The best writing advice you’ll ever get.

So here’s the real as the kids say. Strive to be one part Junot Di’az, one part Reggie Watts, one part C. S. Lewis, two parts Kurt Vonnegut

Margarine in a tub

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and a 1/3 of a cup of margarine.

There is no better writing advice that that. Period.


Tag you’re it! Poetry tag for teens!

When I was approached to contribute to this exciting e-book project by the great children’s Poet  Janet Wong and literary taste maker extraordinaire Sylvia Vardell  I jumped at the chance. I had heard of their first project, Poetry Tag Time and thought it an amazingly innovative idea. After I read some of the poems from that first project I knew they were on to something big!

The rules for this poetic game of tag are brilliant in their simplicity:

a poet is tagged
*the poet chooses a photo from the photo library here
*the poet writes a poem inspired by the photo
*the poet must incorporate 3 words from the poem prior to his or her poem to keep the poems connected
*the poet writes a short prose “connection” piece explaining how the poem came to be
*the poet tags another poet
*the game continues

The list of contributing poets for the P*tag (Poetry tag time for teens) reads like a “who’s who” of today’s  best poets for children including current Children’s poet laureate J. Patrick Lewis!!

And the poets are:

Arnold Adoff, Jaime Adoff, Kathi Appelt, Jeannine Atkins, Jen Bryant, Margarita Engle, Betsy Franco, Helen Frost, Lorie Ann Grover, David L. Harrison, Stephanie Hemphill, Sara Holbrook, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Paul B. Janeczko, Michele Krueger, Julie Larios, JonArno Lawson, J. Patrick Lewis, Kimberly Marcus, Heidi Mordhorst, Naomi Shihab Nye, Michael Salinger, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Singer, Sonya Sones, Charles Waters, April Halprin Wayland, Steven Withrow, Allan Wolf, Janet Wong, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Photographs by Sylvia Vardell.

What an honor to be included among all of these wonderful poets!

In addition to this collection being just plain fun to read, this anthology could be  a great jumping off point for teachers to try this concept with their students.

Well, enough of the preamble here’s my poem , enjoy!

Reluctant Reader

(slight return)


You call me


I love to read

but where are

the good books

for me?

Where I live

there are no






They must live on the other side

of town.

I live in the real world

the real America.

You know the one

where folks are all shades

of brown

and mostly don’t have

the green

to spend on all those fancy things


gold-plated stakes


diamond crusted



Your dystopian fantasy

is my forever reality

kissing you on your

metaphorical lips.

Your fingertips have yet

to tell

my story.

*Photo: Flashlight:

This picture brought back memories of those nights of reading under the covers by flashlight. When you were so excited by a book that even darkness couldn’t separate you from the pages. That absolute exhilaration of finding that one great book that was written especially for me. Sparking the larger question of this poem, who are the me’s that “we” are writing for? And why are so many hues and truths left out of the equation?

The three connecting words are:  forever, kissing, you.

YA: Can we look in the mirror?

Mirror ! Mirror! On the Wall !

Image by ihave3kids via Flickr

I think it was only fitting that the great Chris Crutcher would hopefully have the last word in the latest perceived attack on Young Adult literature. As I’ve told Chris on more than one occasion if it wasn’t for him and his groundbreaking books, myself and a whole lot of other authors wouldn’t be able to do what we do. I think I once told him that he took all the heat so the rest of us could curse in our books! You can read his fantastic piece here:   The title of his piece (or the Huff post title) is “Let Teens Choose,” which I think we all can wholeheartedly agree with. But what do Teens have to choose from? This leads me to something that’s been on my mind for quite a while.

Sometime while I wasn’t looking, (or maybe I was just speaking/traveling, writing & raising a small child) YA lit exploded. Going from just “experimental” as my publisher called my first novel “Names Will Never Hurt Me“(2004) to as everyday as apple pie and Vampires. (What?) But I digress . . .

