Dear YA Author: Teen Advice Column Series

Dear YA Author photo

Dear YA Author is a Teen Advice Column I’ll begin hosting this summer. It’ll start next Thursday, June 19th and run monthly through the end of the summer. (Possibly longer or in more editions depending on interest). It’ll feature questions from teens and advice/recommendations/answers by published YA authors. Teens: See info below for info on submitting your questions. Published (or soon-to-be) YA Authors: check below to sign up for a post.

In the name of research, Young Adult Authors like to know what’s going on with teenagers today. We watch teen movies, read YA books & magazines, and sometimes even “overhear” teen convos out in public. We also have a strong link to our own pasts. We remember the intense friendships, dreams, crushes, loves, heartbreak, the strong or broken family ties, the pressure to fit in, the pressure to be different, the exhilaration in being with people you could be yourself with, the discomfort in being with those when you couldn’t.

The teen years. The best of times, the worst of times, and everything in between. If you’re a teen looking for a new perspective on a new or old issue or question, maybe a YA author can help!

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: YA Authors are not doctors doling out professional advice–although some might be, because writers sometimes have other jobs too. But even so, any advice in the Dear YA Author column is not to be replaced by or mistaken for professional advice! But still, what a useful and FUN perspective to have when you might be feeling a little lost or unsure.

If you’re a teen who’d like some advice from a published or soon-to be published YA author, please send your questions on anything…for example: life, family, friends, school, love, goals, prom attire, book recommendations, writing, whatever and etc. to dearYAauthor@gmail.com or you can use the handy contact form below. Feel free to use your real and or a fake name. Note: All ‘real’ names will be changed for the posts. 

Also, if you’re a YA author who is published or has a book coming out, please get in touch with me via the contact form below or the dearYAauthor gmail account. If you have any issues contacting me use my contact page on this blog.

What’s On Your SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY Bucket List?

side effects

I love list-making so it’s weird that creating a real bucket list has been the only item on my said bucket list. Since Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY releases on the 18th of March, I’ve decided to share some things I’ve had floating around in my head the last days, years or decades.

But before I throw down my bucket list, let’s talk “To Be Read” Lists. Lemme drop this awesome cover & blurb for one of the 2014 book releases I’ve been waiting for. You’ll want to add this to your own “To Be Read” list and grab one on Tuesday, okay?

side effects cover

The Fault in Our Stars meets Sarah Dessen in this lyrical novel about a girl with cancer who creates a take-no-prisoners bucket list that sets off a war at school—only to discover she’s gone into remission.

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs. So she convinces her best friend to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge as it is about hope. But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission, and now she must face the consequences of all she’s said and done.

Contemporary realistic fiction fans who adore Susane Colasanti and Jenny Han and stories filled with romance and humor will find much to love in this incredible debut.

Sounds like an awesome read, right? 

BUY SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY:

IndieBound or Barnes & Noble or Amazon 

Find the author Julie Murphy online: via her website (www.juliemurphywrites.com), tumblr (www.andimjulie.tumblr.com), or twitter (www.twitter.com/andimjulie).

Without a big to-do or confetti and fanfare, here is my surprisingly humble list for now:

AMI’S BUCKET LIST

THE SIMPLE:

Go on a 4-8 day vacation by myself, somewhere warm where I’ll write and read and eat all the lovely things 

Re-read my favorite Judy Blume books, and some Nancy Drew and Christopher Pike books

Travel to: Switzerland, France, Italy, & Germany again as an adult

Go back to Aruba with the husband

Go on a family vacation via winnebago

THE DREAMS:

Walk into Barnes & Noble and pick up a book with my name (by Ami Allen-Vath) on the cover

Do a reading and autograph signing for a book I’ve written

EXTRAVAGANT:

Win an Oscar for being in an amazing movie but never having to deal with the whole being famous bit

Have a personal chef, masseuse, housekeeper, and driver

Not so much to ask for, right? So, what things are on your bucket list? I want to know–the simple things, the dreams, the extravagant? Let me know an item or a few in the comments below.

When You Feel Like There’s Not Enough Time

Me being honest (in a long story short kind of way) about writing write now, momming, wifeing, living, happiness/depression and TIME.

