Posts Tagged ‘jo knowles’

For me, one of the hardest, most anxiety-producing steps along the way to publication was getting blurbs. I think the word blurb sounds the way it felt to ask someone I greatly admire, who I knew was incredibly busy, to read my book, my heart, my soul.


But! I was lucky! Two of my favorite authors, who each weave incredible word magic with depth of heart and soul, agreed to read my story – and were kind enough to share their thoughts – in a public on the back of my book kind of way.

Huge amounts of gratitude. From my heart, so sincerely.

Thank you, thank you, to Karen Foxlee and Jo Knowles.

Each of them is incredibly talented – and brilliantly eclectic – in their writing.

THE MIDNIGHT DRESS by Karen FoxleeKaren, an Australian author, has written two realistic novels for young adults – and in each of them, strong teen girls are struggling with growing up. THE MIDNIGHT DRESS is unlike any book I’ve ever read – it’s lush and mysterious and dark and hopeful, all at once. The Horn Book’s starred review said, “Though the layers are many, they coalesce into a dreamlike, eerie whole told in mesmerizing, sensuous prose.”

And then there’s her middle grade fantasy, OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY, which Kirkus starred and described as, “A well-wrought, poignant and original reworking of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.

I say it’s amazing. Gorgeous. Magical.

And then there’s Jo Knowles. 

More than one person has identified Jo as “the nicest person in the universe.” Although I’ve never met her, I suspect it might be true. 

I first became aware of Jo, and her powerful, important books while I was working on my MFA at Vermont College. She was (and still is) a close personal friend of one my classmates – who is now one of my dearest friends. I was new to reading young adult literature and wow. Her first book, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL blew me away. It resonated with me in a new and unfamiliar to me. I was an instant fan. 

Since then, she has written several more books and I own all of them. Jo tackles tough topics, never shying away from the truth, even when it hurts. But her books also have hope. Forgiveness. Heart and soul. They fill you up. 

READ BETWEEN THE LINES by Jo KnowlesI just received her newest book, READ BETWEEN THE LINES. It’s written in several – I think 11 – different points of view. I can’t wait to read it, but I’m not the only one looking forward to it. After all, it’s already received several fabulous reviews, including a starred one from Kirkus, “The book proceeds, each new character entering, with his/her realities, dreams and secrets becoming another masterfully woven thread. With emotional explorations and dialogue so authentic, one might think Knowles isn’t creating but channeling the adolescent mind. A fascinating study of misperceptions, consequences and the teen condition.”


And so, a belated but oh-so-sincere THANK YOU to both Karen and Jo. It’s an honor to have your names on my book.







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This post by author Jo Knowles resonated with me. I too believe deeply, strongly, absolutely in the power of small moments. That every exchange with have with someone is an opportunity to make a connection. Or not.

This power is something I try to remember every moment – big or small – that I am at my job. Although I used to be a teacher and have studied writing much more extensively than anything medically-related, I work in school health offices. It’s a bit random, a job that happened along the way and has somehow grown.

Usually, if someone comes into a health office, there’s a problem. It’s often not health-related, but it’s still a real and valid problem. It’s important that I make that person feel heard. It’s within my power to greet others and set a certain tone. As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

To be honest, I spend a lot more time doing this job than I’d like. There are plenty of days that I’d rather be home writing. But, this job also informs my writing.

I meet many many children, in all shapes of sizes and colors, with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses and feeling all kinds of moods. I hear what matters to them. See how they react to certain experiences. I hear real live kiddos (who’ve often had experiences I’ve never been through) speak real live dialogue. I interact with a lot of adults, too. I meet school office staff, teachers, aides, counselors, and nurses. I talk to a lot of parents.

Other wonderful things about my job:

  • There is no preparation required. It’s important in the moment, and then I leave and forget it all. (Unless I’m scavenging for my writing.)
  • There are quiet moments that allow for daydreaming.
  • It’s part time.
  • School vacations are awesome.

