This past Sunday, I had the honor of meeting author John Corey Whaley. He was here in San Diego for an author event at our local independent book store (Yellow Book Road). He was in town to help promote his new novel Noggin(Antheneum, 2014).

Noggin comp rev2

Here is a description of the book:

Listen—Travis Coates was alive once and then he wasn’t.
Now he’s alive again.
Simple as that.

The in between part is still a little fuzzy, but Travis can tell you that, at some point or another, his head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado. Five years later, it was reattached to some other guy’s body, and well, here he is. Despite all logic, he’s still sixteen, but everything and everyone around him has changed. That includes his bedroom, his parents, his best friend, and his girlfriend. Or maybe she’s not his girlfriend anymore? That’s a bit fuzzy too.

Looks like if the new Travis and the old Travis are ever going to find a way to exist together, there are going to be a few more scars.

Oh well, you only live twice.

It’s an intriguing idea for a novel. The concept of waking up five years later and having to deal with not only a new body, but how your loved ones have changed in the past five years. I can’t wait to read it.

It was interesting to hear some behind the scenes info about the story and about his other novel winner of the 2012 Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris Awards Where Things Come Back (Antheneum, 2012). It’s always fun to hear a little bit about an author’s process and I learn something new every time.

I will post my book thoughts later once I’ve had a chance to read the novel. In the meantime, happy reading and enjoy your summer.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk


My VCFA class name is “The Unreliable Narrators.” 

That’s because we’re a bunch of lying cheating no-good dirty scoundrels. 

Inexcusable by Chris LynchBut also, that was a term we learned our first semester when everyone was talking about Chris Lynch’s INEXCUSABLE. It was one of those things that made it clear we were in a MFA Program. We could name those tricky things we admired in the books we read. 

Usually a reader suspends this world we live in while entering a story world. Our guide is the narrator. We sink in and believe what we’re told. An unreliable narrator is one that can’t be trusted. He or she is either lying or withholding information. The reader is not getting the whole truth – for a very particular reason. NOT because the author is lazy. It’s actually quite challenging to pull off. 

Maybe it’s just because I love my class of lying cheating no-good dirty scoundrels, but I do find a well crafted unreliable narrator story intriguing. I think it comes down to my delight in being surprised and also my interest in issues of mental health. Like Holden Caulfield, one shining example, the unreliable narrator is often incapable of telling the “truth” because he/she is a bit unbalanced. 

Oddly enough, I have just read three different books with unreliable narrators. They are far from being the same story, but they all use this technique to build tension and suspense. I don’t want to tell too much about the plots–that’s the whole point of this kind of story–but I recommend each of these.

we-were-liars by E LockhartWE WERE LIARS by E Lockhart
  The narrator is Cadence Sinclair, a wealthy seventeen year old girl–her family owns an entire island and that’s just for summers–with crippling headaches and a penchant for giving away all her belongings. (YA)



complicit_cover by Stephanie KuehnCOMPLICIT by Stephanie Kuehn is told by Jamie Henry, a seventeen year old boy. His family is also wealthy and he lives a life of privilege, but it wasn’t always that way. He and his sister Cate had a rough early childhood and they’re both still haunted. (YA)



Be_Safe_I_Love_You- by Cara HoffmanThe third book is a little different. Written for adults and with a focus on a soldier just back from a tour of Iraq, BE SAFE I LOVE YOU by Cara Hoffman is unusual in that Lauren Clay is an unreliable narration told from a close third person point of view. It’s far more typical for a story with an unreliable narrator to be told in first person so we only get information from that one dysfunctional perspective. But Lauren is so deeply troubled and altered by her experience, we can’t trust everything she sees and thinks. (Adult)

The excellent use of an unreliable narrator prompts me to return to the beginning and see what hints I missed. It’s fascinating to see how I was fooled. 

Go ahead and see what you think. You can trust me. Even if I am a lying cheating no-good dirty scoundrel.

Sarah Tomp


Have you ever been at the start of something big? That struggling actor you met is suddenly a box office favorite? That novel you read by an unknown author quickly moves up the best seller list? My husband recalls seeing a young comic starting his career at a comedy club up in L.A.many years ago. He was surprised when a few years later this comedian had moved from the comedy stage to become a big star. His name?

JimCarreyJim Carrey

Yesterday, I had two moments that I would describe as cusp moments. I was invited to a concert for an unknown band and I received the ARC for my best friend Sarah’s novel.

KPRIWe have a local independent radio station here in San Diego. For the past 10 years they have helped new bands kick off their careers with a small private concert for a group of  listeners. These concert’s have helped launch the careers of such artists as Jason Mraz, Shawn Colvin, and Imagine Dragons.

Last night my husband and I hopped aboard the Hornblower  ship Inspiration for a  a harbor cruise and to listen to a new band called the Bad Suns. It was the perfect night for a cruise on the San Diego bay.  The Bad Suns were talented and put on a great show. Speaking as a band widow of over 25 years and on how excited the audience grew through the evening, I predict this band will go far.
MBEI was also happy to receive the ARC for my blog buddy Sarah’s novel My Best Everything. I have been excited to watch this novel grow from pages submitted to our critique group to a full blown novel you can actually hold in your hand. To say I’m thrilled would be an understatement.

