Monday, September 30, 2013

The Art of Hangin' Out

by R.S. Mellette

I've been a bit quiet recently.  I haven't posted here or the Dances With Films blog in a couple of months. On Agent Query Connect, I'm lucky if I get to pop on for a quick word association post.  Not that I expect anyone to notice my absence, but I have.

Soon I'm going to have some happy news to announce, and it is due in no small part to both the amount of time I've hung out with my favorite groups, and the time I've selfishly stolen away from them.

That combination of time with, and time away from, my peers got me to thinking of the art of hangin' out.

Over the years I've been involved with theatre companies, writing groups, online communities, film festivals, film production companies, etc. and I've come to realize there is a delicate balance in the ratio of the individual helping the group, and the group helping the individual.  There's a Zen quality to this balance.  Each individual in a group wants to better his or her life by being a member, but members who only lookout for themselves rarely gain anything from the group.  Similarly, an individual who disregards their needs to only support the group, can become very important within the group, but have little success outside of it.

Writers, especially, struggle with this balance.  Without a trusted collection of beta readers, editors, walls to bounce ideas off of, etc. a writer's skills will wither.  Yet, I'm sure we all know writers with sage advice from past experiences who eagerly say, "Here's what I think of what I've read of your manuscript...", but haven't put their own words to the page in decades. 

So when I find myself in a group, I constantly measure my surroundings.  Are the people I'm working with on my level?  Are they too far above or below me?  That can be neither an exercise of inferiority nor snobbery, but an honest judgment.  I find myself most comfortable in a group where I fall somewhere in the middle.  I can learn by teaching others, and hopefully follow colleagues through doors they've opened.  Often, the doors are opened by a person you taught not so long ago.

There is a trap in staying with a group where your talent and experience is head and shoulders above the others. Laurels become easy chairs and ego strokes fill you up with empty calories.

In a group where your resume doesn't come close to the others, you can quickly become the king or queen of the servants.  Sure, your peers will be impressed, but what chances do you have of standing out or making your mark in the world?  These are good places to learn and move on.

In my current groups: Dances With Films, Agent Query Connect, and From The Write Angle, I feel at home.  So much so that I'm comfortable stepping away to work on my own stuff for a while.  Then to humbly return.  Sure, I want to show off what I've done - but I also want to find out what I've missed.  Whose success can I be happily jealous of?  What has changed?  What has remained the same?  How can I help the group?  I don't need to ask how the group can help me, because they have done so much already.

They've given me a home.  I suppose that's the best way to gauge a support group.  Do they feel like home?  And by that, of course, I mean that ideal home we see in all of the commercials and 1950s TV shows, not the dysfunctional homes that turned so many people into artists in the first place.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's good to be home.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Banned Books Week (And a FTWA Debut!)

by S. L. Duncan

It’s Banned Books Week! Incidentally, it is also the release week for Write Angler Mindy McGinnis! (Go buy her book here. Trust me, you want to read it.)

The two are not related. But three cheers for Mindy!

It’s a funny thing, wanting to ban a book. I’m not sure what drives a person to believe that they are capable of more sound thought or making better moral decisions than their neighbors, but there seems to be a lot of that going around. Especially in the United States. And double especially if those moral values pertain to the behavior of a woman. Looking at history, this is nothing new. (See the banning of The Diary of Anne Frank, Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret, Alice in Wonderland, etc., etc.)

I live in Alabama. There is no shortage of under-cultured male politicians that think they know better about how you should live, or what you should eat, whom you should marry, or what you should read or see on television. Basically, we’re teaming with idiots in positions of power. Recently, Senator Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, sought to have banned Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, because he found it to be objectionable.

So, what makes something so objectionable that is becomes ban worthy? And should you be cognizant of the danger of your work being banned when you write? (Quick answer – no.)

Content is key. A person said that, I believe. Here in the U.S., people go nuts over potty-mouth words and sex. Blood and carnage, though? Not so much. In Europe, it’s nearly the complete opposite in terms of what offends their sensibilities.

