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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1559

Our most recent subject here at the Class of 2k13 has been “what I’ve learned from teens.” But in all truth, I’ve probably learned more about the teenagers of Elizabethan England than I have about modern teens… even though I know several extraordinary young adults and am meeting more every day.

However, the teenagers in my debut, MAID OF SECRETS, are, well… teenagers in 1559. Which brings with it a whole different host of concerns than those faced by most of today’s young adults. Not more challenging concerns, necessarily, but different ones.

So, what did teens stress about in 1559?

1. Staying Alive

Staying alive was a bigger concern for the youth of Elizabethan England than it is for many contemporary young adults in the US. First, there was the Plague. It’s never good to have a capitalized disease associated with your era. Then, there were the lesser evils of a complete lack of sanitary water (no one drank water with meals… it was wine or ale), and somewhat questionable (at least by our modern standards) levels of personal hygiene. If you were not a member of the merchant class or higher, there was also the ever-present concern of starvation. Life sort of sucked for teen Elizabethans.

2. (Not) Getting Married

In 2013, the average age at marriage in the US is currently 26.8 years for men, and 25.1 years for women. In 1559, it wasn’t so much different. Most individuals not of the nobility did in fact wait until their mid-20s to marry. If you were noble, however, you were not so lucky: arranged marriages were the best way to assure the continuation of your family line, and so teens often found themselves promised in matrimony well before they’d even given much thought to a spouse and kids. Courtship in Elizabethan England was also fairly strict: so the more noble you were, the less likely you were to truly know your future spouse before you walked down the aisle

3. Following the Rules

As for many modern teens, following the rules wasn’t a favorite past-time for Elizabethan teens, but the repercussions then were a bit more strict than they are today. If you were part of the nobility, the most frequent crimes you could be accused of included: High Treason, Blasphemy, Sedition (fomenting disorder against the Queen…never a good idea), Spying, Rebellion, Murder, Witchcraft or… Alchemy.

(and yes, that last crime is totally going to be appearing in a future MAID book.. Actually, quite a few of these crimes make an appearance, if all goes well…)

If you were a commoner, you were more likely to get accused of:  Thievery, begging, poaching, adultery, being in debt, forgery, fraud, or… cheating at dice.  And while yes, most of the lawbreakers were older than your typical teen, the rules still applied to anyone old enough to actually understand the law.

Even worse, you didn’t have to do anything particularly “wrong” to run afoul of the law in 1559: just traveling without the proper license or acting in a public place could get you in trouble.

And if you did break a rule and get caught, life was not good.

Crime was taken very seriously in Elizabethan England. If you stole anything over 5 pence… you could be hanged. If you begged… you were stoned mercilessly until you reached the outskirts of town. If you were a habitual beggar… you could be imprisoned or hung.  If your crime was particularly egregious, you would be hung “partway” and then drawn and quartered (no one wants this).  Other popular forms of punishment included: burning, whipping, branding, pressing (don’t ask), being stretched on a wheel or a rack, being boiled in oil, being maimed, or being forced to wear excruciating devices intended to cause extreme discomfort.

Not awesome.

If you were a member of the nobility, of course, your fate was generally better—punishment for your crimes was either beheading or a slap on the wrist. Sure, that beheading concept was kind of final; but if you could escape that treatment, you would make out okay.

But either way, it paid to walk the straight and narrow.

All of that to say… the next time you are really steamed about how rotten life is, just tip your hat to our intrepid teens of the 1500s. Chances are, they had it worse.

Help Out the Little Guy


One of the things I always focus in on during movies are the bystanders.  You know, the people fleeing for their lives during the climactic battles at the end of the movie?  They aren’t the main characters, and the cameras rarely focus on them for more than a “that woman is about to be crushed by a car” second.  Even though the story isn’t about them I always wonder how they feel.  Are Gothamers thinking “I really need to move to a safer city,” as yet another criminally insane fool sweeps into town?  Do New Yorkers wonder to themselves “Why does the Apocalypse ALWAYS have to start here?” as they flee the impending meteor?  I mean, how does the little guy feel?

And do we even really care?

I’ve been pondering that question a lot this week.  My book probably won’t be in Barnes and Noble when it comes out next week (inside story on that here).  For a debut author like myself, discovery usually happens when the book is on the shelf.  Eye catching cover and intriguing synopsis sell a book for a debut author, not name recognition.

With that out of the question (with the exception of indies, which are AMAZING and I highly suggest you use), the chances of anyone hearing/seeing my book is slim.  Same as a ton of other S&S titles.  But this happens to authors all the time.  So I came up with a short list of things you can do to support debut authors, or any author:

1. Tell people about the book.  Seriously. Word of mouth is the most powerful tool ever.  Leave reviews, tell friends, buy the book as a gift.  The only thing you need to do to support an author is tell everyone how much you liked the book.

That’s it.  Just number one.  It’s that easy.

Much easier than saving the world.

Changing the World

The biggest thing I remember about being a kid was that I never really liked being thought of or referred to as a “kid” … because this usually meant being talked down to, being told to leave the room, or being told to wait.

Being told to wait was usually a hassle, but sometimes it really, really got to me. This happened mostly when I had just learned to care about something or I was upset by an injustice. When this happened I found I was almost always told to wait… usually accompanied by some sort of phrase about “when I was older.”

For example, I remember vividly once having just read a book where the protagonist was struggling to survive in a country where a genocide was going on. I was really upset about it and wanted to know what I could do about it. I was told, “Well, honey, when you grow up you can join the UN or some other organization and really make a difference.”