There is a huge YA presence on and in every conceivable social media platform, none more vocal and visible than twitter.  #yalitchat is HUGE to put it mildly and it’s brainchild Georgia McBride has done an absolutely brilliant job in its creation and evolution. really is a one stop site for every possible facet of YA. Check it out here:   I’ve lurked and from time to time tweeted on the weekly chats, they are for the most part high-spirited, positive and respectful discussions on all things YA . Encompassing wide-ranging topics with guest authors, editors, agents and others from the publishing world.

With this explosion and proliferation of YA in every corner of our online world has the YA community, (for lack of a better moniker) lost sight of its objectivity? I have been at times a critic of the #yasaves twitter hashtag which was born in response to the WSJ article. I felt it went from some solid discussions to an all out flogging and I recently made the comparison to “beating a dead horse with a Louisville Slugger.” What struck me the most about the tweets was an apparent lack of self-criticism. Not so much on the individual level, but as a group, en mass it became an us against them mentality. And if one lurks and listens and reads enough tweets throughout the YA landscape, by and large that is the overall impression you come away with. If you’re not with us you’re against us.

Okay, let me get straight to the point. (Finally you say.) There’s a lot of crappy YA books. There I said it. There’s also a lot of crappy adult books, hip hop, pop, rock music,  paintings etc…  Publishing is going through growing pains (or dying pains depending on your POV) and it is a fact that there is less and less “literary” YA being procured by publishers. That being said, there is more and more of the same kinds of books being published. (And this goes across multiple subgenres in YA.) Don’t get me wrong, there are still wonderful YA novels being published, but as traditional publishing continues to reel from the economic downturn, the closure of Brick and Mortar Bookstores and an ever-present and encroaching Ebook world, they are going more and more with what has worked before. Tried and true formulaic writing, series etc…  But what is crap, and what is a wonderful YA novel? Well, yes, crap is in the eye of the beholder as is beauty, but if as the Huff Post title says we are to “let our teens choose,” then we should also be real about what they have to choose from. We can’t just defend YA from all its critics with one big loud 140 character brushstroke— one size fits all response.

Lets remember, YA  is just one cog in a multi- billion dollar publishing industry. Those staring at profit margins really aren’t interested in the salient value of a book or its effect on the teen that reads it. I believe, they could care less if it actually saves anyone, or if they use it as toilet paper. Whether its shoes, widgets or books the principles are the same. If it sells, we do it again, and again and again, ad nauseam . . .

Can YA, as this big community, honestly look itself in the mirror and say, yeah, I could see how a parent could think all YA is dark just by taking a quick glance at the limited displays in bookstores, the limited choices these dying chains have to offer it’s teens and their parents. Weeding great books to feed a machine that ultimately has eaten itself. Can we say, yeah there is a lot of crap out there, whatever crap is, and maybe we should look more critically at those who have the power to buy a manuscript instead of just trying to shine their pedestals in hopes of getting an up close and personal glimpse of the interior of those cracking Ivory Towers.

Ultimately, a book can save a life, I believe that, I’ve seen it. But it can also be a waste of some kid’s hard-earned money that he or she can never get back.

Lets just be sure we talk about that kid too . . . .

If doctors tweeted like writers

U.S. Air Force surgeons Dr. Patrick Miller (le...

Image via Wikipedia

Writers have been sharing a lot of themselves these days, especially on twitter and Facebook. Letting the world know of every monumental key stroke. From word counts to WIP’s, (works in progress) final drafts to starred reviews; plot troubles to sales figures, nothing is off limits. But what if doctors tweeted about their  jobs like writers do?

I’ve scoured  my twitter page for the best of my #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters tweets, and here they are:

Just removed a spleen, an appendix & replaced a hip. #amoperating  #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

Just got a great review from my patient. “I’m alive!” #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

Am 1/2 through a heart transplant just don’t feel inspired anymore. Any suggestions? #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

This Gallbladder surgery really took a turn I was NOT expecting. Hate when that happens. #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

How can I work with that incessant beep, beep, beeping. Arg. *waves arms wildly. #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

Can’t wait for “retractor” chat tomorrow! #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

Just finished the first pass on this colon. *yuck. *holds nose#amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

It’s that 3rd chamber that’s the hardest. #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

On a roll, haven’t lost a patient all week! *winks* #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

I hate it when my hands shake. #amoperating  #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

Sterile, Shmerile.  #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

Really? U give me a Bone file when I clearly asked 4 a Bone lever? Come on. #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

Anyone else ever bring a Rib spreader to Chili’s? #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters   

I let my patients lead me. #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

Whoops! I think that was the WRONG knee. *face getting red*  #amoperating  #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

If only YA could save this guy’s liver.  #amoperating  #ifdocstweetedlikewriters

So glad this kidney transplant is just a WIP. #amoperating #ifdocstweetedlikewriters 

YA saves: Missing the boat

A life preserver, or toroidal throwable person...

