The Teaching, the Inspiration, the Chupacabra, the Not-Writing

2015-11-14 09.18.43This has been my most public year, ever, in my life. It’s been wonderful… and it’s also been somewhat of an adjustment for a shy person like me.

So much of 2015 has been about teaching. I really made this goal a priority to have better balance in my life—the ultimate goal was to get a lot of experience so I could get a job at a low-residency MFA program, and I had a specific school in mind—and I’m astounded at how much I did this past year, and how, even before the year was over, I made my goal come true.

I’m going to talk about some of the not-so-good stuff, but first, let’s focus on the good…

Last week I was in Texas, at the Writing Barn, Bethany Hegedus’s wonderful retreat center in the heart of Austin, leading what was billed as A Week in Residency with, well, me. This was a weeklong workshop-retreat for YA and middle-grade novelists, and ten wonderful, enthusiastic writers signed up to spend the week with me. We workshopped, we did writing prompts, we talked, we got inspired, we had guest authors visit, we did readings, we had a real whirlwind… I was so thrilled by how well it all went, and I miss the writers now that it’s over. My TA Jess Capelle (one of my former Djerassi workshop writers!) helped me through the whole week and was rewarded one night by a visit from a possible chupacabra making noise on the rooftop of her cabin! I left the week feeling really inspired, really content and excited, and I hope the writers who worked with me did, too.

Here are some photos from the truly fantastic week (I am sorry to tell you there is no photo of the chupacabra):

WB-mypath
The path from my cabin to the barn to lead workshop one morning…
Bethany Hegedus and me at the Writing Barn...
Bethany Hegedus and me at the Writing Barn…
My lecture on Novel Openings at the Writing Barn...
My lecture on Novel Openings at the Writing Barn…
Industry panel at the Writing Barn with local guest authors Cory Putman Oakes, Lynne Kelly, and Varian Johnson
Industry panel at the Writing Barn with local guest authors Cory Putman Oakes, Lynne Kelly, and Varian Johnson
The lights outside the barn at night...
The lights outside the barn at night…
Book event at BookPeople in Austin with my friend and fellow author, Suzanne Young (look at how much fun we had!)...
Book event at BookPeople in Austin with my friend and fellow author, Suzanne Young (look at how much fun we had!)…
At BookPeople with Suzanne Young and my Writing Barn TA, Jess Capelle
At BookPeople with Suzanne Young and my Writing Barn TA, Jess Capelle
The workshop group! Such a fantastic group of writers! Here we are all with my TA Jess Capelle and guest author Lynne Kelly
The workshop group! Such a fantastic group of writers! Here we are all with my TA Jess Capelle and guest author Lynne Kelly
At the end of the week, we painted rocks with a word that symbolized the week for us... Here are our rocks...
At the end of the week, we painted rocks with a word that symbolized the week for us… Here are our rocks…

I may as well take this moment to tell you that if you’re reading this post thinking it might be nice to take a workshop like this with me, I’ll have to calm down with the outside teaching very soon, because I’m now on faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts. BUT, I am still committed to teaching this last weeklong workshop in 2016, at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California, quickly approaching in March. Apply now, before the deadline of December 17!

Here’s my latest newsletter with some more info and a FAQ, if you’re interested.

And I should tell you that Bethany has some wonderful programming upcoming at the Writing Barn in 2016, and keep an eye on the website!

WB-featuredbenchNow a breath.

I do need a breath. It’s been a busy year of events, teaching, and coming to a great realization about the book I was writing, which meant shelving one thing and starting fresh on another.

I have one last thing before the year is out. In case you’ll be at this conference in Minneapolis, I’ll tell you:

This weekend I’ll be at NCTE/ALAN (I’ll be signing The Walls Around Us on Saturday, November 21 2-3pm at the Algonquin booth 525–527, and I’ll be on a panel at ALAN first thing Tuesday morning).

But after that I need to go quiet. The teaching and appearances have been important, but know what also is? The writing.

So what about the writing, you may ask? What about the writing…

I know I made the right decision about my next book. I know that in my heart and my gut. But what I don’t know is what’s ahead for me, for my writing career, and the weight of that has been pressing down lately, pressing down hard. Being online and seeing all the news of book deals flashing by makes me happy for the writers… and mad at myself for not being faster, more prolific, more career-minded, more smart. This ugly game of comparison is something that gets a lot of us down.

