Episode 66: An Interview with Mae Respicio

Today MomWrites welcomes the long-awaited Mae Respicio, author of The House That Lou Built. We've been referencing Mae since day one here on the podcast because Jennie's so fond of telling us how Mae literally sometimes wrote her book in 5 minute increments (which is AMAZING and what every parent writer wants to hear!).

Mae's found that her writing practice changes with how her parenting changes. When her kids were little, the only time she could find to write was when everyone else was asleep (even if a tiny person was sleeping in her arms). Now that her kids are older she can utilize her kids' homework time to get her own writing done, and everyone works at the kitchen table together.  But when her kid were little and she was writing her first novel, she committed to spending time on her book every day - sometimes it looked like 5 minutes, sometimes she could get as much as an hour or two. Concrete, realistic, every day goals helped her to be more efficient with the time that she had. 


Mae also got creative with her tools, too - standing in line at the grocery store she'd read through her pages, keeping her story in her head until she could sit down later in the day and work on her scenes. Goals shifted and modified based on what was going on that day, and flexibility with those goals combatted the persistent mom/writer guilt we all feel from time to time. 

The House That Lou Built is a middle grade novel that tells the story of Lou Bitao, a 12-year old girl who builds a tiny house over the course of a summer with the help of her family and friends. "If home is where your heart is, the my home is wherever I am" is an overarching theme as Lou learns what home really is - and it's not necessarily where you live, but the people around you. The House That Lou Built can be found at Amazon, IndieBound, and your local library.   

Thanks, Mae!  

The House That Lou Built
By Mae Respicio

Episode 65: YA and the Khaki Pants Man

In this episode:

Today on Mom Writes, Mel gets to be the sacrificial rabbit again when she learns that a mere 4 complimentary lines about a secondary character turns him from a nice guy into a love interest. Whoa. 

How did that happen? According to Jennie, when you spend a long time (even four lines!) describing the way someone looks, that's what stands out to the reader - and the reader's brain says "That's what I need to remember about this! Look at those khaki pants and messy curls and a lopsided smile!" Mel merely intended to make him likable, but when writing descriptions--especially introductory ones--it's important to pay attention to what the reader is going to pick up on, and write your character's reaction with intention. In this case, Mel's protagonist needs to pick up on the fact that this secondary character really is a nice guy - a nice, platonically interesting guy. 

"In YA, all the things about human nature (am I lovable, am I desirable, what's my relationship with my friends, my parents, what am I going to be) - all the big questions - are happening right now." - Jennie Nash

We also get into a discussion of what makes YA vs Adult. What's the difference? It can be hard to pin down. In YA, the themes we're paying attention to are things readers are going to care about up to ages 18, 19 - things that are different than what a 25 or 35 year old would be concerned about. Mel gets some great advice about weaving in the seriousness of her characters' situations and turning up the adult in her adult novel (and not necessarily in a sexy way!). As Jennie says, it's more about Mel needing to embrace the seriousness and the BIGness of her novel's implications. Embrace what you have going, and don't let your story or your characters off the hook. 

Episode 64: Time and Space... and Sacrificial Rabbits

In This Episode:

“If the reader is trying to figure out where they are in time and space, they aren't thinking about the story! Give them cues and clues.” - Alison Hammer (@ThisHammer), an attendee at the Women’s Fiction Writers Association conference, quoting Jennie Nash on Twitter! 

One of the things you're doing when you're writing fiction is moving people through time and space. Save your readers confusion, don't make them wonder where your characters are standing in a scene, how time is passing, or how they move from one place to another. Be mindful and conscious of it, OVER-explain it if you have to (you can always tweak it later if it feels too obvious), even if it feels ridiculous at the time. Often when we're writing we don't put down everything exactly the way we're seeing it in our head and a LOT can get lost in translation. Abby has questions around this via a chapter transition in her book, and we learn that sometimes we really DO have to fill in the gaps for our readers so they don't have to make mental leaps that take them out of the story. 

We also talk about Mel's flat chapter 9. Mel's dreaded rabbit scene comes back with a vengeance and she and Jennie figure out a way to make it work. Mel's been using the killing of the rabbits as a stand in that her antagonist is a horrible person, etc., but she's not bringing it home yet. We don't feel it. This would be true with any demonstrably dramatic thing, which we tend to put a lot of weight into, but the writer and the characters always have to make meaning of it - it can't just stand alone. It's the characters' interpretation of the events in the story that we're really here for.  

