Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Favorite Banned Books as a Teenager

I originally posted this blog with the YA Muses in September of 2010.  Of course, much of it remains true today, except that my dad passed away two years ago, and I can no longer call on him to recommend challenging books to me.  Now it's my job to do the same for my teenager.

On my first day of Sophomore AP English, I brought home the extracurricular reading list.  I had chosen the “new” teacher – young, foreign, different.  She had big ideas.  Eccentric tastes.  Expansive theories.

My dad grew up in the deep South in the 1940s and 50s amongst people who had fixed opinions and a strong sense of tradition.  People who didn't question their faith or the government.

My dad took a long look at that list.  Graham Greene.  Ernest Hemingway.  Kurt Vonnegut.  John Steinbeck.  Ken Kesey.  William Golding. J.D. Salinger.  Anthony Burgess.

He sighed.

“I loved these books,” he said.  And showed me his favorites.

In honor of Banned Books week and in honor of my dad (on whose opinion I still pick up certain titles), I’d like to share a few of those books with you.   I read them in high school.  The “classics” were my books of choice.  They, and my parents, made me who I am.  The reader.  The writer.  The person.  All of these have been banned or challenged at one time or another.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  Burned by the Nazis.  Banned by the Italians for its accurate portrayal of the retreat from Caporetto.  Challenged for being a “sex novel”.  This was my favorite Hemingway.  A brilliant love story.  Tragic.  I may have thrown it across the room when I finished it, though.  I was a little volatile as a teenager.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.  Banned and challenged for language, promoting criminal activity and “secular humanism”.  Quite possibly one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read (another one that hit the wall when I read the final page).  I read it on my dad’s solid recommendation.  Then we watched the movie together.  Jack Nicholson rocks.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.  I seriously fell in love with Steinbeck and Hemingway in high school.  This book was banned and is still challenged for profanity (damn!), violence and being defamatory to women and differently-abled people.  It was also pulled from shelves in one community because Steinbeck was known to have an “anti-business” attitude and “questionable patriotism”.  You can’t question his technique, though.  George and Lenny live in my mind 20 years later.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  This book is consistently challenged for language (damn again!) and racial epithets.  Also for its portrayal of the treatment of blacks by racist whites in rural Alabama.  Huh.  I may have read it when I was sixteen, but wasn’t that kind of the point?  Lee wrote the book so eloquently she showed us what that community was like.  Her use of language fit the setting.  Those characters were unlikely to wander around calling blacks “African-Americans”.    My dad thought her portrayal of the South was acutely accurate.

This is a short list of  my favorite books when I was a teenager.  I still count them as such today.  (Yes, I was a nerd.  And a drama geek.  Double whammy). I can’t countenance removing them from the shelves of libraries and classrooms.  Or any other book that encourages a child or teenager to think, to question, to discuss.  To read.

The Long List (favorite banned books I read as a teenager):

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Sophie's Choice by William Styron
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What I'm Reading Now

I seem to be failing at my Reading Challenge.  I admit it.  I am addicted to buying books.

That said, I'm still doing the mental math required to keep up with it.

This week, I've read four books, but only two were off of my TBR shelf:

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt.  I met Dana during the summer at Linden Tree Books in Los Altos, and immediately decided to buy her most recently published book. She's knowledgable and kind and incredibly articulate and she writes with glowing restraint.

The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston.  I love reading a good thriller, and this one kept me up at night and away from my revision during the day.  It delves into the murky world of witness protection in an entirely new way, and I loved the nuances of Anna's personality.  Looking forward to reading the sequel (once I catch up on all the books I have to read before buying another one!)

I also read two as-yet unpublished manuscripts, both utterly captivating, with unique premises and fascinating settings.  Can't wait to talk about them more!

My complicated calculations follow thusly:

Read one, buy one (check, but also acquired one)

Read two, buy one (I read three, but bought two)

Read three, buy one.... (I really only read two....)

So, if all of this follows on, I need to read five more books before buying another one.  I've decided to discount all books I borrow from the library, because they don't actually weight down my TBR shelf because I read and return them. :)  Of course, that also means that the book I'm reading now--100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith, which I LOVE--doesn't count toward the challenge.

So.  Still five books to go!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Reading Challenge Update

So I've already confused my accounting for my TBR Shelf Reading Challenge, because I didn't take into account books that I borrow from friends or the library!  It means that this week looks like a three-steps-back week as far as my reading-and-donating record is concerned.

I read Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, my Class of 2k12 sibling.  I've had this book for a while, and I've been saving it for just the right moment.  It's a novel in verse about a girl who is struggling to learn what true love really is, as well as the importance of friends.

I also finished The Grand Tour by Tim Moore.  Way back when, I wanted to be a travel writer, and read dozens (if not hundreds) of travelogues covering all seven continents.  This was a wonderful return to those roots, but also a lesson in history as Moore follows the path of Thomas Coryate, who traveled from England to Venice and back again--mostly on foot--in 1608.  The first "Grand Tourist". Moore also inserts bits and pieces of accounts written from the heyday of the grand tour (the 18th and 19th centuries), and it's amazing to see how many things have stayed the same over hundreds of years.  Made me want to return to Europe.

So I finished two books, which entitles me to buy one and....I bought two.

Can't Look Away by my dear friend Donna Cooner.  I read and early draft of this and can't wait to read it again.

Maid of Deception by Jenn McGowan.  I read McGowan's first book, Maid of Secrets last year and loved it.  Mystery and romance in Elizabeth's court?  Yes, please!

I also borrowed the ARC of Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers from my friend Beth Hull and, inspired by The Grand Tour, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne from the library.

So this week, the total is:

Read:  2

Acquired: 4

Not sure how this is going to help lessen the burden on my TBR shelf, but at least I'm enjoying it!

Friday, August 22, 2014

TBR Shelf Reading Challenge

One of the best parts of being a writer is that I get to be a reader, too.  It's part of my job.  I love to read, and always have.

(Actually, no, that's a lie.  When I was five, I swore I'd never learn to read because when my older sister did, she got boring and never played with me again.  But then my mom got me Cat in the Hat out of the library and I ignored my best friend during a playdate so I could read it again and again.)

The drawback to the love of books is that they start to take over the house.  We are currently in a frenzy of (long overdue) clearance and organization at my house, so I decided to add my TBR shelf to the list.

It's not just a bookshelf, it's the entire bookcase (with the exception of a few research books down at the bottom.  Note the Dictionary of Slang.  Best.  Research.  Book.  Ever.  Unless you're on a deadline.  When you open it, it's like going down a rabbit hole.)

So I've taken a leaf out of my friend Anna Billings's book, and decided to set myself a reading challenge.

I read one book off my TBR shelf, and I can buy a book.

Then I have to read two TBRs before I can buy a book.

Then I read three.

And so on.

I shall try to check in on Fridays, hoping that keeping myself accountable will help.

This week, I read Burial Rites by Anna Kent.  Fascinating historical fiction for adults set in early 19th Century Iceland.  History and culture I knew nothing about.  Great stuff.

I bought (on Anna's recommendation, curse her) The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

I acquired Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (also from Anna!).  However, I also read it in one day and gave it to a friend, so that's a free pass, right?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

BRAZEN is Here!

Today I'm celebrating the publication date of my third (and final!) Tudor historical, BRAZEN.  The series has been a crazy roller coaster journey, made ever so much fun by my friends, by the opportunities to meet other writers, and by my readers.  Thank you all for getting me to this day.

And many thanks to all of you who came to the early launch party at the Avid Reader in Davis!  I love reading aloud (probably comes from all those years of acting followed by several years of being a preschool teacher!) and the response to BRAZEN was heartwarming!

Many thanks to Mona Dougherty for
taking pictures!

