If it wasn’t for you: A thank you to the women authors who’ve inspired my writing

“The best readers are the best writers.”

A friend spoke these words to me years ago, back when I was still a “closeted writer” who feared her lack of an English/writing degree would prevent her from being accepted in the official “writers club”. At the time, I didn’t really get the meaning of this quote. I mean, I definitely liked it: “The best readers are the best writers.” Well, that’s great, I thought, because I read. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot, a lot!). Yet, as the years have gone by, and my stack of read books has grown taller and taller, I’ve finally come to understand it.

Reading = Knowledge

Reading = Inspiration

Reading = Writing

More Reading = Better Writing

It’s true. Well, at least for me. Reading books  has taught me how to write (and, yeah, sometimes how not to write). There’s no doubt in my mind that books have strengthened my storytelling skills, expanded my creative horizons and given me a plethora of inspiration (oh yeah, I totally just used the word plethora). Now, I can’t tell you exactly how many books I’ve read (500? 1,000? 10,000?), but I can tell you which authors have impacted me the most.

Today, in honor of celebrating women in fiction (#ReadWomen2014), I’d like to pay tribute to the female author’s who’ve effected me the most. If it weren’t for their various inspirations, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

Patricia BeattyThe Dream Starter

9780688066871What a young person reads becomes part of his or her mental luggage forever! This is the learning time, short but vital to the future adult. That mental luggage deserves to be filled with the best stuff only, not pap. It may have a long, long way to go.” – Patricia Beatty

The day I picked up “Charlie Skedaddle” by Patricia Beatty was the day I became a book fanatic. It was also the day I realized I wanted to be an author when I grew up. After reading and absorbing Beatty’s novels (multiple times), I nervously began writing my own. Admittedly, most of this “writing” took place in my daydreamin’ head, safe and sound where nobody but me could experience them. However, a few made it into a notebook I kept hidden under my pillow, and one even made it onto a computer when I was in 6th grade (a 32-page story about a girl who traveled back in time to the Civil War era…Yeah, it was awesome.). Despite my terror to admit to the world I wanted to be a writer (that confession wouldn’t come for years, after I graduated college), I was able to admit my creative passion to myself. Even though I was only 10-years old, I knew I wanted to spend my life telling stories.

So, thank you, Patricia Beatty. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with reading, and I wouldn’t be pursuing my dream of being a published author.

Marie LuThe Style Guru

9275658One of the up’s (and down’s) of reading a lot while you write is you accidentally mimic the author you’re currently reading. This happened to me while I was devouring Marie Lu’s “Legend”. Suddenly, my writing became clearer and more precise, my characters more likable and endearing, my plot faster and tighter. Ever since that happy accident, I’ve aspired to keep writing in a fashion similar to Lu’s. To use my words and sentence structures in a way that draws the reader in and keeps them there. To weave simple, yet complex story lines around my audience–around and around–until they’re trapped and can’t break free, even after they’ve finished the book.

So, thank you, Marie Lu. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t understand what good storytelling looks like and how to ensnare an audience.

Maureen Johnson & Cassandra ClareCleverness & Wit

17334064And if we get caught, I will claim I made you go. At gunpoint. I am American. People will assume I’m armed.” – Maureen Johnson, “The Name of the Star”

People tell me I’m a funny person. And I’ve been told I can be a funny writer, too. However, I don’t like to write comedy. I just don’t. My comfort zone tends to be in the suspense/horror/thriller categories. Yet, despite my preference to write about tenser subject matters, Maureen Johnson and Cassandra Clare have shown me even dark genres need to be lightened up every now and then. Adding dashes of cleverness and wit to a story can add surprising depth and meaning to a plot and its characters.

So, thank you, Maureen Johnson and Cassandra Clare. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t understand how humor can give any story layers and make it more memorable.

Let me give you a piece of advice. The handsome young fellow who’s trying to rescue you from a hideous fate is never wrong. Not even if he says the sky is purple and made of hedgehogs.” -Cassandra Clare, “The Infernal Devices”.

Laini TaylorWeirdness is Goodness

8490112“I write books for youngish people, but they can also be read and enjoyed by oldish people, aka grown-ups. You know grown-ups? They tend to be a little bigger and hairier than kids. But not always.” -Laini Taylor

Okay, I admit it. I can be weird (hellllo, I’m a writer; we all have a weird screw inside of us, right?). Well, it wasn’t until I read Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” that I was able to confidently infuse that weirdness into my writing. Taylor taught me that being quirky–saying things, thinking things and creating things that make the reader go, “Huh?”–can be a wonderful and powerful tool. For example, rather than having a protagonist with brown hair and blue eyes, why not have a protagonist with blue hair and brown eyes?

“Think outside the box!” Taylor’s writing shouts when you read it. “Like way, way outside the box. Do it, do it, do it!” So, I try. Every time I sit down at my desk, I think, “Be odd. Be different. It’s okay. Laini Taylor said so.”

So, thank you, Laini Taylor. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have embraced my eccentric tendencies and breathed them into my stories.

