Turning Points: Choose Your Own Adventure by Jon Skovron

headshot-color_featuredThis guest post is part of the Turning Points series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Now, to celebrate the release of his new YA novel, Man Made Boy, out in stores on October 3, here is Jon Skovron sharing his…

Guest post by Jon Skovron

MAN MADE BOY is on sale October 3!
MAN MADE BOY is on sale October 3!

When I was sixteen, I was going to be a rock star. Of course, it would have helped if I’d been able to keep a band together for more than about ten months. Teen punk bands come with a lot of drama. And I lost a lot of friends during that time. To drugs and alcohol. To car crashes or suicides. A couple even to religious cults. That whole “Hope I die before I get old” thing was very real for us. I didn’t plan to live past 25. And I might not have, if it weren’t for a high school theater director who instilled in me a passion, discipline, and dedication to the arts. He also taught me how to be a good enough actor that I was accepted into a prestigious theater conservatory and given a grant.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

When I was twenty, I was going to be a movie star. I ate, slept, and breathed nothing but theater. I was past dedication. I was utterly consumed to the point where I had no life. Then one night, with trembling voice and outstretched hand, I confessed my long secret crush to a female friend of mine. She turned me down. As I walked home that cold rainy night, heartbroken and miserable, it suddenly occurred to me that these sorts of moments would make me a better artist. This is what my acting had been missing! Life experience! So I stopped on the corner of 5th and Shady, looked up at the uncaring stars, and said aloud, “Go ahead then! Give me everything you’ve got. I can take it.” There have been many times since then when I’ve thought back ruefully on the foolishness of that challenge. I’ve never regretted it, though.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

When I was twenty-three, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to be. Not an actor, that was for sure. I’d met the Hollywood machine and found it not to my liking at all. I’d tried to go back to theater, but as I sat there sweating backstage in an un-air-conditioned 90-degree warehouse waiting to go onstage and play yet another fool in a Shakespeare comedy directed by yet another arrogant megalomaniac, I decided it was not to my liking either. I looked down at the copy of World According to Garp in my lap and with the arrogance that only a twenty-three-year-old can muster, thought, “I can’t do that! I’m going to write books!” And from that moment on, I dedicated myself to becoming a professional writer.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

When I was twenty-nine, I wasn’t worried about what I was going to do because I was just trying to survive. I was supporting a wife and two kids by working in a warehouse, dragging half-ton pallets of computer hardware around. I barely made enough for us to live. By then I had two failed manuscripts under my belt. I’d tried “serious literary fiction,” I’d tried “popular fiction.” Nothing seemed to click, and I wondered if maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer after all. But my agent suggested I take a look at this new thing called “Young Adult.” I picked up Holly Black’s Valiant and Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere. I read them both in a day and knew I’d found my place.

But even that’s not what I want to talk about.

This is what I want to talk about:

When I was thirty-two, I decided I didn’t really need to know what I was going to do. I was up visiting a friend in New York. I’d finished my first YA manuscript and it was out making the rounds with publishers. So far, there’d been no takers, or even much interest. I sat there in this dingy bar in Manhattan drinking with one of my closest friends, a man I’ve known since I was eighteen, and I said to him, “You know, I don’t care if this book gets published. I love it, and that’s good enough. And I don’t care if I ever get published. I’m just going to keep writing anyway. Because I love it.”

A month later, I got a call from my agent that not one, but two publishers had made an offer on Struts & Frets. Which seems to support my long held belief that only when you truly accept failure can you embrace success.

We each have many turning points, like chapter headings on the journey of our lives. It’s up to us to choose them. Sure, the events themselves are concrete, but our interpretation of them is always subjective. Our lives are stories and we decide which bits are most important. In that way, we determine our own personal narrative. Every day, you’re out there interacting with friends and strangers, making choices, living your life, telling the story of you. Why not make it a story you like?

headshot-colorJon Skovron has been an actor, musician, lifeguard, Broadway theater ticket seller, warehouse grunt, technical writer, and web developer. Now he is the author of Young Adult novels Struts & Frets, Misfit, and Man Made Boy (Oct 3rd, Viking Penguin). He lives just outside Washington DC with his two sons.

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

Turning Points: How We Define Ourselves by Rachele Alpine

Rachele_(39)_2 featuredThis guest post is part of the Turning Points series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Now, to celebrate her release week, here is Rachele Alpine, debut author of the YA novel Canary, sharing hers… and this is an extra-special Turning Point to share, because Rachele is one of my former Mediabistro students!

