Friday, March 6, 2015

Teen Me & The Selfie

Teen Me would've loved social media--for stalking boys. I can only imagine the hours I would've wasted reading posts and profiles and texting my friends back and forth to decode various nuances.

But what would I have done about the obligatory selfies?

I spent all of high school feeling massively insecure about my appearance! Writing My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, along with the hard-earned wisdom of growing up, have helped me recover from most of my "nose issues," yet my typical Snapchat still looks like this:

And my only Snapchat friends are my daughters.

My 9th grader spends a lot of time talking about the way girls alter their appearance online using various apps that brighten eyes, clean up complexions, shrink, enhance or blur facial features… Other girls simply hide all but their eyes. That would've been me!

In November a plethora of "leaf selfies" appeared on my daughter's Instagram account. During a hike, we took our own leaf selfie as a joke.

I admitted that Teen Me would've been all over the leaf selfie, and any other means to hide my nose.

A few weeks ago, my step-sister scanned and emailed a photo of fifteen-year-old me. Even coming of age pre-technology hasn't protected me from Throwback Thursdays!

My first thought: Aw! I like this photo. My next thought: Because you can't see your face! And the next thought: Really, Syd, you're still thinking like this? After all these years?

I've worked so hard--and continue to work as aging alters me yet again--to overcome my body image issues, and accept myself JUST AS I AM. But I'm no longer hoping to find a boyfriend, hoping to fit in at school, hoping to be somewhat popular, or at least not be stuck on The Outside, hoping that I'm okay--whatever that actually means, but it somehow has to do with beauty… right?!?

I have so much empathy for all those teens trying to create photos that make them feel like they fit within society's too-narrow standard of beauty. Almost everything else in life matters so much more, but how can you explain that to teens living their most insecure years in front of an ever-present camera?

Teen Me wouldn't have believed it, either.

Friday, February 27, 2015

To Toss or Save???

I've been working my way through Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I almost always choose to read a book instead of clean or tidy anything, but Kondo's true passion (absolutely infectious) in this charming little guide inspired me to go through ALL of my stuff.

Step One: clothing. I had no problem tossing out old clothes, giving up a significant portion of my writing wardrobe (old, hole-y, but soft sweats).

Step Two: books. NOOOOOOO!!!!! I procrastinated this step for a couple of weeks, but now I love having space on my shelves for exciting new books. I really don't miss my old Russian language text books, out-dated writing industry books, really boring literary criticism. Or any of the other books that made me feel guilty for not wanting to read them.

Next I tackled Step Three. Papers.

Recycling manuals for appliances I no longer own felt great. Same for kiddie birthday party ideas that I'd cut out of magazines. I don't see any unicorn parties in my high school daughter's future. Old insurance policy papers? Out! This is easy!

But then I got to my writing papers.

Every short story I've ever written had its own file. Every novel I've written had its own file(s). Plus, hunky rubber-banded first drafts, second drafts, sixth drafts… My file drawers barely closed. My presentations had spilled into a different file cabinet: 30 (!) different talks in 30 (!) different folders.

All weekend I pretended that my home office didn't exist, and read a book I'd rediscovered in Step Two. On Monday I made myself face those overstuffed files.

The magazine market has changed dramatically since I first wrote all those short stories. Thankfully, so has my writing! Penning all those stories taught me about characters, plot, language--and the meaning of "ready for submission." I won't be sending any of them out again, so I simply saved one copy of each story and discarded its file, submission sheet, and other notes and correspondence. I do like to see how my writing has changed, and many of those stories reflect things from my daughters' childhood. But now they hang together in a "Retired Stories" folder in the back.

I tossed all but one copy of each unsold novel manuscript. Each is revised, so I don't need old marked up copies. I didn't need copies of queries to various editors and agents, many of whom are no longer working in the industry. I kept only the papers relevant to current submissions.

So many of the papers clogging my files aren't relevant to where I am right now in my writing career, so I recycled hundreds and hundreds of pages!

I realized while going through my presentations that they fall into four categories: generating ideas, nuts and bolts of writing, characters, and revision. I saved one handout from each talk.

I filled my giant recycling bin to the brim with my not-needed writing papers. Now I have space for all the new things I'll be creating and doing--and that feels exciting and, yes, a bit life-changing.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Little Free Library Update

With the colder weather, I haven't been seeing much action at my Little Free Library, but a few Fridays ago I had my favorite "librarian" moment! 

Driving home from junior high drop-off, I saw two little girls in pajamas running down the street with books clutched to their chests. Aw! They've been to my library. A few minutes later, a car screeched to a halt outside my house, and a girl got out, leaving the car door swinging open. Book emergency! 

I figured the neighborhood elementary school must have been holding a Read-a-Thon. I even spotted the sporty boy who lives a few houses down choosing a novel.

Maybe some of these kids will turn into lifelong readers! Fingers crossed.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Blogging Elsewhere

Ack! I sure haven't been blogging here. I have good reasons--and I'm sure they'll show up in fiction someday. It'll be sort of like Jane Eyre, except with grannies in the basement. Egads things have been weird!

Thanks to peer pressure I've kept up at YA Outside the Lines, and here's my most recent post:

I will pressure myself to blog here regularly too!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Another Downside To Not Keeping Up With Must-Read Books

If my To Read pile weren't scattered over several surfaces in several rooms, it would be taller than me. I can't keep up with all the must-read titles, so I'm always a few--many?--volumes behind. I try hard to avoid spoiler alert conversations about the books I plan to read, especially when those stories are being turned into movies. Toward the end of my reading of Gone Girl, as the plot twists were coming to light, I'd cover my ears, close my eyes, and shout ya-ya-ya when trailers came on TV. My family loved that, by the way.

The biggest downside to waiting to read the book too close to the movie: I can't stop myself from picturing the actor's face while reading.

I saw Ben Affleck's strong jaw all through Gone Girl. I kept wondering, is he that well-cast for the role of Nick Dunne, or have I been brainwashed after seeing those short teaser trailers months before at the movie theater?

Now I'm reading Olive Kitteridge before the HBO miniseries starts next week. Not only do I see Frances McDormand's face as Olive, I'm hearing her voice as I read. I adore McDormand's acting, but this is driving a little crazy!

I much prefer creating my own visualization of characters. No human will ever match The Thorn Birds' Father Ralph of my young teenage mind! Sigh. It's much more fun to be righteously indignant about casting--he's not my               !!!!--than to be constantly reminding yourself, it's Nick not Ben-freaking-Affleck!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Finally! I get to be a librarian!

For many years now, I've often wished that I'd become a librarian. One of my college work-study jobs was shelving books in the beautiful Penrose Library on Whitman College's campus, and I loved the quiet hours and discovering so many books about so many different things.

Okay, so, I have to admit that I harbor the misconception that librarians get to hang out at the checkout desk reading all day. Ssh! The one job where you don't get in trouble for reading! I know that's not how the job actually works, but wouldn't that be the best thing ever?

I've finally found a way to be a sort-of librarian: I put a Little Free Library in my yard!

The design was inspired by the red schoolhouse in Vermont where I learned to love reading. Now, I have so much fun watching neighborhood kids sprawled on my lawn paging through books. The other day I caught some YA-types carrying off armfuls of novels. I only wish more grownups would come… I feel sad that most adults read phones instead of books, but I'm still hopefully stocking my library with hot titles. Gone Girl, anyone?

If you've ever wanted to be a librarian, check out the Free Little Library movement:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Advice & Giveaway with Holly Schindler

Please welcome guest blogger Holly Schindler today! 

What is your best advice for fellow writers?
For writers just starting out, I’d suggest you write every day. I know not all professional writers do. Some actually feel stymied by the pressure of putting something down on paper every single day, or meeting specific word count goals. But when you’re starting out, you don’t really know for sure what works for you. And because you’re also still trying to figure out who you are as a writer, the more time you get with your computer (or spiral notebook, etc.), the better off you are. Writing is like playing a sport or an instrument—the more you do it, the better you get at it. It takes practice.

For those who have gotten their toe in the door of the industry, my advice is the same I’m trying to heed myself right now: stay true to yourself. It’s pretty easy to do when you haven’t sold anything and it’s just you and your pages. But then you sell some work, and you get all these industry pros telling you who you are (and aren’t)…It gets hard to weed out the productive voices from those who are leading you down a path you shouldn’t necessarily take.  Remember who you are. Stick to it. Don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.

What popular writing advice do you never follow?
“Write what you know.” Bah! If I only wrote about the places and things I was an expert in, those would be seriously dull books. I’d write about the same things over and over again…
Over the last few years, I’ve also noticed these sort of panicky rumors floating online among would-be published authors. Most of them are reasons why your work isn’t getting accepted: you’re adding two spaces at the end of your periods instead of one; you’re saving your work as a .docx file instead of .doc file. It’s just silly. If an agent or editor has trouble opening a file, they’ll ask you to resend. They don’t immediately reject it while laughing maniacally. 

Be you. Write good stuff. YOUR stuff. Your work will find the appropriate home.

Where do you do most of your writing?
I really love to work outside—either with my laptop on my back deck, or under a tree with my Alphasmart and my dog. But I live in Missouri, so this is really a weather-permitting kind of thing.  Through the hot and cold seasons, I spend quite a bit of time in my office. But staring at the same four walls can get really tiresome, so I also wind up moving throughout the house for a change of scenery.  Sometimes I find I can write to the TV, but often, it’s just too distracting. Most times, my dog Jake and I are working in some corner without any outside noise to bug us.

What’s the best book you’ve read lately on the craft of writing?
WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron. Loved it so much I wrote a thank-you letter to the author. 

What’s the best book you’ve read for fun?
Usually it’s the last book I read. I got in the habit, when I was starting out, of picking out the one good thing I thought each author had to offer. Maybe it was good dialogue, or great scenic writing, or poetic phrases. And I’d think about how I could implement some of those things in my own work, in my own way. I still find myself doing that. Each book I read then becomes a way for me to become a better writer. And that always adds a new dimension of fun to reading…

FERAL jacket copy:

The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

FERAL falls squarely into the realm of the classic psychological thriller.  While the book features mystery, horror, and paranormal elements, the emphasis is on the “psychological” rather than thriller / action.  The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development (here, we’re exploring the inner workings of the main character, Claire Cain). 
Essentially, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting.  The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and in this instance is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s “frozen” inner state).  The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley.  Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche. 
Ultimately, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too.  The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that frightening process in detail. 

Holly Schindler Bio:
Holly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs). 

Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud.  Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.” 

FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller.  Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”

Schindler encourages readers to get in touch.  Booksellers, librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits.  She can be reached at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and can also be found at,, @holly_schindler,, and

Please leave a comment to win a copy of Feral by Holly Schindler! Anywhere in the world!!!