Author Speed Dating – Holly Mayes

I love discovering new authors, so I wanted my blog to be a place where readers and my author pals could come together. Only we like to do this Speed-Dating style. Check out a new author and her work here every Wednesday, and if the spark is there, you’ll have a match.

This week’s guest: Holly Mayes

16 Questions

1. If you celebrate, name a holiday food you would eat your weight in if you could do it guilt-free.

Not sure if it falls under the category of a holiday, but white wedding cake. All other foods pale in comparison.

2. Give the title of the first manuscript you ever wrote. How many years ago did you pen this masterpiece, and whatever happened to it?

I wish I could remember the title of it; unfortunately, I don’t. I was in elementary school, and it had to do with two girls and one loved square dancing. I won a young author’s award and got to visit an author at MSU.

3. If you could keep only the possessions that would fit in one suitcase, and you were limited to two books – one you wrote and one by someone else – which titles would you tuck inside your bag? Explain your choices.

This gives me anxiety. I can’t even imagine not being able to bring all my favorites. My book would be my very first novel, GEMS. I’m proud I was able to finish a full-length book. The other book would be any of the series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. They’re classics, and I grew up reading them.

4. In the winter, would you rather be zipping through powdery snow on skis or a snowmobile or escaping to a sandy beach? Now how do you really spend most of your winter?

Sandy beach. All the way. But how I really spend my winter is cussing and shoveling snow away from my vehicle on the back roads we live on after I get stuck in snow drifts.

5. Which character in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is your favorite, and what does that say about you?

I didn’t grow up believing in Christmas, but I do remember watching it. I guess I’d have to say Rudolph, although I feel like he’s the obvious choice. I don’t recall many other characters in the story. Wasn’t there an abominable snowman or something, too?

6. In which genres and sub-genres are you published, and which others do you plan to add to the list in the next two years?

My first book is a speculative fiction YA novel. My second novel is a contemporary romance. My third book (just released) is the follow up to the first novel. I’ll be working on more fiction in the future, but I’m also interested in memoir. I feel like I’m all over the place when it comes to my writing.

7. If you could visit the studio and hang out with any visual artist, past or present, whose creative space would you be invading? Why?

Annie Leibovitz. Definitely. She’s iconic and has been pushing the limits for years. I used to study photography in school. Her work has always mesmerized me.

8. Do you listen to music when you’re writing? If so, name some of the artists whose work you use to get you creative juices flowing.

I can’t listen to music with words. It throws me off. I listen to Shakuhachi Sakano (Bamboo Flute Music, Japanese Flute), or the Relaxing Music Orchestra or Classical Piano stations on Amazon Prime.

9. What are you reading now, and what is the best book you’ve read in a long time?

I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing so I can “fill the well” again by reading. I just finished THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey. Great read, couldn’t put it down. The best book I’ve read in a long time would probably have to be ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman

10. What is your strategy for writing over the holidays?

I don’t. Haha. I know better than to stress myself out like that. Writing is hard enough as it is.

11. Name three things that are in your purse or pockets right now.

My jack knife my Uncle David gave me, a notebook for writing down thoughts or notes, and about a million stupid cards to every different store I go to that always end up hiding from me at the cash register when there’s 5 people lined up behind me rolling their eyes and saying “c’mon already” under their breath. 

12. Do you write a synopsis before you write a book, and, if so, does your finished product look anything like that road map?

I’ve never written a synopsis. That’s probably what scares me away from traditional publishing. How the devil do I know what’s going to happen until my characters tell me?

13. Are you a fan of reality TV, or could the current Bachelor marry every contestant on Cake Boss and then sing his lungs out on The Voice for all you care?

I usually don’t get stuck on TV, but it is the holidays, and I’m not in the middle of writing so, yeah, I kind of got attached to The Voice. Because Adam Levine…omg… (insert drooling image here). Except for recently he had some pervy pornstar mustache thing going on, and no. Just no.

14. What is your biggest dream for your writing career? The New York Times bestseller list? A movie deal? Your own island in the Caribbean? All of the above?

I guess it’d be nice to think about hitting it big with a novel. But at the same time I think that could be stressful. I’m getting more introverted the older I get, and I don’t like people enough to be recognizable. The people who do follow me and enjoy my books make me happy with their encouragement. That’s enough for now.

