Jody’s Author Bucket List Challenge

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Shannon Lee Alexander, friend, critique partner, and 2014 debut novelist whose book, Love and Other Unknown Variables, is releasing from Entangled Teen on October 7, challenged me to share my Author Bucket List. You can see Shannon’s list here on her blog. And you can pre-order her book, here. It’s a wonderful book I can’t recommend highly enough if you’re into YA books with heart, humor, and hope. See how perfect the cover is? jpegI love it.

And here’s the blurb (I pulled from Amazon): Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswered questions. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck.

 

The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy at the donut shop—until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy.

 

By the time he learns she’s ill—and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness—Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second squared).

So, now bucket list. I think I’m supposed to do 10 items. I’m not sure I have 10. We’ll find out. These are in no particular order except for number 1, but here are some things I’d like to experience as an author:

 

1. Publish a novel. No-brainer.

     A) See my Publisher’s Wbucketeekly announcement for the first time
     B) See my ISBN number for the first time
     C) See my book cover for the first time
     D) See my mom, dad, sister, husband, kids hold my book for the first time
     E) Worry about book 2 instead of book 1
2. See a stranger reading one of my books in real life, like on a plane or a beach or the dentist’s office.
3. Write a screenplay. Maybe. The first long work I ever wrote was a stage play. It was utterly awful, but man, it was fun. It would be so much to learn to write a stage play or a screenplay well. But first I need to write a few more novels. I’m a slow learner.
4. See one of my novels become a movie.
     A) A good movie
     B) Adapt one myself, maybe?
5. See a YA book by Jody Sparks shelved next to a YA book by Jerry Spinelli, preferably Stargirl. It’s my favorite.
6. Speak at a conference–about writing. Big or small, whatever. The hardest thing will be trying not to accidentally curse. I love it so much.
7. Publish picture books. Funny ones. Toddler humor is the best.
8. See my kid(s) get published. If they want that.
     A) Ask them to sign their book(s) for me
     B) Bask
9. Write a series or a sequel. I generally prefer reading and writing stand-alone books, but ya know, why not?
10. Collect enough author-signed YA books that my library is envied. This is ridiculous and embarrassing. But there it is.

 

I should probably have loftier list items and it should probably include more things about meeting and working with other authors. Maybe things will look different once I start actually publishing books. Number 1 still feels like a massive hurdle. Now, who do I challege? Erin McCahan, Tina Ferraro, and Tammara Webber.

 

 

Ebola–Close to Home

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Here’s the thing: my husband could’ve been Kent Brantly. He stood in JFK Hospital JoshuaMugelein Monrovia, Liberia while their first Ebola patient came in. My perspective as a wife was first to be angry and irrational–why did you go back to Liberia? Holy shit. Get out of there now. Et cetera.

He did get out of there. His incubation period passed, and I knew he’d be fine. Obviously I was relieved.

Then Kent Brantly’s story hit the news. I felt for his wife. I wondered if she’d be a widow. I wondered a lot about what it would be like to be a widow.

As these wifely thoughts percolated, Josh filled in details about his experiences in Liberia. We often have our morning coffee on the porch together. And Josh brought back some wonderful coffee from Dr. Brisbane’s plantation. As we sipped our rich coffee, Josh frowned at how the nurses rationed gloves. His brow pinched together as he wondered if JFK would have to close down, and how would people get their medicines?, and think of the pregnant mothers who can’t get to the hospital. (As of today, the hospital had closed, but was reopened.) Josh speculated about the doctors and staff getting Ebola. His eyes became teary. “There aren’t enough doctors, already.” He didn’t say anything about regretting leaving Liberia because that’s not something you say to your wife.

Then we got word that Dr. Brisbane had indeed gotten Ebola. Soon after, word came that he died. I never knew him, but I’ve been there while Josh grieves his friend, so I’m sure Dr. Brisbane was a wonderful man. (I still can’t seem to brew that last pot of Monrovian coffee from Dr. Brisbane’s plantation.)

Then another Liberian doctor died. And some of the staff.

