choice of audience and genre?

HC: I’m a children’s and teen librarian in a public library. My library system has a wonderful focus on fostering a sense of community for local kids and teens, so I get to spend a lot of time working with young people of all ages. I am a passionate advocate of building life-long readers, so in a way working with teens did influence my decision to write for this age group. I like writing for teens because (having been one myself) I know that this is the age when kids really start to come to terms with the world around them.

I write fantasy for a couple of reasons. The first is the easiest: I like reading fantasy. The second is more serious. I believe that everyone faces dark times and hardship in life. Fantasy offers worlds where evil and darkness can be defeated—often by a young protagonist. Teens might feel disenfranchised and powerless in the real world, but reading fantasy—or fairytales, or dystopian fiction—gives them a chance to see someone their age choose to face down evil and defeat it. I hear people complain that fantasy is just “escapism,” which frustrates me. All good literature is escapism. It’s taking your mind out of this world and putting it in a fictional world, where you can vicariously experience the joys and struggles of another person. It is a way to learn empathy and gain a greater understanding of the world and the human condition. And sometimes readers of all ages need a safe place to escape to. If one of my books can give young readers a safe haven for an hour, or give them the courage to look at the world around them with new eyes, then I will consider my writing career worthwhile.

Me: Mortis is an unusual book in setting and character. What made you decide to write about a school of assassins? And would you share a little about your world building process?

HC: The easy answer is that my protagonist, Jane, lives in a school that trains assassins. I knew this as soon as I mentally “met” her—I always begin a story with nothing but the sense of a strong-voiced character and a few crazy ideas about what kind of problem that character may face. The fantasy world grows up around my characters as I write. But not in an organic, easy-as-breathing way. I have to work on it. I research a lot, which might sound odd since I write fantasy, but in the pursuit of crafting a believable story world I’ve researched everything from the history of opera in Paris to the religious practices of ancient Assyria. Consistency is the hardest part of worldbuilding, for me. Tiny details are just the tip of the world-building iceberg, but they’re all the reader sees. If I give a soldier a red uniform in one chapter, and then forget and turn it yellow in the next chapter, the reader will think I’m talking about a different army. This might seem really obvious, but I’m the kind of writer who can blithely have the same character alive and dead at the same time (not in a vampiric way—I just forget that I already killed characters on occasion).

Me: It’s interesting that your stories start with the characters and the setting and story come from them. One of the things I liked best about Mortis was the characters. Who was easiest to write? Hardest? Which one is your favorite?

HC: Jane, the protagonist, is my favorite character; I like her quiet strength. It takes a long time to write a book, though, so I am invested in all the characters, even the villains. Felix was the hardest character to write, because the annoying guy kept changing his mind about whether he wanted to be a villain or a hero. I killed him in a fit of exasperation while I was writing an early draft of the story, but he refused to be so easily silenced—he was reincarnated in the next draft.

Me: Can you tell us something about Mortis that you know but isn’t in the book? Perhaps share some back-story on a character or something about the setting?

HC: I like to consider how the secondary characters of any novel would view the events of the story. In this story, I found myself wondering about Sapphire and Zel, two of Jane’s classmates who are also training to become assassins. Sapphire makes a lot of dark choices out of fear—I was fascinated by the moral quandary made evident in her life. Is it bad to do evil things if that is the only way to survive? I played with this a little in Mortis, because Sapphire’s choices are such a contrast to Jane’s. But I didn’t really have space to go into Zel’s life or backstory. Imagine being trained as both a healer and an assassin. Unlike Jane and Sapphire, who had friends to protect them inside their dangerous school, Zel is only alive because of her value as the apprentice healer. She’s really, really bad at most of her classes. She can’t play chess to save her life. And she’s shy, but she knows the names of every student in her school because she’s basically the school nurse—she sees all the injuries, everything from scraped knees to near-death dueling wounds. Zel is a young woman trying to serve both life and death, balanced between hope and fear. And that’s all I can say about her for now.

Me: I was also intrigued with Zel. I wanted to know more about her. Perhaps in a later book…like maybe a sequel to Mortis? [fingers crossed] What are you working on now? 

HC: Right now I’m working on my latest NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project, which involves taking the 100K words I wrote in the span of one (extremely sleepless and caffeinated) month, and turning it into an actual novel, with actual characters moving through a plot that makes sense. There could be a sequel to Mortis; right now it lives in my head and in a very sloppy, very rough draft on my computer. Whether or not it sees the light of day depends on publication variables.

Me: And before you leave us, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

HC: Thanks for reading (or thinking about reading) Mortis! As a writer, I’m thrilled that you chose to venture into my story-world of assassins and second chances. As a librarian, I’m just happy that you’re reading—whether or not you picked my book. Keep reading!

Thanks for coming by Hannah! You can connect with Hannah on Goodreads, Pinterest, Facebook, and at her website hannahcobbauthor.weebly.com.

cover image Mortis for website

PROLOGUE

Felix stopped beside the roped-in dueling ring, waiting for Willy to thread her way down the stands.

She elbowed through the last of the crowd and emerged at his side, grinning. “I can’t wait to see his face when you win.”

Anyone else would have counseled caution. Felix found himself answering her grin. He tossed Willy his coat and rolled up his shirtsleeves. “It’s not his face I care about.”

“She’s here,” Willy said, answering the question he hadn’t asked.

His eyes rose to the stands again, and found Jane at once. He could see her fury in the tilt of her chin, in the inscrutable line of her mouth. She hadn’t spoken to him since the challenge.

Willy elbowed him. “Focus, Felix. She’ll get over it.”

“Is that supposed to comfort me while I face possible death?”

“If you die defending her, she’ll die of a broken heart a few days later. Just like in the ballads.”

Felix pulled his attention back to the ring. “You haven’t quite mastered the solemn tone of a dueling second, Will.”

“Yeah, well, I’m more used to being in the ring myself.” Willy straightened up, her hand settling on her own student sword. “Here he comes.”

