Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Cover Reveal

As promised, today I'm going to show you all the cover to my new book, THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE, which is coming to bookstores on November 7, 2017.

But first, here's the description:

On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she'd become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.

She didn't.

And then she died.

Now she's stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge--as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.

Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly's afterlife has been miserable.

But this year, everything is about to change. . . .

Woohoo, so exciting! So, ready to see???!!!!!

Here you go:

I love this cover so much!!!!! I should point out that it's going to be printed on foil, so everything that is white here is actually going to be a sparkly silver color. I love the symbols: the coffin, the roses, the snowflakes, the candle, the stars, the tiny lightning bolts, all of which are so important to the story. I also love the way the detailing on the edges hearkens back to that older style of book, like my own tiny copy of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

*in cover love*


So what do you think? Let me know in the comments below. And be sure to take part in this giveaway, where I will give one lucky reader my first copy of the ARC. (One of the ways to enter the contest is to comment below. . .)

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

News and an Upcoming Cover

I've got news! I've got a huge buildup of news, actually. I love news! So here goes:

1. I am doing an event this week! Listen up, Idaho people, because I am moderating an event at the Boise Barnes & Noble on THURSDAY, Feb 9, at 7pm. I'm going to get the chance to interview the phenomenal Victoria Aveyard, author of THE RED QUEEN series (I toured with Victoria a couple years ago and it was so fun--she's a fellow Tolkien / George R. R. Martin fan, so of course we got along wonderfully) and the brilliant Sophie Jordan, who I've been a huge fan of since her FIRELIGHT series (and now she's going to be here promoting REIGN OF SHADOWS series) and can't wait to spend some time with in person!

I'll also be signing copies of the UNEARTHLY series, THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE, and MY LADY JANE. So come out!

2. The ebook of THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE is on sale, big time in Germany all month! The promotional price will be 5,99 € (usually 14,99 €) and the promotion will run 2/1 to 2/28. (Sidenote: I love this cover. The title translates to "The Improbability of Happiness." Make of that what you will, ha, but I love the way it looks like a math problem on the cover, juxtaposed with the dandelion and the girl. (And the ya! in the corner.)

3. MY LADY JANE hit the New York Times list in January! I am so thrilled about this, especially because my two co-authors now get to put the all-prestigious "New York Times bestselling author" label in front of their names. And that label will now go on the paperback, too. (The paperback is coming in June.) MLJ has also been landing on all kinds of wonderful lists lately, including the Amelia Bloomer list (which is all about celebrating feminism, which we really wanted to do when we wrote MLJ), the YALSA 2017 Best Fiction for Young Adults list , and the Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices. It's so great to see this book that gave us such joy to write being appreciated by so many people. Thanks, people!

4. This week, the Janies and I are finishing the first official draft of MY PLAIN JANE, which is the book in which we save Jane Eyre / Charlotte Bronte. This novel has been so much fun to work on, and we can't wait until YOU get to read it. Which will be a while. Like Summer 2018, a while. But we are hard at work on it, and it's coming!

To tide you over, I'll leave you this. It's a brilliant cartoon by Kate Beaton that captures, in a nutshell, what we think might be wrong with Jane Eyre. *spicy language alert*

And now for the biggest news of ALL:

4. I HAVE A NEW SOLO BOOK COMING OUT. It's called THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE, and it will be out on November 7, 2017. You can pre-order here. It's a teenage retelling of Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL, which I had loads of fun writing. It's got a touch of magic and romance and great costumes, and I WILL SHOW YOU THE COVER TOMORROW.

That's right. TOMORROW. 9 Eastern. I will reveal the cover of THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE. It is, in my somewhat biased opinion, the best cover EVER. 

Enter the contest (which involves shamelessly plastering the Holly Chase cover everywhere you can think of) to win the very first ARC of THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE that I get my hands on.

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So stop by here tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Okay, so I haven't been around on this website for a while. *checks the last time I posted* *it was February* Yep.

I've been super super super busy promoting and writing marketing content for my latest book, MY LADY JANE, on the Lady Janies website here: And I've been working with my besties on a new Jane book, too. Woot woot!

I am also on a very tight deadline for my next solo book. So I'll be underground for a little while yet.

But check back soon for some amazing news that I'll be allowed to share with you any day now, and, if you're interested in what I'm doing, keep track of my feed on Twitter (@cynthiahand) or Instagram (@cynthiahand).

I'll just be here typing away.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Paperback Promotion

So this week THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE is coming to paperback, and to celebrate (and to try to er, promote it), I am going to do an exclusive giveaway to help get the word out. So tell your friends--if this is a book you think they'd like to read, NOW is the time to get it.

Between now and Tuesday only, when you buy the paperback, I will send you a signed THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE bookmark (while supplies last). All you have to do to receive this is to :

1. Email me a screenshot of your purchase or your receipt or whatever form of proof you can produce that you've bought the book during this promotion time.

2. In the email, tell me your mailing address. Please make sure it's complete.

3. If you're interested in winning a signed advanced copy of MY LADY JANE, click on the rafflecopter contest below and follow the instructions. No international entries, sorry. You can get an entry for just tweeting about the contest, but you'll get FIVE entries if you actually bought the TLTWSG paperback.

4. Enjoy TLTWSG while you wait for your awesome bookmark (and possibly, your ARC)!

5. Accept my many many thanks. You rock.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Lady Jane

The new book!
For those of you curious about what's next for me, I should probably tell you about MY LADY JANE. It's coming out on June 7, 2016, published once again by the wonderful HarperTeen, and it is quite possibly (cover your ears, UNEARTHLY and THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE, Mama loves you, too) my favorite book that I've ever written.

Let me explain.

Writing THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE was difficult. It was a subject that had been tumbling around in my brain for a while, and it felt important to talk about, but I knew from the start that writing it was going to just about kill me. It was so hard, and there were so many days I wept copiously at my keyboard, but I did it and I was so glad I did. I am so proud of that little book. It's my heart's truth, right there on the page.

But needless to say, it took a lot out of me. I went into a bit of a funk after I finished writing THE LAST TIME WE SAID GOODBYE.

So I needed something else. Something that would be a joy to write. Something to make me laugh.

At this point I'd been talking for more than a year with my friend Brodi Ashton (author of the EVERNEATH series) about writing a book together. I had this strange little idea that we could retell the tragic story of the Lady Jane Grey. If you know British history, you'll know that LJG was "the Nine Days Queen," as she was the queen of England for nine(ish) days in the year 1553, before Mary Tudor kicked her off the throne and had her beheaded.

I thought we could rewrite Jane's story. . . as a comedy. And Brodi Ashton had the best comedic sense of any writer I knew. So it made sense to team up.

You should have seen the look on Brodi's face while I was trying to pitch her this idea. We were having lunch at Cafe Rio. I was yammering about how great the real Jane was--a book nerd even before book nerds were a thing, so smart and passionate and awesome, and how dare she get her head chopped off, a girl like that! We could write an alternate version, and we could write it so Jane lives! We could use magic in place of the religious elements of the real story! Then I started talking about this idea I had that maybe our magic could be that people turned into animals, and maybe Guildford, the guy Jane was forced to marry, could be cursed to spend his days as a horse, wouldn't that be funny, and then the story would kind of be like THE PRINCESS BRIDE and like SHREK and like LADY HAWKE and there's not really anything like that in YA, right, so it'd be so cool and it'd be funny and it'd be a blast to write, don't you think?

I am not great at pitching. Kudos to Brodi for keeping her face so carefully blank as she ate her salad and listened to me go on and on about how awesome it was going to be. "Sure," she said a the end of this conversation. "Sounds like . . . er, fun."

We didn't talk about it again for, oh, about six months. This time we were hanging out in Virginia with our friend Jodi Meadows. Somehow I got on the subject of this awesome novel about the Lady Jane Grey that Brodi was going to write with me (you're still going to write it with me, right Brodi? Right?) and Brodi turned drowning eyes to Jodi, hoping our friend would say something reasonable like, "Hmm, Cynthia, a comedy about a famous beheading? That seems a little far-fetched."

Instead Jodi said, "That sounds amazing. There's not much comedy in the YA fantasy market."

And I blurted out, "Hey, you write fantasy. You're funny. Would you like to write it with us?"

And Jodi (poor, dear Jodi) said yes, why yes she would. And Brodi looked relieved that now she wasn't the only person who'd been fool enough to agree to such a thing.

Fast forward six months. California. Jodi and Brodi were visiting to do a couple of events in Los Angeles and talk to my novel writing class at Pepperdine. And what did I keep bringing up, over and over and over again?

That novel about the Lady Jane Grey.

Sometimes I can be like a dog with a tooth in a towel, I tell you.

Me, Jodi, and Brodi that fateful week in California
There was a free day in the middle of that week. We were thinking about going to Disneyland.

"But instead, we could stay home and start writing this Jane Grey novel," I suggested cheerfully. "I mean, we could go to Disneyland any old time, but how often could we write a book together? And maybe there are three characters, and we could each write one and rotate chapter to chapter."

And that's how MY LADY JANE was born. Because I shanghaied my two besties into writing a book with me instead of spending the day at the happiest place on earth. But it worked out, because now that book is a REAL book, and it's going to be out this summer.

I loved every minute of writing MLJ. We each wrote an opening chapter that day in California, each taking the point of view of a different character: Edward, Jane, or Gifford (who you'll notice that we slightly renamed). We talked about the story a lot and hashed out plot points and revised a little, and then a couple months later we met in Utah to hide away in Brodi's mountain condominium to really work on the book. The days went like this:

We'd get up, eat breakfast, shower and get coffee.

We'd spend the morning writing and brainstorming and giggling to ourselves at our own jokes.

We'd eat lunch.

We'd write hard all through the afternoon and finish our individual chapter.

We'd eat dinner.

We'd sit around the living room with our laptops and read our day's chapter out loud to each other, and we'd laugh and laugh. Sometimes we'd laugh until we'd cry. We'd make suggestions. We'd plot. We'd plan for what we'd write the next day.

We'd stay up late talking.

And then we'd get up the next morning and do it all over again.

It was the most fun I'd ever had writing anything. It was exactly what I needed. Fun fun fun.

At the end of that week we had twelve chapters of a novel, and we'd fallen in love with the story of Lady Jane Grey.

A comedy. An adventure. A fantasy. A story about friendship and loyalty and love and being true to yourself.

It's so good, you guys, the best book I've every written a third of. Seriously. And the best part is that now I get to share all the joyful fun with all of you.

If it sounds like MY LADY JANE is going to be up your alley, please check out our website, The Lady Janies for more information about where you can pre-order the book and join our new fan club.

Trust me. It will be good for a laugh.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

What I Read in 2015

It's that time again, when I list the books I read this year. To be honest, it was a lighter reading year than I've had in a very long time. I had a lot of other things on my plate this year, but I snuck in a book whenever I could.

So here we go:

1. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. I've been a huge fan of LHA all the way back to Speak, and this book was just as good. What is so killer about Anderson is her amazing ear--she just gets how teens talk and how they feel and conveys it so well on the page. I am struck anew with writerly envy every single time I pick up one of her books.

2. The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows. Okay, disclaimer: Jodi is one of my very best friends, so I am not exactly objective when it comes to her work, but in my opinion this is one of her best books. If you love fantasy, you'll love this. It has it all: magic, political intrigue, a kick-ass heroine and a guy who runs around wearing a mask. Love love this one.

3. The Martian by Andy Weir. This is an adult book, and I loved it so much I bought it for my parents. They, er, thought it was a bit boring at times and greatly preferred the movie. I will have to agree to disagree--the book is awesome. It is a love letter to science in the best possible way, and the voice of the main character is so winning and lively that it's easy to follow all the science that comes with surviving when you've been abandoned on Mars.

4. Golden Son by Pierce Brown. If you caught my list last year you'll notice that the first book in this series, Red Rising, was one of my favorites of the year. I went into Golden Son with a little bit of trepidation, honestly, because I loved the first book so much I was worried that the second one couldn't possibly measure up. I was wrong--this book is every bit as tense and engaging and beautifully written as the first novel. Easily the best sci-fi I read all year.

5. The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman. I really liked this fantasy/horror retelling with whispers of Snow White and Rose Red and the Snow Queen all in one. Reading the book felt like a beautiful nightmare, in the best sense possible.

6. Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter. This felt like the good old paranormal teen stories of old to me, which I miss. The modern life of the main character was so believable. I also loved the ways the author used clouds and symbols.

7. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Ah, Holly Black, you slay me. How do you do it every single time? This story was soooooo compelling, one of those hide-in-the-closet-so-I-can-finish-reading kind of books--you other mothers know what I'm talking about. I loved that this was a fairy book, and the characters were so well drawn and the plot was so engaging. Sigh. *fangirls all over Holly Black.

8. All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Okay, so this was the year of the suicide novel. That sounds like it shouldn't be a thing, but it's good. It's an issue we need to talk about. And it felt like all of these suicide novels came out at roughly the same time, my own included. So I read a bunch of these last winter. ATBP ended up being one of my favorites, because the characters, particularly the guy character, felt so real to me. Bring tissues for this one, though. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to cry at the end.

9. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. This one is hard for me to talk about for a few reasons. If you've read the acknowledgements of my book The Last Time We Say Goodbye, you'll know that I lost my younger brother to suicide when I was in college. Books about suicide can be pretty difficult for me. This book came out the same day as TLTWSG, and we were going to tour together, so HarperTeen sent me an ARC. I got to page ten, and then I had to put the book down for a while. It's a story about a girl who is contemplating suicide, and she seeks out a "partner," someone who also wants to kill himself. She ends up connecting with a boy who wants his life to end on a specific date: April 7. The entire book from that point counts down to April 7. Which just happens to be the date that my brother died. I got to that date and felt a ripple of shock go over me. It was painful to read and anticipate how Warga's April 7 was going to turn out, but I did pick up the book again and keep reading, and I'm so glad I did. It's a beautiful story about, i think, how human connection can save us.

10. I Was Here by Gayle Forman. I am a big fan of Gayle Forman--her book If I Stay is one of my favorites of all time, and I've never read a book of hers I didn't like. That said, this one is probably my least favorite, even though it's a very good book. This is about a girl whose best friend has committed suicide, and the girl goes on a journey searching of answers. Again, a really good book, but it felt like a head book to me instead of a heart book. If you know what I mean.

11. The Young Elites by Marie Lu. I loved Marie's previous Legend series, but I have to say I loved this novel even more. The Main character was just so fascinating, and the world the book operates in is dark and engrossing. And the end was so awesome.

12. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Again, I might be a bit biased, as I toured with Victoria this year, but this novel was so well crafted--it keeps you pretty much on the edge of your chair for the entire read. If you read a lot of fantasy, you'll dig it. The ship situation is pretty intense in this story, too. Hot guys and red-blooded girls for the win.

13. The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes. I really love survival stories, so I was excited to read this one, about three teens lost in the woods. It was pretty good, too, a little kitchy at times, maybe, but a feel-good read, for sure.

14. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. This was the book that I recommended when people asked me for my favorite book this year. In so many ways it was just another one of the gazillion fantasies that flooded the market this year, but IT WAS SO GOOD. It's from the point of view of two characters, and the stakes are so high for both of them, and I was just holding my breath for them by the end. AWESOME AWESOME.

15. A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thompson. This was an excellent retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, which begins with the kiss that wakens her and proves that happily ever after isn't necessarily a given.

16. The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons. Gosh, this was the year for great fantasies (and the word glass in the title, apparently). This one hooked me right away, and had one of the most interesting, engaging main characters I read this year.

17. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. This book about aliens was hands-down the goriest, foulest-mouthed, most intense YA I read this year, but it was also really funny at times and incredibly authentic to the experience of a teenage boy. I enjoyed it.

18. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. The title is so apt for this book, which is both strange and beautiful, about a girl who is born with wings. But ultimately it is about so much more than that--it's about family and womanhood and the way people can treat each other as symbols instead of as human beings.

19. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. I loved this one--it felt a bit like The Book Thief, about Love and Death competing with each other over the lives of two star-crossed lovers in the 30s. The world of this novel was so rich, and the story was so tense and compelling, and the premise was so imaginative and well wrought. A great book.

20. Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge. Yet another amazing fantasy. At this point some of the fantasies had started to blend together in my head a bit, but this one stood out for Hodge's deft use of sexual tension--I liked her book Cruel Beauty a little bit more than this one, but she continues to write attraction mixed with hostility so well. Great writing and imagery in this one, too.

21. Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan. I am a HUGE Carrie Ryan fan, and I tore through this book the moment I got my hands on it. It's a great, quick-paced thriller where you definitely can't see all the twists coming.

22. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahndieh. One of my favorite books of the year--this is a super cool retelling of the 1001 Arabian nights. I found the world and the characters here simply mesmerizing, and I loved the storytelling aspect, and how the revenge in the main character's heart slowly shifts into something else, and the torment of the male lead. Wow. Wow wow.

23. The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy. This is an adult novel that reimagines the Lewis and Clark expedition in a post-apocolyptic landscape, and it was brilliant, easily my favorite of Ben Percy's books so far. I loved that the Sacajawea character was constantly thinking about just murdering the whole bunch of them so she would be rid of them. I loved the steampunk feel.

24. Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Okay, so I read and loved this two years ago, but this year my family and I went to dinner with Ransom and Tahereh, (his equally lovely and talented wife) and my eight-year-old son was immediately enraptured by Ransom and came home wanting to read his book. So we read it, although I had to do some heavy editing because it was a bit too scary for my kid.

25. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman. I LOVE Westerns, and I was instantly smitten by the cover of this book, so I went right out and got this the day it came out. It was a fun, exciting read, and I loved following this kick-ass girl's path through the Old West. Awesome.

26. Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson. Another Western! Woohoo! This one I felt had a bit more of an "educational" feel to it--like we were learning about the history of the Oregon trail as we went along, but as usual Carson's language was beautiful and the little paranormal twist to it made it so cool.

27. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman. A sci-fi version of the Titanic, set in space and on some distant planet. There was a moment in this one where I literally gasped--what happened was so unexpected. I'm eager to read the next one.

28. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. This was easily my favorite contemporary YA of the year--it was just so heartfelt and authentic and true. I loved the main character in all her flawed and wonderful struggles--she is trying to hide her obsessive-only OCD from her mean-girl friends, learning how to express herself and come to love herself through writing, and reinventing her life. If there's one book I wish all teens would read this year, this is it.

29. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Gosh, this was a beautiful book. It struck me as a literary novel that got swept into the YA category because the characters are fairly young. I don't want to give too much away, but I flat-out loved this one--the gorgeous language, the strange yet familiar story, the yearning characters, the small-town revelations.

30. The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. This was an awesome book, too. I think this year, which my more limited time and budget, I really only bothered with books that I had a strong sense that I would love. This one is about a family with a kind of curse on them--every October they tend to get into strange "accidents." It had mystery and romance and one of the best family dynamics that I've read in YA.

So that's it--the books I read this year! If I had to pick favorites I'd go with:

The Darkest Part of the Forest, if you miss the paranormal romance phase and love the dark and engrossing kind of fantasy.

An Ember In the Ashes, if you want a book to get completely lost in.

Bone Gap, if you're in the mood for something beautiful and completely engrossing.

The Game of Love and Death, if you like historical and magical.

Every Last Word, if you want a contemporary that will make you think about the ways we define ourselves.

What strikes me every year when I go to make this list is just how great teens have it now--you have SO MANY AMAZING BOOKS TO READ. I mean, seriously. There are great books of every type and genre--the world is your oyster. Every year I am amazed at both the quantity and quality of the books on the YA shelf, and I grew up in a time where there was no YA shelf--you just kind of skimmed the adult shelves looking for something that would speak to you.

So what was YOUR favorite book of 2015? Tell me in the comments. And stay tuned for tomorrow, where I will give you the list of books I read to my son in 2015. *spoiler alert--there was an equally-great selection of kids books this year.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Power of One Good Friend

I've been trying to write this post for a year. Brace yourself, it's going be long and weepy, but sometimes these things just need to be said because it's important to say these things out loud (sort of). So here it goes:

One morning last October I was packing up and getting ready to leave Yellowstone National Park, where my family had been staying at the Old Faithful Inn for a long weekend. My cell phone rang. I smiled when I saw who was calling: my friend Joan Kremer, who had been my off-and-on writing partner for the past six years.

"I was just thinking about you yesterday," I said as I picked up. "Happy birthday!"

But on the other end, there was silence.

"Joan?" I asked.


"Silas?" I said, thinking maybe Joan's baby grandson, whom she adored and was often joyfully babysitting, had gotten ahold of her phone. "Silas?"

A throat cleared. Then, in a faltering voice, Joan's wife, Brenda, told me that Joan had suffered from a sudden brain hemorrhage the day before. She'd been in the hospital all night, surrounded by her family, but there hadn't been anything the doctors could do.

"She's gone," Brenda whispered.

After I hung up I sat down on the edge of the hotel bed in total shock. Just like that, my friend, who I'd spent hours upon hours talking to and laughing with and goofing around with, was dead.


I spent the first several months in that stage where I couldn't get my brain around what had happened, where it felt like there'd been some kind of awful mistake. Joan can't be gone, I'd think. There was just so much I had to tell her. I never got to tell her, I kept thinking, how she kind of saved my life.

Hiking with my son in Westlake Village, CA
Rewind seven years. My husband and I had just moved to southern California so my husband could start his new job at Pepperdine University. We had very little money at first, and only one car. Every day my husband took the car to Pepperdine, and I was stuck at home with my toddler in a city where I didn't know anyone.

To say that I was unhappy during that time is such an understatement that it almost makes me laugh. I was deeply depressed--a touch of postpartum, a dash of guilt that I clearly wasn't "enjoying the time" with my baby, a whole lot of cabin fever. I was bored. I was wildly lonesome--the kind of lonely that caused me to start up conversations with the grocery store clerk just so I'd have a flicker of adult conversation. The second my husband crossed the threshold of our apartment I was like an excited puppy waiting at the door. The problem was, he was usually exhausted at the end of the day, trying to get on his feet in his new job.

It was not a good year.

In April of that year I heard an NPR story about a new internet phenomenon: SecondLife, a virtual world sort of like The Sims but where the inhabitants were all real people and the content was all created by the players. It wasn't a game so much as a social experiment, NPR claimed, and it cited colleges setting up virtual campuses to hold virtual classes and people doing cool things like recreating the Sistine Chapel and having poetry readings attended by people from all over the world.

I was intrigued. I was also, as I've said, dull-eyed bored, so I thought I'd check this Second Life thing out. So, one day during my son's nap, I created a profile, put together an awkward avatar, and stumbled into another world.

My avatar at the virtual Sistine Chapel
I'm always a little hesitant to talk about SecondLife, honestly. It shows off my geek side, sure. There are some incredibly cool things to see and experience in that place--yes, there IS a virtual Sistine Chapel, where you can fly up and get a closer, private look at every nook and cranny, which is SO cool-- but there is also a very seedy underbelly. It can be like a gigantic costume ball where everyone is wearing masks. Real money is constantly flowing through that world--money for virtual clothing for your avatars, virtual property that you can rent, virtual furniture you can buy for your virtual property, sounds and textures and animations for sale to make your experience more and more lifelike, and it isn't really surprising that the best selling items in SecondLife have to do with sex.

It can be a creepy place, is what I'm saying. But I guess, like anything, SecondLife is what you bring to it.

So there I was, duck-walking around a self-proclaimed "writing center" in SecondLife--somewhere that people had set up to hold these aforementioned poetry readings and serve as a resource for writers--when I literally (or virtually, I should say) bumped into an avatar named Alas Zerbino.

Like me, Alas was new to SecondLife. She quickly introduced herself as a freelance writer and educator who'd heard the same NPR story that I had and come to check it out.

So we decided we'd check it out together.

Alas Zerbino and me in the virtual Vincent Van Gogh exhibit
At first we were just merry traveling companions. There's a lot to do and see inside Second Life, and from pretty much that first day, Alas Zerbino and I experienced it together. We went to poetry readings and fiction writing groups. We explored the Emerald City and the planet Mars and the inside of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. We shopped. One of our favorite things was to collect a bunch of free hair demos (in SecondLife, you have to buy your hair the way one buys a wig, already styled, but most places will let you try on a demo first) and then try on the silliest ones and laugh our butts off. In the beginning Alas wore her hair in an updo--a cascade of curls. Over the years we both went through a series of different looks, but Alas always sported auburn hair, large brown eyes, and a hint of a smile.

We were a bit guarded with each other at first. We were both wary of the dangers of the internet, and we didn't give out our real names and locations. We didn't voice chat--only type. But over the weeks and then months that Alas and I hung out in that virtual space, the details of our lives started to trickle out. We started to talk about more than just our writing. Alas Zerbino slowly became Joan, and Clarissa Tolsen (which was my avatar's name) became Cynthia, and we spent less time exploring and more time just finding cool places to talk.

Joan and me literally hanging out

It didn't add up to that much time that we spent together, really, maybe one or two hours a couple of times a week, but it made a HUGE difference in my life. Suddenly I had someone to talk to, and not just someone, but Joan--Joan who was quietly funny and whip-smart, sympathetic yet capable of calling a spade a spade when the need arose. We were both writers and mothers. Her younger sister had died when Joan was a teen--my younger brother had died when I was twenty. She was older than I was, in the next stage of her life, with two kids in their late teens / early twenties who she was constantly worrying about, but she remembered her early times with her kids so well. We had so much, we found, to talk about.

After so long feeling completely adrift, I felt like I'd found myself again. And it was all because of the power of one good friend.

It was about a year after I met Joan when I had the idea for UNEARTHLY. At the time it seemed like a huge undertaking--WRITING A NOVEL!-- one that I had tried before and pooped out on long before I'd finished. When I told Joan about it, she was the best cheerleader. Not only did she urge me to just start writing, she offered to write with me. By this time Joan and I had pitched in to get our own little spot in SecondLife, a place we called Story Mountain, which was basically like a big ski lodge where Joan and I compiled all the SL information about writing and writers into one beautiful reference location and where I taught intro classes in creative writing from time to time.

My alter ego working on my real book.
So for the next six months after I had the big idea for UNEARTHLY, Joan and I showed up every day at Story Mountain to work. We both set up virtual desks with virtual computers and directed our virtual avatars to sit at those desks and type while we sat at our own real life computer and wrote. We wrote hard for a couple of hours, and then we retreated to a couch in my Story Mountain office. We copied and pasted our day's work onto a virtual notecard and traded. We read each other's work and offered advise and encouragement. (Click here to see a transcript of one of our discussions of Unearthly.) And then we showed up the next day, and the next day, and the next.

At the end of that six months I had a novel, and within a year, I had a book contract with HarperCollins and my life would be forever changed.

And it was all because of the power of one good friend.

Joan and me in Chicago
I met Joan is real life once. I came to Chicago for the Romantic Times Book Convention. Joan and Brenda drove down from Wisconsin. I remember that I was a little nervous to meet her in person, and I knew I was being silly. We ran up and gave each other a big hug and then found a spot to hang out and talk. I shouldn't have worried; it was just the way it always was--totally comfortable. Sure, we weren't as thin or as well-dressed as we were in SecondLife, but guess what? Our friendship wasn't based on looks, obviously. We had a great time.

In the past few years we didn't log in to SecondLife as much. I became monumentally busy with all of my Unearthly stuff, and I had another baby. Joan finished her novel and shopped it around for an agent, but didn't have any luck. But she was tough--she just kept working on it, revising and revising. And then along came Silas, her grandson, and Joan threw herself into being the epitome of the loving grandmother. We both got caught up in other things, but every now and then we carved out a little bit of time and found a place to work together--a virtual cabin or a virtual beach, wherever we could put down some virtual laptops to work. We'd write and we'd talk, and it was always like picking up right where we left off.

Joan and I writing together and also 1500 miles apart

This is the last picture I have of Joan and me: the two of us as avatars writing together. Today, on what would have been Joan's birthday, I pulled it out and looked at it, and finally let myself have a good long cry over the loss of my friend. I wish I could call her right now and say thank you, for being my person when I desperately needed a person, for being my cheerleader and my writing partner and my friend. You showed me just how much power one good friend can have in changing a life.

Thank you, Joan. Love you. Wherever you are.