Author Interview: Natasha Sinel

Figure 1. The Fix by Natasha Sinel

Figure 1. The Fix by Natasha Sinel


Today I’m pleased to share an interview I did with Natasha Sinel, author of The Fix, which came out this fall and was named as a finalist for YA Fiction in the USA Best Book Awards. I read The Fix early on and was really caught by its honesty in the difficult topics of sexual abuse, family dysfunction and addiction. The Fix takes an in-depth look at how we identify ourselves with respect to what was done to us, and what that means about who we are. I highly recommend.

Tell us a little about how The Fix came to be.

I took one meaningful moment from my high school experience—a girl and a guy have an intense conversation in which he unlocks something in her she didn’t fully realize was there, then he disappears the next day—and then I built a new story from there. I knew that Macy, the main character, was angry, and as I dug into her backstory, I discovered why. Ultimately, the reason for her anger and her struggle to come to terms with her past became what the book was about.

Had you done any other writing before The Fix

Yes! After short stories and bad beginnings of novels throughout high school, college, and my 20s, I completed my first manuscript (also YA realistic contemporary) in 2008. It struggled to find a home, so I put it aside to write The Fix. I view the manuscript’s current state as “taking a nice long break.” I haven’t lost hope for its future.

Talk a little bit about the non-writing aspects of your life.

So much of my life has become focused on the writing aspects of my life—writing, reading, and the business of publishing—that this question is surprisingly hard to answer! I think about writing all the time. My non-writing life involves mostly keeping my three sons, who are 10, 9, and 7, alive and generally on the happier side of surviving. They are very close in age but each of them is completely unique, which makes life interesting for us, and also very physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. But we all have fun together—we go on ski trips in the winter, and beach trips in the summer. And, since our extended families are spread out along the east coast, midwest, and Florida, we do a lot of traveling and hosting.

The Fix deals with some pretty intense issues: addiction, trauma, sexual abuse. What was the experience of writing about these topics like?

It was intense! I hadn’t planned on writing a novel about so many tough issues, but they turned up in my characters’ backstories, and once they were there, they were there to stay, along with the fixes they used to cope.

I believe that everyone hides pain from others. Often it’s denial used for self-preservation, but sometimes it’s because we believe our pain isn’t important enough to share. This seems particularly true for girls. Through Macy, I learned how a girl can go through the process of accepting not only that her pain is real but also important enough to share. That she’s important enough to speak up and to be heard. I felt a lot of pressure to do this right. I did plenty of research for this book—on sexual abuse, addiction, psychiatric hospitals, depression—to make sure I got the details right, but most of what my characters felt, I could imagine. That’s what writers do. And that was pretty intense!

Figure 2. Author Natasha Sinel

Figure 2. The author herself, Natasha Sinel


I have to ask the Obligatory question about writing YA: what do you think of our genre?

I’m a YA fiction reader—mostly contemporary realistic—so I love our genre. I know I should expand my reading to include other types of fiction, as well as non-fiction, but my reading time is limited, and I’ve decided I should just read what I want! What I love about reading and writing YA is exploring the very real feelings that happen to us during high school. Things matter. Teenagers are just beginning their journey toward independence, figuring out who they are, what’s important to them, how they feel about themselves. And they’re seeing that adults are actually just people—and that’s a precarious and exciting place to be.

What other kinds of books or media do you enjoy?

I love reading picture books and middle grade books with my three young boys, particularly picture books. I’m always interested to see which my children have loved and wanted to read over and over (and over and over) again, and whether, as an adult, I feel the same way. At the opposite end, I also like to read racy new adult fiction.

I worked on the business side at Showtime for years, so being a TV junkie was pretty much a requirement for the water cooler. Lately, though, I’ve been finding that reading is the only activity that stops my often-involuntary multi-tasking behaviors, so I’ve been doing a lot more reading than watching. I’m hoping to start leaving my house and going to the movies again—we have an amazing non-profit theater nearby that shows the best indie films.

What’s on tap next for you in terms of book stuff?

I have two manuscripts (both YA realistic standalones) in the almost-done stage and ready to send to my agent. But the almost-done stage is taking longer than I’d hoped!

Thanks for the chat, Natasha! 

Buy a copy of The Fix:
Barnes & Noble

Visit Natasha Sinel online:

Author site


Author Interview: Marcy Beller Paul

underneath everything

Figure 1. Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul, now available everywhere (signed copies at Books of Wonder)


I am happy to present an interview I conducted with Marcy Beller Paul, author of Underneath Everything, which released last week, and which was a pretty delicious book about girl friendship and the toxic interdependence of twining identities in adolescence.

Okay, that sounds kind of conceptual. It was a super juicy book. If you like contemporary realistic fiction, you’ll want to crack this one. 

Let’s talk writing. What’s your history with writing? 

In fourth grade my teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, gave us a handout that had an unfinished sentence at the top (these days I’d call that a writing prompt). It said something like “I got locked in school last night and…” We were allowed to sit wherever we wanted and write whatever we wanted. I went into the hallway, sat on the ledge of the window, propped my notebook on my legs, and hurt my hand trying to write as much as I could. And the whole time I just kept thinking: this can’t possibly be school. This is way too fun. After that I always picked the creative option in every English class assignment. Sometimes I submitted a creative option even when there wasn’t one offered. Sometimes that didn’t go over so well.

I tried to keep a journal a bunch of times but could never keep it up. Maybe because they weren’t actual journals. I never wrote about what happened to me in plain language. I filled the pages with images and stream of consciousness and parts of poems. I guess the journals were more like creative notebooks.

