Writing Tips

Should Young Adult Books Teach a Lesson?

I was working on my WIP recently when I started talking about my book with a librarian friend. Specifically scenes where my main character fixes up an old sports car and starts racing around her country town. To my surprise, my friend assumed she would crash the car and eventually learn that this behavior is unsafe. But nope. That isn’t my plan.

My character will learn many life lessons in this book, but will she learn everything she does wrong is wrong? No.

I have literally no plans of writing a scene where her reckless driving results in a massive punishment or obvious lesson. It isn’t the theme of the book. It isn’t necessary to the story. But being a thrill-seeking teenage girl is. She will fix up a car. She will speed with the windows down and her hair whipping wildly about. She will know it’s wrong, and she won’t care, and she will get away with it. Other parts of her life, though? Not so much. There is a lot that will go wrong in her life, and she will grow from them, but I still wouldn’t necessarily call those moments a lesson.

A lesson insinuates that you plan on your reader learning something—generally the same thing from the same content. But books aren’t lessons. They are stories. If lessons or messages happen to come across, great. But I don’t believe an author should set out to write a lesson to a young reader. Sure, we have fairytales where that was the intention. (You know the ones. Don’t go into the woods; they’re wicked witches and scary animals in there!) Those certainly serve a purpose. I would even say there’s room for both kinds of books—stories that are designed to teach and stories that are just stories. That doesn’t mean stories that are just stories won’t have lessons that readers can infer in between the lines. It just means that the story did not intentionally set out to teach anyone anything specific.

To me, it isn’t the author’s job to teach. It’s the author’s job to tell a great story. It’s the reader’s job to identify their feelings about the piece. If that means they learned something, great. But it’s also fine if the reader walks away just feeling happy, sad, or simply entertained. (Not to mention that young readers are super attuned to an adult trying to “teach” them something. Spoiler alert: that’s often the worst way to teach a young person anything.)

In my WIP, my character likes to put the windows down so that she can feel the Kansas winds whipping through her hair while driving down country roads. It makes her feel alive. It puts her in the present. And when I personally think of being a teenager, it was moments like these that I remember best. I didn’t learn to slow down until I was older. My character might learn that lesson when she’s older, too, but she’s only a teenager in this WIP. That lesson simply isn’t going to happen in her life yet. The reckless driving serves a different purpose in the story. It’s a metaphor for her internal struggle. One that doesn’t completely end when the story does. Hence while she’ll continue to speed all the way to the last page. In contrast, my main character in my paranormal romance, the Timely Death trilogy, crashes his car and learns from it. So, I have written that “lesson” elsewhere—where it worked, for both the story and the character. And, of course, my main character in my current WIP will confront other life lessons throughout the piece. But in the end, I don’t expect my reader to walk away with any lessons internalized. Most lessons folks have to learn for themselves. I only want to tell them a story.

In the end, I believe that characters must learn and grow in a story, but that doesn’t mean the reader has to. And your character and readers do not have to have the same feelings/thoughts. In fact, the gray spaces are where the best stories often take place. Sometimes that means driving writing recklessly on a backcountry road with all the windows down, full speed ahead.

~SAT

Writing Tips

My Writing Life During Maternity Leave

I’m heading back to work this week. Between that and starting 2023, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how the last twelve weeks went since my daughter was born. 

It was tough.

That’s the easiest way to summarize all my emotions. Of course I knew going in that newborns require a lot of energy and attention from sleep-deprived parents, but I also heard a lot of good things about maternity leave. One coworker told me about all the television they caught up on during middle of the night feeds. I read another article where a mom talked about how the first baby is so easy and her husband and her just drank wine and passed the baby back and forth. Surely, I thought, I’d find a little time to write if others had been able to watch TV and drink wine. And I did. Kind of. A teensy bit. But again, it was HARD. 

I mostly wrote during middle of the night feeds, propping her up with one hand and using my other to type on my phone. That and a few naptimes. But mostly, even when I found the time, I was too tired to manage something worth keeping. After a few times writing gibberish, I decided to wave my white flag and only write when I was well-rested AND she was napping. In twelve weeks, that happened three times. The other time I was able to write was when my husband would take her to give me space. Even then, though, I really needed time to recover from my C-section and how draining breastfeeding can be.

