Inspirational personal narrative: ‘steal back your life’, overcome trauma, and heal from narcissistic parenting

Advocate, teacher, and author Bridey Thelen-Heidel pens a raw and immersive account of growing up alongside an abusive, narcissistic mother. Bright Eyes (She Writes Press, September 24, 2024) is an astonishing narrative of Bridey’s tenacious spirit, commitment to optimism in the face of unspeakable trauma, and dedication to breaking cycles of abuse. 

Bridey is tethered to her mom’s addiction to dangerous men who park their Harley-Davidsons in the house and kick holes in all their doors. Raised to be her mother’s keeper, rescuer, and punching bag, Bridey gets used to stuffing her life into black trash bags, hauling them between Alaska and California, and changing schools every time her mom moves in a new monster—or runs away from one.  

Desperately seeking the normal life she’s observed in sitcoms and her friends’ families, Bridey earns her way into a fancy, private college, where she tries to forget who she is—until her mom calls with a threat that drops Bridey to her knees. Watching doctors and police interrogate her mother at the hospital, Bridey realizes her mom has become a monster herself… and she doesn’t want to be saved. But Bridey does. 

Bright Eyes is about the indomitable spirit of a young girl forced to be brave, required to be resilient, and conditioned to be optimistic, and how she ultimately uses the same traits that helped her to survive her mother’s chaos to create her own happily ever after. 

Bright Eyes: Surviving Our Monsters and Learning to Live Without Them

Bridey Thelen-Heidel | September 24, 2024

She Writes Press | Distributed by Simon & Schuster | Autobiography, Memoir 

Paperback | 978-1647427382 | $17.95 

E book | 978-1-64742-739-9 | $12.99

Bridey Thelen-Heidel’s chaotic upbringing meant changing schools between Alaska and California more than twenty times. A Lewis and Clark College graduate, she lives in South Lake Tahoe with her husband and daughter and teaches at her alma mater. 

A TEDx speaker and frequent podcast guest, Bridey performed in Listen to Your Mother NYC and has been published in MUTHA Magazine. A fierce youth advocate who’s been voted Best of Tahoe Teacher several times by her community, Bridey’s work with LGBTQ+ students has been celebrated in Read This, Save Lives by Sameer Jha and the California Teachers Association’s California EducatorFind out more about Bridey at her website.

Follow Bridey Thelen-Heidel on social media: 

Facebook: @bridey.heidel | Twitter: @BrideyHeidel | Instagram: @brighteyesauthor 

In an interview, Bridey Thelen-Heidel can discuss:

  • How Bridey found the courage to break family ties to heal, pursue her dreams, and salvage an unshakable sense of self
  • The difficult, but important, decision to go no-contact with a parent 
  • Advice for people considering going no-contact with a narcissistic family member 
  • How she broke the cycle of abuse when she became a mother 
  • Her deep connection to Duran Duran and how their music profoundly inspired her and helped her heal in adulthood 
  • How her adventurous spirit and inspiration to share her story with others ultimately led to her meeting her heroes: Duran Duran 
  • How her upbringing shaped her career as a teacher and compelled her to become a staunch advocate for students, especially LGBTQ+ youth
  • How her motto “ROB the trauma and steal back your life” turned into a widely viewed TEDx Talk 

Advanced Praise for “Bright Eyes” 

“At once tender and fierce, Bright Eyes is an astonishing story of perseverance and the power of hope. In clear, sharp prose, Bridey Thelen-Heidel reclaims the narrative of her life from the monsters who shaped her early years. Bright Eyes is engaging, essential, and impossible to put down.”

–Jen Bryant, Editor, MUTHA Magazine

“This incredibly written, immersive memoir is a heart-wrenching and ultimately uplifting journey through the author’s chaotic childhood, marked by neglect and abuse. Bridey’s vivid and evocative writing style makes you feel like you’re right there with her on the ‘constant crazy train’ – never knowing what’s coming next…With unflinching honesty, she shares the raw, vivid details of her childhood and the long-term effects of trauma on her physical and mental health…Bridey’s story is a beacon of hope, reminding us that no matter what we’ve endured, we have the strength to overcome and rise above.”

–Stephanie Thornton Plymale, Author of American Daughter, CEO of Heritage School Of Interior Design 

“Thelen-Heidel’s vivid, vulnerable prose contains plenty of hard-fought wisdom—among other things, never underestimate the solace provided by Duran Duran’s music—and pragmatic inspiration driven by her traumatic experiences. In the end, Bright Eyes asserts that betting on yourself is a powerful move, one that can even lead to forgiveness, healing and new beginnings.”

 –Annie Zaleski, music journalist and author of the 33 1/3 volume on Duran Duran’s Rio

Bright Eyes is Bridey Thelen-Heidel’s compelling account of surviving a chaotic childhood with a cruel, narcissistic mother who has a penchant for beer and violent boyfriends. Although the understory of Bright Eyes is one of trauma, the greater narrative is about mustering the courage to break family ties to salvage a sense of self and daring to dream big, seemingly unreachable dreams—that eventually come true. Honest to the bone, this memoir will keep you turning the pages until its final, hard-won, uplifting moments.” 

–Suzanne Roberts, author of Animal Bodies: On Death, Desire, and Other Difficulties

“Bridey Thelen-Heidel’s thousands of fans begged Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon to meet her even before she became a debut author. In her unputdownable memoir BRIGHT EYES, Thelen-Heidel mends the shards of a shattered childhood, forging a glittering gift for readers and survivors. Fans of MAID and Tiny Beautiful Things will devour Thelen-Heidel’s pages full of her gripping storytelling, enduring strength, and “Duranie” heart.”

—Ann Imig, LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER founder/editor

“With warm, tender guidance, Bridey Thelen-Heidel invites us into her story, painting the portrait of extraordinary resilience in the face of searing trauma. Music has always been a comfort in times of chaos, and while I relished how Bridey seized control of her own destiny, it was a personal joy to see Duran Duran light up the darkness when Bridey needed it most.”

—Andrew Golub, Author of Beautiful Colors: The Posters of Duran Duran

An Interview with Bridey Thelen-Heidel

1. Why did you decide to write “Bright Eyes?” In what ways did writing about your experience impact your healing journey? 

I wanted to not only share what I survived but how I severed ties and managed to heal myself enough to become a loving mother and wife, which I know is a fear for many of us raised in similar chaos because we are scared to have kids for fear we’ll be the same kind of abusive parent or scared we won’t be able to have loving relationships because we didn’t grow up knowing how to love or be loved in a healthy way. 

2. How has your abusive childhood impacted your career as a teacher and advocate for students? 

As a kid, I appreciated being held to the same standards as all the other students because expectations made me feel “normal” and gave me a sense of pride and dignity that I didn’t necessarily feel from well-intentioned family members who’d somewhat written me off as becoming “just like her mother” and ending up as a young mom on welfare. 

Advocating for students who are scared to speak up because they’ve been taught to stay quiet and small and teaching students who have yet to find their voice how to advocate for themselves is something I’m most proud of in my teaching career. Even at my age, I’m still learning the power of my own voice and telling truths that I’ve kept secret for too long because it gives permission for others to do the same. 

3. Duran Duran provided comfort during your tumultuous childhood, tell us about your relationship with music and why you connected so deeply with the band. 

I was twelve when I discovered Duran Duran’s music, and I think at the time it was an escape into a world that felt my age—a world I had rarely been part of because I was burdened with adult responsibilities and worries. Giggling and screaming about cute British boys was joyful, and something my mom couldn’t take away because the band’s music followed me when I moved—songs I knew by heart and lyrics I sang myself asleep to—turning up the record loud enough to drown out whatever was happening on the other side of the wall. 

As an adult who made her own money and decisions, I was able to recapture some of those teen experiences I missed out on by attending Duran Duran concerts as often as I could, and because memories are in the present tense, their music and lyrics whisked me back to being a scared, lonely teenager who could now heal those parts of myself.  

4. How were you able to leave your abuser, what helped you stay away, and what decisions did you make to ensure you broke the cycle of abuse? 