In high school I wrote articles for the paper and poems for the literary journal; and in college I took a poetry writing course with Jorie Graham, which actually did a lot for my fiction writing. But I wouldn’t figure that out until 11 years later, when I took the MediaBistro class in which my novel was born. That was January of 2010. I hadn’t done any formal fiction writing since my seventh grade short story, LOVE, STARS, AND DEMONS. I mean, I’d tried to write a novel a few times: once in high school, once or twice in college, a few times while I was working in publishing, but I’d always get fifteen or twenty pages in and realize I had no idea what I was doing. Especially when I saw all of the wonderful work coming across my desk at the time—books that did and didn’t published. But the urge to write never went away. Writing was always a thing that came easily to me. I loved English papers. I loved playing around with words and phrases.

Marcy Beller Paul

Figure 2. Author Marcy Beller Paul, Herself


So, tell us a little about the rest of your life, i.e. the non-writing aspects.

I’m the youngest of three. My brothers are five and seven years older than I am, so in a lot of ways I was the little princess of the family, and in a lot of ways I wasn’t. I didn’t willingly wear a skirt until I was ten or eleven, despite my mother’s best efforts. I threw a fit the day of my older brother’s Bar Mitzvah because I didn’t want to wear a barrette in my hair. I was pretty strong willed, I guess. And I liked being the center of attention. At my younger brother’s Bar Mitzvah, it started raining and I took it upon myself to grab my father’s trench coat and hat and entertain everyone in our backyard with a one person kick line to the song New York, New York. I was eight years old.

I was dragged around to a bunch of things for my brothers when I was little, but I also did a bunch of my own things. I rode horses and danced and played tennis and piano and clarinet and went to Hebrew school. I remember at some point my mother told me I couldn’t do everything, so I gave up horses (which still makes me sad to think about), and focused on tennis (which still makes me happy to think about).

By the time I got into skirts and boys (but not really makeup, which my mother was always asking me to try), my brothers were both in college. I was getting a lot more attention from my parents, which I didn’t always like, but at least I still had my brothers around to tell me what was coming next in life. I love that about having older brothers, and still do. I feel like I’m always getting a sneak peek at ages I haven’t experienced yet.

Even though I loved playing tennis and volleyball in high school, I didn’t continue in college. I wasn’t really good enough to play. But I did sing in a co-ed a capella group for three years called The Opportunes. If you play King of Wishful Thinking I can still sing my block part 😉 Luckily, the boy who sang the solo on that song, who I met before classes even started freshman year, can still sing it for me. We’ve been married for 10 years this November and have known each other for 19. He’s seen me through college and my career in publishing, our party days (years) in New York, marriage, the birth of two children, and the writing and publication of my first book.

Do you watch television? What shows do you enjoy? Feel free to be elaborate on stories or characters. This is a safe space.

I do watch television, but I’m sort of like Andy Samberg in the intro to the Emmy’s this year: ask me if I’ve seen a show and the answer is probably no. No Game of Thrones. No Homeland. No Veep. No American Horror Story. No Walking Dead. I found Friday Night Lights pretty late and I think we can all agree that FNL is just about as good as it gets (I could basically listen to Tim Riggins say “Lyla” over and over again for eternity and it would always slay me.) And I finally watched Breaking Bad this summer and it was as intense as everyone says. (I sort of want to be Jesse’s sister and mother and girlfriend all at once. Is that weird?)

When I watch television with my husband it’s usually sports (hockey for him, tennis for me) or comedy. We love watching stand-up specials, Drunk History, Key & Peele. Anything to make us laugh after long days.

My one true weakness is singing competition shows. I’m actually watching The Voice right now. (Yes, it’s the best in terms of pacing and production, but American Idol (RIP) was obviously better at grooming breakout stars.) I’ve even watched the X-Factor, which is pretty horrible, but who can deny the adorableness of Alex & Sierra? I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about these shows that’s so addictive. I mean, I sang a cappella in college (it’s one of the ways I met my husband), but I don’t think that’s it. I think what really gets me is that the process feels familiar—people are going after their dreams and taking creative risks and working their asses off to make something difficult seem effortless and genuine. It’s basically the same thing a writer does every time she puts words on the page. The only difference is that the writer does it in private. I can’t imagine what it must be like to do it in such a public forum, in front of judges! All I know is that I get really happy when someone does it well.

tim lyla

Figure 3. We can’t stop thinking about you, Tim


Tell a little bit about where Underneath Everything, your debut novel, came from.

Underneath Everything was born in the last two weeks of an online MediaBistro class. I’d been out of the publishing industry for about three years, my kids were almost one and three, and I needed something for myself. I figured that maybe with some basic training I could get past that fifteen/twenty page wall I’d hit every other time I’d tried to write a novel, and I did! I got fifty pages into something before I realized I didn’t actually care about it. After that I spent a few classes trying out different styles, then in the final weeks I came up with the first sequence of Underneath Everything. By the time the class ended I had the tools I needed to finish the manuscript—a writing habit, critique partners, and the permission to take my work seriously.

But that first draft was very different than the book I eventually submitted and sold. It had a traditional love triangle between two boys and a girl. Then, during my read-through for revisions, I got to a scene between the main character and a female friend of hers that immediately stood out to me. It was so much more intense and interesting than anything else.

I think maybe I was trying to tell that story in the first draft, but was afraid to face it, so I buried it in the subplot. I’d had my own toxic friendship in middle school and high school and I’d gotten past it by cutting it off completely. I’d never gone back and forced myself to examine it. If I was really going to write this story, I knew I’d have to go back there, mentally. I also knew it was going to take a lot of work. I was going to have to cut off the second half of the novel, rewrite it, then heavily revise the first half.

The funniest part of the whole thing is that at some point during that massive revision, I found some of my original failed novel attempts from high school and college, and all of them were about groups of girls. One even had a character named Jolene! So I guess this story had been in me for a long time, I just needed the right timing and tools to tell it.

Now we have to have the Obligatory YA question: did you mean to write Underneath Everything as a YA novel? 
That MediaBistro class was for YA novel writing, so yes, I definitely meant to write YA.