15. What is your biggest hope for a reader when she opens one of your books?

That I was able to transport them to the world that was shown to me by my characters and my setting. If they can forget real life for a moment, my job is done. If it lingers after they’re done reading, then double bonus.

16. Are you more a Times Square-ringing-in-the-New Year-type on New Year’s Eve, or will we find you at home, tucked into bed by nine o’clock.

Home tucked in bed. I wake up super early.






By H. J. Mayes




My head is cradled between my hands as I crouch on the floor. The only sound is my own voice screaming the word “no”, echoing in the walls of my mind. Bits of dust and plaster make my mouth bitter and force me to cough.

There seems to be damage to the hearing in my left ear, but sounds register around me. My hearing picks up the sound of sirens, howling in the distance above ground and coming closer. Coughs and moans rise from the dust near me.

My blurry vision sharpens as I wipe my shirtsleeve across my eyes. The explosion has not affected my legs or arms; they’re intact and moving with little pain.

The door to the break room is thrown open; it’s actually off the frame and tilted in the hallway. Lights flicker on and off, there are wires swinging from the ceiling.

As I stagger to my feet, that’s when I see them. My breath catches and panic makes my chest feel tight.

The leader of the group is slumped over the overturned table in the corner. The other man is buckled on the floor by the door; his head tilted and blood trickling from his mouth. The canvas bag still in his hand. Neither of them is moving. The third one is on the floor by my feet, the needle tossed off to the side.

Bile rises in my throat.

What did I do? Where’s Jack?

Someone with dark hair—maybe Jack’s hair—is unconscious in the hallway by the door. I rush over to him and lean down, gently pulling him back to see his face. It isn’t Jack, but someone else. His face is bloody and some of his teeth are missing, possibly from the door hitting him in the explosion. I pull back, gasping in shock.

The main leader inside the room groans and struggles to sit up. He rubs the dust from his eyes, shaking his head as he stands. When he makes eye contact with me, he slowly reaches for a gun lying near him on the ground.

I stumble backward further into the hallway and trip over someone else. It’s Joe. He’s not moving either. His leg is twisted backward at the knee.

My scream echoes through the hallway.

The lights in the ceiling begin to pop, one by one. As the emergency lights flicker on, the man with the gun appears in the break room doorway. He’s holding his arms up to protect himself from the breaking bulbs raining down on him.

I’m not sure who these people are, but they knew my name and they weren’t worried about my abilities. That’s not what I would consider a normal reaction if people find out who, or what, I am.



GEMS, Book 1 in the GEMS Series, may be purchased through Amazon.



About Holly

Holly Mayes is a native of Michigan and enjoys reading, writing, photography and spending time with her two daughters, husband, cat and dog.

She has been published for her short stories in the Lansing Community College Washington Square Review, the women’s online journal When Women Waken, and the Rescued Pets Anthology by Splattered Ink Press.

GEMS is her first full-length, speculative fiction novel about a group of teens with super powers. The second book in the GEMS Series (GEMS-LOST) was released October, 2017.

Her romance FADE TO BLACK, the first in the Love in Bloom series, is currently available on Amazon.

Connect with Holly on Facebook or Twitter.




Author Speed Dating: Darcy Woods

I love discovering new authors, so I wanted my blog to be a place where readers and my author pals could come together. Only we like to do this Speed-Dating style. Check out a new author and her work here every Wednesday, and if the spark is there, you’ll have a match. 

This week’s guest: Darcy Woods


15 Questions

1. Halloween or Harvest celebrations: Are you an enthusiast or noncommittal in these fall events? And if you celebrate, what are your favorite activities?

If by “celebrate” you mean gorging on butternut squash lasagna, autumn bisque, and apple crisp while wearing 90% fleece, that’s a resounding YES. 

2. If you could single-handedly bring back one fashion trend just because it fits your personal style, what trend would you return to the runways of Paris and Milan and why?

Oh, gosh… Personally, I feel incredibly fortunate to live in the era of leggings and will weep oceans when they go out of style. Leggings are the most socially accepted form of pajamas that exist. 

3. How many full manuscripts did you have to write before you were first published?

 1.5. To clarify, I wrote my first ms and then rewrote it from page one using the “bones” of the original premise. 

4. Name your favorite celebrity crush from high school. What made that performer/athlete/political leader so dreamy?

Luke Perry. I blame his swoony sideburns and the whole bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold persona. 

5. Preferred writing location: home office with total silence, public place with plenty of white noise or some other combination?

I love writing at home! When weather permits I sit out on my screen porch (which is basically a giant tree fort since I live in the woods). But for the other ten months of the year, you can find me in my office with a wee pot of mini orchids on my desk.

6. Favorite more recent popular fiction heroine: Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins), Stephanie Plum (Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich), Eve Dallas (Eve Dallas/In Death series by J.D. Robb ) or Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)?

Hands down, Hermione! 

 7. Name your favorite way to stay in touch with your readers.

Ideally, it would be nerding out with them at book events! But on the social media end of the spectrum, I’d say Instagram is my fave.

8. Extra-large French fries or a perfect square of dark chocolate?

Gahhhh! Dana, this is like a Sophie’s Choice question! Okay, fine. I’ll take the lifetime supply of extra-large French fries, please.

9. Have you ever, even for a moment, forgotten that one of your characters was…you know…fictional?

Only every single day. 

10. Picture yourself standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Now describe what you’re doing right now: cheering in a victory stance, leaning over for a better view, or turning pale and curling into a fetal position as far as possible from the edge?

Cheering in a victory stance! While I’m not height-phobic, I still have a healthy respect of them. 

11. Property Brothers or Big Bang Theory?

I haven’t seen either—I swear I’m not a bot! Most recently, I binge watched (and adored) Ozark.

12. Which character from one of your own books do you wish you were more like?

Irina Dmitriyev, the Russian piercing artist in SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS. She’s the kind of fearless girl you’d want to help carry out your bucket list.  

13. Name a movie you’ve watched countless times but one you’ll still tune in to whenever it’s on cable.

Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s a siren to my soul.

14. When did you first decide you were a writer, and when was your first book published?

About six years ago. On a particularly dreary day in February, I sat down and tried writing. I’ve always been an avid reader, so imagine my surprise when WRITING turned out to be my oxygen! Then SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS was published in 2016.

15. If you could keep only the possessions that would fit in one suitcase, and you were limited to two books – one you wrote and one by someone else – which titles would you tuck inside your bag? Explain your choices.

Oof. That’s a toughy. Well, since I only have one title out, SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS it is! As for another author’s, I’d probably coin toss Maggie Stiefvater’s  THE SCORPIO RACES (heads) against THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (tails). 







Summer of Supernovas

By Darcy Woods


Chapter 1

Be humble for you are made of earth.

Be noble for you are made of stars.

~Serbian Proverb


Two fears have plagued me from the time I was little, and today I must face one of them.

It’s not the clowns. A lot of kids get squeamish around clowns, I know. But no one else at Jessica Bernard’s seventh birthday party screamed bloody murder and wet their pants at the sight of one. That’s when I earned the nickname Wila-pee-na. The nickname’s quasi-forgotten—thank heavens. Though the fear of clowns is not.

Still, what I’m about to tackle is worse. Way worse.

Carefully I take my place at the top of the water tower, letting my bare legs dangle. The early summer breeze rushes to greet them. One hundred and twenty feet stretch between me and the ground. My pulse doesn’t even flicker. I wish it did. Because heights are a perfectly reasonable fear.

Beneath and around me, the water tower spikes like a bulbous-headed nail from an otherwise tidy landscape. The aging white reservoir once proudly proclaimed CITY OF CARLISLE. But since most everyone, except me and the elements, has forgotten the old tower, it  now reads: ITY OF CARL.

I adjust the wrinkled towel underneath me since the metal of the six-foot wide circular platform is equal parts rust and chipped pant. It’s not as if I planned on coming up here—and certainly not in a dress—but driving by on the way to Hyde Park . . . well, I just had to stop. Because for all the structure’s imperfections, it does manage to get one thing right—the view. From here the world is utterly perfect.

Unfolding the yellowing paper, I smooth it over my lap. My astrological birth chart’s intricate and faded markings offer nothing I haven’t seen a million times. I do it out of habit, because the placement of every planet and its degree is as well-known as the location of the nose on my face.

And there it is: The queen mother of all my fears. The Fifth House.




Much as I’d rather bury myself in the study of astrology and its role in the human experience, I can’t avoid reality any longer. Because the clock is ticking. I have precisely twenty-two days.

Twenty-two days of planetary alignment to find my perfect match.



SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS, a May 2016 release from Crown Books for Young Readers, may be purchased through these retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s, Kobo and iBooks.


About Darcy

DARCY WOODS has held an eclectic mix of professions—from refueling helicopters for the U.S. Army to recharging bodies and spirits at a spa—but her most beloved career is being an author. She lives in Michigan with her madly supportive husband, two tuxedo cats (who overdress for everything) and a closet full of neatly organized shoes. SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS is her double RITA®-nominated debut young adult novel. Stay in touch with Darcy through her website,, and through Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram and Facebook. Sign up for her newsletter here.










Author Speed Dating – Tracy Bilen

I love discovering new authors, so I wanted my blog to be a place where readers and my author pals could come together. Only we like to do this Speed-Dating style. Check out a new author and her work here every Wednesday, and if the spark is there, you’ll have a match. 

This week’s guest: Tracy Bilen



15 Questions

1. If you had to wake to one song on your clock radio or cell phone dock every morning for the rest of your life, what song would you choose and why?

Keith Urban’s “Cop Car” because it’s about teen love and a bad boy (although actually it’s the girl who runs from the cops!) 

2. Since one of our September guests is also the author of a nonfiction book on writing (Debra Dixon), name some of your favorite books to help writers.


PAGE AFTER PAGE by Heather Sellers


 3. Favorite TV hottie: Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) from White Collar, Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) from Grey’s Anatomy, Angel (David Boreanaz) from Angel or Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) from Criminal Minds?

Definitely Neal Caffrey. I love that he paints! And his buddy Mozzie is adorable.

4. In which genres and sub-genres have you been published, and what does your narrow or sweeping focus say about you?

YA romantic thrillers – I love to be scared as long as I can fall in love too.

5. Is social media a bad habit for you, and, if so, what is your favorite time drain?

Social media isn’t as much as of a problem for me as Yahoo News. I spend too much time on tragedies and celebrity gossip.

6. Name the most embarrassing concert you’ve ever attended?

A singer at a teacher conference singing super old and awful French songs.

7. Which is your preference to write: love scenes or murder scenes?

Murder scenes, of course! It’s less cringe-worthy. 

8. Name one thing you wish you could change about yourself.

I’m too shy. I wish I didn’t hate parties. 

9. Favorite autumn activity: roasting marshmallows by a fire, driving miles for fall-leaf tours or cuddling with a special someone for an indoor movie marathon?

A movie marathon with lots of Nicolas Sparks and “Anne of Green Gables.”

10. Name a theme you often see popping up in your stories.

Overcoming a loss.

11. If you had no audience, and no regrets would follow, what midnight snack(s) would you be gorging on tonight?

Pizza, soft pretzels, M&M’s, and 3 Musketeers.

12. What was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you recover from it?

Lowest point: querying a book that didn’t sell.

I recovered by writing a better book!

13. With no money limit, if you could construct the most perfect writing space, what would it look like?

A tree house in Switzerland with a window seat and a beautiful view of mountains, a river, and a waterfall.

14. If a director made a movie about your life, which actress (living or dead) would you like to portray you, and which one would more likely be cast?

I’d prefer Piper Perabo.  More likely: Meg Ryan.

15. When you’re not writing (or working a day job), what are some of your favorite ways to spend your leisure hours?

Reading, biking, clogging (like tap dance but with jingle taps), hiking in the woods or the mountains.





What She Left Behind

By Tracy Bilen


I sometimes have this dream that I’m drowning in a giant bowl of oatmeal. That’s how I feel when I’m at home. When I’m at school, it’s different. I hang out with Zach, sneak Ritz Bits crackers during class, and read horror novels in history. I like horror because it puts things in perspective. I mean, at least I’m not being chased by killer bees and no one’s trying to hack off my arm.

First period is band. Right now it’s marching season, which sucks because it’s all about football. I hate football. Usually I stuff a copy of Soap Opera Digest between my uniform and my real clothes so I have something to do between the pregame and half-time shows.

What I really like is concert season. That’s when I get to trade in my big, clunky, ordinary clarinet for my E-flat clarinet. Matt—that’s my brother—used to call it the “shrunken clarinet,” as if I had left it in the dryer too long.

I’m playing my shrunken clarinet in the living room, trying to chase away that oatmeal-dream feeling, when my mom comes in and stands right next to me. “Sara, we have to go,”  she whispers, even though my dad isn’t there to hear her. She’s not crying. She’s calm. Matter-of-fact. As if she’s asking me whether I want mayo or mustard on my sandwich. Except in secret.

I know it’s time to go. I’ve known for a long time.

“You must think I’m an idiot for not getting us out of here sooner.”

“It’s O.K.,” I say. I twirl my ponytail, like you do to turn off the faucet when the hose is spraying all over you.  I do that when I’m nervous. Or lying. Or both. “I’ll go get my things.”  I open the case and put away my clarinet.

“We’ll leave at lunch tomorrow. I’ll pick you up at the Dairy Dream.”

Tomorrow? When you decide to do something you should just do it. Otherwise you might change your mind. Especially if you’re my mom.

“Don’t pack a lot. Just your duffel bag.”

One bag? How do you put a whole life in one bag?

“Leave it under your bed. I’ll stop and get it just before I come pick you up.”

That’s it? This is Mom’s plan?

“Hurry. Before he gets home.”

            On your mark, get set…

“Sara, we have to be careful. Your dad said –”

“Can’t we talk later? Like, tomorrow in the car?”  I know what she wants to tell me. She forgets I was there.


WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND, a 2012 release from Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster, may be purchased through these retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound and Powell’s.


About Tracy

Tracy Bilen is the YA author of WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster). She is a high school French teacher in Michigan where she lives with her husband and children. Tracy studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and taught Spanish at a high school ski academy. She loves biking, traveling, and red velvet cake. Stay in touch with Tracy through her website,, and through Facebook and Twitter.










Author Speed Dating – Kristin Bartley Lenz

I love discovering new authors, so I wanted my blog to be a place where readers and my author pals could come together. Only we like to do this Speed-Dating style. Check out a new author and her work here every Wednesday, and if the spark is there, you’ll have a match. 

This week’s guest: Kristin Bartley Lenz







1. Which ALICE IN WONDERLAND character would best describe you when you’re writing on deadline?

Oh my, I can’t even answer the first question without doing research! I’ll go with the obvious – Alice – because I get confused and stuck multiple times during the process of writing my novels. 

2. Have you ever based a character, at least in part, on a real person you knew, and was that person able to see himself/herself in your story?

No, in early drafts my characters might have a trait or experience from a real person in my life (or myself), but through revising they grow into someone completely new with their own personality and history. That doesn’t stop my friends and family from constantly guessing who is based on who in my stories though!

3. Hot rockers over 50: Lenny Kravitz, Bruce Springsteen or Bono?

Lenny! I saw him in concert at the Filmore in Detroit a few years ago. It’s a small venue, and he left the stage and roamed through the audience. Incredible show.  

4. What is “dressed up” for you: a designer dress and stiletto heels or clean yoga pants, a sweatshirt and tennis shoes without holes?

Stiletto heels, hahaha. I have a pair of flip flops with a bit of a heel… 

 5. What was the most unusual comment you’ve ever received in a fan mail letter or a review?

I’ve received such heartfelt letters from readers who have related to my character’s journey – especially the grief of moving across country and having to start over. But the most unusual comment was from a 90-year-old grandmother. The letter arrived in the mail on stationary, and I could hardly read her handwriting. She wrote, “I’m not a rock climber, but I do like rocks.” And then she went on to tell me about her experience growing up on a farm that had a ton of rocks which they used to build structures, walls, fences, etc. I was so touched!

 6. What do you do when you’re in the middle of a book and a new idea pops into your head?

 I keep notebooks everywhere – on my desk, next to my bed, in my car. When I have an idea about my current project or a new one, I jot it down. If I don’t, it’s gone – poof!

 7. If you could invite three of your favorite authors over for a summer barbecue, who would be chowing down on hamburgers and brats (or veggie burgers) in your backyard?

Maya Angelou – I was fortunate to see her speak many years ago when I lived in California, and I named my daughter after her. 

Marcus Zuzak – I recently re-read THE BOOK THIEF, one of my all-time favorites – narrated by Death as a character – how did he come up with that?! Such a powerful, moving story.

Judy Blume – my childhood favorite!

8. How old were you when you had the first inkling you might be a writer, and what gave you that hint?

Eight years old. I wrote a poem in 3rd grade, “If I Could Fly”, and it won a contest. I got to read it in front of the entire school and go to a Young Authors event where I met real authors and got their signatures. 

 9. Do you ban all pets from your house, tolerate them for your family’s sake or are you a pet lover, typing with a dog, cat and maybe a bird sitting on your lap right now? And if you are a pet lover, list your brood.

I have terrible allergies and asthma, so I thought I could never have a furry pet. My daughter researched hypoallergenic/non-shedding dogs and begged for nearly ten years before I finally caved. Henry is a two-year-old Bichon-Poodle, and we have a new puppy too – Harper, a Havanese-Poodle. We love them so much – I wish I had done it sooner!

10. If you could write a novel containing any generally “off-limits” element, what would we find in your story?

Is there any such thing nowadays? I am amazed and inspired by the depth and honesty and topics explored in the young adult novels currently being published. 

11. Name a hero or heroine from one of your books you loved a little more than all the others. (Yes, it’s like picking a favorite child.)

I really grew to care about Cara in THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO. She’s an introverted, nature lover like me, but much more confident and brave.

12. Name the most unique vacation you ever took, and what was your favorite thing about it?

Sixteen years ago, before we became parents, my husband and I traveled to Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas by Nepal and India. At that time, the country was still very traditional and just beginning to open up to the Internet, etc. We spent one day hiking up a mountain and slept at a monastery. The peace and beauty of the next morning’s sunrise with the monks chanting will always be with me. 

13. What book are you reading right now, and what is the best book you’ve read in a long time?

X: A NOVEL by Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcom X’s daughter, and Kekla Magoon – it’s captivating. Two completely different, but completely satisfying stories that I read in recent months are THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE by Lisa See and THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas.

14. Which of your books gave you the most trouble, and what helped you make it to “the end”?

I have a New Adult novel in progress that I’ve abandoned many times, stuck in the middle, unsure where it should go or how it should end. After discussing it with my agent, I think I should stop trying to make it NA. My voice is more YA, and books like FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell are showing me that you can have slightly older, college-age characters in a YA novel. 

15. What has been your scariest moment as an author?

Speaking at the NTCE/ALAN annual conference in Atlanta to a room of 500 teachers/librarians. I was so honored to be invited, but intimated to be amongst so many of the acclaimed authors I’ve admired for years. But of course, everyone was so nice and welcoming.





The Art of Holding On and Letting Go

By Kristin Bartley Lenz



I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center. —Kurt Vonnegut, Piano Player


The waiting was the worst. I gripped my worry stone from Uncle Max, turning it around and around in my hands. My fingers probed its golden grooves and contours. The sharp edges shimmered.

My teammate Becky sat next to me in the isolation tent examining her red, white, and blue–painted nails. It was the second day of qualifying rounds, and we’d been waiting two hours for our turns to climb. Tiny stars dotted her thumbs. I didn’t understand why she bothered—the polish always chipped by the time she finished her climb.

My own nails were cut as short as possible, my fingers rough and calloused. A crosshatch of red lines spread across the back of my right hand where I had wedged it into a crack last week, the rock scraping my skin. I couldn’t tell yet if it would leave a scar like the other white marks on my hands, the crooked gash on my thumb, my pitted palm.

“Ugh,” Becky said. “I want my phone. Seriously, I’m, like, twitching. Look.” She pointed to her eye.

“Maybe you got mascara in it.” Her lashes were so clumped and coated, they looked fake.

She’d scrolled through her phone at breakfast, tilting it toward me so I could see the picture of her hand placed over her heart like she was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. She’d managed to display our USA team logo, her cleavage, and her patriotic nails all in one close-up shot. Four hundred likes.

No phones allowed in the tent, and no checking out the routes before we climbed; the canvas walls blocked our view of the competition area. A collective groan came from the bleachers outside. Someone had fallen.

“Another one bites the dust.” I tumbled the stone faster and faster in my hands. I swear I could feel its heat, its fire.

“It’s pyrite. Fool’s gold,” Uncle Max had said. “Named after fire. It’ll spark if you strike it against steel, so they say. Want to try?”

For the rest of the day, we struck it against anything metal we came across—tent poles, car rims—startling ourselves and giggling every time we saw the tiniest spark.


THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO, a September 2016 release from Elephant Rock Productions, Inc.,  may be purchased through these retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie Bound.



About Kristin

Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker from metro-Detroit who fell in love with the mountains when she moved to Georgia and California. Now she’s back in Detroit where she plots wilderness escapes and manages the Michigan Chapter blog for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Her debut young adult novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO, was a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection and was chosen for the Great Lakes Great Books 2017-2018 state-wide literature program. Learn more at and find her on Twitter and Instagram.