Tag Archive | books

Going Home Again

Author Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” But Thomas Wolfe didn’t grow up in Northwest Iowa.

Earlier this week, I traveled back to Sioux Center, Iowa for an author panel and book signing. It’s a place I know well. I grew up on a farm outside of Sioux Center and Hull, and if you’ve read my trilogy, The Dusty Chronicles, these places will probably sound familiar. The main character, Dusty Vermeer, begins to experience supernatural phenomena as she tries to balance out her feelings for her boyfriend and a spirit she’s never met. She goes to Boyden-Hull High School, attends a Reformed Church in town, checks out books at the local libraries, and goes on dates to the local Pizza Ranch and movie theater. The characters all call Northwest Iowa home: Dusty, Mark, Sadie, Kris, Sadie…to them it’s an amazing place to exist.

There are many locations I could have based my series, but Stephen King says one should write what you know. So, there’s a reason I chose to set my first book series in my hometown.

The people.

While I was only in town for a day and a half, I’d never felt more welcome anywhere in my life. I haven’t lived there in 30 years, but the folks are still as warm and friendly as ever. Everywhere I went, I was met with a smile and a “So happy to meet you!” People I had never met were friendly and welcoming. And, many members of my extended family still live there as well as quite a few of my childhood friends. They came out in droves to see me and support my career on Tuesday night.

 

While the whole reason I went back was to be a part of the Dessert with the Authors event at the public library in town, I was also determined to make the most of the short time I had there. I wanted to check out the areas that had influenced me when I was young – the same places that influenced many of the locations in my books. The first place I went was Casey’s Bakery at the mall just off of Main Street. Uncles, aunts, and cousins showed up to see me. As we all had coffee and breakfast together, I heard, “We’re so glad you’re here!” and “You’re far too skinny!” Both comments were good for my ego.

If you’ve read Imprint, you’ll remember a scene between Dusty and Sadie that takes place at Casey’s Bakery. Not only can you get cakes and donuts from there, but they also have traditional Dutch items such as almond patties and windmill cookies. After all, in a community that is primarily Dutch, it just wouldn’t be right without the Dutch baked goods. They also have an area where they serve hot breakfast items and have possibly the best coffee I’ve ever had…and as an author, I’ve had lots of coffee in my lifetime.

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Casey’s Bakery in Sioux Center, Iowa

Later, I went back to the old homestead…the place that inspired Dusty’s farm and where she met Jack, her soulmate.

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Remember that scene with  Dusty and Jack in the hay mow? Well, there you go.

My house still looks pretty much the same. The window in the upper left was my room (the same as Dusty’s) and the upper right was my brother’s growing up. And the doorway and stairwell that leads from the kitchen to the bedrooms upstairs hasn’t changed at all: the same door, the same wood paneling, and the same carpet on the stairs. It brought back a lot of memories of sneaking downstairs as a kid and trying to listen in on conversations between my parents and older brother. As the current owner walked me through the old house, I pointed out corners and rooms where major plots took place throughout the series. It was surreal to be back, walking through a home that had given me so many memories.

Later that day, I had lunch at the Pizza Ranch in Sioux Center. That restaurant and the mall in town all played a part in my trilogy. I didn’t manage to make it to Hull’s Pizza Ranch where Dusty and Mark had their first date, but I’m hoping to make it there during my next visit.

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Mark and Dusty had a date night here. It’s also the same place that Dusty and all of her friends ate after a night at the indoor pool.

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The parking lot where it all went down in book 3. Mark – 1, Austin – 0.

In the early afternoon, a reporter from the Hull Index came to interview me at the Pizza Ranch. To be interviewed by my hometown newspaper was exciting and a bit frightening. The reporter, June, was wonderful and easy to talk to. I just kept telling myself not to let my “awkward” show too much because…well…I’m awkward.

The time finally came for the signing at the Sioux Center Public Library.

It wasn’t the same library where I’d spent hours upon hours as a child. Sadly, the building is long gone due to a fire. But upon walking inside this new library, the feeling was the same. And seeing my book on display as you walk through the front doors…it was a moment I will never forget. After all, the Sioux Center Library was where it all began for me. It’s truly where I discovered my love of books, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

During the event that night, I talked about my publishing journey, my books, and why I write young adult. I even talked about my #beceaseless campaign and how it came about. Friends and family showed up to support me as well as the other authors in attendance. I’m hoping to come back later this year and give a creative writing workshop to local teens. I may need to lure them in with pizza, but then who can say no to pizza?

IMG_20160413_104848It was wonderful being home again. In fact, it even got me wondering if I should move back there one day. Only time will. But I learned something this week. I discovered that you can go home again. Especially if your hometown is anything like mine.

Do You Have a Tribe?

Hanging out with my tribe in Nashville. June, UtopYA2015

Hanging out with my tribe in Nashville.
June, UtopYA2015

When you think of the word “tribe”, you probably think of native people living together in groups, living off the land. But it can also have another meaning. A tribe can be those with like minds and similar interests that support one another, and in my world it’s a community of authors, bloggers, and other bookish types with like goals that aspire to lift as they climb. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Everyone needs a tribe. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, PTSD survivor, recovering alcoholic – we all need people in our lives who make us strive to be more…do more. For many years, I kept to myself believing that I didn’t need anyone. I’d been burned by friends in the past and decided that it was better to be alone than deal with the heartbreak that others can bring you. For years, I floated in a sea of anonymity, content to live out my life struggling to figure out the book world on my own. I was stubborn like that. I liked my bubble – my space.

At least I thought I did.

Two years ago, I staggered into my very first book convention, UtopYA in Nashville, TN. I was anxious and did my best to blend in all while trying to be invisible at the same time. Trust me…that’s not an easy task. I desperately wanted to be a part of that world, learn from those who came before me, hang out with like-minded creative types while at the same time not draw attention to myself. I mean, these people could have cared less about a new face, right? And some of those people were intimidating as heck, each rock stars in their own right. NY Times bestselling authors, bloggers, super fans…I felt as if I was out of my league.

But they didn’t allow me to feel that way for long. Over the course of the past few years, these people…my people…took me in and made me feel welcome. They encouraged me, gave me advice, and showed me that it was okay to need people. And over time, I began to show other the same thing. My people lift as they climb. They are my tribe. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

So, if you don’t have a tribe…find one.
If you can’t find one…create one.
You are special and belong somewhere. Don’t forget that.

Lift as you climb. The mantra of my tribe.

Lift as you climb. The mantra of my tribe.

Hear the Crickets Teaser Trailer

Hey everyone! And a happy 4th of July weekend to all of my US readers!

I have a little surprise for you. I have finally set my release date for my upcoming supernatural fantasy, Hear the Crickets.

So, in celebration, here is a teaser trailer to wet your whistle.

Stay tuned over the next 4 months for other announcements, teasers, and fun stuff.

Now, without further adieu, I present to you…Hear the Crickets.

Are you listening?

Hear the Crickets Teaser Trailer.

Why I Write

Many people are under the impression that authors write because they want to be famous. This is true in some cases. However, that isn’t always the case. Some do it to supplement their income. Others do it just for the joy of writing. Many do it because they feel they have something to share. For me, the reason I write is personal.

Growing up, I was told I could do anything I set my mind to. But each time I made a decision on what kind of career to pursue, someone in my life told me why I shouldn’t.

“You can’t go to school for journalism. No daughter of mine is going to be a filthy liar for a living.”

“I think becoming a radio D.J. is a bad idea. There’s no future in it.”

“You’ll join the military over my dead body.”

“You want to go to school to study literature? There’s no money in that. You need to be more realistic in your goals. Dreams don’t pay the bills.”

You get the point.

So, for years I went along with all of it and did what was expected of me. I went back to college and earned a degree in business. Any love of writing that I had left in me went dormant. I went about raising my daughters and going through my 9 to 5 days as if nothing was amiss.

And then in 2009, something happened that changed my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the start of something amazing. Something big. Humongous.

I lost my job.

Yep.

So there I was. No job and no way to help support my family. I tried to find a new job, but it was tough out there. I became withdrawn thinking I had disappointed my children and my husband. I cried almost daily and couldn’t get out bed. But after a few months, I discovered something that consistently seemed to cheer me up.

At the time, the Harry Potter movies (at least the ones I owned up to that point on DVD) played 24/7 in my bedroom. I watched them over and over – and over and over and over. They made me smile. They gave me hope. And they gave me an idea.

I pulled out my husband’s old laptop and just began to type. I’m not sure where the words came from, or the story for that matter, but they started to flow nonetheless. It began to develop into a narrative about a girl who discovered an ancient secret that was handed down from mother to daughter. Her newfound powers were to be used to save the world and her family. And since my oldest daughter’s birthday was coming up, I decided that I would finish it and give to her as a birthday gift.

When I finished, I thought the story was brilliant.

Looking back, the story was crap.

But I wrote it. I wrote every single word. I poured my heart and soul into the story, and in the end I dusted away any of the cobwebs that had gathered in my brain throughout the years. My juices began to flow and I wrote another book. Then another, and another, and another.

And then those same people who discouraged my dreams early in life came back and said all the same things.

“You can’t make any money writing books.”

“So after you write this book and get it out of your system, are you going to quit writing and get a real job?”

“Don’t you think your time would be better served cleaning your messy house than writing books? It’s not like you’ll ever be famous.”

But this time, I didn’t listen. I smiled politely and walked away.

Why did I continue to write? It wasn’t necessarily to become famous, or make a lot of money, or even to get noticed – although those are all nice goals.

It was because I’m not just an author. I’m also a mother to three amazing young ladies. They look to me for guidance in life – a role model to show them how life should be lived. And what kind of role model would I be if I gave up on my dream?

“Don’t do as I do. Do as I say.” I heard it a lot growing up – almost daily. But as the years passed, I realized that it was some of the worst advice anyone could have ever given me. Actions speak far louder than words. My daughters look to me to learn how to deal with life’s situations through my actions and reactions. Because – come on – let’s get real. How often do our kids really hear what we have to say?

I write because I want to show them that following your dreams isn’t folly. It’s important. It’s the dreamers in this world that have given us movies, books, music, television shows, new medicines, prosthetics, art, and a whole slew of other things that are important in this life. Einstein was a dreamer as was Edgar Allen Poe. They all dreamed of giving the world something we’d never seen before. Where would we be if they had given up?

My 2 oldest daughters

My 2 oldest daughters

My daughters need to know that failure happens. People fail every day. But if you get up each time, dust yourself off, and keep moving you haven’t truly failed. The only time you really fail is if you stop trying.

I have one daughter who dreams of one day working in TV, film, or Broadway as a make-up artist. I have another daughter who wants to become a pastry chef. Neither of these are “practical” goals. Some might even say they’re unrealistic or impractical. But why should that stop them from following their dreams?

My youngest daughter

My youngest daughter

So I continue to write – push ahead – improve my craft in an effort to make my children proud and show them how to succeed in life through example. I don’t need to be famous. I don’t need to make a million dollars. I only need to show them my resolve, and then maybe…just maybe…one day I can show them how that hard work pays off.

I am Not a Bestselling Author – But I am a Success

Far too often, people consistently look back at their lives and focus on the wrong things. They dwell on abuse, financial pitfalls, break-ups, or just the unfairness of life in general. I know. I’ve gotten hung up on every single one of those things myself. But over the years, I learned a valuable lesson. And I’d like to share that with you here.

My entire life has been one wrong move after another. In my early years, I made a lot of wrong turns and tended to be rash when making decisions. As I grew older, I tried to rectify that, but it seemed that bad luck just seemed to follow me no matter how hard I tried.

I was beginning to think I was cursed.

But then something happened. Something wonderfully – awful. And it changed my life.

I got fired from a job I hated.

Yep. I got fired.

At the time, I was thrilled (I really, really hated working there) and simultaneously thought it was the end of the world – that I was an incredible failure and had let my family down. Here, I was a smart, intelligent, well-educated woman whom – for the next 9 months – was unemployed and couldn’t find a job to save her life. And to top it off, my husband was having a difficult time acclimating to civilian life again after a deployment and was suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. His work prospects weren’t great, and he took a graveyard job cleaning up parking lots.

Paying the bills became difficult. At one point, we went 4 months without hot water. Taking showers became a whole new kind of adventure. I boiled water every night so the kids could bathe. A friend paid our past due electric bill so our lights wouldn’t go out. We tried our hardest to make things as transparent for our children as we could, but it wasn’t easy.

It was one of the lowest points of our lives.

With only days to spare and on the verge of having to live in our mini-van, we managed to move out of the rental home we loved and into a cramped apartment we hated with neighbors who were the epitome of awful. We ended having my husband’s GTO repossessed and nearly filed for bankruptcy.

I became withdrawn and stopped hanging out with people I cared about. I kept myself secluded, not wanting people to realize how bad it had become. I kept my friends and family away so they didn’t see what a failure I was.

Now, look. I’m not trying to get you to feel sorry for me. Quite the opposite actually. Just bear with me.

It was during this very bleak time in my life that I rediscovered my love of writing. I used to write all the time when I was younger. Poems, short stories. I used to love the release it gave me from whatever thing I was going through at the time. It was like my own, personal therapy. And since money was extremely tight, and my oldest daughter’s 15th birthday approaching, I decided to give her something different that year.

I wrote her a book.

I called it “Schuyler and the Saga of the Sages”. It was a medieval fantasy about a girl who realized she had magical powers that had been handed down through the women in her family. I loved it when I wrote it. Looking back at it…it was god-awful. But writing that story – spending all my free time on allowing the words and characters to flow from my head onto the pages on that hand-me-down laptop – it gave me a sense of purpose. Like something had been missing from my life. It had taken those cobwebs in my brain and dusted them away.

I was hooked.

I needed to keep writing.

After 9 months, I managed to find a temp job in a call center. I was told that I was over-qualified, but I didn’t care. We needed the money, and I was willing to work as hard as I could to be the best phone representative I could be.

During this time, I came up with the idea of Dusty and Jack and quickly began developing their story in my head. I spent my lunches and evenings (after the kids went to bed) working on “Haunting”. I quickly realized that I was on to something and couldn’t get the story out on paper fast enough.

Once it was done, I revised it, edited it, and revised it again. It was a never-ending process while I tried to make the story as close to perfect as I could. My husband deployed again. He was off to serve his country, and I was left to raise 3 girls on my own. It made finding time to get any writing done difficult, but I always managed to find time.

Then one day while browsing the Internet, I discovered a contest called “Reader’s Favorite”. I could submit my manuscript, even though I wasn’t published, and have it critiqued and judged. I knew I wouldn’t win – after all – I was a nobody. But, I thought that I could use the critique to develop my writing. So, I went through “Haunting” one more time, made sure it was perfect, and submitted it before the deadline.

And then I forgot all about it.

I went about my days working 40 hours a week and taking care of my daughters’ needs. I was hired permanently at the call center and was promoted to supervisor in less than a year. That was when I began outlining the sequel to Dusty and Jack’s story.

And then I received an email stating that I was a finalist in the “Readers Favorite” awards.

Whaaaa???!!!!!

I freaked. I thought, no way! That’s not even remotely possible.

And then I calmed down. Just the fact that I was a finalist gave me confidence that maybe – just maybe – I could do this. Maybe I could do this writing thing on the side and make something of it.

And then the day came to announce the winners.

My finger moved down the computer screen until I got to my category. There were gold, silver and bronze medal and 2 honorable mentions. When I saw my book and my name in the silver medal spot, I thought I was hallucinating. My body went numb. And I began to cry.

My silver medal

My silver medal

The past few years had been difficult. We had struggled financially – nearly hitting rock bottom. And it almost destroyed us. But we kept pushing forward. And here I just won 2nd place in a competition where the other 4 finalists were already published. My self-confidence shot up. And for the first time in years, I felt invincible.

That was in 2011.

In 2012, I was offered a publishing contract by a small, indie press and the rest was history.

Author, BJ Sheldon, and The Dusty Chronicles

Author, BJ Sheldon, and The Dusty Chronicles

Now, in 2015, I’m preparing to publish the final book in The Dusty Chronicles trilogy – the final chapter of Dusty and Jack’s romance. And I’ve also been working on a brand new stand-alone novel involving fallen angels.

Here’s where I try to make my point.

I’m not well-known. I’m not a famous writer. I’m not a New York Times bestselling author.

But I am a success.

How, you ask?

Because I am able to look back at all the bad times and see how far I’ve come. I don’t dwell on the past – I use it to me stronger. I use all of the shame and embarrassment as a learning experience – a way to inspire myself and others when it feels as though things can’t get any better.

Getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me. If that hadn’t happened, I never would have started writing again, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I followed my dreams, and they led me here.

I’m a success. It has nothing to do with money. It has nothing to do with fame. It’s because I am able to do something I love – something I’m passionate about – and it makes me happy.

And even though I’m not a bestselling author, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future.

Tell yourself you can. Then do it.

Tell yourself you can.
Then do it.

So, no matter what’s happened to you, I’m here to tell you that anything is possible. Don’t let your mistakes dictate your future. You are more than your past.

You are a success just waiting to happen.

YA is Everywhere

What books have you read lately? What movies have you seen? Unless you’ve been holed up in a cellar for the past year, there’s a good chance that you ran across a Young Adult novel in one form or another.

  1. Mockingjay, Part 1
  2. If I Stay
  3. The Maze Runner
  4. Divergent
  5. The Fault in Our Stars

What made all of these books such successful movies?

Was it the plot? Was it the characters?

What about “Pretty Little Liars”, “The Lying Game”, and “The Carrie Diaries”? All YA novels that were turned into TV shows.

Whether it’s through books, movies, television, or even just walking down the street behind a bunch of giggling teenage girls, you’re exposed to YA on an almost daily basis. The Young Adult genre isn’t just about teenagers who are coming of age. It’s about the journey they take to find themselves and the people who help them get there.

For me, my love of reading started at an early age. Between the ages of 4 and 11, I read everything I could get my hands on. But soon after that, I discovered the teen section at my public library. And over the next few years, I made my way down the row, reading nearly every book on the shelf. The characters inspired me to find myself – to dig deep and discover qualities within me that even I didn’t know existed.

One of my favorite things about writing YA novels is placing my characters in difficult or dangerous situations and watching how they grow and succeed in spite of it all. No one knows how they’ll react when a life threatening event occurs, and neither do my characters. But when faced with danger, they can find an inner strength to drive them forward. It may be a work of fiction, but sometimes we pick up a book or watch a movie where the characters are a reflection of who we truly want to be.

There are still many people who feel that YA books are below them and that they aren’t literary quality type reads. But I have to disagree. While “The Hunger Games” isn’t Jane Eyre, its dystopian storyline and strong, somewhat vulnerable protagonist, speaks to anyone who has ever gone through a difficult time and has come out changed on the other side. “The Fault in Our Stars” and “If I Stay” makes us question our own mortality while “The Carrie Diaries” shows how perseverance and lots of hard work can lead to realizing your dreams.

So, the next time you head out to the movies, pick up a book, or turn on the TV, check out the Young Adult titles. They may just inspire you to look inside yourself.

Is New Adult Fiction the New Teen Trend?

What will be big with teen readers in the coming months is something that all young adult, or YA, authors think about on a regular basis. What will be the new trend? What will be hot? What will teens be drawn to next? And most of all…what will sell?

A recent article by CNN delves into possible future trends that could catch teen readers’ attentions next. Books with plots that contain current issues like terminal illness are projected to be huge thanks to authors such as John Green. And while paranormal and dystopian books are still popular, themes like mystery, horror, fantasy, and anything having to do with zombies are all on the rise.

But the one thing I took away from this article was its take on the New Adult genre. The article explained that the latest trend with teens is New Adult, or NA as it is commonly called, which contains much sexier, and typically more adult storylines. The main characters are generally college age and involve steamier scenes which are attracting younger readers. This shouldn’t be surprising since it seems that more R-rated movies are being targeted at teen audiences than ever before.

There seems to be a bit of irony involved in this trend. I know that when I’m writing my YA books, my target audience is aimed at teens. I try to incorporate issues and topics that appeal to a teen reader. But I know for a fact that many of my fans and readers are adults. And now there are many NA books that are written for adults that are attracting a growing teen audience.

So, what is a young adult author to do? Do we incorporate sex or hotter storylines in our books to attract those teen readers who are reading NA? Do we delve into darker and more adult topics to find a wider audience?

I don’t think there is any need to compete with NA. Nor should we. NA has a place in modern literature and their authors have earned a place on our bookshelves. But to paraphrase “Field of Dreams”…If you write it, they will come.

There is enough angst involved during the teen years to fill the literary needs of young adults – first love, bullying, eating disorders, peer pressure, rumors, and hundreds of other pertinent topics that affect high schoolers every day – without having to compete with more adult fare. And the fact that adults are reading YA shows that there is an ever-expanding interest in what makes YA truly great. It’s not about the romance – it’s about discovering who you really are and who you are destined to become.

What do you think? Check out the article below and tell me your thoughts.

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/10/14/living/young-adult-trends-diversity/index.html?c&page=0