America seems kinda backwards, doesn’t it? A character cutting a guy’s head off on TV is fine, so long as she don’t tell him she’ll shit down his throat prior to doing so. Sure both are horrible, but which is worse?

Just how backwards is it getting? Here’s a quote from Rolling Stone (source – Upworthy) that sums up how little anything makes sense: “America is just so weird in what they think is right and wrong…Like, I was watching Breaking Bad the other day, and they were cooking meth. I could literally cook meth because of that show. It’s a how-to. And then they bleeped out the word ‘fuck’. And I’m like, really? They killed a guy, disintegrated his body in acid, but you’re not allowed to say ‘fuck’? It’s like when they bleeped ‘molly’ at the [MTV Video Music Awards]. Look at what I’m doing up here right now, and you’re going to bleep out ‘molly’?”

Yeah. That’s Miley Cyrus. Even she gets how arbitrary and capricious it all can be. Scary, right?

My point for you, the reader here to gather tidbits and advice for writing and publishing, is you can’t worry about those who will object to the content of your work. I’m not saying don't censor yourself. Self-censoring can be a smart way to be economic in what you want to say, or making your ideas become more impactful on the page. But never censor yourself because you might offend the sensibilities of someone.

Be true to your story, your words. Because when those written words are challenged, know that all written words are challenged.

So, stand up to the egomaniacal politicians that think they know better. And read a banned book while you're at it.

But read Mindy's first.

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and on Twitter.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Where There's a Story, There's an End

by Brighton Luke

(The only spoilers in this are at the end and will be marked ahead of time so feel free to read up until that point.)

Like many people I woke up today reeling from the second to last episode of Breaking Bad and the finale to Dexter. Novels and TV shows are very similar in that they require a large investment of time from the viewer/ reader, making the stakes that much higher at the end. Get it wrong and people will be angry and feel betrayed. Get it right and win heaps of praise for your brilliance.

For novels especially (even more so than TV shows I would argue) the ending can make or break a book’s greatness. For some stories you start writing it already knowing where it will end, for others it’s not quite so easy and you have to dive in hoping you’ll find your way there. The important thing with both approaches to remember is that any ending will work, so long as you write the story that will get you there. Some genres require happy ever afters, some require a mystery to be solved, or someone to be saved. All of those are important and you should know the general expectations for your chosen genre, but what I’ve noticed over the years as a reader and viewer is that no matter the subject matter no matter the genre the good endings were ones that started in act one.

Good endings are not always the endings I wanted, often times they are not at all what I wanted. I’m drawn to stories about very flawed characters who if you gave them their happy ending it wouldn’t ring true as much as I may want that for them. The key to a good ending isn’t that it be happy (though it can be) is to write one that is fitting. You spend all this time creating characters with vibrant personalities all their own, for the end you have to let them make the choices they were created to make. (And if you really hate the way the characters are going to act at the end to be in line with who they are, your problem isn’t with the ending as much as it is with the way you’ve written them up until that point.)

For me, the reason the ending season to Breaking Bad is so damn good (so far, they better not screw it up on the last one) is not because what I want to happen is happening, far from it. Exactly the opposite of what I said I hoped for at the start of this season is what has transpired. What makes it all so good is that at every turn there are surprises but at the same time the gut wrenching feeling of inevitability, each choice no matter how bad or good is exactly what the character that’s gotten us to this point would do. They haven’t suddenly changed on us for the sake of an ending.

The absolute worst thing I believe you can do to a reader (or viewer) is give them an ending where the characters inexplicably change to create the ending. Dramatic arcs are all about change, but that change has to be organic, it has to come from the story, from the character.







I hate that Deb died. (I’m also not yet over Rita dying either, there’s a reason I’m not going to watch Game of Thrones or read Song of Ice and Fire), and I also hate that Dexter died. I find it tragically fitting that his “dark passenger” lived on. The whole show had been a battle between Dexter trying to be normal and the demands of his “dark passenger”. Many times there were those insisting that the normal Dexter wasn’t real. I personally think he was, that’s what made it so heartbreaking, he was so close to winning, but the inevitable fact that for me made this ending work was that the act of choosing to live a normal and happy life destroyed the very person who had helped him conquer his “dark passenger”. When he chose not to kill Daniel Vogel and to instead do the right thing, he chose Dexter over the darkness, but it also killed Deb, and without Deb there was no way Dexter could continue to win out over the “dark passenger” she was his lifeline, when she died, he died.

