Turning Points: Guest Post by Micol Ostow (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Micol Ostow revealing hers…

Guest post by Micol Ostow

The truth: as thrilled as I am to be asked to participate in this blog series, I’m reluctant, if not downright loathe, to deem any one moment in my writing career the clear and definitive turning point. (Further truth? Even referring to it as my “writing career,” as opposed to “that thing I do because I just can’t seem not to,” is a turning point in itself. Career? When did that happen?)

External factors can cue the big, stop-and-soak-them-in moments, like my first published work (a short story in 2002), or the date that I signed with my inimitable, indefatigable agent (shortly thereafter). My first original novel published in 2005, and my first “literary” novel in 2006 (followed closely by my first tepid review, which I tried to see as a rite of passage, albeit through gritted teeth).

The problem, to me, is that identifying a specific “turning point” in one’s creative endeavors feels limiting. It shrinks one’s perspective, and narrows the long view I try to keep in mind for myself, for my career. It hangs the definition of “success” on fixed externalities over which I have little to no control. Would hitting a bestseller list be a career turning point? Of course. Likewise winning a prestigious award. And I’d revel in those events, naturally. Who wouldn’t?

But in the meantime, I’ll revel in reality, in the amazing fact that when I go to work, I am creating stories that, miracle of miracles, some people seem to want to read, that some people even pay for. I’ll revel in the two heady, happy years I spent studying craft, ultimately expanding my scope as a writer, tilting my sensibility away from the commercial (What Would My Cell Phone Do?) and inexplicably toward the thorny, the twisted, the dark (family).

Which is not to say that my days as a commercial writer are done.

A turning point is not necessarily a point of no return, after all.

To be a writer requires a certain blend of insanity and tenacity; to be a professional writer (that is to say, one whose livelihood comes from writing) requires little so much as flexibility. Markets change. Trends change.

Writers change.

But I don’t believe that any of us ever truly feel “finished.” (Certainly none of the writers I know do.) And thus, no turning point, however impactful, is truly final. As one author friend told me recently, each piece we write is a lottery ticket, an opportunity to be heard.

An opportunity for evolution, for reinvention.

And the prize? The pot? The shiny brass ring? That is constantly evolving, as well. Maybe it’s to find an agent, maybe it’s to publish a novel. Maybe it’s to finish a novel. Maybe to join a critique group, or a book club.

Maybe. Endless maybe. Also known as endless possibility.

The point, then, is to keep turning the page: of your career, of your writing, of your life. Specific, concrete turning points are easier to see in hindsight than in the moment.

But the moment is always upon us.

Micol Ostow welcomed her daughter on Christmas Day, and wonders very much what this next turning point will bring. Visit Micol at www.micolostow.com.


Congratulations to the winner of TWO books: an *autographed* copy of family by Micol Ostow… and an *autographed* copy of a book she loved, Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss! The winner is…


Congratulations, Bekka! I will email you for your mailing address. And thank you to Micol for offering up her own book and Lucas’s book for the giveaway!

There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.


Guest Post: What Scares Micol Ostow

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Micol Ostow, author of family

I love, love, love to be scared.

No, seriously.

Mind you, I should clarify that by saying that I am a giant fraidy-cat; I get spooked out easily and the slightest sense of discomfit will keep me up at night.

But somehow, that doesn’t stop me from indulging in thrills and chills.

I maintain that this love of the dark side is inherited from my mother, who, when I was little and she was in graduate school, used to work on her Master’s coursework with B-horror movies on mute in the background. It was not uncommon for five-year-old Micol to walk into our den to see “classics” like The Red-Eyed Monster playing out on the small screen in the background.

Needless to say, it made an impression. These days, mother-daughter horror movie marathons are our standard form of bonding session, and we have both worried, only semi-jokingly, about what we will do if and when my impending daughter (due this December, sadly too late for Halloween ’11) chooses to eschew our beloved pastime for girlier pastures.

Of course, I’ve always been an avid reader, as well, and my mother also passed along a great love of the master, Stephen King. I stole away to the darkest corners of the library to read The Shining in secret at age eleven. When I was twelve, my father, realizing that he was quickly getting left out of the loop, came home with a gift for me.

Helter Skelter, the true story of the Manson Family murders.

“You’ll love it,” he said. “It’s like Stephen King, but true.