Although I hadn’t worked in almost three years when I began writing Underneath Everything, my last position in publishing was Audio Acquisitions Editor at Scholastic, so I was already familiar with the age range (and had totally fallen for it). I still remember how I much I swooned reading Thirteen Reasons Why and Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones when they came in on submission. I loved that job.

Scholastic is actually where I began my career in publishing as well. I had an internship in the Arrow and Teen Age Book Club division the summer after my junior year in college and got to work with Nancy Mercado (who is fun and fabulous). That was my true introduction to YA. Part of my job was to read books for content and note any bad words and behavior. I tore through all of Ellen Hopkins’ and Laurie Halse Anderson’s books, and a bunch of others. I couldn’t believe books like that were being written. I couldn’t believe how well they were selling. That also happened to be the summer the first Harry Potter book came out (in paperback), so every day in the elevator you’d see some new article about how adults were buying children’s books, and how Harry Potter had hit the NYT adult bestseller list (there was no children’s list back then). It was pretty cool.

Despite all of that coolness, I took a job at an adult publisher after I graduated college. Maybe because I felt like it was my first job as an adult and I should be publishing for adults? Luckily after a few years working in print, then ebooks, and eventually audiobooks, I saw the Scholastic job opening. Once I was there I couldn’t believe I’d ever left children’s.

Author Malinda Lo wrote a really great piece for The Horn Book a while back talking about her “central projects” as a writer. Have you identified your own “central projects” yet? 

I’ve only finished one book, so I’m not sure I can identify my central projects 100% (hey, it even took Malinda Lo a few published works to figure it out!) but now that I’m looking over what I’ve done and what I’ve got in the pipeline, I’ll give it a shot.

It may seem weird to start talking about religion here, but stick with me: I was raised Jewish. I went to Sunday school and Hebrew school. I had a Bat Mitzvah. I even went to confirmation class after that to continue my Jewish education. But (as my mother can tell you) from a very early age it didn’t make sense to me that I should believe in a religion just because my parents did. When I asked about this I got the standard answer. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something like: “Because that’s how it is. Now get out of bed.”

When I got to college I was still struggling with this. If I didn’t believe in Judaism, what did I believe in? Luckily I met my husband around that time. He was studying religion and philosophy. So obviously we talked about it. I told him how God was something I couldn’t really get a handle on. But the intricate and complicated way we affect each other, and what happens as a result of that? The energy that exists between people? That was something I believed in. That was the closest thing to a religion I could find. My husband (then boyfriend) labeled me a secular humanist. One of the tenets of secular humanism is “a consequential ethics system.” To quote the Council for Secular Humanism, “Secular humanists seek to develop and improve their ethical principles by examining the results they yield in the lives of real men and women.”

So if people are my religion, then their actions and interactions are my scripture. The closest thing I’ve got to a central project so far is: to dig deeply into how and why and when people torture and please each other, and what the consequences of those actions are. Especially since we’re living in a world where Facebook and Instagram and so many other social media sites show only the glossy moments of life.

Talk about your reading life a bit: what do you read for comfort, escape, research, curiosity…?

For the past few years I’ve immersed myself in YA. I wanted to know what was doing well and what was coming and what I liked and didn’t like if I was going to try to publish into it. When I’m not on a strictly YA diet, I like literary fiction, psychological thrillers, poetry, and memoirs. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking is one of my favorite books of all time. I saw the show as well, with Vanessa Redgrave. It was heartbreaking and beautiful. Every once in a while I’ll throw in some non fiction, but honestly I’d rather just read a magazine article for stuff like that. It’s hard for me to sustain interest in an entire non fiction book. Memoirs are my only exception in that category, because they focus on the personal experience.

Speaking of social media – what is your own relationship to it? Has it changed since getting a book deal?

Oh, Social Media. We’ve had our good times and we’ve had our bad times. But I can’t deny that you were instrumental in the writing of this book. Here’s how:

I’m not an early adopter. I didn’t even get a cell phone for a year or two after most people had one. And when touch screens were the big thing, I clung to a keyboard (up until last year!). I never had a MySpace page and I was late to Facebook. But something happened after I left my job to stay home with my kids. For most of the day I was busy with diapers and feedings and laundry and such, then for the few minutes I had free I would check out Facebook and see my friends in glamorous dresses at wonderful parties or with their kids who could sing the alphabet at 18 months. It didn’t matter so much at the time, because it was only a few minutes here or there, but it was still a reminder of the fact that I was home in my pajamas trying to take care of the babies and wondering if I’d ever have a clean apartment again.

Then this amazing thing happened. Both of my children began napping for two hours in the middle of the day. If you don’t have kids, this is basically The Dream. I had TWO WHOLE HOURS to myself! I could workout! Cook! Clean! Shower! Eat! The possibilities were endless. And of course I did none of them. Instead I looked at Facebook. The first day I wasted every single minute of my precious free time on Facebook I decided I had to make a change. Why should I be reading about everyone else’s fabulous life and doing nothing about my own? That was the day I signed up for the YA Novel Writing Mediabistro course. Every day after that I put my kids to bed for their naps and ran to my computer to write.

But writing is difficult, especially when you’ve never tried to write a novel before. I wanted to talk to someone about it. I missed the publishing industry, not to mention adult conversation. So I got on Twitter. Since I couldn’t take the time away from my kids to go to conferences, Twitter was where I found my writing community. Twitter made me feel less alone and helped me motivate through the most difficult times during the writing process when I felt like I couldn’t do it, because there was always some writer tweeting about having trouble with the same thing (sometimes even authors I admired a great deal). And even though it has changed a little since getting my book deal, I still feel like for the most part Twitter is my watercooler. It’s where I find my writing and publishing people talking and thinking about industry things. It’s where I’ve made some absolutely amazing friends. It’s just that now there are people looking forward to my book on there, which is still surreal.

Thanks for the chat, Marcy!