And scroll down to see who won a signed finished copy of Canary in the giveaway!

Guest post by Rachele Alpine

CANARY is on sale this week from Medallion Press!
CANARY is on sale this week from Medallion Press!

My first fiction writing course in college was in a small room in the English building with only enough space for a big wooden table. Twelve of us fit around it if we squeezed together, but we couldn’t pull our chairs all the way back or they would hit the wall. I remember the way the floor creaked when my professor walked in and how excited I was when he closed the door and began to speak to us.

I had been waiting to take this class since I signed up for it during freshmen orientation. I loved writing, but had always kept it private. Even though I filled up notebooks full of words all through high school, it had always been a part of me that I didn’t share with many people. I never felt like my writing was good enough to share.

However, I had made the vow to myself that college would be different. I was going to be different. I was so used to holding back with things. I had always lacked confidence and felt like I wasn’t good enough. My life was a cycle of self-doubt, whether it was about academic abilities, talents or how I looked. I would retreat into myself, not sharing my thoughts with anyone but letting them destroy me from the inside. I was my toughest critic and because of that, I missed out on a lot of things during high school.

But I didn’t want college to be like that. I couldn’t let it be like that.

I remember getting back our first stories. I had stapled a page on top with nothing but the title and my name. I opened it up to see what my professor thought of the piece I had worked so hard on. I envisioned feedback and maybe even some praise, but all that was written at the top were the words “This is not writing.”

This is not writing.

There were no other comments anywhere on the story. The only feedback my professor had given me about my writing was a single sentence reconfirming within me everything I lacked.

I’d like to think that maybe he had a reason for writing what he did on my paper. Maybe the whole class got messages like that, and it was his way of pushing us to do better. I hope that was his purpose, but I’ll never know for sure because when our class broke for a break, I took my bag and never went back. I threw my paper in the wastebasket outside the English building, held in my tears until I made it to my dorm, and dropped the class.

I never took another creative writing course in college. Writing became private for me again. I learned my lesson. I had tried to share my writing, and my teacher’s comments had reaffirmed my doubts.

This self-doubt ruled me. Other people’s opinions controlled what I did. It’s silly to think that one professor’s comments were enough to prevent me from doing what I loved. But how do we rationalize what makes us value or doubt ourselves? We can’t.

But what we can do is decide what we do with these doubts. Do we let them define our lives? Or do we push through them, even if the idea of that is often scary and hard?

This question became my turning point.

And my answer was easy…I didn’t want to be defined by my self-doubts.

It took me six years after that first writing class to find the courage to take another. It was my last semester of graduate school, and I signed up for a writing workshop. I remember how nervous I was those first classes, but I soon discovered that things were different there. The class wasn’t run by the teacher. Instead, she set it up as more like a community of writers and shared her early writing with all of us too. I began to find myself looking forward to the class and when it was my turn to share my story, I welcomed what my classmates had to say. We encouraged each other, and the feedback that was given was meant to help the writers, not to silence them.

I realized that everyone is going to have opinions, both good and bad ones. People always do. But you can’t let yourself be ruled by them.

My first professor’s words were only one person’s way of viewing something. It was my reaction to his words that were mine. I could have chosen not to believe them. I could have trusted in myself and proved him wrong. I could have ignored him completely or even laughed that he was dumb enough to doubt my talents.

It took me a long time to understand this. And truthfully, it’s not always easy. I’m still my toughest critic and need to work on having more confidence in myself. But the difference now is that I choose how I respond to the critics, both the one inside my head and those who are around me. I’ve learned how important it is to believe in myself. Because when I trust in my words, my writing can be free, and most importantly, I can be free.

Don’t you want to know more about Rachele’s debut now?

CanaryStaying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

Rachele_(39)_2Rachele Alpine is a lover of sushi, coffee, and Michael Jackson. One of her first jobs was at a library, but it didn’t last long, because all she did was hide in the third-floor stacks and read. Now she’s a little more careful about when and where she indulges her reading habit. By day she’s a high school English teacher, and by night she writes with the companionship of the world’s cutest dog, Radley, a big cup of coffee, and a full bag of gummy peaches. Rachele lives with her husband in Cleveland, Ohio, but dreams of moving back to Boston, the city she fell in love with while attending graduate school there.

Visit Rachele online at www.rachelealpine.com.

Follow Rachele on Twitter.

Rachele’s Facebook page.

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

Turning Points: Guest Post by Erin Bowman


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 Erin Bowman, debut author of Taken and one of my Anticipated Debuts for April 2013, sharing her turning point…

And be sure to enter the giveaway before it closes tomorrow!