"This is the way it works - you lay [the first draft of something] it down like a track, a music track. How do we ramp it up, lock it down?" - Jennie Nash

Next week: ThE CaSe Of ThE KhAki PaNtS 

Episode 63: An Interview with Beth Ricanati

(You can find a copy of Jennie’s book, the Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat, at the bottom of this page!)

In this episode:

Joining Jennie Nash and Abby Mathews today is Beth Ricanati, MD, author of the recently released Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs. Beth's book is a memoir/self-help mashup centering around a path to wellness. We talk about Beth's experiences in being a mom, doctor, and advocate of women's wellness and fully realizing the role of challah in transforming her outlook. 

Beth is an internist specializing in women's health and wellness. About ten years ago she was completely stressed out, working long hours in the hospital all while having three young children. One year she was asked to make challah for the Jewish New Year. No way! she thought. But she did it anyway, and she realized something: she stopped. For twenty minutes, she just stopped in the rush of life and made bread. She did it the next weekend, and the next, and the next, and that was the beginning of the idea for her book. 

Today, Beth invites people into her home to make bread with her. It can be a profound, meaningful process that is often done in the honor of someone or some event. Her book is not only about the Jewish tradition of challah and breadmaking itself, but about her journey as a physician and mother, and understanding real wellness. 

One of the things that’s really great about this bread is that it’s about community. Making the bread helps to build community, and it helps to sustain community.
— Beth Ricanati

We also talk about Beth's plan for writing her book, the process of publication, and what happened when things didn't work out with her original agent. Beth ended up going another route - hybrid publishing! She tells us what hybrid publishing is and what effect it has had on Braided's eventual successful publication. 

How can you help Beth:

If you are interested in her book, buy it and review it! Reviewing it is key to helping Beth beat the Amazon algorithm and get her book in front of more potential readers.

You can also find her and connect on her Instagram page, House Calls for Wellness.

If you are interested in making bread with Beth, you can send her a message on Instagram. Or if you know someone who might be interested in hosting a Challah event with Beth, connect her!

Other Writers We Mentioned:

KJ Dell’Antonia

We also mentioned two other writers. One was KJ, who has been on the podcast before. KJ just released a fabulous, real, honest new parenting book (this is Mom Writes, after all). You can find KJ’s book all the places. You can follow her on Twitter @KJDellAntonia. And you can check out her website, where she does a lovely newsletter which is, quite frankly, one of the very few newsletters I (Abby) even open these days. Bonus idea: if you are a room mother, like me, you can share some of her tips in your classroom newsletter. Or pass them on to the teacher to share. Or share them on your PTO FB page. Share the love! Oh, and don’t forget KJ’s podcast #AmWriting with Jess and KJ!

Dan Blank

All these same things apply to Dan, who joined us via the chat function on FB Live! Dan has also been on our podcast. Twice! Here and also here. There are so many ways you can get to know Dan better. He runs a mastermind for creatives, which is where I connected with KJ in the first place! Dan would also be tickled if you wanted to review his book:

Jennie Nash

Yes, don’t forget, Jennie! In the spirit of practicing what she preaches, she realized that she is also hesitant when it comes to asking for reviews. So she would like to gift a PDF version of her book, The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat, to anyone willing to read and review it. Just click the title which will take you to a DropBox link where you can find the book.

Episode 62: I Knew I Had It In Me, I Just Had To Lay It Down

In this episode:

How are writers like Olympic athletes? They make great stories! They make great comebacks!

When we recorded this episode, the winter olympics were on TV, and both Jennie and Mel were obsessed. (Abby, eh, not so much.) But this week Mel relates to Shaun White, the American Olympic snowboarder. Not because she dazzled us with some sweet moves on her board, but because she recovered from illness and poor performance by making a comeback. Shaun White almost QUIT after a horrific accident months earlier (his poor face), but he stuck it out and kept training after his recovery. 

I knew I had it in me, I just had to lay it down.
— Shaun White


In this episode, Mel fixes the issues with her last submission. She says that she was disconnected with her story and her characters. We always talk about how stupid mistakes are surface stuff - you don't get into their heads and it's like puppets on a string. She also admits that she wrote a lot of stuff down, but nothing really happened. She credits taking another crack at those chapters (and night walks with rap music) for her fresh take on the pages that needed some serious help a couple episodes back.

