Sunday Inspiration: The Creative Process

ira glass quote

One of the hardest parts of any creative process is deciding whose feedback to let impact your work. I’m learning as I go along, giving some people more of a voice than I probably should and shutting out some that I probably shouldn’t. One person might love my first chapter while another might think it starts off too slowly. One person might think I should start with a flashback while another might think it should jump into the heart of the story immediately. Ultimately, though, the gap is mine to close through revision and constant practice. Eventually it will work. I have faith.


Do you have a love for teen fiction that you’d love to share?

Do you often finish a book and wish you could tell people about it?

Pimples, Popularity, and Protagonists is looking for a few high school or college aged contributors for a monthly or biweekly post on the site. If you’re interested, contact me!

Friday Favorite: The IT Crowd!

I used to think British TV was weird. I still do. But in the case of The IT Crowd, it’s an amazing kind of weird.

Basically, it centers around three people who work in the basement IT department of a big corporation. The company isn’t important. The characters are. Not only are they well-written and interesting, they are some of the funniest characters I’ve ever encountered. Roy and Moss, your stereotypical, socially awkward computer geeks, work in the department alone until Jen, a woman who lied on her resume and has absolutely no clue about anything computer related, is hired as their supervisor.

My husband and I have watched every episode multiple times (you can find the entire series on Netflix, and tons of episodes/scenes on YouTube) and they just never get old. It’s like a British Seinfeld. Classic comedy.

So go search for it on Netflix and watch it. Yes, even teenagers, because while not a specifically teen show, it’s freaking hilarious. I seriously dare you to watch it and not laugh, which is absolutely impossible (especially in the one titled “The Work Outing”). For now, though, enjoy his infographic of the very best character ever: Maurice Moss.



Adventures In Book Writing, Part 1

So, I wrote a book.

A whole one. 75,000+ words. 300 pages. One full YA novel.

I’ve always talked (or whined) to my husband about how much I’d like to pursue writing as a full-time career, and he finally challenged me to start writing my first book. Actually, what he said was, “If you write as much as you read, you’ll have a book written in a few weeks.”

He was kind of right. It actually took a few months, but within about three months (even while teaching full time and being a mom to two young kids) I had my complete novel and had already gone through a few full edits on my own.It felt challenging in the best of ways – like putting together a puzzle of pieces that had been floating around in my head for years.

Great, right?

I had grand visions of spending my summer off sending out query letters to agents and choosing carefully from the offers of representation (because of course in my daydreams the agents were jumping at the chance to work with me). I thought that, maybe, I could even go back to school this fall with a contract from a publisher. I mean, if the book writing process went so well for me, why not expect the rest of it to go as smoothly?

I was so wrong.

As of now, I’ve sent out 25-30 query letters to agents. All were written according to the guidelines of each particular agent. Rules were followed. I participated in twitter events involving agents, tried to follow every lead I caught wind of. So far I’ve responded to a request for a partial manuscript and a request for the full manuscript, but I’ve mostly gotten form letter e-mails back telling me that my book just didn’t sound like the right project for that agent at the time.

I guess I’ve gotten to the point where I’m going to put some effort into writing another, different book instead of just pursuing the first one. That’s not to say I’m giving up on the first one – the people I’ve had read it have loved it, and I’m grasping onto their compliments to keep me sane and focused on my dream. I am, however, coming to terms with the fact that it may not be the manuscript that gets me an agent. So I need to work on the manuscript that’s going to get me an agent.

I wish the whole agent/publisher process was a little more author friendly, but I understand that agents can only take so many authors at a time. I also understand that they get crazy amounts of queries every day. That doesn’t stop me from hoping that, one day, I’ll be the author they respond to with a resounding “Yes!”

Friday Favorite: Blue Like Jazz

If there’s one book that’s had the biggest impact on my faith, personality, and general outlook on life (other than the default Christian answer, the Bible), it’s Donald Miller‘s Blue Like Jazz.

Now, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. I don’t know why it doesn’t do much for me usually, but it just doesn’t. This book, though… it grabbed me and pulled me in. I first read this when it came out almost ten years ago, and though I’ve never gone back and reread the whole thing, there are STILL portions of Donald Miller’s prose that absolutely are stuck in my head in the best way possible.