The bummer part about writing is that you will never get everyone to agree I’m sure plenty of people have many other opinions on that same ending. The only thing you can do as an author is to keep writing and rewriting until you get to that gut punch feeling of knowing this is the ending the story has brought on itself. (And if you get to that ending, and still hate it, please go back and change stuff earlier in the story to get to the ending you want don’t just tack something not fitting onto the end, thanks.) 

P.S. Writers of Will & Grace I’m never watching any shows of yours ever again until you apologize for the train wreck that was the last two episodes of Will & Grace, prime example of characters making choices they would absolutely not make.

P.P.S. What do you guys think is going to happen in Breaking Bad? It’s kind of a similar battle that Dexter had, the internal fight between Walter White and Heisenberg, which one will win? And what novels or novel series do you think really got their endings right, or royally screwed them up? (Also please mark comments with spoilers at the start to let us know which story you'll be discussing the ending to.) 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Assessing the Value of Tools

by Matt Sinclair

What sells you when you decide to buy a book? Perhaps you were drawn by the cover art. Did the title catch your eye first? Was it a blurb on the back? You may have read a review and decided long before you ruffled the pages that this was the next item for your to-be-read pile.

As an author, all these are valuable tools to employ. Some are harder to come by. Not everyone is going to see their book reviewed by the New York Times. For self-published authors, a mention there might happen only if the book becomes a surprise hit and warrants a news story. To be sure, that’s quite valuable in itself, but again not a likely outcome.

Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are something all of us should be seeking for our books. But even these might be hit or miss. To be sure, it’s nice when people indicate a book is now on their “Want to read” list, but it’s more significant when “AvidReader123” writes a three paragraph review of glowing praise, especially if Avid has written half a ton of other reviews that people found helpful.

Let’s go back to the blurb. These are certainly nice to have. And for the unknown writer, they can be more than just nice. Imagine how helpful it would be if your publisher got Stephen King to blurb your debut psychological thriller. That could certainly translate into sales. It could even generate buzz.

But blurbs from brand name authors are awfully tough to get, too. Agents know to protect their authors from blurbing too often. I know writers who are kept on a strict one-blurb-a-year diet.

Ok, so Stephen King won’t blurb your book and neither will his son Joe Hill. But what if one of those guys tweeted your book’s debut? Might that be worth something to you? What if George Takei shared mention of your novel on Facebook? Think his followers might take notice? Honestly, I think those might be more valuable than a blurb these days.

Of course, such electronic real estate is also hard to come by. Heck, finding a twenty dollar bill on the ground might be more common. But it still might be easier to get a tweet than a blurb.

Think of your own social media habits. Don’t you share things you found interesting? You’re writers: what are you reading? That’s a form of endorsement in itself. If you tweet out what you’re reading, some of your followers might check it out, too. Perhaps you’d enjoy sharing a bevy of your favorite covers on Instagram.

The key is having a well-stocked toolbox. Some tools are sharper than others, some cost more or have limited use. But assess what each one can do for you -- and for others. In the end, you get back what you give.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge, which are available through Smashwords (SE) (SDE) and Amazon (SE) (SDE), and include stories from several FTWA writers. In 2012, EBP published its initial anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, (available viaAmazon and Smashwords) and Spring Fevers (also available through Smashwords, andAmazon). Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Change is Good!

by Jemi Fraser

Due to a last minute job switch for this school year, change is on my mind. Looking back when I first started this writing journey, I had no idea how much change would be involved! I'm hoping reflecting on some of the changes I've made will help some of the newer writers out there.

Change in Time
  • I used to squeeze in writing
  • now I plan for it, even when my life is its usual crazy chaos, I plan for those 15-30 blocks so my subconscious is working for me & I'm ready to write when the time comes
Change in Balance
  • I used to worry more about my social media presence
  • now I let it happen after I'm done with writing for the day - if the writing doesn't happen, there's not much point in having a social presence to worry about!
Change in Genres
  • then I wrote a SF novel, a mystery, a YA steampunk & a MG spec fiction
  • now I'm focusing on one genre (contemporary romance)
  • I took a couple of years off from worrying about anything other than finding my voice and my niche - I wanted to find a place I could write multiple stories without ever needing to stretch for ideas
Change in Editing
  • I used to think of tweaking as editing
  • now I know I need to sometimes rip that poor first draft to shreds and rework it from the bones up
  • this has probably been the biggest change for me as it taken me a long time to believe I can really edit properly - that fear of knowing something is wrong and not knowing how to fix it doesn't freeze me up any more
Change in Letting Go
  • I used to believe that every story would have a place in the world
  • now I know it's okay that some of those stories won't (especially that first ms of about 180k!!!)
  • those stories have taught me so much and helped me grow and I'm just fine with letting them languish in my heart and on my hard drive
What Changes have you faced in your writing journey so far?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Friday, September 13, 2013

“Lucky!” A Friday the 13th Meditation on Authorial Luck

by Sophie Perinot

“Lucky!” The day you finally (countless queries into the process) snag an agent, you are going to hear it.  Ditto if you Indie publish something that climbs the ranks of the Kindle paid list.

I am not discounting for a moment the role of luck in authorial success or more broadly in life.  Sometimes it is just a matter of luck whether or not your e-query winds up in spam or in an agent’s mail box.  And I am certainly a BIG believer in BIG picture luck—constantly reminding my daughters that it wouldn’t matter how smart they were if they’d been born into a brothel in the third world.  So, no matter how unexceptional Mr. Putin thinks we are, I am profoundly glad I was born in the USA.  BUT, relying on luck can be a dangerous thing.  So can dismissing the accomplishments of others as grounded in good fortune.

Luck is a pretty passive concept folks.  And publishing . . . especially in its current change-a-minute permutation is all about action.  Yes people, we are waiting for lightening to strike in terms of sheer statistics but the truth is it is going to take more than luck if are going to fulfill your writing dreams (whether that means finishing a manuscript, getting a deal with one of the major houses).  If you are in the right place at the right time it will avail you nothing if you don’t know how to capitalize on say an agent’s interest, the six weeks surrounding the release of your first book, or being featured in O Magazine.
The answer is obvious, work.  Work like your life depends on it (your authorial life does).  And work smart—take criticism, read about the industry, set goals and meet them.

But there is something more.  Don’t fall into the “luck” trap and its ancillary belief in bad luck.  When you reach a goal (or when a friend does) do NOT dismiss it with a “lucky.”  Spend some time analyzing it—what did the author in question do that may have made the difference?  When you face disappointment don’t dismiss that either.  It is very tempting to say, “it was just not my day,” or “well it takes a lot of queries to get a request.”  Be willing to dissect failures as well.  It DOES take a lot of queries—but if you’ve sent a lot and you are not getting requests assuming that you haven’t queried the right agents or that it is all some random lottery isn’t going to help you, while scrapping that letter (or seriously considering your project’s marketability, gulp) may make a huge difference—even if you walk under a ladder on your way back to your keyboard.

So on this day—when bad luck is traditionally believed to be lurking around every corner—set your superstitions aside, cast of the crutch of “lucky” and take a positive step down your personal authorial path.  Heck, Friday the 13th would be an excellent day to send out that next batch of queries, hit up a big name author for a book blurb, or work on that next manuscript.  Speaking of which . . . you’ll know where to find me ;)

Sophie Perinot is spending her Friday the 13th holed up in a corner of the 16th century working to finish her next novel. Her first novel, The Sister Queens, was published by NAL/Penguin in 2012 and is on sale in bookstores (brick and mortar and virtual) everywhere. Learn more about TSQ here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

More Than Words

by Charlee Vale

Words have power.

That seems like such a simple phrase, but I think that it's something that we as writers tend to forget. We use words all the time--we write them, speak them, bleed them, love them. All the while we can ignore the simple and bone deep effect of words.