A couple tips, if you find yourself stuck with a boring chapter (or two):

  • Don't leave your audience out of the action - show it!

  • We want to see your characters under pressure, to see what they're going to do - it's okay to make things hard for them!

  • Get us in your character's heads - what are they thinking? If they're struggling, how are they coping (or not?)

  • Remember: dialogue is about reactions - if done well, it's a great way to disseminate information without falling into an info dump.

Jennie also wrote about what writers can learn from athletes here, on her Medium blog, No Blank Pages.

And for those of you who are interested, here is Shaun White's epic win, as mentioned by Jennie and Melanie.

Episode 61: Letting Go

In this episode

Jennie celebrates her youngest getting a job, Mel tries to save Abby's life, and Abby was in the throes of mold investigation (and letting go of a garage full of art supplies) this week on Mom Writes! 

(And also some writing stuff.)


Abby decided that by letting go of her old art stuff she was able to accept that she's still creative, but a different way. It's okay to move on and release tools of creativity that you're not using - it doesn't mean that you don't have new tools to harness your creativity, and now Abby's using WORDS to express her creativity. A lot can be said for getting rid of stuff you're keeping around for one reason or another - guilt, or fear, or. 

The way I feel about writing is the same way I feel about photography, but here’s the difference: the minute I have to sell something or there’s money involved, photography becomes stressful for me. That hasn’t been the case with writing at all.  When you’re writing a book, everyone is buying the same story.
— Abby Mathews


We talk a lot about using your old teenage diaries to influence your writing voice (if you happen to be writing awkward middle schoolers, that is!). So dig through your old journals from high school if you want to flashback between the highest highs and lowest lows of those sweet teenage years. 

We do some serious brainstorming on how to solve a logic problem in Abby's book - how the book characters actually get out of their novels and into real life. Sometimes you really do need to talk things out and get ideas from readers (or your fellow podcasters), that you can ultimately take or leave, but sometimes three brains are better than one!

Finally, Mel comes to terms with her reluctance to move to Scrivener - change is hard! (No really, it has some cool tools. You might want to check it out. No, they're not paying us.)

Episode 60: Moving and Sequels and Middle School Kissing

To iron or not to iron, that is the question. This week we talk about ironing. Well, it's just one of the many things we talked about. When we batch recorded this set of episodes last winter, Melanie and Abby were both sick. We sent Mel to urgent care, then soldiered on and recorded this episode without her. (Thankfully she listened to us and went to the doctor, because as it turned out, she had a bad case of the flu.) Of course, Skype was also sick, and it totally froze on us while sharing a screen. But, like, always, we make the best of it. 

In this episode:

 

The Mathews are moving from Rhode Island to Florida! Abby has just a couple months to pack the house and make all the arrangements and do all the things, including finishing her book.

I refuse to even put the book on pause while I sell the house - because I don’t want to stop it. People may see the writing aspect of this as a chore, but the writing is stress relief. Why in a time of stress would I want to get rid of the thing that brings me joy? I can keep the momentum going while life is super chaotic because we did all that prep work in the beginning before I even started writing it. Now it’s just putting words on the page.
— Abby Mathews

Jennie points out that the mapping-out part of writing is the part most people resist, and a really detailed outline is different from what Jennie asked Abby and Mel to do. Having a picture in your mind, having the big why figured out does allow for creativity and flexibility while keeping your end goal in mind. 

Abby made a deal with herself to devote whatever time she has to writing first thing in the morning, really prioritize it, and then spend the rest of her time getting things in order for the move. She admitted she needs to let go of the word count and focus on spending butt-in-chair time on the book - getting wrung up about word count goals while trying to move a thousand miles away isn't necessarily going to help her finish the book. 

Jennie cites something she read recently about a writer asking her readers what they would do if they only have 5 hours a day to do their job (like their day jobs, if you're not lucky enough to write full time - that's most of us!). What would you cut out if you only had x amount of time? How are you using or not using your time productively? If you really, truly had a time limit and things were down to the line, how would you streamline your time and make the most of it?