The news crews came. Josh was interviewed five or seven times, I think. I was struck, but not surprised, by how much was edited down–the parts about real people dying and about a Liberian hospital in need of things as basic as gloves and power cords–while the fear that Ebola could come to America was reported over and over. It’s a valid fear, but only one part of the story.

In other news, Kent Brantly and Nancy were coming home for treatment. I was happy for Kent’s wife. She wasn’t going to be a widow. America can contain and treat two cases of Ebola.

But what about the Liberian doctors? What about the Liberian widows?

All my thankfulness that my husband was home safe got wadded up with the realness of people dying and the unfairness of white vs. brown and rich vs. poor and educated vs. uneducated. It’s a strange, sad entanglement. I’m married to a man who has an important skill. He’s promised to his family–a husband and father, and he’s committed to skillfully treat sick and dying people and manage disasters. It has suddenly become harder to ask him to choose the family–harder, but not impossible. I’m selfish for me and my kids. I do not wish to be a widow.

Dr. Brisbane (and many others) made a choice to keep doctoring the people of Liberia. He could’ve retired to his coffee plantation. But he went to work at the hospital. And it cost him his life. His wife is widow. Fourteen kids lost their dad.

Josh was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. He wrote an essay about Dr. Brisbane and his sacrifice. It is a beautiful and well-written essay. You should read it.

There are things we can do. We can help Liberian nurses get gloves. We can help Liberian doctors get equipment they need to stay safe while treating patients. There can be fewer widows and orphans. Please consider donating to The Dr. Sam Brisbane Fund. (If you want to hear Josh discuss how the  money will help, watch this video.)

An R-rated Post about Editing

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Fair Warning: this post is nasty. If you like your editing like you like your Cards Against Humanity, then you’ve found your people.

I’ve often said my critique group (Lovingly referred to as the YA Cannibals) is my church. They’re my support group for all things writing. When I’m losiwriteng faith in the nebulous world of publishing, I lean on them. They accept me “just as I am,” but not my writing just as it is. No. They forgive it for it’s sins, but demand a more faithful offering the next time around. And occasionally, Instead of telling me, “This line is boring,” or “This section isn’t moving the plot along,” etc., Rob shows me that I’ve got some work to do. Rob takes the cardinal rule of writing very seriously.

One result is that most of the sentences or events surrounding the edits have changed in my manuscript, if not exactly as Rob suggests. Another result is: I’ll never see my sweet characters the same again.

Sidebar: Rob’s writing is truly excellent and if you’re into zombies, you should definitely read his zombie books, All Together Now and All Right Now.

Here’s a preliminary pitch for what the book is about (You may have seen a different pitch on the blog earlier, but the book has since changed a bit): 

Tam’s never felt at home with the way her parents examine her life under a microscope–sometimes literally. But that’s okay, because Tam, Carl, and Imogen have been their own nation, under God, indivisible with predictability and friendship for all ever since their moms met at a fertility clinic 18 years ago. But when Tam’s Golden Retriever, Honey, viciously attacks Imogen leaving her entangled in physical and emotional scars from what seemed to be a freak incident, Imogen becomes distant. And Carl and Tam become closer as they uncover the sinister truth behind Honey’s attack–a truth about cloning that not only threatens the lifelong friendship, but may threaten their identities and even their lives.

And now, Rob’s edits:

  • She clawed at Imogen’s thighs vagina, her head jerking back and forth, trying to rip through Imogen’s jeans.
  • Her hair and face were sticky with sweat. She covered my eyes vagina.
  • Mom took her hand off my eyes vagina. “Tam, call an ambulance.”
  • “James,” Mom said as she pressed her other hand against Imogen’s leg vagina, “We need to stop the bleeding.
  • I forced myself up and hurried, still shaking, to the kitchen where I’d left my phone in my backpack vagina.
  • Dad was crouched down next to them with his head cradled in his head vagina, breathing hard.
  • So I sat with Mom, head and eyes down, trying to ignore the hospital vagina smell and the intensity of all the other people waiting for their loved ones.  
  • She put her arm around me and kissed the top of my head vagina.
  • My foot vagina was bouncing my leg up and down.
  • I didn’t know if Mom was cursing because of what I said about Honey or because Imogen’s mom was walking toward us so fast that her lavender, oversized vagina scrubs were was sticking to her like a flag caught on it pole.
  • He always jammed his hand in his hair vagina and tugged at it a little when he was stressed.
  • Carl stuck his hand in his windblown vagina hair.
  • Carl’s shirt vagina was wrinkled, smudged, and wet from where I’d had my face all over it.
  • But as I watched Officer Greene come closer, (vagina) lips tightened across his rectangular face, I suspected that protective sentiment wasn’t true of pets gone wild.
  • I clenched my jaw vagina to keep from saying anything else.
  • I squeezed my eyes vagina shut like it could turn off the valve that released the urge to cry.
  • I stretched my calves vagina and quads, and set off down the dirt road.
  • I don’t remember falling asleep, but I woke up to light knocking on my door vagina.
  • My hand went over my mouth vagina like Mom’s did when she didn’t know what else to say or do.
  • Her favorite coffee mug sat empty next to her—the one that said, “vaginas women who behave, rarely make history.”
  • Mom pursed her lips vagina.
  • The children seem to love baking, and I am pleased to watch them work together to fill gaps in their development, giving them the best chance for a brain vagina that’s healthy and strong.
  • I missed his new sweater and his shirt and tie when I caught a whiff of his hoodie vagina as he took his seat, but forest green was a good color on him.
  • When I got home from school, Mom was snacking on popcorn vagina at the kitchen island.
  • “You’re fussing with the piping on the couch and your foot vagina is bouncing up and down like you’re revving up to run out of here.”
  • Horse and Buggy Wet Bottom Shoe Fly vagina Pie,” Carl said.
  • “Thanks,” he said, twitching his nose vagina and regaining his personal space.
  • “I know. But it would explain … Sugar’s records vagina.”
  • He licked his lips and rubbed his hands on his thighs. Sweaty palms vagina I presumed.
  • “And it must have been scary and painful as hell to have a dog’s rage vagina like … on you.”
  • My stomach vagina felt gross.
  • He rubbed my shoulders vagina up and down.
  • He wore a polo tucked into tight jeans that were bulging with vagina technology, keys, and his wallet.
  • My hand crept up his chest vagina and around his neck and he put his hand in my hair vagina nervously.
  • I slapped my hand vagina down on the table. “NO ONE is a third wheel. Got it?”
  • I was drumming my fingers against my thigh vagina.
  • Dad swept Imogen’s long hair away from her face and rocked her, his bearded chin resting on top of her head vagina.
  • I groaned, my vagina stomach turning to frenzied sort of sludge.
  • His arm wrapped vagina’d around me.
  • I felt my vagina jaw clenching.
  • “Too late for that. She just caught you red-vagina-ed handed.”
  • I’d found his weak spot, so I lingered, tracing my tongue along the edge of his soft, cool ear vagina.
  • “A hooded vagina rat?” he asked.
  • He had four wrinkles in his forehead vagina. He was sweaty.
  • Before Mom could answer, another cop was in my face vagina.
  • He was an older black man with graying hair shaved close to his face vagina.
  • Her voice vagina caught in her throat.
  • My voice vagina was all jammed up in my throat.

 

Donate (YA) Books and Boost Adult Literacy

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IndyReadsAd1So, I posted on Facebook yesterday that I’m excited to be a teen “shelf curator” for Indy Reads Books, and got a “What’s that mean?” response. So, hey, why not blog about it?

Magnolia and I started volunteering at Indy Reads in June. Besides being a beautiful and inviting bookstore with a friendly staff (and the only bookstore downtown Indianapolis), it’s a not-for-profit business. The majority of books sold come from donations and support Indy Reads, an organization with a mission “to promote and improve the literacy of adults and families in Central Indiana.” It’s been really fun to sort books, organize and shelve books, and see them find lovely new homes.

And given my love for teen literature, I volunteered to help curate the teen section. This means I get to review stock and pick the best YA and teen books to shelve in the store. I also get to recommend awesome books to shoppers–and recommend awesome books for management to purchase new because Indy Reads Books sells new books as well as used books. And if you don’t see what you want in the store, they can always order it for you at a discount.

