Author: jdspero

Audiobook released!

I’m thrilled to announce that Boy on Hold is now available on Audible!

Might be a good time to share a bit about VOICE.

By definition, voice in literature is the distinctive style in which the author writes — conveying a tone and feel. Kind of like the “personality” of a book.

BOH is written in multiple POVs — a troubled teen struggling with mental illness, a single mom trying to figure it out, and most prominently, a sweet and precocious young boy.

The story was inspired by my middle son who — at the age of 6 — was obsessed with nocturnal animals and pleaded to go out at night to catch one for a pet. I channeled my son’s voice to write those scenes, though he was 12 by the time the book published. He’s been a guest reader on multiple launch events, reading the powerful opening scene.

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Roy Bullard, the California-based voice actor who narrates Boy on Hold, is both talented and kind — but was first a fan! After his chapter-one audition, he downloaded & read the book on his own. He then reached out to me directly, praising the story and asking if he could be considered for the job. How cool is that!?

It’s imperative that the narrator “gets” the author’s voice — or in my case, voices. Throughout the process, Roy and I traded lots of emails. He asked in-depth questions about the characters — even minor ones. He sent me audio samples to approve, etc. The process was a first for me, and I’m thrilled with the outcome. He nailed it — on point with all the different voices — male and female, young and old. Not an easy feat!

But part of me wishes the world could hear my boy reading Hen’s voice. Well, maybe there is a way…

 

Intel of Magic – !

I’m happy to introduce a newly minted book by my friend, MK Wiseman, titled MAGICAL INTELLIGENCE. I was lucky enough to be a beta reader for this gem many moons ago, and I’m thrilled to see it finally out in the world. And here’s this, the MC is an empath. And if there’s anything we need more in the world today, it’s empathy. Let’s see how it plays out in a magical realm…

MagicalIntel_FrontCover copy

Here’s the blurb

When you are a member of Britain’s first team of wizard spies, every mission might be your last. But as the dawning of the 20th century draws ever nearer, magic grows weak. Violectric Dampening, the clash of man-made electricity with the Gifts of magekind, threatens M.I.’s existence. And if that isn’t enough, they’ve now been discharged from their own government. Obsolete. Distrusted.

And now hunted by one of their own.

Myra Wetherby has always feared her so-called fits, strange visions of people and places that she cannot explain. It is the emotional manipulation, however, a strange empathic connection to those around her, which threatens her very sanity. A danger to her family, Myra runs away, falling straight into the hands of the newly ousted Magical Intelligence team. Who just so happen to need an ability like hers.

Which makes Myra one of them . . . whether she likes it or not.

How to buy & review!

 

About the author

M. K. Wiseman has degrees in animation/video and library science – both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, her office is a clutter of storyboards and half-catalogued collections of too, too many books. (But, really, is there such a thing as too many books?) When she’s not mucking about with stories, she’s off playing brač or lying in a hammock in the backyard of her Wisconsin home that she shares with her endlessly patient husband.

M K Wiseman - promo photo 300 square copy

Book Excellence Winner!

I am incredibly excited to announce that I have been recognized as a Book Excellence Award Winner for my book, BOY ON HOLD in the THRILLER Category.

Out of hundreds of books that were entered into the Book Excellence Awards competition, my book was selected for its high quality writing, design and overall market appeal.

BoyOnHoldcover

 

Released in August 2019. The book is perfect for anyone high school age and up, especially boys! Here’s the blurb:

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy. Hen Trout, who had hoped to catch a pet hedgehog that night, instead sees his beloved Miss Sally become a victim.

Single mom Marcella Trout is blindsided when Tyler, her seventeen-year-old, is arrested for the very crime Hen witnessed. Now Tyler’s eerie mood swings seem dark and frightening and rooted in a family history Marcella has desperately tried to bury. As the criminal investigation churns on, the tenuous fabric of the Trout family begins to unravel…and even Hen begins to question the truth.

Want to get a copy? Click here.

Worthy of a Crown

Last week, I taught a writing workshop at The Hyde Collection where we took inspiration from the Francisco Goya exhibit (on view now through 4/26!).

After exploring animal symbolism in literature and Goya’s art, the final “assignment” was to write a 500-word story including an animal to represent any concept, person, or concern.

My husband urged me to do the assignment myself, beforehand. So, I wrote about a young buck that visited our yard last summer. It represented my oldest son, growing up too soon for this sentimental momma.