Kade paused in the doorway, raking the room with a glance that laid ownership to everyone in the stands. He swaggered his way to the ring.

The school rioted in response, half the crowd cheering for Felix, the other half chanting Kade’s name, a rhythmic battle of sound. Felix ignored the noise. Kade preened in it, bowing and then bowing again, a sharp nod that set the bells in his hair jingling.

Then Kade deliberately swept his gaze over the audience. His stare fastened on Jane.

Felix saw Jane’s smile vanish, her expression brittle. His fingers tightened around his sword hilt. “Kade, this isn’t a player’s stage. Are you here to fight or to amuse the crowd?”

Before Kade could answer the hall fell silent, a stillness enforced by the masters’ presence in the doorway. Black robes brushed the floor as they strode to their places around the ring, one master for each of the twelvespikes holding the rope boundary.

Felix entered the dueling circle. He should have been afraid His gaze turned to Kade’s sword with its sixteen gold rings around the hilt, marking the older boy as a member of the senior class.

The sword in his own hand bore only fourteen gold rings.

He performed the requisite bow to his opponent.

“Begin,” one of the masters said.

Kade’s sword snapped forward. Felix felt the grind of steel against steel through his wrist and up his arm. His feet slid across the floor, sword flashing from strike to block to lunge without conscious thought.

The noise outside the ring hammered at him: Willy bellowing, “Hit him, Felix!” from the edge of the ring, catcalls when Kade stumbled, moans when the older student recovered and attacked again. The razor edge of Kade’s sword grazed Felix’s shoulder.

Kade drew back, smirking. “Want to give up, boy?”

Felix transferred his sword to his left hand and Kade bore down on him, forcing both their blades sideways. Felix slammed himself into his opponent. For a moment they strained against each other, feet planted on the floor in stubborn refusal to give way.

Kade’s hand twitched to the right and Felix wrenched free, hooking a foot around Kade’s leg and jerking the older boy off his feet.

The cheering from the stands vanished in a collective indrawn breath.

Felix stood over Kade and let his eyes rise to the stands, just for a moment.

Jane’s expression hadn’t changed, but this time her anger swept through him like a sturdy kind of warmth. She nodded to him, just once.

Willy flung herself into the ring, howling with delight, and the hall shook with the cheering, the stands rattling, the vaulted ceiling vibrating above them.

Felix remembered to breathe. The lightning-sharp anger of the fight sizzled inside him. It took an effort to hold his sword steady. 

He could kill Kade. He’d won the duel.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Kade hissed, arrogant even in defeat.

He wanted Kade dead, but not yet. Not like this.

Not with Jane watching.

He leaned down so only Kade would hear. “Next time you think of coming near her, remember this. Remember what it feels like to greet death.”

The tip of his blade flicked once, leaving a triangle of blood at the base of Kade’s throat.

Felix’s eyes bored into Kade’s.  “Remember that Jane is mine.”

He sheathed his sword, turned on his heel, and left the ring.

Excerpt used by permission.

Didn’t I tell you it was good? And it just gets better. :D

So who wants to win a copy? I’m giving away an e-copy to one lucky recipient. All you have to do is comment below and say you’d like to be entered into the drawing. Contest closes April 9th.

masala-marinated interview with rajdeep paulus

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I saw the lovely Rajdeep Paulus at her publisher’s launch party. There were about five authors who read excerpts from their new releases. I still remember the scene Rajdeep read with a conversation between two characters using happy and sad face sticky notes. It was my favorite of the readings and one of the reasons I (finally) read her first book. I’m thankful that I waited to read it until the sequel came out because then I got to read through both books without having to wait. :D Who says procrastination never gets you anywhere?

Both books are wonderful, providing your are tough enough to get through the first 25% of Swimming Through the Clouds. Not because the writing isn’t stellar, or the characters’ sympathetic–quite the reverse, actually. Reading about the evil one person can inflict on another in an effort to control them can be very uncomfortable. In this case, I think it’s worth it.

I’m delighted to introduce you to Raj and her books!

Me: You describe yourself as an author of masala-marinated fiction. So, stupid question for the culturally ignorant, what is masala?

Raj: Love it! Masala translated, simply means, spice. You should ask Chip MacGregor. He once told me that his favorite Indian dish was “Masala.” Still tease him about that one. :)

Me: Swimming Through Clouds and Seeing Through Stones combine to tell the stories of siblings Talia and Jess. The beginning of Swimming Through Clouds is very difficult to read. Was it difficult for you to write? What steps did you have to go through to make it so authentic?

Raj: Honestly, I wrote chapter two of Swimming Through Clouds. Then I read it over and sobbed like a baby. I was heart broken for Talia and horrified that someone could do something so awful. I know. I know. I created it, but it still hurts like a momma when you do terrible things to your characters. At least, for me, it does.

In terms of certain steps to making the story authentic, I don’t know if there’s a trick to it, but I try and let myself completely disappear when I’m in my characters’ stories, and just really try and live out their lives as I write. When I find myself slipping in too much, I take a break from writing. Because that slows me down and then I feel disconnected from the story. The best example of how to describe the story might be from the movie Avatar, that pretty blue thing that stole our hearts a few years back. Writing to me is a bit like that. Fall asleep and wake up in a new world. And then write it all down as fast as I can before I forget the details.

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Me: Talia and Jess’s father is from South Africa. That seemed an unusual choice to me. Why South Africa? How the story might have been different if he had been American or Indian?

Raj: This is the first time someone’s asked me about Talia’s Dutch South African heritage. I suppose he could have been from anywhere, but I had a back story all worked out in my head to sort of explain how he turned out as he did. This involved growing up in an Apartheid present South Africa, learning to view anyone non-white as inferior from his parents and then falling in love with an Indian girl (not Gita) in his own country. He was then kicked out and disowned by his family for his choice to love this brown-skinned girl, but when he followed her to America, she decided he wasn’t worth the sacrifice of her own family so she ditched him. [Note: none of this comes out in the books.] Then when his whole rise to power through the invitation of a trafficking organization that needed young, bright lawyers takes flight, he decides he will never be hurt or abandoned or rejected again. This, at least in part, births his extremely controlling nature.