So if you’re into books, or into helping support a great local Indianapolis business, or want to help improve adult literacy in Indiana, check out the store and buy books. And if you’re into helping me create a really fantastic teen section for young adult readers in my community, consider donating your young adult and teen books. Stop in to the store on Mass Ave., email me, or message me about book donations.

Of Corporate Meetings and Pedal Car Bars

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If you work or have worked in the corporate world, this meme likely resonates with you.

meetingI’ve been out of the corporate setting now for around three months and am more content than I’ve ever been. Instead of worrying if the team will actually adopt a new policy or if the client will actually implement the work we spent hundreds of hours on, I worry that I’m not saying what I want to say in my novel writing or that it won’t resonate with people the way I hope. But even if no one ever reads my fiction, I love the struggle of creating a thing that gives people a sense of personal and universal truth; and that’s what makes my life different now. They’re struggles I choose not struggles someone is paying me to nurture. I often wonder how many people really love their corporate jobs. It’s easy to assume that since it was never my first love that it’s no one’s first love. Maybe it is.

Last night, Josh and I went out on a date and the restaurant we chose was pretty meh. The crowd was not our crowd. The setting wasn’t inviting to us. The food was mediocre. We decided the restaurant was too corporatized. It was owned by a group, and you could tell that it was trying to reach everyone instead of cultivating a single personality of patronage. So that probably influenced what came next. We were sitting outside, and one of those pedal bars came down the street. If you’re not familiar, here’s a picture:

pedalbar

The idea is that you all get drunk and pedal around town while a non-drunkard gets paid to steer. As Josh and I watched it go by, I said, “Do you think anyone is actually having fun on that thing?” And then we started chatting about how it’s the perfect metaphor for corporate life. A group of people come together because someone organized it–and even that guy is sitting there the whole time wondering if he did the right thing and looking around to see if everyone is having fun. Then they all pedal around–some more furiously than others–going nowhere and drinking like crazy to get through it all-the-while never making any collaborative decisions about which way to go. Instead, they very strategically clog the flow of traffic.

I had some great times in my corporate life. I met some of my best friends and worked along some of the best people Indianapolis bred or attracted. I don’t regret it. I just think we’re meant for more than meetings and busywork. Did anyone ever fall in love because of a meeting? Maybe in spite of it. Does anyone ever look back on their life and say, “I remember this one time during a meeting…?” Well, maybe they do, but I’d bet the wonder and meaning of the moment came about because of the people and not the subject or project at hand. Is unrealistic to think that even in your work, you can and should have meaning?

 

 

Book Review: Noggin

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I loved this book! Noggin was my first John Corey Whaley novel, and I will certainly be reading more after finishing this funny and nogginbittersweet story that is the perfect follow-up to The Fault in our Stars by John Green or Love, and Other Unknown Variables, by Shannon Lee Alexander, or any other book that  takes you on a journey of loss and grief and teenage love and leaves you with a longing to make the most of life.

Noggin is a story about a teenage boy who has died of cancer but had his head cryogenically frozen until the day when doctors can attach a new body and give him a second chance at life. That day comes only 5 years after his death–much sooner than anyone could’ve hoped for and just long enough that everyone has grieved him and seemingly moved on, including his girlfriend who is now engaged. His parents are acting strange and his best friend isn’t acting himself either. But for Travis, it’s like he’s just had a nap. Adjusting is hard to say the least. And anyway, Travis knows that he’s been given a second chance for a reason, so he does everything in his power to get his old life back. Good idea, Travis. What could possibly go wrong?

I wish I’d thought of this plot. It is such a good metaphor for resisting all that adulthood brings with it–the thing that our beloved characters in The Fault in our Stars and Love and Other Unknown Variables will miss out on. And while we know that our friends in these books would have loved to have had the ache of adulthood, Travis must actually go through it before he’s ready, willing, and able. He does so bravely and stupidly–as you’d expect–and is all the more lovable for it.

I’d love to see this be nominated for the Printz this year. I’ve read a few tremendous books so far this year, and this is certainly one of them. So if you’ve just bawled your eyes out after reading The Fault in our Stars or Love and Other Unknown Variables, pick up Noggin.

