Monday, September 16, 2019

Maybe He Just Likes You- A Review and ARC Giveaway

After watching Colby Sharp's YouTube  recommendation of Barbara Dee's newest book, Maybe He Just Likes You (Simon and Schuster), I knew I wanted to read it. 

As I mentioned to Ms. Dee when I connected with her on Facebook, it's a book that I both love and hate. I love it because it is written so well. I hate it because it deals so honestly with a topic-- sexual harassment--that no 7th grader should have to think about or deal with.  


Barbara Dee doesn't waste time. Right off the bat, the protagonist, Mila, receives unwelcome attention from Callum. He and his three friends (all basketball players) join a circle of friendship Mila and her friends created to celebrate their friend Omi's birthday. After singing "Happy Birthday" Callum continues to hug Mila. 
I wriggled my shoulders, but Callum's hand was squeezing. And I am not leaving.
Now I could feel my armpits getting damp. (p. 7)
From that uncomfortable encounter onward, Callum and his friends continue to harass Mila. Zara dismisses the incidents as the boys just being friendly and/or Mila being a baby or flirting with them. Omi fails to support Mila. Her fourth friend, Max, sees the bullying and recommends she talk to the assistant principal. But since he is also the basketball coach, Mila is reluctant to bring him into the picture. 

At the same time that Mila is experiencing increased unwanted attention and physical contact from the boys, her divorced mother loses her job and the family experiences financial stress. Mila can't confide in her mother and feels alone. Her one source of comfort--playing her trumpet--doesn't give her the normal "blue sky feeling" since Callum is in the school band and things seem to happen during practice. 

As the book progresses, Mila gets to know Samira, a Black star clarinetest, who observes the unwanted attention Mila is receiving. Here is an interchange between the two girls, beginning with Samira:
"If it was me, I wouldn't allow it."  
"You think I allowed it?" 
"I'm just saying, you don't  have to put up with stuff like that, Mila. It's just really wrong, you know?" (p. 56)
Although Mila is validated that the boys' attention is inappropriate, she misunderstands Samira's comment and is left feeling as if all this is her fault.

Mila's mother begins working out a local gym that also has classes for kids. Mila ends up in a karate class where Samira clearly knows how to handle herself. Mila thinks,
How do you get like that? 
knowing what to do, in what order. 
Not thinking. Or not-thinking. 
Not ignoring. And not running away. 
Could I ever do any of that? 
Could one of those girls ever be me? 
As hard as I tried, it was impossible to 
imagine.  (p. 105)
As Mila begins to see that she is a victim of the boys' bullying, she starts reacting--but not always in appropriate ways. Not until she disrupts the band concert and has a heart-to-heart talk with her band teacher, is Mila given words to understand her experience of sexual harassment. Becoming more adept at karate class gives her newfound confidence. In turn, this is translated into stronger thoughts about herself and more forthright communication with others.

I highly recommend Maybe He Just Likes You for both girls and boys; it would be a useful conversation starter in any classroom or family. 


I wrote to Ms. Dee in our Facebook interchange, "I'm over 60. Wish there had been a book like this when I was that age. It would have helped."

She replied, "Totally agree. We never discussed these things and they never got solved."


I am giving away my ARC to one fortunate reader. Leave me a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by September 19 if you want to enter the giveaway. Giveaway limited to continental United States. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

I Finished My Book, Now What? Some ABC's of Being Between Books

Congratulations to Theresa Milstein who won Tomorrow's Bread from last week's blog.


One of the television shows my husband and I enjoy is ChoppedBesides watching the incredible creations the cooks come up with out of their mystery baskets, I like the final second when the cooks' time is up. They throw up their hands and step away from the plates. There is nothing more they can do.

That's how I felt last week when I typed "The End" on HALF-TRUTHS, tweaked it a few more times, and pressed SEND.

After over eleven years, my young adult historical novel was on its way to an agent. 


I step back, but I'm not about to throw my hands up in the air.

Instead, here's a peak at what will keep me busy--and keep me from checking my email every minute of the day as I wait for an answer. 

A is for agents. I'll continue to work on my list of agents who I'll query next. I have a folder in my email box in which I've been saving agents I've read about who are interested in YA historical novels; most of them from Kathy Temean's excellent blog, Writing and Illustrating. (If you are serious about writing or illustrating for children or teens, you need to follow this blog.) I'll study each agent's wish list and if I think they're a good fit, I'll move their name and agency information to my list on Query Tracker. For $25.00/a year you get the premium membership with many benefits. 

B is for brochure. Mine is out of date and it'll probably take hours for me to come up with a new design template. Not my favorite thing to do. 

Old brochure.