All in all, I only wrote 8,000 words these past twelve weeks. From someone who usually writes that in two weeks or so, it’s really hard not to be disappointed in myself. I am doing my best to recognize that I’m going through a major life change and I need to be kinder to myself. But still. 

I fear not being able to finish my WIP in a timely manner. I fear that even if I do, it will be nonsensical due to exhaustion. But I know working writing moms who have done it before me, and I’m holding onto that energy as I surge forward with determination and perseverance. 

I will find a way, because I want to. I need to. 

Maybe it’ll happen even faster than I’m hoping. Maybe we’ll find more of a routine with me back at work and her going to daycare. Then again, maybe I should lower my expectations and just be.

All I can do is do the best I can. And as long as I do that, I’m sure I’ll look back on this time and be pretty proud of what I was able to accomplish… even if it’s just a few thousand words.

Every word leads to another scene. Every scene leads to a new chapter. Every chapter leads to a completed novel and, eventually, THE END. 

~SAT

Miscellaneous

2022: My Complete Year

At the end of every year, I write a reflection post about where I’m at, not just in my writing life, but also in my personal life and how it all correlates. 

I’m calling 2022 My Complete Year because it coincides with how I called 2021 the Year of Unfinished Change. 

Last year, I got married. This year, we welcomed our baby girl. 

Last year, I lost my agent. This year, I got back in the trenches and connected with my new agent. 

So much of what happened last year fed into the success I had this year, they almost can’t be separated. But alas, I wanted to talk about 2022 and how I feel moving into 2023. 

If I go back to January, I started 2022 with one main goal: Connect with an agent. 

I had just finished finalizing my query package for my middle grade novel in verse, and I jumped right in. Shortly after, I found out I was pregnant, and I told myself I would love to be signed with a new agent before my baby was born. I knew it was a long shot, especially in this environment, but I signed with my agent, Marietta Zacker, in September the week before my baby was born. (Maybe I’ll write a blog post about that journey soon!) 

While querying, I also rewrote my historical fantasy and outlined four new ideas. I wrote 12,000 words across those projects. I also hit 80,000 words in my dark academia novel, and I’m currently 8,000 words in my next verse novel and 11,000 into a romcom.

We also adopted Valentine, our one-eyed pirate cat…and lost Boo Boo, our beautiful gentleman of a cat who lived 22 years. 

Life has been a whirlwind of joy, sorrow, celebration, family, and determination. 

In 2023, I hope my agent can find the perfect editor for my work, but I know that’s out of my control. All I can do is keep writing. First up, finish my first young adult verse novel. But until then, I’m giving thanks to 2022.

I’m very grateful for everything that happened this past year–from having my novels featured in simplyKC magazine to having my blog post featured on Jane Friedman’s website. I especially enjoyed teaching How to Write a Series at the Midwest Writers group, and I cannot wait to see what 2023 brings. A book deal? More hardships? Additional teaching opportunities? New friends? Loss? I have no clue. None of us do, really. 

I end 2022 knowing that I will be adjusting to being a mom who loves writing while working full time, but I believe in me. I have to. I want to.

I will make 2023 amazing. 

~SAT

Want to see what’s happened throughout my years of blogging?

Miscellaneous

My Favorite Books of 2022

As per tradition, I am back to share my favorite reads of 2022. Before I jump into it, though, I wanted to mention a few caveats. 

My original website template retired. (RIP, Bueno. You served me well–and for ten years!) I’m now using Button 2. I might be changing it intermittently as I try to find a new normal, so while the look may change, the features should all still work. If you notice something wonky, please let me know. 

Other than that, I’m hoping I’m back on my regular blogging schedule again! Though my maternity leave doesn’t end until January, I really wanted to do my end-of-year posts. For my newcomers, I post writing and publishing tips every first and third Monday (with the occasional extra post in-between.)

Now without further ado:

My favorite books of 2022!