This past week I started to freak out a little.

Info-dumpy back story:

As a kid, things felt foggy and I  felt like I was just sort of along for the ride. (nice way to say, “Meh. It wasn’t the best of times).

As a teen, I was just pissed and wanted out of the crappy life I was living. (nice way for saying, Meh. I hated everyone, especially me).

And then I was in college and on my own and it was empowering and scary and miserable and awesome but still. (nice way for saying I was lucky to have amazing friends and experiences but Meh. I was depressed and thought I was damaged goods and the depression at times was incredibly debilitating). Aside from moving to NYC to become a SNL regular and sitcom star (spoiler alert: that didn’t happen) I had a bigger (kind of secret) ambition to be…happy. I felt like I owed it to myself for having such a crappy childhood. I yearned to know what actual happiness was, but had a weird suspicion that it might be a pipe dream. 

So, then life happened and long story short, one day I was thirty and it felt like things were going my way and maybe just maybe I’d be happy. And one day I was.  And it was nuts. I felt content and I had absolutely NO memory of ever feeling that in my life. It was like magic. I’m sure I cried and probably figured out a way to write a depressing poem about it.

So I’m obviously cutting out a lot of junk and drama and deep depression and some mania and maybe a stint or two in the hospital and a life-changing therapist in NYC and motherhood and self help books and supportive friends and my sisters and journaling but you get the point, right?

This year I turned 38. Yes, 38. (please shower me with your sincere version of “OMG you look so much younger.”) (sad side story: I ALWAYS used to get carded for alcohol but for the first time, on my 36th bday, I didn’t get carded. It was weird, and felt so abrupt. And I haven’t been carded since. WTF!) Okay, so anyway, apparently I’m aging. And if you ever need a hug, just card me.

In October 2013, I signed with my agent for my first completed manuscript, a YA contemporary novel that I wrote because the other one I had been working on since 2008 was getting too personal and too hard. So, aside from the manuscript that got me signed, I now have another completed ms in revisions, and a few other things that are started (including that personal depresso memoir based novel) and a crap ton of ideas. And all of a sudden, I feel like there’s not enough time. Finally, I am out of this phase of “surviving” and have moved into living mode or finally doing something for me mode. And I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of gratitude, pride, passion, everything good I feel about this. I can’t. No, I really can’t. I will cry. But yet, I can’t begin to tell you the amount of fear and panic I’m starting to feel about this. No, I can’t. I will cry.

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I’m worried that there’s not enough time in the day. I’m playing with my three year old and in my head I’m wondering if I will have time for a nap and writing and CPing during her nap time. My son comes home and I am thinking, OK what am I going to feed these kids and if my husband is working, I’m thinking, YAY. One less mouth to stress about feeding. (side note: not that I cook much. But whoever orders the pizza, it’s still a job, right?) And then I’m getting the kids to bed and finally settling down into bed with my laptop. And I’m so stressed and I want to write but I can’t freaking focus. Did I spend enough time with the kids today? Was it quality enough or was I too stressed and frustrated and did they know that? And now that I have time to write and get work done, what do I focus on? CPing? Revisions? Open up that other story that is calling me? Start a new file for the story that’s on the tip of my tongue? Check Twitter to see what other writers are up to? Read a post on the publishing industry, writing tips, how not to freak out when your book goes on submission, or maybe I should be reading a book in my category/genre or one that’s not? (And don’t get me started on reading. I just started reading books regularly again this past year and it was like reuniting with the love of my life).