Guest post by Erin Bowman

TakenI have always been a storyteller. When I couldn’t write, I rambled—imagining epic adventures for the family dog, the squirrels in the backyard, you name it—and then when I could write, I was an addict.

I went to writing camp over the summers during middle school (yes, really). I took some creative writing classes in high school and then minored in it in college. Even after graduating, when I started working as a web designer, I still wrote obsessively on the side. But despite all those years of writing—while I penned countless short stories and filled notebook after notebook with poetry and prose—I never once completed a novel.

I tried. Repetitively.

I’d have a spark of an idea and feverishly type a chapter or two. I’d revise and polish those two chapters until they shined. And then I’d lose interest. The manuscript would sit, lonely and forgotten on my hard drive, next to dozens of other abandoned projects. That “writing” folder was a sad graveyard of half-baked story ideas.

I liked to tell myself that this happened habitually because none of my ideas were The One. That, or I needed to mull a concept over more thoroughly before I was capable of writing chapter three. Or even if I did mull it over, I’d never have the time to craft it into the version of the story I had in my head so why fight an impossible battle? There just wasn’t enough time. After all, I was busy with school/work/wedding planning/holidays/friends/family/life.

The hard truth was this: It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time, but that I didn’t want to make the time. All the excuses were just a way to satisfy my conscience.

A month before my wedding in 2009, I lost my design job during a series of company-wide layoffs. I was devastated and shocked and felt like a total failure. Deep down, I knew I’d be able to secure another job, but that layoff really shook my confidence and the timing couldn’t have been worse. (Seriously! Right before my wedding!)

I was Eeyore that first week of unemployment, all doom and gloom.

But then something funny happened. In the quiet hours when my husband (then-fiancé) was at work, and in between my job hunting and last minute wedding planning, a new novel idea fell into my lap.

I wanted to write it, only this time, I told myself if I started, I wasn’t allowed to quit. I was getting married and eventually I’d have a new job, and with this new stage of my life, I decided I was also going to be a new type of writer: one who saw projects through. I was going to finish that novel no matter what.

So I started drafting. I got married. I found a new job. I fell back into my typical 50-hour workweek. We moved and suddenly I had an hour long commute each way.

But I kept writing.

And writing.

And I finished that novel.

I revised it. I started another. I finished and revised that. I was busier than ever (especially with that hellish commute), and yet I was writing at volumes I’d never before come close to.

At my new job, the creative director ran a book club. Every month she assigned the design and dev team an industry-related read, and then we’d all discuss it over lunch. I distinctly remember everyone reacting strongly to this quote about dreams and personal projects: “There is always enough time if you spend it right.” The co-authors of the book, Rework, went on to theorize that if you don’t have enough time, than maybe your personal project isn’t really your dream. And that’s totally okay if it’s not. Time is precious and you should absolutely spend your free hours doing the things you love most. But coincidentally, you forfeit the right to complain and mope about not reaching your dreams if you don’t actively pursue them.

I think this resonated with me in part because it was so plainly stated, but also because I’d learned this very truth in the months following my job loss. That unfortunate event made me move forward with redefined goals. I was unflinchingly honest with myself. I promised to stop making excuses and hold myself accountable. I would finish drafting a novel because I was making it a priority.

That pivotal moment came rather early in my writing career. Heck, it came long before I even considered pursuing publication. Back then, I had no clue what an agent did or what a query letter was and the only ARC I knew of was the America Red Cross. Sometimes I wish the enlightenment came even sooner, but in the end, I’m just glad it came. Period. Because once writing was a priority, it was amazing how much time I could carve out of an already busy day.

Last week my debut novel, TAKEN, released from HarperTeen. I can confidently say that had I not lost my job in 2009, I would never have written this book. When the idea for the story surfaced, it was so complex—packed with twists and turns—that even having a finished novel under my belt and knowing I was capable of typing through to the end, didn’t make the thought of drafting TAKEN any less daunting.

But I’d learned my lesson about goals and persistence, and I knew I could write the book if I made it a priority.

So I opened a new document. And I started typing.

Erin’s debut novel, Taken, came out last week from HarperTeen!

erinbowman_authorphotoErin Bowman used to tell stories visually as a web designer. Now a full-time writer, she relies solely on words. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, and when not writing she can often be found hiking, commenting on good typography, and obsessing over all things Harry Potter. TAKEN is her first novel.

Visit her at www.embowman.com to find out more. 

