I’m Calling Bullshit on the Writer’s Journey


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People in the writing world say writing and getting published is a journey. And I think you’re supposed to enjoy the ride because people say things like, “Enjoy the writing and don’t focus on publication as the destination.” But I’m callibeautiful treesng bullshit on this.

I bet if you ask published authors if their pre-publication life was more satisfying than their post-publication life, they’d say post-publication. That doesn’t mean I think published authors sit around with a day-to-day satisfaction like “AH, I’ve arrived at my vacation destination. It’s all beaches and mojitos from here on out.” Of course it’s not. I imagine it’s more like that feeling of making the leap from being the eager volunteer whose name no one remembers to finally being offered the chance to work and invest in a company you believe in, where over time you can look back over your hard work and feel less lonely because the company also invested in you and committed (both editors and readers) to your work with all its vulnerabilities and fascinating universal truths.

At least that’s what I hope for with publication–a sense that my hard work has become OUR hard work. And together, we’ve sought truth and love and beauty. (And also I’ll be able to look at my work outside myself and feel that I was a part of things–there will be a token that says I existed with you all.)

And if my hopes are valid, the hard work of publication will surely be more rewarding than the journey towards it. Because here’s what the journey towards it really feels like to me:

I get into my trusty car, turn on my beloved GPS (agent), and set the destination to “Published.” The GPS calculates a course with no way for me to zoom out and see the whole map or even the estimated time of arrival. That’s okay, I’ll take it one mile at a time. Now I like to think of myself as a kind driver. I mean, I will curse the shit out of you if you cut me off or drive even 1 mile under the speed limit, but you will never hear me yelling because it’s impolite, and somewhere along the line I was taught that politeness is next to godliness when it comes to driving (and trying to get published). And I hate the unsafe feeling I have when I or anyone else breaks traffic rules.

So, I drive along, politely. And the trees are changing colors, which is beautiful, and this helps me forget I could be in the car for 10 hours or 10 minutes. I convince myself to just accept that it’s probably 10 hours. And all along I’m listening for the GPS to tell me when to turn left or right, so it’s hard to keep listening but at the same time not think about the 10 hours. Yes, the trees are beautiful, but after 10 seconds, it gets tricky to stay enraptured by the beauty.

And while I’m balancing the impatience and beauty, I get honked at. Sometimes it’s because I sat 1 second too long at a green light and it’s a beep-beep that’s not too traumatizing. But still, I feel bad that I’ve gotten in someone’s way. And it keeps happening. Beep beep. Beep beep.

Beep beep.

Beep beep.

Like 40 times in 4 hours. It’s startling every time. I can’t see or ask what I’m doing wrong. I can only wonder. And at this point the honking is happening so much that it makes me cry about every 10th time. So I call all my friends and they say things like, “It’s not your driving. There are just idiots on the road with you.” But I think to myself, 40 times. No, it must be me. I decide I’m going back to driving school. I even pull the car over and read a driving manual. One quarter of the way through I’m convinced I am after all a decent driver–better than decent. And that indeed my friends are right. There are just idiots on the road. So now while I’m trying to pay attention to the GPS and not wonder “HOW MUCH LONGER” and focus on the beautiful trees, I’m also still wondering why I’ve been honked at 40 times. It’s just not normal. They can’t ALL be idiots. Trees! Focus on the trees!

I drive on. The GPS finally says that I should turn left at Albuquerque. Awesome, a new direction feels good. But there’s an accident ahead, so I get recalculated. I’m reminded that I may die before I get to my destination. So I go back to trying to see beauty in the changing color of the trees. I focus on how there’s a green tree next to a yellow tree next to a red tree. Wow, it’s like nature’s stop light–and then HOOOOOOONNNNKK! Not a beep-beep-excuse-me-ma’am honk, but a blaring one that causes my heart to skip beats, and I reflexively swerve to the right. The other driver keeps honking, so I pull over more to let her pass, never knowing exactly what I did to cause such aggression. It feels so personal even though I know it’s not. I think to myself the stupidest things like, This honker is clearly a republican and if I just wouldn’t have had that liberal bumper sticker on my fender, then surely she wouldn’t have honked at me. Or maybe if it had been a fellow Suburu driver then he would’ve understood me better. Or maybe it’s because I’m from out of town and I don’t understand the regional customs that aren’t in the driving manual. And I cry out at the GPS, “I’m trying! I’m trying! I’m trying so hard!”

“Recalculating” the GPS answers.

It starts to rain and now I have one more thing that I need to focus on. So my grip on the wheel becomes superhuman. I can and WILL make it to the destination. I visualize the destination. My editor smells like corn nuts, but she motivates me so well! HOOOOOOOOOOONNNKKK!

I pull over, shaking, and have another cry. But soon enough, that feels unproductive and I’m wasting time, so I get back on the road a bit more timidly than before. Or more ragey depending on the moment.

More honking, more beautiful trees, more doubt, more hours passing. So many hours pass that I think maybe I should’ve chosen a career with a really nice view of skyscrapers instead of these damn trees. I hate the trees, actually! I stop the car and kick one of the trees. “You’re ugly and far too quiet!” But then it provides me an apple and I’m tempted beyond control to keep driving. Surely, SURELY, I’m almost there.

I drive on and just when I think things are going to be okay, the GPS breaks. It was a precious gift and the most important thing I had besides my ability to drive and see the beautiful trees. How could it break? How could it let me down? I feel lost without it. Shit, I AM literally lost without it. So, I pull over and work to save up for another one. It takes a long time and I wish wish wish I were driving: I have a destination. Then it takes an equally long time to find a GPS store. They are sometimes not visible from the road. I ache, and I’m so scared I’ll never find one, and I wish I had a GPS for finding a GPS store. But I can only wander around until I find the store. I hate wasting time wandering around when I already have a destination–one to which I’m beginning to believe I may arrive quite late. And damn it, why are GPSs in such high demand? Why does it seems like the stores are always sold out? UGH!!! And WHY am I the person who is always lost and that had the shitty GPS that broke? It should have happened to someone who has a better sense of direction because mine is the worst! Sincerely the WORST. I can’t even find my way to the airport if I haven’t practiced going there 10 times. I mean seriously, put spiders and slugs and snakes in my car and that would be less stressful than being in there with a GPS that gave up on me!

But finally, after getting honked at about 30 more times and feeling frazzled and banging my head on the steering wheel and crying and feeling totally lost and unsure if I will see beauty in the trees again, I find a store that has the GPS in stock and is actually willing to let me have it. THANK the heavens and earth that I’m finally going to head back toward my destination! It feels sooooo good to go in the right direction. At least for a few moments.

Because then I realize that 10 hours have passed and I’m still driving and have been honked at 91 times. (This is really the number of rejections I have accumulated in ten years of writing.) And finally, holy shit, the GPS announces that I am arriving at my destination!

Holy shit. The office building where I’ll begin a tough but meaningful career is before me. In the beautiful lobby, the receptionist is so overworked, her hair is falling out and she clearly hasn’t eaten in weeks. She’s an intern or a volunteer with high hopes. And I think to myself, I know you. When I’m not driving, I AM you. No. I WAS you. But now I’m starting my real career. I call my friends and they are so SO happy that they can stop asking if I’ve finally gotten the job. I’m SO happy that I’ve relaxed and stopped smiling through pain–like the receptionist is doing right now. I say confidently, “You’ll get there someday. It will be worth it.” She wants to punch my throat, but I just feel so relieved that I’m going to get to start working here!

The receptionist takes me to a room where I’m about to sign a contract, and she succinctly says–still smiling–“I’m so sorry. Your position was eliminated. I’m not sure why exactly, but perhaps you’d like to apply for a different position?”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say. I say it because it’s polite and dignified. But really the only course of action I have is to get back in the car. And I cannot believe I am walking out of the building smiling at those other assholes going in.

“Recalculating,” the GPS kindly says when I’m back in my trusty car.

Before pressing down on the gas, I sit alone with the knowledge that I may have another 10 minutes or another 10 hours until I reach my new destination. I can’t imagine getting honked at 91 more times. I can’t imagine telling my friends that I ended up at that wrong destination after such a harrowing trip, but it’s okay because I really do enjoy volunteering as the receptionist at one of the beautiful buildings where others are hard at work building a community of readers around fascinating universal truths, and besides it’s about the journey and aren’t the trees beautiful and at least it’s not raining anymore. I can’t imagine saying it, but that’s exactly what I do.

Well, not EXACTLY, because this time I admit that the journey sucks and I admit that I really do think the grass is greener (not easier) on the other side. Perhaps this makes me seem ungrateful or maybe entitled or self-loathing. And I am those things on occasion just like I’m kind and polite and hard-working on other occasions, but overall I understand the world owes me nothing, and this makes the urge to get in my car and do SOMETHING all the stronger. I think maybe it is a brave thing to want something more than the journey and to believe that the destination has something more profound and satisfying to offer than the journey–like celebrating the beauty of the trees with more than just yourself. So if you know a writer who is stuck in traffic and getting honked at and recalculated, perhaps the thing to say is not, “Enjoy the journey.” Perhaps it’s better to say something like, “Your endurance is impressive,” or “I admire your hard work,” or “Honking sucks,” or “How about some drive-thru shakes?”

Throwback Thursday with Shannon Lee Alexander


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Given the trendiness of Throwback Thursday, I’m re-branding my beloved series of guest author posts called “Self-Deprecating Sunday.” Self-Deprecating Sunday started because I’d written a YA novel about a girl in R.O.T.C. in high school. I was looking for photos of myself in my uniform–had to get the description of the uniform just right. I found some of those photos. I’m the one in the ridiculous glasses,  on the right. EPSON MFP imageEven beyond R.O.T.C., it really cracked me up to look back on all the outfits I wore and what I knew was hip and cool, so I started showcasing some of that on my blog. So much of being a teen is about exploring your identity; it’s partly why I love writing about teens. We all get through the awkward years–some of us with more flair than others, and it is fun to look back. Young adult authors around the Internet joined in with me to celebrate their youthful escapes.

Today, I’m thrilled to have my friend and Critique Partner (Capitalized because she’d just that good), and debut author, Shannon Lee Alexander, join me for our first installment of Throwback Thursday! Her wonderful novel, Love and Other Unknown Variables hit shelves Tuesday and is getting some beautiful reviews.

So without further ado, here’s Shannon Lee Alexander doing her Throwback Thursday thing:

My family moved to a small southern town when I was in fifth grade. I immediately met two amazing friends, my Em, to whom Love and Other Unknown Variables is dedicated, and Avery, who was the kind of friend you could just be with. Also, her mom had a shiny tiara and a scepter encased in a glass table in their living room, which I always thought was pretty cool.

My parents were Yankees. They’re totally southerners now, but back then, we were all somewhat confused by southern customs. For example, barbecue did not mean cooking out on the grill. It was some strange, vinegary, shredded pork concoction that southern people would go to war over if someone were to question its honor.

And then there was cotillion. Everyone assured my mother that every proper southern young lady should be attending cotillion. And while I was not so good at proper, I was desperate to fit in, so I begged to go. Basically, at cotillion, boys and girls at the awkward age of thirteen are forced to learn ballroom dancing. I was slightly tall, and hated sticking out, so of course, EVERY SINGLE TIME I’d end up paired with the shortest boy in class. It was unpleasant for us both.

I think maybe etiquette was taught, too, but by that time in the evening I was too overwhelmed from having to dance with a boy to pay attention. I just wanted the watered down lemonade and cheap cookies that were calling to me from the refreshment table in the corner of the room.

Today’s picture is of Avery and me dressed for the first shannon TBTcotillion. My dad was pretending to be grumpy about us going off to dance with boys. We’re laughing, but inside I wanted to cry. Growing up is a strange Tango of wanting to be grown and wanting to stay small.

As a fun aside, Avery and I fell out of touch during college, but recently rediscovered our friendship. Our shared love of reading brought us back together. Her blog, Flutters and Flails, is even featured on the back cover of Love and Other Unknown Variables, which was a fun surprise to us both!

Thank you, Shannon, for joining me. I’m so happy you’ve stopped by the blog. Readers, check out Love and Other Unknown Variables, a beautiful story of love, hope and ache of growing up.

And, if you’re a YA writer and wish to be featured on Throwback Thursday (formerly Self-Deprecating Sunday), please contact me at jody(dot)mugele(at)gmail(dot)com, or leave a comment.

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:


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?


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!


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