The Dog who Loves Selfies

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Magnolia has adopted Instagram as her preferred social media platform, and I’m committed to not getting my parental funk all over the site by joining it. She didn’t specifically ask me not to, but it’s an easy enough gesture. So, I’m sharing a few of the selfies she took with Eleanor and the dogs. Because they are cracking me up so bad!

If you don’t know our dogs, allow me to introduce them:

Marlowe: A crotchety, old retiree who wants nothing more than to enjoy his early bird special at precisely 5 p.m. and then yell at the young pups from the sunny spot on the porch. Smelling the sweet stink of squirrels is also a welcomed treat, taking this hound back to the days when the chase took him on such adventures as “How did I end up at the Safeway dumpster again?” and “Hey Jody, have you met your neighbors at [xxx address]?”

Dandy: An eager, vain, bow tie-loving tramp ready to sneak your shoes into his stores. When confronted, he won’t admit his fetish. “No, no, I just missed you,” he’ll plead. Riiiiight. Your name is Dandy, son. We’ll love you no matter who you are! It’s no wonder he’s confused about who he is; he’s a mix of the smartest herding breed and dumbest retrieving breed. Also, a neat freak, this one hates messes so much, he cleans up after himself (and Marlowe), giving you a literal shit-eating grin after a long day picking up in the yard. If only he had the manners to cover his mouth when he belched.

Can you guess which of these sons of bitches loved the camera?

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Book Review: Eleanor and Park

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Eleanor and Park gets filed under: Books I wish I wrote. It is easily a new favorite. It won a Printz honor award, and I boldly declared on some social media site that it should have won, admitting I hadn’t read the others. I’ve read another of the honor books, which I’ll review soon. I did love the other one, Maggot Moon, but Eleanor and Park still holds a special place in my heart.

ImageI picked up Eleanor and Park in a local bookstore in Frankfort, Michigan, in the summer of 2013. It was in the window display. Since I have an Eleanor, I immediately scanned the jacket and became even more interested in the story, and of course, I was excited to see that it was YA fiction.

What captured me was the characterizations. Eleanor was insecure and somehow it didn’t annoy me. The awkward truths that bubbled out of her were remarkable yet simply stated. Park was equally awkward, but his earnestness was endearing. Rainbow Rowell took wonderful care in delicately and indelicately building Eleanor’s and Park’s relationship with each other, reminding us exactly what it’s like to fall in love for the first time when you feel like the worst version of yourself. I loved following them through their wonderful terrible days. Rowell gives a nod to Shakespeare as Eleanor and Park discuss Romeo and Juliet in class and hits us clearly on the head that this is–at its heart–the same story. Just look at the cover, and it’s clear that Eleanor is our Romeo and Park our Juliet. Park wears the eye liner in the relationship and Juliet remarks more than once that “Park is the sun.”

Now, here’s where I admit that my own Eleanor had to point out to me that Park was Juliet, noting the references to Park as the sun. Eleanor is a far more insightful reader than me, and this is the book where I learned that. It was one my favorite moments with my daughter, ever. Rainbow Rowell, if you somehow ever see this, thanks. You not only touched me and my daughter with your wonderful book, you gave us a connection through it.

But back to the book, our Romeo and Juliet here have an expectedly sad ending, but there are sparks of hope for them as individuals that make the story perfect for young adults looking to understand what it means to be an individual, looking for love, and trying to navigate the nuances of happy and sad, ugly and pretty, good and bad, permanent and transient, comfort and hurt.

Rainbow Rowell gets bonus points for the gym suit scene. It is my all-time favorite scene in a book, ever. It is perfection. And I’ve recently learned that the movie rights were sold on this book, so they better not screw up that scene! Hell, I may not even watch the movie; the book was so raw and rich and perfect. However, it does help to know Rainbow has been asked to write the screenplay. If you haven’t read this one, you most definitely want to before the movie hits the screen!

A Couple Killer YA Books

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killer YA booksI don’t tend to read by the season, but this year I’m reveling in the Halloween season in all sorts of ways, including aligning my reading with the horror of Halloween. Part of the reason I’m excited about the holiday this year is because this will be our first Halloween in our new home, and my neighbors say we can expect to get anywhere from 500 – 1000 trick-or-treaters. Instead of getting overwhelmed, Josh and I decided to get a keg to go along with the more than 15 pounds of candy we’ve amassed for the event. Treats for everyone!

