Monday, January 25, 2010

We have a winner!

And the winner of Stephanie Morrill's new YA book, Out With the In Crowd, is...

Lizzie Boyd!

Congratulations, Lizzie. Please email me at robing8300 at with your mailing address, and I'll forward it to Stephanie so she can send you the book.

And if you missed the fun interview and all the information about Stephanie's book, you can catch it right here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

YA Author Stephanie Morrill: Interview PLUS a chance to win her new book!

Today we not only have a fun interview with YA author Stephanie Morrill, but also a chance to win a copy of her new book, Out With the In Crowd. Leave a comment on this post if you would like to be entered in the drawing. (See details and boring legalese at the end.)

Stephanie Morrill is a twentysomething living in Kansas with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their daughter. She’s the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and loves writing for teens because her high school years greatly impacted her adult life. That, and it's an excuse to keep playing her music really, really loud.

Of course, the first question has to be--tell us about your new book!

Out with the In Crowd is the second book in The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series. In the first book, Me, Just Different, 17-year-old Skylar got herself into a bad scrape at a summer party and decided she wanted to change her lifestyle. Where Out with the In Crowd picks up, Skylar discovers while she may have vowed to change her partying ways, it's not so easy to change her friends. Even though the old Skylar is gone, she's still not sure who this new Skylar really is. Add to that two parents battling for her loyalty, a younger sister struggling with a crisis pregnancy, and a new boyfriend wishing for more of her time, and Skylar feels like she can't win.

What about your other writing? Have you published other YA novels? Adult novels?

The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series is the only one I have released at the moment. There’s a third book, So Over It, releasing in July.

Recently I’ve played around with the idea of writing a novel for adults, but it’s very different from writing for teens and doesn’t feel quite so natural to me.

Why do you write YA?

Because those are the only story ideas I consistently have. Seriously, that’s how I knew it’s what I should write. I’m so thankful that I do. I’ve never written for adults so I don’t know what the reader e-mails look like, but I love the energy in the ones I receive from the girls. And I think receiving those letters makes me a better writer. I’m able to see what in the story connected most with them.

What YA books do you like to read, or would you recommend?

My favorite in the Christian market is Jenny B. Jones, both her Katie Parker and Charmed Life series are fun, fabulous reads.

In the general market, I really enjoy Sarah Dessen. She writes quiet, soulful types of books that really stick with you.

What about us older folks? Are there YA books you think we should be reading, regardless of our age?

I read This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen the summer I got married, and I probably enjoyed it even more than I would have as a teenager. The main character has some serious control issues, same as me, so she was a character I really connected with. I also enjoyed a lot of the subtle messages about the value of relationships, particularly ones that might not last forever. Good stuff for anyone, I felt.

The other obvious one that I should mention is Twilight. I hardly meet a woman these days who hasn’t read those books or seen the movies, and most of them love them just as much as the teens I talk to. (Not as many Jacob fans in the older set, though.)

And what about writing for young adults? For those of us who would like to do just that, do we need to be young, ourselves? (If so, I'm in trouble!) Hang out with young folks? What's the biggest requirement in becoming a good YA writer?

Wow, big question. First I’ll tackle the age issue. I’m young, I’m 26. I graduated in 2001. But even with how short of a time I’ve been out of high school, SO much has changed. Like nobody texted. If you were really cool, you had a camera on your phone. If you were normal, the screen on your phone wasn’t even color. Nobody was on Facebook or MySpace. If YouTube existed, I hadn’t heard of it. So even for someone as young as I am, I can’t fully rely on my high school experiences. The emotions are the same, of course. But we didn’t worry that someone who didn’t get invited to our birthday party would see the pictures on another guest’s Facebook page, you know?

Hanging out with teens is a good idea. My husband and I work twice a month in the toddler class at church, and we always have middle and high school volunteers. I try to get as invested in their lives as I can. If you have time, volunteering for youth ministry is a great way to go. It doesn’t work for me right now, so I settle for the volunteers in the toddler room, and eavesdropping on conversations at the mall or movie theater.

The other big suggestion I have is staying in touch with teen media. Watch movies geared toward them, watch TV shows they like, read the books in the teen section. Study the dialogue in those things, and that can go a long way toward strengthening your own writing.

What do you think teens are looking for most in their reading material? What turns them off?

Same thing adults are—something real, something that connects with who they are. And they’re turned off by the flip of that. Situations and dialogue that reads fake or preachy, and characters they don’t like.

I always have to ask writers these questions. How long have you been writing fiction, and how did you first get published?

I wrote my first (and suckiest) novel at age 17, so I’ve been writing novels for almost ten years now. I got published through trial and error, and learning from my mistakes. Like when I wrote my first novel, I just printed off all 90 single-spaced pages and started sending them to publishing houses. I slowly learned about concepts like unsolicited manuscripts, query letters, literary agents, and book proposals. I met my first agent at a writer’s conference, which is something I totally recommend. Once I signed with her, everything happened within a couple months. It doesn’t always work that fast, in fact I’d say it rarely does. I received my first contract about 8 years after I wrote that first book.

Anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

The first chapters of both Me, Just Different and Out with the In Crowd are available for download on my web site, Definitely take advantage and read those before you buy the books!\

And now for the best part! Stephanie is providing an autographed copy of Out With the In Crowd for one lucky reader. Just leave a comment on this post (and be sure I know how to contact you if you win) by the end of this week, January 24, if you'd like to be entered in the drawing. I promised you boring legalese and here it is: No purchase necessary to enter or win. You must be a legal resident of the U.S. to enter. Odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

But It's Not Fair!

This past Sunday, my pastor started his sermon by reading us the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). I'm very familiar with the story, but a funny thing happened this time around. As we were reading, I thought of it in a totally different way--a way that's very applicable to my state of mind of late. And then the pastor gave the same application in his sermon that I was thinking!

To refresh your memory, the parable is about a man who starts in the morning employing workers for his field. They agree on a day's wages and everyone is happy. But then in the afternoon, he employs some more folks and at the end of the day, pays them the same as the poor slobs who've been slaving away all day. So the first workers, who started out happy and thinking how generous their master was, degenerated into grumbling and complaining and feeling sorry for themselves. The master pointed out that they had been happy until they compared themselves to others. That he had given them a good deal, and that they shouldn't complain just because he wanted to be generous to the late-comers.

Of course, Jesus applies this to the Kingdom of Heaven. He demonstrates that all of us reach the Kingdom through his generosity, and that if someone accepts his gift at the end of their lives or late in the day, they'll attain it just the same as those who have been serving Him their whole lives.

That's the way I've always thought of that parable. The sermons I've heard about it took that approach.

But last Sunday, as I read, I thought about my grumbling and complaining about my so-called writing career. After writing and trying to publish for over 30 years, I have a hard time hearing about others who manage it almost immediately. (Lately I'm even jealous of people who have ONLY been at it for 10 or 15 years!)

I admit it, my attitude is lousy. I don't necessarily get jealous of people with nicer cars or houses or better-paying jobs. But show me a newbie writer with a publishing contract and I go into instant whining mode.

Even worse, some of those newbie folks write a lot better than I do! Talk about adding insult to injury. Why is it taking me so long to accomplish what they've picked up with hardly any work at all? (Add whimper here.)

Picture my surprise when the pastor made the same application to this story, pointing out our tendency to look at others' lives and rewards and engage in a pity party, rather than being grateful for God's generosity.

The parable doesn't explain why some folks have to work longer than others for the same reward. It just focuses on how generous the master was to EVERYONE that he employed, without exception.

My pastor urged us to make a fresh start in 2010. I'm game. Do I have any company out there? (Although come to think of it, most of you previously-unpublished writers who have been reading my blog over the months now have publishing contracts. But I love you anyway. You just might want to invest in earplugs to dampen the sound of the whining.)