Oh and when my husband is home, he’s asking me to watch a movie once the kids get to sleep. I want to, I swear. I miss him and I like spending that kind of time with him.  But of course I’m legit stressing about the writing I won’t be doing if I watch a movie. So, I suggest one episode of Homeland. Then, I’m on my laptop click-clacking away until he figures out which episode we’re on. And after our pseudo-date, eventually, he falls asleep. He’s snoring. And I’m pissed because, how can he sleep at a time like this? I have so much stuff to do! My brain is running a million miles a minute and I can’t sleep. Oh how I wish it really was because of the snoring so I can blame him in the morning. But it’s not his fault. It’s me and all of the this:

Am I doing enough? (No, because I want to do so much more). Do I have enough time? (No, I have so much other stuff I need to do).  I have all these stories to get down and will I be able to articulate it into words or I am only as good as my last (haha, only truly completed book) and what if I die or get really sick before I have time to…LIVE. Enjoy this happiness. Enjoy this whole writing thing. Because I am finally doing something right now that feels so absolutely ME and there’s all this work and knowledge seeking involved and I love every single second of it. Even when it’s hard and I’m wondering if I can even do this. Every second of the worst parts of the process–the rejections–the negative critiques–the cringe inducing mistakes–I love it. The passion I have for this whole thing is everything and what if I fail because I don’t have enough time to get all the work in. What if me working my hardest is not enough? Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far is that dreams and talent will not get you published. There’s hard work involved. And then some. What if I don’t figure out the “then some?”

In my last job, my boss used to say that we shouldn’t complain about a problem without having some sort of solution. It was a good lesson and I feel bad for dumping all this crap and negativity on you, so in conclusion, I will now present some positive ideas/helpful hints re: WRITING TIME. Or if you’re not a writer, change the verbiage for your own “you time” thing. This is what I’m working on right now and maybe something might work for you, too.

THE TIME IS THERE. You have enough time. You just have to make good use of it. No, I’m not talking time management. We’re big kids now so we’re aware that we should be managing our time better. Think of a time when you were happy, felt happy. Remember that feeling, how your body felt. How your body physically experienced it. When you’re feeling stressed for time, go back there and reclaim that feeling. Writers: When you’re sitting down to write, calm the hell down. This is your time. If the words aren’t coming, write whatever. Journal, write a poem as your MC, or write an awful dream sequence full of darlings that you can kill later.

Parents: When you’re with your kids, stop thinking about the book you should be writing. Am I saying this because you’re cheating your kid? No. Okay, well yeah, I am a little, because that’s crappy. Have fun with your kids, okay? But really, if you’re stressing about not writing all day long, when you do sit down to write later, you’re going to be more worked up and stressed. The writing time has become such a huge THING, that you’re putting too much weight on that little time you have, thus, adding more stress to the mix.

JUST SAY NO TO GUILT. Find more writing time. Take it. You deserve it. My husband has two days off a week. One of those days, I am going to take time for me, for writing. Me: “I’m sleeping in, you get up with the toddler, I’m waking up around 9 or so to get ready and go to Barnes & Noble to write all day long. I’ll see you around six. Love you. Kthxbye!” Okay, yeah, you’re maybe going to get that mom guilt thing going on and feel like an ass. This is whether the other person is amazing and calls you Judy Blume when you get home, kisses you on the cheek and asks how your writing went or if he texts you a few times telling you the kids are being crazy for who-knows-why and when are you coming home, but so what? Who cares. Not you! Not me. (Fake it til you make it people, work with me). (my husband is a hybrid-he does both).

CHEAP BABYSITTER. Can’t get out of the house? Stay in and pay someone to be your kid’s friend for two hours. Have your older kid do extra-work for a special reward. Or a hire a younger niece or nephew or neighbor kid for a few dollars (I’m talking a responsible younger kid (cuz real babysitters are expensive). Someone that’ll color and play quietly for $4.00 an hour while you lock yourself in your office or bedroom and write for an hour or two.

Trade babysittting time with someone. Barter. Call Grandma. Oh how I wish my MIL and mom weren’t in other states. : (

Join in on the #writeclub sprints on Fridays. Do a few 30 minute writing sprints with @FridayNightWrites. Or at least one. If it’s not a Friday and you want to but need motivation? Ask someone else on Twitter to “join” you for a writing date at a specific time.

PLAN D. If all else fails, tell everyone you have diarrhea and go in the bathroom, turn on the fan and write for an hour.

