Gap Life by John Coy

Gap Life

I’ve been remiss on reviewing books I’ve read. School and grading papers will do that to me.

GAP LIFE by John Coy is a delight. I read it early in January, and Cray, the protagonist has stuck with me. I find myself wondering how he’s doing on the adventure he undertook at the end of the book. To me, that’s the sign of a terrific character: he becomes so real that he takes on a life of his own and we wonder what he’s doing long after closing the final pages of the book.

Cray is all set, at high school graduation, to follow in his domineering father’s footsteps. His secret terror: that he cannot do it, and hasn’t told anyone.

Every teenager struggling with “What do I want to do with my life?” — and even every college freshman or sophomore struggling with that question–needs to read this book. That’s not because John Coy provides answers, but because the book makes us feel not alone. That, in fact, is exactly what great literature should do: help us recognize that somewhere, in our pain or struggles, we are not alone.

Society tends to make us feel all alone when we don’t know what we want. Society makes us feel alone when we have an overbearing parent who tells us what we want. Society makes us feel alone when we don’t want what our parents want for us or what society wants for us, and yet we flounder because we can’t counter the pressure, unable to articulate what we do want–probably–because we have never been given the freedom to explore our own desires. This book is all about that struggle.

GAP LIFE is not a dystopian drama where life-and-death hang in the balance. It’s the internal workings of a real human character whose skin we jump right into, whose struggle becomes ours as we read the first page. Not life-and-death, no, but life-and-death of the human soul and spirit. We can’t put the book down because we want to keep breathing with Cray, to discover if he will have the strength to find his own dream and then to follow it, and if he can connect with Rayne, the only girl he knows who follows her own heart. Most of all, I think Cray is a character we like so much we want to hang out with him, be inside his life, and keep walking with him, long after we’ve finished this book.

This is in many ways a quiet book. I didn’t look at any other reviews until just now. Some critics say there wasn’t enough conflict to be engaging. And lots of marketers eschew “quiet” books. Their loss. Their big loss.  This is a quiet book that is as big as the human heart. John Coy creates an everyday life that we jump right into because of its clear, smooth prose and delightfully consistent detail: those things that make an everyday life, so that we are living inside Cray on every page. Everybody–parent, teacher, librarian, kid, grandparent–should absorb this story.

Good luck in your life, Cray. I’ll remember you for the rest of mine.


Slider’s Son! And is anyone else sick of paranormal…?

Slider’s Son will be published September

I wish my agent George Nicholson were alive to see this happen. He “loved” this manuscript when he read it, and that meant the world to me since he never used that term with my other novels, although he certainly championed them.

I’m getting my ducks in a row–wait, no, I’m not getting them in a row yet, but I’m herding them toward rows–for publication in ten months. That means setting up some book events and making myself available for young writers’ conferences and book fairs, libraries, schools, and, and, and…and it means lots of work, which is exciting work and fun work. I love doing book events.

However, it also means lots of social media time and online promotion. THAT I’m not such a big fan of. But I’ll do it. I’m delighted that North Star Press promotes its own authors’ events. That gives me great hope. I’m excited to publish this book with them.

The BEST news right now is that I found out last week that I will be receiving a Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Grant (PLRAG) Mid-Career Artist Grant to help promote this book!  I’m excited. And GRATEFUL!

Okay, besides the excitement,  I sat down to write here because I just followed a thread of a YA book promotional publicity group, thinking ahead to that social media aspect of publication. EVERY, and I mean EVERY book in the top thread was paranormal romance, time travel, or dystopian. A few dozen books down, I found one realistic-fiction romance book. Is anybody else sick of paranormal romance and dystopia? I really do love historical fiction. That’s what I love to read, and that’s why I wanted to write Slider’s Son, based on true stories, but set in the 1930s. I’m following my own passion, and it’s not the trend right now, but that’s okay!

Okay, that’s my vent for the night. In spite of the vent, I really am EXCITED to have Slider’s Son out in the world!

Slider’s Son to be published in 2017!

Slider’s Son to be published in 2017!  North Star Press!

A murder! Grant O’Grady and his buddies smell something while playing baseball…It’s Big Joe’s body hidden in Grant’s best friend’s basement… Who? How? Why? The story unfolds…

Set in the late 1930s in North Dakota, Slider’s Son is the story of a boy named Grant who wants nothing more than to be a major league pitcher. Grant and his sheriff father discover Big Joe’s murder, and the story that unravels, leading up to the murder, causes all sorts of problems.

Grant and his buddies like to take a few risks. They sneak coal from the coal train passing through town to help heat their families’ homes during the Great Depression. Will they get caught? Or hurt?  One night, they climb the water tower for a thrill. Frank slips…and dangles. Another risky escapade could lead to crushing Grant’s dream of being a pitcher, forever. And who killed Big Joe, after all? Along the way, Grant has to help fight the prejudice of the 1930s toward his best friend (and catcher) who is half Mandan Indian.

This book has been done for a a couple years. It’s the first book I’ve written that my former agent, George Nicholson (RIP, my friend), said he loved.  At the time, George asked me to get some Native people’s endorsement that the book isn’t offensive in the world of Native Literature for young readers. I don’t think we’ll have a problem. I’m not trying to usurp anybody’s voice. I’m not pretending that I know how to write from a Native perspective. I just have a character whose best friend happens to be Native.

In the process of responding to my agent’s request, the Mandan Historic Village in Mitchell, SD, asked if they could keep a manuscript in their archives! YayI guess that’s a stamp of approval.

Grant’s idol is the late great “Rapid Robert” the “Heater from Van Meter” Bob Feller. The Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter Iowa asked me to come do a book event there. I look forward to that day!

FINALLY, this book will be out in the world in 2017, thanks to North Star Press! WhooHOO!! I’ll keep posting as I have more information.

Deep Valley Book Festival

Deep Valley Book Festival–Betsy-Tacy Society Calendar of Events.

The Deep Valley Homecoming is coming up at the end of June. Author Melissa Wiley (whom I met at ALA in San Diego a couple years ago) will be a featured speaker. This will be fun. Check the above calendar. Book Festival/Book Fair is Sunday at Sibley Park. I’ll be selling Chasing AllieCat, Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing: Medusa Tells All, and Girl Meets Boy Because There are Two Sides to Every Story.



If I Stay by Gayle Forman

IfI StayI almost forgot to review this book. I read it several months ago. I figured that I should read such a popular YA book and see what all the fuss is about. With all the buzz about the movie version coming out, I read it in the summer. Since it wasn’t on the “required reading” list I made for myself for sabbatical, I didn’t write about it.

I did think this was beautifully done, and I do see what the hype has been about. It’s a great love story, primarily, and it’s a terrific plot twist: the girl-in-a-coma watching the scramble to save her life after the rest of her family is killed. She replays her life, and falling in love, and has to make the decision whether to live or die. It’s a good story, and it’s certainly a good love story.

Since I’m writing a YA love story right now, it’s something for me to consider: what makes a good one work, how does the author suck us in so we don’t want to put the story down? I Gayle Forman does it well!

Still, this wasn’t my favorite book, and I won’t read it again. I like the character far more many YA love story heroines, though. So I guess that means I liked the story.



I am having a blast with this screenplay. The only other screenplay I’ve written was back in grad school in screen-writing class.
Taking my novel and adapting it to a script is really fun. I had no idea I would enjoy it so much. It’s so easy to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair to work on this.
I’m sure when Steph sees it, it will need gallons of tweaking and major edits to boot; plus, she’s going to ask a consultant to read it and help me. Therefore, I know I will have to do lots of fixing. But for now, for this first draft, it is FUN to imagine this story on the big screen.Cycling-mtnbk-2untitledbiking

Harvest and Cycling, my autumn treasures

Autumn has a way of making us pensive, don’t you think? Of course, it makes us aware of the passing of time. This year, it’s all the more true: my son is getting married in a week, and my grandson turned one year old this past week. But I don’t feel old. I just feel as if I’m gathering more information about the world inside. I can only, only hope that makes me a better writer.

I get up a little slower when I’ve been sitting on the floor, but otherwise, I still feel as physically capable as ever. Maybe I’m fooling myself. But then again…I had a happy realization while cycling last week. I love watching the long shadows during an evening ride in the fall. What I don’t love is that dark comes so quickly. Twice this year, I’ve squeaked home on my bike in the throes of darkness. A couple near misses. Time to mount my light for safety–just in case.

But watching my own shadow, I snapped this self-portrait.  I remember how when I started riding fifteen (!!?) years ago, the guys’ long shadows were so smooth; their long shadow legs looked like smooth, fast pistons stretching out, up and down the ditches as we passed. Mine looked awkward and certainly not smooth by comparison. Last week, I watched my shadow and made this happy discovery: lo and behold, somewhere, somehow in the last decade and a half of riding, my own cadence has become smoother. My legs looked like pistons, too. I’m going to relish that realization.

Then again, there’s the beauty of harvest. It’s sad to me because it means soon the fields will be bare and brown-black although there’s a certain beauty of bounty in that, too. It also means the long Minnesota winter is too soon upon is.

The harvest itself fills my heart so full that sometimes I think it will burst (to embrace a cliche). Riding my bike alongside tractors, golden beanfields, or a combine like the one in this picture I took last week reminds me of the richness our soil still holds (IF we take care of it). The smells and sounds wash over me with memories: walking out to Dad’s combine in my Halloween costume to show him my ghostly self before we went trick-or-treating; riding rounds in the combine with him, working aloud on my Confirmation memory work; just riding, my forehead pressed against the glass window (exactly as Lainey does in Jake Riley: Irreparably Damaged), watching the grain or corn wash like a wave up into the combine header.  And those glorious last autumns at home, when both my brother Bill and Dad were out in the field and they trusted me to do the chores all by myself. I felt so useful. What a good thing to feel.

There was the night when I was probably sixteen when I drove the Cub Cadet into the hog lot with a cart full of 5-gallon buckets of feed, and realized I couldn’t back it out without the cart twisting sideways.  I was utterly stuck. What did I do? I emptied the buckets, fed the pigs, and then straightened the cart behind the little tractor by  herking it around by hand so I could back out. I don’t think I ever told Dad or Bill about that and here I am, publishing it for the world. I still can’t back a wagon or a cart to save my neck.

But I can ride my bike down county highways, flanked on both sides by golden, browning fields of grain and corn, and breathe it in, and be glad to be this tiny part of the plenty of the earth.

Davenport B&N Tomorrow, and Girl Meets Boy Anthology, January 2012

We got the cover! This week, Kelly Milner Halls sent the cover to all of us whose stories are in this anthology. Pretty cute, huh? It contains some pretty heavy subject matter, I’ll tell you that much. The cover may somewhat imply the weight of the stories within…

I’m honored to be in the company of the authors in this book. I’m excited that it’s actually in the works and will be in bookstores in January. My story is called “Mars at Night,” and the main character is an Iowa farm girl. Go figure. The catch, however, is that she’s in love with the only Muslim in her high school. And her beloved pig farm is in danger…
Closer to home, and closer to the moment, TOMORROW, I’m signing Chasing AllieCat in Davenport, Iowa, at the big Barnes and Noble


I love holiday break. Get up, make coffee, write, walk Freya, eat lunch, write some more, work out (preferably, XC skiing, or tromping through knee-deep snow, or even sitting on the bike on the trainer and hating Coach Troy), write a bit more, make dinner, read, maybe clean a little, maybe watch a movie, read. Such a schedule is more than idyllic. It’s heaven.

The reading part might be the best since during school I barely have time to keep up reading what my students are reading for my own classes.

Right now: I finished the Hunger Games and am halfway through Catching Fire. Don’t want to put them down. I have about ten more books I’d like to read in the next ten days. Not sure that’s gonna happen. Am going to get Wintergirls and Thirteen Reasons Why and Mockingbird any day now.

And then, there’s the good family things that come with holidays. Yesterday, Bill and Cathy (my brother and his wife), came up from Iowa for the day. We had a blast. That sort of Christmas vacation possibility is the very best of all.