Who Will It Be?

About Me

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I am a native North Dakotan, a professor at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a YA writer. My first book, The Predicteds, is due out from Sourcebooks Fire in September. I'm represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group. When I'm not writing or teaching writing, I'm an avid reader and an enthusiastic listener of podcasts (especially podcasts about books). I'm a fan of taking long walks on sunny days, browsing through the library on Saturday afternoons, and watching embarrassingly bad TV at any time. My favorite color is lunch.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's That Time Again...

I'm pretty excited for the first day of school. It's my favorite day of the whole year. I'm happily sharpening pencils and buying new notebooks.

In anticipation for all the school reading that will occupy me come fall, I need to relax this week and read a great book that features school. Any suggestions? What's a good book that's either set at a boarding school or features school as a significant setting? Ideas?

I'm looking forward to making a list with my fresh pencils and new notebooks!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hiatus Is Over

Well, kids, summer is just about over, and I am *this* close to finishing a rough draft of my next book. That's just a draft, mind you, and I'm not above throwing it all away and starting over again. But at least I have something to work with.

And my course syllabi are almost ready to roll. When school begins on August 22, I might actually have everything done that needs to be done. (Might is the operative word here. I never completely rule out the possibility of a Mad Libs-style syllabus, so if you're enrolled in one of my classes, come on the first day prepared with ten verbs, ten nouns, three adverbs, and a gerund :))

If you live near me (Salt Lake City), I'll be doing some book signings in September when The Predicteds releases. Come out and say hi. I'll be mortified if my only attendee is my husband. (He's handsome, but he doesn't talk much.)

Thursday, September 1 from 11:30-1:30 at Westminster College Commons (The King's English will have books for sale there.)
Wednesday, September 7 at 7:00 at the King's English (1511 South 1500 East)
Saturday, September 17 at 7:00 at the Jordan Landing Barnes & Noble (7157 Plaza Center Drive
in West Jordan)

Blog Interviews

Thanks to the lovely Jaskirat for posting an interview with me over at her blog. Check it out.

I also did an interview over at Safari Poet, a brilliant blog chock full of book news, interviews, and reviews. You can even win a signed ARC of The Predicteds over there! Go take a look. That's my last ARC, follks.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Readers

The best thing about writing a book is hearing from readers. I luuuurve to talk about books with anyone who will participate in the conversation. And there's a lot of conversation out there. I can't believe I just discovered book bloggers! Where have I been since 1998?? The only downside is that I never get anything done anymore. It takes me all day just to keep up with everyone's reviews and discussions. I need an assistant to do my actual work. (Anyone want to teach my class this summer? Takers?)

Every day I discover a new great blog. Today's great find is Amanda who just reviewed The Predicteds. I love that she mentions the themes that I was wrestling with as I wrote the book.

You should go read her blog.

Then you should really consider teaching my summer class for me.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I'm doing a little series of videos (produced by one of the most talented professional communicators out there, the lovely Anita Boeira). I'll be answering questions about writing, reading, and probably The Jersey Shore. What do you want to know? What should I talk about? Submit your questions here, and I'll make sure to adress them!

Videos will be posted here and on my Facebook page throughout the summer.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring Semester 2011--> Done

The Good: Final exams and papers are all graded!
The Bad: I feel brain dead.
The Good: Spring term is officially over.
The Bad: Summer term started yesterday.
The Good: I have some time to recover before my summer class begins.
The Bad: I have neglected my own writing this semester.
The Good: I am going undercover to write until somone comes looking for me.

See y'all then!

Monday, April 18, 2011

In Which I’m an Idiot

I just learned that a flash mob is not a mob of naked people. I’m not sure where I came up with that definition, but that’s what I thought.
Imagine my surprise when I found out the students at the college where I teach participated in a flash mob. I was concerned because it was cold that day! When nobody disrobed, I figured that either a) they did it wrong, or b) my definition was way off.
Turns out that “b” is the correct answer.
Please enjoy this video of fully clothed people dancing to Lady Gaga in the courtyard of our very lovely college.

Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?