THE TIME IS NOW, LOVELIES. Whether you’re 16, 24, 32, 44, 56, 64, or 98, your writing time is now. It’s here and don’t waste it by stressing that you don’t have enough of it. It’s yours for the taking. Whether you get one story published or 108. Whether you get none published but have one or 108 manuscripts for your children or friends to read now or in the future. You are writing. It’s what you love. You did it when you were young and free and afraid and broken and in love and broken hearted and it was for no one’s eyes but your own. So just write. Write what you love, write for your heart, write for money, write what might sell and write what you might shelf. Write anything. Write everything. Just don’t write nothing.

Smooches,

Ami

PS,

For those of you that have depresso issues, here are a few of my favorite things: A small desk-top sunlamp, Omega 3 (squeeze packets cuz the capsules are so gross), reading on the treadmill, avoiding toxic relationships/people, a great therapist, at least one friend that legit knows those feels, and, yes, of course, writing.

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day: When Your Nephew Passes Away On His Birthday

I don’t have any amazing tips on how to deal with losing your nephew. Or how to handle your own grief and your sister’s grief. And I don’t have any fabulous insight or how tos on dealing with the days, weeks, months, and years after. I can only tell you the truth about how I dealt with it, how I’m dealing with it, and how sometimes I feel like I have or am falling short.

When my sister told me she had to go to the doctor again because some test didn’t turn out right, I was like most people. I had a sliver of a nagging thought in the back of my brain that basically read as an “Oh no, I have a feeling that something really is wrong.” But that happens all the time doesn’t it? My main thought and what I said was, “Everything’s going to be all right. It can’t be anything serious. Our family’s been through enough. Can’t happen to us.” I was wrong. Bad news like this could happen to us, to my sister, and it did. Genetic defects; Trisomy 13, and a congenital diaphragmatic hernia.

I dealt with this news like most calm rational people would. Google. I looked for every single piece of information I could find. I searched for worse case scenarios and I hunted for the best cases. The bad news was I didn’t find much that dealt with my sister’s exact situation. It was really, really, rare. At the end of the day, it was going to take a miracle for my nephew to live. And I’m not talking about a small percent chance that he’d make it or we could cross our fingers and pray and everyone and their aunt could send all the good juju our way and maybe he’d make it kind of a deal. It was going to have to be a literal miracle. Aside from the information my sister had been given, I’d also heard from a colleague of someone working with her pregnancy. They said he wasn’t going to make it. There were no chances. He couldn’t. As soon as he was born, he wouldn’t be able to breathe and there was nothing you could repair or create to make that happen. It was a devastating, cold, hard punch in the face.

I tried to be there for my sister, I really did. And I’m sure she’d tell you I was a great and supportive big sister. She even gave me a locket after everything happened that said so. But I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I’ll always feel like I failed a little bit in those days. Like, I asked my sister if she was sure she wanted to go through with the pregnancy. Could she handle it and what if there was that miracle, could she handle all that would entail? How would it affect my niece and nephew who already needed so much from her? I remember sending out invitations to my sister’s baby shower. I put a little note at the end, reminding my sister’s friends of the most likely outcome and please do not gift her with anything that’ll make things harder in the end. In other words, DO NOT give my sister any baby clothes or cutesy toys because it’ll make her cry and after everything’s over, no one wants a pile of presents to return, unopened, unused. No one wants to have to explain to the lady at Baby Gap that “it just didn’t work out this time.”

When my sister went into labor, I went to their house first to watch the kids, and as soon as my mother-in-law got there, I bolted for the hospital. I’d been there for my niece and nephew’s births and always had a great laugh with them later telling them “I practically caught you coming out,” and then gradually stretching the story to “I totally caught you when you flew out of your Mom!” But this time I wasn’t going to have a fun story to laugh with my nephew about. As much as I’d wanted to have my usual mindset of “everything will work out,” my heart said it wouldn’t. And I hated that. For my sister, for my brother in law, for the kids, and for me. And I felt guilty for being as prepared as I was for the worst. I’ll be honest; I’m not good with death. And I just wanted to be able to handle it with the grace and strength my sister would need. But who is good at dealing with death anyway?

Orion was born on June 30, 2008. My sister held him briefly and he was snatched away and hooked up to ALL THE WIRES and EVERYTHING was on and lit up and EVERYONE WAS RUNNING AROUND. AND IT WAS INSANE. AND MY NEPHEW WAS THERE AND ALIVE, BUT HE WAS DYING.