We all have to balance life – whatever it looks like – with this writing obsession. So try to be where you are when you’re there. Then come back to the words that much richer.

Sarah Wones Tomp



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One of the first blogs I read on a regular basis was that of author Jo B. Knowles. I realized recently that I’ve been reading her posts for about five years. I “discovered” Jo through a classmate (and now most excellent writing buddy and friend, Cindy Faughnan). She recommended Jo’s new book at the time – Lessons from a Dead Girl – and her blog.

Cindy, as usual, was right. Jo’s book made me ache and wonder and worry – the kind of reading I adore.

On her blog, I was able to “see” Jo go through the experience of having her book come into the world. Articulate and generous, Jo shared steps of the journey. The joys, the uncertainties, the hopes and even the hurt when some readers couldn’t get beyond the discomfort they felt reading her beautifully written take on a tough topic – the kind that’s often swept under the rug or stashed in the closet with the family skeleton.

And then Jo went on to write more books. Each one is heartfelt and powerful in the best of ways. She’s not afraid to reach deep inside – herself, but also into the heart of her readers – to ask hard questions, to perhaps shift someone’s view of the world. All the while, on her blog she shares pieces of her writing journey and also writing prompts and exercises to inspire and motivate other writers who are stumbling along their own creative paths.

Her most recent book, See You at Harry’s is a masterpiece of joy and love and family and heartbreaking grief. (Sorry, SBB, you absolutely can’t read this one.)

Even though Jo always comes across on her blog as being open-hearted and dedicated to making connections within the community of literature for children, I have been shy to respond to her posts. That’s just me.

But now, for my first time, I’ve joined Jo’s JoNoWriMo+1.5. This is a kind of support group for making fall writing goals – inspired by and similar to the NoWriMo, but more sane. In setting my goals, I didn’t take on anything I didn’t want to do anyway; but for me, it’s a big step to publicly share my goals.

So here’s my public shout out. Thanks Jo! You’ve kept me hopeful all these years.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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This is my answer to Jo Knowles’s post yesterday… a snapshot from a family vacation in 2010.

We came from

California… Massachusetts… Washington…

Colorado… Utah… Maryland

to lie in a pile

fly kites


talk about Pokemon.

Eyes up and out and looking ahead

Aye ayes to laughter

Each I a little bit different but

also a little bit same

Ay-yi-yi it’s

Island time ~

daily ice cream


driftwood forts


and yakking

(about Pokemon).

Sarah Wones Tomp


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(Tomorrow is the big day! Get your chance to win our contest!)

The American Idol season is nearing a close. Next week is the big final.

This has been my first season of watching AI. My kids, too. When it first came out, I had the impression that it was all about criticism. I didn’t like the idea of entertainment at the expense of dashing dreams and it sounded very mean-spirited so I didn’t let my kiddos watch it. And besides, they were little way back then!

But this year, my girl child (16 years) and the youngest boy (12) started watching it together. They don’t always have a lot in common, especially without the oldest boy buffer in the house – he has always been the one to bring them together. But! This was something they did together, discussed, and giggled over. So of course I had to watch too.

And I fell in love with Steven Tyler’s feedback. Half the time he doesn’t even look like he’s paying attention. I would so love to see what is scribbled on his notepad. But wow, he is a poet of inspiration.

Author Jo Knowles has been posting on his inspiration tips all along ~ so comforting to know I’m not the only one hanging on his every word, waiting for the gems! Her posts are even better and deeper sources of inspiration.

We didn’t watch last night’s performances. (Yet. It’s taped.) There was way too much exhaustion going on in this house.

But I think part of that is the fact that James Durbin is gone. My kids picked him to win way back in the auditions stage. They had other personal favorites, (YB is still mad that Casey is gone), but they agreed that James would and should win. Because “He has the best story.” Welllll, James was voted off last week. I hope he’ll still find a way to make his dream happen. [And I am NOT going to look into the disturbing tabloid headline about him. Yes, I am part ostrich.]