I’m worried my negativity is seeping out. Not to my students, no, not during my workshops—not when I’m talking one-on-one with another writer about her novel and wishing her all the great and lovely things. I mean when I’m alone with myself, in my writing corner, as I am today, when it’s just me and the page and my whole future is reliant on what I do there, what words come out, and how well they sound and how slow or fast they dribble onto the page.

Sometimes all those doubts and second-guesses and ugly thoughts get animated into a creature that follows you and wants to take you down: a chupacabra on your rooftop, and you’re huddled inside wishing it would go away.

I think what would help is some time off from social media (Twitter especially) and my bad online habits (Googling myself to see if there’s something I should know and seeing snippets of bad reviews of my novels by accident in the search results… Clicking away incessantly on distracting, unnecessary things… Comparing myself again and again to everyone else, when I have always and only been myself in all things and I need to remember that).

I may take off the month of December, apart from sharing the Djerassi deadline and book news, when/if I have things to share.

I may hide from the chupacabra for a while. I know so many of you understand.

I want to make real progress on this novel before 2016 gets here, so I can look at this year and see that I didn’t just make my teaching goal come true… I also moved forward as a writer. That’s what I am first and foremost. (Otherwise, why even bother teaching at all, right?)

For those of you feeling like you let this year slip away from you in some places… it’s not over yet. We still have time.

What if we wrote a ton of words that we felt good about to round out the end of 2015?

What if?

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Joining the Faculty at VCFA

vcfabuildingAs some of you may know—or might have guessed—I’ve been thinking a lot about “success,” purpose, and happiness. I’ve been shifting the focus of my career to have my time not just be focused on me-me-me and promoting my books and writing as fast as I can just to have another book out in the world. I’ve realized I don’t want to be a full-time author. I don’t want to race to write as many books as I can to keep myself afloat—I want to choose carefully what I publish, and write only what speaks to me deeply in my heart. I want balance. To do something that feels more rewarding… My move to Algonquin was the first step. And in addition to that, through all my searching and attempts at reinvention, I discovered a real love for teaching. I realized this could be the answer. I’ve written about my shifting vision for career and success before here and here and here.

My active goal for quite some time has been to build up my c.v. and take on as many teaching opportunities as I could to gain experience and become a better teacher. So I taught courses online. I taught workshops and retreats in person. I joined the Your Novel Year program as a mentor and an online instructor. I taught a course at Columbia University this summer. I just co-taught a workshop at Highlights. And in November I’ll be teaching a workshop at the Writing Barn. I did all this with a solid goal in mind: to find a regular, more stable teaching position at a university.

I had my sights set on teaching in a low-residency MFA program.

I had my sights set on one particular program, in fact: the MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA).

For years, I’ve been watching VCFA from afar, admiring the program, its faculty, its graduates, and asking many questions about how the low-residency model works and specifics about the program. I got my own MFA years and years ago, in a full-time program, and have since found myself envying VCFA’s hold on its alumni. Writers clearly love this program. They go back for post-graduate semesters and to be graduate assistants. They talk about it with such passion. I went to a VCFA gathering at the Boston AWP conference (a friend of mine is a graduate and I tagged along) and was struck by the community that night, impressed by how the program bonds everyone together and seems to live on far from Vermont, even after graduation. I found myself wishing I’d been part of a community like that, but my own MFA had nothing of the sort. I’ve read books from graduates of VCFA and admired the range, and the skill, and the voices.

VCFA is doing something right, I’ve been thinking. Lucky students. Lucky faculty. 

So when I had more experience teaching and wanted to pursue a position at an MFA program, of course VCFA was the first to come to mind.

Well, my goal turned real sooner than I expected, and I am beyond thrilled to say:

logoI am joining the faculty of the low-res MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at VCFA starting with the January residency!

For those wondering, just to get this out of the way since I’ve been asked: No, this does not mean I’m moving to Vermont! (Too bad, right?) VCFA’s program involves two ten-day residencies per year, in January and July; for the rest of the time, as usual, unless something happens, I will be as usual in New York City.