The decision to break the cycle of abuse and sever all ties took many false starts and failed attempts. I didn’t leave when I could have or should have because leaving was hard. Staying was hard, too. When I finally chose my “hard,” it was the least popular decision I’ve ever made—and I am someone who likes being liked. I got called selfish, inconsiderate, ungrateful, a pain in the ass, rude, high and mighty, dramatic, and—of course—a bitch. But what I didn’t get called was back. No one asked me to come home. No one called to apologize. No one admitted there might be a reason I left. No one wondered why I wasn’t answering the phone because they knew.     

5. What do you hope that readers take away from reading your memoir? 

I hope readers who need to will find their own way out—their own path to leave, to heal, and to forgive themselves and anyone else they feel deserves it. What I learned by leaving is that you’re going to have to accept that you might lose everything and everyone you’ve known—including the person you’ve known yourself to be your whole life—but you’re also going to find yourself and the life you deserve. Your real self. Leaving is hard, but not leaving might kill you—if not physically, mentally and spiritually. But surviving it all has given you a resilience, optimism, and bravery that are superhuman strengths you get to use because you’ve earned them and they’re yours—forever. 

Leaving is hard. Staying is hard. But not leaving means the bad guys won. Not only did they own your past, but now they’ll control your present and, undoubtedly, will predict your future.  

6. Is anything else on the horizon for you as an author? 

Odd as of departure as it seems, I’m working on a set of children’s books titled MAD MARTHA AND GRACIE based on me and my Irish Setter and all the weird anxiety/dissociative disorder I developed as a kid who whose mind was trying to explain to her mind how to survive life with my mother—writing in the air, leaving my body and flying up and away from the danger, and watching myself like scenes in a movie. It’s Junie B Jones meets Pippi Longstocking’s therapist 🙂 The young girl is nine years old, long red hair with bangs, bucked teeth, scrappy clothes and mismatched socks. Her name is Martha, but the neighborhood calls her “Mad Martha” (like my grandmother’s racing nickname) because she seems a bit crazy to them—all the writing in the air and wacky behaviors—and the only one who can read the words she writes is her trusted friend, Gracie, her Irish Setter. 

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‘Animal Farm’ meets ‘The Way I Used To Be’ in bittersweet YA fantasy

Bravery meets betrayal in this dystopian tale where a human and a rodent bridge their different worlds as an interspecies war rages, in the award-winning YA novel illustrated and written by  A.T. Balsara. “The Great and The Small” (Common Deer Press, Sept 3, 2024) follows a young tormented teen who befriends a rebellious rat and the inexplicable way their lives intertwine in this dark yet hopeful story of resilience, acceptance, and strength. 

Filled with beautiful graphic illustrations, the Nautilus Book Award silver winner is being released with a new cover and expanded story that offers a deeper, nuanced exploration into themes of coping with buried sexual abuse, trauma, and PTSD that will resonate with teens.

Ananda is a troubled teen who feels like a misfit, and her unusual ability to connect with animals makes her feel like even more of an outsider. Still raw from her grandmother’s death, Ananda’s dreams are haunted by a long-buried memory that causes her to push people away. Fin is a Tunnel rat who lives in the dark places humans overlook or despise. Orphaned, he is the nephew of the Tunnel’s charismatic leader and will do anything to please his uncle. When Ananda protects Fin during a chance encounter in the market, neither can foresee how their lives will forever be inextricably linked, but as the Chairman launches a plague war against the humans, both Fin and Ananda wrestle with secrets so terrible that they threaten their very existence.

Told as mirroring narratives that reverberate with the effects of buried trauma, and informed by historical accounts of plague and dictatorship, this stunning tale examines what it takes to grasp for light in the darkness and survive the threats both beyond us and within us.

The Great and the Small

A.T. Balsara | 2nd edition Sept 3, 2024 | Common Deer Press

Contemporary YA fantasy

Paperback | 978-1-988761-10-7 | $15.99 USD, $19.99 CAD

Ebook | 978-1-988761-95-4 |  $10.99 USD

A.T. Balsara is an award-winning children’s and young adult author/illustrator, motivational speaker, and energy medicine practitioner. Her passion is to inspire joy through storytelling and energy healing, helping young people and adults to walk “the Hero’s Journey” in real life. She writes and illustrates for young children under her full name, Andrea Torrey Balsara, and for young adults under A.T. Balsara.

Andrea is also a painter, an avid amateur explorer of quantum physics, and a keen environmentalist. She advocates for the humane treatment of animals and regularly volunteers at a donkey sanctuary where she uses energy medicine to help previously neglected and abused animals regain their health and vitality.

To learn more about her and sign up for her newsletter, visit:

Follow A.T. Balsara on social media: 

Facebook: @AndreaTorreyBalsara | Twitter: @torreybalsara | Instagram: @andreatorreybalsara 

Praise and awards for the first edition of The Great and The Small

  • 2020 Page Turner Book Awards, shortlisted; won the Spectrum Audiobook prize 2018 Nautilus Book Awards, Silver
  • 2018 Literary Classics, Eloquent Quill Award (top honors); Golds in Upper MG Adventure category and Special Interest-Epic category
  • 2018 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Competition, Semi-Finalist 
  • 2018 Moonbeam Book Award, Silver 
  • 2018 Purple Dragonfly Award, Silver 
  • 2018 National Indie Excellence Awards, Finalist Spring 
  • 2018 Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s BEST BOOKS for Kids & Teens Magazine selection 

“This YA book ‘The Great and The Small’ is George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ meets Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’…”

-Richard M. Grove, publisher, editor, writer, poet laureate

A. T. Balsara’s The Great and the Small is an irresistibly compelling graphic novel that weaves Gothic and Modern eras into a dark tapestry at times both tender and violent…It is the storyline that pulls you down the page with urgency, yet these pictures are so arrestingly beautiful, you simply find yourself stopping to luxuriate in them…In this age of intense scrutiny of the destructive nature of humankind towards the entire world, The Great and the Small is an enlightening parable that is as irresistible as it is timely.”

-Philip Roy, author

“Exploring the complex layers of the human (and animal) heart, and what it means to love and struggle with ties to family as well as the greater good, A.T. Balsara deftly weaves a tale that is compelling and thought-provoking. Asking the reader to understand how ignorance, misunderstanding, blind ideology, hatred, and betrayal can lead us only into the darkest abyss, The Great & the Small reminds us of the higher ideals that unite us all, whether great or small.” 

-Leila Merl, poet and former high school teacher

“This gripping tale speaks volumes on many underlying themes which add greater depth and symbolism to an already powerful story. Highly recommended for home and school libraries, The Great & the Small has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.”

-Literary Classics Review

In an interview, A.T. Balsara can discuss:

  • Why she decided to revisit her YA book to include more of Ananda’s story
  • Why she decided to write a story from two separate perspectives (one of a rat and one of a young girl) and the process of intertwining the two stories together
  • How she approached writing a YA story after years of writing and illustrating children’s books
  • How the character of Fin battles with his personal struggle with blind obedience
  • How Balsara incorporates themes of racism, dictatorship, authoritarianism, and “the other” through the guise of a rat colony
  • How Ananda’s story is a personal reflection of her own struggles with PTSD and sexual abuse
  • How her work in energy healing has helped her overcome her personal trauma and how she uses to help others

An Interview with A.T. Balsara

1. Where did the inspiration for the story come from? And why did you want to write a story about rats? 

There are two distinct and yet intertwining stories in The Great and The Small. Both the human girl Ananda’s story and Fin the rat’s story tell the story of being estranged from one’s true self, one because of buried trauma, and the other by his culture, in this case a rat colony’s culture that was based on the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union.