Me: I had wondered if the apartheid angle played into his domineering nature. That makes a lot of sense. Americans tend to only think in terms of American characters or prevalent minorities. I figured there must have been a reason you chose a Dutch South African. (patting myself on the back)

Part of the reason you wrote your books is to make readers aware of child trafficking. In writing your books, have you met any of the victims or had any read your books?

Raj: No, not as of yet. I hope to make a trip to India some time with Nomi Network and talk with the women and girls they are helping, many of whom are survivors of Red Light Districts. I have, however, been emailed a few times by readers who couldn’t read any more or couldn’t believe how similar their own stories of abuse resonated with Talia’s. This broke my heart. And does every time I get that kind of feedback.

Me: That is heartbreaking. We’d like to think that scenes likes the ones you’ve written are sensationalized, but there are real people out there who suffer. Knowing that your stories resonate with others is a reminder to us about the plight of others.

Before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?

Raj: Wow. You’re making me choose just one! :) Okay, I guess because I’m busy in the whole marketing of the books right now, I just want say a huge thanks to every reader who takes the time to read my books, giving this newbie writer a chance, and an extra huge hug to all who have a few minutes to write a short review on Amazon and Goodreads. The reviews don’t just brighten my day and help shape my writing, they actually help new readers to find the books. So thank you for that. And, thanks, Lisa, for this chance to chat with you and your peeps.

Me: I feel lucky to have read your books and luckier to make friends with their fabulous author. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

Watch the book trailer for Seeing Through Stones: 

Aren’t these covers gorgeous?

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EXCERPT FROM SWIMMING THROUGH CLOUDS:

CHAPTER ONE

I live in the in between. Between what if and what is. It’s how I manage. It’s the only way I know. Everyone has their way. This is mine.

I flip my imaginary pen shut, close my invisible journal, and tuck my thoughts away in the only safe place I know exists. My heart.

A new school changes nothing in my mind—the other place I file the chapters of my story. A story no one can ever know. Instinctively, I tug at my sleeve, pulling the left one over my hand. Because my arm is where Dad prefers to write. Reminders to never step out of line.

Someone clears her throat. The brunette bus driver with smoker’s breath taps the top of the seat in front of me. “Bell rings in seven minutes.” Empty rows surround me—we’re the last two on board. “Might want to get a move on, hon.”

Move? Second week of September, and I wish I could move back. Back in time, that is. To a time when Mom made apple pie and my younger brother flew kites from the roof. A time that never existed. Until I wrote it down. In between my lines of reality. That’s my favorite place. Leave me there. And leave me alone.

“Five, now.” Coughing, Madam Bus Driver’s friendly, good morning voice dissipates like the sand in an hourglass.  

Rising, I drag myself into school, plop my backpack next to my desk, slide into my chair, and bury my face in my arms. If I can’t see the other kids, maybe they can’t see me. Careful to keep my quads from brushing against the museum of chewed gum on the bottom of my table, I hug my left arm close to me when I notice a scrap of paper on the floor below. It’s a little, yellow, square Post-it note. I could have just as easily stepped on it. Maybe someone’s circulated a juicy love letter. I squint to read the writing without moving the paper.   

Talia. My name printed neatly across the top is all I need to see before I do step on it. Who wrote this? Did Dad plant this here as a warning? That’s nuts. Dad hasn’t followed me to school. Or has he? Is someone else passing notes around about me? I excuse myself to the lady’s room, scoop up the paper as I go and crumple the sticky note in my hand to make it disappear. Then I walk-run until I stand safely locked behind the walls of a toilet stall. Trembling, I prop my back against the side with the least graffiti, leaning on my right arm, and open up my hand and smooth out the creases.

The Post-it reads: Talia. Dew drop by and have lunch with me in the cafe? L.

Huh? Who is L.? And how does this person know what my name means? Or maybe he or she is just a terrible speller?

Lagan. Has to be. The same tall, math geek who wears his Bulls Jersey at least twice a week and would offer to tie my shoes if the teacher asked for a volunteer. I ignore the offer. And him. I avoid his eyes during the rest of first period and tell Ms. Miller, “I don’t need any help with AP Chem today. I understand the material. I’m good.”

Good until I arrive at my locker after second period, and there’s another Post-it note openly stuck to the door for anyone to see. This one reads, I can balance a mean cafeteria tray on one hand while spinning a b-ball with the index finger of the other. Eat lunch with me? L. I quickly scrunch it up in my hand. How many people have read it in passing? Do all his friends know he’s leaving me notes? Did the basketball team put him up to this this? Like some kind of stupid dare to test the transfer student is? What would make this stranger want to have lunch with me? The strange girl?

If that isn’t bad enough, when I open up my locker over the week, a new sticky note falls out each day.

Tuesday’s boasts: I can open up a milk carton no-handed. Have lunch with me? L.

Wednesday’s says: I’ll buy you lunch. Throw in two desserts. Have lunch with me? L.

A stalker is all I need to add another layer to my already complicated life. And this guy clearly has an overabundance of free time on his hands. All week, I decide to hide in the girls’ bathroom and leave five minutes to eat lunch at my locker, standing and scarfing down my sandwich and guzzling down my water bottle before the bell sounds. Time is my enemy. I fear her more than the dark.

When Thursday rolls around, I spin the lock on my combination, suddenly aware that I’m half-expecting to find one. My heart sinks the second the lock clicks open. What if? And before panic sets in, a little, yellow, square sheet sails down like an autumn leaf, landing on my shoe. Can this tiny Post-it be trying to direct my steps? Towards Lagan?

I don’t know whether to hide or to laugh when I read Thursday’s sticky note. I’m in good with the cafeteria ladies. Chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Have lunch with me? L.