Halfway into writing it, I started crying. So hard, I had to step away from the computer. I finally got it down but then when I told my mom about it, water works all over again! I didn’t even read it aloud to my husband but sobbed to him over the phone at the mere mention of it. It’s not best writing in the world, but it’s raw and honest.

Writing is so good for the soul. It feeds you. It frees you. It rises above all the crap to elevate what’s important in the world. This is just one example.

Would you like to read my piece?

Worthy of a Crown
JD Spero

Deer often visit our yard. Beyond our property line at the base of the woods is a stream where they like to drink. Typically, we see them at dawn or dusk, nibbling at winter’s craggy brush, foraging for food. Always in twos or threes, sometimes with a fawn, they can be seen bounding away at the slightest sound, white tails raised like truce flags. We’re always delighted to see them, and believe their visits carry good luck.

Just last week, as my three boys left for the bus stop, two deer stilled at the sound of their voices before escaping gracefully and soundlessly into the thick woods.

It’s the first and only year all three of my boys take the same school bus. Next year, my oldest, AJ, will be in high school—a fact I have to keep repeating to believe. Despite the universal warnings, AJ has gone and left babyland and little-kid-hood behind without my permission. When did he start clipping his own toenails? At what point did he stop taking baths and start showering? Wasn’t it just yesterday all three played in the tub together? He does his own laundry, makes his own lunches and breakfasts. His face has a sculpted look to it suddenly, emphasized by his braces somehow. Not only is he an avid athlete, he lifts weights at the gym. His hugs don’t melt into me anymore but hold a strength that never fails to surprise me. How can he be changing so much right in front of my eyes, and I don’t see it?

 

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AJ on his 14th birthday

Last spring, we removed some low-hanging branches from a giant oak in our front yard. As if in protest, the tree shed boughs for weeks, blanketing the yard with acorns. One day, around noontime, a single deer stood there, sampling the fallen goods. Unusual, considering the time of day and its aloneness. I watched, fascinated, and noticed budding antlers on the creature—each a couple inches long. I gasped in awe—a young buck!

AJ still has some growing to do. One of the smallest kids in his class, it can be a sore topic in our house. As a mom, I’m secretly conflicted. Of course, I want him to grow and thrive and reach his physical potential. I would never want him to feel self-conscious about anything, especially something so temporary and superficial. Another part, perhaps shamefully, doesn’t want him to get any bigger. Part of me wants him to be a kid forever and live under my roof and eat my dinners and do his homework at our kitchen table—always. Doesn’t every mom want that?

Our tree stopped shedding after a few weeks. And the young buck stopped coming by. He’s probably fully grown by now, perhaps has found a mate. Or maybe some other young bachelors to help him find his way. I like to think about how he must look these days—regal against the snow, stately among the trees, with a big beautiful cradle of antlers.

I like to think about how AJ will look, fully grown, so much like his handsome father, staying true to his wise and generous spirit while navigating the maze of adulthood. It’s exciting to think about what he might do for a career and imagine all the amazing ways he’ll contribute to the world. Because he’s got so much to offer. Someday, I hope he’ll find a mate, fall in love and have a family of his own. Maybe they’ll all come and visit, on holidays and every day, sampling goods from Mom’s kitchen. He’ll always know we’ll be delighted for his visits, which will be a testament to our continued good luck.

My boy. When he’s a man, he’ll wear no antlers, no crown. But he will always be my prince.

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My 3 little princes. From left to right: Adam, Chaz, AJ

Look for Blue Sky

Back in November, too early for holiday gifts, a package arrived containing a book: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. No note included. I thought my mom — a Kingsolver fan — may have ordered it, but no. Was it sent by mistake? Nope. My husband uncovered the mystery. “My colleague sent it. He read Boy on Hold and it reminded him of this book by Kingsolver.”

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Stop. the. press. Caught in a moment of greatness, I was speechless. One of my very favorite authors, Kingsolver is a genius at tackling big world issues in an articulate and moving way. Back as a student teacher, I taught Poisonwood Bible — allowing me to study the imperialism of Republic of Congo, while dissecting each conflict and character down to the nub, leaving me scraped raw and vulnerable and brimming with emotions I didn’t realize I had. That book remains one of my favorite books of all time.

To be considered alongside Barbara Kingsolver in any capacity is a huge honor. I mean, *my book* reminded him of one by the great and brilliant BARBARA KINGSOLVER?!?

How it got into the hands of my husband’s colleague is a compliment in itself. Turns out, BOH was recommended to said colleague’s daughter — a psychology student at NYU — by her professor. (Let me say that again.) An NYU psychology professor recommended Boy on Hold to one of his/her students. *pinch me* So, BOH made its rounds in the family, which led to the Kingsolver gift…

Such an overwhelming compliment, it was a bit intimidating to read Unsheltered. But of course, I did. And it certainly held up.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

The book’s logline sets the tone and could very well apply to Marcella Trout in BOH: How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? 

Alternating time periods between current day and post-Civil War era, Kingsolver layers climate change and environmental issues of today with the evolution controversy of Charles Darwin. Kingsolver’s smart prose certainly made me think. I’m grateful for the introduction to Mary Treat, the 19C biologist “whose work deserves to be better known.” Kingsolver deftly wove in strange but true events such as Treat’s feeding her own fingertip to her Venus flytrap as an experiment. As the story turns more serious, though, it made me appreciate those who take a stand on a large or small scale — even if it comes at great cost with no reward. It also made me rethink the value of “stuff” in general, as also eloquently put in this article my friend pointed out to me today.

All in all, the message rings clear: Rather than fight change and for a life we think we deserve, find creative ways to adapt and be open to happiness that waits for you there.

An Unsheltered excerpt that’s stayed with me:

…when God slams the door on you…you’re going to end up in rubble…you won’t find your way out of the mess if you keep picking up bricks and stuffing them in your pockets. What you have to do is look for blue sky.

A message Marcella Trout should absolutely consider as her world turns upside down and she finds herself “in the rubble” at the end of BOH.

I want to hear from you:
Have you ever had to adapt to a new normal? How did you find blue sky? 

First born, first book

When I started writing Catcher’s Keeper, my oldest was five. He was so little, it never occurred to me that he would ever read it someday. But recently, at age 14, he did. And he loved it.

Reading Catcher's Keeper

Inspired by The Catcher in the Rye, I originally wrote CK for adults — though it’s often paired with Rye in high schools as a YA book (fun fact: Salinger originally wrote Rye for adults too). I may have cleaned CK up a bit if I’d known kids (especially my kids) were going to read it.

I mean, its prose has a toilet mouth. Take the first line:

Not even a week since I moved in with my brother and he’s testing my pacifist nature, butting in on my shit.

And that’s just the first line. (The word ass appears another paragraph down…)

It’s an odd feeling. My son peeled back a layer and saw another side of his mom. One that writes in male voices and curses like a truck driver. Yikes. To say I was relieved that he liked it is an understatement.

Though it was published in 2014, the book has gotten a boost recently. Still a favorite for book clubs, it also resides in several classrooms as a Rye companion. There’s been a slight uptick in sales, which is nice. In November, it was featured on this cool website, Snowflakes in a Blizzard, which highlights and brings awareness to some awesome, lesser-known books.

And hey, the ebook is a bargain at only $2.99!

I’m proud of my first book. But even prouder when I read this from my first born:

I’ve read Catcher in the Rye and I thought it was great. The voice, the conflicts, the hidden messages. But, when I read Catcher’s Keeper, it shed a whole new light on everything. The characters were all so believable as adults, you’d think it was written by JD Salinger himself! That signature Holden Caulfield (now Alden) voice is ever-present, but you experience and feel everyone else in a whole new way. The struggles, the twists, that suspicious MD, and an unforgettable ending makes this book a must-read for anyone who’s read Cather in the Rye. 5 stars. 

Catcher's Keeper book review

Characters make the story

Effective characterization is invisible. In fact, the term “characterization” shouldn’t cross your readers’ minds at all.

Yet, readers will experience your story *through* your characters. Through voice, action, and dialogue. Readers cry for them and laugh with them. Hopefully, readers remember them.

Olive Kitteridge. Auggie Pullman. Miss Havisham. Major Pettigrew. Holden Caulfield. Eleanor Oliphant. Owen Meany. Katniss Everdeen.

What’s the secret to creating memorable characters?

Donald Maass of literary agency fame, has said of David Corbett “(he) is the grand master of character development, adroitly reconciling the complex interplay of forces in every character’s life so that writers can create true depth on the page.”

Before publishing anything, I attended a talk by David Corbett at the 2013 DFW Writer’s Conference in Dallas, Texas. He stressed the importance of secondary characters in overall plot development. (Something I hadn’t given much thought.)

A dynamic speaker, his mastery of the craft clearly evident, he had us all hooked. Bubble charts and diagrams appeared on a whiteboard that spanned the room. Unable to write fast enough, my jaw agape, I kept thinking, “Wow, I want his brain!”

What the heck had I been doing the past decade? Playing with words? Without applying his strategies, I wasn’t writing compelling fiction.

The realization stung.

He signed my copy of The Art of Character, writing out my full name despite the “JD” on my name tag. “For Johannah, whose name I finally got right!”

Needless to say the book is excellent. But be forewarned, it gets beneath the skin. The exploration exercises made me dig so deeply into my own past and my own psyche, I *cried.*

Writer friends, have you ever been brought to tears by reading a book on craft?

Yeah, it was a first for me.

David Corbett also happens to be extremely kind and generous. In my debut, he helped me distinguish the “villain” from the “flawed human being” — in a single-paragraphed email response.

Recently, he gave me the best gift: a blurb for my latest book.

Poignant, compelling, and beautifully written.

His shining endorsement means more to me than a promotional boost. It validates my cast of characters which I painstakingly built using his techniques.

Not only an acclaimed writing instructor, David also is an award-winning and bestselling author with over a dozen novels under his belt. My favorites are Mercy of the Night and The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday. But more exciting, for me, is his new release The Compass of Character — which will surely inform my next novel and all my future novels.

To learn more about David and his books, visit his website.

Here’s the full blurb from David for Boy on Hold. 🙂

“JD Spero’s Boy on Hold provides an especially poignant, compelling, and beautifully written update on the tale of the troubled child who witnesses a shocking event. Hen Trout and his off-kilter fascination with the world will steal your heart. Equally unforgettable are his stoic mother and all-too-teenaged brother, whose concern for Hen, even as they push through their own daily struggles, is equally moving. This family, under extreme duress, demonstrates how wisdom, kindness, and concern for one another can overcome even the greatest challenges. An utterly impressive debut that reveals incredible promise from this gifted writer. ” – David Corbett

Boy on Hold by JD Spero - mystery thriller

 

New #boymom advice

#TBT to 2013 before I had a blog or a website or any books published. My boys were 8, 6, and 3…and I wrote this for my cousin who just had a baby boy. Rereading it now, it reminds me how precious those baby days were–mess and all. Any #boymom will appreciate…

Sisterly advice for raising…boys – !

Not that I’m an expert, but I’ve been at it nearly eight fun-filled years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two…

Be ready for mini-geyser as soon as ye old diaper is removed. Don’t waste your money on peepee teepee’s. Just keep ye old diaper nearby to cover.

If you have to ask if it’s poop or chocolate, assume it’s the former. It’s not worth the risk.

Pee, however, is sterile. Remember this if – no – when the little guy whizzes in the tub. Or if/when you get splashed by the mini-geyser. Not a biggie.

And later – potty training. There are no rules for this. Don’t waste time reading about strategies, etc. When your little guy decides he wants to use the potty, he will. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to train him. And believe him – however unfathomable it may be – when he tells you he didn’t feel it coming out. Be ready to clean the *entire toilet* not just the bowl. Also be ready to do loads and loads of laundry.

Be ready to do loads and loads of laundry. (In case you missed it the first time).

Speaking of laundry, once he starts ‘helping’ by putting his dirty clothes in the hamper, always check his pants! I have put more than one diaper through the wash. One with poop made it through the dryer cycle. I had poop cooked onto my new white capris. Delightful.

Boys love wheels. Forget the baby toys. All you need are balls and cars. Keep two matchbox cars in your purse at all times (one for each hand). You will be amazed how soon he will ‘need’ them!

Also dum-dum lollipops. Keep stash in purse. Even at 15-months it will save your shopping trip.

If you don’t already, get ready to love Halloween. Your every October will be full of scary-but-not-too-scary activities. Ours continue through Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas. It truly becomes a magical time all over again – for parents too. And Christmas music. Get out the ole Chipmunks. Adam went through a ‘Rudolf’ phase that lasted at least six months. He refused to be called anything else, and we had to sing the whole song to him as he pooped on the potty. (Do you see a theme developing?)

If your boy likes crafts – congratulations! Any craft I organize is over in two minutes. I envy the mom whose daughter who will sit for hours with a coloring book. Boys’ crafts have to be MESSY and involve goo or shaving cream or finger-paints. My boys like to build towers with playdoh tubs to knock over with a super bouncy ball.

About the super bouncy ball – seems like cheap entertainment. And boys love them. But be forewarned: those little spheres have been known to shatter vases and other fancy things.

About fancy things: What fancy things?

Hitting, biting, and other shocking acts of violence are completely normal for a toddler – and frustrating as hell. Time-outs can start as soon as 18 months (our time-out spot has always been the bottom step of the stairs – one minute per age). But keep in mind it is a phase and he will grow out of it – !

Around age five or six, his real appetite will awaken. You will be shocked at how much he will consume while at the same time wonder where it has gone. (Hence the man-sized poop you will find when he forgets to flush. I do hope for your sake all poopy accidents are finished by then.)

Boys love their anatomy. You may already have spied baby reaching for his private, tugging until it changes shape. This doesn’t seem to be something they grow out of, yet take to new levels. Diapers and then underwear with pants & seams tend to limit public crotch-grabbing. But really, there is no cure.

That said, they will wonder where Mom’s dinky has gone. Try to handle this delicately, as it seems to be quite a shock for a little guy. My standard answer, “That’s the difference between boys and girls” didn’t seem to garner comfort but deepen confusion on the matter.

Men love boobs. I’m sure this is no surprise to you. But to discover the origin of the fascination was an eye-opener for me. Even long after nursing, boys will firmly believe your boobs are their own personal pillows or stress balls or –- my boys’ personal favorite –- bongos. You’ll begin to believe it too, and wonder why the heck hubby continues to fondle them.

Book one date night a month – immediately! It’s okay if you talk about nothing but the baby for the first hour, but it is critical to get out of the house without the little guy. Reconnect. It will feel good to miss baby, and to sneak into his room and see him sleeping sweetly in his crib.

Speaking of reconnecting, take advantage of nap time. (wink wink)

Boys love Dad. Soak up all the mommy-time you can in the first two years, before they start asking for Dad, needing Dad, preferring Dad. And although it is bittersweet, it will be precious to see that guys-only relationship bud and blossom as an observer. Take lots of pictures. Or – better yet – take advantage of the ‘down time’ and get your nails done.

They always want Mommy again.

 

What’s your Cabbage Night story?

Not only is Halloween just days away, so is CABBAGE NIGHT!

What is Cabbage Night?

The night before Halloween, the traditional night of pranks. The night of the inciting, tragic event in BOY ON HOLD. Outside of upstate New York, it may go by a different name…or it may not exist at all.

In my hometown, Cabbage Night was more popular than Halloween. One neighborhood in particular got extra special “attention.” All innocent fun, no damage done…but we sure made a lot of noise.

Boy on Hold by JD Spero

A little context from the book

Chapter 2, Marcella Trout to her son, Tyler: “The night before Halloween…I know that’s when you teenagers do all those pranks. I hope you weren’t egging people’s cars or toilet papering trees. What do you call it–the night before Halloween?”

“Cabbage Night.”

At this line, during my reading at the official launch party at Northshire Bookshop in Saratoga for BOY ON HOLD, the crowd erupted in applause.

launch party for BOY ON HOLD

BOY ON HOLD launch party at Northshire Bookshop

But what happens on Cabbage Night changes Tyler’s family forever.

Cabbage Night, 1991. The traditional night of pranks takes a disturbing turn when a violent crime rocks a small Adirondack town. Even more so when the only witness is a seven-year-old boy… 

What’s your Cabbage Night story?

I want to hear from you! It doesn’t have to be long, just a few lines or even a phrase. Like, “Knock, knock, ginger” (Unfamiliar? Google it.)

Dig into that memory bank. I’m sure we all have some repressed (or not so repressed) memories of Cabbage Night from our teen years. Not that Marcella’s description had anything to do with my experience. *mischievous smile*

My littlest loved Forte

His older brothers were at least 10 before they read it, but Chaz finished Forte on the eve of his 9th birthday…and then gave ME the best gift: a glowing review!

Middle grade fantasy FORTE series

My littlest reading Forte on vacation

As part of his review, he drew a picture of Sami using her piano magic to defeat Aquamarine.

Middle grade fantasy Forte series

Sami using her piano magic in Forte

His review:

What I liked about FORTE! 

Everything but the kissing parts!

Then I urged him to write just a bit more…

FORTE is about a girl who loves piano. She tries out for volleyball which she has never done before but when Coach Payne touches her she becomes amazing! She soon finds out that Coach transferred Aquamarine which is a drink that helps you in sports! But she learns she will die if she doesn’t stop drinking! 

By Chaz Spero

2019/July/23

Middle grade fantasy series Forte

Original draft 🙂

Next on his reading list: CONCERTO!

“I can’t wait to read it!”