I must admit that this year’s list is organized very differently. Normally, I have a bunch of genre and age categories, but this year has got to be the smallest list yet. (Only 47 books! Usually, I clear 90+) Mostly because I was unbelievably busy with pregnancy and then my newborn, not to mention working full time and pursuing my writing career (but I’ll get more into that in my yearly end-of-the-year wrap-up post in two weeks). All that said, because of my smaller list, I decided to forego categories and just list my top reads. If you want to see a full list of everything I read this year, visit my Goodreads.  To add one last stipulation: these are books that I read in 2022, not necessarily books that released in 2022. I hope you find something to read. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments below! I always love suggestions. 

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland: YA Horror: This was my first five-star read of the year. It’s so atmospheric, and the writing is gorgeous. I loved how the main character didn’t quite know the truth about everything, but suspected something was up. It kept the mystery tense and the magic tenser. The ultimate reveal was horrifying as well, and the body horror throughout the book was done so well. Loved the sisters’ storyline.  

Crave by Tracy Wolff: YA Paranormal Romance: This is the first in a series that has been growing in popularity so quickly. When I saw a huge waitlist at the library I work at for book #4, I just couldn’t stop my curiosity, and I picked up book 1. As of today, I’ve only read book 1 and 2, but they were both really entertaining, especially if you grew up as a teen in the Twilight era. It uses a lot of the same tropes, but has more agency. Still a lot of the same romance tropes and boarding school tropes that were popular around the same time. It’s very campy in my opinion. If you aren’t a fan of the Twilight era books, this one isn’t for you.

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling: Adult Paranormal Rom Com: TREEEEATS. I laughed so hard every time this was said in the book. (And I was reading it right after my cat died.) I needed a feel-good read, and The Ex Hex came through. I never knew I needed a Halloween Rom Com, but now I want a million more of these in my life. I’ve already put the sequel on hold. 

These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan: YA Fantasy: I’d heard a lot of good things about this series, but never quite got around to picking it up. Then I put the audiobook on hold and could not stop driving around town just so I could keep listening to it. The story is so good, the twists so delicious, and the drama divine. I loved the ending, and I immediately put book 2 on hold. Read this if you love fairies and deception. 

The Final Gambit #3 by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: (YA Mystery): The ending of this trilogy was superb. If you love puzzles, the drama of rich families, and mysterious inheritances, then pick up The Inheritance Games and get to reading. I loved this book so much it was actually the first book I’ve ever finished in eBook format. (Which I’m totally going to blog about later.) 

Noodle and the No Bones Day by Jonathan Graziano, Dan Tavis (Illustrator): Picture Book: I fell in love with Bones the pug as much as anyone else who followed the online sensation. I loved seeing it in picture book form, too.  

If I Could Keep You Little by Marianne Richmond: Picture Book: My dad got this for me for my baby shower, and I still haven’t been able to finish it without ugly crying. Definitely get this for the new parents in your life.

Marshmallow & Jordan by Alina Chau: Middle Grade Graphic Novel: Probably the most precious read I’ve picked up in a longggg time. If this doesn’t warm your heart, I don’t know what will. The art is incredibly colorful and adorable, and the storyline is very touching. There’s also a pretty big plot twist I didn’t see coming. Absolutely recommended! 

These were my favorite reads of 2022, but I read lots of amazing stories. What were your favorites?

~SAT

Miscellaneous

Maternity Leave Update: Baby Girl is Here!

I meant to write this last month, but alas, newborns require a lot of love (and attention). You may have already seen on my social medias, but…

Baby girl arrived in October!

Her name is Winsloe, and she is such delight. We are very excited to have her here, healthy and smiling. (She’s actually 5 weeks old already!) That said, I’m on maternity leave until January, which is probably when my regular blogging will begin again. I’ve been spending any free time I have working on my next novel for my agent (and I’m already 6,000 words in!). Super excited about that. I’ll also be updating this website’s template soon since its current template has been retired. But maybe, just maybe I’ll still do my end-of-year December posts. I’ll just have to find a middle-of-the-night baby feeding time that works. (Like I did with this very post!)