Oh, yes. And so it was.

Did I mention the book had a photo insert? A photo. Insert.

I was twelve.

I tore through the first third of the book immediately.

I didn’t sleep that night.

Not even after moving to a sleeping bag on my baby brother’s bedroom floor.

And when I woke up in the morning, my father had left a note under my pillow—Helter Skelter, just like what the Family had scrawled on the walls of the Tate-LaBianca murders.

So, you get why I am the way I am, right?

Many years—and countless therapy sessions—later, I’ve managed to make this obsession with the macabre work for me. I’ve even somehow parlayed it into a career of sorts. If that’s not a happy ending, I don’t know what is.

So what scares me, other than deadlines, you ask? Well, Charles Manson, obviously, and just about anything by Stephen King. Beyond that, I’ll just briefly touch on some of the classic tropes:


Or other dolls-come-to-life. They gave Buffy “the wig,” and so goes my nation.

Excessively Precocious Children:

Particularly when possessed or otherwise dangerous.


See also: boiler rooms, etc. People, stay above ground.


“Come and play with us, Danny…”

Abandoned Gothic Mansions:

If someone offers you cash to spend the night in one of these places? Seriously, people—don’t even. A little tip from me to you.

Micol Ostow is half Puerto Rican, half Jewish, half reader, half writer, and, when under deadline, often half asleep. Micol was working as an editor of young adult fiction when she began to write her own books; since then, she has published over 40 works for readers of all ages. Her novel, Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa, was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and her graphic novel hybrid, So Punk Rock: And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother, was chosen as a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens.

Micol received her MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2009, and currently teaches a popular young adult writing workshop through Media Bistro. She lives in NYC with her Emmy-award winning filmmaker husband, Noah Harlan, and a persnickety French Bulldog named Bridget Jones. 

Visit Micol at micolostow.com.

Follow @micolz on Twitter.

Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!  

Here’s a sneak peek of some books I’m giving away:

You can keep track of all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Micol Ostow on Her New Novel “family”

Sometime ago, I got an early read on the opening pages of a manuscript that has haunted me ever since. While I read, I was filled with a deep sense of foreboding about the story and its narrator, seventeen-year-old Mel. I was chilled, torn up by what going to happen, wanting to stop it, wanting to warn Mel, and yet helplessly carried along. I was also filled with a sense that this novel NEEDED to be published and I knew—yes, I knew it in my bones—that one day soon I’d be seeing its release. Today is that day! (Technically, that day was April 26, but I’m celebrating today for a reason I’ll tell you below.)

These pages that I read were from an early draft of Micol Ostow’s latest novel, family, inspired by the Manson Family murders in 1969.

I’m about to give away a copy of this incredible, original, and disturbing book, and I’ll also share an interview with its author, the incredible, original, and actually very sweet and not disturbing Micol Ostow. BUT, before I say anything more, to get a sense of how this book made me feel, I need you to see something.

This. The book trailer. Turn up your volume, cut the lights, and hit Play:

(I swear that trailer is going to give me nightmares.)

That probably gave you chills. Want more? Here’s the summary of the book:

i have always been broken.
i could have. died.
and maybe it would have been better if i had.

It is a day like any other when seventeen-year-old Melinda Jensen hits the road for San Francisco, leaving behind her fractured home life and a constant assault on her self-esteem. Henry is the handsome, charismatic man who comes upon her, collapsed on a park bench, and offers love, a bright new consciousness, and—best of all—a family. One that will embrace her and give her love. Because family is what Mel has never really had. And this new family, Henry’s family, shares everything. They share the chores, their bodies, and their beliefs.  And if Mel truly wants to belong, she will share in everything they do. No matter what the family does, or how far they go.

Told in episodic verse, family is a fictionalized exploration of cult dynamics, loosely based on the Manson Family murders of 1969. It is an unflinching look at people who are born broken, and the lengths they’ll go to to make themselves “whole” again.

So intense—so good.

I’m happy to say that Micol was kind enough to answer questions from me, in the first author interview I’ve ever posted on my blog. So why am I posting this today and not a few days ago when the book released? Because today is Micol’s birthday! Happy Birthday, Micol! To honor her birthday and her book’s birthday, here’s an interview with Micol—and also a chance to win a copy of her book:

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