Category Archives: Novels

Ha-ha and tee-hee

My first YA novels – all unpublished – were heavy: a guy in jail, a school shooting, a cancer story.

My high school buddies listened politely to my plot summaries. They even read the guy-in-jail book. Then they said this: We think you’re funny. Why don’t you write something fun? Something funny?

That’s friendship code for these stories aren’t working.

So I took a stab at humor. It’s an intimidating writing style. There’s nothing worse than trying to be amusing and falling on your face – and not a ha-ha slapstick fall. An awkward, ugly fall.

People who’ve read The Graham Cracker Plot say it’s funny. Kids laugh when they read it. And a respected publishing house (Roaring Brook) bought it, so there can’t be too many awkward, ugly falls.


The release date is eight months away. My fingers are crossed for middle-grade giggles. Parent chuckles would be a bonus.

I’m not confident enough to blog something like, “How to Write Humor for Middle Grade.”

Someday, perhaps. But not today.

I’ve had two book-buying frenzies this month.

The first: The Friends of the Library book sale. I’m a new member. I volunteered to sell books at the sale which is to say I emptied my wallet at the event.

The second: Indies First, a national event bringing authors to local bookstores on Small Business Saturday. I appeared as a local author which is to say I emptied my wallet at the event.

Chapter2Books in Hudson, Wisc., hosted four authors: Mike Norman, Stephanie Stuve Bodeen, Dan Woll and yours truly. There’s no better way to spend a Saturday than hanging out at a bookstore talking to other readers. We had a blast.

The titles in my shopping bag:

  • A Star Wars father-son collection of postcards. (Darth Vadar to Luke: No, you can’t play with Han Solo, and that’s final!)
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Nothing else needs to be said, right?
  • Who is Bob Dylan? This is a kid’s book with one of those life lessons: Yes, you won’t like his music – at least not now – but you need to know him. You’ll never win a trivia game if you don’t.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows.
  • Tree Spirited Woman by Colleen Baldrica. I met Colleen at a planning meeting for a Minnesota reading series and heard about her fantastic book. Now it’s on my shelf.

Here’s hoping your Christmas list has a few books on it. Check it twice, and be nice, for goodness sake.

Cronn-Mills stirs up YA market

Also featured at Barnes and Noble!

Also featured at Barnes and Noble!

My friend and YA writer Kirstin Cronn-Mills is featured in today’s Star Tribune. The entertainment section headline: “Two transgender YA fiction titles by Minnesotans up for Lambdas.”

The Lambda is the most prestigious prize in GLBT literature. There’s a ceremony Monday in New York, so I’ll be sure to provide an update.

Her book, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, is challenging, but it’s not an “issue” book. The character just happens to be a girl who’s really a boy. Is it funny? Wait until you read the scene where Liz/Gabe orders a MANGO online. Then Gabe attempts to use a man’s restroom for the first time. MANGO. Get it?

Congrats, Kirstin.

The Greatest Gatsby

Dear Director Luhrmann and Author Fitzgerald,

Thank you for crafting both a novel and a movie with masterful dialogue. I’ve used many of your words in the following apology, because your words are better than mine. Clearly.

Many thanks,

Shelley T., author of the forthcoming novel The Graham Cracker Plot.


To: Baz Luhrmann, The Great Director

Dear Baz,

There was a green light flashing in the mist. It represented hope – my hope. Weeks ago, I’d hoped your interpretation of The Great Gatsby would stink and sink. I couldn’t fathom an American classic being twisted into a 3D rap music video. I couldn’t stand the thought of our Jay Gatsby – yes, he’s one of us, one of the dreamers and believers – being played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s working so hard for his Lifetime Achievement Award.

I was wrong, a silly little fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, Baz, a beautiful little fool. But it takes two to make an accident like this: me with my prejudgment and you with the black cloud of Moulin Rouge.

Cheers, Leo. Cheers.

Cheers, Leo. Cheers.

Baz, your Gatsby was a triumph. There’s something very sensuous about it – overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into my hands right there in the theater, right next to the popcorn.