C is for clean up my computer. I keep running out of room on my hard drive! Time to move photos and files. 

A little old-school, I know. But I still like them!

D is for dentist. Overdue.  

E is for EQUAL.  

Joyce Hostetter sent me the manuscript for her last book in the Baker Mountain Series several months ago. She has given me a tremendous amount of feedback and input into HALF-TRUTHS. Time to return the favor. 

F is for the Federlin files.

One of Henry Federlin's genealogy lists.

I inherited many things from my father, Henry Federlin, including his desire to document his life. I have two folders full of papers that he saved which I promised to copy for my brother and sister.  

I is for Instagram. 
Apparently Instagram (not Facebook!) is the way to connect with teen readers. I have an account, but have only a smidgen of knowledge how to use it. 

L is for lunch with friends.

 (my friends are less furry but I couldn't resist this!)

M is for Marguerite Higgins.

While researching HALF-TRUTHS, I came across Marguerite Higgins, a journalist who covered WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. She becomes Kate's heroine and perhaps, my subject for a non-fiction picture book biography. 

M is also for Dr. Marie Maynard Daly.

I also discovered Dr. Marie Daly, who becomes Lillian's heroine. I think she would make an excellent subject for a non-fiction picture book biography. 

S is for Scrivener 3.  

See comment on Instagram above about learning something new. Except that I've begun my next book in both Scrivener 2 and 3. First off: figure out how to import one to the other.

T is for Talking Story.  Our fall issue is on Native Americans and First Nations. 

T is also for THREADS. The working title for my sequel to HALF-TRUTHS.  
Charlotte textile industry roots
Image courtesy Bank of America.

The textile mills are as much a part of Charlotte, NC's history as the Jim Crow laws. The story will take place in 1954, involve the textile mills, and revolve around Frank, Kate Dinsmore's younger brother, and Isaac, Lillian Harris's older brother who has just returned from his service in Korea. 

W is for Write2Ignite. Our annual conference is less than two weeks away and I need to finish getting ready. I'm giving three talks for teens and am excited to encourage these burgeoning authors. There's still time to register!


How about you? What do you put off doing until you've completed a project? 

Which item on my "to do" list will I tackle first? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Author Interview with Anna Jean Mayhew- Part II

As promised on last week's blog, A.J.Mayhew, author of Tomorrow's Bread answers more questions on the art of writing fiction, being a White author writing from a Black POV, and dealing with doubt.

Secondary Characters

CAROL How did you pick Eben and Persy as your secondary characters?

A.J. It may sound weird, but I feel like they picked me. I knew right off that Loraylee would be my primary narrator. Initially I wrote her narration in third person past tense, but that wasn't "active" enough…when I changed it to first person present tense, she leapt off the page. I began to think about other people who lived in Brooklyn; I wanted a community leader for my second narrator, and Eben worked well for that. He was perhaps the easiest to write, although I was surprised by his doubts; I had assumed that as a minister he would have a deep and abiding faith, but throughout the novel he voices great uncertainties.

Persy was the most difficult of the three narrators, maybe because she was the most like me. The address I chose for her home with her husband Blair is less than a mile from where I grew up; she was a young wife only a few years before I had the same role, same neighborhood, same schools, etc. I had to find a way to let her be her unique self, so I wrote a lot of back story that never made it into the book, pages and pages about her parents, her brother, about her husband's parents (his realtor father, his meddlesome housewife mother); I found that by creating a life story for her that was vastly different from mine, I became free to write her narration.

One reason I chose to have Persy and her husband Blair live on Sugar Creek is that I wanted something to connect them with Brooklyn besides politics. Thus the creek became sort of a character in the novel, roaming as it does from north Charlotte through south Charlotte and on to the Catawba river. It's mentioned in the opening line of the novel and in the last line. I didn't plan that, but when it happened I realized how important Sugar Creek, aka Little Sugar, meant to the story and to me (I grew up only a couple of blocks from the creek, and it was always there in my life).
1942 image of houses near Little Sugar Creek.
Photo courtesy of Beaumert Whitton Papers,
UNC Charlotte Atkins Library

History + Fiction = A Great Story!

CAROL You mentioned in your acknowledgments that Cliff Staton "relieved you of the burden of sticking to the facts.” As a hopeful historical novelist, I’m curious about this. Obviously, there is a ton of truth in this book. How did you decide what to fictionalize? I’m curious about the church and the cemetery. Were they real? Any “real” people? 