Marissa Meyer: The Delightful Contortionist 

11235712Even in the Future the Story Begins with Once Upon a Time.” -Marissa Meyer, “Cinder”

I’ve always prided myself on being a writer that likes to brainstorm concepts that are as original as possible. I’m always sniffing around the misty alleys of my mind, trying to find an idea that just might be “the next big thing” in the YA market. I’ve never been a fan of taking already written stories (like a fairy tale) and putting a unique spin on them. Then I began reading Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles” and my entire outlook changed. Her crazy sci-fi contortion of “Cinderella” totally sold me on the unoriginal-original concept. Why not put a new twist on an old story? Why not embrace a solid foundation and build your own–original–world on top of it? Being a writer means being creative, and if I can create a spectacular story using a tried and true formula, you should. Why not?

So, thank you, Marissa Meyer. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be willing to open my eyes and see there are stories all around me that can be bent, shaped and warped into something fresh and dazzling.

Rainbow Rowell: Character Jedi Master 

16068905Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” -Rainbow Rowell, “Eleanor & Park”

One of my biggest weaknesses as a writer has always seemed to be my characters. And I think I’ve finally figured out why: Until 2013, I’d never read a Rainbow Rowell book. Guys, if you want a “how to” lesson on character building, this is your teacher. In her novels like “Attachments” and “Fangirl” Rowell has inspired me to dig deeper and reach higher when it comes to my characters. She’s shown me characters shouldn’t be 2-D individuals who entertain an audience. They should be 3-D humans who punch through a black and white page, straight into a reader’s heart. Characters should be likable, relatable, convincible. Characters should leave a dent even after the last page is turned.

So, thank you, Rainbow Rowell. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even know how to begin writing  better, deeper, truer characters.

Kathrynn Stockett: The Cheerleader

4667024If you ask my husband my best trait, he’ll smile and say, ‘She never gives up.’ But if you ask him my worst trait, he’ll get a funny tic in his cheek, narrow his eyes and hiss, ‘She. Never. Gives. Up.‘” -Kathryn Stockett

 When people ask me what I do for a living, I joke and say, “I’m in the Industry of Rejection.” Sadly, it’s a true statement for most writers. I began sending query letters back in 2009 after I finished my first real manuscript. I was so excited, so certain I’d written a story that would get me an agent…Then I got my first rejection letter, and ooouuucchhh! That was followed by a second, and oooh, eeks! Then a third, a fourth, a tenth, a twentieth…That’s when I realized I’d chosen a career that wasn’t only hard, but could very well break my spirit.

“I loved your story, but…”. “Unfortunately…”. “Your story still needs work…”. “We regret to inform you..”. “Thank you for your submission. However…”. “Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors.”

Yeah, let’s face it, rejection hurts. Every. Time. And, I’ll be honest, after a particularly harsh round of “Thanks, but not thanks,” responses from agents, I’ve considered throwing in the towel (or maybe even smothering myself with a pillow). The biggest reason I haven’t though is because of Kathryn Stockett, author of the wildly popular novel, “The Help”.

Did you know Stockett’s bestseller was rejected 60 times before an agent finally gave her a chance? 60. Times! And, yet, after each stinging rejection, she didn’t give up. She went back, revised and then sent out more query letters. That’s how much she believed in her story. Despite the “Unfortunately”‘s and the “Best of luck”‘s, she refused to quit. Stockett’s never say die attitude has taught me that rejection isn’t the name of the game. Determination is. If you believe in your story, you should never give up on finding it a home. Keep writing, keep fighting! (Read about Stockett’s relentless journey here).

So, thank you Kathryn Stockett. If it weren’t for you, I may have given up on my dream a long time ago. And if it weren’t for you, I may not have the stamina to keep going now!

Thank you to all the women authors who’ve inspired me. This short list doesn’t even come close to naming all of you out there. But, trust me, if it weren’t for each and every one of you, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank You For Sharing

Today, I simply wanted to say thank you to everyone who read my Friday post, Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is. And thank you for sharing it with your friends, colleagues, social media followers and everyone else in between. Not only does your support mean a lot to me, but it means a lot to those fighting to encourage and improve literacy worldwide.


If you missed this post and would like to read it, click here. Thank you!

Stop the presses. Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.

“Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.”

Believe it or not, a guest speaker actually spoke these words to over 3,000 teachers last week during an in-service event for one of the nation’s top performing school districts. As you might suspect, the reaction wasn’t positive. In fact, many in the crowd booed this man’s mind-boggling words: Literacy isn’t important.

Literacy. Isn’t. Important.

How…? Why…? How?

This guest speaker went on to declare the four core subjects (math, science, English and history) weren’t a priority either. Furthermore (yeah, there’s a furthermore), he said teachers shouldn’t teach content. They should be motivators. According to him, “Students shouldn’t learn. They should become.”


Ironically, this man has written a book about this entire topic. Yet, when asked how anyone could read it if they didn’t know how, he responded, “No worries. It will be read to them.”


Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.18.05 PM

Did you know Mr. Guest Speaker that:

  • The United Nations considers it a human right to be literate?
  • “67.4 million children who are out of school are likely to encounter great difficulties in the future, as deficient or non-existent basic education is the root cause of illiteracy.”?
  • According to the CIA, “Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.”?