And that bothered me. Not the idea that I would grow up and join the United Nations… but the idea that there was nothing I could do now made me feel useless. My favorite nonfiction book at the time quickly became “100 things you can do to save the planet.” I would read it compulsively, finding ways I could make a difference in the world. Even now, I still cut my 6-pack-soda rings into tiny pieces so I don’t choke the sea turtles.

So, when I finally did grow up (and didn’t join the UN after all), it mattered to me to write fiction for kids like me: kids that wanted to know about injustices, but that wanted to do something about them too. That’s why, if you head over to my website, or read the author’s note at the end of GOLDEN BOY, you’ll see a whole bunch of things kids can do to change the world around them.

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The Horrific Teen Years

My own children, age 5 and 3, are still a good distance away from their teen years. Despite the pains of potty training and runny noses and having to retie shoes ten times a day, I already know that these are the golden years, the times that I will look back at in a decades time and wonder, “Where did those sweet babies go?”

I know this, because I have already watched adorable children turn into teenage monsters.

I am the second oldest of five children – all of us girls. My older sister and I are close in age – just a little over a year apart. But my next sister is three years younger than me, the fourth in line is five years younger, and the baby of the family was born nine years after me.

Growing up, the whole family referred to the three youngest as, “the little ones.” The name stuck for a long time – even as they got older and not so little. When I left for college, I still thought of my baby sister as an actual baby – even though she was almost a pre-teen.

So I was shocked when I started getting reports from my mother about the ‘little ones’ and the trouble they were getting into. My older sister and I had been pretty tame teenagers (ie: nerds) and didn’t get into a whole lot of trouble. The little ones, though, were a whole different story. My mom struggled to deal with them, to help them get through those terrible teen years, while I watched from the safe distance of my college life and wondered what had happened to the sweet little sisters that I used to have tea parties with after school.

In ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, the idea that sweet children become unrecognizable monsters with sometimes shocking wishes and desires is a big part of the story. I liked asking the question: How do you know this stranger in your child’s body and how do you love them?

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Sex, Drugs & Bad Words in NOT A DROP TO DRINK (Hint – There’s only one)

As a YA librarian serving a building with 7th graders through seniors, I’m often looking for a good way to assess age appropriateness for new titles. I put together this little video to help librarians, booksellers and parents figure out if NOT A DROP TO DRINK is a good title for them!

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What I’ve Learned from Teens

While there are exceptions to every rule, my experience with teens has taught me about:

  • Honesty
    Teens tell it like it is. My kids and students have no problem pointing out my fashion faux pas and rolling their eyes if they think my vocabulary is out of date. On the other hand, some of the most amazing insights about human behavior have come from a teen’s off-handed observation. So when I’m writing, I don’t try to be a wannabe teen. And I don’t try to channel my 1980s teen self. That’s not honest. I try to create a real person dealing with big issues that everyone experiences because the feelings that young people have aren’t immature feelings that will grow up and gain understanding someday. Kids of all ages understand unfairness and justice and acceptance and rejection and love and rudeness and everything else. They deserve honest stories that don’t talk down to them.
  • Advice
    Unless they ask, don’t give it. One way to annoy my kids the fastest is to start giving advice when they start ranting about their bad days. They don’t want to hear about how I had bad days way back when I was a teen—before cell phones and the Internet. And they certainly don’t want to hear about my experience with those bitchy girls from high school and how everything works out okay in the future. They’re not looking for solutions. They just want to vent. They don’t need me to fix anything; my fixes feel trite anyway because I’m not in the throes of it all. So, when I’m writing I try to let the characters simply exist, not create false situations to teach kids anything. I want my characters to make real and honest choices and experience the triumphs or consequences that come with them.
  • Assumptions

Nobody fits perfectly into jock or nerd or any other stereotypes. High school is much more nuanced than the characters from the movie The Breakfast Club. When I write I try to envision people beyond labels. In my novel 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS), my main character Ann is overweight, but she’s into fashion and has friends. How she sees herself is not necessarily how others see her. In fact, she’s cute—so cute that a hot guy notices.

No matter how old I get, I can still learn new stuff—even if it does accompany an eye roll or two.

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Today is release day for my debut contemporary young adult novel BRIANNA ON THE BRINK! I am so grateful to my agent, Stacey Glick, editor Sylvie Frank and all the folks at my wonderful publisher, Holiday House, who have made this day a reality. Fly little bookbaby, fly!

BriannaBrink correct

It’s been a week of celebration around these parts, starting with the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend, where signing my first book for a reader made me feel more like a Real Live Author than just about anything on the journey so far. Here I am with the lovely lady who bought that first signed copy (because I had to get a picture, right?). Mari is also an author, as it turns out, and I hope to hear great news about her book someday soon:


Today I’m planning to continue the release-day festivities by heading to the Grand Canyon with a bunch of family members (because that’s how we celebrate big stuff here in Arizona—by visiting big holes in the ground). Cupcakes and Prosecco will also be involved.

Copies of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK have been popping up in the wild already this week, so you can likely find it at your local bookstore. If not, please consider ordering the book from them. Here are some links for purchasing your copy online, too!

Barnes & Noble (It’s also available as a Nook book!)



Amazon (It’s also available in Kindle edition!)

Also, don’t forget about the Class of 2K13 March Giveaway, which includes BRIANNA ON THE BRINK, GONE FISHING and MILA 2.0!

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