A.J. I found a story about a “lost” graveyard behind Myers Park Country Club in a wealthy area of Charlotte; human remains were discovered when foundations were dug for a new development in the mid-1980s, where an AME Zion church once stood. That led me to read about old graveyards—particularly those where slaves were buried—and to look into what would happen if a cemetery got in the way of urban renewal. I imagined a graveyard behind St. Timothy’s, and for the purposes of the drama such a burial ground would create, I chose to fictionalize, to disregard the fact that there was no cemetery in Brooklyn.

As for being relieved of the burden of sticking to the facts, my friend Cliff Staton was referring to an author statement about writing fiction, and having the right—as novelists—to "make stuff up." Cliff and I had a long conversation at the kitchen table back when I was agonizing about whether I would get all the facts right. He helped me see that my story was driven by the characters—fictional people—and that if I got the historical facts right (e.g., when the bulldozers rolled), I could have fun making up the rest. And I did!

Commemorating the Brooklyn community.
Placard hanging in Second Ward High gymnasium. 

Writing as a White Author

CAROL Have you had any negative response from the Black community for writing two of the viewpoints from a Black person’s POV? 

AJ I have had two reviews thus far from men who grew up in Brooklyn, and await a third from a woman who lived there. The first two were stunning in their approval and praise. A big weight was lifted when I got those comments!

Thus far the only criticism of being white and writing black has been in one of the Amazon reviews, wherein someone named Petunia said: "I'm just not really sure that the author does a good job of representing POC [people of color] and often wonder if someone who is white should be writing from that perspective."

I am sick and tired of the whole issue of what's being called "cultural appropriation." As a white person perceptive about such things (how could I write what I write without being aware of and respectful of race issues?), I was at first quite defensive when considering whether I had appropriated. But any such issue can be taken to extremes. If Tolstoy and Flaubert had been told they could not write from the POV of a woman, we wouldn't have Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary. If Puccini had been told he could not "appropriate" Japanese mores, we would not have Madama Butterfly. Likewise, there's Carmen, set in Southern Spain and written by Georges Bizet, French and male, about a gypsy woman falling in love.

And what about Uncle Tom's Cabin by the white author Harriet Beecher Stowe? 

The most stunning recent example is The Vain Conversation, an amazing novel with a young white protagonist—the son of a sharecropper—who witnesses the murder of four blacks from his town and whose life is forever changed. The author, Anthony Grooms, is a professor of English and black. I wonder what Petunia et al would have to say to him.

Writers must pay homage to the truth while creating fictional settings and characters, and must write with sensitivity no matter the setting or plot. I am first and foremost a Southern writer; as such, if I didn't include blacks in my stories, I would certainly be accused of the sin of omission.

To paraphrase the inimitable Toni Morrison, I don't appropriate, I imagine. 

Sugar Creek cleaned up and now enjoyed by many
in Freedom Park. 9/1/19

Taking your Time and Writerly Doubts

CAROL I love the fact that it took you 18 years to write and publish The Dry Grass of August. I’m well over 10 years into Half-Truths (I don’t really want to know how long it’s been) but given this is my first novel, I had a lot to learn. Here’s the question: How did you maintain your momentum while writing? Any doubts along the way that nagged at you? (I’m revealing my hand with that question.)

AJ I don't trust any writer (any artist of any medium) who never has doubts. I certainly did, many, and the only thing that dispelled them or took away their strength was to go right back to the computer (the manuscript, the drawing board). I have a quote pasted to the top of my monitor: "Trust the process. Let go of the results." That has served me well over the years. And as for maintaining my momentum, I've been in a writing group for 32 years; knowing that I would have to read to the group from my work in progress helped me tremendously. We meet on Thursday mornings, and I've said that my first novel should have had a subtitle: The Dry Grass of August: A Novel Written on Wednesday Evenings.

CAROL What's next?

AJ As I said in my "interview" in the back matter of TB, when asked, "Are you working on a third novel?" I answered, "Yes. No. Maybe." I've pulled out some short stories I wrote many years ago, so maybe a collection of them. Maybe a third novel…I do have an idea I'm pursuing, based on a book I wrote 25 years ago. But as I approach 80, the idea of writing another book makes me weary. Don't quote me!

Thank you, A.J., for taking the time to answer all my questions. If you live in the Charlotte area, A.J. will be one of the guests at the Women's National Book Association annual Bibliofeast on October 21. If you win her book, you can get her autograph!

By the way, ten discussion questions at the end make this book a perfect book club selection. 


Leave me a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog. Winner's name will be drawn on September 5. For additional chances, share this on social media and let me know what you did. 

This description of urban renewal is posted on
Second Ward High's refurbished gymnasium.
The high school was torn down in 1969.

Maybe He Just Likes You- A Review and ARC Giveaway

After watching Colby Sharp's YouTube   recommendation of Barbara Dee 's newest book, Maybe He Just Likes You   (Simon and Schuster...