I mean, really, I hope they ALL find ways to make their dreams happen. And for some of them, I honestly feel like NOT winning American Idol is the best the thing for them. When one door closes, another one opens… the broken roads that led me straight to you… That kind of best thing.

The hard part is the keeping going. Just like writing, of course.

Go read Jo’s post. Get back up again.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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Confession: Sometimes I read books in this order: first chapter, last chapter, the rest.

This makes my family crazy. It is not unusual for my son to recommend a book to me and then make me swear not to read the end before I get there. I usually keep this promise. I used to always read this way, now that I try to read books as a writer I don’t do it as often because I want that more conventional and typical experience of getting to the end.

There is a lot of shame in being this kind of reader. Just the other day, during my son’s baseball game, one of the other moms was discussing the fact that she was not as emotional and sensitive as her husband and son – and her example was that she too reads the last chapter before “finishing” a book. She was definitely confessing.

Confession #2: Now that Lost has an ending I am willing to watch all the seasons I’ve missed. Especially since I read this post (Spoiler alert), that claims the writers knew their ending from the very first season and that the ending never changed. One reason I quit watching was because of a pact with my husband – he couldn’t watch it while deployed to Kuwait – but also because I lost my faith in the story. I needed to know there would be an actual thought out ending – somewhere in there I wasn’t sure at all.

I wonder how many writers write their endings before they write the rest of the story?

For much more coherent thoughts on finishing and endings and such see Tami Lewis Brown‘s posts at Through the Tollbooth this week! Also, I love the visualizing exercise suggested here by Jo Knowles (#2).

The End.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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First person present tense (FPPT): love it or hate it?

I’ve heard both sides. Some readers – and at least one editor – say they hate it. Throw it out the window kind of hate it.

It’s a relatively new technique. Traditionally stories are told as an account of something that has already passed. They are somehow reflective and allow for insight on the part of the narrator. Can you imagine early man telling a story of a big hunt this way? I am in the valley. I smell sagebrush. I am hungry, so hungry. His companions would have assumed he ate some of those funny mushrooms again!

But it seems like  a lot of authors are using FPPT lately.

Personally, some of my favorite books are written from this point of view. My own picture book, RWBG, is written from FPPT. My middle grade novel that I’d love to sell is written this way as well… but I’m wondering if that should change.

In my opinion, this tense/pov work best when the main character is in some sort of intense emotional struggle — to the point the reader fears for the physical well-being of the character. By using the present tense, the author leaves room for uncertainty. Readers don’t know if the character will survive since they aren’t telling the story from some safe place in the future. In fact, FLASH BURNOUT by L.K. Madigan is one of the few that I can think of that is written in FPPT that doesn’t involve a character in grave emotional danger. This book has a great voice so it was probably the right choice, but if Blake had been telling the story looking back, I bet he wouldn’t have come across as quite so sexually obsessed – something I thought was over the top.

One problem with FPPT is that it can be sloooow. It’s difficult to travel inside a character’s head minute by minute while keeping the story moving forward. But K.L. Going is a genius at avoiding this. Two of her books, FAT KID RULES THE WORLD and SAINT IGGY are written in FPPT. Both are fantastic. And both books have main characters that you have to worry about – each one is in very real emotional and physical danger. She keeps the action moving by having short tight scenes.

Another problem with using FPPT is the definite limitation in the amount of details that be given while staying true to the voice of your character. You can only say what that narrator is thinking about and responding to at that one moment. It’s probably one reason I like writing from this perspective – I struggle with creating physical descriptions. But it can be difficult to withhold information from the reader in a way that rings true and yet does not lead to an unreliable narrator. Unless that’s what you want. For the ultimate in this, see INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch.

Enough from me. But here’s a list of some favorites written in FPPT that I happen to have within easy reach.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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