If you find yourself interested in this wonderful program, and are seeking a flexible but rigorous MFA, apply! It looks like there are two deadlines per year: September 30 and March 15, depending on when you’d prefer to have your first residency.

I’m feeling like this is a new chapter for me. I’ve been wanting more solid ground and a place to teach more regularly, a way to balance my writing career that feels right, and I am very hopeful that VCFA will be that place for me long-term.

As for my other teaching, this means a few things: I won’t be able to continue on with the Your Novel Year program at the Piper Center in 2016, and I’m working with my last mentee there now. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’ve been honored to be a part of it. I also expect to be teaching fewer private workshops in 2016 while I get my bearings…

…though my YA Novel Workshop-Retreat at the Djerassi Program in March 2016 is still going strong, and you can apply to join me! Now accepting applications and getting a jump on reviewing them while I have time.

In 2016 I also will be stopping the private manuscript critiques and private mentoring I’ve enjoyed so much, at least for my first semester so I can focus my time on my VCFA students. However, if you are a former student of mine and we’ve already discussed something for 2016, you are welcome to contact me to see if we can make our schedules meld.

I don’t know all of what January will hold. I’m excited. Nervous. Thrilled. We’ll see how the first semester goes!

If you’re a VCFA student in the WCYA program, please feel free to say hello! I’ll see you on campus in January!

The Great Slasher Girls & Monster Boys Giveaway

Slasher_Comp_2All this talk of short stories, and did you know after a long drought in the short-story department, I am having one published? And it’s freaky and bloody and twisted? You’ll find it in the Slasher Girls & Monster Boys horror anthology forthcoming from Dial/Penguin this August.

It contains stories not just from me but from Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Marie Lu, Carrie Ryan, Megan Shepherd, April Genevieve Tucholke, Cat Winters, and more more more!

And now we have ARCs… so we’re holding a giveaway!

The lovely—and absolutely twisted—April Genevieve Tucholke has just posted the details

Enter! Scare us! Enter! Freak us out! Enter!

The Great SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS ARC Giveaway

(US-Only, ends Monday, May 18)

Slasher-arc-pic

HOW TO WIN:

We want to see you at your creatively slashiest. Show us your macabre side and post a pic of something scary to Instagram or Twitter, under hashtag #SLASHERGIRLSARC 

SCARY PIC SUGGESTIONS:

1. Hold a seance

2. Read a horror story in a cemetery

3. Recreate a horror scene from film/tv

4. Play light as a feather, stiff as a board

5. Say Bloody Mary 3 times in a mirror at midnight

6. Show us your Slasher boyfriend/girlfriend/platonic friend–Pinhead, Freddy, Xenomorph Queen…

7. Draw a chalk outline of a body on a sidewalk. Possibly yours.

SUPER SPECIAL ENTRY: Dig your own shallow grave. Anyone who goes to this much trouble will

be placed in their own pool, i.e. your chances of winning are extremely good. Shallow grave

guidelines: Be safe about digging. We’ll not be responsible for bodily injury due to spade

mishaps, digging near power/gas lines, or digging on a too hot day, etc. Keep it safe, keep it

shallow. On a beach, perhaps. Or in your garden.

Enter the giveaway as many times as you want (but dig your grave only once).

The Special Pool entries will be given priority.

And don’t let us hinder your slashy creativity. If you have other ideas, let’s see them! Tweet us

your fave horror quotes! Show us your…scary dogs? Just keep it legal. And don’t forget to RT and use

the hashtag #SLASHERGIRLSARC

(US-Only, ends Monday, May 18)

AWP: The Writer (Not Author) Conference

NameTag

I remember my first AWP conference. It was in the winter of 2008, before I had my first book out, and around the time I had racked up dozens upon dozens of rejections from literary agents for my second adult novel and was feeling pretty low about my publishing prospects.

I still wanted to write literary fiction for adults, and I had not yet embraced writing YA. The AWP conference was in New York City that year, within walking distance of my office, but I took two personal days to attend. I went to as many panels as I could take and carried home as many literary journals as I could handle on the subway… There was one panel I remember distinctly, because it ended up sitting with me for months afterward. It was a panel about YA fiction, and the wonderful Margo Rabb was on it. I had written down an anecdote she’d said, which was when she told her writer friends that her novel—written from a teenage perspective and originally intended for adults—would be published as a YA novel they said, “What a shame.” She spoke about lifting those judgments and the readers she’s found in YA fiction in a way that made me think about doing this, and I do think she’s one of the reasons I’m here today. That was a transformative time for me, when my mind was open… a perfect moment to attend AWP.