I hope everyone is well.

See you soon. < 3

Author Announcements

I’m Now Represented By…

ICYMI!

I am so excited to announce that I am now represented by Marietta Zacker at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency!

From the beginning, Marietta understood the importance of my middle grade novel-in-verse about losing my mom to the opioid crisis when I was 11, and I cannot wait for us to share it with the world.

This is the most personal story I could’ve written. It’s also one I promised myself I would write when I was 11 and couldn’t find a children’s book about the unique grief that follows the loss of a loved one (especially a parent) from drug abuse.

Unfortunately, since my mom’s death, the opioid crisis has only grown. (In fact, deaths have more than quadrupled.) And it’s expected to continue to rise. Now, maybe one day soon, kids like me will have that book that shows they’re not alone. My story has a champion.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you can reach out to SAMHSA: it’s a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service.

Also, I wanted to give a shoutout to my friends who helped me with this novel: Sandra Proudman, Angela Cervantes, Natasha Hanova, Vicki Dixon, and Lisa! Also, my Sanity group for keeping me sane: Tiffany White, Elizabeth Bane, Sarah Kaminski, and Jessica Conoley! And of course, thank yous go out to everyone on this website as well! Y’all have cheered me on since the beginning.

If you’re interested in a How I Got My Agent post, I will most likely be sharing one in the future! But I am expecting to give birth to a baby later this week, so I am still on maternity leave and will likely be on it for a while.

That said, I recently wrote some blog posts about querying you can check out in the meantime:

I hope you enjoy the reads,

~SAT

P.S. I’m hoping to be back from maternity leave in mid-December. In the meantime, definitely connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I tend to pop up there sooner. Though, I’ll probably pop back here to share a baby picture or two in the near future!

Miscellaneous

Maternity Leave!

It’s time! My baby is due in a week, so I am logging out for the time being. I hope to be back on my regular blogging schedule in time for my yearly reflection posts in December. (Though I may pop in before then with a baby picture or two. Maybe even an announcement! *wink wink*)

Definitely connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I tend to pop up there sooner.

Wish me luck,

~SAT

P.S. My website template was recently retired, so there’s some features that are slowly disintegrating before my eyes. (*sobs internally*) Obviously, now is not the best time to update everything, but I will be doing an update before I get back on my regular blogging schedule. Please forgive weirdness in the meantime.

Writing Tips

Writing (and Working) While Pregnant: Third Trimester

I am 37 weeks pregnant, which means I am full-term, but have a few weeks to go and, honestly, I didn’t want to wait any longer to write this blog post. Why? Because I’m tired. If I wait any longer, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get the blog post out on time. (Not to mention if baby girl decides to show up early.) 

So here we are—pregnant in the third trimester, working full-time and chasing the writing dream on the side. 

Admittedly, sleepiness is a near constant thing at the moment. Though I’ve had a really easy pregnancy, the third trimester has certainly brought its challenges. Mostly with discomfort and insomnia. (I swear I can’t get any bigger. Right?!) With all the weight gain, I started experiencing pain in my right foot and left hip, and sleeping is a nightmare. (But it’s going to be worse with a newborn. Right?!) 

I have to admit that avoiding all the negativity has become a priority. I asked for positive newborn stories on my Twitter, and that’s been my bit of sunshine every week. 

To help even more, I decided to use up some PTO to work four-day work weeks during my last month. That way, we can spend the extra day meal prepping and getting the last details of our house together. If I have extra time after that, I’ve been pursuing writing. 

Writing-wise, things have been good! I currently have six fulls pending with agents, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something pans out one of these days. In fact, overall, my querying journey has been really fun. I even had a great phone call with an agent about my verse novel. That said, I couldn’t help but start calculating the next few weeks in my head. 

If someone offered right now, I’d have two weeks to talk to the other agents and make a decision…and baby girl is due the very next week. What happens if she shows up early? What happens if an agent emails me while I’m recovering from labor and I miss it? What if they rescind their offer? What if…?

I’m terrified of missing my window. 