2. What is your creative process like when writing and illustrating your novels?

I suffer from a serious case of imposter syndrome, as many writers do, and so to get myself out of my head, I start with picking soundtracks that have the feeling and tone of the story I have brewing. I have soundtrack playlists for every project I work on. At the moment, I have 9 playlists on the go, for projects I’m either writing, illustrating or am stewing about. It’s a way of easing into the project, of sneaking in the backdoor, that puts my inner critic at ease. If a story is coming to me, ideas come fast– and can leave just as quickly. At those times, I keep pencil and paper handy, or my phone, and frantically jot down whatever notes or scene ideas come to me before they disappear into oblivion, and file them with the collection of  jotted notes and reference photos I’ve kept for the project. That stewing/brewing process of gathering ideas often takes years. When a project rises to the top and feels ready to work with, I choose a song that fits the moment and play it on a loop, as loud as my poor dogs can stand. With my scraps of notes and photos spread around me, I start fleshing out characters, writing a rough outline of significant events in the book, and clarify the conclusion I want to reach. And then I “gird my loins” and dive into that dreaded first draft, which feels less like creative writing and more like drilling through rock (my head, in this case). For me, the joy comes in the rewrite. As the book takes shape under my hands, there are moments where scenes write themselves and the characters move and act of their own accord–and I’m writing with eyes half-closed, recording what I “see.” That’s the joy. That’s when all the drilling falls away and I feel like I’m flying. It’s addictive, joyful, and deeply satisfying.

3. You have two unusual storylines that interconnect in the novel (a story about a colony of rats and a teenage girl struggling from buried trauma). What are the overarching themes that connect these stories?

Both Fin and Ananda’s stories reflect the oppression of not knowing who you truly are. I have always loved the Hero’s Journey archetype and as I walked through my own “dark night of the soul,” I found that in those darkest times there was always a thin sliver of light. There was always something, some way forward, even when the way seemed impossible. We love reading about a character’s struggles and can see their heroism, but somehow we never frame our own struggles and cycles of growth in terms of the Hero’s Journey. Our instant-gratification culture is deathly afraid of pain, and of self-sacrifice, but if we walk the Hero’s Journey, and as we surrender illusion to seek truth, we find a return to our true self. It is a painful, and yet unspeakably joyous journey.

For Ananda, the buried abuse makes her doubt herself, veils her from who she truly is, and drives her to the edge of the abyss. For Fin, the environment of his home, tunnel culture, and the love he has for his uncle, blinds him to his uncle’s true nature and from truth. He finds himself doing acts of incredible cruelty in the name of the “common good,” and yet still tries to run and hide from what he’s become until finally he can’t anymore. In those moments of the story where Fin and Ananda interact, they help each other take another step towards the light and away from the darkness. Both must walk the Hero’s Journey to find their true selves. 

4. The 1st edition won several awards, so why did you feel the need to rewrite the book and re-release it as a 2nd edition?

It became clear to me after the first edition was published in 2017, that Ananda’s story wasn’t finished. When I was given the opportunity to rewrite it by Common Deer Press, I was finally at a point where I could tell Ananda’s story and to explore those dark corners of my own experience through her eyes. It was a deeply painful, cathartic, and yet joyful experience. I loved being able to dive back into this world I had created, which I loved so much. Ananda’s character unfolded as I wrote and revised, until she became real to me. Through her, I saw my own struggles with new eyes, and gained compassion and understanding for my younger self. I hadn’t realized the compounding impact that buried memory has on a person and on their sense of self. I wanted to write about what it’s like to feel crazy, to know truth but doubt it, and to have the time bomb of suicide ideation ticking inside you. Many people have gone through what I have, and many are still stuck in the abyss. I want people to know that there is light after the darkness, and that although sorrows and pain carve furrows into you, as you heal, those furrows are filled with joy. There are gifts that are only revealed through trauma and deep suffering, like the jack pines whose cones only open in the fire. I want those who still suffer to know that there is not only hope, but there is joy if they keep walking.

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New poetry collection redefines aging with humor, authenticity

In a world where aging is often feared, award-nominated author, poet and psychotherapist Jane Seskin takes readers on an emotional road trip where they can celebrate the joys and challenges of aging . In “Older, Wiser, Shorter: The Truth and Humor of Life After 65” (Tallfellow Press, August 21, 2024), Jane Seskin reflects on how resilience and self-discovery helped her combat life’s trials and tribulations, especially as she grew older. Through a collection of 89 poems, Seskin redefines the narrative of aging and offers readers a positive take on what is often perceived as a negative.

“Older, Wiser, Shorter” is an insightful collection of poetry; authentic, funny, quirky and heartfelt, acknowledging the physical vulnerabilities, emotional losses, and surprises people encounter in their  senior years. Seskin also pays tribute to  the sense of power, resilience and new-found joys people discover as they acknowledge and accept their aging. Seskin’s talent for finding the universal connecting tissue of even our most intimate moments will resonate with readers seeking to discover new ways to honor the past, celebrate the present, and welcome the future.

Growing old is a gift. Believe in it. Respect it. Embrace it. From varicose veins to doctors’ appointments to forgetting why you walked into the kitchen, “Older Wiser Shorter” illuminates the ups and downs of growing older, one poem at a time. Not to be feared but welcomed, aging is natural, exciting, and it’s better than the alternative!

“I sat down to read one poem last night and I ended up reading half the book. I feel as though I know you. You have definitely captured the experience of aging.”

—Mary Pipher, author of Women Rowing North and My Life in Light

“Older, Wiser, Shorter”

Jane Seskin | August 21, 2024 | Tallfellow Press | Poetry 

Paperback | 9780578447247 | $15.00

“Optimistic” by Jane Seskin from “Older, Wiser, Shorter”

Last week

I ordered

one thousand sheets

of personalized

note paper.

Advance Praise for “Older, Wiser, Shorter” 

“Even though I’m not a fan of poetry, I found Jane Seskin’s poems to be a delight. They hit home.”

—Jane Brody, former personal health columnist, New York Times

“Your words jump and laugh and rest and reach…it’s an activity reading those poems! I love them.”

— Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder Omega Institute and author of the New York Times Bestseller  Broken Open, and other books including Cassandra Speaks

“You don’t need to be at a late stage of life to appreciate and learn from Seskin’s energetic collection of poems…We are blessed to have work such as this to help us see our way gracefully.”

Justen Ahren, Martha’s Vineyard Poet Laureate and author of Devotion to Writing

“Jane Seskin writes with keen insight and eyes open to the inadvertent miracles in our everyday life.”

—Arthur Sze, author of Glass Constellation

“She’s lost height, years, love, and youthful abandon but in doing so, has gained a deep understanding of what it really means to be alive. Her poetry is honest, heartbreaking, witty and uplifting, a gift she wraps in gratitude.”       

—Carol Waldman, MS, Gerontology, former Executive Director, Glen Cove Senior Center

“Candid, funny, and best of all inspiring, the poems in Jane Seskin’s “Older Wiser Shorter” throw open a window on aging. Suddenly, a breeze of resilience sails through. I learned from Seskin’s poems: they become like mentors for the strange adventure of late-life living. Kindness infuses them. The ‘enormous optimism’ of this intrepid book might prove the greatest wisdom of the ages.”  

“Jane Seskin’s poems take us into her world and shed new light on our own. An important book for older women and those who care for and about them.”

—Ann Burack-Weiss, PH.D, LCSW, author of The Lioness in Winter: Writing an Old Woman’s Life

More about the Author

Jane Seskin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the author of 13 books (most recently the poetry collection “Older, Wiser, Shorter: The Truth and Humor of Life After 65”.)  She’s also written nonfiction articles and poetry online and for national magazines and journals (20 poems published in Cosmopolitan Magazine, five poems in Woman’s Day. Eighteen of her posts have been published in the Metropolitan Diary column in the New York Times.) Jane has been a writer-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center and Noepe Center for Literary Arts. She has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Ms. Seskin is a practicing psychotherapist, who counseled survivors in individual and group treatment at the Crime Victims Treatment Center in New York for 20 years.

In her free time, she enjoys the theater, walking by the Hudson River, visiting with friends, reading poetry and mysteries (Louise Penny, David Baldacci, Donna Leon) and listening to jazz (Keith Jarrett, Houston Person, Chris Botti). Give her a piece of bread and butter and she’s a happy camper! Jane wrote therapeutic sound-bites on Twitter under the title: “Emotional Band-Aid. Small Steps for Change.” Find out more about her at her website.

In an interview, Jane Seskin can discuss:

  • Turning the stereotypically negative view of aging into a humorous and intimate poetry collection
  • How writing has allowed her to explore self-discovery and resulted in resilience 
  • The process of writing poetry versus her other works
  • Her mindset that aging is natural, can be exciting, and something to look forward to
  • How creating each poem is an experience in navigating aging

An Interview with Jane Seskin

1. What inspired you to write about aging through poetry?

I’ve been poeming for more than 40 years. It’s a natural way for me to quickly put a feeling or experience on paper to think about, reflect and expand upon in the days that follow.

2. What do you hope readers will take away from your collection of poetry?

I hope readers will identify with the stories I tell and know they’re not alone in this process of growing older.  That all of us age differently. And to some degree we still have the choice to create a full rich life.

3. What is the biggest challenge of navigating life trials, tribulations and vulnerabilities, especially when you begin to age? How can one be resilient to this challenge?

Vulnerability is shareable. When you tell another person of your feelings you make connections and that is the beginning of community. I’ve included Vows in this book that are affirmations to build on. When you affirm yourself, give yourself validation through the Vows, you build self-esteem and that is a pretty powerful feeling!

4. What is the most important lesson that your self-discovery journey has taught you?

That I am okay. That life is different at different ages. I’ve learned I can adapt to change.  That friendship is extraordinary and necessary. 

5. What does your poetry writing process look like? Where do you seek out inspiration for your poems?

I am alive and that is my inspiration. Days are both  difficult and soaring with joy and I let myself be open to all. As a therapist I am acutely aware of people’s behavior, the landscape around me and what goes unsaid. I also am very curious and eager to hear the stories of others and create my own.

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Dancer and Special Education Advocate Shares Journey of Raising Two Children with Disabilities

In “Fall and Recovery: Raising Children with Disabilities through Lessons Learned in Dance” (She Writes Press, Sept. 17, 2024), author Joanne De Simone delves into the transformative power of dance in navigating the challenges of parenting children with disabilities.

When the pediatrician placed the measuring tape around her infant’s head and noted, “His head is a little small,” Joanne knew that motherhood wouldn’t be as she had dreamt. Even as a special educator, Joanne wasn’t prepared to raise a child with a life-limiting brain malformation. Nor was she ready for the compounded pain and alienation that came when her second son was diagnosed with autism. But the struggle to balance her sons’ medical and educational challenges drove Joanne to reconnect with the lessons she learned as a modern dancer – and there she found enlightenment.

Inspired by her experience performing José Limón’s “There Is a Time,” based on Ecclesiastes 3, each chapter of “Fall and Recovery” details a dance lesson and the dichotomy of parenting children with disabilities. Over time, Joanne discovers that surviving motherhood isn’t a matter of strength, bravery, or faith. It’s a matter of linking your past experiences and creating your own purpose. It’s realizing that we live simultaneously in love and grief. In the end, dance teaches Joanne not only how to move freely through pain but also how to fall and recover.

“Fall and Recovery:  Raising Children with Disabilities through Lessons Learned in Dance”

Joanne De Simone | Sept. 17, 2024 | She Writes Press | Memoir 

Paperback | 978-1-64742-714-6 | $17.95

E-book | $9.95

About the Author

Joanne De Simone is a graduate of Hunter College with degrees in dance and special education. After dancing professionally with companies including José Limón and Dianne McIntyre, she dedicated her life to teaching children with disabilities and supporting families. Currently, Joanne is a special education advocate for the Alliance of Private Special Education Schools of North Jersey. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Exceptional Parent Magazine, and the Rumpus, among other publications. She is a contributing author to “Barriers and Belonging: Personal Narratives of Disabilities.” Joanne and her son, Sebastian, were instrumental in a legislative change allowing students with intellectual disabilities to participate in NCAA D3 intercollegiate sports. Joanne has been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer, on HuffPo Live, CNN, and GMA3. Visit for more information.

Follow Joanne De Simone on social media:

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In an interview, Joanne De Simone can discuss:

  • The profound challenges of raising two sons with disabilities and the life-changing moment at the pediatrician’s office that reshaped her journey as a mother.
  • Why it was important to her to be honest, vulnerable, and unfiltered in sharing her family’s experiences, and how this transparency fosters connection and understanding.
  • Her background in special education advocacy and her mission to empower parents navigating the special education system.
  • The co-existence of love and grief, and how accepting this duality is essential for emotional resilience.
  • The practical difficulties and emotional impact of raising children with disabilities, including feelings of pain and alienation. Plus, her hope that other struggling parents feel less isolated and more understood.
  • Her professional dance career and rediscovering how dance taught her valuable life lessons. Plus, how dance provided her solace, strength and enlightenment.
  • How each chapter in her book mirrors a dance lesson with the realities of parenting children with disabilities, drawing powerful parallels between the two.
  • How performing José Limón’s “There Is a Time” guided her approach to parenting, helping her navigate pain and transform struggles into recovery.
  • Her efforts advocating for legislative changes that allow students with intellectual disabilities to participate in NCAA D3 intercollegiate sports, opening new opportunities for inclusivity and recognition.

An Interview with Joanne De Simone

Before we dive into everything else, please introduce yourself and your family.

I’m a former dancer and special educator. I currently work as a special education parent advocate. My husband, John, works in film production. We have two sons. Benjamin was born with a rare brain malformation. He has cerebral palsy, an uncontrollable seizure disorder, and a soul lifting smile. Sebastian is on the autistic spectrum. He’s an accomplished long distance runner with an unflinching ability to see the good in others.

Can you share the moment you realized your motherhood journey would be different from what you anticipated?

When my oldest son was one week old, my husband and I took him to the pediatrician for a check-up. The doctor placed a measuring tape around his head and noted, “His head is a little small.” I knew instantly there was something wrong. I felt an immediate unease in my entire body telling me this journey was going to be unlike anything I’d dreamt.

What was your reaction to your second son’s diagnosis of autism? Did it compound the challenges you were already facing? Or did you feel more prepared?

I had spent a fair amount of time in denial before seeking a clinical diagnosis for Sebastian, so I was prepared for it when it came from the doctor. Prior to the diagnosis, I fought to hide from my and my husband’s observations, which clearly pointed to the fact that Sebastian was on the autism spectrum. It was too much to face and process the unknown future of yet another child. Nothing truly prepares you for the challenges and the stress of raising a child with high medical needs and another with autism. That’s why my experience as a special educator wasn’t enough to manage my version of motherhood.

The tone of your book is honest and vulnerable, sometimes dark yet hopeful. Why was it important to you to share your family’s experiences in this way?

Years ago I wrote an essay for Brain, Child Magazine called “Bury My Son Before I Die.” I discussed my conflict of having a child who might die, doing everything I could to keep him alive, and being terrified about what happens to him if I die first. The piece went viral. I was astonished by how many people reached out to me to share their stories. One parent wrote that for the first time, she didn’t feel like a monster for having all of these same thoughts. Knowing that this mom shared my experience, but shamed herself for having a normal response to a stressful situation broke me. It drove me to write about the difficult moments in the most unfiltered way.

How did your professional background in special education influence your initial approach to raising your children? Do you think that training prepared you to navigate your children’s disabilities? 

Having a background in special education allowed me to advocate for my children’s educational needs. There was a tremendous advantage to understanding the law and all the clinical information, but it didn’t prepare me for managing the emotions or the conflict that can come with parenting children with disabilities. It didn’t prepare me for the utter feeling of loneliness.

How did reconnecting with your past as a modern dancer help you navigate the challenges of raising two children with disabilities?

At first, my dance experience helped me with practical issues like doing stretching exercises with Benjamin to manage his tight muscles or teaching Sebastian about dance so he could be more mindful of his movements. Later, I realized that dance lessons could be generalized and used to approach the complex feelings I struggled with. As a dancer my goal was to express a story or feeling through movement. The message of the dance was more important than any one dancer on stage. It wasn’t about me. This mindset is useful when confronting complex medical decisions. When I get caught up worrying about how a decision will affect me and my ability to care for Benjamin, I remember that it’s important to focus on his needs and take myself out of the equation.