So a lot of people ask writers where the ideas come from. I can’t speak for all writers, but for me, the ideas—the good ones, the ones I want to pursue—come from questions I can’t answer. Everything springs forth from there.
My first novel, The Predicteds, is due out in September, and I’ve been reading some bloggers and Goodreads folks who are wondering what it’s about. I’ll post more about that later. For right now, there’s just a tag line: What if your boyfriend was destined to commit murder? That’s not the original question I had when I started, but it morphed into that, eventually.
My original questions went something like this: What if you knew someone was going to end up a murderer?  What would you do? Could you change that person? Could you change yourself?
The questions arose from a tragedy that happened here in Salt Lake City a few years ago. A high-school student walked into a mall and opened fire on a crowd of shoppers. It was a tragedy unlike any Salt Lake has known, yet it was hardly unusual. It seems like every time we turn around, there’s another shooting somewhere in the U.S. that looks just like this one.
The Predicteds isn’t about a mall shooting. It’s not even about murder  or crime really. It’s about what makes us who we are. Are we born into our destiny? Or do we make one for ourselves?

Monday, April 4, 2011

I Give This Topic Two Stars (Or Maybe Twenty-Seven)

I’m a big Goodreads user; I would not even consider reading a book before I put it on my virtual currently-reading shelf. I set reading goals and meticulously keep track of what I’ve read and what I liked (or disliked) about my books. And keeping track of everything is really easy with Goodreads. (In the olden days, I had to chisel my notes on a slate tablet).
The problem with Goodreads, though, is that it wants me to publicly rate my books. That stresses me out.  When I rate a book, I do it to remind myself how I felt about that book at that particular time. It’s not a commentary on the book itself necessarily.
 Lots of perfectly great books just don’t resonate with me when I read them the first time; likewise, I often love an unpopular book just because it was the right book at the right time. But online starring systems seem to suggest that however many stars a book has is indicative of the book’s merit. Prep, a book by Curtis Sittenfeld, only received 3.27 stars. That’s one of my favorite books. I’ve read it at least three times. I’d give it more than five stars if I could; I think it’s pretty masterfully done, and I can so relate to the neurotic main character.  
The opposite happens too. Sometimes I hate books that everybody else loves. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has 3.93 stars (even though more than 2500 people have given it only one star.) Count me a hater. Too many descriptions of coffee and sandwiches. Too many sex-starved women throwing themselves at a protagonist who has little to offer, save for coffee and sandwiches.
But even though  I rated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo two stars, that doesn’t mean it’s a two-star book. I just didn’t like it. For one, I’m not a huge fan of crime novels, and I really hate graphic descriptions of violence. Second, I read it while I was in Europe last spring, and my attention was quite divided. Third, I think there was something lost in the translation, and I just couldn’t appreciate what we were presented in English
I get that our responses to books—especially fiction—are very personal responses. So it pains me to click on the little stars, especially if I’m going to give a book only one or two of the measly buggers. If I only give a book one star, will I make the author (or fans of the author) feel bad? Will they understand that my one star simply means that it wasn’t the right book for me? Will it impact sales of the book?

The other problem with stars is that I change my mind about books. I adored Donna Tartt’s The Secret History the first time I read it. I loved it the second time. By the third time, I demoted it to just plain “liked it a lot.” I don’t think the book got worse; I just changed. And the context in which I read it changed. Conversely, I couldn’t make it through The Good Earth when I first tried reading it in grad school. I finally read the whole thing a few years ago, and I thought it was incredible. I know a lot of people hated Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, but I loved it. Part of the reason, I think, is that I read it right after I had foot surgery this fall. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t sleep, so I had long uninterrupted hours of reading time. It’s the kind of book that requires big reading gulps. I think if I had read in sips, I would not have had the same positive response. No number of stars could convey all of that.
All of this rambling was prompted by a book I just finished that I hated. Most readers loved it, but I thought it was really poorly written. Everything about it just rubbed me wrong way: the characters, the plot, the writing. If I had rated it, I would’ve given it one star. But I didn’t rate it because I don’t think any book deserves to be a one-star book. Every book speaks to someone, even if it didn’t work for me.
For all of these reasons, I'm hereby boycotting the star system. I just can't label books like that. It feels too much like a beauty pageant. Why should I make my books parade around in bathing suits while I give them arbitrary ratings? It's just plain wrong.

