Tuesday, September 30, 2014


   I'm not gonna lie.  It makes me really happy when a literary agent tells me,  "I really love your writing and like this manuscript a lot."  Ditto for "I think you've created some really great characters here," and "the writing is very strong," and "I think this had great potential."  All of which means I'm getting close, right? 
     But then there's "I felt there wasn't enough of a focus on plot," and "I didn't get the sense we were building toward a larger story," and "I wanted the novel to have more of a teen focus."  And these are all fair comments, dammit.  And here's what that all means: I need to add another strong, important teen character whose story contributes to the overall arc.
     And here's the problem.  I'm the kind of person who finds it much easier to remain closed to new ideas and new people than to open myself up to them.  And adding a significant new character requires a huge amount of opening myself up.  I've been thinking about this a lot in the days since I received this agent's email, and here's the analogy I've come up with.  Creating a whole new important, but secondary, character is not equivalent in scale to having, or adopting, a child of your own.  (That would be much more like creating a protagonist.)  But I would say it's equivalent to the decision to take a foreign exchange student into your home for six months or a year.  It requires an intense but relatively short-term commitment to getting to know and understand a complete stranger well enough to be able to evaluate and accommodate his or her needs, quirks, goals, abilities and flaws.  And it requires the flexibility to expect the unexpected from them, because no matter how well you think you've come to know them, it's virtually guaranteed that they're going to say and do things that you could never have anticipated.
     So that's what I've been doing these last few days: preparing myself emotionally to open up to someone new, someone who's going to occupy my metaphorical house for weeks or months and then move on, but leave something of herself behind forever.  It's not about creation, at least not to me; it's much more about discovery.  That missing character exists in some realm, and my job is to go out and find her. 
     It's a daunting task.
     It's a task I'm capable of performing.
     Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


     but you will NEVER convince me that these aren't the two best boys in the world:


Saturday, September 20, 2014



      I'm so excited today, because the one and only YA and middle-grade author, Holly Schindler, has been gracious enough to include my blog as a stop in her blog hop promoting and celebrating (see: balloons, above) the recent release of her first psychological thriller, FERAL.  That title, of course, makes me think of images like this one:

and, in fact, FERAL is in part about wild cats, but they're the small, pet-sized kind, nothing like Leo up there.  But feral housecats can be pretty terrifying too, especially if they're possibly not just cats, but something much more sinister... and they show up in your new town everywhere you turn...

Take it away, Holly!

FERAL falls squarely into the realm of the classic psychological thriller. While the book features mystery, horror, and paranormal elements, the emphasis is on the "psychological" rather than thriller / action. The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development (here, we’re exploring the inner workings of the main character, Claire Cain). Essentially, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting. The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and here is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s "frozen" inner state). The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley. Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche. Ultimately, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too. The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that frightening process in detail.

While the focus is on Claire’s inner workings, we do see other characters struggling, too. Actually, FERAL takes place in a time of town-wide crisis: Peculiar has been hit with a paralyzing ice storm. And a local teen girl is missing.

I often get asked what parts of my books have been taken from real life. In 2007 (and again in 2008), my hometown was hit with a paralyzing ice storm. And over twenty years ago, I was a high school student when two girls from my school went missing. I know how both incidents impacted my town…While there is a bit of neighborly sharing during those times of disaster, the true concern (at least, from my own observations) tends to turn inward. Toward your own family, your own home. And as time goes on, it becomes increasingly easy to overreact, to let your own worries make you edgy and strange. I remember how frazzled and easily annoyed everyone could get three days (or in some cases, three weeks) without power during the ice storms. And after the disappearance of two students, the atmosphere in my high school completely changed; teachers turned increasingly protective of their own students, hallways were locked down during lunch, cheerleaders were given pepper spray for protection, etc.

In many ways, FERAL reflects my own experiences and observations of the way a small(ish) town behaves in a time of crisis. Fear over safety and grief over the loss of a friend makes the characters in FERAL behave oddly. Those odd behaviors only feed into the overall tone of the book—force the reader to ask, "What is going on here? Who’s responsible for Serena’s disappearance—and death?" (The reader is involved in the attempt to figure out what is real, which, as I stated, is a tried-and-true element of the psychological thriller.)

In many ways, Claire walks into a perfect storm. Perhaps, if she had arrived in Peculiar three months after that ice storm, or had Serena not died, her classmates would have seen her own behavior as strange. Claire would have stood out; her problems would have been obvious from the get-go. But everything is strange in Peculiar when Claire arrives. Everyone is on edge. Everyone is grieving and caught up in the web of their own bad feelings, remorse. The moments when Claire overreacts, giving the reader a clue that she isn’t quite as okay as she insists (pointing a box cutter at Rich the first time she meets him, running into the woods upon getting an offer for a ride home) are surrounded by hardships: the desperation associated with an ice storm, the discovery of a dead girl’s body. So Claire’s behavior simply meshes into the other strange things that occur in the course of the book.

In a sense, the ice storm and the brutal death of Serena make the characters wild, crazed, too—the cats aren’t the only untamed creatures walking the streets of Peculiar in FERAL…
                           *                          *                          *

Thank you, Holly!

Weird...  Holly looks so sweet, doesn't she?

What's that they say about not judging a book by its cover?  Oh, and just in case you're not terrified enough yet,  you probably need to watch this book trailer: http://vimeo.com/90169956.

And here's what some other people have to say about FERAL, in the jacket copy:

The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

                                           *                            *                                 *

     In case anyone reading this doesn't know from my umpteen previous posts about her, I am a diehard Holly Schindler groupie, constantly dazzled by her talent, range, and fearlessness.  It seems that there's no subject matter she's too afraid to tackle, and she is always testing her own limits and setting herself new challenges.  This is her official bio:

Holly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).

Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud. Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION "...a heartwarming and uplifting story...[that] shines...with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve."

FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller. Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, "Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees."

Schindler encourages readers to get in touch. Booksellers, teen librarians, and teachers can also contact her directly regarding Skype visits. She can be reached at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and can also be found at hollyschindler.com, hollyschindler.blogspot.com, @holly_schindler, Facebook.com/HollySchindlerAuthor, and hollyschindler.tumblr.com.
                                   *                                      *                                          *

And now, to truly make this an all-Holly Schindler day, this is what you need to do at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time:  attend this Google+ hangout chat with Holly and other authors!  http://nblo.gs/103tYw.
Hear Holly herself tell you about FERAL!

And on the off-chance that you don't win the FERAL giveaway that accompanies that chat, here is an added bonus:
Rafflecopter form for a giveaway of a signed hardcover of FERAL (running Sept. 17-Sept. 28):

I mean, really?  Why would you NOT want to take advantage of TWO chances to win a free copy of FERAL?  Have you not been paying attention here????


Thursday, September 18, 2014


     Mesdames et messieurs, je pense que j'ai un(e) vrai(e) ami(e) en France!!  Quelle c'est magnifique!  Maintenant, je veux seulement dire bienvenue a ce(tte) person(ne)!  Je suis tres heureuse d'apprendre que vous aimez mon blog, et de faire votre connaisance electronique.  Et s'il vous plait, me pardonnez pour tous mes erreurs de langue.  J'ai etudie francais dans l'ecole depuis 42 ans, et j'ai oublie beaucoup!
     Bonne nuit!  Vive la France! 

Saturday, September 13, 2014


     On September 20th, one week from today, I'll be hosting a guest post by Holly Schindler, part of her blog hop to celebrate the August 26th release of her YA psychological thriller, FERAL.  Holly's post will be a fascinating study of the psychological-thriller genre in general, and of how she sees FERAL as fitting into that framework.  There will be lots of other goodies too, including links to the tour banner, a book trailer, and a Rafflecopter giveaway!  So please don't forget to stop back here again next Saturday.  And in the meantime, watch some Alfred Hitchcock movies to get yourself in the mood. 

     Remember: you can run from the past, but you can't hide.

p.s....  and if you want to make this coming Saturday an All-Holly-Schindler day - and really, who wouldn't? - read my post first, obviously, and then here's where you need to be at 4:00 p.m. EST: http://hollyschindler.blogspot.com/2014/09/come-see-me.html.  I bet it will be awesome.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Well.  My attempt to crowdfund my Avon Walk participation has proven to be a complete dud.  Despite my offer of fabulous prizes, I only got two donations as a result of my begging: one from my brother-in-law, and one from my son.  Neither of them has requested a critique, a funny poem, or even a batch of cookies in exchange, which probably means that it didn't even qualify as a real contest.  Lesson learned.
     Nothing went horribly wrong for me this week, but I can't say that anything went right either, and there's not a thing in the world I feel like posting about, so I'm just going to crawl off into my cave and hope that tomorrow I'll wake up and feel like smiling.  Do you ever have weeks like this?

NEWSFLASH:  Make that three donations!  And a big thank you shout-out to my very generous mother-in-law, who apparently still reads my blog!!

Sunday, September 7, 2014


   you are morally obligated to share this outtake of him from the Carol Burnett show (and if you're too young to know what the Carol Burnett Show was, at least have the decency not to tell me about it):

     Yeah.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


..... but I kind of am, actually.  Too proud to beg, that is, even though what I'm begging for is not for me.  So instead of begging, I'm going to run a contest. 
     Here's the deal.  Every autumn for ten years I participated in the New York Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (I know, it should be called the Avon Walk Against Breast Cancer, but I don't get to choose the name).  In each of those years, instead of dumping a bucket of ice water over my head (not that there's anything wrong with that!), I walked 39.3 miles over the course of two days to raise awareness about breast cancer and to raise money for prevention, treatment, and research to eventually achieve a cure.  To participate, I had to raise a minimum of $1,800 each year.
     Last year, I gave myself a sabbatical.  This year, I signed up again, but what with my getting all wrapped up with this and that, I totally neglected my fundraising efforts.  Result: as of right now, about three weeks before the date when I have to have all my donations in, I've only raised about a third of the money I need to raise.  (It's too complicated to get into the details, but although the actual deadline is several weeks later, the Walk weekend gets a LOT harder for me if I haven't gotten all my donations in by September 22nd.)
     So.  Here is my idea.  If you're reading this post, I'm asking you to consider making a donation to help me meet my fundraising goal.  All you have to do is go to www.avonwalk.org, look me up on the list of walkers (Susan Brody), and make a tax-deductible online donation.  Whoever makes the largest donation between now and Wednesday, September 10th, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, will get to choose his or her prize from the following list:
     1.  I will critique 30 pages of an original, unpublished manuscript.  True, I haven't have any of my own books published yet, but honestly: I'm a hell of an editor, if I say so myself.
     2.  I will write a stupid poem for you, on any subject you choose.  I write GREAT stupid poems.
     3.  I will bake a batch of cookies - any kind you request - and send them to you, wherever you might be.  I'm not a bad cookie-baker. 
     4.  I will give you a box of awesome books from my overflowing personal library, trying to match the selections to your preferences.
     5.  I will be your best friend forever and ever.  (Desperate times call for desperate measures.)

     If you choose to participate, thank you!!  After you've made your donation, please send me an email at muranosb(at)gmail(dot)com, so that I have your contact info in case you're the lucky winner.  And if you don't choose to participate, I'm still your friend.  Just not your BEST friend.  That's fair, right?