Gritty Contemporary Christian YA: Interview with Author Brian McBride

 

Haunted by the last question their mother ever asked them, the Greyson brothers struggle to cope with their grief and adjust to life after tragedy.

Semi-popular sixteen-year-old Liam spends his nights performing as the lead singer of his high school indie alternative/rock band, Liam and the Landmarks. But something happened to Liam four years ago at his friend’s house – a secret Liam will take to his grave. But in small towns like Summit, Colorado, secrets always seem to find their way out.

Twenty-four-year-old Ezra thought that he could cure his grief when he left Summit behind for a prestigious art school in Chicago, but things only got worse. Now a college dropout working at a gas station mini mart, he turns to alcohol, prescription painkillers, and meaningless one-night stands. But Ezra can’t run forever – life always catches up with you.

With abrasively honest dual-perspective narratives, Every Bright and Broken Thing illustrates the unbreakable bond between brothers and the power in coming home.

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Bookstagrammer, blogger, and author Sunny Huck shared about Brian’s work on her Instagram and peaked my interest so I had to talk with him.

DJS: Your novels are contemporary and gritty. What drives you to write about the issues you do?

BM: Some of it is personal experience; a lot of the issues I write about are things that myself or others I know have faced. Depression, self-harm, mental illness, sexual abuse and assault, domestic violence, addiction, etc… 

But some of it is also that there’s a severe lack in the YA market – specifically the Christian YA market – of stories that deal with these things. I can’t name even five Christian YA Contemporary novels that could be comparable to, say, the stories John Green, Amber Smith, or Stephen Chbosky write. The Christian Fiction industry seems to think YA Fantasy novels are the only kind worth publishing. I disagree. I doubt I can fill this gap completely by myself, but maybe I can encourage other Christian authors of YA Contemporary to share their stories, too – THEN we’ll fill the gap!

DJS: What has been the most gratifying about writing realistic Christian fiction for young people?

BM: Hearing the stories of how my books have given people a new view of themselves, of the value of life, of faith and hope, and most importantly of Jesus. Hearing all those stories has been the highlight of this experience. 

DJS: Liam and Ezra go through some pretty harrowing times before they begin their healing journey in Every Bright and Broken Thing. Will you write any more of their story?

I don’t have any new stories simmering for Liam and Ezra right now. But I have a short story or novella I may or may not be planning to carry on Lincoln’s story. But anything is possible. If a good idea comes, I won’t say no to revisiting my boys in Summit. 

DJS: Every Bright and Broken Thing is the story of two brothers dealing with loss and how they react. In a few sentences, what would you say to those who want to support families going through grief?

BM: Hold onto them and don’t let go. I remember a time when I was far away from the Lord and was getting into some bad stuff, but my parents refused to let go. Some parents will kind of back off and say, “oh, well they’re adults now. They have to make their own choices.” But my parents weren’t about to let me go. They held on for months and months. I literally would not be alive today if it weren’t for the fierce, fighting kind of love my parents have for me.

In Every Bright, we see Mr. Greyson grapple with his own suffering and even come to realize how he allowed his grief to cause him to not hold onto his sons like he should. Mr. Greyson had to determine once again that he was going to hold onto his boys. In that, we see a father who was broken become strong again.

So, if you know someone who is suffering, hold on and don’t let go. Sometimes that means telling them the hard truth. Sometimes that just means listening and letting them cry on your shoulder. Whatever the case, hold on and don’t let go.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us today, Brian. Keep writing. I expect great things to come from your work.

A winner of the 2016 Wattys Award, Brian published the award-winning Young Adult Contemporary debut, Love and the Sea and Everything in Between, in 2018.
Born and raised in Oregon, Brian moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at 16-years-old. He’s been writing since he was thirteen-years-old and has been reading for longer. Brian is pursuing a degree in Social Work, which he hopes to use to help rescue children and families. Perhaps he’ll work to better the US’s foster care system? Or maybe he’ll join an organization that fights human trafficking? A fourth generation pastor, he is deeply passionate about the Church and is also pursuing his Minister’s License. It was this passion that compelled him to launch the Pioneer Mvmt, a social-media-based faith movement. Among other things, he is also passionate about iced tea, animals, adoption, and the arts.
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Eight #PITMAD Tips

Are you participating in #PITMAD on the 6th?

I’m on the fence this time. I’ve done #PITMAD twice and #REVPIT once.

My first time jumping into #PITMAD I pitched all three finished books and I had a hard time keeping up, but it was great fun and I met many new writers. The excitement of tweets flying everywhere kept me glued to my screen. 

You don’t have to be great at twitter to participate. I’m still terrible at twitter. Don’t let inexperience stop you if you want to pitch.

Tips for PITMAD

Write a great tweet. 

Polish it until it shines. It takes quite a bit of skill to reduce your manuscript into a tweet. I asked around in various groups for help with getting mine up to snuff. A tweet to pitch is not the same as an elevator pitch. It’s acceptable to use shortcuts, giving comps to movies, television, and books.

This is one I used.

GEM & DIXIE x Netflix’s ATYPICAL. Nina has a lot on her plate. A twin brother with autism, an almost-boyfriend, and a terminally ill mom who wants to give up cancer treatments. Nina refuses to let her go without a fight. #PITMAD #YA #CON #MH #DIS #ND

The stand alone book I’m querying now follows some of the same characters as in Nina’s story. It could be described as “A teenage ADAM x GEM & DIXIE” but since the movie ADAM may not be well known and isn’t a recent release, I didn’t use that reference. 

Time your tweets.

Space your tweets apart. You can schedule them if you like. I simply spaced mine.

Vary the wording in your tweets.

Twitter doesn’t like it if you post the same tweet, so you have to change it up.

Pin your latest tweet.

Pin your latest tweet to the top of your feed so it is easy to find.

Use appropriate hashtags.

This is how editors and agent find you. Different pitch parties may have different hashtags, so check the organizer’s site.

Connect with other writers.

This is one of the greatest benefits of a twitter party. Try to find a group of writers to support. You can share each others tweets for greater visibility and make new friends in the bargain.

Read all the rules.

Go to the Pitch Wars site (or whoever is organizing the twitter party you want to join) and follow all the rules.

Have fun! 

Tell me about your Twitter party experiences! Comment below.

If you are interested in updates on my work, sign up for my newsletter here.

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Good luck tweeting!

Interview with Hope Bolinger ~YA Author and Literary Agent

This week I was super excited to talk with literary agent and author Hope Bolinger about her recent release, Blaze. 

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From the Back Cover of Blaze

If you can’t stand the heat, don’t walk into the fire.

Danny knew his sophomore year would be stressful . . . but he didn’t expect his school to burn down on the first day. 

To make matters worse (and they were about to get a lot worse), he — and his three best friends — receive an email in their inboxes from the principal of their rival, King’s Academy, offering full-rides to attend the town’s prestigious boarding school. Danny wants nothing to do with King’s Academy and says no. Of course his mother says yes. So off he goes to be bullied and picked on for not being part of the popular and rich “in crowd.” 

From day one at King’s, Danny encounters hazing, mocking insults from girls at the “popular and pretty” table, and cafeteria food that, for such a prestigious school, tastes as if it were purchased from a military surplus supply warehouse. If he survives, Danny will have to overcome his fears of failure, rejection, and loneliness—all while standing strong in his beliefs and walking into the fire.

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DJS: As I read your book, I often found myself chuckling at Danny’s wit. Was it difficult to write humor or did it come naturally? What experiences did you draw on to write humor into your story?

HB: I love humor. I actually started writing as a comedic playwright. If you know me at all, I crack jokes all the time, which does draw many eyerolls from my younger brother as is the tendency of most younger brothers. I think you just have to have a sense of humor to make it through this industry. Certain rejections are simply funny. It’s like publishers are just desperate to come up with a reason not to take on your book. I literally had a publisher say, “There’s nothing wrong with this book. It’s perfect. But we’re not going to publish it.” A lot of awful stuff happened right before I wrote Blaze, and I had two options: to wallow or to poke fun at the ridiculousness of it all. I think all those humorous situations just pent up and turned into Danny.

DJS: Blaze is set in a boarding school, King’s Academy.  What was it about the boarding school culture that drew you to write a story in this setting? 

HB: I wanted to create a modern-day Babylon, and in the original story of Daniel, they basically live in the King’s palace for their education. It just felt like a boarding school. I also wrote it in college, which is basically a boarding school for adults. I think I just had to release some frustrations about the lack of AC in our forty-five year old dorm when the campus kept building such nice things for all the visitors.

DJS: As a writer, it’s easy to become attached to our characters. Can you tell us about one of your characters who tugs on your heartstrings? If you could meet them face to face and tell them one thing, what would it be? 

HB: I love all four of the characters in Blaze. Rayah really tugs hard on my heartstrings because she went through something somewhat similar to me. Throughout the series, we witness the falling out of her parents and how the divorce affects her. Because she’s so shy and timid, she doesn’t often let on how much it affects her. If I could meet her, I’d tell her she’s far stronger, smarter, and more beautiful than she thinks.

DJS: Friendship is a theme in your novel. What advice about friendship do you have for your young readers?

HB: Friendship is so important. Keep your friends as close as possible, and be there for them during the tough times. Friends can help you through the most difficult times of life. If I didn’t have a body of wonderful friends surrounding me during my parents’ divorce, I don’t know what I would’ve done.

DJS: Great advice, Hope. We all need friends to lean on in tough times.

I enjoyed reading Blaze. Thank you so much for spending time with us. Wishing you the best of luck with your novel!

Guys, next month be sure to pop over to Almost an Author for more of my interview with Hope Bolinger when we talk about writing.

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University’s professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer’s Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column “Hope’s Hacks,” tips and tricks to avoid writer’s block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young’s blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.

Facebook: @therosewoman Twitter: @hopebolinger

Instagram: @hopebolinger  Website: hopebolinger.com

 

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What Book Do You Wish You Had Written?

What book do you wish you had written?

I was tagged to answer this recently on Instagram by author @melaniejwalker  as part of the #authorschallenge2019 hosted by @debratorreswrites .

I would love to write a book that had and has the impact of Flowers for Algernon.

Being a precocious reader with older siblings, I read this book when I was very young, sneaking it from my sister’s bookshelf. The story resonated with me and influenced my thinking. It’s one of the books I recommend for all highschoolers to read.

If you haven’t read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, go get a copy! It’s not a long book. I would consider it easy to read, even though all of the topics explored may not always be easy to think about. It’s about a mentally disabled young man who agrees to engage in an experiment to increase his intelligence. His story is told through a series of diary entries.

In my experience, even kids who aren’t into reading all that much seem to connect with this book. The story brings up loads of discussion worthy topics.

Flowers for Algernon always makes me think about the memoir, Switched On, by John Elder Robison, the true story of a person on the autism spectrum who participated in experiments meant to increase emotional intelligence. Switched On tells about his experiences during the procedure and the aftermath. 

I recommend both of these books.

The IG prompt made me consider my own work. I am often intentional about why I write the novels I do and who, in both a general and specific sense, I hope to communicate with.

I guess I could say I have written exactly the book I wished to.

One of my novels is about a family dealing with grief. I wrote it because there was a need. I could not find a novel addressing the issue of impending loss and grief against the backdrop of a family also dealing with autism.

As I spend time in the querying trenches, the ability to see how a particular manuscript fulfilled its intended purpose, at least in part, is a great encouragement to me.

I hope to see all my novels reach the readers who need to hear the stories. I hope to someday soon know hearts are being touched.  

#amquerying

 

 

Sometimes You Need a Story

 

My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.

Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.

When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.

Sometimes you need a story.

I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.

She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.

Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.

Sometimes you need a story.

A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.

It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.

As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.

I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.

Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.

#PitMad, NOLASTARS Spring Retreat, and Announcement

This coming Thursday, March 7th, is #PitMad!

PitMad is an opportunity for unagented authors who have complete novels. Writers pitch your novel in a tweet with appropriate hashtags. Agents search tweets for specific genres and if they like a tweet, the submission process begins.

If you’re on Twitter March 7th, please leave a comment or retweet my tweets to show your support at my twitter donnajostone. Likes are reserved for agents interested in my project.

I will be pitching all three of my finished YA novels. Last month I sent out a few queries for the first book in my series, but shifted gears with the intention of pitching all three at the next PitMad.

It’s a bit unusual to have three completed novels at the same time. The drafts were all finished around the same time primarily because I dictated them while I was waiting to recover from my cipro injury before I started editing. Hiring an editor was not an option for me at the time. My typing isn’t as good as it was before I got sick, but it is passable. Currently, I’m doing my best to reduce a 93,000 word manuscript to 80,000. I’m well on my way and hope to complete the edit before the 7th. It’s a pity I can’t take all those discarded words and put them on another project.

Besides editing, I’ve been writing synopses and working on tweets. Condensing an entire novel into a single tweet can be challenging. You only get 280 characters, including spaces and hashtags. It’s an excellent exercise in being concise.

NOLASTARS/RWA is having a Spring Writing Retreat Saturday, March 9th. Check it out. If you are local and are looking for a group, it’s a great organization. See how friendly we are?

 

 

In other news, this month I begin my new position as the YA columnist over at Almost An Author. Woot! My first Almost An Author post is scheduled to go up on March 21st. I’ll share a link on the home blog right here, so come back and visit, or you can subscribe to get posts in your mailbox, or visit Almost An Author.

Do you have any topics you’d like to see me cover in the blog? Leave your comments below.

Please consider signing up for the blog and/or my newsletter to keep in the know.

How I Ruined Snowflake Plotting

Repost from my old blog. I’ve finished a few books since then and this is still how I plot, more or less.

The Snowflake Method

I am a girl in need of a plan. My book requires a second in the series. I have most of my characters, my theme, setting, and I know the message I want to convey. It’s time to plot the story.

Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method of Plotting always looked interesting. I thought I’d give it a try. My previous approach had been to use massive amounts of note cards and tape them to the walls, shuffling and adding to them periodically. This worked fine, but it seemed a bit random and tedious to me.

Many writers have been helped by plotting with The Snowflake Method. The method has been so popular and worked for so many that now you can buy Snowflake Pro software or his book How To Write A Novel Using The Snowflake Method but he still provides the original article free of charge. (Thank you, Randy Ingermanson!)

From the get go he says to take what you can use and don’t worry about the rest, but something in me wants to follow lists. I want to know the plan.

I have looked at his directions before. I usually got bogged down about halfway through reading and would give up before I started. Since then I have learned that for me, with some projects, I need to just go ahead and jump in. It’s hard because I tend to want all the details ironed out before I commit. If I can’t see the end I don’t like starting down that path.

I got through steps one to four with no trouble. It was fun and easy. Then, when I started on the next step, parts of story began to pop into my head so I started making a list of scenes before they got away. Randy Ingermanson suggests using a spreadsheet for your list of scenes, but I started the list in the same document I was putting everything else in. I didn’t want to forget what I needed to write while trying to figure out a spreadsheet. I was already out of order with the Snowflake Method instructions anyway.

So far I have a decent direction for the story, more than I had when I started writing the first book in my series. This method helped me figure out holes before I started writing the novel, even if I made adjustments to the system early on.

I’m not sure if I will be able to go back and pick up with the rest of The Snowflake Method from where I’m at right now with this book. I will try The Snowflake Method again, though, of that I am sure.

Will my plot work out even though I’m deviating from my originally intended mode? Probably. Would it work better or easier if I follow directions? I don’t know. Did I ruin it? I don’t think so.

Just Write, Create, Jump In

The point is, I am writing my own story. I got a jump start from suggestions and tools, but it’s okay if I take another route. I know I will make it to the end.

Life is like that. Don’t be scared to be a little creative with the format and structure of approaches as long as you stay true to the course. You are not going to ruin it.

It’s your story. You know how to tell it.

Jump in.

P. S. The Paper Snowflake Ballerina

The directions for the snowflake ballerina in the picture can be found at krokotak, but there is no printable template for the skirt. There are pictures. I eyeballed the designs and took a stab at it and it worked fine. You can’t let a little thing like a missing template stop you.

Did this encourage you? Please share it! Have you made adjustments to a plan recently? How did it go? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below.