Follow @erin_bowman on Twitter.

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

Turning Points: Guest Post by Leah Konen

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 Leah Konen, author of The After Girls, celebrating her pub day today by sharing hers…

Guest post by Leah Konen

THE AFTER GIRLS is on sale today, April 18, from Merit Press!

Taking to heart the wisdom of many a writing teacher and advice piece on the Internet, I wrote my first complete novel with a thorough outline. One with every scene and plotline planned out. I wrote several pages a day, on top of a demanding full-time job in magazine publishing. I was new to New York and didn’t have many friends, so my manuscript was often my Saturday night date. I completed a draft in about four months (I have my outline and lackluster social life to thank for that), and while I did revise extensively, both on my own and with the agent I signed with upon completion, I have to say I was pleased with how quickly I cranked it out. It was like a Writer’s Digest post on How to Write a Novel.

Set in the town where I grew up, the story was sweet and semi-autobiographical. It was what I had to write before I could write anything else. It got me a wonderful agent, but unless I go back to it, it will likely remain in the proverbial desk drawer for the remainder of my career. And I’m okay with that.

My turning point didn’t come in my first foray into novel writing. It came when I began The After Girls. The idea for the book came first as a title and a question: What would take a group of friends from before to after instantly? The concept came quick enough as I filled in the gaps—two high school friends shaken by their best friend’s suicide right after graduation, set against the eerie backdrop of a rural Appalachian mountain town—but the details were another thing. I was writing from the point of view of two girls instead of one. I added characters and removed them. I was walking a fine line between magical realism and contemporary. And I had no outline.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wrote outline after outline, hoping to find one that would work like the first one, with no success. I wrote 50 pages, rewrote those pages, and didn’t look at the manuscript for weeks or even a month at a time. I felt like a failure. I was the girl who could crank out a novel in mere months. Now I’d been months and months at a single idea and had very little to show for it. I wasn’t writing on a schedule. I wasn’t even writing regularly, for that matter, but I was writing—a page here and a chapter there.

At a certain point, The After Girls began to write itself. It was like that great E.L. Doctorow quote: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Page by page, I made the trip. The characters took over—they surprised me. The plot took twists—the ending changed multiple times. I even added a character in a few hours before I sent a final version to my agent, one that came to me in the shower when I thought I was almost done. At page 50, 100, 150, 200 … I still wasn’t sure of what would happen beyond the next ten pages. But in the end, the flexibility was what I needed to uncover the mystery of why a beautiful, smart young girl with great friends and a whole future ahead of her would take her own life.

Coming to terms with my new, almost improvisational writing process was my turning point. It was when I put away the guilt of not writing as quickly as I had before—and the doubts that came from not being able to distill the story into a digestible outline. It was when I recognized that each novel is different—it has its own personality, its own way of talking to you and revealing itself to you.

After the book sold, I had a conversation with my editor (a writer, herself), and when I told her about the process, she said that she could never have written a book that way. It only helped to show me that there is no right way to write a book. And that’s what makes every book so different and wonderful—we all do it differently.

Leah-Konen-author-photoLeah Konen is a writer living in San Francisco. She is a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism and creative writing. Her work has been published in Elle Decor, Good Housekeeping‘s Quick & Simple, Parenting, The Fiscal Times, and several regional newspapers and magazines. The After Girls is her first novel.

Visit her online at www.leahkonen.com.

Follow @LeahKonen on Twitter.

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

Turning Points: Guest Post by Victoria Scott

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 Victoria Scott, author of The Collector, sharing hers…

Guest post by Victoria Scott

THE_COLLECTORMy turning point came the day I quit my job. I’d been working in advertising for years, which was preceded by four years of college studying the same subject. Advertising. Marketing. Make the sale, write the copy, three times equals remembrance.

Most people who leave their job do so because they hate it. But I liked my job. I’m not saying I loved it, but I liked it. One day though, as my new husband and I were lounging at a country chic hotel in a small town, I said, “It’d be cool to run a place like this.” He agreed. I rolled over on the bed. “What else could we do? If we could do anything?”

All the way home, we made lists of what we’d want to do in a perfect world: run a small hotel, open a snow cone hut, be an interior designer, recruit talent for football teams. Be a writer.

It was fun making the list and even though we laughed through parts of it, I couldn’t help jotting each thing down, like I was afraid to lose the ideas. Over the next few days, I revisited that list time and again. I found myself thinking, Why not? And of course, the one that popped, the one that screamed, was:

Be a writer!