I know my writing life isn’t over once I have a baby, but I confess that I was really hoping to have an agent secured by the time baby girl arrived. I think it would’ve given me peace of mind knowing that the next steps in my writing career are already underfoot (rather than knowing that I have a longer way to go after recovery). 

No matter. I’ve been doing my best, and that’s all I can do. 

Other than querying, I finished polishing my historical fantasy, and I’ve started getting my to-query list together (just in case my verse novel doesn’t pan out). I may even send a few queries out soon. I wanted somewhere to be creative, too. (Mostly so that I had pages to send to my monthly writers’ group.) I opened up my dark academia monster WIP that I had previously frozen in August of 2021 and got to work. I am now a few chapters away from THE END. I’m pretty proud of that. 

I’m also really happy about the baby’s room. I was lucky enough to have two baby showers–one at work and one with family/friends. It was so nice to see everyone again and to celebrate baby girl’s impending arrival. We now have everything we need, and I think I feel as prepared as any first-time parent can feel. The reality of baby girl is really setting in. I’m both excited and terribly nervous, but I’m mostly looking forward to getting to know her personality, watching her discover the world, and being part of her life as she grows. (Also, sleeping on my stomach again. I’m looking forward to that.) 

One of these days I’m sure I’ll start blogging about writing as a working mom. 

Until then… 

~SAT

Publishing Advice

Should You Talk About Querying While Querying?

Only a few years ago, it was a huge no-no to talk openly about querying while querying. Sure, you could DM your closest writing friends, but tweeting about it openly? Hard nope. It was seen as unprofessional, a sign that the author wasn’t able to keep a level head when negotiations are taking place. You mostly learned about other writers’ querying journeys through friendship or by reading the “How I Got My Agent” posts after the author had signed with someone. Nowadays, though? A lot more writers are talking about their querying journey while they are currently in the trenches. 

But should you?

This is a hotly debated topic. Mostly because there are two types of writers in the trenches at any given time: 

  1. The writer who has been around for a while and remembers how strongly it was frowned upon. They mean well when they tell other writers not to do it. I mean, why would you write a novel, polish it, and get a query package together just to ruin your chances by oversharing (and perhaps appearing less appealing to agents)?
  2. The newer writer (or new-to-querying writer) who is pushing back against long-held rules written by…wait, who did come up with these rules? This group also means well. They often believe a lack of transparency is keeping other writers in the dark and therefore perpetuating nefarious behavior that should be called out.  

Personally, I think both of these groups are right in their own ways. 

There are pros and cons to sharing your querying journey while querying, which is why—at the end of the day—it’s a personal choice. You must weigh the risks and rewards for yourself to decide how you want to interact in that conversation. 

Personally, I’m more comfortable with long-form writing. I enjoy blogging and connecting with readers via my newsletter. I feel like those two formats give me time to process and consider my feelings/options (rather than posting live reactions on Twitter or Facebook). I also have a close-knit group of writer friends who are or have been in the trenches, so I have a safe space to go to when I want to celebrate or need advice. The idea of posting “I got a full request” or “I didn’t need that rejection today” on an open forum gives me the heebies jeebies. But seeing others doing it doesn’t bother me a bit. I think it’s pretty awesome actually. 

Transparency is a good thing. Not everyone has access to the whisper network (or even knows there is one.) The folks who are sharing openly are breaking down that barrier. I also don’t see why it should deter agents. 

Agents are looking for a good fit for their particular list and style. Hearing another agent rejected a work shouldn’t be a deterrent on its own. Agents reject for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes the book isn’t the right fit for their list or they have no editorial vision. Maybe they ultimately didn’t vibe with the author on the phone call, whether that be career goals or IP connections or anything really. 

A rejection alone doesn’t say anything about the piece or the author. Not even a handful of rejection does. 

Granted, that’s not to say that some agents wouldn’t see sharing openly as a red flag. Everyone is going to have their own opinion and stance about what should and should not be talked about on certain forums, so I definitely recommend proceeding with caution. 