Abby and Jennie also spend some time talking about possible sequels for her book. Abby wonders how much to include in book one, and how do you know what to leave open for book two, three, etc? According to Jennie, book one has to stand on it's own 110%. It must have a satisfactory resolution. Take some time to sketch out the whole universe - how is this going to play out in subsequent books? It's good to have a plan for storylines that help each book stand as a complete novel.

Most writing isn’t done on the keyboard - it’s done in the shower, while you’re driving, running errands. Give that mental real estate to yourself and let things come into your brain about your story - that’s writing too.
— Jennie Nash

After Skype freezes and we reconnect, Jennie goes on to tell Abby that she has inadvertently stumbled upon a really powerful story element that she needs to take advantage of. This is the big advantage of having a book coach-- someone who can see and point out a fabulous opportunity to grow your story according to your big WHY. They spend some time hashing out the logic behind what Abby has written. Abby's had the dad in her story disappear, and while she intended to bring him back fairly quickly, Jennie goes on to point out that by making his disappearance part of the struggle, it gives Abby the opportunity to deepen why it matters to the characters. Let the characters suffer!   

The father's disappearance also allows Abby the chance to pursue her story's budding romance in a way that is more meaningful than a simple girl-likes-boy. The characters can share a secret, be allies, reveal a side of each other than neither has shared before. But should they kiss? And when? 

As part of Abby's research, she quizzes a girlfriend's 6th-grader all about kissing. Would she read about kissing? Do 7th-grade girls even kiss boys? Like, what's the deal?! Jennie and Abby also talk about how things have changed since either of them was in school, and how female empowerment is much more the norm. Abby wants to write a book that definitely reflects girl power. And she wants to bake that into the budding romance. But the deep-level WHY has to be baked into all these details. The last 20 minutes of this conversation pretty much dissect a single kiss. 

Episode 59: Just Blow Something Up...

In this episode:

[NSFK—the end of this episode is Not Suitable for Kids. Abby swears and we don’t edit it out, plus we mention dildos about 16 times, so put on your headphones as we enter chit chat territory at the end!]

Both Mel and Abby are sick. But Mel wins. She has the flu and shows up anyway because she is convinced that part of her self-care is talking about her edits. She tried extra hard this week to make up for her “bad edits” last time.

Jennie’s comments last time were along the lines of “but nothing is happening in the story.” So Mel’s solution was to go back and blow something up.

Jennie points out how dangerous it is to “blow stuff up” in a story. You can very easily make it about plot and not story. Mel’s story is about life and death and the choices we make around life and death. Mel’s writing played into that, so it works. But Jennie cautions writers not to just randomly include epic events in their stories if they don’t serve a purpose in the overarching WHY. If your motivation is “I just gotta make something happen” then that’s bad.

There needs to be a logic to every single action a character makes.  It has to be logical in the universe of the story, and it has to be logical to who that character is. (Would that character actually do that? Why would they do that? And is it clear to the audience why they would do that?)

Mel beat herself up over her previous edits, but we talk about writers’ high standards for themselves. Why do writers think it has to be perfect the first time they write something? Mel points out that first-time writers hold themselves to that standard of perfection because they have been raised on a million wonderful books in their final form and have yet to develop an appreciation for the iterative process of writing.

Jennie says no one is immune from this, and that the people who are willing to put themselves in the vulnerable place of sharing their work are the people who end up doing good work. There are so many skills you have to master when writing a novel—SO MANY!  So go easy on yourself when you make mistakes. 

Besides having the flu, Mel also lost her work when Word crashes and she lost four pages. It could have been worse, but she had really liked those pages! Jennie shares a secret, and she calls it “device agnostic.” She talks about how everything she does lives in Dropbox.  

We end by talking about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. We all have funny stories that revolve around hoarding childhood treasures.

Episode 58: Luke Reynolds, MG Writer & (God Bless Him) Former Middle School Teacher

This morning we interview Luke Reynolds, author of The Looney Experiment (Blink),  Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Unmasking the Real You, and most recently Fantastic Failures: True Stories of People Who Changed the World by Falling Down First, which comes out Sept 11!

We talk about how Luke was inspired to write Fantastic Failures through personal experience via his career in teaching middle grades and junior high students. So many young people struggle with overcoming failure and rejection, and Luke wanted to write a book for kids that shows how the most successful people in history have a long (LONG!) history of personal and professional failures.

Luke himself always wanted to be a writer, but his B+'s on writing assignments in school never made him feel that he could be successful - he only learned later that persistence was the key, and having an honest perspective on what it takes to complete a book - drafts upon drafts upon drafts! Luke also credits his oldest brother for noticing he was on the wrong path and making him run with him every day, forming a connection and keeping him out of trouble. We need people to care about us, be authentic with us, and lead us - and then hard work and grit come into play. Various biographies in Fantastic Failures had people who wouldn't have made it without help along the way - friends, families, mentors - that encouraged them to keep going. 

One of the takeaways from this book is to change the idea of failure - don't see it so much as failure, but as one of the steps in succeeding. How do we change this perfection for ourselves and our kids?

"I think it's become somewhat popular to talk about failure and making mistakes in general, but the next level is really hard to get to - to actually start talking about our OWN failures and rejections...to start talking really openly about how I failed as a dad, as a teacher, a writer, a friend, a brother...to start normalizing it. We all experience deep rejection and failure, and we'll talk about the "safe" failures - things that happened 30 years ago, but not yesterday." - Luke Reynolds

One of the main reasons Mel and Abby started this podcast was to start recognizing and normalizing the iterative process of writing, and how bad writing and bad first drafts are a normal thing. It can be a beautiful process, but only if we see failure as one of the steps to success. And is there any real joy without a struggle, anyway? If something comes easy to you, you don't feel as great about it as opposed to the things you really had to work for. 

"The people who sustain their love of something are people that fail often, early on - and you can't get the love of it out of them. People who succeed very quickly tend to quit quickly as well." - Luke Reynolds

Luke's Books

Episode 57: Writing & Super Zoloft

In This Episode:

Mel got some feedback that was not very positive, but she wasn’t surprised by it. She had a rough stretch in her personal life (hard, not-exactly-podcast-material-kinda-stuff), but she forced herself to finish her pages. When she got her edits back, she admits that it hurt. It felt like she had really screwed up in her writing.

Mel says, “It just brought to light how distracted I had been. I was distracted from my story. I wasn’t really connected to it. I was trying to put the things in it that, for some reason, I thought needed to be there, but there wasn’t that thing that we always talk about. There wasn’t a connection to the characters. There a bunch of stuff in here, but it doesn’t really mean anything.”

Jennie and Mel talk a little about the interplay between being a person and being a writer. Mel hates the trope that you have to be a sad, depressive creative in order to write well. Mel talks about her struggles with mental health, and how they have the exact opposite in her writing. Things for her grind to a halt until she can take care of herself. She tried to tape her life together so that no one could see that things were falling apart. She didn’t want to admit to anyone that she was struggling.  Mel thinks that creatives can be more prone to dealing with this sort of thing.

I don’t really think it’s addressed as often as it should be. Or admitted to as often as it should be. Or maybe it’s used in a way that says, ‘Oh, well. That person’s really troubled, but they’re also really brilliant.’ You don’t have to be both. And when I’m troubled, I’m not brilliant.
— Melanie Parish

You connect to people through your art, and you can pull from your experiences. Your empathy can help you as a creative. Jennie points out that, “The things Mel is talking about is not being able to control what you feel. What we’re doing when we write a book is controlling what the characters feel and playing with that emotion like it’s clay. But you recognize that you can’t control what you yourself feel.”

Mel admits to feeling all her feelings. All of everyone’s feelings. ALL the feelings everywhere. Yet there was no emotional connection in her story. “I was afraid to put it in there, or I didn’t know how, or I couldn’t narrow down what I was feeling in a way that was useful.”

But finishing her pages-- even junk pages—felt like a win. A win that Melanie needed.

But is anything she wrote salvageable? Mel jokes that she did great on one paragraph, and she's keeping it!

Abby asked Jennie if this is typical? That every writer everywhere, somewhere over the course of their book will have a bad streak. Jennie says, “100% of the time. And 100% of the time when I reflect that opinion back to the writer, they’re not shocked. And then there’s always some reason. Writing is not separate from who you are.”

Jennie reminds us no one is immune from real life—sickness, accidents, loss, doubt.

We can’t have our only metric be page count or word count. Or how fast we wrote them.

Slow writing, like slow cooking, it just takes time.
— Jennie Nash

In craft talk, Mel has an uber-dramatic scene that she wants to keep. Jennie said that sometimes when you have intense drama, the writer stops writing and acts like a camera, forgetting that the reader is still looking for meaning.

Mel did her best to tamp down her feelings in real life, and her characters stopped feeling, too. Abby jokes that Mel’s characters took Zoloft and quit feeling. Jennie says that Mel’s Infinity Device in her story is like super-Zoloft! What she’s writing in her story IS ACTUALLY what happens if you tamp it down. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 56: A Writer's Brain

Jennie on World Building

In this episode: 

  • Jennie stereotypes Mel's musical tastes. 
  • Check out Melanie's 8-hour writing playlist
  • Jennie eats her breakfast of avocado toast on Ezekial bread with Penzey's everything bagel topper.
  • Jennie and Abby discuss worldbuilding and how your details serve the story.  
What do I need to have happen in this scene? What do I need to have happen in this world? Why is it even there? Because if you can’t answer that, you want to take it out.
— Jennie Nash
  • Don't just think about what's cool or plausible, but think about what serves your story. 
  • Abby's discusses how watching the TV show The Goldbergs triggered a chain reaction of thoughts that took her from The Goldbergs to Ferris Bueller's Day Off to a memory from her days teaching high school to the book Wonder to the new, fabulous ending to her story.  
  • Sometimes you have to stop along the way and go backward in order to replan how to move forward based on new discoveries in your story. Abby had to go back and remake the last half of her two-tier outline to fit the new ending. 
  • Abby thinks it's important to draw on things that have happened to you and weave them into your fiction to make it more believable. 
One of the worst things you say to a fiction writer is, ‘Did that happen to you? Like, is that real?’ because it diminishes the work. Like what *Abby* just did of filtering everything, and massaging it, and making it fit the story... All those decisions and all that work, that’s the creative process.
— Jennie Nash

Episode 55: Ending Chapters & Doing Some Research

In this episode:

All writers struggle with something. That something may change every time you sit down to write, but Abby has pretty consistently struggled with how to end her chapters. Jennie gives Abby some story-specific advice about how to end her latest submission.

In this episode, Abby also does a little research. Let’s face it, Abby’s research is way more boring than Mel’s. Abby didn’t get to go to a gun range and learn to shoot. Abby didn’t take her car to an ill-frequented gravel road, open the back doors, and peel out. Mel has done some pretty bad-ass research. Abby just talks to people.

But today, Abby talks to someone pretty special— Jennie’s daughter! Jennie’s youngest daughter, Emily, makes an appearance on the show. Home from school for a break, she comes in to talk about how old she was when she first read Pride and Prejudice. It’s an answer that both surprises and delights Abby. But even better is the why behind why she picked it up in the first place. (Spoiler alert: to learn about boys!) The conversation helps Abby pin down more story-specific details.

 

Episode 54: Author Accelerator Book Coach Julie Artz on MG vs YA

My Post JA.jpg

In this episode:

In this episode of MomWrites we talk with Julie Artz, novelist and author of blogs at  Terminal VerbosityThe Winged Pen, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Julie has also been a PitchWars middle grades mentor, and is active in the leadership of her regional SCBWI.

One of our friends in a writers group asks Julie: How do you tell if your book falls into middle grades territory or YA territory?  Can you write about a first kiss in middle grades? 

Julie: Yes! Totally appropriate to have first kisses and a little bit of romance, but the important thing is that it's *awkward* first kisses. Very much beginning stages of interest in romance and the opposite sex. See Barbara Dee's Starcrossed and Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. 

We talk categorizing children's lit and how to categorize where various MG and YA fall? People "pretend" there are three children's categories (picture books, MG, and YA) but there's really a lot more. There are subcategories within categories, lots of nuance and several different formats ranging from beginning readers to advanced readers, even within a small age group. Middle grade is even being split into 8-10 and 10-13 (lower MG and upper MG, respectively), and YA is similar, with a younger YA category and an older, more adult YA category. It's not as black and white as it used to be! Books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have blurred the lines quite a bit. 

Crossover between age ranges does make things difficult for new writers when trying to "follow the rules" for age ranges and genres. Abby was struggling when trying to decide what age to make her protagonist, and Jennie told her  "Just make a choice and write to that age. Don't worry about isolating the readership." She used Harry Potter as an example - when the series starts, he's 11, and it works, because we read to find out what we'd do in the situation these characters find themselves in. The world of Harry Potter is incredible and universally interesting, and that's why you find people of all ages reading it.  

Voice is really really important in MG and YA. If the voice isn’t there - you can assign whatever age you want, but if your 12 year old sounds like a 16 year old, it’s not going to work.
— Julie Artz

Another way to differentiate between YA and MG is where the character's focus lies:

Middle grades: friends and family are still the focus of the world. There's a little bit of focus on turning towards adulthood.

YA: Individuality and questioning where character's place in the adult world is paramount. 

OR how the book ends:

Middle grades: There's usually an uplifting message or hope for the characters at the ending of the book.

YA: Doesn't necessarily have a happy ending or "hope".

OR explicit content:

Middle grades: watch the violence and the swearing! No sex! Awkward first kisses are ok. 

YA: violence, swearing and sex is more accepted.

It's important to remember that there's a lot more gatekeeping by parents and teachers with middle grades than in YA. There can be edgy subjects (drug addiction, mental illness, self-harm, teen pregnancy), but in general those characters experiencing those things are not the POV characters. Example: Kate Messner's The Seventh Wish dealing with drug addiction (the drug addict is the sister of the main character). Rather, the POV characters in these MG novels are dealing with these issues but removed from them by at least one degree. 

Episode 53: Writer Friends and Written Cliches

In Today's Episode:

Finding good writer friends can be hard. And once you throw your work into the mix, things can go bad. Fast. Abby and Mel talk about how they used a FB writers group (Writer Moms, Inc.) to find ladies who give them what they really need from writer friends— emotional support. (Hi there, Joy Rancatore and Mea Smith, we're looking at you!)

Also, Melanie finds herself trapped in an embarrassing situation. She finds herself describing one of her characters as if she were writing a a very cliched scene from a romance novel. We have a few good laughs reading it out loud (and thankfully Mel is a good sport about it). But Jennie walks her through what to do if you find yourself writing cliches with a simple fix to help you move on.

Episode 52: What's the Worst That Could Happen?

In this episode:

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What's the worst that can happen if you don't sit down and write? Well, your book never gets finished. Book coach Jennie Nash and Melanie Parish talk about fear as it relates to getting words on the page.

Book coaching is partly about craft but just as equally-- if not more so-- about support. Great words are the end result of an emotional process that takes two people - the writers, and the readers. The book coach stands in for the reader and can give you the "you can do this!" motivation you need to get it done.

This week Mel celebrates getting done on time with the help of some MAJOR coffee intake. How did she take time to do it? Sheer determination, and the knowledge that taking time to write and the end result of getting her pages done is much better than wallowing in self-doubt and not spending the time to do it.

Every time I sit down to write I’m still nervous, it’s still nerve-wracking...it’s taken me a really long time to come to terms with the fact that this is something I can do, that this is something I’m good at.
— Melanie Parish

 

Self doubt throws up roadblocks ALL the time - but the alternative is going nowhere and not finishing your projects. The other alternative is to just try - even if it's hard, even if it's scary, even if you fail a bunch (we all do!). 

Mel says that book coaching has absolutely been vital to her motivation in working on her book. Getting validation on what she's doing well vs doing poorly has been instrumental in the sense that she's gained an understanding of what works, and why it works, and how to move that through the rest of her writing while ditching the stuff that's holding her back. 

When you do things well and you know it, you can keep doing that thing well—you can be conscious of how you’re doing that thing well... it’s like if you go to a golf coach because your swing isn’t working, they’ll tell you that your stance is good, you grip is good, but you need to work on your shoulders.
— Jennie Nash

 

The reason why a lot of writing workshops and typical teaching in writing doesn't work is that you don't get the kind of individualized feedback that you get with book coaching. If you don't get any specifics on why something works or doesn't work, you can't take that criticism or feedback and better the rest of your writing. Abby says that in her fine arts classes in college, you weren't allowed to say "I like it" or "I don't like it."  You were forced to be specific in your criticism or praise, and that's what book coaching does as well. You can't be steered in the right direction with generalities. . 

Writing is a teachable skill, and good writing is a teachable skill.
— Jennie Nash