No more stars.
(Unless I can't help myself.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crisis Mode

I'm really bad in emergencies. I'm the person who starts running around in circles and asking irrelevant questions about family history of heat rash while someone bleeds to death in front of me. Case in point: I once came upon a woman having a seizure in the parking lot of my favorite burrito joint. Instead of calling 911 immediately, I ran inside the burrito store and told my husband--and fifteen burrito patrons--that I was intending to call 911. (I did make the call and the paramedics arrived and she was fine, by the way).

So tonight I'm returning home from a walk with my husband when my neighbor yells for me to come and help her. Her sweet little girl had fallen off a chair and cut her finger very badly. Her two other little girls were understandably quite upset. My neighbor asked me to sit with the kids while she rode in the ambulance and met her husband at the hospital. While we waited for the paramedics, my job was to hold a dishtowel on this poor little thing's mangled finger. As soon as I saw the blood, I thought I was going to faint. But this kid is five and managed not to even cry really. She even told me--in great detail--how it all happened. By the time she left in the ambulance, I needed a Xanax. (Think of her poor mom!)

All I can say is thank goodness I'm a real doctor and not a medical doctor! (Credit for that line goes to my friend Rulon Wood who taught me that PhDs are way better degrees than MDs).

(Even though we're all completely useless for the most part.)

(Unless Jane Eyre severs her finger).

Tonight's coveted courage award goes to my five-year-old neighbor, her twin sister, and their little baby sister, all of whom handled themselves with grace and good sense. Let's hope they all grow up to be doctors! I'll stick to PhDing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fudge: The Midlife Crisis Years

I first read a library copy of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume when I was in second or third grade. I adored it. I managed to get a hold of my very own copy of Superfudge shortly after that. I read it until the cover fell off and I had to tape it back together. (My copy of Blubber is equally mangled; when I was about ten, I found a garage sale paperback that was already pretty tattered. Right before the cover disintegrated, I traced it in the hope of being able to draw my own replacement!) I loved those Judy Blume books more than just about anything else in the world.
Last week I found an audio copy of Double Fudge at the library. It’s read by Judy Blume herself, and she’s a terrific narrator. I want to call her up and invite her over for coffee and apple cinnamon muffins on my patio. At the very least, I want to write her a really long fan letter.  Reading those books again feels like visiting my very best friends from childhood.  And I still love them just as much!
I wish Judy Blume would write just one more novel telling me what Peter and Fudge Hatcher are like as middle-aged men. I assume that Peter followed his dad into advertising. He has two daughters and a dog. Tootsie grew up to be a dentist. Jimmy is a professional hockey player. Fudge is most certainly unemployed, save for a few stints as a game show contestant and a couple of viral videos. I’m quite sure he lives in Peter’s basement.   
All of Judy Blume's books were instrumental to me. I see the world the way I do now in part because of those books. They weren't just entertainment to me (though I did find them entertaining); more than anything, they taught me how other people think and live. And isn't that what literature is for?
If I can write a book that speaks to just one reader the way Judy Blume spoke to me, I’ll feel like a successful writer.
Then I'll quit writing and just watch more TV.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Earthquake Whistle

A few years ago, during a faculty meeting, we were all presented with whistles (nice ones, with lanyards!). The idea behind the gift was this: if the big earthquake strikes—Salt Lake City is on a major fault line—my fourth-floor office is likely to have a garden-level view. The whistle will presumably help the search and rescue team find me. I know! This is not the story you want to hear when presented with a gift. “Look! I’ve purchased for you a rubber suit! It should protect you against the rabid dog I see slobbering behind you.”
I see a few problems with this whistle plan; for one, the idea that I might need a whistle because I’ve somehow survived a four-story plummet into a pile of rubble scares the liver out of me. For another, I don’t carry that whistle at all times. What if I’ve just popped across the hall to use the bathroom? I guess that’s what the fancy lanyard is for. Every time I open my desk drawer and see that whistle, I get a little nervous. Honestly, it’s not that loud. (I’ve taken it on a few test runs). If I’m buried in rubble, I’d prefer a trumpet.  Or a gong. Do they make lanyards for those?
The earthquake whistle came to mind this week because it’s spring break (spring!? Ha. Hardly.), and I’ve been using my break (break!? Ha. Hardly.) to catch up on paper-grading. I feel metaphorically buried; that whistle would come in handy right about now. “Please find me! I’m buried in papers of all kinds. Please help!”
I’m making decent progress, but I feel very cheated out of spring break. Consider the whistle blown.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jersey Shore Is the Perfect Shade of Orange