I wanted to hold him, to help him, for there to be that crazy miracle I knew my sister had been hoping and praying for behind closed doors and her brave face. But there wasn’t. The machines blared and pounded at full capacity and there was nothing to be done. You could almost reach out and grab the thick wave of despair that coated the air. And I could almost hear my nephew whispering with a tiny smile and sparkle in his eyes, “Hey guys, I’m here, but I’m slipping, my mom and dad got to hold me and see me, but I’ve got to go, please let me go.” And they didn’t want to. But they did. And it wasn’t fair. And it was worse than anything EVER. I hated it. Did I mention that it wasn’t fair? It left me sad and lost and angry for split seconds but it made me go numb for most of the other time. I felt like I had to. I had to be tough and make calls and give hugs. I had to put on a forced, fake, frowny smile through scattered tears. Choke back sobs as I told my boss, my friends, and family.

And then I had to be in and out of my sister’s recovery room. If you’ve been in this situation, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I hope you never know. Ya know how exciting it is when you rush to the hospital and down the baby section hall to get to the room to see a mom and her new baby? That cute little baby that pulls your heart in all kinds of crazy directions and you try not to cry because they’re just so cute and tiny and everyone’s so stinkin’ happy? There’s none of that when your nephew passes away on his birthday. I had a sister, ragged and run down, with a swollen, tear stained face and an occasional painted on smile. Her heart had been broken a billion times harder than any of those jerks from high school ever did. And it was smashed and shattered into a million sharp and jagged pieces that were flying around the room as she teetered the edge of madness.

And then there was my nephew. My sweet, innocent, gorgeous new little nephew. He was still there. His body. The shell of his soul–left behind so my sister and her husband could say goodbye. I was scared my sister had lost it. I didn’t know a thing about dealing with this kind of grief. She even asked me to hold him a few times. She almost begged me to. Sometimes I did and sometimes I found a way to leave the room so I wouldn’t lose it. I asked the nurse if it was normal for people to keep the baby in their room after they’d passed. She said, yes and some moms would even bring the baby home until they were ready to let it go. I was relieved, but confused. It was scary and uncomfortable and HOW THE HECK DO YOU DEAL WHEN YOUR SISTER’S BABY DIES?

And then something clicked as I remembered that I’m a mom too. Oh yeah, I have a son and if something ever happened to him—.” And that’s about as far as I thought about that. This whole time I’d been looking at it the wrong way. I’d been focused on the right thing to do, to feel, to act, and the very best way for my sister to go through everything without having to FEEL ANY PAIN. Now, I got it. It just wasn’t possible. Or healthy. And I was really naïve and selfish to think it was.

When someone loses a child during pregnancy, or right after birth, or months or years after, they are most definitely dealing with something, unless you’ve been through it too, that you will never know the depths of. Because you just can’t. As a parent, I can only start to imagine what that kind of loss would be like before it gets too uncomfortable. I imagine it must be close to that feeling times infinity.

I’ll never forget being able to be there for my nephew’s birth. And how he left the same day. Just getting to spend those brief, fleeting moments–that was the miracle. I’ll always remember. And that leads me to the most important thing I’ve learned about what to do when someone loses a child. Don’t ever forget. My sister’s never going to forget and I know she doesn’t want anyone else to either. Just because her kids are running around laughing and healthy, just because she had another baby afterwards, and just because you see her smiling. Just because you see her dancing, or working, or making jokes, doesn’t mean that her heart was put back together again. As Orion’s birthdays come and go, with balloons and cake at his resting place, there’s always the dreams, the nightmares, the what ifs, the sight of a mom and a baby bump, or the sound of baby cries piercing the air, or a child playing that would be his age, there’ll always be those reminders. Not that she needs them. But, I think I need reminders sometimes. I’d like to make sure more often that she knows that I didn’t forget.

Orion was here and he was real. He changed me, and the way I see people and their losses. And the way I see my sister. She was brave and strong. She still is. But her heart has a hole in it and I know she’ll never breathe the same again.

And you know what else? I didn’t get to know Orion, but I could never forget him. I sure miss that little guy. I really do.