What are some specific dance lessons that you found particularly relevant to parenting children with disabilities, and how do these lessons manifest in your day-to-day life?

One of the dance lessons I learned was to live in the movement. It’s a reminder to focus on and enjoy what you’re doing in the present moment. As a parent, it’s so easy to worry about the future. This dance lesson reminds me to live one day at a time and focus on the moment I’m experiencing. Another lesson related to this idea is focusing on the process, not the product. When you choreograph a dance, or write a book, or raise a child, it’s important to focus on making the journey as fulfilling as possible as opposed to fretting about the end result.

In your book, you suggest that surviving motherhood with disabled children isn’t about strength or bravery alone. Can you elaborate on what that means to you?

I think when things don’t work out as we planned, it’s easy to fall into a state of blame, guilt, and regret. I know so many parents who feel like complete failures. I certainly fell into the habit of wondering what I did wrong. Dance taught me that everything connects through space and time. For me, turning a presumed failure into success was a matter of linking my experiences and using my collective knowledge to move forward with purpose, thus limiting regret.

How did you come to terms with the coexistence of love and grief, and how did this realization impact your approach to parenting?

If you watch José Limón’s “There Is a Time,” you will see a community of dancers experiencing all the extremes of life. Looking back at my experience performing the dance and comparing it to the rest of my life, I was struck by the extremes I experienced as a child when my father died on my brother’s wedding day. I was able to accept that extreme opposing feelings are a normal part of life and parenting.

Similarly, how did you cope with the emotional impact of your children’s diagnoses? How did you manage the feelings of pain and isolation that accompanied these challenges?

Any emotional experience requires time to process. I think it’s essential to take the time to acknowledge both the joy and the sorrow that comes with living. Acceptance is not a place you arrive at by ignoring negative feelings. Pain is not an enemy, it’s a messenger. Parents are often told to enjoy every moment of their children’s lives. I don’t think being present and fully attending to the moment should be exclusive to positive experiences. In modern dance gravity is a force used to generate movement. You fall with the direct intention to rise. You must fall to recover.

How old are your sons now? How are they doing?

Benjamin is 25 years old. He is doing well and enjoying life at home now that his formal education is finished. He graduated at the start of Covid so that was a hard transition for everyone. There are still limitations for disabled adults when it comes to post-secondary opportunities especially for adults with complex medical needs. There are a lack of programs and a lack of providers.

Sebastian is 21 years old. He is thoroughly enjoying the independence that college affords him. He’s studying education and hopes to work with children with disabilities. He is also a proud three season NCAA athlete competing in cross country and  indoor/outdoor track.

Praise for “Fall and Recovery” and Joanne De Simone

“What’s most evident in the narrative is the love that De Simone and her husband have for their two boys…A moving account of caring and advocating for children with disabilities.” 

Kirkus Reviews

“An unflinchingly honest and beautifully rendered memoir.  With breathtaking clarity, the author’s words dance across each page, imbued with love, pain and heart, as she shares the challenges and joys of raising her two special sons.”

Diana Kupershmit, author of Emma’s Laugh: The Gift of Second Chances

“Joanne De Simone takes the reader on a powerful journey, masterfully weaving lessons learned as a dancer into her experiences as a mother of two children with disabilities. It is beautifully written, heartbreaking, and inspiring. The raw honesty of her storytelling allows the reader to truly understand the complexities of raising children with complicated challenges. ”

Jesse Torrey, LAC, MA, author of Smiles & Duct Tape

“A memoir of strength, persistence, and—most of all—love. Parenting is never easy, but, as De Simone discovers, raising two children with disabilities can easily knock a mother down. Gracefully weaving the threads of dance, motherhood, and dis- ability through her remarkable journey, De Simone shows us all how to ‘fall with the direct intention to rise.’”

Karen DeBonis, author of “Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived”

“Heartfelt and engaging, this memoir of raising children requiring vastly varying degrees of care and advocacy delicately threads blurred, complicated, and demanding lines. With the best parts of quiet compassion, noiseless rage, and complete, unconditional acceptance, Joanne De Simone depicts a specific, sweeping motherhood that soars far above unrelenting daily demands. Through the lens of her foundation in dance, Joanne embraces the gift of the children in her home, not those who once occupied her imagination.” 

Lisa Romeo, author of “Starting With Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss”

“The Limón technique centers the defined poles of ‘fall’ and ‘recovery.’ However, the dance is what happens in the undefined, unpredictable, unsettled, and magnificently alive moment-to- moment between the two. Wholly embodying this in-between mercurial time/space, Joanne De Simone writes—as she danced, as she lives—with raw honesty, brilliance, and seemingly boundless generosity. Joanne’s is a fierce grace; not delicately poised above, but rather in a visceral and dynamic intimacy with the gravity, heartfelt vulnerability, and wonder of person and parenthood.” 

Steuart Gold, somatic psychotherapist and former Limón Company dancer

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A psychologist haunted by childhood trauma must unearth all that is buried in her past

A psychologist haunted by childhood trauma must unearth all that is buried in her past in this twisting, lyrical novel of suspense by Mary Higgins Clark Award–winning author Jenny Milchman.

Psychologist Arles Shepherd treats troubled children, struggling with each case to recover from her own traumatic past, much of which she’s lost to the shadows of memory. Having just set up a new kind of treatment center in the remote Adirondack wilderness, Arles longs to heal one patient in particular: a ten-year-old boy who has never spoken a word—or so his mother, Louise, believes.

Hundreds of miles away, Cass Monroe is living a parent’s worst nightmare. His twelve-year-old daughter has vanished on her way home from school. With no clues, no witnesses, and no trail, the police are at a dead end. Fighting a heart that was already ailing, and struggling to keep both his marriage and himself alive, Cass turns to a pair of true-crime podcasters for help.

Arles, Louise, and Cass will soon find their lives entangled in ways none of them could have anticipated. And when the collision occurs, a quarter-century-old secret will be forced out of hiding. Because nothing screams louder than silence.

About the Author

Jenny Milchman is the Mary Higgins Clark Award–winning and USA Today bestselling author of the psychological thrillers Cover of Snow, Ruin Falls, As Night Falls, Wicked River, and The Second Mother. Her work has received praise from media ranging from the New York Times to the San Francisco Journal of Books; earned spots on Top 10 lists from Suspense Magazine to the Strand Magazine; made Best Of lists from PopSugar to PureWow; and garnered starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness, in addition to numerous other mentions. Before turning to fiction, Jenny earned a graduate degree in clinical psychology and practiced at a rural community mental health center for more than a decade. She lives in the Catskill Mountains with her family. For more information, visit

The Usual Silence

by Jenny Milchman

Thomas & Mercer | September 17, 2024 | 369 pages Trade Paperback Original | ISBN 9781662518423

$3.99 Kindle e-Book | ASIN B0CQ35ZK15

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Steeped in Viking history and werewolf lore, new supernatural horror novel “Family Pack” leaves readers howling for more

As the powerhouse founder of Running Wild Press, Lisa Diane Kastner has been featured in Forbes and has claimed a spot on multiple “Best of” lists. In her acquisition editorial endeavors, she has identified talent like Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) and Tori Eldridge (Dance Among the Flames) among many other acclaimed authors and titles. A celebrated author in her own right, Lisa (pen name: Kali Metis) is gearing up to release “Family Pack” (Running Wild, October 3, 2024), the hotly anticipated follow-up to her 2022 novel “Cure.” 

In “Family Pack,” readers reconnect with protagonist Luna Auber after her trip to Sweden revealed her lycanthropic ancestry, igniting her shapeshifting ability. Set against the backdrop of a fierce conflict between two primary lycanthropic organizations–The Lycanthrope Society (TLS), which believe that humans and lycanthropes should exist in harmony, and The Righteous Group (TRG), which believe that lycanthropes are intended to rule over all other species–Luna must summon the courage to fight for what she believes in and battle to prevent the decimation of the world as she knows it.

“A study of otherness, identity, and belonging in the shape of a high-stakes supernatural adventure, Metis changes up the werewolf genre in a beguiling mix of medieval and modern. With a touch of romance and a good dose of danger, ‘Cure’ eclipses expectations.”

Lee Murray, USA Today Bestselling Author and Bram Stoker Award® winner

“Family Pack”

Lisa Diane Kastner | October 3, 2024 | Running Wild Press | Magical Realism/Horror

Paperback | ISBN: 9781960018878 | $19.99 

Praise for the author and “Cure”…

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for Luna. Love, health, safety, family, identity—they’re all in play as she sets out on a journey that stretches across continents and centuries and finally into the mystical, a menacing world of secrets and myths and shapeshifters. In ‘Cure,’ Kali Metis deftly weaves storylines of past and present that hurtle toward a breathtaking climax that make it impossible to put down this spellbinding tale.” 

Curtis Smith, author of “The Magpie’s Return,” named best of 2020 by Kirkus Reviews

“Kali Metis is an exciting and unique new voice in modern fantasy and a writer you need to pay attention to.” 

Taylor Grant, Bram Stoker Award® Finalist and author of “The Many Deaths of Cole Parker”

Lisa Diane Kastner “reinvents the werewolf novel in a compelling and terrifying way, and brings a new heroine to the forefront! Very highly recommended!” 

Jonathan Maberry, NY Times bestselling author of
“The Wolfman” and “Kagen the Damned”

About “Cure”…

Stunned by her brother’s apparent suicide, Luna Auber discovers that he has not only left her the keys to his apartment but also trip to Sweden. Per his instructions, Luna is to explore their unexpected heritage of the Birke, an iconic female Viking warrior. Following her brother’s lead, Luna will soon discover that the terrible shakes he suffered from were misdiagnosed. The shaking was in fact the early stages of his transformation. Her brother was a shapeshifter. A lycanthrope. And her own shaking has just begun.


Lisa Diane Kastner | October 18, 2022 | Running Wild Press | Magical Realism/Horror

Paperback | ISBN: 9781955062312 | $19.99

About the Author…

LISA DIANE KASTNER (A.K.A KALI METIS): was born in one of the most dangerous cities in America. In high school, she was a dancer and co-host on Dance Party USA. At the age of 20 her house had burned down and she was suddenly homeless. She spent the next several years rebuilding and obtained her Bachelors, MBA, and MFA. While fulfilling an amazing corporate career, she began Running Wild, LLC. Lisa was named to Yahoo Finance’s Top 10 Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2021, nominated to FORBES NEXT 1000, featured in FORBES and named to New York Weekly’s Top Ten Females to Watch in 2021. Lisa has been an acclaimed writer and editor for more than twenty years. Learn more about her work at: 


Follow Lisa Diane Kastner on social media:

Twitter: @runwildbooks | TikTok: @lisakastner843 

Follow Running Wild Press on social media:

Twitter: @runwildbooks | Instagram: @runningwildpressllc

In an interview, Lisa Diane Kastner can discuss:

  • What originally inspired her to write “Cure” 
  • How she approaches writing and research, especially when Viking history is involved
  • How she tackled central themes of identity and belonging in both books
  • Her work with Running Wild Press, and how she balances her “editor persona” and her “writer persona”
  • Whether readers can expect more from Luna Auber in the future

An Interview with

Lisa Diane Kastner

1. What first inspired you to write “Cure”? 

I had been in conversation with Jonathan Maberry about writing a novel and we were tossing around ideas. When I threw out the idea to create a storyline that reveals the Birka, a female Viking warrior, was actually a werewolf, it naturally expanded from there. 

2. What does your writing process look like? Was there a lot of research involved for the tale of Freya and Ulf, and Viking lore in general?

Typically, I come up with an idea and then I start researching background on the topic. I then come up with what I think would be a great structure for the novel to give me a roadmap to start with. I typically will start writing from there. Sometimes I write what I think will be a short story and quickly realize that the storyline is too big for less than 15,000 words. 

3. How do themes of identity and belonging play into both “Cure” and “Family Pack”?

Much of the underlying story is about Luna, who was an orphan originally of undisclosed heritage, discovering why those things that previously caused others to mock her or reject her actually elevate her in the world of lycanthropes. 

4. Can you tell us a bit about your work with Running Wild Press? How do you approach your work as an editor versus as a writer?

As an editor, I’m looking for unique voices that tell great stories. At Running Wild our focus is on great stories that don’t fit neatly in a box and at RIZE our focus is on great genre stories written by people of color and those from other underrepresented groups. 

As an author, I’m typically looking for ways to tell unique stories that will entice, engage, entertain, and enlighten. 

5. What’s next for you? Do you have plans to continue Luna Auber’s story?

Absolutely!  We’re publishing an anthology of stories told in the world of CURE in 2025 with titles written by fans of the tale. WEIRD TALES magazine recently published a short story called, “Laurel Caverns” in the Occult Detective edition which is set in the world of CURE and features Luna as the antagonist. Plus, we’ll be publishing another book in the world of CURE, most likely in 2026 and another series set in this world of lycanthropes but leveraging the structure of DUNE. The last one I’m doing on a dare by Jonathan Maberry so I better get to work. 😉 

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Industry Interview with the creator of of story time teen, James Tilton

For our 2024 blog series, we’re highlighting industry professionals to find out more about their time in the book world. Follow along for insight on what catches a reviewer’s interest, things to avoid when pitching a media outlet, what librarians are searching for and more. 

Today, we’re chatting with James Tilton, the creator of Story Time Teen and a Creative Writing teacher at his local public high school, where he’s helped hundreds of students publish poems, vignettes, and short stories for distribution at a nearby independent bookstore. He’s hoping one day he can see his own words in print as well.

1. As someone who hears about A LOT of books, what makes one stand out to you?

I’m always a sucker for new titles from authors I already love. Nic Stone and Becky Albertalli come to mind especially. I’ll read anything they write, and I suspect their teams are well aware of that at this point!

2. What’s the worst thing an author (or publicist!) can do in telling you about book they’d like you to consider for coverage?

I know that some people say “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I’m a sucker for a good cover. If you’ve got a great cover, include it at the bottom of your email. I love seeing stunning covers! It’s how I first fell in love with Nicola Yoon‘s A Sun Is Also A Star.

3. What makes your job easier?

We at StoryTimeTeen have a long-running series where young adult authors write letters to their teen selves. It’s incredible! We get the most honest, heart-breaking/warming letters from the most incredible authors, and it’s truly a pleasure to publish them. BUT sometimes those same amazing authors and publicists assume that we already have their bio, headshots, and book covers or can find that information easily online. The problem is that those things change sometimes, and it can be a little tricky to know if we got the right bio or the finalized cover or the most recent bio. Authors and publicists who remember to send that information to us, whether via email or as a Google Drive link, are my favorite! That simple step saves us tons of time and can help us make sure we’re getting everything right before the post goes live.

4. What’s the most memorable (or maybe funniest) pitch that’s ever come your way?

I’m a sucker for wordplay. One of my favorite pitches recently came from Books Forward actually. You pitched Tracy Badua‘s newest book as “When A Music Festie With Your Bestie Gets Testy.” That headline grabbed me. I guess you could say I thought it was the… bestie. Too much? I’ll stop.

5. Did you always know you wanted to be involved in the book world?

I got involved in book blogging when I first started writing young adult novels myself. My agent thought it would be a good way for me to find a bookish community, and I’m so glad I listened to her. I’m a high school teacher as well, and I’ve found so many books that I can recommend to my students. We’ve even got a book club now and take regular field trips to local book festivals, including YALLWest, where I was lucky enough to be honored with a Purple Ink Award. None of that would have happened if it wasn’t for book blogging.

6. What is your most recommended book and why?

That’s such a hard question, and it’s why I created an algorithm to do it for me. It takes a reader’s bookish preferences and gives them a personalized recommendation in less than a minute. I call it the Book Rec Generator, and it’s one of the things that really sets StoryTimeTeen apart! You can try it here.

7. What is a book that surprised you recently?

I just finished TJ Klune‘s In The Lives Of Puppets this morning, and it was incredible. It’s this Pinocchio retelling set in the future that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny and still have so much heart. His writing always makes me fall in love with being human, and this book is no exception.

8. What is your favorite part about working in the book community?

The free books, for sure. I think it’s my students’ favorite part too. My classroom library is loaded at this point, and they love it!

Worried about book industry scams? A few helpful resources

Recently Writer’s Digest ran an article I wrote to help authors avoid AI-generated Bookstagram scams.

As a former newspaper journalist, I feel so passionate about helping people discern reality from fake information.

The rise of social media has certainly played its role in causing a sincere confusion between real and fake news, though propaganda and scams are nothing new.

Many industries have their share of scammers trying to con people out of money.

Specifically in the book industry, our author clients often ask our Books Forward team if a promotional offering is worthwhile. And while it’s typically not, the real question cuts even deeper: is the opportunity even legitimate?

We’ve had the joy of representing authors and promoting their books for decades, and with that experience has come many promotional programs that make ridiculously exaggerated (sometimes flat out false) offers to our clients.

Be alert, be aware and ask questions.

Ask your author friends and industry insiders for their experiences and guidance on whether or not a promotion is credible.

And consider these helpful resources:

  1. Stay tuned to The Authors Guild Publishing Scam Alerts.
  2. Writer Beware consistently shares real scam examples and questionable trends in the industry.
  3. Author Alexa Donne released this video walk through of two real book marketing scams. 
  4. Books Forward author Dr. Seema Yasmin’s “What the Fact? Finding the Truth in All the Noise” may not be book industry focused, but there are plenty of great concrete tips and tools to lean on in considering what’s real or fake.

Happy truth hunting!

Read Queer 365: LGBTQ+ Book Influencers to Follow to Celebrate Pride Month

I love June, I always have because it carries the promise of summer, soaking up the sun, and longer days. But, as I grew up and came out, June also came with the promise of Pride month – getting the opportunity to celebrate myself and other queer folks with authenticity and well, pride

To celebrate Pride month we’ve partnered with some awesome LGBTQ+ book influencers to share a bit about themselves and their favorite queer book rec. Hopefully, you’ll find some new books to add to your shelves!

Zakiya, @zakiyanjamal

​​Zakiya (she/her) was born in Queens, raised in Long Island, and currently resides in Brooklyn. In other words, she’s a New Yorker through and through. By day she works in publishing as a marketer, and at night she writes romance novels.

If I could recommend one LGBTBQ+ book, I’d have to recommend Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar. Not only does Adiba do an incredible job with the fake dating trope, but she also addresses heavy topics like biphobia and racism, in such a genuine way that I both felt seen and learned about a culture outside of my own. 

Andrea, @andreabeatrizarango

Andrea (she/ella) is a queer public school teacher turned interpreter and writer. She ranks cities based on how good their libraries are, and currently spends many a sunny day walking to and from her closest New Orleans library branch. (Spoiler Alert: It’s the best library she’s ever had.) Andrea enjoys reading across age categories and genres, but lately has felt especially drawn to soft and sad gay horror.

Book Rec: My book recommendation would have to be Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova, because it was the first book I read that finally made me understand the nuances of the horror genre. Sure, there is a piece of a dead eleven-year-old’s lung in a jar, and yes, there is a monster who eats people. But really the book is about the horror of grief, and is there truly anything more horrifying? Also, yes, every single character in this book is queer. I told you, I’m into the sad gays!

Casey, @caseythereader 

My name is Casey (she/her) and I live in the DC area with my spouse and three cats. I love yelling about queer books on the internet, especially books featuring sapphic and asexual characters because it never gets old to see a little piece of your own identity in a book. My favorite genres are sci-fi/fantasy and YA – honestly, this is where the best queer lit is! – but I try to read a little bit of everything and am always looking for that next new favorite book.

I’m recommending Dear Wendy by Ann Zhao. Two aromantic asexual Wellesley students are unknowingly in an Instagram feud with their advice column accounts while they’re becoming best friends IRL. I love that this book stars two aroace characters and shows their differing experiences of these identities while they build an incredible platonic relationship together.

Jupiter, @bookstagramrepresent  

Jupiter (they/them) is an Autistic queer trans nonbinary creator. They started out on bookstagram sharing reviews and now work on sharing LGBTQIA+ BIPOC lists, recs and resources for their community. Jupiter loves to connect readers with stories that resonate with their spirit and open their hearts to other lived experiences. They live in Florida with their amazing Kid and are always on their next adventure.

Beating Heart Baby by Lio Min is a book that caught me by surprise. The story follows two queer teens, one who is trans, and their relationship through high school into post graduation life. Messy, beautiful and so utterly alive, Beating Heart Baby captures a kind of queer trans life experience that gives me hope for trans kids to see themselves growing up into full lives.  

Kat, @klas_reads

My name is Kat Somers, my pronouns are she/her, and am a bi barista book girlie! I love walks through the woods, songwriting, crocheting and knitting, and of course reading. I came back to reading in 2021 after a huge work burnout – I found I needed somewhere else for my brain to be while I was healing. Soon after that I started a bookstagram to connect with more readers (and maybe also because our cat Juniper could really only provide so much support as a discussion partner). Quickly my TBR (and heart) became so full!

I really love weird books! A recent favorite queer book that I read is Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen. It is very The Bachelor meets Bigfoot meets Final Destination! Through the (very) wild plot we also follow the love story of two star crossed lesbians who spend so much of their lives trying to escape the intolerance of their small town. As someone who grew up in a similar small town where I felt silenced in understanding my own queerness, this book felt really healing through all of its silliness and downright weirdness!

Morelia, @strandedinbooks

My name is Morelia (she/her) and I am a queer Latina from Texas! If I’m not engrossed in the latest romance novel, I am most definitely crying into a bucket of popcorn at a movie theater somewhere. Naturally born a book worm, but only rekindled my love for reading just as I was navigating my last semester in high school and can’t believe I’ve had such luck talking books (and movies!) and generally being part of a bookish community with so many amazing people for years now.

I’d recommend Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. Having read it was such a lightbulb moment for me, it was a book I wish I’d had when I was younger and had a head full of questions. Young adult books really have a certain way of hitting you right where it hurts, and Malinda Lo did such an amazing job tackling the main character’s journey of finding herself and eventually love, navigating queer spaces, complex mother/daughter relationships, while also packing in a lot of history around this time the book is set. It’s tender, it’s heartbreaking, it might fill you with a bit of anger, but it’s also beautiful and intentional and just so queer, I love it.

Mari, @marithebookmaven

Mari (they/them) is a lifelong reader and late-blooming queer, and they will never shut up about either of those things. They live in a not-so-trans-friendly state with their dog, Hattie, and cat, Loki. While they hold down a totally normie office job, they spend the rest of their time in advocacy and definitely avoiding all the unread books on their shelves.

I’d recommend Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date by Ashley Herring Blake. I spend plenty of my time reading emotionally heavy books on a lot of different topics, so when it comes to LGBTQIA+ books, I like to keep it light! Like the other books in the Bright Falls series, Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date brought me so much queer joy. It’s light without being totally vapid, has a full cast of wonderfully queer characters, and OF COURSE has the perfect happily ever after.

Andy, @foreverinastory

Hi, I’m Dr. Andy (they/xe). I recently finished my PhD in pathobiology and am now a research scientist by day. In my “free time” (read: work time), I am a group fitness instructor, election judge/support staff and staff/social media manager for Rainbow Crate book box. I am a passionate queer bookstagrammer who loves taking book photos and compiling lists of my favorites, especially trans/nonbinary, ace, aro and sapphic books! I also created and run a reading challenge called “Be Intentional” which is designed to educate and uplift marginalized voices in publishing.

One of my all time favorite books is Man O’War by Cory McCarthy. I’ve read this one four times now and every time, I fall more in love with all these characters, but especially River. So much of River’s story resonated with me. Their journey from intensely closeted and queerphobic to finding love and freedom as yourself: I don’t have enough words to explain what it meant to me. This book has my whole heart.

Semi-autobiographical writing exercise turned series celebrating LGBTQ+ youth

YA novel mirrors struggles of trans teens in conservative America– showcasing resilience against injustice

Seattle, WA – Award-winning author Kelly Vincent re-imagines their teenage years in their empowering series “The Art of Being Ugly” — a compelling story of a teen grappling with their gender identity. The anticipated finale, “Ugliest,” (KV Books LLC, August 13, 2024) is a necessary and impactful commentary on the struggles LGBTQ+ teens face amidst a hyper-conservative landscape threatening the rights of queer people. 

Life, academics, and activism. Facing hate and bigotry, can this agender teen make a difference in LGBTQ+ rights?

About the novel: Determined to excel, seventeen-year-old Nic Summers strives to find time to survive physics, build confidence, and enter a competitive art mentorship at the local university in Oklahoma City. However, Nic’s stress skyrockets when a protest video results in them and a trans friend being forced by the school to move to the girls’ dorm. Burning with a strong sense of justice, the normally shy teenager summons the courage to speak out against damaging state legislation. But when the vision goes viral, they’re shocked when the authorities hand down an ultimatum: stop or be expelled.

Can Nic dig deep and prevail against institutional bullies ready to erase their identity?

Sharing the plight of those too often silenced, author Kelly Vincent opens the door to understanding and empathy. Through the eyes of a big-hearted main character, Vincent leads the way toward accepting and appreciating each other’s differences.


Kelly Vincent | August 13th, 2024| KV Books LLC

Young Adult | LGBTQ+ | Fiction

Paperback | 9781958342169 | $10.99

Ebook | 9781958342152 | $2.99

KELLY VINCENT (they/ them) wrangles data weekdays and spends the rest of their time playing with words. They grew up in Oklahoma but have moved around quite a bit, with Glasgow, Scotland being their favorite stop. They now live near Seattle with several cats who help them write their stories by strategically walking across the keyboard, with their first novel, “Finding Frances,” a fine example of this technique. 

Their four subsequent books, “Ugly,” “Always the New Girl,” “Binding Off,” and “Uglier,” were released in 2022 and 2023. “Finding Frances” and “Always the New Girl” won several indie awards and “Ugly” was selected as the Honor book for SCBWI’s Spark Award in the Books for Older Readers category for 2022. 

Kelly has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth program. Learn more about Kelly on their website. 

Follow Kelly Vincent on social media:

Instagram: @kvbooks

TikTok: @kv_books

Facebook: Kelly Vincent, Young Adult Author

In an interview, Kelly Vincent can discuss:

  • How current legislation, such as the “don’t say gay” bill and attacks on gender affirming care inspired parts of the plot for “The Art of Being Ugly” series 
  • Why trans and nonbinary stories need to be showcased in the young adult genre 
  • How writing Nic’s story helped Vincent navigate their own journey with their gender identity 
  • The writing exercise that inspired the series: Vincent imagining themselves as a teenager now instead of in the 80’s and 90’s 
  • How the safety of trans and nonbinary people cannot be separated from politics
  • The importance of protecting the rights of trans and nonbinary people and how rolling back rights for LGBTQ+ folks negatively impacts everyone
  • How Vincent’s horror over the Oklahoma trans teen Nex Benedict’s real-life tragedy motivated them to expedite the release of this story well before the November US elections

Praise for “The Art of Being Ugly” Series

Honor book in SCBWI’s 2022 Spark Award in the Books for Older Readers category

Semifinalist in 2019 BookLife Prize for Fiction, Children’s and Young Adult category

“the compelling story will resonate with young adults going on their own difficult journeys and should help them feel less alone” —Kirkus Reviews

“Readers will rally behind fifteen-year-old Nic Summers as she navigates the pitfalls of adolescence in this moving and timely YA novel.” –BookLife Prize

“An impressively honest and intimate first person POV powers this story of a young person struggling with gender and trying to find their place in a world that is seemingly determined to ‘erase’ them” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Listed in Kirkus Reviews Top 100 Indie Picks for 2023 (December 15, 2023)

Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Indie Pick (October 15th 2023)


An Interview with Kelly Vincent

1. Tell us about the thought experiment that inspired “The Art of Being Ugly” series. 

I struggled with my gender growing up in Oklahoma in the 80s and 90s, and after I learned about the concept of gender not being a binary, I really felt like mine was a story worth sharing. That concept wasn’t in my mind when I was growing up, so I constantly felt like a girl utterly failing at being a girl and just being generally wrong. I wondered what it would be like to grow up now when those ideas are out there. I put Nic through the experiences I had been through—most of the incidents in the book Ugly really happened, although some are exaggerations and things were shifted time-wise—but also gave them Google, which made everything different. The books Uglier and Ugliest are almost all fiction, but I was still imagining myself going through those experiences, constantly asking myself, what would you have done in this situation?

2. Why did you feel passionately about writing Nic’s story and how have these stories personally impacted you as a non-binary author? 

I know that people who have never experienced uncertainty about their gender struggle to understand what that feels like. Gender is considered so fundamental to identity that people don’t question it, but I wanted to share what it’s like to have those doubts, or even the certainty that being what everyone thinks you are is actually wrong. Writing Ugly was difficult because I was reliving painful experiences, but writing Uglier and Ugliest made me feel good because I almost felt like I was having the experiences Nic was, even though it took me a lot longer to be comfortable with and proud of myself than it took Nic. 

3. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing trans, non-binary, and agender teens today?

I think it is fundamentally difficult to understand your gender when it feels different from what everyone else thinks it is, especially as a teenager (or an even younger kid) because you don’t have much life experience to build on. Most kids—especially those in red states—also don’t have exposure to ideas around what’s possible in terms of gender identity in a way that’s safe and fair. They often absorb the idea that deviating from the binary or what other people think makes them a “freak,” and in states where hateful politicians are creating legislation that takes away their ability to identify accurately (and giving permission to everyone else to mistreat anyone not conforming), it’s especially dangerous. People in positions of authority parrot anti-bullying talk when people are looking, and then turn around and back the bullies because the “freaks” deserve it for not conforming. This was my experience growing up and I honestly don’t think it’s changed much in school settings. 

4. What advice would you give to people (of any age) who are redefining their gender identity?

I think the most important thing is that you are free to explore your identity and know who you are by learning about other people’s experiences through social media and other sources. But it’s also important to think of your safety, because there are places where expressing your true gender identity is safe, and places where it’s not. I know it can be painful to have people treating you as something you’re not and making assumptions about you because of the gender they think you are, but knowing who you are in your own heart can make a huge difference if you’re not safe enough to come out. It’s hard for young people to remember that they won’t be young forever—it really does get better when you get older.

5. How have current events impacted your writing? 

Every piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation that hate pushes through red state legislatures is distressing. So many people who don’t actually support these laws have been sitting by, electing these politicians filled with hate and thinking it doesn’t matter since it doesn’t affect them. But there have been some signs that people are waking up and it’s just so important that people are made to understand how important it is to stop letting politicians strip everyone of their basic human rights. 

6. What do you hope that young readers will take away from this series? 

I want cis people to have an understanding of how much of a struggle identifying differently can be, and for LGBTQ+ kids to remember that while you can’t change everything in your world, you aren’t powerless. 

7. What is next for you in your writing career? 

I have a nonfiction project that I’m focusing on for a time, but I am revisiting an old YA LGBTQ suspense manuscript that I wrote a few years ago with a tentative plan to release it in 2025, also set at the school Nic goes to in Uglier and Ugliest, and I have a YA LGBTQ paranormal romantic suspense in the works. And although I do consider Ugliest to be the final book in the core series, I’m going to be in Glasgow this summer and I am planning to visit the Glasgow School of Art, which is where Nic is going to go to college. I may write a novella about their time there, but no promises.

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