Image via Wikipedia

By now most people have read or at least heard about the article in the WSJ, if you  haven’t then you’re not missing much. Just a very poorly written, researched and completely out of touch piece which rehashes the old, tired and false argument that kids reading books with violence, sex, tough issues etc. will be prone to act out these things in real life, or something like that. The article also included a lot of ridiculous examples and opinion thrown in for good measure. As Roger Sutton stated, “Why does the author have to reach back FORTY YEARS to talk about “dark YA” when our last big go-round on the topic was just fifteen years ago?” Just one of many examples that show that this piece was obviously thrown together by someone who had little knowledge of the subject or was just guilty of lazy, bad, journalism, or perhaps really believes the falsehoods she espoused— take your pick.

The response from the twitter  world and those that make up what has been called the “YA community” was swift and exacting. (initially myself included.) Dropping laser guided tweets which exploded loudly over all of twitterdom.  A hashtag was born called #yasaves. Telling of how YA books save lives, along with personal stories of the impact of books for teens. Hey, I’m all for that. I’ve been writing realistic fiction (YA) for over ten years now. Talked to thousands of kids all over the country about these same issues. Heard the stories of abuse, rape, suicide, murder, purposeful neglect, starvation, being sold  by a parent for drug money—sadly the list goes on . . .

Like many other YA authors, I’ve seen first hand the impact that these books can have on a young person’s life.  This is why we write, why we criss-cross the country and speak. Why we do what we do. But this is not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this because I think the response to this ridiculous article in the WSJ is now like dropping a nuclear bomb on an ant. It has been non-stop/over the top.  I think it is wonderful to share passionate stories of how books have helped, healed and saved. But did we really need this article as a lightening rod? Aren’t we giving this horrible piece of journalism a lot more credit than is due? The author of the WSJ article is a very easy target, painting a giant X on her back for all to shoot at but what about the more important targets that no one really seems to want to talk about?

I am probably in the minority on this but I don’t think this lone article will have much effect on Young Adult literature or the ability of those who want to read it, to do so. It is just another uninformed (willful or not) voice thrown out into the vast online ether like many others who shout; “listen to me even though I don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about.”

I don’t think this article sets “us” back, whoever “us” is. I think what sets us back is the lack of YA books with diverse characters being published. Not that they aren’t being written. What sets us back is a publishing industry (with very few exceptions) that is content to stay in the 20th century, or even the 19th century. Whitewashing covers to placate the masses that have moved far beyond those old racially insensitive business models. What sets us back is not promoting books that aren’t seen by the gatekeepers as overtly  “black” with traditional themes.

What sets us back is the lack of outrage over what “we” (whoever we is) should really be getting outraged over. The fact that there are still racial quotas in the soon to be extinct brick and mortar “major” bookstores. I was told once by an editor that one such “major” store wouldn’t be carrying one of my books because they had already bought their allotted books with black characters in it.  #really?

What sets us back is the shameful lack of diversity seen in the winners of the Newbery and  Caldecott Awards. Time after time great books, authors and illustrators are passed over. Why? Where is the hashtag for that?

What sets us back is the shocking lack of racial diversity in editorial staffs, marketing, art directors, executives.  All of this begs the question, who and what is the YA community? And who do they represent? I don’t know. Am I a part of this community? Sometimes I feel I am, sometimes not. I do know they (we) are quite vocal and seem to galvanize over certain big issues. See last year’s #speakloudly hashtag. Last year I raised the same concerns, offering the opinion that while censorship is never good, the worst censorship comes from those who control what is and what isn’t actually published. Those who control what is stocked in the big chain bookstores. Those who decide what faces we see on book covers.

YA can definitely save, but it won’t if diverse books with real world issues don’t get into the hands of those that need them most. Shouldn’t YA have a chance to save everyone?

Not lost, just a little detour . . . Clark Co. Juvenile Detention Center 3-4-2011

March 15, 2011

About a week and a half ago I had the privilege of returning to the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center in Springfield, Ohio. Beth Dixon and the phenomenal staff should be commended. The work they do with these teens day in and day out has to be seen to be believed. It was heartening to see the same magistrate from last year in attendance. (She stayed the entire time.) That is commitment, that is caring, that is love . . . 

This is the 2nd year that I have visited the CCJDC, in what I have now dubbed “The Jayson Porter Project.” This year, the teens not only read “The Death of Jayson Porter” but they also read my first novel “Names Will Never Hurt Me.” It is hard to put into words how incredible this experience was, yes, for the 2nd year in a row. These young people are not lost, they aren’t hopeless, they just took a little detour from which It is my sincere hope they will recover.

My visit went far beyond discussing the words in my books. The books really were just a starting point. We talked about life and decisions and responsibility of both parent and child— adults and society as a whole.
One young man, (who as it turned out scored the highest on the test that was required in order to meet with me) told me that since everyone just expected him to do bad things that’s exactly what he did.
“What if you decided not to meet their expectations?” I asked.
His response, a shrug and a look that said, “man you just don’t understand.” But after another hour, there was something in his eyes that told me he was listening.
Not lost, just a little detour.

Over the course of my two- hour plus visit, that same young man as well as others was engaged in a conversation that could rival some college classroom discussions.
Those who appeared hardened to thinking outside the constructs of their own boxes, had by the end of my visit, at least begun to ask the question; “What if?”
“What if I don’t meet their expectations?” “What if I stand up for what I know is right, even though everyone and everything around me is wrong?”

We had lengthy discussions on the state of our youth, bullying and teen suicide. One young man said, “Kids just don’t care.” Seemingly throwing in the towel on any hope as to curbing the growing epidemic of bullying and teen violence. But towards the end of my visit that same young man, after hearing his peers speak so eloquently on the subject, offering hope and ideas for change, that same young man began to crack a smile. He began to let at least a ray of hopeful sunshine enter his mind. Something was changing inside of him. Maybe there is hope after all? And maybe, I could be a part of it?

That was my message that day, and it was my message the day before at the Teen Summit for Non-violence and Inclusion in Dayton. The agents of change are our youth. It is our teens that will ultimately turn this tide of violence around. Whether they are sitting in a high school classroom or in a detention center. They have the power. Who are teens really going to listen to? (Hint: other teens.)

Our society tells them not to care about any one but ME. That message is cut, copied and pasted into their young minds from the earliest of ages. Consume, buy, don’t worry about anyone else but ME. Unchecked narcissism, I believe is one of the greatest scourges of our culture. (Duh? Charlie Sheen.)
Why should a teen care if another kid is being picked on? Or being called names? Just as long as they leave ME alone. But as one young man at the detention center so powerfully stated; “That could be your cousin, or your brother, or your sister. Would you want that to happen to them?”

Yes, in the bigger picture we are all family even if not by blood relation. And that is the way we need to begin thinking, this is what we need to begin teaching our young people. It’s not too late to change. To turn this ship of tragedy around.

The young men and woman at the Clark County Juvenile Detention center know this. They know that they are the conductors, the ship captains on this voyage. They may be wearing orange jump suites now, but that is only a temporary condition. They have more wisdom and insight than all of our so-called experts and political leaders put together. These teens are our future. They are some of the best and brightest that our society has to offer. Don’t let their current address fool you.

I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for these teens. The positive impact they all will make on our society. We need them now more than ever. We need their voices to be heard on the OUTSIDE. We need their positive actions to be seen, on the OUTSIDE. We need them to guide other teens on the path of promise, the path of productivity, the path of hope, the path of love.

WE need THEM . . .


In case anyone was wondering, I am just re-posting some older blogs that I removed. Some were written months ago, but now they are all back, albeit out of order but they’re back!