I have a few more events coming up (, so drop on by--I'd love to see you there!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Anne Boleyn's Execution

The queen steps up onto the scaffold, exposing a crimson kirtle beneath her gown. The color of blood. The color of martyrdom.

I realize I’m holding my breath and try to let it out slowly, but can only suck it back in again with a gulp. And another. I can’t get more than a mouthful of air into my lungs at a time.

Fitz was right. I shouldn’t be here.

If you're a Tudor nut like me or even just follow any of the Tudor history blogs, Facebook accounts and Twitter, you probably already know that today marks the 478th anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn.

You can read about the actual events in any Anne Boleyn biography or book of Tudor history (my favorites are The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives,  Six Wives by David Starkey and The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir.)  You can read instantly on The Anne Boleyn Files or any other blog dedicated to true history.  And, of course, there are numerous fictional accounts--one of the best being Thomas Cromwell's account in Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies.

It's difficult not to be repetitious with so much information out there.  So why did I want to give an account from Mary Howard's perspective?

I think it's because I felt that someone who loved Anne should have been there.  She made many enemies and many courtiers wished her gone and forgotten.  Mary is known as one of her supporters, and I figured Anne needed one on this day in 1536.

And, of course, she continues to have supporters.  Including one who sends flowers to the Tower of London every year.

Whether or not you believe Anne was a traitor (or a bitch or a gold digger or a saint), she has certainly made an impression.  And I think she deserves to be remembered.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I’m so excited to be taking part in the Writing Process blog tour.  I think all writers have a feeling they are somehow doing things “wrong”, that it must be easier for everyone else, that I must be the only one who stews over a plot point until it comes out my pores.  But reading previous posts (including this one by Gretchen McNeil and Stasia Ward Kehoe’s last week) makes me realize we’re all in the same situation.  We have strengths and weaknesses, victory and despair, elements that just flow and others that have to be pulled kicking and screaming into the limelight.  And I read their books (like THE SOUND OF LETTING GO by Stasia Ward Kehoe) with renewed insight and something akin to awe.

What am I working on?

I am currently working on something completely different—a contemporary novel set in a situation far removed from the English Tudor court or a country manor house.  Though my characters are still bound by social constraints, they have an illusion of freedom that gives the novel a completely different kind of energy.  I’m also brainstorming ideas for future novels ranging in time period from the 17th Century to present day…

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write historical novels, but do my best to give them a contemporary feel.  It’s my belief that people who lived five hundred years ago aren’t so very different from people today—they had hopes and dreams, fell in love and rebelled against injustice (and social restrictions) just as we do today.  As a result, my writing voice is very contemporary, as well (for instance, I use contractions!), which I hope makes my characters relatable to modern teens, without affecting the believability of their situation.

Why do I write what I do?

I write realistic historical fiction (mostly based on actual people and actual events) because if it wasn’t real, it would seem like fantasy.  Henry VIII is so much like a Bluebeard character, and the conniving and manipulations in his court are so Mean Girls.  I love it.  And I love inventing the fictional character who can fit into those shoes.

But mostly I write what I do because I love the characters.  I can see them in my mind’s eye, hear their voices in my head, follow their actions.  I love building a character from the ground up and living in that fantasy world for as long as it takes to write and revise the novel.

How does my writing process work?

Very messily!  I am definitely more of a pantser than a plotter.  I generally start with just a seed—for BRAZEN, it was: I want to write a book about Mary Howard, who was Henry VIII’s daughter-in-law.  I look at the whys—because she became an independent woman in a world where women were treated as chattel.  I look at the history and put together a thin, basic framework of the historical events.  And then I write.  I put characters into situations.  I create scenes for them to interact.  I build what I imagine to be the pivotal moments in the narrating character’s life.  I eventually get up to about seventy or eighty thousand words.

Then I cut the first fifty pages, rip the rest of the “zero draft” apart into basic components, kill dozens of darlings and start over.  Kind of like tearing apart a LEGO creation and building something new from all those blocks.

Like I said, messy.  And definitely not something I’d suggest you try at home unless you’re a glutton for punishment.  But I love writing, so having to cut 40k out of an 80k manuscript doesn’t make me despair for long.  Because it means I can keep creating.

By the end of the second draft (which is really the first, because the first eight thousand words I write are really not a draft at all), I have a much better handle on the story and structure, and that’s when everything really takes off.  Because my favorite part of the process is the fine-tuning in later drafts—words, sentences, microtension.  So many little inspirations and surprises.

If it sounds like a bit of a hassle, I suppose it is.  But I think that knowing my process has definitely helped me move forward with every book.  For instance, I tried my damnedest to start BRAZEN in the right place, so I wouldn’t have to cut the first fifty pages.  But I got stuck.  Stalled.  For weeks.  And I had to go back and write fifty pages of what happened before the beginning, just so I could cut it and move on.

Yeah.  Definitely a hassle.

I’ve enjoyed reading other writing process posts along the tour, and I hope you do, too.

Want more craft?   Jennifer McGowan, author of MAID OF SECRETS and the upcoming MAID OF DECEPTION, will be telling us all about her writing process on May 5!

Are you a plotter?  A pantser?  An in-betweener?  What part of the process gives you the most joy?  I’d love to hear your process, too!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BRAZEN Blog Tours!

Seven weeks 'til BRAZEN publication, and I'm crafting all kinds of reveals and teasers and exclusive content for two different blog tour events.

Kathy Coe at A Glass of Wine is conducting the Tudor Thursdays (formerly Tudor Tuesdays) tour, a six-week stretch preceding the publication date.  Each post includes a taste of information about my favorite historical sites in England, as well as a (mostly) related teaser excerpt from BRAZEN.  Keep a lookout!

Jaime Arnold at Rock Star Book Tours is hosting a two-week BRAZEN blog tour right around the publication date, which will include reviews, interviews and exclusive guest posts.  More information about participating bloggers will be updated shortly!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

One Day Giveaway!

Mary Howard has always lived in the shadow of her powerful family. But when she's married off to Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII's illegitimate son, she rockets into the Tudor court's inner circle. Mary and "Fitz" join a tight clique of rebels who test the boundaries of court's strict rules with their games, dares, and flirtations. The more Mary gets to know Fitz, the harder she falls for him, but is forbidden from seeing him alone. The rules of court were made to be pushed...but pushing them too far means certain death. Is true love worth dying for?

Want to know more about BRAZEN?  I'm giving everyone who comments on this blog special access to what goes on inside Mary's head and between the covers of the book!

Today, for one day only, if you leave a comment--any number between 3 and 512--I will reply with one sentence from that page of the book!

One comment per person (so choose your number wisely!), and every comment gets TEN entries.  Tweets, Twitter follows and Facebook likes all get one point each.  This giveaway is open internationally, but be aware that the giveaway is scheduled for EST and there may be times during the day that I'll be sleeping or otherwise occupied so there may be a delay in my reply!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 7, 2014

Get Ready for the One Day Giveaway!

This coming Thursday, I'm hosting a one day giveaway right here on the blog!  All day long (until midnight EST), you can leave a number between 3 and 512 in the comments section of Thursday's blog post, and I will reply with a single sentence from that page!

A few facts about BRAZEN:

It's 512 pages long, but some pages are just locations and/or dates.  Choose wisely!

It's about friendship.

It's about love.

It's about following the rules--and defying them.

All the characters in it actually lived, and many of the major events actually happened.

There will be kisses and rejections, arguments, laughter, marriage, divorce, beheadings, betrayals and reconciliations.

It was the hardest book I've ever written.  You'll find out why.

I can't wait to share it with you!

Find out more on my website.

Mary Howard has always lived in the shadow of her powerful family. But when she's married off to Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII's illegitimate son, she rockets into the Tudor court's inner circle. Mary and "Fitz" join a tight clique of rebels who test the boundaries of court's strict rules with their games, dares, and flirtations. The more Mary gets to know Fitz, the harder she falls for him, but is forbidden from seeing him alone. The rules of court were made to be pushed...but pushing them too far means certain death. Is true love worth dying for?

Friday, March 28, 2014


One of the more terrifying steps on this publishing journey has been, for me, having other writers read my work.  I think most of us want our work to be appreciated--even valued--by our peers, so when any other writer (published or unpublished) writes or tweets me that they like one of my books, I get this special glow that can last for days.  But asking someone to read--with a mind to blurb--my books is as much of a cliff jump as querying agents and submitting to editors were.

I'm not sure why.  I am honored--thrilled--to be asked to blurb a book, and I've just been devastated the times I had to refuse for whatever reason.  And so far 99.99% of all the authors I've ever met have been enthusiastic, thoughtful, considerate and encouraging.  So why am I afraid to reach out to them?

Because I'm asking them to put their credibility on the line, as well.  I'm asking them to put their faith in me, and to put their readers' with in me, too.  That's a huge thing to ask.  And a privilege to receive.

So it is with great joy (and even greater gratitude) that I can announce that BRAZEN has received these responses from two of my absolute favorite authors.

Donna Cooner, author of SKINNY and the upcoming CAN'T LOOK AWAY has this to say:

"Longshore has written an exquisite story of falling in love for the first time amidst the chaos of Henry VIII’s court.  BRAZEN will captivate readers with history and heart."

And Robin LaFevers, author of GRAVE MERCY, DARK TRIUMPH and the upcoming MORTAL HEART, said:

"BRAZEN is historical fiction at its best--crisp and elegantly written while delivering a powerful emotional punch. I adored this book and readers cannot help but be pulled into Mary Howard's world and feel the web of the Tudor court's conflicting loyalties tighten around her as she struggles to have some control over her own life. Her ultimate triumph is palpable and had me cheering in my seat! A must read for fans of historical fiction or anyone who has ever struggled to find the courage to defy others' expectation or society's conventions."

It's enough to make an author swoon. :)

Stay tuned the week of April 7th for a chance to win an advance reader copy of BRAZEN for yourself!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

News and Events and Giveaways, Oh, My!

This coming Friday, I'm delighted to be visiting Book Passage in Corte Madera to meet with their teen reading group, Must Be 14, to discuss MANOR OF SECRETS.  The event will begin at 6 pm, and I've heard rumors there will be tea and scones!

On Thursday, April 10, I will be doing a special one-day giveaway of an ARC of BRAZEN, just for fun.  All day (until midnight EST), you can leave a page number in the comments of the blog, and I will reply with just one sentence from that page.  Every comment will count toward the drawing!  Looking forward to seeing you there!

And right now, Penguin is offering FIVE galleys of BRAZEN to entrants on Goodreads.  The giveaway ends April 1.

Finally, the most fun I've had so far this year was also the rainiest weekend California has seen in a long time.  I was invited by the Canyon Hills branch of the Anaheim Public Library to give a book talk and was utterly blown away by the welcome I received.  I got to have dinner with some lovely ladies from the Friends of the Orange County Libraries, a personal tour of Founder's Park in Anaheim, and an enthusiastic, inquisitive crowd at the book talk.  I can't thank all of them enough.
Founder's Park Carriage House
The library hosted an Edwardian
hat contest in honor of

Many, many thanks to Margaret Cargo for extending the invitation, to Cynthia Hicks, the head librarian at Canyon Hills, the Friends of the Library, and all of the people who ventured out on that cold, wet day!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Got Valentines?

There's still time to make them!  Join me, Corrine Jackson and Talia Vance at Books Inc. in San Francisco on Thursday, February 13 for a craft party (and probably talk about boys and kissing).

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Wishing all of you a year full of hope and happiness and lots and lots of good books!

Thanks to all of you who entered the MANOR OF SECRETS New Year giveaway!  Shelley Summers has won the ARC and the books by my fabulous blurbers.  I'll be giving away more books as we get closer to the launch of BRAZEN, so stay tuned!