I had a friend in college, and one time in a moment of frustration she told me something—"All you do is talk about yourself, can't you give someone else a chance?" Those words, said in anger, have affected my entire life. I now will avoid talking about myself to a fault, and feel uncomfortable when anyone asks me questions about my life--even if they're out of genuine curiosity. I suffer from the immense fear that by talking about myself I will appear self-centered or completely unaware and insensitive to those around me.

I've confessed this to my family, and some of my friends who have assured me that what she said isn't true. It was never true. Regardless, it doesn't matter. That single sentence, said to me a single time will haunt me forever.

This isn't a post meant to garner pity, but words have a certain kind of echoing immortality. All it took was fourteen words to change an entire aspect of my life. Imagine the power you have in your hands when you use a few hundred to write a review, or eighty thousand to write a book.

Now, in this digital age where words can be poured out without a second thought, I think that the immense power they hold isn't something we can afford to forget. It can take as little as a single word to change the course of someone's life, for better or worse. That's an awful lot of power to have, and every single person has it.

So when you're at your computer, writing away on the stories you hope will one day be told for your lifetime and beyond, remember that words have power, and the things that they create are more than words. More than stories. Choose carefully, and choose bravely.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and endeavoring to choose beautiful words.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

5 Things I Learned As A Debut Author

by Mindy McGinnis

NOT A DROP TO DRINK hasn't hit the shelves yet, but I've already learned so much in 2013. As I'm about to be catapulted into the world of the published, I wanted to share what I've experienced so far - and maybe you''ll get an update after the Dark Days tour! Because I'm sure a debut will emerge from a national tour much, much wiser. Or possibly just exhausted.

1) Writing a book is a lonely endeavor. Publishing it takes a team. From your cover art to the author photo to the QR code that the marketing folks put on your dust jacket, there are more people involved in your book than you can imagine. Some of them you'll share emails with on an almost daily basis - especially as debut week looms - but there are also some whose names you may never know. It's a team, a huge team. It's your face on the jacket, but someone else made sure it was formatted properly.

2) People outside of publishing are going to ask you if your book is done yet... a month before debut. I've written a more extensive post on this subject over on the Book Pregnant blog, if you're interested. You can't expect people outside of the industry to understand how slowly this colossus moves. "Yes, it's finished,"  you want to say. "It's been finished for two years. I forget what happens in it." Don't say that. Or rather, just say the first part. Then smile.

3) Everyone else you know has written a book. Or wants to write a book. Or has an idea for a book. And they want to talk to you about it. Again, smiling is your best response. Don't blow anybody off - remember how you felt when you were just putting pen to paper, and how much guts it probably took for them to even tell you about their book. Point them in the right direction as far as helpful websites and writers forums, but don't start holding hands and baby-stepping them. It's not your job.

4) We're all big dorks here. And that's the best part about this whole book thing. I'm not even released yet and I've already rubbed elbows with some major names - and they were super cool people. Even when you're face to face with the coolest of the cool, remember that they love books. So you've got something in common.

5) Freaking out is for the weak. Yes, I am leaving for a national tour in two weeks. Yes, I just got my edit letter for my 2014 release and it needs to be back to the editor before tour time. Yes, I need to dive into the research for the 2015 release. Yes, I have three interviews that need answering in my inbox. Yes, I need to shoot a vlog tomorrow. (This is all true, FYI) And what exactly is freaking out going to accomplish? My version of freaking out is to eat a doughnut and complain to my crit partner. That's empty calories and wasted time. Focus. THEN DO IT.
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Banning Books vs. Curating Them

by R.C. Lewis

Banned Books Week is coming up later this month, and I found myself thinking about it months early. First off, I suggest you take a look at this post by author Robison Wells.

Like Mr. Wells, I live in a Land of Much Conservatism and Religiosity. (Wait, spell-check says "religiosity" is really a word? Cool.) Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I find myself throwing little "hey, let's think outside the box" ideas into the mix. When I got my publishing deal, I paused. I consider my work "relatively clean," but I know no religion-based publisher would touch my books with a ten-foot bookshelf.