Another reason I’m excited about Halloween is because it coincides with my dear friend’s zombie book launch. Middle-Grade Ninja is not only a true friend, but part of my critique group. We’ve aptly named ourselves the YA Cannibals; we’re never afraid to eat our own, manuscripts that is. Our group is committed to honesty about our work both beautiful and ugly as manuscripts are wont to be. We don’t stop reworking our manuscripts until they are ready to be properly devoured by readers across the world. So to get to the point: after much cannibalization and rebirth, Rob Kent has published, “All Together Now: a Zombie Story.”

It is a truly fun and disgusting story with a bit of heart. The expected darkness of a zombie story prevails, and “All Together Now” exhibits the flavor of a young adult book–awkward and honest about the world. The zombie genre is perfect for exploring how becoming an adult often feels like giving away your brain and yourself is inevitable. It’s a perfect Halloween teen read.

Next, I’ll be reading a book called Ten. I haven’t read reviews. I’ve never read anything else by the author–Gretchen McNeil, and I don’t normally read horror. Ten appears to be the classic Oh-shit-there’s-a-killer-on-island-and-no-way-to-leave kind of books, except that it’s for teens. I’ll let you know what I think and if reading it during the Halloween season made it better than, say, reading it during summer.

Making a Revision Leap

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leapThank Rob for writing day! And the SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest conference I attended last month. The YA Cannibals had another very successful session of sitting around and actually working on our fiction this past weekend. So I finally used the notes I made from one of the sessions by Kendra Levin, editor for Viking Books.

One of Kendra’s many revision recommendations was to take a first draft of a story and do a brief summary of the plot–not just one, but at least 10. She gave us a simple template to work with. We were to fill in the blanks of the this sentence:

“After _____ (inciting incident), a _____ (protagonist description) must _____ (main action) or risk/while risking _____ (the stakes) [during _____ (setting, if unique)].”

So, I took my draft outline of my work-in-progress, IF I WERE ME, and tried to plug it in to this literary mad lib. It told me a lot about what was wrong with my draft. My first attempt was this:

“After laughing at her grandfather’s death, a confused teenage girl must grapple with if she’s losing her mind to a disease only clones can get while risking giving up her individuality and life instead of succumbing to the disease.”

So, several problems here. The main ones are:

1. My inciting incident isn’t that big of a deal and puts the focus on her grandfather instead of the main character.
2. All teenage girls are likely confused. This doesn’t really make us interested in my main character.
3. The main action is good, but the description is anorexic. We don’t see the real horror of the disease.
4. The stakes are like what? What is going on? What’s her individuality have to do with losing her mind. I’m trying to consolidate the stakes too much.5. Could the stakes be higher? I did say “give up her life,” but in what way?

So, I did my ten versions with this in mind. I kept refining. I let myself make a good sentence instead of trying to cram what I already drafted in my manuscript into the mini-mad lib. Here’s what I finally landed on:

“After showing symptoms of a deadly brain-destroying disease only clones succumb to, Tam must decide to ignore it and attempt to live her normal life trying to enjoy first love and her college hopes or risk being diagnosed so that she can make plans to end her life before becoming a weak, deranged and dying version of the helicopter mom she hates.”

Better right? There may be more work to do there, but at least now you can see more characterization and identify about five things that are going to go terribly wrong. You can see the struggle Tam is going to have in the book. What’s cool for me is that this informs my new draft in some pretty exciting ways. In the first draft of the manuscript, Tam thinks she’s going nuts and becomes horribly depressed and wants to kill herself. But the way I’ve framed the next draft because of the above mini-mad lib, Tam is more empowered to grapple with decisions instead of simply self-destructing. She has clearer high-stakes choices. SPOILER ALERT: She’s going to make some bad ones. Obviously. (I’m rude.) And also, the inciting incident is going to be bigger and much more impactful to the main character and therefore the book.

So now I have to go write it. I’ll check back in with a progress report in a few weeks! Cheers.

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