I highly recommend this for everybody. Everybody. Whether you consider yourself a person of faith or not, you’ll find this fascinating. And if you do consider yourself a Christian, this will challenge and stretch and inspire you in ways you can’t even imagine… but in the end, it’ll be so very worth it. I think this book is even more relevant today with our nation’s social and political turmoil than it was even when it was first published. We are supposed to love, not hate, and Blue Like Jazz does a great job of reminding us of that. While this is not YA Lit specifically, I think this is a WONDERFUL read for teens, especially as you’re getting out of high school or are in college and forming your adult self.

There’s also a movie a based on this book. It’s fabulous. Donald Miller was fully involved in the making of the movie, so while it’s not just a movie of the book, it’s a movie inspired by the book that carries the same message from the author. The movie is not a substitute for reading the book. They work together. So read the book AND watch the movie, in whichever order you prefer.

My husband and I were honored to get invited to a special screening of the movie before it hit theaters, where we got to meet Donald Miller himself! It was awesome.

I’m going to let the book speak for itself by sharing some of my favorite passages below. ENJOY! :)

“The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” 
― Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz 
“There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing.” 
― Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz 
“…I want my spirituality to rid me of hate, not give me reason for it.” 
― Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz 
“Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon.” 
― Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

You had my heart from page one…

I just picked up Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally from the library. I’ve only read the first page so far, but it was a really, really engaging first page. It made me look forward to bedtime later so I can curl up under the covers and stay up way too late reading. I’ll review/recommend it in coming days, of course.

I’m curious, though. What kinds of “first pages” engage you? What hooks you into a novel and makes you want to keep reading immediately?

Shades of London: The Name of the Star

Ok, I really, really, really like Maureen Johnson. She’s a wonderful, quirky writer and she makes me laugh on twitter. For real, you should follow her on twitter. Trust me.

I haven’t quite read all of her books – our county library doesn’t own some of her earlier books, and my book money only goes so far. But, most of what I have read is pretty girl centered (in a good way) and perfect for the teen girl market.

When her latest book, The Name of the Star, originally came out (the original cover is the older looking one with the creepy black and white ghosty guy) I was excited to read something from Johnson that didn’t necessarily fit into her typical book category. It didn’t disappoint. At all.

The Name of The Star has the perfect amount of mystery and creepiness balanced with lots of fun. I love Maureen Johnson’s voice in her books – that playful quirkiness always comes through. It’s like you can just tell she’d be really fun to go get some coffee with. Anyway, in this book, London is being terrorized by someone who is copying the Jack the Ripper murders. The protagonist, a teenage girl from Louisiana studying at an English boarding school, is named Rory. She’s instantly likable and easy to identify with as she navigates this mystery.

What I like about this, too, is that it IS the first in a series of books called Shades of London. The next book, The Madness Underneath, comes out in February. BUT this is not like those series where you can’t stand to wait for the next one, even though you’ll definitely look forward to it. The Name of the Star has a resolved, finished feel to it. It’s perfectly satisfying, and it’s good to know there will be more of them.

You can click here to be taken to the Barnes and Noble site for this book if you want to order. (I’m not endorsed by BN or anything. It’s just one of my happy places.) On that page, you can preview the first part of the book by clicking on the book cover. They also have a cool preview of Book 2 in the series so you can check it out. Enjoy… I know I did!


The Summer I Turned Pretty

As the weather turns cold and we’re all starting to wish summer would hurry up and roll around again, I find myself recalling events, settings, and characters from this trilogy of Summer books by author Jenny Han. They’re so much fun and full of sweet, romantic longing. As far as content (language and sexual) goes, I think they’re fine for 7th grade and up.
Belly, the protagonist, is pretty self absorbed and her self confidence is horrid, but I identify with that… Don’t all of us struggle with those things some? I’m not really a fan of characters that have their acts together more than I do. Anyway, I liked Belly, and I liked the other characters. I’d love to spend time with them all in real life, which is how I know an author has really made characters believable and honest and real. I loved the setting and am thoroughly jealous of people who get to spend entire summers at the beach like that. The only thing I didn’t like was that it ended. And, if it had to end, it could have at least ended with a freakin kiss. The rest of the trilogy doesn’t dissapoint in the romance department, though – if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to escape to a different place for the summers and experience having your choice between two boys (and what girl hasn’t?) then you’ll love these books.
Han has recently been working on a new trilogy beginning with Burn For Burn, which just came out this summer. It was great. I was a little disappointed in the end because it was a HUGE cliffhanger that left me wishing I had just waited until all three were published before starting. If you don’t mind cliffhangers, though, you should definitely check out Burn For Burn. Like, now.