Let me repeat that last quote for you, Mr. Guest Speaker:

“Low levels of literacy, and education in general, can impede the economic development of a country in the current rapidly changing, technology-driven world.” I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like literacy and technology go hand-in-hand. Doesn’t it? They work together to keep this world spinning. Moving. Progressing.

occupational-therapy-and-assistive-technologyAs you can see (and most of you already know), I’m passionate about this subject. I’m a literacy advocate, a book lover and an imagination builder. I have hundreds of books lining my shelves at home (each cherished dearly), and I don’t go anywhere without a pen or a notebook (ya know, just in case I get a sudden idea for a story). When I visit my nephews, I always encourage them to read a book, put a puzzle together or take flight on the wings of their imagination. And when I see my friends, I always tell them about a book they should read (okay, okay, I sometimes tell the stranger standing in line behind me at the grocery store about a great book, too). And I never stop clapping for those who go to work everyday to teach and motivate our future generations.

But, besides being pro-education, I’m also pro-technology. I love technology. I don’t know what I’d do without it. And I firmly believe it plays a vital role in our society, our educational systems and our future. If used properly, technology can improve communication, share knowledge, expand worlds and connect globally. My God, just look at this blog! I’ve reached thousands of people across the planet with it. I have followers in Australia, Japan, England, Nigeria, Sweden…It’s astounding. I couldn’t do what I do without the technology to back me up. I couldn’t.

However, I also couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have a strong literate background. And, let me tell you, that literate background wasn’t technologically driven. Most of my schooling took place in the 90’s and early 2000’s, so besides TVs and overhead projectors, my teachers didn’t have much to utilize in the way of technology to educate me. I didn’t even have my first computer class until 7th grade, and I didn’t own a cell phone until my junior year of high school. My classes looked pretty much like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(According to Mr. Guest Speaker, this is a “sad picture”…Yeah, he got more boos and hisses for that one.)

Yet, despite my less than “techie” upbringing, I’ve managed to adapt to our technology-driven society. Well, I’ve more than adapted. I’ve embraced it and made it a part of my life. I’m blogging. I’m active on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. I’m a whiz on a Mac, and I just got my first Nook. But do you think I could’ve figured all of that out if I wasn’t literate to start?

Let’s take a moment to think about a couple of things, shall we? Without literacy:

  • This blog wouldn’t exist. How could it? I wouldn’t even know how to type the words I’m typing right now because I wouldn’t know how to s-p-e-l-l them. I also wouldn’t have the critical thinking, problem solving, or certain social skills I needed to get this site up and running. Even those pesky math and science classes I swore “I’d never ever need” played a part in the creation of this blog.
  • Technology wouldn’t exist. Who do you think created all of these wires and circuit boards in the first place? An alien who visited Earth for a summer vaca? An extraterrestrial being who generously decided to share a drop of its genius with humankind?

alien_in_UFO_cartoonSeriously, guys. Traditionally educated–literate–individuals were the ones who got us to where we are today. They used their reading, writing, math and science skills to create our gadget-filled world.

  • Future technology won’t exist. We have fancy-schmancy technology now thanks to those smarty-pants who created it in the first place, but what will happen if schools and educators stop promoting literacy? What new and improved devices will we have in our hands in ten years? 20? 100? What unexplored paths will remain unexplored because nobody had the map to find them?

Okay, so I’m sure by this point some of you might be thinking, “There’s been a miscommunication. Surely Mr. Guest Speaker didn’t really mean literacy isn’t important. He must’ve been trying to prove another point that just didn’t translate well.” Some of the teachers in the audience thought the same thing, so they decided to attend his afternoon session…and they left it even more letdown and confused than before.

 Still not sold? Well, consider this: Mr. Guest Speaker was supposed to be live-streamed on the district’s website for the community to watch. Within five minutes, the plug was pulled (ironic?). Almost a week later, a video has finally gone up, but it isn’t the video filmed that day. If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is.

red_flagThis is obviously a subject I’m extremely passionate about. And normally I don’t take on such controversial topics, but I couldn’t let this matter drop without bringing it to other people’s attention. To think there is someone out there declaring literacy is a thing of the past isn’t right. It needs to be stopped. We can’t let future generations be deprived of a well-rounded education. It’s inconceivable and, really, a travesty.

So, if you believe literacy has and always will play an imperative part in our society’s future, please share this article and information with those you know. Blow the whistle and put an end to the idea, “Literacy isn’t important. Technology is.” How about instead we promote, “Literacy and technology work hand-in-hand.”? Or, “Literacy equals technology. Technology equals literacy.”?

One last food for thought: Did Mr. Guest Speaker ever stop to wonder what would happen if the big, almighty plug got pulled someday? Not to get all dystopian and apocalyptic on you guys, but let’s face it: there’s a chance the power could go out someday. Our phones, computers, iPods, Kindles and everything in between might stop working. What will happen then? What will we have? What will society fall back on? Hmm?

Be an advocate for future generations and support literacy!

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The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency