Check This Out: Don’t Touch

After reading the title, maybe like me you have MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” going through your mind right now. Well, my guest today will change that tune. In the house is the marvelous Rachel M. Wilson, author of Don’t Touch, a young adult novel that debuted this month. Isn’t the cover beautiful? You can read the synopsis here.

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Rachel is represented by Sara Crowe. Don’t Touch was published by HarperTeen. After I finish talking with Rachel, I’ll talk to you about a giveaway. So strap yourselves in. Before we get started though, check out this book trailer:

Cool huh? Let’s talk to Rachel!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Rachel: I’m a Scorpio. I love Ethiopian food more than any other cuisine and eat it about once a week. In my last show, I played a harmonica solo. I almost always wear a turquoise ring that belonged to my grandmother. She was a geologist and liked uncut stones, so her husband had it set for her.

El Space: Cool! Please give us the scoop on Don’t Touch. How did this book come about?
Rachel: The book grew out of my own experience with OCD. Like Caddie, I started dealing with OCD symptoms around age ten, and I still struggle with anxiety. Caddie’s story isn’t my own, but that was the first inspiration. I wanted to explore how fears—rational and irrational—can separate us from other people and from pursuing what we love. And while I’ve never gotten the chance to perform in a full production of Shakespeare, I’m a big fan, and I’ve long loved Hamlet. Once I landed on that as the play within my book, my story path felt clearer.


El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of slipping into Caddie’s skin?
Rachel: Probably figuring out her relationship with her parents. It was hard for me to be mean to Caddie when it came to her changing family, and it took me a long time to find the balance between love and disappointment in her relationship with her father.

El Space: What, if anything, would you like to see more of in young adult fiction? Why?
Rachel: Oh, wow! Great question! Apart from diversity, which I think most of us are really hungry for, I’d love to see more genre-mashing and more magical realism. Those are two things I respond to as a reader, and I think they stretch the mind in challenging ways. As readers of Don’t Touch will probably glean, I have a thing for superheroes, so I certainly wouldn’t mind a badass superhero trend.

El Space: Me too! You also act and teach. How does either profession influence your writing?
Rachel: You know, I’m an introvert, but I’m also a very social creature. Theater is the most collaborative art, and teaching can be highly collaborative too. It’s very important to me to have a place where I go and make things with other people, and it makes it easier for me to sit alone with my computer if I know I’m on my way to spend time with other people.

Aside from that more practical answer, teaching writing to younger kids always perks up my own excitement and energy for writing. It’s a great reminder of why I love it. And theater got me started writing. I would write from the points of view of characters I was playing, and I did a lot of collaborative writing projects in theater, and eventually, I started feeling ready to try my own stories.

El Space: You graduated from both of my alma maters: VCFA and Northwestern University. Yay! I attended NU 100 years before you, however. How did each of your programs leave its mark on you?
Rachel: I didn’t know that! Awesome! I was in the theater program at Northwestern—as an actor there, you join a class that stays intact for three straight years. My teacher was very spiritual, into meditation and Tai Chi as well as some physically and emotionally aggressive schools of acting. One day, I was prepping to bring in a scene from Euripedes’s Orestes, where Orestes and Electra are about to be executed, and our teacher warned us to wear running shoes to class! It wasn’t uncommon for people to get picked up and tossed around and totally break down on stage. Playing around with all of that within a safe community had a huge impact on me. I credit it with teaching me how to be an open, creative person. And as I said above, acting out other people’s stories gave me that drive to write my own.


And VCFA! I can’t say enough positive things about that program. The residencies feel like writers’ summer slash boot camp, and it’s another magical place where the community feels drawn together in an inevitable way. And then working with advisors over months at a time, it’s a true mentorship. I’ve never had a relationship quite like that with another artist, and through that program, it happens four times in a row. It stretched my writing muscles in ways that I hadn’t been able to accomplish on my own and gave me the support to push through the hard stuff and finish a book.

El Space: I know you know a ton of authors, so this next question is usually a delicate one to answer. But I’ll ask it anyway: what books, authors, or actors inspire you? Why?
Rachel: How about I stick with authors I don’t know well? Nova Ren Suma, Jaclyn Moriarty, and Libba Bray always inspire me. In different ways, there’s something so present and tangible in their writing that slams me right into their worlds. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races blew me away with its perfection of world and character, and I need to read more of her work. In middle grade land, I feel the same way about Zilpha Keatley Snyder and E. L. Konigsburg. The Headless Cupid and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth are two of my longtime faves, as is Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. As all of the above are at least a little dark and creepy, that might give you a sense of how my tastes trend.

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El Space: Any advice for the writer who wants to incorporate the theater in his or her fiction?
Rachel: Choose your story within a story with care. Bringing another story into play changes the story you’re telling, even if the play within the story is an invented one. That story will probably be the weightiest metaphor or mirror in your work, so it’s important to understand it inside and out and to have a clear thesis for how it’s in conversation with your own and how the roles your characters take on challenge them and serve as foils for them. And you need to remain open to finding connections you may not have consciously realized were there—the art of the mash-up comes into play.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Rachel: I have several irons in the fire, but the one I’m most focused on right now deals with the aftermath of a shocking change and coming into power. I’m being cagey because you never know how things will develop. The next thing readers will see from me is a short story, “The Game of Boys and Monsters,” out from HarperTeen Impulse as a digital short. It’s suspenseful and creepy, very different from Don’t Touch, about two girls whose friendship changes when the enigmatic Marsh boys move to town.

Rachel, thanks for stopping by! I’m looking forward to that short story!

And thanks to all who stopped to read this interview. You can be entered into a drawing to receive a copy of Don’t Touch just by commenting below.

Don’t Touch is available here:

Barnes and Noble

Looking for Rachel? Check out her website and Twitter. And check out Goodreads and the Don’t Touch Book Club Guide.

Winner to be announced on Tuesday, September 30.


Check This Out: Entangled

I love to connect people with great authors and books. So, I’m thrilled to death to have another great author, the amazing Amy Rose Capetta in the house.


Amy Rose, who is represented by Sara Crowe, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult science fiction novel, Entangled, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It debuts October 1. Here’s a synopsis:

NEWCOVER-199x300Alone was the note Cade knew best. It was the root of all her chords.

Seventeen-year-old Cade is a fierce survivor, solo in the universe with her cherry-red guitar. Or so she thought. Her world shakes apart when a hologram named Mr. Niven tells her she was created in a lab in the year 3112, then entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan.

Cade’s quest to locate Xan joins her with an array of outlaws—her first friends—on a galaxy-spanning adventure. And once Cade discovers the wild joy of real connection, there’s no turning back.

That sounds out of this world, right? Okay, I hear you groaning at that terrible pun, so let’s move on. I’ll tell you about today’s special givewaway later.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Amy Rose: 1) Amy is my first name, Rose is my middle. I go by Amy Rose, due to liking the way it sounds and being born in a Time of Many Amys. I have to thank my mom and dad for the nice name whenever I get a chance! 2) I move a lot. At this exact second, I live in Michigan. 3) I went to VCFA. My heart lives in Montpelier. 4) I shaved my head when Entangled sold, as part of a celebration with my best friend and fellow YA sci-fi author Cori McCarthy.

El Space: If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember that Cori was here in May to talk about her awesome book, The Color of Rain. So, Amy Rose, how did you come to write Entangled?
Amy Rose: I had the main character and setting of Entangled in my head for at least two years before it collided with the premise and plot. My best friend Julia is a scientist, and for years I had been listening to the fascinating ideas she stumbled into every day and thinking “I need to write that,” and “that should be a novel!” But I think that impulse is a daily outing for a writer’s brain. It’s like taking a walk. When she told me about quantum entanglement, my synapses went into marathon mode.

El Space: What characteristics do you have in common with Cade? How are you different?
Amy Rose: I don’t know if I have as much in common with Cade now, but the sixteen-year-old version of me had the same sort of aggressive introversion. I had a hard time connecting with people—of course, I didn’t have a lifetime of isolation on a ruined planet to blame! I wanted to take that trait and blow it up, to explore the difficulties of human connection, both inherent and created.

One difference is that Cade takes her introversion to a bad-ass place, where I took mine more to a much more nerd-based one. She also has music as her main outlet, and reading and writing were mine.

14198426-e-guitar-semi-acoustics-cherry-redOne more thing: I’ve played music my whole life on a variety of instruments, for the most part badly. But I’m not the guitar player of the family. That’s my awesome little sister. She’s part of the inspiration for Cade, too!

El Space: Cool! If you could bioengineer someone, what qualities would be foremost? Why?
Amy Rose: I’m pretty sure that all science fiction warns us away from bioengineering people, but if we’re talking about desirable traits, I would love to find a noninvasive way to up the compassion factor, the empathy for other people. Of course, if we were all perfectly empathetic we might not need fiction, and fiction is beautiful in its imperfect, word-based, messy way of getting us inside other peoples’ experiences. So maybe I’d just give everyone decent eyesight, because I worry about what will happen if I get caught in a post-apocalyptic landscape with only a single pair of contacts. Sorry, optometrists of the world!

El Space: What did you find challenging/exhilarating about writing science fiction? How did your experience prepare you for the genre?
Amy Rose: I found that science fiction was more fun to write than I’d ever imagined. I had written two previous manuscripts with sci-fi elements, but this was my first trip off-planet, and I had way too much fun. I do think that being a big fan of the genre helped. It felt like my brain had gone swimming in SF and came back knowing how I wanted to describe water. It would have been a totally alien element if I hadn’t flailed around in it. Or maybe this is just the world’s most elaborate excuse for watching Battlestar Galactica and Firefly and TNG all the time.

El Space: Nothing wrong with that! What do you hope readers take away from Entangled?
Amy Rose: I hope readers find something to connect with. Whether it’s a character, a relationship, the music, anything. That spark of connection is what keeps me warm as a reader—and keeps me turning pages.

El Space: What authors inspire you?
169756Amy Rose: I am inspired by so many authors! Ray Bradbury and Madeleine L’Engle both put huge stamps on the way I think, read, and hope to write. Though their influences are less obvious: Italo Calvino and Jeanette Winterson. In YA, I think Libba Bray is brilliant in the most ambitious and genre-spanning way. Also, I spilled wine on her shoe once and she’s still nice to me. And when talking about YA sci-fi, I have to mention M.T. Anderson and Feed, which is the most incredible book.

El Space: What advice do you have for anyone who wishes to write science fiction for the young adult market?
Amy Rose: Aliens are hard. Don’t name more planets than you can remember. Make science magazines, science books, science blogs your stomping grounds. The universe is strange. Don’t be afraid to be strange along with it.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Amy Rose: Right now I’m finishing up revisions on the sequel to Entangled, which is called Unmade. The second book is also the end of the story, so soon I’ll be working on something new!

Give it up for Amy Rose, folks. Now put those hands to good use and comment, so you can be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon card. Why $25? So that you can purchase Amy Rose’s book AND Cori’s book. I didn’t get a chance to give away a copy of Cori’s book earlier. You must agree to get both. Winner to be announced on Friday.

For those of you who don’t win, you can still preorder Entangled at these fine establishments:

Barnes & Noble

Look for Cori’s book at the same places. If you preorder Entangled from Great Lakes Book & Supply, you can get a signed copy and a button while supplies last. Check out Amy Rose’s website for details. Or go here. Look for Amy Rose at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Also check out the Nerdbait Guide vlog developed by Amy Rose and Cori.

Author’s photo by Cori McCarthy. Entangled cover from Amy Rose’s website. Other covers from Goodreads.

A Writer’s Process 9(b)


We’re back with the always-leave-’em-laughing Shelby Rosiak. Grab a bagel and get comfortable. If you missed part one of our discussion on humor in writing, please click here. Up to speed? Then, let’s do this thing!