Visit Marcy online:

Author site

To order Underneath Everything:

Books of Wonder (signed copies)
Barnes & Noble



On Author Panel Hygiene


Figure 1. Dear Authors on Panels: some of you are not living your best life. 


I dedicate this post to two lovely people:
Carrie Jones, who brought up the topic on Twitter which made me get all foamy about it
Haddayr Copley-Woods, who added foam of her own



1) When you introduce yourself is really the only time you need to mention your book. Probably the book is sitting propped up in front of you. Probably it’s been listed in the program notes. After you mention it, though, LET IT GO. Most people haven’t read it. Don’t bore us with a synopsis about the story we haven’t read. It’s like telling inside jokes to people you’ve just met.

2) Do not use your introduction time to do a “quick reading” from your book. This is a panel, not a reading. And even a “quick” reading hogs up microphone time.

3) The gift of the panel is variety. If the audience wanted a concentrated shot of one or two writers, they’d attend a reading. But this is a panel, intended to offer a buffet of opinions and experiences. It’s also the most prone to being boring and walked-out-on. To prevent this, you must always consider the audience first, your panelists second, and whatever the hell your own concerns are dead fucking last. You want the audience to want to hang out with you afterwards. Because if they like you, are amused by you, find you entertaining, then they’ll want to get your book.

4) Be funny, engaging, entertaining and succinct. If you can’t be at least three out of the four, it’s really going to suck for you and the audience. Don’t just answer the questions. Try to extend the conversation to your co-panelists and the audience. I know a lot of authors don’t have a choice about where they’re sent to promote their books, much less how, and some authors may hate public speaking. Sorry about that. Perhaps you should just aim to be succinct? At least the end result is that you won’t be hated for being a microphone hogger?

5) Listen to your co-panelists. Don’t just sit there and plan your answer. When you listen to the other authors, this ensures that you might a) not repeat the same kinds of answers b) enhance and elaborate on the answers the others gave: “Like Nancy said, I also had a successful day job. But eventually, I got tired of just being a paleontologist. So one night, after I’d covered all my dinosaur bones, I got into my tent and started writing a story about these two mermaids who want to be wizards.” This keeps things flowing narratively for the audience. It also might result in Nancy wanting to buy you a drink afterwards. Collegiality among authors is a lovely thing.

6) It’s okay not to have an answer. If everyone else has already said what you would have said, it’s fine to pass. Everyone will appreciate that. Again, the point is variety of opinions, not equal time slobbering over the mic.


*these are all made up by me and not endorsed by some Author Governing Body. I have no authority in this matter except that I try to follow these guidelines. Not many other people appear to follow them. Do whatever the hell you want, I guess.






 1) Please don’t introduce yourself thusly: “Hi, I’m Joe Schmuckatelli, New York Times Best-Selling Author of ______.” Think about this for a minute. Your NYT-Best-Selling status is probably on your website, your Twitter bio, your business cards, a tattoo just above your genitalia and the fucking welcome mat at your home. It’s also in the program notes. It’s also probably why two thirds of the audience is sitting there. For the sake of collegiality, skip saying it. Remember, the alpha dog is the alpha because she doesn’t go around humping other dogs. Be cool about it already. And hey? Maybe take your co-panelists out for a drink afterwards. Spread some love.

 2) Audience members asking for writing advice are looking for encouragement. They are not looking for you to showcase your genius, how fast you write, how fortunate you are to be independently wealthy, how you constantly get brilliant ideas, how your agent crawled through a desert to get to your door and sign you. Even if all those things are true (sidenote: fuck off), please act like a regular person for a moment. Tell them practical things: your daily writing ritual, how you balance family and work, how you use a typewriter or a quill (sidenote: really? fuck off). Make this shit up if you have to. Even if you think most people are idiots and shouldn’t write. Even if you think publishing is totally difficult and basically a matter of luck. Even if you are like me and find giving advice perilous. Just be magnanimous about it. Remember your co-panelists are listening to you; don’t make them want to spit in your eye, too.

3) Behave on the panel as if your goal is to leave the proceedings with all your co-panelists for a long, rollicking, joke-filled, cocktail-studded dinner. This has never happened to me, but one can always hope.


**Pure fantasy on my part, but just like zero unemployment or anarchy, I think these are beautiful dreams





Cut Both Ways is HERE

Kirkus, in a starred review, calls Cut Both Ways “pitch perfect, raw & moving”


It’s available today. If you like books about sexuality and family dysfunction, please go pick up a copy.

Places you can buy:

Addendum Books
Barnes & Noble

Here is my actual plan for release day, in case you were wondering: coffee, dog walk, water plants on porch, take Matilda to swim practice, go buy newest Tessa Dare book, make chicken pot pie.

(Here is my fantasy plan for release day. Heh.)


Booklist called Cut Both Ways “an imperative read” huh? Better check it out…






Giving Yourself Stars and Stickers: On Book Reviews


Figure 1. My third book! Whee!


So, Cut Both Ways got another starred review, this time from Booklist. It’s very nice. I’m very pleased.

But receiving this good news made me want to talk about more than the book and its review.

It made me want to talk about how I’m almost 41 years old and my life is about getting “STARS.” Also, “STICKERS.” Sweet suffering Jesus.

I mean, yeah. I want to be successful at writing in that people keep paying me to put out books and other people keep reading them. I want to be successful at writing in that smart people say they enjoy my books.

But I can get really hung on up STARS and STICKERS. And it makes me feel like a psycho.

My first book got a couple stars and one sticker. Not “The Big Sticker.” But it has a sticker. My second book got a few stars. Not as many as the first. And no sticker. My third book got more stars. The stickers don’t come out for a while, but I’m willing to wager it won’t get any stickers. So what does this mean? My first book is the best and that it’s a quiet downhill ride from here on out? My second book sucked? I didn’t work hard enough on it?

This is only to speak of institutional or trade reviews. The stars on GoodReads for all of my books? Well. You don’t want to know. I don’t want to know. Some reviews on that site make me want to lay down and die.

“Extremely profane and not worth your time…”
“I literally did not care about anything in this book…”
“The main character is such an asshole…”


Christa one star review shirt

Figure 2. My dear Christa Desir, who made t-shirts of our one-star reviews (soon to be for sale on our website for The Oral History Podcast)


Do you see how batshit this can make a person? It’s like a potty chart you make for a kid learning to use the toilet. Except, instead of making shit in the commode, I’m trying to recreate the world how I see it in an artful way. Except, I’m middle-aged, not a toddler.

Still, there’s also this point: the people who give out stickers and stars are people who read a lot of books. They are librarians and teachers and scholars. They KNOW books. So you want those people, the ones who’ve trafficked in books their whole lives, to read your book and put a sticker or a star on its chart. You want it to be distinct, distinguished, special. It’s not meaningless, this star-and-sticker business.

But sometimes I want to give myself stars or stickers for parts of my books. For my second book, I want to give a sticker to the ending. It’s my favorite ending of all my books. I also want to give a star to its ladyhead scene. That was a bit that remained almost unchanged from its first drafting.

For my first book, I’d give a star to the part where two characters make out in a bathroom. Goddamn did I work hard on that scene! I’d also give a star to the scene where the guys are eating fried chicken and watching A Clockwork Orange and the one guy says, “Dude, you’re such a cock to your dog.” Dunno why, but I love that line.

For my third book, the sticker would go to the scenes with Will’s step-sisters. I loved writing them and I loved those little pain-in-the-ass girls.

So, maybe this is only a post that other writers will care about. Maybe this is a post that will make people say, “Oh, poor Carrie, with your book deals! Waaaah, we’re so sorry for your precious feelings!”

Say that, if you’d like. It’s totally true. I’m a lucky fucker and complaining about this could surely come off bratty and ungrateful.

But the reason I wrote this is to put it out to all writers, published or not: what would you give your stars and stickers to? What parts of your stories or essays are you especially fond of? What scenes have you written that please you every time you read them? What opening or closing lines still make you proud? Leave me a comment, make a chart on your refrigerator, or just ponder it privately in your heart.

Remembering how your own work pleases you is a good thing which begets more good work. I hope you’ll endow yourself with many stickers and stars in the future.



Figure 3. Love yourself, baby. Just as much as Sensitive Sam Winchester loves you.



Hooray! CUT BOTH WAYS gets a starred review from Kirkus



Happy news! Plus I’m on vacation! Woo!

Books are such a long, drawn-out process. They can be these giant amorphous blobs of intention. It’s hard for me, at least, to separate out the failed starts and junked drafts from the final product. Maybe because I don’t outline or really do plot? I don’t know.

ANYWAY. It’s nice to read a condensed summary of what you did. Or what you hoped you did. So, seeing this review from Kirkus makes me feel enormous relief. We pulled it off, my editor & I. PHEW.

To preorder, go here or here or here.





Anatomy of a Country Music Song Part VIII


Figure 1. My friend Danielle used to drive an orange VW Beetle with a bumper sticker that said this

Figure 1. My friend Danielle used to drive an orange VW Beetle with a bumper sticker that said this


Remember how I said that one thing I love about country music is that it’s basically a catalog of white male entitlement and cultural beliefs?


Well, too bad. I said it once. Trust me.

Anyway, that’s not the only thing I love about it, but there is something in me that remains constantly intrigued by notions of “masculinity.” I don’t profess to understand the minds of men just because I understand my rank here in the patriarchy. Patriarchy only tells me about who has power and who doesn’t. It doesn’t tell me what men are thinking, either as individuals or as a group.

If yall find the minds of men transparent and obvious, well, then, lucky for yall. Leave me to my fascination. But I didn’t grow up with brothers or a lot of male cousins. I don’t have boy children. I had a lot of boyfriends, I guess, but they didn’t really give me much access to their inner reflections.

So I contemplate my own sensibilities as a lady and then compare them to dudes. Then I marvel at how we’ve arrived in Our Current Predicament.

This song by Jason Isbell, which was written back when he was a part of Drive-By Truckers, is a really nice find if we’re talking about cultural messaging from fathers to sons. It’s funny and it’s sorrowful (the best things tend to be this mix) and it’s romantical in that the father in the song is speaking much like a honorable-yet-defeated knight.

(Romanticism about their lives and roles in the world seems to be one constant in masculine thinking. I find feminine thinking much more brutally practical, to be honest.)

Not much to make fun of here; much to admire. Lyrics after the jump.



The Oral History Podcast: An Introduction


This is Norman Reedus in that movie The Conspirator. This has nothing to do with the podcast.


Back in January, my fellow YA author and friend Christa Desir and I decided to produce a podcast. We had these long conversations about sex and YA books and our lives and thought it would be fun to share our thoughts with everyone else.

So, The Oral History Podcast was born.

It’s a simple concept. We pick a topic, discuss our own personal histories with respect to that topic, and then recommend YA books that we think handle that topic well.

Our first topic was “Girl Talk.” We discussed the kinds of ways our friends talked to each other about sex & romance when we were back in high school and then recommended six YA books that address female friendship and conversation.

We did three episodes on our own, with technical help from the excellent Sara Zarr, whose “This Creative Life” podcast was a big inspiration. Then podcast fan & editor Andrew Karre offered to be our technical advisor and producer, so the sound quality and format are much improved after the third episode, I’m pleased to say. I record my portion in his attic office, because he has better equipment, and this involves me kicking him out of his own lovely space for an hour or so. Then Christa records her portion in Chicago, where she also has great equipment thanks to her tech-loving husband. Then Andrew pastes it all together, erasing our pauses and ums and uhs.

Also: Thanks, Sara! Thanks, Andrew! Thanks, Julio!

In just seven episodes, we’ve discussed more than 50 books (you can find all titles here), as well as live-tweeted & commented on the premiere of the 50 Shades of Grey movie, and tackled First Sex, Oral Sex, Kissing & Masturbation. We also hosted a special Valentine’s Day LadyHead Flash Fiction blog hop, which was born of a Twitter conversation tagged #WriteLadyHeadRight. You can find those stories here.

It’s been a great learning experience from the technical side (uploading mp3 files properly, blog formatting, submitting to iTunes) and the author side (discovering and promoting books we love). Mainly it’s just been a lot of fun.

We’re going on hiatus for the summer, though we have a couple of things planned, including Favorite Scene Close Reads, as well as plans for our One Star Review Merch shop that we hope to unveil this fall. A sample, modeled by Christa:



So: if you love podcasts, sex talk and/or YA fiction, take the summer to catch up with us! You can subscribe to us in iTunes or listen directly on the website where we keep our show notes. We are always open to listener feedback too! Please let us know what you think here.



Life In Paris



NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago, when Matilda was younger and before I published any books. Because clearly, publishing books makes you the High Priestess of Regal Glamour.

Whenever I get upset with myself, the hurrying-around doing dull errands, the mess in the house, the slopped-together meals of cereal on the couch, the ugly clothes I wear constantly, I beat myself with a stick I like to call “Life In Paris.”

Let’s apply this concept.

Last week, we went out to eat at Ember’s. My daughter Matilda wanted pancakes and my husband and I were too tired/lazy to make them at home. (Also, she wanted bacon and we had no bacon.) After we ate our crappy meal at Ember’s, which was actually quite delicious, we went home and I put on a pair of clean pajama pants and went to bed in the shirt I wore today.

When I woke up, I put on a bra under my shirt I had slept in and replaced the pajama pants with the jeans I’d wore the previous day. I splashed water on my face and brushed my teeth. Then I hustled Matilda through dressing and breakfast (whole wheat English muffin with rhubarb-strawberry jam and a shot of blueberry juice). Then I dumped her and the rest of the kids on our block at school and burned rubber over to the grocery, wearing no make-up, forgetting the reusable bags, to return milk bottles* and get more milk for my coffee.

Now, what’s wrong with all of that, you say? I’ve had that morning often myself, you think.

Enter the Life In Paris. If I were having my Life in Paris, I would not take my child to Ember’s to eat pancakes. In Paris, we have crepes, which I make with total and complete magnanimity, as I’m a Parisian woman! Just as it’s in my nature to fuck an older, uglier man who is shorter than me, so is making crepes without breaking a sweat.

In Paris, I would not leave the house wearing a shirt that’s been recycled continuously in three different instances. I would not leave the house without styling my hair or wearing make-up.** I would not wear junky, flat-bottomed snow boots and ill-fitting, thrice-worn denim.

Furthermore, in Paris I would not drive to some ugly, all-purpose grocery store where the food is bland and indistinct and the counter man in the meat department has no more expertise in meat than the $7 bucks-an-hour cashier. No, in Paris, I would market at individual shops that offered premium food know-how – fromagerie, patisserie, charcuterie, boulangerie – and after learning about the provenance of my purchases, I would put on my Chanel sunglasses, exit the store and clack down cobblestone streets in heels. My feet would not blister or ache. I would buy fruits from a vendor every day. I would buy my paper from a gnarled old man in a newstand and peruse it while I nibbled on a pan au chocolat. Because there’s no way I would not have coffee at home with a plastic coffee maker.

Non, belles amies! I would be having cafe au lait in a charming bistro before I went to work at my glamourous job at a publishing house. I would be wearing a frilly silk blouse with lots of lovely necklaces. I would have jewelry custom-made that didn’t come from a thrift store. And of course, I wouldn’t be fat. My bra and panties would match. My daughter would toddle off to school on a bus – such lovely public transport! – and I would meet her at home for a lunch of dressed greens and roast duck.

Isn’t Life in Paris is beautiful? Life in Paris doesn’t involve scraping one’s windshield, or picking up dog shit with a shovel in the backyard. Life in Paris features shoes with smart heels, and clothing made of silk and wool. No synthetics allowed in Paris! Life in Paris doesn’t include a trip to the health club to stand on a machine for a requisite 45 minutes to remove flab. In Paris, we flutter over long, picturesque sidewalks, holding our berets to our heads, as we jet to meet our lovers in bistros in the rain! This type of exercise isn’t labeled such. It doesn’t exert, you see. Besides, should your body have the audacity to store adipose, which I don’t believe is actually possible within the 16th arrondissement, such tasteless flab would be run out on a rail by a mob holding stalks of artichokes.

Why I let this stick abuse me so, I don’t know. I went to France on my honeymoon, with a phrasebook and not much else. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I didn’t like France very much at all. We drove from north to south, in a rented car, going down the autoroute at high speeds only to be stalled out by our lack of language skills in small towns. Adrian found the whole place in need of some spackle.

“It’s like they rebuilt everything that got destroyed in World War II,” he said, as we drove through a cloverleaf in some small town with too many vowels and x’s in the name. “But they only rebuilt it once.”

In France, I could mimic my phrasebook and get a response that sounded like someone sucking on marshmallows. About all the French I have left from that puny guidebook has been used in this essay. All of this left me feeling like France is some club I can’t be a member of – is that what life is all about? About letting junior-high notions of exclusivity ruin your day? I can’t help it that I’m provincial and my province doesn’t have lavender fields or couture houses. We have a local foodshed, but only for 5 months of the year. The rest of the time, life here is slogging through snow muck up to one’s ankles or dragging a large plastic garbage bin to the curb at 9:30 at night or picking around superstores with an oversize shopping cart or watching pay-per-view movies versus hoofing it to the art cinema. Anais Nin couldn’t land in my life and grab the reins. There are not enough satin lampshades or casks of wine in the cellar or opportunities to watch burlesque shows.

Maybe I just need a Life In Akron, Ohio stick? Maybe I don’t need a stick at all?


*Back then I used to buy milk in reuseable bottles but our grocery doesn’t carry that brand anymore. Of course it doesn’t.

**I don’t do this anymore. I put on make-up because I’m a vain motherfucking 40-year-old.




Author Interview: Ash Parsons

Figure 1. Still Waters, by Ash Parsons, available April 21, 2015

Figure 1. Still Waters, by Ash Parsons, available April 21, 2015

All right. Tell us a little about yourself.

I am allergic to questions like that.  But I have taken Benadryl today so…here goes. I hate personality tests and I hate those introvert/extrovert posts.  When did we all become such special snowflakes? I’m feeling grumpy today. It’s the weather, I think. Also maybe I need more coffee. I need a lot more coffee. I love coffee. I also love TV. I wish I could just watch TV in bed all day, especially today. I have circled back around from grumpy-to-appreciative-to grumpy again. I am usually happy, I would say. But today I am grumpy. I need it to be warm already, no more cold snaps, FFS.

Okay, let’s pan out. When did you start writing? And WHAT did you start writing?

Hmm. I’m pretty sure I wrote ever since I picked up a pencil but the first “I’m going to write a book!” moment I for certain remember was in the fifth grade. I wanted to write a “Ben and Me” meets “The Black Stallion” middle-grade animals-as-main-characters-historical-fiction. I have it somewhere, probably. It was called THE HORSE LATITUDES and was about when Spanish boats  would throw off dead/dying horses when there was no winds/the voyage was prolonged enough to affect water supplies.  In hindsight, I really just wanted those horses to make it to an island and survive. My kid thinks this is an excellent book idea, btw.  I may be guilty of telling him a version of LOST complete with smoke monster except my horses are the MCs. Kinda like a wingfic AU except with Horses instead of people.  And no wings.  

I still need coffee.

Tell us a little about your debut novel, Still Waters. How did this novel come to be?

Like all authors, inspiration comes from many places but there are two things that directly inspired STILL WATERS – one, I was a teacher in a rural school (7-12). One day, I overheard my students talking about how another student had been shot over the weekend. The student turned out to be fine, but it was one of those things that rumors were swirling around (it was a hunting accident, but there were rumors of more before it all got sorted out). Hearing my students gossip and conjecture about the accident made me remember the second thing –a murder that a kid from my high school had committed (when I was in high school). I was thinking about that murder, and what the “official story” was about it, about why it had happened, and how. I knew the end of the story, but nothing else.  And I didn’t know (and I would dare say none of us know) how something like that starts. And that was the genesis of this book- I was thinking about how that situation started – or could have started. And then it took on a life of it’s own. 

You know that I’m contracted by law to point out that your main character, Jason, is a boy. And you are not a boy. What the hell is that? EXPLAIN YOURSELF, PARSONS.

Alas, I can not explain. Methinks that’s part of why I write fiction.I don’t completely trust biography. I don’t completely trust non-fiction. If you want to get at me with truth, you need to clothe it in story, then I’ll believe you. I like the freedom in fiction to tell hard truths without making it your truth, if that makes sense. Writing from any perspective other than “mine” is where I want to be. Not to sound like a hokey writer-with-the-hoo-doo-woo-woo thing happening, but honestly this voice was just there from the start and I recognized it immediately.  Dammit.  The hoo-doo-woo-woo happened anyway.

There’s a fuckload of violence and sex in your book. Which is just one reason I like it. So, let’s talk about that. What’s driving Jason? How do you feel about writing about sex and violence?

Lol – way to take it easy on me, Carrie. Okay, yes there’s a lot of violence in my book. Sex too. The dark fights in the boys bathrooms – that happened at the school where I taught. And fights were a fairly regular occurrence both there and at the high school I went to, back in the day. So I wanted to include that – where it wasn’t a sanitized thing and where it’s almost just background noise that feeds into the main story. What drives my main character Jason, is anger and desperation. I was very connected to the anger aspect, and so I really loved writing that. Not gonna lie. I liked writing the fights a lot. I actually had to cut some. Sex I wanted to write because it felt true – these characters were having sex and while it affected them it wasn’t the end-all-be-all of the plot…it was more about revealing hunger for connection but was also inherently “connectionless” – I wanted that to feel authentic but not necessarily satisfying.

Okay, let’s talk about television. Specifically, Daryl Dixon. But I’ll be down for some Hannibal discussion. Or Nashville. Or Beauty and the Beast. It’s TV that brought us together, so we must pay some tribute.

Let us discuss!  TWD: Do you think they’re going to kill Daryl Dixon on Sunday?  I so miss S. 2 Daryl I could spit. I need some badassery pronto, Daryl. And some misplaced hostility, please. And a haircut. Kthxbye. 

Hannibal!!!  Hannibal!!!  That s2 FINALE. How the hell. How. The. Hell. The writers of that show have my love & admiration. Can’t wait for s3. Can’t wait for the great red dragon (Richard Armitage).  I want more murder tableaux. Also after last season I’m ready for tasty-looking-people, take that how you will.  (How you WILL. See what I did there?)

And Y U NO WATCH Vikings when I have TOLD YOU and TOLD YOU.(sorry for shouting).

Figure 2. Bloody knuckled  Georgia boys are an A. Parsons favorite

Figure 2. Bloody knuckled Georgia boys are an A. Parsons favorite

I DIDN’T HAVE CABLE UNTIL RECENTLY, HAVE MERCY! I totally will watch the HELL outta Vikings. But I’m struggling with the juggling, yanno? Gotta finish Supernatural, of course. Back to television/fiction topics: tell us your favorite kinds of stories and/or books.

I still don’t have cable. *cue the world’s smallest violin*

My favorite stories are character rich but aren’t just a character study. I like to have an arc, as we spoke of  regarding Mr. Dixon. I love when there is a giant hook plot-wise but which is then made powerful through the characters dangling on said hook (see:  The Walking Dead,Rectify, Hannibal).

In books I love the same things – giant plot hooks that are then handled/examined with absolute deft characterization. I love The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean- talk about a hook! and Days of Little Texas by R.A. Nelson is one of my all-time favorite YA’s. There’s a special place in my heart for books that I loved as a teen and also loved to teach, so I must mention S.E. Hinton’sThe Outsiders (what a joy to teach) and I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier. Finally I love historical fiction and gravitate towards dark stories there – Sarah Waters, Rose Tremaine, and Maria McCann are my go-to-authors in that sub-genre. Someone please point me towards another dark historical, prithee. Seriously have you read As Meat Loves Salt? Amazing.

Dude, I’ve only read The Outsiders. I need to get with the program, obviously. All right. Now we have to discuss the YA factor. Still Waters is a Young Adult novel; its main character is an adolescent boy. So, out with it! Is Young Adult a genre (a point of view? a marketing construct? a reading level? does anyone fucking care?) Here’s where you explain yourself about how you ended up writing a YA novel, because we have to know who to blame.

My answer to this question is: Yes. It’s a genre, a possible reading level, a marketing “where do you put it in the bookstore” construct, and yeah, people care. I care insofar as I don’t want my work dismissed as “just” for teens. That pisses me right off for several reasons. First and foremost let’s stop insulting young people as if a genre focusing on characters their age isn’t worth any adult attention. How very 1950s. Run along, Junior.  Also, honestly, I would be pissed right off if I wrote in another genre that was dismissed for whatever people-putting-up-fences reason — examples: literary (too esoteric), scifi (too far-fetched), romance (too girly), etc. Let’s not be reductive assholes, huh?

How I ended up writing a YA novel – I already talked about some of the inspiration for this particular story. Beyond that there is the undeniable universality of the conflict between “being vs becoming” – the coming of age story. It’s why we still read Romeo and Juliet, etc. If you want to go a little further you have to start to examine why readers read – and that can get interesting. Honestly I think that’s at the root of dismissing books/genres. Ugly human nature likes to dismiss things/people to elevate itself or reinforce the status quo. Huh. Maybe I should write a dystopian next.

Maybe you should marry me? 


Excellent. Now, once we dispatch with our spouses and children, we’re golden! Tell me about what you were like when you were in high school.

*Hurk* I just threw up in my mouth. Yuck. I don’t know what I was like, I just know what I’d like to remember myself as/what I wanted to be like….or what bugged the fuck out of me and stuff. I look back on past me with charity – cluelessness was my natural state. At first I loved high school because I was finally back in public school after 2 years in parochial school (*emphasis puke*) and 2 years before that in DOD school. Then I got depressed as hell and hated pretty much everything for most of the rest of it. I failed math almost every year and was lucky to get a diploma, really. That’s another story. I had a small group of very good friends and that helped. I wasn’t popular, I wasn’t a pariah, I was just keeping my head down. When I look back, sure I had good times, but I just remember struggling a lot – with mental health, with school, etc. Until my senior year when I started the painful process of giving less fucks. That only worked because it was almost over. Also my senior year I truly realized what I excelled at, and more specifically, how much it meant to me: studying books and poems and creative writing. My senior AP English teacher was the first adult who made me feel like a writer. I’m trying to find her address as I want to send her a thank you card with a copy of the book when it comes out. 

Have you asked these questions of yourself?  Cos now I’m curious about what you were like in high school.  Since we’re getting married and stuff.

Figure 3. Tanlines: the bane of any girl's formal dance experience, as Young Ash can attest

Figure 3. Ash Parsons, high school version. And can I just say this? Tanlines = the bane of any girl’s formal dance experience

I hung out with some very excellent, funny girls and we did so many sneaky things we totally got away with! But I was not popular, nor an outcast. I was sort of basic. I had pretty good grades, but not a 4.0. I played some sports, which I was fair to middling at in terms of skill. I had a couple of boyfriends who were by turns gross and amusing. Mainly, I had friends, which is why I have some good high school memories. If you’ve got people to sit by at lunch, that’s about as much success as a person can hope for in high school. The rest is just gravy. 

Also, I had giant Jon Bon Jovi hair that defied any attempts at curling up into the coveted hairspray horn so popular in that era. I had terrific Brooke Shields eyebrows you could surf on. I started junior high as a label whore and evolved into a flannel-wearing, old-man-sweater fan. 

Okay, I’ve said too much. Interviewer over-share. Now, tell us what comes next after Still Waters? What are you planning to do for its release? And what are you working on now?

I LOVE your definition of being successful in high school. We need that tacked on to the mandatory pledge, IMO. That’s perfect.

I’m working on book 2 – I’m not certain what I can share except that it’s about celebrity- taking giant plot-hooks and sinking them into some poor characters. I’m loving the writing and revising – I’m fascinated with pressure magnifying wounds or unmet needs from childhood. So yeah. That’s my book 2. It will come out summer of 2016.

For Still Water’s release I’m going to TLA!  [That’s the Texas Library Association’s annual conference, for the civilians – Carrie] I’m so excited! Librarians are my tribe.  And when I get back the book comes out. I’m going to visit my friend Chantel’s university class, and then that night we’re having a party in a brewery.  It’s perfect, there will be beer. I wish you could be there, Carrie. We could elope.

We’re not gonna elope unless you can figure out somehow to get Norman Reedus to marry us. That’s the only way my husband will approve.

Figure 4. Ash Parsons, current version

Figure 4. Ash Parsons, current version, heading with her hobo stick to TLA…

To preorder Still Waters: 

Barnes & Noble

To learn more about Ash Parsons:
Ash on Twitter
Ash Parsons’ author website