Not like my characters cuss up a storm—just doesn't fit for me. But I've used all the words Mr. Wells rattled off for Variant at one time or another, plus a couple more. No sex, and the violence isn't super-gory/graphic. I'd consider the bulk of my work to be on the light side of PG-13, at most.

I know there are parents who would be horrified to have their children read it.

That's their prerogative. I don't get to say how they should or shouldn't raise their kids. When my students find out I have a book coming out next year, many get excited and swear they'll read it. Since one of the English teachers last year had their classes read Divergent without difficulty, I figure it'll mostly be okay.

Where the "book appropriateness" issue gets sticky for me isn't as an author—it's as a teacher.

As a math teacher, I don't typically have to worry about it much. Not like I regularly assign a whole class to read a book and get irate parents protesting what their child is being forced to read. But this year we've re-instituted DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read), and to keep mobs of "forgetful" students from flooding the media center every day, each teacher has set up a small classroom library for students to pull from as needed.

We had a book drive with a ton of donations to help stock everyone up, but I didn't bother with the donations. I have enough MG and YA books to stock several such classroom libraries, and once I've read them myself, I don't mind them diving into the rough-and-tumble of junior high students.

But I have a problem. My own literary tastes and tolerances are very liberal by local standards. My mother always trusted me to choose my own reading material. When the high school English teacher sent a permission slip home to determine whether I'd read the assigned book or a provided alternative, Mom's response was, "Why wouldn't I let you read that? *signs*"

There are things that happen even in our happy community that I often feel don't get acknowledged/discussed enough. Poverty, racism, bullying, and abuse are some of the first that come to mind. Some parents may say, "We know terrible things are in the world. That doesn't mean our children should be hit in the face with it gratuitously." To which I would say, I guarantee their child is sitting in a classroom with several people who are hit in the face with it every day. It's not gratuitous; it's their reality. And we often don't know it because who would want to admit to their own darkness in setting where such things are only acknowledged in the very-abstract?

On the other hand, I wouldn't want anyone to be blindsided by an F-bomb or sex scene if they weren't comfortable reading such things.

Because lugging books from my house to the second floor of the school is a pain, I've been doing it in installments anyway. So far, I've only brought books that our school library carries. They've already been vetted, so I know I'm "safe" there.

Part of me says I could just stick with that. It's more than enough books for just a little classroom library.

But guess what's not in our school library? The Fault in Our Stars. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Want to Go Private?

Those three books were in my classroom when I previously taught high school at a school for the deaf. The first became an instant favorite for a girl whose pretty much defying her life expectancy since the day she was born. The second I got into the hands of one of my Native American boys who had a hard time pushing himself to read novels. The third made one of my senior girls give up Facebook for over a month and sparked discussions about how smart people can still do stupid things.

Those books and others in my personal collection could be of value to students. Not necessarily the obvious "life-changing" type books, either. The Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles? Devoured by a girl who hated reading (because it's difficult for her). And plenty of students either don't belong to the majority culture or are more flexible in the media they take in.

So what do I do as I curate my classroom's library? Honestly, when it comes to a lot of my books, I can't remember whether there are any "potentially offensive" bits in there. These kids are 14-15 years old, so I believe they can be responsible for their own reading choices.

I'm considering a color-coding system. Green for books that are duplicated in the school library. Yellow for books that aren't in the school library, but I feel are likely fine by the library's standards. And red for books I know have definite "red-flag" content for the very conservative or sensitive among us.

(You know, those red-tag books will probably get some of the most reluctant readers to dive in, looking for the "bad" stuff. Ulterior motives, Ms. Lewis?)

Like I said, I don't want anyone blindsided by something they'd rather not see.

I also don't want to deny students access to a wide variety of books.

Nor do I want the headache of facing irate parents. But of the three, I'd rather handle this last one, if I have to choose.

Do you have any ideas or advice for me in keeping the balance ... and the peace?

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. She also moonlights as a rabble-rouser in her spare time. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is coming from Disney-Hyperion in 2014. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.