Monday, May 23, 2016

Clean Teen Reads - the short and personal list

One of the most common things I am asked is "Do you have any recommendations for clean reads?" It's a fair question and I'm personally a fan of clean youth literature. There are great novels out there across the spectrum - addressing a variety of important issues. This post is not meant to disparage any type of book - it's simply a list of my favorite clean novels.

Young Teens
(though these are classic, beautiful novels that any age would appreciate):

The Hired Girl by Amy Schultz (historical)
My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Willis Holt (contemporary
Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis (contemporary)
Blue Birds by Caroline Rose Starr (historical verse)
Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (historical)
The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (historical/fantasy of sorts)
The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas (magical realism)
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff (contemp.)
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt (historical)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (the first historical novel I fell in love with as a young teen, and still one of my favorites)

this list could go on and on because most middle grade (meaning intended for the audience ages 9-13) is clean and so there are a ton of really wonderful books that could easily fall on this list - but these are my tried and true favorites -- at least, the ones that come to mind right now.

Older Teens
  (NOTE:  please see disclaimer below)

Queen of Water by Laura Resau (contemporary - set in Ecuador - beautiful, beautiful story)
Red Glass by Laura Resau (I love her novels and they are most often really clean reads!)
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (a great Western/Mystery that won the Edgar Award a bit back)
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (historical/one edgy scene - but one of my all time favorite books. So worth the read!)
Charlotte's Rose by AE Cannon (historical)
Ink and Ashes by Valynne Maetani (mystery/suspense)
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (who hasn't read this? If it's you - get on it..and have tissues handy)
Wishing Moon by Michael O. Tunnell
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (okay, this is technically an adult novel but it is SO good -- any teen seeking a great read would love it)

And some boy-centric novels: 
(though girls would like these just as much):
Prizefighter in Mi Casa by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo (so, so good!)
Alabama Moon by Watt Key
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri
Icefall by Mathew Kirby
Levithan by Scott Westerfield
The False Prince (series) by Jennifer A Nielsen
Variant by Robison Wells
Any graphic novel....there are a lot of great ones out there
younger boys: the Oragami Yoda series was super fun and is great for young boy readers

 Young Adult Series:
I have a daughter who loves to read YA series and I've had to make an effort to find some that fit my personal "clean-comfort" level as her mom (especially when she was a younger teen). A few of the clean series that she really enjoyed include (I'm just naming the first book in each series but all are good): Matched by Ally Condie, Everlost by Neal Shusterman, My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Additional note: An available resource for families is - you can search and find a break down of what is in the book (sensitive topic to have anything that resembles book ratings, I know, but I personally think there's nothing wrong with being able to make an informed decision. It's not a judgement - it's just information). The site isn't all inclusive, but it's been a good resource for our family. 


Disclaimer:  My definition of 'clean' and your definition of 'clean' may not be the same thing. That's okay! But please keep that in mind. My definition of a 'clean' teen read has mild-if-any swearing, mild-if-any sexual situations (simple kiss, etc) and not-over-the-top violence (though many dystopian series seem to lean toward some violence so be advised).

Tell me...what are some of your favorite clean reads? I'd really love to add to my list!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Tension In Your Novel: Engaging Your Reader

We become better writers when we understand the distinction between writing a dramatic situation and instilling actual tension.

A dramatic situation is just that - a problem or set of circumstances that the character encounters.

However, tension is more about how the world within our novel reacts to the dramatic situation - or what happens in relation to it.

Example: In my upcoming novel, Cinnamon Moon, there is a six year old girl who disappears.  That is the dramatic situation. It's good to have, but it doesn't compel the reader forward because there is no real emotional problem or relational strain, other than people being worried. I mean, if she goes missing on page 68, I can't really whine about it for the next 150 pages without annoying my reader. It's important to introduce the dramatic situation - but it's not enough.
What makes for actual tension? When the girl, Nettie, is found and chooses not to leave the very dangerous circumstance she is in. That creates tension. Our reader knows she is in real trouble, and that she is too young to protect herself - but that she is unwilling or unable to get away. Hopefully, knowing that is enough to keep the reader engaged. How can you save someone who needs help but doesn't realize it? Will she ever realize it? What will happen to her in the meantime -she's just a little girl, after all.
Another example: Let's say you're writing about a murder. We will put our character in a rose garden - dead sometime before 10:00 am.  That's the dramatic situation. There's a dead body for heaven's sake! It doesn't get more dramatic than that. Still, it's not enough. You can write all the details of the situation and it would take you a whopping two pages - at best. You need to introduce some sort of tension to compel your reader forward.
In this case, let's say the neighbor saw the gardener show up at 1:00pm.  And then we notice how the grass is perfectly mowed, except where her legs were sprawled out from the rose bed...that area was just "mowed around".  Cue tension.  It is an unexpected response that the reader feels an emotional need to resolve.  
And another example: Maybe we're writing an angsty YA novel where - at one point - our main character finds himself standing on a bridge at midnight, contemplating suicide.  That's our dramatic situation.  It's important, but it's finite. He jumps or he doesn't - either way, the situation will be essentially over in a couple of pages. So, we build tension into the story by having our character standing on the edge of the bridge, toes inching off, when he suddenly hears a soft voice singing his favorite gospel song out of the darkness. He can't see the person singing - doesn't recognize the voice -and no one answers when he calls out. Still, it saves his life that night.  See how that unexpected turn creates tension? The reader must know who the singer she knew his favorite gospel she knew he was on the bridge at that moment...why she didn't respond or show her face. Who is it!? And how will she play into our story?

For many years I thought having a dramatic situation was enough. When I teach writing, I see students make the same mistake. We insert a tragic situation and assume it is enough to keep our reader turning pages. Sadly, we are mistaken.  We must ask ourselves: what now? What can we interject that feels unnerving to the reader and keeps them up long past bedtime, seeking a resolution?

I guess it can be summed up like this: A dramatic situation may make our reader worried or sad - but instilling tension makes them feel an unsettling curiosity that is far more powerful. 
What do you think? What ways have you found to create this type of emotional tension that compels your readers forward? What books do you know that use this technique well? Sharing helps us all learn :)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Every Writer Wants One Thing...

At some level, every writer wants one thing.  Oh sure, we may be afraid to admit it - might not have the courage to say it out loud. We discount the thought when it wriggles into our consciousness. 
But still, it remains.

and that thing we want is...

to write something that lingers.
words that 
stay in the heart of our reader 
incite emotion 
make even a small difference
then have someone believe in that something enough to publish it.
And what is our greatest fear?
that it won't happen.
through our own ineptness or unfortunate circumstance.  
And that thought is terrifying to us.
I believe it's a large part of what we call writer's block.  A tenuous whisper in the back of our subconscious that says you're a hack. she's better, he has the contacts to make it happen, you're behind the curve, whisper...whisper...whisper.
So we stop writing.  
Because maybe it's easier to quit on our own terms, you know? Make up a good life is too busy, I don't have the support of my spouse, my children are too young, and on and on
Which is sincerely tragic. 
And yet so real. Trust me, I've been there many times.
It doesn't go away after's insidious.
However, we must push through those fears
because here is my question:
If we don't believe in ourselves...
how can anyone else?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Launch Party Pictures!

I can't say thank you enough to everyone who took the time to come to my launch party for my latest novel, Skies Like These. It was so fun to meet new readers and connect with old friends.  If you are far away or were unable to attend, here is a summary of the fun:

candy station! with Butterfingers in honor of Roy, the main boy character in the novel - you got to choose candy sticks and a super fun doggy bookmark as well.

Prize Wheel!  My lovely and lively pal Paige ran this station - you could spin the wheel and get all sorts of swag including little dogs and horses (which go along with the novel, of course)  

Here is a peek at the prize wheel loot!

We also had a western tattoo station - here is my darling daughter Meagan playing the part - she did a great job running this station :)

There was a fantastic turn out - and everyone seemed to be having a great time.  I can't express how it feels to see people hold your book like this.  Amazing.

 Of course, I did my little spiel.  Here I'm showing my edit stack -- it's a lot of work to publish a novel, but it's more fun than I ever imagined and totally worth it.  I get excited when edits show up in the mail!

I signed books!

We had a Western Photo Booth! That was the big hit of the day, for sure.  Here I am with my hubby, kids and mom hamming it up.  Props to Picture It Photo Booths for their amazing service.

Noble from The Kings English Bookshop came down from Salt Lake as our bookseller.  The frog and foam hats you see in the background were give aways too.  He was such a good sport, especially when I dragged him into the photo booth for a 'matching moustache' pic....


All in all a great event - and none of it could have happened without the support of friends, family, fellow writers and readers.  That continually amazes and surprises me.  Thanks all!
pictures taken by our long time friend James Samson - thanks James!

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Our winner for a signed copy of Skies Like These was chosen using

True Random Number Generator  7Powered by RANDOM.ORG

.and is Dellgirl!.Congrats, Dellgirl! email me at tess(at)tesshilmo(dot)com with your address and I'll get your copy out pronto..Happy almost weekend all!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Release Day! Give Away! Party Info!

Skies Like These is here - woot! woot!  

My new novel - coming July 15!

Copies available just about anywhere -- Barnes and Noble, The Kings English, Amazon

Leave a comment below and be entered to win a signed copy of the novel. Give Away will run until Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

there is also another giveaway of the book going on at the blog Word Spelunking run by the amazing lit lover Aeicha. Link over for another chance to win!

and save the date for the launch party :D
July is full of family reunions, scout camps, vacations ... so I'm hosting a Wild West Zinger-of-a-Party in August when things settle down and people start thinking about school again.  Here's the details - would love any and all to come!

Saturday August 23
American Fork Library - Community Room -  64 South 100 East, American Fork UT
be prepared to cowboy up! - there will be a real western photo booth, prize wheel with lots of fun swag, old fashioned candy counter, bookmark craft station, Kings English book sales table and of course a signing.
Free and open to the public!

Tell Me (entry question) what's your favorite part of summer so far?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Favorite Part About This Author-Thing

I am often asked what my favorite thing about being an author is.
And it's an easy answer...

the people

Other readers and writers --  those that step out of nowhere and cheer you on or champion your work.  

I had a moment with this late last night.  I was working on a new historical novel, deep in research on child labor laws, when I took a break and checked my email. What was there?  A tweet notice from fellow author Corey Rosen Schwartz link (picture book author extraordinaire - Three Ninja Pigs, Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears and her new release Ninja Red Riding Hood ).  

Corey noticed some good news about my new novel, Skies Like These, and gave it a shout out.  Apparently it was chosen by Amazon as one of their "Best Books of the Month - Editors Pick".
I had no idea and likely wouldn't have known if it weren't for Corey.

But that's the world of Children's Literature.  People are sincerely kind and supportive.

Was I happy to hear the good news? Absolutely!  Here's the link if you want to see it...  Best Middle Grade Books - July 

But the reason I went to bed smiling wasn't because of Amazon's pick.  It was because I felt part of a community that thrives on lifting and helping one another.

It's an amazing thing.  Thanks, Corey!

check Corey's work out on Goodreads and Amazon.

Tell me:  When was the last time you were surprised by a good deed or kind word?