I admit it: I watch the Jersey Shore and I love it. Even when I hate it.  I’m an MTV fan girl. Watching coming-of-age stories that involve a bunch of clowns GTLing really appeals to me.
As a general rule I’m actually a picky TV watcher. I’ve never seen Survivor or The Amazing Race. Can’t be bothered with The Bachelor or any of the other dating shows.  Or any of the housewives. I’m not interested in the models, chefs, or fashion designers angling for jobs. Don’t even get me started about the plastic surgery shows. It’s gotta be an MTV show.  I like shows about people who are developmentally stunted at adolescence, but who are still young enough that I hold out hope that they’ll reform. Or they won’t. And that’ll be just fine with me. As long as MTV finds a new crop of twenty-somethings who are willing to dye themselves orange and wear bedazzled T-shirts. (“T-shirt time!”)
Apparently, though, there’s some general hand-wringing over whether or not the show encourages young viewers to emulate the bad behavior of the cast. I guess I can see the concern. If I had kids, I might worry if they chose Snooki as their role-model. But I’m not convinced that younger kids who watch this show (do they watch it? could anything I watch be even remotely cool? I doubt it) think that the “characters” on the show are the heroes. I’m pretty sure Snooks and the gang are the butt of the joke. And I’m also pretty sure that viewers get that, even the young impressionable ones.
One hundred years ago, when I was twelve, I wouldn’t have even been interested in this show. I wouldn’t have had time for it. I was too busy listening to Soviet hair bands and thinking about whether or not I should get leg warmers (I didn’t—thank goodness) and making lists of stuff I hated (movies about killer sharks and/or piranhas; peas; windy days) and things I loved (Soviet hair bands). I’m willing to bet that the pre-teens of today have better things to do than tune in to see what The Sitch is up to.  (Spoiler Alert: Nothing. He does nothing. Week after week.)
I’m hopeful that fans of the show recognize that these “characters”—likeable as they sometimes can be—are poster-children for what not to do, especially when your life is being documented by a film crew. (J-Woww has all but ruined her chances for a Supreme Court appointment. Nobody who battles the beat like that will ever be on C-Span.) The Situation is a narcissist with serious sandwich issues. Vinnie is a misogynist with even more serious mommy issues. Snooki has a problem with the booze. Sammi suffers from a common ailment: bad taste in boyfriends. She also has a less common affliction: a strange predilection for petting her own hair. 
Yes, these fools are making a ton of money to act like idiots, but I’m still not convinced that viewers  aspire to be like them. I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to watch and thank our lucky stars that we aren’t passed out in a dog pen like Snooki. I think it’s supposed to make us feel good: even though we aren’t famous and we aren’t rich and we don’t have awesome hair extensions, at least—at least!—our dresses cover our underwear. And we don’t talk about poop on television. We’re klassy that way.
Ronnie is the only “character” who MTV has been too kind to in the editing process: he’s an abusive boyfriend, and nobody should’ve accepted his behavior or excused it. MTV should've addressed emotional and phyiscal abuse in a more direct way. It was a perfect opportunity. Other perfect opportunities for important lessons? Ah, how about the rumored coke and steroid use? Let's remember that these "characters" aren't role models; they're anti-role models. It's okay to point out their flaws. It's the purpose of the whole show! Consider this a memo, MTV.
I admit that the sexism on the show rankles me sometimes. If a grenade is a grenade, then somebody really ought to call out Vinnie: that kid is painfully awkward and completely unaware that no girl--no matter how much he "wifes her up"-- is going to live to do his laundry and make his dinner. Consider this a memo, Vin.
So will I keep watching? Of course. What else would I do while on the treadmill? Do I think this show represents the decline of Western culture. Nah. It’s no worse than Three’s Company. If aliens one day find our cultural artifacts, they’ll be way less impressed with Jack Tripper than The Situation. Do I think the show glamorizes irresponsible sex and alcohol abuse? Nope. I think it does the opposite. If you watch Snooki drunkenly fall face-first in the sand while a crowd of hundreds watches, and you want to be her, then you need to clean your blinged-out sunglasses. These kids are a cautionary tale.  Message taken.