Now, years later, I just attended my fourth AWP conference—this time in Minneapolis. My first time going, I was a quiet note-taker in the audience, but this year, I was on two panels of my own, speaking before crowded rooms full of people. (And then, after, quietly taking notes in the audience at everyone else’s panels. Some things never change.)

Photo: Claire Kirch, courtesy of Publishers Weekly. From left: me, Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Photo: Claire Kirch, courtesy of Publishers Weekly. From left: me, Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.

I was thankful to be sent to the conference by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University, where I am an instructor and a YA mentor in their Your Novel Year certificate program. Our panel was in the first slot on the first morning of the conference, on Plot IS Character, Character IS Plot, with the glorious Jewell Parker Rhodes, the director of the Piper Center and an incredible writer and woman, along with some of the Your Novel Year instructors, including Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and me. We talked about plot and character and how the two intersect and inform each other… and our panel was even written up in Publishers Weekly!

The next day, I took part in a panel on Growing Up in a Magical Space: Magical Realism in Contemporary YA and Children’s Literature, moderated by the immensely talented Laura Ruby, one of my favorite authors!, and with wonderful fellow writers Janet Fox, Nikki Loftin, and Samantha Mabry. We had a great discussion about the blurry definition of magical realism in YA, and I confessed that, to me, The Walls Around Us is a ghost story, though I’ve seen it called magical realism all over the place and had to question my own understanding of the genre and my intentions.

So that was the official stuff. It was an honor to panel with these wonderful fellow authors, and I was thrilled at how packed each of the rooms were and by the great audience questions and the discussions we had.

However, for me, the AWP conference is about far more than talking on a panel, even beside some phenomenal fellow YA authors. AWP is the one conference where I can be a writer and not an author. This is so refreshing to me, it’s like tugging off an uncomfortable set of professional clothes and slipping on a soft pair of pajamas.

What happens when you get to an AWP panel late... You sit on the floor and listen. Here's my view of the Young Adult Literature and the Female Body panel.
What happens when you get to an AWP panel late… You sit on the floor and listen. Here’s my view of the Young Adult Literature and the Female Body panel.

AWP is my favorite conference out of all conferences because of the main focus on writing craft. I like the sense of skill-sharing—that so many writers (was it almost 13,000 this year in Minneapolis?) come together to talk writing, and also do readings and see old friends and have parties and whatever else happens when so many thousands of writers get together in a borrowed city for three/four/five days. I like that I go to think only about writing, to talk only about writing, to gather inspiration and knowledge to make more writing and to teach writing and work with other writers. I’m not being my author-self, I’m being my true-self, which is a writer.

For someone who struggles with the public face of being an author—the online persona, the in-person persona, the competition, the comparison, the cliques, every last stitch of it—I found AWP reinvigorating and, well, refreshing. Probably because YA is still such a small pocket of the conference and so many other kinds of writers are there, too, and I know I’m not in their cliques, perhaps? Maybe the pressure is off because most of the literary magazines and small presses filling the book fair wouldn’t publish me anyway, so I don’t care as much? Maybe that’s it? The sense of freedom?

(Though I did gravitate to the One Story table… buying some issues to support them and sending a little silent wish into the ether that I would one day be published by One Teen Story, my current dream journal. Hey, I haven’t changed that much.)

The mayor (!) of Minneapolis introduced the keynote speaker, Karen Russell. p.s. The mayor of Minneapolis has an unpublished YA novel in her drawer... YA editors, get on that?
The mayor (!) of Minneapolis introduced the keynote speaker, Karen Russell. p.s. The mayor of Minneapolis has an unpublished YA novel in her drawer… YA editors, get on that?

All I know is AWP is entirely what you make of it. What I like to do is attend select craft panels and readings and wander the book fair and support literary journals and small presses I admire. No pressure. No stress about networking, though it tends to happen naturally. I keep my schedule overbooked and always open, in case I change my mind, which I do, constantly. I let myself follow my whims.

And I take advantage of how gigantic the crowd is… and disappear to have introvert time in my hotel room whenever I feel like it.

At this year’s AWP, I came away with so much thinking and inspiration and challenges to myself, some I am still mulling over now, a full week later.

Some of my favorite panels included Young Adult Literature and the Female Body with Megan Atwood, Brandy Colbert, Christine Heppermann, Alexandra Duncan, and Steve Brezenoff… Women Writing Darkness: Villains, Violence, and Unhappy Endings with Michelle Hoover, Allison Amend, Sabina Murray, Sheri Joseph, and Kate Racculia… Young Adults, New Adults, & the Women Who Write Them: Navigating the Politics of Gender & Genre in Young Adult Literature with Cecil Castellucci, Laurel Snyder, Lynn Melnick, Marian Crotty, and Stephanie Kuehn… Politics of Empathy: Writing Through Borrowed Eyes with Lorraine Berry, Matthew Salesses, Prageeta Sharma, Tess Taylor, and Aimee Phan… Striving for Balance between Language and Prejudice in Teaching Writing with Alexander Chee, Danielle Evans, Christine Lee, Jennine Capó Crucet, and Mat Johnson… and Teen Sex in Fiction for Adults with Pamela Erens, Gina Frangello, Anna March, Elissa Schappell, and Julia Fierro.

Yep. I went to a good bunch of panels that resonated—and there were so many more I missed, which makes me hungry already for next year’s conference, if I can afford to go, fingers crossed. There is so much going on at once, so much happening at the conference and at off-site places surrounding the conference, that you will never ever feel like you’ve done enough or seen enough people… which I guess makes you all the more inclined to come back next year.

There were only a few panels on YA or children’s books when I attended AWP in 2008. Now, not so many years later, we’re very much a part of things at this yearly conference that you just can’t deny us. Here’s a small sampling of photos from YA and children’s panels this year that was featured in Publishers Weekly.

Some other cool moments: I won a week-long writing retreat in Los Angeles in a raffle! I ran into my oldest writing friend on the plane and ended up hanging out with her for much of the conference (hi, Erin)! I ran into my very first writing workshop teacher, from my first year in college, and she recognized me right away! I introduced myself to a literary fiction author whose books I love and she actually knew who I was! I saw so many colony friends and MFA classmates and summer workshop friends and authors I admire and lovely Binders and I read an intense and gorgeous book on the plane ride home that I’d picked up at the book fair: The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson.

I hope to be able to attend AWP in Los Angeles in 2016. And if I do, let’s try to run into each other there, okay?

 

 

The Book I Want You to Read: ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers

AlltheRageEvery once in a while there comes a book that you wish you’d written yourself. A book you want to read again immediately after finishing because you need to keep it in your life a little longer, or unlock its secrets, or savor the brilliance… Whatever the reason may be, all you know is that this is a book you will not be able to forget, ever. It is a book you want to share with friends and strangers. A book that has made such an impact on you that you want it to wedge its sharp corners into everyone else, too.

This book for me is All the Rage by Courtney Summers. And you are in luck: It is on sale TODAY.

I’ve been a fan of Courtney’s work since we connected over our blogs—this very blog here—and I have loved each and every one of her books (and I was honored to even be asked to blurb one! the ferocious, gripping, and glorious This Is Not a Test), and it’s always difficult to shine a light on just one of a favorite author’s books.

But All the Rage is my most favorite Courtney Summers novel yet.

Here is the jacket copy…

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything–friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her past there. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time–and they certainly won’t now–but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women in a culture that refuses to protect them.

But let me tell you in my own words…

This is an important book. This is a book we need, in YA and in the world. This is a book by one of the best YA writers of our time, at the height of her talents.

Do not miss this book. Go out and buy it this week if you can. Then come back and tell me what you think about it.

The Book of Your Heart Series: Ryan Graudin

thebookofyourheart-FEATUREDWhen an author says a book she’s written is the Book of Her Heart, what does that mean? In this completely irregular ongoing blog series, I’ve invited guest authors to reveal what they consider the Book of Their Heart—and share why this book holds a distinct and special place apart from all others they’ve written.

Here, to celebrate her book birthday tomorrow, I have Ryan Graudin sharing why The Walled City is the Book of Her Heart…


Guest post by Ryan Graudin

Headshot-1Whenever I try to describe what writing is like to my non-writer friends, I usually resort to Harry Potter references. “My books,” I tell them, “are like Horcruxes. All of them have little pieces of me inside.”

But some books/Horcruxes have a little more of me inside than other books/Horcruxes. Something about The Walled City was different from every other project I’d ever written. It felt… truer, deeper, rawer than anything I’d ever put to paper before. It was a book I wrote solely for me. I honestly thought, during those early months, that no one would want to read, much less buy a YA novel where the plot revolved largely around Asian street children and human trafficking. I’d never read anything quite like what I was creating, and the usual fears of No one will buy this. This is all for nothing. set in.

I wrote anyway. Because I had to.

People always ask me where my inspiration comes from. I tell them travel, which is almost always true. The heart of The Walled City was inspired by two very distinct trips I took in my college years.

walledcity_final coverWhen I was twenty-years old I went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for a summer. The purpose of the trip was to experience (and therefore understand) third-world poverty. I lived with a family in the slums, eating only what they ate, sleeping on the floor. I met children who lived in tarps. Children who had nothing to eat but what they could scrounge from trash heaps. Children who seemed to have no guardians to speak of. Children who deserved so much more.

When I was twenty-one years old I traveled to Bolivia, where my future sister-in-law worked (and still does) educating sex workers, providing them with health awareness, child care and (if they desire it) the means to learn the life-skills needed to support themselves if they wanted to leave the industry. Meeting these women, listening to their stories, eating a meal with them, was such a humbling experience. One that forced me to strip away all of my judgments and look at them in a new light.

Through both of these trips I came to realize that people are so much more than their circumstances. So much more than the passing labels or judgments I was so quick to give them. I wanted to help, and not just to help, but to understand. I wrestled and mulled and held these experiences inside. I tried to answer so many questions that seemed unanswerable.

People have many, many different ways of processing. The largest and most obvious of mine is writing.

So I wrote.

I wrote about street kids and trafficked girls. I wrote to try and understand their view, their world. I wrote to try—in some small way—to make sense of the pain and poverty I’d seen. I wrote to try and make sense of my own personal demons. I took all of the questions of my heart and crammed them into the form of a story.

Perhaps one of the reasons this novel has earned its place as my “heart book” is because it’s the most honest I’ve been with myself on the page. The Walled City is a book about trust, and how difficult it is to open yourself up to people after you’ve been hurt. It is a book about pain and isolation. But more than anything I think, it is a book about hope.

There are no simple answers when it comes to issues like poverty and trafficking. But it is my hope that by writing this book and inviting readers into my own search for answers, that I can help others see a world that is usually far in the shadows. A world my twenty-one-ish self only just brushed upon. A world that wrenches your heart, but deserves to be known about.


Ryan Graudin was born in Charleston, SC, with a severe case of wanderlust. When she’s not traveling, she’s busy photographing weddings, writing, and spending time with her husband and wolf-dog. She is also the author of All That GlowsThe Walled City is her second novel. You can visit her online at ryangraudin.com.

Order a copy of The Walled City!


Thank you, Ryan, for sharing your Heart Book with my readers. Happy Book Birthday!

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:

The Book of Your Heart Series: Amy Reed

thebookofyourheart-FEATUREDWhen an author says a book she’s written is the Book of Her Heart, what does that mean? In this completely irregular ongoing blog series, I’ve invited guest authors to reveal what they consider the Book of Their Heart—and share why this book holds a distinct and special place apart from all others they’ve written.

Here, to help celebrate her book birthday for her new edgy, contemporary YA novel Damaged, I have Amy Reed opening up for the first time about the book of her heart…


Guest post by Amy Reed

A Reed author photoAll of my five books have a piece of my heart in them. My new book, DAMAGED, will always be special to me because I was in my first trimester of pregnancy when my husband and I embarked on the cross-country road trip that would serve as the basis of the story. I battled a combination of morning sickness, carsickness, and weird food aversions (including water), all for the sake of art. My daughter was with me, the size of a blueberry, as the story of DAMAGED was born.