Friday Favorite: Jenny B. Jones

I’m trying out a new Friday blog feature – Friday Favorite. I’ll share some of my favorite books, authors, coffees, and whatever other favorites I feel like sharing. Ha!

For my very first Friday Favorite, I’m highlighting author Jenny B. Jones. I stumbled upon one of her books two summers ago while in a Christian book store. It was on sale and part of a promotional thing to get people hooked onto her Charmed Life series, and it most certainly worked for me! I am a Christian, but I tend to not like very much “Christian Fiction” because it can be SO preachy. Anyway, that’s why the sale was enough to entice me to try So Not Happening out. 
I could not have been more pleasantly surprised! It was in line with my beliefs AND not preachy or cheesy AT ALL. In fact, Jones has a great voice that comes through in all of her characters – she in smart, sarcastic, witty, hilarious… I could go on, but just trust me. I bought and devoured every one of her books, both YA and Adult, and have loved every single one of them. Everybody that reads one of her books after hearing my recommendation comes back with absolutely glowing reviews. 
So the first one I want to highlight is the Charmed Life books, which have been conveniently repackaged into one volume. This volume includes So Not Happening, I’m So Sure, and So Over My Head. In these books you follow the protagonist, Bella, a high school city girl (YAY for city girls!) that gets transplanted to rural Oklahoma through a series of unfortunate family events. She goes through all kinds of troubles as you’d expect, and even manages to find herself solving crimes. I read these as separate volumes and went insane having to wait for the next book (because of course I wasn’t smart enough to just buy all three when I happened upon the first one on sale), so I’d highly recommend just buying this one, all inclusive volume. You won’t be sorry.
The other title from Jenny B. Jones I want to specifically mention is There You’ll Find Me. It’s probably my very favorite of hers, which is really saying something, because I love them all. In this one, though, we get to follow Finley Sinclair, an 18 year old girl who’s already been through a lot in her life, as she goes to Ireland to follow her older brother’s travel journal. She meets a famous actor but doesn’t go all crazy for him like most girls would and, of course, there’s great romance in the book. Just writing about it here has me wanting to reread it again!
I highly recommend all books by Jenny B. Jones. You can find her Amazon author page here:
She’s also fun to follow on twitter – 

How To Save A Life

Sara Zarr is one of those authors that seems to touch my heart with her words in a way that is unforgettable. This is especially evident in her most recent book, How To Save A Life, which just recently came out in paperback.

In HTSAL, we get to see two very different points of view of the same adoption story line – a pregnant teenage girl contemplating giving her baby up for adoption, and a teenage girl in the family she chooses to adopt her baby.So many good things are happening in this book – alternating viewpoints (which I love, if you haven’t noticed by now), hugely relevant subject matter for so many teenagers and their families, and this compelling story of love and compassion that simply must be read.
While the subject of teen pregnancy might seem like a high school only topic for some parents and teachers, Zarr is able to handle this topic without sensationalizing it – I’d be perfectly comfortable with having this in my middle school classroom, which is at a pretty conservative school. On the flip side, this book is written so well that high school and college readers wouldn’t feel at all like they were reading a young readers type of book.
I’m really a huge fan of Sara Zarr, so I’ll be highlighting her more completely in a Friday Favorite coming up soon. For now, though, I wanted to give How To Save A Life its very own blog shoutout because it’s just that amazing.

According to Zarr’s website, the paperback version also has an exerpt from the next book she has coming out, which I’m anxiously waiting to get my hands on. Go buy it now! AND… I just found a contest for the new paperback edition. Enjoy!