El Space: What advice led you to the biggest writing breakthrough recently?
Shelby: A. M. Jenkins told me, “Step away from the computer and try writing by hand,” and that has made the biggest difference in my writing career. I feel more free on real paper, less inhibited, less judgmental. I can cross things out, write in the margins, make notes to myself, repeat myself. You can’t delete if it’s on paper, and deleting is a single line strikethrough, not completely missing from the page.

Stipula_fountain_penI have several different notebooks going on, so I’m not hugely picky about paper, but I almost always write with a fountain pen. There’s something about connecting liquid ink, delicate nib, to paper that is unique to a fountain pen. If you’ve written with one, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, then try one! I’d say about 90% of my work is done on paper and then transcribed to the computer (the boring part).

El Space: How do you balance humor and seriousness in your work in progress?
7172060Shelby: I asked Alan Silberberg this exact question about his novel Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze, which is a hilarious story of a boy coming to terms with losing his mother, a decidedly unfunny topic. He said, essentially, that you just go on instinct. I think that’s true as well, but I think the balance is really struck in the revision process. You have to think, Is this the character or is it me? Have I created this situation only for the punch line? Feedback from my critique group and classmates helps tremendously in finding that balance.

But it’s still not perfect. I once wrote a short story—I know you’ll remember this one, L.—about a vegetarian zombie named Trixie.

El Space: I do! An absolutely hilarious story.
Shelby: The piece was intended to be purely absurd. I just let loose and tried to be as funny as possible—Trixie missing half her face and holding a bag on Sun Chips, a zombie with his head under the Slurpee machine at 7-Eleven pouring it directly into his mouth—and while I put structure in the story, I would say about half of the workshop group didn’t get it. Many mentioned that they wanted more motivation. I was like, “Dude, the main character is RUNNING FROM ZOMBIES! What better motivation is there?”

Face PalmEl Space: I remember that discussion. I did a couple of facepalms at some of the comments.
Shelby: Others wanted more character development, still others wanted more of what you’d find in a traditional story. Part of me was thinking You’ve totally missed the point, but at the same time, you can’t exactly affect a French accent and decry, “You don’t understand my art!” A reader’s reaction is always legitimate, and it was a good exercise writing that story where I really wasn’t able to find that balance for some people.

One more piece of advice I got from A. M. Jenkins—well actually, this was more life changing than the one I mentioned above; can I change my mind?—came after she read dozens of pages of my work and finally said, “Stop being funny—it’s holding you back from your best writing.” That was a huge revelation for me, since part of me thought that funny WAS my best writing, and it took that to see that I was capable of a lot more. It’s easy for me to hide behind the humor. I don’t have to take risks; I don’t have to feel vulnerable. But that’s not what good writing is about. Once she pointed that out to me, I think my writing drastically improved, both the serious AND funny parts.

El Space: Glad you had that breakthrough! I see what you mean by life changing. But now, I’m dying to know: what books do you find funny?
project-jackalopeShelby: More than books, I tend to find authors funny. In YA, definitely Libba Bray (all of her work), John Green (all of his), and Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian); middle grade would be Roald Dahl (a serious master of humor), Louis Sachar (Holes), Alan Silberberg (Milo), Emily Ecton (Project Jackalope), M. T. Anderson (the Pals In Peril series); picture books—Mo Willems (Pigeon), Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back); adult—Christopher Moore (Lamb), Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and many others that aren’t immediately coming to mind.

Actually as I’m coming up with this completely off the top of my head, I’m noticing that nearly all are male writers. I wonder why that is? THAT would be an interesting topic to look at!

It sure would be! Alas, we’re out of time! We’ll have to talk about that another time. I’ve enjoyed this discussion immensely. Thank you, Shelby!

If you have questions for Shelby about her process, would like to share a joke, or mention a book you find hilarious, please comment below. Thanks for stopping by. On your way out, you might watch out for those banana peels on the floor. I hear they’re very slippery.

Project Jackalope cover from the author’s site. Other book covers from Goodreads. William Riker and Jean Luc Picard facepalm from Fountain pen photo from Wikipedia.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Yes, the title is an overt reference to the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the 1987 movie starring John Candy and Steve Martin. But this post isn’t about that movie.


My parents once told me that our family took a long train trip when I was a baby. Funny. I don’t recall that excursion. But since they never mentioned a second train trip, perhaps taking my older brother and me on the train filled them with such horror, they couldn’t bear to take us again.

Recalling some of our antics during long car trips to visit relatives, I can see why they would wish to avoid being on a train with us for days on end. They were forced to live in the same house with us, but were wise about not inflicting us on the public very often.

Now that I’m an adult, I can take myself on a train trip across the country. Alas, I’m too type A for a leisurely train trip. I like to get where I’m going as fast as possible, you see, which is why the airplane is my favorite mode of transportation next to my car. Unfortunately, some airport security lines are about as slow as taking a leisurely train trip these days.

Now that I’ve mentioned all of the means of transportation in the title, I can finally get to point of this post: pacing. I’m cutting paragraphs and scenes out of my work in progress for this reason.

As I pondered the problem of pacing, I asked Nancy, another friend from VCFA, for her definition of a well-paced novel. She had this to say:

A well-paced novel never loses your interest, but is not a constant roller coaster either. But even in the quiet moments, the story and characters are building and growing.

That makes sense to me. How about you? What would you add to that definition?

While you consider that question, I’ll mention a novel that YA author and Nerdfighter John Green described as “brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced” in a review written for The New York Times. It is


You can read Green’s review here. If you read the book, perhaps you agree or disagree. I’m on the side of agreement. As I followed the journey of heroine Katniss Everdeen, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, even in the slower moments. The action and the quieter moments worked like a waltz—the rhythm perfectly measured.

Another book I consider well paced is Sabriel, a young adult fantasy novel by Garth Nix, book 1 of his Abhorsen trilogy. You can find out more about this book here.


From the first page of the prologue (and Nix makes a good case for its inclusion) to the last page of the epilogue, the pacing never flags. Yet it’s not so frenetic that you feel exhausted at the end of the book (like I felt at the end of watching Bourne Ultimatum). Nix, like Collins, includes quieter moments as heroine Sabriel catches her breath or basically tries to survive during the harrowing search for her missing father.

My problem with pacing comes with my tendency toward the sagging middle. And I don’t just mean my own sagging middle as a result of quick pacing at the dinner table. (Now there’s an image you probably didn’t want.) As you know, many stories have a three-act structure (the setup; the confrontation; and the resolution). (For a great post on plot and structure, see Ingrid’s Notes here.) The action of the story rises toward the climax. But in the second act of my WiP, I included scenes that do little to advance the plot. In fact, they stopped the forward momentum. It’s like being forced on a long, leisurely train trip when what you really need is a quicker mode of transportation to get to the end of the line.

Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat! The Last Book On Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, cautions, “It’s not enough for the plot to go forward, it must go forward faster, and with more complexity, to the climax” (150). As I read that, I went, “Huh?” until I realized what he meant: Make stuff happen. Keep raising the stakes.

Another friend sent me a link to a post written by another well-known YA novelist, Libba Bray. It’s hilarious, and I urge a read. But this quote from the post really struck me:

Thinking takes TIME. Thinking forces you to question everything you take for granted, to get past what feels too easy, too pat in order to get down to what feels real and right and true for your story.

I don’t have a magic formula for writing the well-paced story. But what Libba says also makes sense. Pacing takes thought and an instinct for “what feels real and right and true.” Even if a beta reader points out scenes that sag in your WiP (as my beta readers did in mine), you still have to know how to pick up the pace. For me trial and error works. For some of you, maybe you troubleshoot early on through an outline.

Regardless of how we define well paced, I think we can all agree that good pacing, like good taste, is something you sense right away, especially its absence.

What books do you consider well paced?

Train photo and book covers from Wikipedia.