But I think the true books of my heart will always be my most autobiographical. BEAUTIFUL is by far the most autobiographical of my books, based on my experience moving from a rural island to a suburb of Seattle in seventh grade, experiences I’ve been very open about in the past. I’ve been less open about CLEAN. It is also very much autobiographical, but I’ve remained vague in interviews about how close I was to the story. After publishing five books, maybe it’s time to open up about why CLEAN is the book of my heart.

clean-coverCLEAN is based on my own experience in rehab when I was sixteen. I wrote it during my first year of sobriety after my second rehab, at age twenty-nine. I am now over five years sober and the happiest I’ve ever been, and I think my recovery plays a huge part in all of my novels since. I started drinking and using in much the same way as Cassie in BEAUTIFUL—I was thirteen, lonely, terrified, and I wanted to be cool. I fell in with a group of “friends” who were unlike anyone I had ever met, and I did whatever I thought I had to do in order to fit in. I had no foundation of self-esteem to help me say no, or to even ask myself what I actually wanted. I was addicted from the very beginning. I didn’t get high for fun like everyone else. I did it because I had to. It was the only way to keep myself from feeling all the horrible feelings that kept piling on the more I went in the wrong direction and the more I kept hurting myself.

By the time I was sixteen, I was exhausted and battling depression in addition to my drug abuse. I finally asked my mom for help, and after an evaluation, it was decided that month-long in-patient treatment would be the help I needed. I remember being scared, but more than anything, I remember feeling relieved. It felt good to let go of that secret, to ask for help, to stop trying to do everything on my own.

I learned a lot in rehab and I was clean for over a year afterwards, but I didn’t stay sober. To me, sobriety means much more than just being free from drugs and alcohol; it requires a whole shift in thinking, it requires growth and change and constant active effort to repair broken behavior and thought patterns. I did none of this. I was doing everything the same as before, just without drugs and alcohol. All the feelings I had been pushing away came back with a vengeance, and I was without the only tools I ever had to deal with them, and I wasn’t learning any new tools. I was miserable.

I relapsed shortly after high school graduation, and the next decade of my life was spent riding the downward spiral of addiction and alcoholism. I had gotten into the college of my dreams, but I dropped out just weeks before the end of sophomore year because of depression and an out of control cocaine problem that stole my soul. When I moved to San Francisco at age twenty, that’s when my drinking really took off, and I spent the next several years just barely getting by. Fortunately, I think some part of rehab stuck with me through these dark times, and I’d manage to pull myself out of serious trouble before it got too bad. But I’d always inevitably fall back into it again.

By the time I was in my late-twenties, I was exhausted. I decided to get help. Again, the feeling of relief that I didn’t have to do it alone. This time, I was serious about getting sober. I had too much to lose—a husband, a career, a home. This time, I knew I was going to have to change everything if I wanted to keep anything.

And so, CLEAN was born. I was able to access the raw vulnerability of the characters because I was going through the same things they were. I think of the main female characters—Eva, Kelly, and Olivia—as three parts of myself as a teenager, and it was healing to get in touch with them. I was Eva, the depressed poet misfit. I was Kelly, the pretty girl who didn’t know how to say no. I was Olivia, the perfectionist. In writing their stories, I got to let them go.

Style: "Porcelain vivid"So now, five years and four novels later, I have a life beyond my wildest dreams. I am wife to an amazing partner who inspired me with his love to become a better person. I am mother to the most astonishing 18-month old girl who teaches me new ways to love and laugh every day. She has never seen me drunk or high, and hopefully she never will. I am blessed to be able to do what I love for my profession, to write books and reach teens who are a lot like I was, lost and scared but full of heart. I get the most amazing letters and emails from readers who are going through similar things as my characters, and I feel so incredibly honored to help them feel less alone, to inspire them to get help. Everything I have in my life now is a result of my getting sober and changing my life. It is an honor and privilege to share it with you all, and I am forever grateful.


Amy Reed is the author of the edgy, contemporary YA novels BEAUTIFUL, CLEAN, CRAZY, and OVER YOU. Her new book DAMAGED released yesterday, October 14, 2014.

Find out more at www.amyreedfiction.com.

Buy DAMAGED at your local indie, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon

Buy CLEAN at your local indie, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon 


Thank you, Amy, for sharing the Book of Your Heart with my readers. Happy Book Birthday to Damaged, which is now on sale as of yesterday… everyone, go grab it!

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series: