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Posts from the ‘debut novels’ Category

4 years of writing, publishing…and life!

path of the thunderbird

4 years, 2 months, and 25 days! That’s how long it’s been since I’ve posted. Bet you thought I’d given up on writing. There were several times when I thought I’d given up on it, too. And then there were the times that I put my nose down and just did the work. So much life has happened. No apologies. No excuses. Just life…and writing…and not writing…and more writing…and publishing…and more writing!

Here are the highlights. In that last four years, I…

  • turned 40 years old!
  • moved to a new house;
  • took six months off from writing to throw myself into volunteering at my sons’ school;
  • stopped writing my freelance column for the newspaper because…
  • signed a book contract for a Middle Grade book;
  • co-wrote that book—Path of the Thunderbird (more on that in a minute);
  • became a published fiction writer;
  • went back to work full-ish time for 18 months, and then cut back to part time because…
  • spent a year touring elementary schools teaching students about writing and about Grand Canyon National Park;
  • was the keynote speaker at a writing conference for students in grades K-5;
  • was a finalist in the Juvenile category of the Colorado Book Award;
  • went into a second printing on the book;
  • earned out my advance!
  • and, dove back into writing—tentatively at first and then with renewed enthusiasm.

That’s the short version of the last four years. About a week ago, I felt this overwhelming urge to start blogging again. No promises on how often, but I missed having this space to write about writing—mine and other people’s. So, here I am!

I’ll publish a longer post about the adventure of writing Path of the Thunderbird from idea to publication and all the steps and missteps along the way. For now, I’ll say two things about it:

  • It was a dream come true for me, and I consider myself even luckier because my co-writer was my mom, Pat Toole. Pat is a tireless researcher, an unmatched plotter, and a prolific writer in her own right. It was the chance of a lifetime to share the experience with her.
  • If you like Middle Grade adventures, love the National Park Service, or both, please consider purchasing a copy of the book. Here’s a link. Lord knows the NPS can use all of our support right now. The publisher of Thunderbird was Grand Canyon Conservancy, the official nonprofit partner of Grand Canyon National Park. GCC raises private funds, operates retail shops within the park, and provides premier guided educational programs about the natural and cultural history of the region. GCC supporters fund projects including trails and historic building preservation, educational programs for the public, and the protection of wildlife and their natural habitat. A portion of the sales of Path of the Thunderbird directly support GCC and Grand Canyon National Park.

That’s it for now. Tune in tomorrow when I launch a writing prompt series I’ve been cooking up. As I’ve jumped back into writing regularly, I look for things to get my synapses firing. After searching for prompts that work for me, I decided to create my own. Then I thought, “Why not share these with other writers.” Happy writing!!

Debut Novels on my list for May/June

It’s that time again.  Time for my list of top five debut novels coming out in May/June.  This month we have a diverse group of books ranging from historical fiction, to fantasy, to a cross-cultural story of immigration and displacement, and finally, a genre-bending graphic novel.  Hopefully you’ll discover something new to add to your reading list this month.  Happy reading and happy writing!

Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani

A lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls’-school rituals, set in the 1930s South.  It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer.

Named a most anticipated book for Summer 2013 by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly

The Blood of Heaven

The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom

One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of talent rarely seen in any novelist, no matter their age.

The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher’s son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.

The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut.

The Oathbreaker's Shadow

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch

In the world of fifteen-year-old Raim, you tie a knot for every promise you make. Break that promise and the knot will burst into flames, scarring your skin and forever marking you as an oathbreaker. Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one seems to know where it came from or which promise it symbolizes, and Raim barely thinks about it at all–especially not since he became the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the day that he binds his life to that of his best friend (and the future king), Khareh, the rope ignites and sears a dark mark into his skin. Scarred now as an oathbreaker, Raim has two options: run or be killed. He chooses to run, taking refuge in the vast desert among a colony of exiled oathbreakers. Will he be able to learn the skills he needs to clear his name? And even if he can, how can he keep a promise he never knew he made in the first place?

We Need New Names

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her–from Zadie Smith to Monica Ali to J.M. Coetzee–while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

NewSchool

New School by Dash Shaw (Note: This is not a debut novel.  Shaw wrote Bottomless Belly Button and BodyWorld.  Just a June release that I’m excited to read.)

In Dash Shaw’s new, full-color original graphic novel, a boy goes to seek his brother on a theme-park island.

In this brand new graphic novel from the acclaimed author of Bottomless Belly Button and BodyWorld, Dash Shaw dramatizes the story of a boy moving to an exotic country and his infatuation with an unfamiliar culture that quickly shifts to disillusionment. A sense of “being different” grows to alienation, until he angrily blames this once-enchanting land for his feelings of isolation. All of this is told through the fantastical eyes of young Danny, a boy growing up in the ’90s fed on dramatic adventure stories like Jurassic Park and X-Men. Danny’s older brother, Luke, travels to a remote island to teach English to the employees of ClockWorld, an ambitious new amusement park that recreates historical events. When Luke doesn’t return after two years, Danny travels to ClockWorld to convince Luke to return to America. But Luke has made a new life, new family, and even a new personality for himself on ClockWorld, rendering him almost unrecognizable to his own brother. Danny comes of age as he explores the island, ClockWorld, and fights to bring his brother home. New School is unlike anything in the history of the comics medium: at once funny and deadly serious, easily readable while wildly artistic, personal and political, familiar and completely new. Full-color illustrations throughout

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Debut Novels on my list for September

It’s that time again.  Time for the list of September debut novels about which I’m excited.  This month we have four stories about war, families and even Hollywood ingenues.  Hopefully you’ll discover something new to add to your reading list this month.  Happy reading and happy writing!

The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets by Kathleen Alcott

Ida grew up with Jackson and James—where there was “I” there was a “J.” She can’t recall a time when she didn’t have them around, whether in their early days camping out in the boys’ room decorated with circus scenes or later drinking on rooftops as teenagers. While the world outside saw them as neighbors and friends, to each other the three formed a family unit—two brothers and a sister—not drawn from blood, but drawn from a deep need to fill a void in their single parent households. Theirs was a relationship of communication without speaking, of understanding without judgment, of intimacy without rules and limits.

But as the three of them mature and emotions become more complex, Ida and Jackson find themselves more than just siblings. When Jackson’s somnambulism produces violent outbursts and James is hospitalized, Ida is paralyzed by the events that threaten to shatter her family and put it beyond her reach. Kathleen Alcott’s striking debut, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, is an emotional, deeply layered love story that explores the dynamics of family when it defies bloodlines and societal conventions.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

“The war tried to kill us in the spring.” So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.

In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.

The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

Yael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.

In a relentlessly energetic voice marked by caustic humor and fierce intelligence, Shani Boianjiu creates a heightened reality that recalls our most celebrated chroniclers of war and the military, while capturing that unique time in a young woman’s life when a single moment can change everything.

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

In 1920, Elsa Emerson, the youngest and blondest of three sisters, is born in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin. Her family owns the Cherry County Playhouse, and more than anything, Elsa relishes appearing onstage, where she soaks up the approval of her father and the embrace of the audience. But when tragedy strikes her family, her acting becomes more than a child¹s game of pretend.

While still in her teens, Elsa marries and flees to Los Angeles. There she is discovered by Irving Green, one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, who refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette and renames her Laura Lamont. Irving becomes Laura’s great love; she becomes an Academy Award­-winning actress—and a genuine movie star. Laura experiences all the glamour and extravagance of the heady pinnacle of stardom in the studio-system era, but ultimately her story is a timeless one of a woman trying to balance career, family, and personal happiness, all while remaining true to herself.

Ambitious and richly imagined, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is as intimate—and as bigger-than-life—as the great films of the golden age of Hollywood. Written with warmth and verve, it confirms Emma Straub’s reputation as one of the most exciting new talents in fiction.
What about you?  Do you know of any September debuts I should add to my list?

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Debut Novels on My List for March

It’s that time again.  Time for my list of top five debut novels coming out in March.  This month we have a diverse group of books ranging from commercial fiction about an art heist, to new fiction by CNN’s chief medical correspondent, to two YA novels and finally, a literary novel about the power and complexity of faith.  Hopefully you’ll discover something new to add to your reading list this month.  Happy reading and happy writing!

The Icon Thief by Alec Nevala-Lee

A controversial masterpiece resurfaces in Budapest. A headless ballerina is found beneath the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. And New York’s Russian mafia is about to collide with the equally ruthless art world….

Maddy Blume, an ambitious young art buyer for a Manhattan hedge fund, is desperate to track down a priceless painting by Marcel Duchamp, the most influential artist of the twentieth century.

The discovery of a woman’s decapitated body thrusts criminal investigator Alan Powell into a search for the same painting, with its enigmatic image of a headless nude.

And a Russian thief and assassin known as the Scythian must steal the painting to save his reputation–and his life.

The murderous race is on. And in the lead is an insidious secret society intent on reclaiming the painting for reasons of its own–and by any means necessary….

Monday Mornings: A Novel by Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Every time surgeons operate, they’re betting their skills are better than the brain tumor, the faulty heart valve, the fractured femur. Sometimes, they’re wrong. At Chelsea General, surgeons answer for bad outcomes at the Morbidity and Mortality conference, known as M & M. This extraordinary peek behind the curtain into what is considered the most secretive meeting in all of medicine is the back drop for the entire book.

Monday Mornings, by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, follows the lives of five surgeons at Chelsea General as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings, often in front of their peers at M & M. It is on Monday mornings that reflection and introspection occurs, usually in private. It is Monday Mornings that provides a unique look at the real method in which surgeons learn – through their mistakes. It is Monday Mornings when, if you’re lucky, you have a chance at redemption.

Starters by Lissa Price

In the future, teens rent their bodies to seniors who want to be young again. One girl discovers her renter plans to do more than party–her body will commit murder, if her mind can’t stop it. Sixteen-year-old Callie lost her parents when the genocide spore wiped out everyone except those who were vaccinated first–the very young and very old. With no grandparents to claim Callie and her little brother, they go on the run, living as squatters, and fighting off unclaimed renegades who would kill for a cookie. Hope comes via Prime Destinations, run by a mysterious figure known only as The Old Man. He hires teens to rent their bodies to seniors, known as enders, who get to be young again. Callie’s neurochip malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her rich renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, even dating Blake, the grandson of a senator. It’s a fairy-tale new life . . . until she uncovers the Body Bank’s horrible plan. . . .

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

In Grace McCleen’s harrowing, powerful debut, she introduces an unforgettable heroine in ten-year-old Judith McPherson, a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith. Persecuted at school for her beliefs and struggling with her distant, devout father at home, young Judith finds solace and connection in a model in miniature of the Promised Land that she has constructed in her room from collected discarded scraps—the Land of Decoration. Where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility and divinity in even the strangest traces left behind. As ominous forces disrupt the peace in her and Father’s modest lives—a strike threatens her father’s factory job, and the taunting at school slips into dangerous territory—Judith makes a miracle in the Land of Decoration that solidifies her blossoming convictions. She is God’s chosen instrument. But the heady consequences of her newfound power are difficult to control and may threaten the very foundations of her world.

With its intensely taut storytelling and crystalline prose, The Land of Decoration is a gripping, psychologically complex story of good and evil, belonging and isolation, which casts new and startling light on how far we’ll go to protect the things we love most.

Where it Began by Ann Redisch Stampler

Gabby Gardiner wakes up in a hospital bed looking like a cautionary ad for drunk driving—and without a single memory of the accident that landed her there. But what she can recall, in frank and sardonic detail, is the year leading up to the crash.

As Gabby describes her transformation from Invisible Girl to Trendy Girl Who Dates Billy Nash (aka Most Desirable Boy Ever), she is left wondering: Why is Billy suddenly distancing himself from her? What do her classmates know that Gabby does not? Who exactly was in the car that night? And why has Gabby been left to take the fall?

As she peels back the layers of her life, Gabby begins to realize that her climb up the status ladder has been as intoxicating as it has been morally complex…and that nothing about her life is what she has imagined it to be.

WWW(W): Writing on the Web this Week about Writing

It’s time for Writing on the Web this Week about Writing.  During your writing breaks, take a few moments to read some of these articles that have been floating around the internet this week.  I hope these articles will fill up your own writing well with new inspiration, and you might just discover a new blog to follow.

I have two things to share by K.M. Weiland this week:

  1. Writer’s Manifesto.  I especially love “Embrace the Ecstasy of Writing.”  So true.    K.M. Weiland is a novelist and a short story writer who blogs at Wordplay and Authors Culture.  Check both of them out for inspiration and tips.
  2. The article Three Character Archetypes in Fiction appeared on K.M. Weiland’s blog, Wordplay.  The post was written by Joe Bunting, a professional ghostwriter and fiction editor.  Bunting presents an interesting argument about using traditional fictional archetypes but layering upon them to make them uniquely your own.  “Shakespeare didn’t settle for archetypes. He recreated them for his own purposes. And so should you.”  Bunting offers up a useful Characterization tutorial at The Write Practice.  It’s packed with practical characterization advice.
  3. I don’t know how it took me so long to find The Bookshelf Muse, but it is one of my new favorite sites.  The site was founded and is written by Angela Ackerman, a Calgary-based writer and Becca Puglisi, a Florida-based writer.  These two women have created the Character Traits Thesaurus.  In my opinion it’s genius. Scroll down the sidebar and find your favorite character trait.  Let’s use “Shy” as an example.  Ackerman and Puglisi will fill you in on the definition, causes of shyness, characters in literature or popular culture who display this trait, negatives, common portrayals of the trait and my favorite – cliches to avoid.  At the end of the entry they offer up some ideas for twists on the traditional shy character.   Try it out with your favorite traits.  While you’re at it, check out the emotion thesaurus and setting thesaurus.
  4. Finally, the Book Pregnant blog was launched this month.  I discovered it just the other day and love the concept.  You can read the first post here.  Debut authors (you know I love debut authors) Sophie Perinot and Lydia Netzer met on Twitter and decided to launch a blog about and for debut authors.  The now have a cadre of 18 authors who contribute to the conversations about selling and nurturing the sales of your first novel.  The format is cheeky – with each entry placed in a category: one of three trimesters, delivery or postpartum.  Each author provides an honest look at the process of winning a book deal and seeing it through to the birth of the book.

Happy writing!

5 Debut Novels on My List for February

It’s time to get your Goodreads accounts pulled up.  Here are five debut novels you’ll want to add to your February “to-read” list.  Enjoy!

A Good American by Alex George

An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.

It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead (“What’s the difference? They’re both new“), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.

Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf.

A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette’s grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors’ story, comes to realize he doesn’t know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James’s family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette’s progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.

Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, A Good American is a novel about being an outsider-in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family. It is a universal story about our search for home.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels. Age level = 8 and up.

The Golden Hour by Margaret Wurtele

In this stunning debut set in the summer of 1944 in Tuscany, Giovanna Bellini, the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat and vineyard owner, has just turned seventeen and is on the cusp of adulthood. War bears down on her peaceful little village after the Italians sign a separate peace with the Allies-transforming the Germans into an occupying army.

But when her brother joins the Resistance, he asks Giovanna to hide a badly wounded fighter who is Jewish. As she nurses him back to health, she falls helplessly in love with the brave and humble Marco, who comes from as ancient and noble an Italian family as she does. They pledge their love, and then must fight a real battle against the Nazis who become more desperate and cruel as the Allies close in on them…

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

Now that he’s married to Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to New York society and all of its luxuries: a Park Avenue apartment, weekends in the Hamptons, bespoke suits. When Paul loses his job, Carter offers him the chance to head the legal team at his hedge fund. Thrilled with his good fortune in the midst of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, Paul accepts the position.

But Paul’s luck is about to shift: a tragic event catapults the Darling family into the media spotlight, a regulatory investigation, and a red-hot scandal with enormous implications for everyone involved. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties lie-will he save himself while betraying his wife and in-laws or protect the family business at all costs?

Cristina Alger’s glittering debut novel interweaves the narratives of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys, and a team of journalists all racing to uncover-or cover up-the truth. With echoes of a fictional Too Big to Fail and the novels of Dominick Dunne, The Darlings offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society-a world seldom seen by outsiders-and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions.

Happy reading and happy writing!

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