If a new writer today asked me what I think they should do, I would tell them to sit back and observe for a while. Ask yourself what would make you uncomfortable and why. Don’t feel pressured to share any more than you want to. And know that you can change your stance at any time. That said, I would recommend leading with kindness. 

It’s one thing to say you’ve received a rejection; another thing entirely to rant about rejections or make assumptions about others’ actions. 

A rule I live by is typing a tweet into my Google drive and sitting with it for 24 hours before I hit send. That way, I can better discern which emotion is driving me to participate in the conversation. If I’m too emotional in any way, I don’t send it. Not because I’m trying to be a writing robot, but because I prefer to lean on positivity. I enjoy sharing the good, and I feel more comfortable sharing the bad with close friends in private. It’s about how I feel. It’s not about how many others will like or retweet me. It’s about my mental health. My journey. And that’s what’s right for me. 

It may be totally different for you, and that’s okay!  

Keep doing your thing. And definitely never feel deterred about calling out predatory behavior. (In fact, I recommend reporting any red-flag behavior to Writer Beware.)

So what about talking about being on sub? That may be a different story. 

I’d recommend taking your agent’s advice on that one. 

~SAT

Miscellaneous

Why We Need More Books Like Jennette McCurdy’s I’M GLAD MY MOM DIED

Controversy erupted in publishing last week when child star Jennette McCurdy released her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died. Ever since, I’ve seen various discussions being bounced around online. Some supportive; some not. 

I get it. I do. There’s lots of folks out there who cannot imagine disliking their mother so much that death feels like a reprieve. But this is one of those times that folks need to step back from their own lived experiences and listen to the voices of others. 

While my mother was a supportive, nurturing person, she definitely had her faults—faults that eventually led to her overdose and untimely death. There were many other women who entered my life after her death that also had major faults. When I set out to write a middle grade verse novel about my mom’s death, I made it a point to include more than one female character who was not supportive and, in fact, discouraging. 

Why?

Media all too often shows moms and women as naturally nurturing people when many aren’t. Unfortunately, many, many children are abused by their mothers. But when we show abuse in media, we tend to lean on physically abusive men, alcoholic men, absentee men, etc. We rarely acknowledge moms can do the same thing. For that reason alone, Jennette McCurdy’s book is resonating with a lot of folks. 

These types of stories have been going unseen for a long time. I myself had beta readers tell me I should add more positive female figures to my book (though there already are two. I didn’t exclude positivity altogether, but it certainly was not my focus). 

My relationship with women from a young age was unhealthy. It took me a long time to understand my trauma and how it unfolded in my personality. It took me even longer to find female role models and friendships that I felt safe relying on. And though I know I’m not alone in that, publishers and directors alike tend to shy away from stories involving negative depictions of mothers and motherhood. (The most popular mom trope we get is the burnt out mom who wants to go out for a night on the town with her mom friends. Usually this appears in a comedy of some sort. Trying to pursue a drama? Good luck.) 

Granted, I’m not saying stories with depictions of abusive moms don’t exist. They do, but sparsely, and they tend to be in the adult sphere of entertainment, including Jennette McCurdy’s recent release. 

I’m making a call to publishers to have more books where moms aren’t perfect in kidlit fiction. 

One of the main reasons I set out to write my novel-in-verse about my mother was because of what happened to me at the bookstore when I was a kid. Shortly after she died, I found myself lost amongst the kidlit bookshelves, unable to find anything that I could relate to anymore. There were no stories about addiction or grief stories about losing moms…and so, I ended up in the young adult section at 11, where I found One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones. I immediately felt seen. 

I promised myself right then and there I’d write my story for 11-year-olds like me, and that it would go in the middle grade section. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that it ended up being a novel-in-verse, too. But that’s a story for another day. 

I’m in the middle of querying it right now, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed about my pending fulls, but regardless of where my story ends up, I hope publishing is taking note of people’s reactions to Jennette McCurdy’s book.   

Moms aren’t perfect. They can, in fact, be our biggest adversary. By showing that through storytelling, we can help empower readers to recognize that in their own lives. Who knows? They may even find the strength and resolve to share their own stories with the world one day. 

~SAT