The novel has undergone several revisions, since those days long ago at critique group and after only reading the first few chapters (I did have a concert to attend) I am eagerly looking forward to see how the novel has changed and grown.

We can never predict what the future holds, but I can say that with both the band and Sarah’s book I feel like I am on the cusp of something big. I can’t wait to see if my predictions come true.

Happy reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

Sorry I didn’t post last week. It’s been a busy week here at the Santillan household. In the last eight or so days we have celebrated: 2 birthdays, Father’s Day, a graduation, a funeral, the ending of an old job and the beginning of a new job. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was coming or going. But each event served as a reminder of the constancy of change. Nothing stays the same. Things are always in movement.

Last Saturday, we celebrated Son#2’s graduation from High School. As I faced that last week, I marked down the milestones that I knew I would never face again: last school lunch, last day of carpool, etc… It was a bittersweet moment as I watched my son take the stage to receive his diploma. My baby has grown up. I remembered his first weeks in High School and wondered where the time went. But just as I look back at those moments and wish I could hold on to them for just a moment more, I look forward to the future and am eager to see where he will go.

One week later, I found myself at the funeral for a family friend. The gentleman was in his 70’s and had lived a full and happy life with a family who cared for him greatly. And though his final years were faced with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s I was touched by the legacy of love and hope he left his family. This legacy will continue on through his children and grandchildren.

In our family, it has become a tradition to place an unlit candle on the side of the cake. It represents the hope for the coming year. As I placed the candle on the cake this year, I was reminded of both the graduation and the funeral. Both events while on opposite ends of the spectrum were celebrations of the past, with the eye to the future.

I’m hoping things will settle down here for a while and we can catch our breath. But if they don’t, I know we’ll be okay. I’ve seen the past and I have tremendous hope for the future.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk



WITLast night I had the pleasure of attending the WIT (Whatever It Takes) Showcase.

A course designed for teens who want to be leaders and agents of social change, this event was an opportunity for the students to present their projects to the community. Pretty exciting stuff!

My understanding is that once teens are accepted into the program, they attend weekly two hour classes where they develop business skills and work to come together as a team. They are then given the opportunity to pitch their ideas in hopes to get backing to enact their dream projects.

Some of the programs presented last night included:

  • Project FULL: Since some children receive their most substantial meals while at school, their goal was to provide additional food to children during extended vacations.
  • S2S Project: Provides inexpensive art instruction in schools where the arts funding has been cut. 
  • Embrace: Promotes positive self-image. They sell and wear bracelets as a way to kick the habit of making body shape and size a topic of conversation and source of judgment. 
  • Major Decision: allows high school students–particularly those aspiring to be first-generation college attendees–to be mentored by current college students in order to gain awareness and better understanding of college.

There’s more! Check out their website to learn more and to support them in their endeavors. 

I loved listening to these articulate and enthusiastic teens explain their reasons for the projects they chose. Quite impressive! But another thing that was really great was they shared their failures as well. Some projects never got going. Others faded out due to financial or motivational problems. It was clear that they all learned from the mistakes and frustrations as well as the rewards. They’ve definitely learned the power of social media!

It’s a great motto: Whatever It Takes. 

Sarah Tomp


funny-pictures-cat-is-stuck-in-your-christmas-treeStuck-itis, it’s that terrible condition that all authors face when they get stuck halfway through their story. We’ve all experienced it, and sometimes the effects can be crippling for a writer. Friend of the blog, author Bruce Hale, shared these four tips for helping an author get rid of stuck-iris in his recent newsletter. Bruce graciously gave me permission to share those tips with our readers today.

Dear Writer Guy,

I usually get story ideas all the time and start writing them.
However, I usually get stuck in the middle of the story and
don’t know where to go from there. Do you have any tips for
writer’s block or story stuck-itis?

Yours truly,
Julie in Texas

Dear Julie,

Usually, I find my story bogs down when I’ve lost track of what
the character wants or I haven’t given her a meaningful enough
goal to carry her through the whole tale.  If the character is
actively trying to solve a problem, your story will keep moving

Of course, it’s one thing to say this and another thing to
accomplish it.  Here are a few techniques you might try to get

o Character journaling: Write journal entries as if you were that
main character.  Sometimes in the free flow of writing, a new idea
will shake loose.

o Interview your character: Write this in Q&A format, with you
posing questions and your character answering.  Ask what she’s
feeling, what she wants – anything that will help you get past the
stuck place.  The answers might surprise you.

o Brainstorming: It’s vital to do plenty of this before you
begin writing.  Sometimes I’ve gotten stuck because I
didn’t allow the story idea enough time to gestate before I
tried to push it out into the world.  Play with the idea before
writing.  Let it grow organically.

o Dream seeding: Writing is a head game. (And some of us are head
cases because of this!)  Let your unconscious mind lend a hand.
Before you go to sleep, hold the key story question in your mind,
whether it’s, “What happens next?” “What does
she want?” or, “How does he get out of this

And if all that fails, try putting your story aside and working on
something else for a week.  The brain break may do you good.

If you’d like more writing tips, find out more about Bruce or subscribe to his newsletter check out the following links:

Thanks, Bruce, for letting us share your wisdom today.
Happy Writing,
Suzanne Santillan
Writing on the Sidewalk