Cultivating Resiliency Through Books for Teens ~ PLA in Indianapolis

This past week I was at the PLA, Public Library Association, conference in Indianapolis signing books and giving a presentation on “Cultivating Resiliency Through Books for Teens.” I even had my picture in the paper for the event! John Green gave a presentation, too, and I don’t know how I beat him out!


In the paper! Bigger picture than Jane Pauley!


Signing Books




With a Fan ~ Love those librarians!

Here’s my presentation! I was rather nervous at first, but got it under control. 🙂

Fiction isn’t real, but it is true. Especially when it is about real issues that impact teens. Reading about difficult topics is a non-threatening way to experience the trauma and consequences, and ultimately hope, through the characters in the book. Perhaps it is something they personally have experienced or a friend has experienced. Or something that the teen will encounter in the future. They may identify with the characters which can alleviate feelings of isolation and instill the understanding that they are not alone.  When you see a character dealing with abuse or divorce and then moving beyond it and healing, you create hope.

Fiction is a great teacher. It is a safe place to confront the difficult issues that teens deal with every day. I’ve always believed that information is power and communication is the key. Writing stories about difficult issues like drinking, divorce, sex or self-destructive behavior does not cause teens to engage in that behavior. On the contrary, it helps them develop tools and skills to use when confronted with those issues in real life. Reading fiction about difficult topics is like reading a self-help book as an allegory. Studies show that the reader experiences the same feelings and emotions as the character in the book she is reading.  This is truly empowering because it allows them to experience life within the safety of the pages of a book and formulate opinions and strategies for how they might behave or react in real life. Banning or withholding books that deal with difficult topics does not protect teens. It keeps them from learning valuable lessons and gaining knowledge. It is knowledge that helps teens become resilient.

So Fiction is a powerful tool in creating resilient teens. The messages are deftly woven through the story so that while the reader is entertained, they are also presented with a subtle, deeper meaning.

The Field

–          When I was developing the plot and conflict in The Field, I asked my teenaged children and niece, then aged 15, what issues would be the most true-to-life and relevant to them. They suggested drinking as it was something that really came up among their peers. Like it or not, kids are drinking in high school. They also suggested parents divorcing, as so many of their friends and acquaintances were experiencing that in their lives.

–           In THE FIELD, the main character, Eric, struggles to figure out how to help his best friend Will who starts abusing alcohol to deal with his parent’s divorce. At first Will’s drinking doesn’t seem too bad. Who else is he hurting? But the possibility exists that he could get caught and thrown off the soccer team jeopardizing the success of the entire team. As Eric tries to talk to Will about the drinking and his parent’s divorce, Will becomes more and more hostile. The deterioration of their friendship follows the same downward spiral as Will’s descent into drinking. Eventually Eric washes his hands of Will saying “I know he’s dealing with the mess his dad left, but I’m done. I don’t need to be his punching bag.”

–          When Will puts his life at risk driving drunk, Eric knows he can’t abandon his best friend and it is his refusal to give up on Will, even in the face of Will’s hostility, that saves him.

–           By the end of the novel, Will recognizes that not only did the drinking not help, it almost cost him his life. He also realizes that even though his parents are divorcing, his father still loves him.  The reader sees Will work through his issues and come out the other side.

–          I dedicated the book to my children and their friends and to Brett Finbloom, a soccer teammate of my son’s who died from alcohol poisoning the summer before his freshman year in college. Although I didn’t base the story in any way on Brett (it was already in rough draft when he died), the circumstances of his death emphasized the importance of having an open dialog with teens about drinking.

–          Brett’s family started a foundation called “Make Good Choices” and in the conversations they have with young people after their presentations, they hear over and over again from the kids how talking about drinking and not pretending that it doesn’t happen or simply forbidding it, helped them to work through questions they have and made them really think about the choices they make.

Indian Summer

–          In this middle-grade novel, the issues are not as difficult, but they are of utmost importance to a middle-schooler. Marcie is dealing with issues of peer-pressure, fitting in and doing what you think is right against insurmountable odds.

–          At the beginning of the novel Marcie lacks self-confidence in dealing with the popluar girls. She is thrown in with one of the girls, Kaitlyn, who is a little more worldly-wise and bold. With Kaitlyn, Marcie does things that she normally wouldn’t do.

–          Kaitlyn’s father is secretly developing old growth forest on the lake into luxury homes. Marcie wants to stop him, but doesn’t know how.

–          When she abandons Kaitlyn’s team in the middle of the sailboat race to save her elderly friend, Al, she has made a decision to follow her own convictions and not be swayed by Kaitlyn and the popular, wealthy crowd, even if it means she loses Kaitlyn’s friendship. As a result, she finds a way to stop the development of the land.

–          Marcie discovers that she can be true to herself and keep her friendships without compromising her own values.

By exploring real life circumstances and issues through fiction, instead of pretending that they don’t exist in an effort to protect or shield  young people, we gird them with powerful tools with which to deal with the difficult things that inevitably show up in life. Through knowledge we create empowered, resilient teens.

Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth and The Hero With A Thousand Faces, said,

“The big problem of any young person’s life is to have models to suggest possibilities.” He also said,

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heros of all time have gone before us.”

What all writers of fiction are really creating is Myth and as Joseph Campbell has concluded, there is power in myth.

Through the difficult trials of the hero’s journey, our protagonist, and our teen readers, are changed. They are stonger. They are resilient.

Book Signing with Fellow SCBWI Authors

It was a fun way to spend Saturday morning – a book signing at 4 Kids Books & Toys with other Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators published authors.


I shared a table with Angie Karcher, Where the River Grins, and Laurie Gray, Maybe I Will, Summer Santuary and Just Myrto (Spring, 2014)





Illustrator and author Kristi Valiant with her picture book “Penguin Cha-Cha”




Mike Mullin -always up for a joke – author of Ashfall, Ashen Winter and Sunrise (Spring 2014)


Julia Karr – XVI and Truth, and Alina Klein – Rape Girl

We also heard from Besty Bird, YA and children’s librarian at the New York Public Library, about trends in the industry. She is so in the know and had so much to share! Follow her blog at Fuse 8 Production to find out what’s going on in the world of YA and children’s literature.


The idea behind The Field came from several different places. The first influence was metaphysical. We all experience it. The hunch that turns out to be true, running into a friend that you were just thinking about, the answer to a question you were pondering popping into your head or an eerily prophetic dream. I wanted to tell a story about a regular person, a normal person, who was having these types of experiences. Most of the YA paranormal stories that I read are about teens who are extra-ordinary in some way. They have special powers that no one else possesses. In The Field, Eric is an ordinary high school soccer player who is experiencing something more. He’s connecting to The Universal Energy Field and the Collective Consciousness; something that I believe we all can do.

The second influence was all of the disaster, post-apocalyptic literature out there. I like a good dystopian story as much as the next person, but I was starting to feel as if all we could see in the future was doom and gloom. I’d like to think that we are better than that. Certainly bad things happen and bad people exist, but why not focus on what is good? It doesn’t have to be sappy or boring, either. And it isn’t necessarily easy. Eric struggles with figuring out how to tap into The Field, how to play well in the goal, and in his relationships with his girlfriend and best friend.  And it doesn’t end with him having all the answers. The process is what matters and what he learns is that he’ll never know everything and that it’s not important. He just needs to know that there is something more out there than we experience, if we just take the time to pay attention.

Environmental issues play an important role in my writing as well. I have a degree in biology and while I didn’t pursue science as a career, I am still very influenced by it. The earth is our home and I believe that we should take care of her. We live in a throw-away culture, not thinking about how our plastic bottles or lawn fertilizer will affect the world around us. I think the time is fast approaching when we’ll have to take notice. Really, it’s already here. In The Field I focus on so-called ‘Clean Coal’ and to some extent nuclear energy and compare them to other truly clean energy sources such as wind or solar and then I take it a step further. What if The Universal Energy Field is a source of energy that we can tap into? How would we do it? What is it? I don’t mean to claim that I have the answers, but there are brilliant scientists who are trying to find those answers. Again, it comes back to my belief that there is so much more in the Universe than we perceive or even imagine.

The soccer focus came naturally. Both my husband and son are soccer goal-keepers. Our son is still playing club soccer in college and my husband has coached travel and high school soccer for years. You could say that I am a soccer mom, but I wish you wouldn’t. Really. Even though I do have a van. And live in the suburbs. I will say that watching your son dive at the feet of a sprinting, teen-aged boy intent on scoring is the worst kind of torture. Let’s just say that my stomach was in knots most weekends and I spent a lot of time in the bathroom at games from nerves! In fact, our son recently sent a text message picture of himself with a broken nose from playing soccer while my husband and I were on vacation. At first we thought he’d been mugged or in a fight because there was no message accompanying the picture. Do you know what he said when we called him in a panic? “I made the save!” I did actually play one season of women’s league soccer myself, but after being drilled in the face with a ball and knocked completely off my feet, I was glad to discover that I was pregnant and could no longer play. (Okay, it was a long time ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. My team wore pink socks. So not my color!)

Exploring these ideas through the vehicle of story presents a unique opportunity. In fiction, I can make things up (which I love), but I can also present new ideas in a way that is more accessible and approachable. I hope that my books allow people to look beyond what they think they know is true, and, hopefully, give them a really good story to enjoy while they’re doing it.

Winking at the Moon

Last fall I went to a public star gaze with the Indiana Astronomical Society to do research on my novel, THE FIELD. Eric, my protagonist, goes to a public star gaze and I wanted to get a feel for what it would be like. It was a wonderful night! The amature astronomers were so generous in sharing their telescopes and pointing out celestial objects. Neil Armstong had recently passed away and his family requested that people ‘Wink at the Moon’ to honor him the next time they saw the moon. Here are my friend Susan and I winking at the moon with members of the Indiana Astronomical Society. Godspeed Neil!

Tracy's iphone 067

Art and Science

I was listening to a show on our local NPR station “The Art of the Matter” on Saturday and they mentioned a new program called The daVinci Pursuit. It is aimed at young adults who are a little old for the ‘Children’s Museum’, but still need a cool place to hang out and experience art and science. The director of the program referenced Leonardo daVinci (obviously) and Michealangelo as examples of artists whose work was informed by science. This really resonates with me as I didn’t start off as a writer (although if you read my last post – Projects – you’ll see that I’ve always been interested in art.) I worked summers in college in the mirobiology lab of Evanston Hospital and have a B.S. in Biology from IU. I still love science even though my career path took a different route. I’ve always felt that my mathmatical/scientific mind helped me to see patterns and shapes, relationships and colors in my art and that understanding science (or perhaps making new discoveries) requires a considerable measure of creativity. My sister-in-law once gave me a terrific complement by saying that I was one of the few people she knew who is both left and right brained. I was flattered, but I wonder, is that really true, or do we all have equal measures of both? I find that my writing incorporates my science background as well. My next novel-in-progress, a YA titled THE FIELD, deals with alternative energy sources (wind, solar, and so-called clean coal) and The Universal Energy Field or Zero Point Field that some scientists postulate permeates every inch of space in the Universe. It takes a bit of creativity to imagine it and a lot of scientific work to discover it. I’ll post a new excerpt to THE FIELD soon!

School Visits and Summer Writing

Snacks Crossing Pizza Party


Muffins for Moms


Deer Run 4th & 5th graders

I had a busy month of May with school visits. Visiting the schools and talking with kids about reading and writing is really a joy! At Snacks Elementary, a group of students read Indian Summer as part of a reading group and had a pizza party during my visit. They asked a lot of great questions and everyone wants a sequel. I do have the beginnings of the sequel forming in my imagination, but it will have to wait until I get The Field, my next novel, down on paper (or into the computer). At Stephen Decatur Elementary, I did a presentation on ‘Reading for Literacy’ to the Muffins for Moms program and almost 400 people attended. They were very excited to buy books for summer reading. I spoke with 200 4th and 5th graders at Eagle Creek Elementary about ‘Bringing Characters to Life’. They were a great audience.

I’m getting a lot of great writing done on The Field  this summer. I like to write outside when I can where I can look at my garden and take breaks to play fetch with Ernie.