My husband earned enough so that we could pay our bills if I left my job. Barely. But I was still uncertain. Like I said, I liked my job. I liked the people I worked with. And my salary was the highest I’d ever earned. Financially, we were sitting pretty. Could I throw it all away for a chance at becoming an author? I decided to do a trial run. My husband was the first to toss out the idea. “Why don’t you finish one book as you continue to work? If you can do it, and you enjoy it, then quit.”

So I did. I wrote that first book during lunch breaks and in the mornings and on the weekends. It was the worst story ever. The worst. But I had so much fun penning it. And a week after I finished my prized manuscript, I turned in my two week notice.

Two months after I left my job, I found an agent for my next book—THE COLLECTOR.

A Harvard professor once said to make a list with three columns. List the things you like to do, the things you’re good at, and things that make you feel like you’ve done good for others. If you find one that overlaps in two categories, that’s a winner. If you find one that overlaps in three, you’ve found a calling many never will.

Make a list.

Chase your dream.

Believe you are destined to do something big.

Victoria Scott author photo

Victoria Scott adores all things dark and creepy, and gets her best ideas while strolling through the eighteenth century cemetery near her home. She’s the author is THE COLLECTOR trilogy (Entangled Teen) and the FIRE AND FLOOD trilogy (Scholastic). Victoria lives in Dallas with her husband and adores cotton candy.

You can visit her online at: www.VictoriaScottYA.com

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

Turning Points: Guest Post by Cat Winters


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 Cat Winters, debut author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds and one of my Anticipated Debuts for April 2013, sharing her turning point…

And be sure to enter the giveaway before it closes tomorrow!

Guest post by Cat Winters

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.
―Madeleine L’Engle

BlackbirdsCoverFinalThanks to several encouraging adults, I grew up believing my writing was something special. My elementary school teachers passed my stories around to other teachers and spotlighted my poems on the walls during classroom open houses. When I was eight, I was asked to write poetry for the memorial service of a four-year-old girl who had died of leukemia. When I was thirteen, I won a trophy at a youth expo after submitting a short story inspired by old TWILIGHT ZONE episodes. By the time I was in high school, I was writing full-length novels.

John Steinbeck once said, “I nearly always write, just as I nearly always breathe,” and that’s exactly how I felt growing up. Writing wasn’t even my first choice for a profession; I wanted to be an actress. Creating stories was simply a part of who I was.

After graduating from college, I lost some of my desire to act and panicked about what to do for a day job. I tried teaching high school English but discovered I was terrible at teaching—unprepared and overwhelmed. I then worked at a publishing company in downtown San Diego.

One morning, while I was sitting in my little gray cubicle, having just seen the Tim Burton movie Ed Wood (in which a real-life screenwriter creates his own movies, despite his astounding lack of talent), it hit me: I wanted to be a writer. I truly, with all my heart and soul, wanted to embrace my lifelong love of storytelling and pursue a professional writing career. I started writing a historical novel for adult readers and luxuriated in every minute I spent inside my fictional world.

That wasn’t my big turning point moment. It was a turning point, but deciding to be a writer when you’ve been writing all your life isn’t really all that momentous.

My major turning point didn’t arrive until fifteen years later.

Even though I had started off as a child writing prodigy, I couldn’t sell my work. When I was twenty-seven, I signed with my first agent, but even then, my manuscripts never found publishing homes. My books didn’t fit into clear-cut categories like “romance,” and mainstream historical fiction was considered a dead genre. Editors fell in love with my work, but not marketing departments. I switched to contemporary fiction, I signed with a second agent, but still my writing crossed too many genre barriers and was considered unmarketable and risky.

My dreams crashed down around me, and my childhood writing achievements felt like a big tease. I almost felt bitter toward anyone who had told me I should be a writer and wondered why I had been sent down that particular path in life when it was leading me nowhere. The overnight success stories of other writers fueled my feelings of uselessness and failure.

Yet I kept on writing.

When I was thirty-eight, my agent and I had a conversation about one of my older manuscripts, another historical novel I had written for adult readers. We discussed switching gears and aiming for a young-adult audience, an idea I absolutely loved. Some of my favorite stories involving the world’s darkest moments are told by younger narrators, and I enjoy the honesty and rawness found in youthful voices. A brand-new story emerged out of the setting of that older manuscript, characters made themselves known, and In the Shadow of Blackbirds was born.