Leaning against my locker, I imagine the cool sensation of ice cream on my lips and before I finish unwrapping my sandwich, a hall monitor busts me. “No eating allowed outside the cafeteria. Proceed there now, or I’ll have to write you up.” She stares at me, holding a pen and clipboard with the intensity of a cop dangling handcuffs.

Put the cuffs, I mean pen, away, I think to myself as I toss my lunch in the nearest trash bin rather than face the lunchroom. And Lagan. The short, pudgy hall monitor lady with tight red curls a little past her ears just shrugs her shoulders and returns to her post and her pile of People magazines. I’m not mad at her. She’s just doing her job. I get that.

I mumble, “I’m sorry,” as I walk past her down the hall and up a flight of stairs to English class.

Sinking into my chair, the bell sounds, and Mrs. Benson announces the first formal writing assignment of the semester. “Well, Seniors, I simply loved reading the journal entries on your summer adventures! Only two weeks in and I sense this is going to be a superb fall kick-off to the culmination of your secondary education, don’t you think?”

Superb. Sure. I guess she bought the made up story of my trip to Disney. If my life were a Disney flick, I’d ask the Genie for one wish. Dad—go poof.

Mrs. Benson smoothes her lilac business skirt down from her hips like she’s drying her hands and continues talking. “Pay attention, now, because I need each of you to pair up and interview a classmate. I expect you to approach your write up as a chapter out of a biography rather than a Q and A format.”

Lagan’s hand shoots up so fast, it’s a wonder he doesn’t pull a muscle.

“Yes, Lagan,” Mrs. Benson says with an adoration-soaked tone.  

“It’s La-gan!” a few kids chime. Then George, his basketball bud adds, “As in, La la la la, and when the bell rings, we will be gone!” George stands up to give Lagan a chin-raised, high-five, then sits back down.

“Thank you for that phonetic breakdown of La-gan’s name, George. I stand corrected.” Then she turns to Lagan, eyebrows raised, waiting for his question.

“Well, I was just thinking—” The classic start of so many of Lagan’s responses since school started. “Most of us have been together since Kindergarten.”

“Go on.” Mrs. Benson lowers her bifocals and looks at her manicured fingernails over the top of them.

“So most of us already know each other.” Lagan shrugs, and several kids throw in, ‘Yeahs’ with their nods of agreement. Maybe he hopes she’ll cancel the assignment.

Mrs. Benson emits a teacherly throat clear to quiet down the class. “Which means most of you have no excuse to find each other and get your assignments in on time. As for you Lagan, can I trust you to work with Talia? Help her to feel welcome and complete this assignment in the process. Yes, why don’t you pair up with Talia? But realize that interviewing the new student does not buy you any extra days. Talia, I vouch for this one.” Mrs. Benson steps forward and pats Lagan’s shoulder like he’s her son. “You’re safe with Lagan. Does that work?” Lagan nods once as he beams a smile to the teacher.

Umm? I think she was asking me, but my voice fails me. I suppose Mrs. Benson takes that as a yes, too.

Then she addresses the entire class again. “Make time to meet during study hall or lunch or after school in my classroom, if you need to. I’ll just be grading papers at my desk. All typed copies, double-spaced are to be placed on my desk at the start of Friday’s class, a week from tomorrow. I’ll be grading them for content, grammar and creativity. And I’ll bet even those of you that think you know each other will discover something new. Because we’re always changing. Always.”

Sure. My burns change to blisters. The blisters change to scabs. The scabs to scars. Back to burns again. Is that what you mean by change, Mrs. Benson? And what about those of us who don’t want to be discovered? After school is not an option, and no one else is jumping up to ask me to be partners. So, Lagan, it is.

Seems like this place is no different than the last place I lived. Benton Harbor, a few hours east of Chicago in the mitten State, was a sea of chocolate while Darien, Illinois, my new home, is a loaf of white bread with a handful of “others.” When you’re an ethnic cocktail like me, you never know where you belong. Or if you belong at all.

I can read the words behind the stare-downs I get, especially from the girls. Labels they stamp me with that I’ve heard my whole life. Weird. Uncool. Out there. And then the word they think I can’t hear, because they spell it with hand gestures: Emo.

If they’re thinking I’m emotionally unstable, they should meet my younger brother, Jesse. Funny thing is, he looks normal. About the only ordinary detail about me is my average height, but stature doesn’t help a person blend into the crowd when the other details scream, “Check me out, I’m a freak!”

My face and hands are a shade of brown lighter than your average Southeast Asian, but not quite light enough to be considered Caucasian. Most people guess I’m Hispanic or Middle Eastern. Once or twice, I’ve been called an Islander. Not sure which island they were referring to, but I knew they were confused. Not even sure what to call myself since I’m half Indian and half South African. If White Chocolate, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup were an option on forms, I’d check that box.

I instinctively brush under my nose with the top of my pointer finger. My nose is petite on the whole, but my nostrils flare up slightly, making a nose ring out of the question. I leave my hand there as a curtain. Usually, I keep a few strands of my hair pulled over to my mouth—my futile attempt to hide my lips—the part of me that draws the most attention.

No matter how much Chapstick, lip gloss or lipstick I apply, I cannot make my deformed, deeply ridged, lips disappear. My bottom lip looks worse than the top, and no respectable cover for lips exists yet. Have to look into that. Start a trend. Invent some lip-glasses. Call them Lip-Shades, for when you can’t find the perfect color or get a cold sore or in my case, your lips always look like your vampire boyfriend prefers lips to necks. If a pair of these puppies could keep a kid from talking too much, teachers might endorse it, and I’d be a billionaire. Run away. Fly to the moon. Take Jesse with me, of course.

Since that’s not going to happen today, or ever, I attempt to draw the least amount of attention to myself. But even that seems to backfire in this new school. Between the redhead Hall Cop’s eagle eyes and Mrs. Benson’s assignment, I’m left with little choice the next day. At least it’s Friday. Time to buy lunch and face Lagan.  

As I walk into the cafeteria after Bio, a parent volunteer offers me a tray. I could have picked one up from the pile myself, just as easily. When I spot a Post-it curling up off the far corner, the plastic tray slips from my fingers, but I manage to grab it before it hits the floor. Relieved I didn’t put down my spoon and fork as I lift the tray up to the counter and flatten the note to read it.

I’ll put your tray away for you. Sitting on the right side at the back table. Saved you a seat. Have lunch with me?L. So he’s taking a day off being a social butterfly, surrounded by his high tops-sporting teammates and mathlete buds to sit with me? How did he even know I would show up today? Four words comes to mind: Get this over with.

Tucking my lower lip under the top and reasoning that one meeting will be enough to finish the English homework, I join Lagan at the rear of the cafeteria. Sort of. I know better than to sit right next to him or even across from him. Instead, I walk over to his table and sit two seats down, on the opposite side.

He blows into his hand and sniffs. “I brushed and flossed this morning if you want to move over. I’m not saving seats for anyone else.”

“I’m good.” I stare at my tray of food, aware that I haven’t thought of one question to ask him.

“Well, okay, then.” Lagan starts to rise up as he pushes his tray down toward my end of the table.

Startled, I half-scream, “W-W-Wait!” Catching myself, I pull my sleeves down past my wrists, push his tray back to his old seat, and lower my voice. “I mean, let’s just try this. If it’s okay?”

Relief washes over me when he resumes his seat. He doesn’t even ask why. Makes me wonder if we’ll end up friends someday. I don’t have any friends, so one friend…if I keep him on the D.L. My family doesn’t have to know. My dad, really. Especially Dad. If he ever finds out… Well, let’s just not go there, because he is not going to find out. Ever.

Lagan speaks first when the awkward moment passes. “Let’s start over.”

“Okay.” I look at the wall in front of me.

“I’m over here.”  I can see Lagan waving his hands out of the corner of my eye.  

“I know.” I speak slowly. “I see you. I hear you. I’m. Here.”

“O–kay.” His voice falls flat with an all too familiar sound. Doubt.

I pick up my tray to leave. Better to fail the assignment before disappointment turns to disaster. How do I interview Lagan when I can barely bring myself to talk to him? How else do individuals close the gap between space and silence? People draw near to each other and communicate. Face to face. Eye contact. That is normal. But normal isn’t in my cards. I’ve been dealt a hand that I can’t lay down. I step away from the table and turn to face the direction of the conveyor belt where other students are placing their trays.

“Wait.” Lagan’s voice rises.

“I’m not hungry.” I lie.       

“Don’t leave yet.”

But it’s too late. I lied to myself too. Somewhere between the Post-it notes and all the times Lagan offered to help me, the new girl, I gave into the hope, perhaps only a crumb’s worth, that he might be different. But if he can’t handle this, he probably can’t handle any of it.

“I’ll see you in class.” My eyes focus on the red exit sign.

“You forgot something.”

That is the first time he tricks me. I stop and turn around to scan the table where I was sitting. He is frantically scrawling something in his lap. Then he reaches over and slaps the table where I sat moments ago. A little yellow Post-it note curls up where my tray had just lain. Everything inside me tells me to run, but I have been running my whole life. My feet are tired. And I am a little hungry. Against my better judgment, I return to my spot and sit again.

This note reads, I’m sorry. I don’t understand. This is new. Let’s start over. I nod. Then fold up the note and put it in the back pocket of my jeans.

Lagan clears his throat and smiles. “Take two. Or three. Ahh. Who’s counting, anyway?”

My peripheral vision has sharpened over the years and I see his profile exhale. While we eat in silence, I memorize his appearance. His dark brown eyes squint when he smiles. His silky black hair falls to right above his shoulders and a few wisps fall across his forehead, over his left eyebrow. Lagan’s skin reminds me of milk chocolate. A tiny black mole on his right cheek dances as he chews. His thinned out goatee draws attention to his oval jawline—a nest for breadcrumbs which he instinctively wipes away after every few bites. I can see his black Nike high tops extended beyond the cafeteria table that his long lanky legs barely fit beneath. And he raises his dark, thick eyebrows whenever he looks in my direction and smiles, introducing a heart-skipping dimple on his left cheek.  

“I’m sorry.” I mutter the confession, but it’s true. I am sorry. I want to undo the last few minutes too. I don’t really know what I want. I just—

“How’s the chocolate milk?” he asks, drawing attention away from the past.

That’s when I know he’s different. And different has potential.

“Fine.” A minuscule snort escapes me, and I feel something loosen—around my heart. “Are you still buying?”

“Most certainly.”

Wow. That dimple again. As he walks back to the drinks section of the cafeteria line, I survey the room, always aware that everything can change, for the worse, in a fraction of a second. Nothing but noisy students eating lunches and oblivious monitors walking around. We are safe— for now. When Lagan returns with a carton, he hesitates. Then he places it caddy-corner from me rather than on my tray. I fold my bottom lip inside my top, and wait for him to take his place.

“Thanks.” My whispered word falls onto the lunch tray, but Lagan hears it.

He coughs “Y.W.” into his right fist, and we both giggle.

I reach over and drag the carton closer. I lift it up to open it and find a sticky note on the bottom. The guy must keep them in his back pocket. I peel it off and smile. I can see out of the corner of my eye that he is smiling too.

I reread it to myself: If I ask you ‘yes/no’ questions, you can answer “yes” by nodding to your food and “no” by looking at the exit sign. Is that cool?

I flip the note over and there’s more:  And don’t worry about me. I’m always talking to myself. No one will suspect a thing!

I resist the urge to bust out laughing when I reread the last line. I shake my head and nod to my tray, but before he can ask the first question, the bell rings. Lunch is over. It’s a B schedule today, so my next class is not the same as Lagan’s. We both stand at the same time. I remember my manners. I fish a pen out of my book bag, write “ty” on the last sticky note, tack it to my tray and head to gym.

Used by permission. All rights reserved.

You can download the beginning of both books at amazon “Try It Free.”

GIVEAWAYS:

Two chances to win a copy of Seeing Through Stones at rajdeeppaulus.com/giveaways and Goodreads giveaway.

For those of you who don’t own a copy of Swimming Through Clouds, I am giving one e-copy away. Just comment below or on my Facebook author page and tell me you want to be entered for a chance to win. Winner announced April 2.

Now readers, let me here from you. What topics/subjects are you particularly sensitive to that would cause you to put a book down without finishing it?

my writing process blog hop

 

photo credit: Michele Catania via photopin cc

photo credit: Michele Catania via photopin cc

I never done a blog hop. Have you ever read one? This isn’t a jump-through-the-hoops-to-win-something variety. This is a writing-on-topic variety. And meet-my-writer-friends name drop. LOL

The talented Kat Hackenbach, the first author I ever interviewed, kindly tagged me to answer a series of questions on how, what, and why I write. If you’re interested in her answers, you can find them over at her blog: http://www.katheckenbach.com. Both of her fantasy novels (Christian worldview) Finding Angel and Seeking Unseen are great and recommended, particularly for teens. 

Hold on to your knickers, here we go…

1) What am I working on?

I’m currently co-writing a book with Mike Lynch. It’s a futuristic sci-fi novel about Mind Writers, people that can transfer souls from one body to another through touch. (Mike’s clever idea). We’re at over 35,000 words, so that’s about half-way done. Writing with another author is growing me as a writer. I’m enjoying the experience and hope to be able to apply what I’m learning to my novel-in-progress, Truth Seeking, a re-imagining of the book of Ruth

The other thing I’m working on is a series of short stories with six other writers. Our first combined story debuted in February, and now we are each adding chapters to the story, if you will. I have a character named Sarah West who is a geologist from Earth sent to study Planet Zero, a penal colony. The first volume, Colony Zero: Contact, is available at Amazon.

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2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Click on the picture to see the original article on epicreads.com

In terms of the sci-fi that I’m writing with other authors, the premise differs. I’d like to think that the stories we’re telling are pretty original. But as you’ll see from the chart on the left, a fantastic compilation from EpicReads.com, there’s very little new when it comes to literature. Just think of Ecclesiastes, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” ;) One thing missing from Epic Reads’ chart is Bible retellings. That is what I like to write best.

3) Why do I write what I do?

The simplest answer is that I’d like to give Christian teens sci-fi and fantasy books they can read that are written from a Christian worldview. So, hopefully my stories are infused with hope and Truth–God’s Truth, not the relative little-t truth taught in the world today. As a kid/teen, I devoured fantasy books but I always felt guilty bringing them to church, like they were something to be ashamed of. Magic, sorcery, etc. A friend just asked me for a list of Christian sci-fi and fantasy for a teen she mentors because her mom was pushing her to read “Christian books” and she’s a sci-fi lover. Thankfully, I have a long list of favorite to recommend. I’d like to write books that invest in the next generation, teach biblical Truth, and get people interested in reading the Bible stories themselves.

4) How does your writing process work?

Slowly. Poor Mike, my writing partner, writes two chapters in just a couple of days and gets them to me and then generally has to wait a month for me to return the same amount. My goal is to write a scene (~2 hours) a day. To do that, I have to have computer time and a good handle on where to take the story. Sometimes I have one but not the other and that slows me up.

As for plotting vs. pantsing (writing by the seat-of-your pants), I’m a combination. I have a rough idea/outline of where I want the story to go, but it’s the process of writing it that brings out the nifty details and surprises. The more I work with a story, the more ideas I get to go into it. And prayer helps as well. God is a great source for ideas. :)

That’s it, friends. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my writing. I have a short story that’s scheduled to be published next month–more on that later. Until then, I have a few great book to recommend and their authors to interview.

I encourage you to stop by my friends’ blogs as they answer these questions in the next week or so:

Gretchen EK Engelgretchenekengel.com – Gretchen likes to title her blog posts to 80′s music titles. She has a thing for elves and a proclivity for steam punk. 

Beth Steury: bethsteury.wordpress.com - Beth feels strongly in abstinence and second-chance virginity. It’s never too late to save yourself for your future spouse, regardless whether you’ve made mistakes in your past. She’s written a gripping YA novel that we’re hoping someone picks up and publishes soon. It’s ready and it’s a great read.

Karen DeBlieckkarendeblieck.com Karen is my long lost twin sister. We met and have the same zany sense of humor, despite the fact that we look nothing alike and aren’t even from the same country. Her blog posts read like poetry and she has a great fantasy YA book ready to be published.

Now, dear readers, let me here from you? If you could ask a writer anything about how, what, or why they write, what would it be?

confessions of a junior high bird face

I’m blogging over at The Scriblerians today, complete with my most embarrassing school picture ever–from 6th grade.

To celebrate the release of Cynthia Toney’s debut novel, Bird Face, I have decided to publicly humiliate myself. [deep breath]

You see, Cynthia’s novel took me back to my junior high years. I don’t know about yours, but mine came with a lot of ups and downs. Academic ups and relational downs, mostly.

In 6th grade, I had to switch elementary schools because I was admitted into a gifted and talented program and they weren’t offering it at the school that was a block from my house. So in my final year of elementary school, I had to start all over. New school, new friends, new everything. And I looked like this:

Read more at: http://thescriblerians.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/confessions-from-a-junior-high-bird-face/

the inspiration behind Shadow Play

iStock_000025290821Medium

Have you ever wondered how Adam and Eve felt after their big oops moment in the Garden? I mean, after they played the finger pointing game. It was Your fault, God – you gave me this woman. It was the serpent’s fault, God – it deceived me. Sigh. When did the magnitude of their sin hit them? Did they wish they could go back again and have a do-over? Knowing what they knew, would they eat that fruit again or run away screaming? Or would the deliciousness of their first taste beckon them back to the tree?

And then I wondered, how might things have turned out if they had fallen down on their faces and begged for forgiveness instead of hiding? But pointing fingers is more in our nature than true repentance, sadly.

These were the questions in my mind when I began my short story Shadow Play. As you read the story, you’ll notice a lot of Genesis 3 references. Eve (Evie), the death of joy, the tree, the serpent’s whispers, and at the very end, the forgiveness God’s offers through His Son.

In the first draft of the story, I had Evie travel back through time to the moment of her fateful decision. In the original version, she ran away instead of making the same choice again. But reading the story written with that ending didn’t sit right with anyone who read it (including me) because God doesn’t give us do-overs. He doesn’t send us back in time to choose again. He wipes away our mistakes and gives us a clean slate through forgiveness, not forgetting.

And aren’t you glad? If we forgot, we’d be plagued to make the same mistakes over and over like some sort of never-ending loop. (Hmm, maybe that’s a good premise for a story…) Forgiveness allows us to move on with life instead of reliving the same mistakes again and again. (Hopefully).

I posed the question on Facebook, “if Eve was given a do-over, would she eat the fruit again?” In the opinion of my Facebook friends who answered, it would only have been a matter of time until Adam and Eve would have sinned again. Our memories are short like that. 

Ready to read Shadow Play? You can it at this link: http://www.familyfiction.com/short-stories/the-story-2014-contest/shadow-play/

shadow play

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you like it, please press the green thumb at the bottom to cast your vote for it. You can read the other stories and vote for as many as you like. I won’t know until early May if my story has won anything, but just getting it to where it is now so I can share it and have people vote for it seems like a win to me. :)

Now, dear friends, your thoughts on Adam and Eve? If they had a do-over, would they make the same mistake again?

how edgy do you like your Christian fiction?

I stopped reading Stephen King after Misery. It was just too…scary, realistic, horrifying. There – let’s settle on horrifying. I read it in high school, and I remember running and diving into bed at night once the lights were out as if I’d be a goner if I were caught out of bed. Bed is a safe place, right? Nothing can get you once the covers are pulled up.

When I was a kid, I also slept with the covers up to my chin so vampires couldn’t get at my neck…I must have thought my sheets were made of garlic or something. LOL

swimming through clouds

I picked up the book Swimming Through Clouds recently because I heard so much about it from my friend, Gretchen Engel. She’s been promoting the sequel to the book, Seeing Through Stone, on her blogs. I’ve had my eye on this book ever since I heard the author read an excerpt from the book at a launch party for Playlist Fiction in Indianapolis last September. The author, Rajdeep Paulus, writes masala-marinated fiction (her term). I simply love learning about other cultures and reading through the eyes of an Indian character, especially a book well-loved by a friend, is a fantastic way to do it.

Gretchen described the book as gritty. For me, the first quarter of the book was horrifying, reminiscent to Stephen King’s Misery or the movie with Julia Roberts, Sleeping with the Enemy. The difference, while the events in Misery are a dim possibility, the events in Swimming Through the Clouds and Sleeping with the Enemy, do happen. Domestic violence is a fact of life for many and reading about the depths of pain one person can put another through is…horrifying. I read through the book thinking, when we get to the climax of the book, the “midnight of the soul” for the main character, am I going to be able to stand it? How much worse can this possibly get? It was like a reading train-wreck. Uncomfortable, but I couldn’t look away. 

But I loved this book. The writing was beautiful. The story poignant in sadness but infused with hope. Talia, the main character, and her brother Jess, grow on you and you want to reach in and scoop them out of the story and hug them to you like kittens left out in the cold. The book didn’t get to the point I couldn’t read it. The other shoe didn’t fall because, unlike Hollywood films and general fiction, this is a Christian story so there is God, and hope. 

But Talia and Jess’s stories go on. So that is why I have already purchased and am reading the sequel Seeing Through Stone. I want to know what happens next. :)

In answer to my question, how edgy do you like your Christian fiction? My answer is: the edgier the better. I want real, even if that means at times it is horrifying. Because it’s Christian, where God is involved there is always hope and redemption in one way or another. Those are the stories I like to read.

What about you?

does dying have to be scary?

Good question. For a Christian, the answer should be a resounding no, but even if you are assured of your salvation, there is a fear of the unknown. Will dying hurt? What about the people I’m leaving behind? It’s the unanswered questions that haunt us.

(If you’re not a Christian, then the answer is yes, very. Just sayin’.)

Normally, I don’t read non-fiction. I read primarily for entertainment and I’m not one that finds non-fiction particularly enjoyable. Sometimes, but it’s the exception to the rule. For me, it’s all about the story and that’s one thing most non-fiction books lack. A notable exception was the final story told by Ruth Bell Graham in her book Legacy of a Pack Rat about a woman who was dying and what she experienced in her last moments. It’s one of those stories that helps you understand that Heaven is real. I read that story almost 30 years ago and it has stayed with me all this time because it really touched me.  

When I saw an offer for a free book written by a Hospice nurse of over 25 years, I picked it up hoping for more stores like the one I had read in Ruth Bell Graham’s book. While it had some similar elements, Glimpses of Heaven was more about what the author learned about God in all the years of being with people as they died. And she learned some very profound truths. It should be no surprise that Jesus, our wonderful shephard, cares for His sheep at the end of their lives. We’re not left alone to die. Quite the opposite–God is with us when we need Him most and taking that step from living into eternity is certainly a time when we need Him.

Trudy Harris describes people in the last stages of dying that are at peace because family members who have died or angels or Jesus or a familiar setting provides them peace. Are they hallucinating? Who knows. But it seems likely to me and to the author, that God knows best what will comfort us in a difficult time. And if the person who is dying is at peace, then it goes a long way to providing peace for their family as well.

In my life, I’ve gone to my share of funerals. The first I remember was when I was eight years old and my father died. My mother and I had walked down to the elementary school one evening for a PTA program. My father stayed at home because he wasn’t feeling well. When we returned, we found him lying on the floor in the den where he had collapsed with a rag in his hand. My dad was in the habit of using an old rag to wipe the dust off the TV screen and it looks like that was where he was headed when the heart-attack took him. Needless to say, it was a shock. No eight year old is prepared to have a parent die. It had a profound effect on my life and relationships. In the back of my head, I can’t help but wonder when the people close to me are going to die. I don’t mean to do it, it’s just where my head goes.

It takes longer to get to a place of peace with the unexpected death of a loved one because it is so difficult to get closure. But the one thing I’ve learned is that even if someone you love dies, you are never alone because God is with you. I trust in God.

My husband’s grandmother, a spitfire of a woman named Pauline (Polly) Moxley, died the week of Christmas almost ten years ago. I still smile whenever I think of Polly. She had such a matter-of-fact manner and wasn’t shy telling you what she thought. When she got sick, my mother-in-law went to stay with her and hospice was there as well. When she reached the end, only a couple of weeks after she had gotten sick, we had time to get to her house and be there with family for a couple of days before she passed. Knowing someone is dying and being able to spend time with them and say good-bye, especially to someone who has lived a long and complete life, is a very different experience than someone dying with no warning. Peace and closure come much faster when you have time to say good-bye. It doesn’t mean you don’t mourn though.

I found comfort reading Glimpses of Heaven. Of course, I can’t help but be a little paranoid. I’m reading this book that I normally would never read (because it’s non-fiction). Is it because someone I know is going to die of a protracted illness in the near future? There’s no coincidence, there’s only God, right? Sadly, that’s the way my brain works for the reason I explained above. This is yet another time I’m going to trust God and let it go. So instead of wondering who’s going to die, I’m going to take this opportunity to offer you a resource if this is a topic near and dear to your heart. The author wrote it to comfort the dying and grieving, and it is a comfort. It’s also a comfort to me, who at the moment is neither dying or grieving. :) 

Do you have any experience with someone close to you dying that you’d like to share?

junior high is as dystopian as it gets

Do you remember junior high? That awkward time where your elementary BFF’s start to drift away because you’re in a new school with new people and all of a sudden you have options. Do you want to be in band, track, orchestra, choir? What electives are you going to take? Are you going to be in honors classes or regular? And the most important question – are you going to hang out in the popular crowd, or some other group? That is, if you have the choice.

I read a wonderful book this weekend by my friend and critique partner, Cynthia T. Toney. Bird Face is her debut novel, and because she wrote it before I joined the Scriblerian critique group, I had heard about it but had never gotten to read it. It just released on February 11th, and, yes, it was definitely worth the wait. :)

My junior high was grades 7-9, so basically a bunch of 12-15 year olds trying to figure out who they were and how to relate to the world. I was shy, in the gifted/talented program, and in band. I also had glasses and braces until I got contacts in 8th grade. I had very poor fashion sense and was incredibly skinny. Not because I had an eating disorder, but because I just didn’t like food (I no longer have that problem, sadly). I still cringe at my old school photos. So I can totally relate to Wendy Robichaud, the main character in Bird Face, as being shy, OK looking at best, and in the shadow of a gorgeous best friend. My BFF in junior high/high school was voted Most Beautiful our senior year. :) I didn’t begrudge her that, she was and still is beautiful.

Bird Face is an authentic look at the important transitional years of junior high. Wendy figures out who she is going to be over the course of the book. Will she be defined by her friends, parents, or a name-calling boy? She struggles with divorced parents, anonymous notes of encouragement, a misunderstood bully, and girls with eating disorders. Not only is this book incredibly well written, the message is strong and from a non-preachy Christian worldview. As a parent, it reminds me of what it was like to be in junior high which will help me empathize with my girls as they get to that age. And I want to read it and discuss it with both my daughters as well. This is realistic Christian fiction at its best!

You can read an excerpt from Bird Face and enter to win an autographed copy at Cynthia Toney’s blog. Definitely stop by and tell her I sent you! ;)

And now, dear friends, what were you like in junior high?

a new favorite for 2014 – the night circus by erin morgenstern

Every once in a while, I fall in love with a book. It didn’t take me very long to realize I was developing a crush on The Night Circus, but could woo me to the finish and become a true love? Or would it fall off into disappointed oblivion, just another tease on the roadway to the favorite few?

I had seen its cover before. I had read the back cover blurb. I had been interested, yes, but I never took the plunge. It was always too expensive for a girl who has over 150 unread books on her kindle, so many of them freely given. And the premise sounded vaguely depressing…an area I don’t need much help with, thank you very much…so I was leery.

Three weeks ago I was at the library looking for an audio book. I’m the sort of driver who has to have something besides music piping at me if I’m going to stay awake longer than twenty minutes in a car. And my monthly writers group meetings are an hour from my house so I had to have a book. And there it was, waving shyly at me from one of the shelves. I read the back cover again and thought, why not?

Eleven CDs later why not? turned into where have you been all my life?

From a writing standpoint, The Night Circus is cleverly told from multiple points of view with parallel story lines written twenty years apart. Sections of it are even written in second person, a difficult feat to pull off, but one the author does well. So many characters spread out over a period of thirty or so years. With the questions of why? and how will it end? cleverly strung along until the very end. 

The book itself is magical. It takes you to the pinnacle of what a circus should be and makes you feel a part of it. The wondrous magicalness of possibility mingled with mystery and star-crossed lovers. Ah, how long until I pick it up again, this time reading it for myself instead of listening to it read for me by someone else? It’s the sort of book I need on my bookshelf where I can look over at it and smile every time I see it. I might even have to blow it kisses.

I’m not alone in feeling this way about books. What books have your dearest loves? Your oldest loves? Your most recent romances?