And so I apologize to you, Baz. (And to Leo, who’ll get that lifetime award if he ever looks older than 30.) Understand, Baz, that sometimes I’m a careless person, smashing up things and creatures and then retreating back.

Gatsby lovers, believe in Baz’s green light. It represents his hope and dream to make a better Gatsby, to, in fact, make the Greatest Gatsby.

Realized dreams are so rare, yet we chase them. Baz understands dreams elude us, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Many apologies,

Shelley T., author of the forthcoming novel The Graham Cracker Plot

Books worth another look

After I posted about classic lit and plot amnesia, I came across this list from Publishers Weekly, “10 Classic Books You Read in High School You Should Reread.”  Writer Kevin Smokler picked the ten classics “where I found that useful thing I missed the first time around.”

That’s why I’m re-reading Catcher in the Rye. What would I take from it now? What can I learn from it as a writer? And the top reason: I can’t remember the plot.

Here begins Smokler’s list.

Smokler's number one. And he means read it, not go to the 3D disaster.

Smokler’s number one. And he means read it, not go to the 3D disaster.

Number One. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Fast cars, huge houses, a raised martini glass and a love that cannot be. No wonder F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third novel gets credit for both naming and embodying the most glamorous era of the 20th century. I had forgotten that Nick Carroway tells the story of Gatsby and Daisy in flashblack, a eulogy to a romance and an era that are gone. The novel’s unforgettable closing passages are as much about acceptance as longing, as much about the pain of age than forbidden desire and American dreams.

The full article is here.

The pre-rant rant

Great Gatsby ... in 3D! Just as Fitzgerald imagined.

Great Gatsby … in 3D! Just as Fitzgerald imagined.

I’m holding back my rant about Great Gatsby being remade in 3D. I guess you should see a movie before you bash it to pieces. Look for me to bash it to pieces soon.

It’s fair, however, to note the following:

  • GG is directed by Baz Luhrmann, who made Moulin Rouge. The movie has a cult following, but so does Scary Movie 5. Moulin Rouge is an explosion of the ridiculous. It’s LSD on meth.
  • Even the previews show Baz has jackhammered every nuance Fitzgerald so carefully placed in the text.
  • Why 3D? To make the audience duck because a martini glass appears to shoot from the screen?

I’ll follow the reviews and note all the bad ones. Feel free to use the comment section to tell me I’m full of crap.

Hi, Holden. I’m Shelley. We’ve met, right?

I blogged yesterday about buying Catcher in the Rye to get reacquainted with Holden Caulfield. I read the novel in high school. The years have flown by, and they’ve taken my book memories with them.

All I remember about Catcher in the Rye is the following: I liked it, the main character’s name is Holden, and maybe he’s in a hospital.

My house has bookshelves full of forgotten stories. I simply don’t remember plot lines or characters from classic lit I read in high school, college and, yes, sometimes voluntarily.

When I go to author receptions, parties with literary types, or take a writing class, I either stutter my way through classic book discussions or take a sudden interest in the food table. Another glass of wine also helps.

Here are some of those books and what I remember.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Some people on a bridge. The bridge collapses. Other things happen.

Don Quixote. Crazy guy and windmills.

Antonia who?

Antonia who?

My Antonia. My Amnesia.

The Red Badge of Courage. War. I think.

A Separate Peace. Did one kid jump on the branch, which caused another boy to fall, or was it an accident?

A Tale of Two Cities. Can’t remember either city.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A river, a boat and two buddies.

Great Expectations. A poor kid does some stuff.

A Doll’s House. Amnesia.

Tender is the Night. Partying in France.

A Farewell to Arms: A war and a dead baby.

The Odyssey. Huh?

The Canterbury Tales: Someone farted.

Candide: Funny.

Last of the Mohicans. I remember the movie with Daniel Day Lewis, especially when he spits as he passionately urges Madeline Stowe to be tough. “I will find you! Stay alive. No matter how far, no matter how long, I will find you.”

All is not lost. I have fond and detailed memories of a few from the canon. To Kill a Mockingbird, Age of Innocence, East of Eden, Lolita – assuming these are part of the canon. And should canon be capitalized? I forget.