I wrote this novel for the book-loving teenager still inside me. I poured all my book-rejection frustrations into the pages and told a story through the eyes of a girl with a great deal of fight in her, for I wanted her voice to fight for me and this novel. The book jumped all over the place in terms of genre: horror, mystery, love story, ghost tale, thriller, apocalyptic fiction. I worried my work would once again be labeled “unmarketable” and “too risky,” but I wrote with courage, confidence, and passion, as if I were revealing a story that HAD to be told.

The book sold! The amazing and wonderful publisher Amulet Books offered to buy In the Shadow of Blackbirds one month after my fortieth birthday—thirty-three years after my second-grade teacher started passing my stories around to other teachers.

This failed child prodigy found success after switching to writing for children. If I had known when I was younger that I would have the most luck when I explored the farthest reaches of my imagination and paid tribute to the joys and pain of youth, perhaps I would have turned to YA sooner and endured a shorter publishing journey.

Or perhaps time just needed to pass, experiences needed to be lived, so that In the Shadow of Blackbirds could become my debut novel. I’m awfully proud of this book, so I can live with the theory that I simply needed to wait my turn.

Cat’s debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, came out last week from Amulet Books!

CatWintersBW_webCat Winters was born and raised in Southern California, near Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She received degrees in drama and English from the University of California, Irvine, and formerly worked in publishing.

Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds—a YA ghost tale set during the World War I era—is now available from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. She currently lives outside of Portland, Oregon.

Cat’s online haunts:






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

Turning Points: Guest Post by Emily Murdoch


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 Emily Murdoch, debut author of If You Find Me and one of my Anticipated Debuts for March 2013, sharing her turning point…

And be sure to enter the giveaway before it closes tomorrow!

Guest post by Emily Murdoch

“This is your captain, speaking…”

If You Find Me cover
IF YOU FIND ME is on sale tomorrow, March 26, from St. Martin’s Griffin!


Five little letters that end the world. Our worlds. And if not ours, than someone else’s. Maybe someone we love, maybe someone that someone we love, loves. Old, young, hooved, pawed.

Death is one hefty concept. So it’s no wonder it pops up so often in literature, including young adult fiction.

It also happens to be a significant turning point for me as a writer.

In 1997, I was a passenger in a jet that, fifteen to twenty minutes into the flight, experienced engine trouble: specifically, an engine blew up and set the belly of the plane on fire. As it so happened, I was sitting in the seat right above that engine. The explosion was fierce; my ears rang, and for a few minutes, it was all I heard. My feet, resting squarely on the floor, went numb from the resulting vibration, and I realized the plane, most certainly, was going to crash.

I was going to die.

I was going to die.

A great calm swept over me. I wasn’t screaming or panicked, and neither were the other passengers. The cabin was devoid of human noise; even the resident babies went silent. I said a prayer asking forgiveness for any way I’d failed to make the most of my life, jerking forward against the seatbelt as the plane nosedived through the clouds at an alarming speed.

We’d already reached maximum altitude when the engine exploded. From my window seat, I watched wavy noodles of Spanish tile grow larger as the roofs of an urban neighborhood swam into view. Mangled, molten plane parts rained down on houses, yards, cars.

In the newspaper, one witness said: “I heard a loud explosion then saw a vapor trail from the back of the engine … The vapor then stopped and the plane quickly began to lose altitude, flames trailing behind it.”

Another said: “The airplane noise is pretty frequent, but there was something awful about this one. It wasn’t noise. It was a plane exploding.”

And how.

At the last second, the pilot pulled up the nose and leveled off the plane, turning away from the neighborhood. We held our breath and braced ourselves through a high-speed, bumpy landing in the middle of the Arizona desert, screeching down an abandoned military airstrip, and quite miraculously, with no one hurt.

Whatever else happens in life, you never forget the silver slide.

I had one regret when my life flashed before my eyes: I hadn’t taken the leap and submitted my writing. In those moments of freefall, my fear of the pages’ prerequisite, buck-naked heart seemed a paltry matter when compared to no longer having the opportunity to submit at all.


Nothing left to lose.

So here I am, flying my pages like paper airplanes out into the world.

Emily’s debut novel, If You Find Me, will be published tomorrow, March 26, by St. Martin’s Griffin!

Emily Murdoch

EMILY MURDOCH lives in the Arizona desert with her husband and adopted dogs, spending her days operating a sanctuary for slaughter-rescued horses and burros. At night, she writes furiously by candlelight, capturing the ideas inspired by the day.

Visit her at emilymurdoch.wordpress.com to find out more. 

Follow @leftywritey on Twitter and add her on Facebook.

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