Wednesday, June 22, 2016

4 We Eat Our Own

The first thing you see on Shannon Lee Alexander's website is her banner: Writer of stories with heart, humor, and hope. Always hope. Today we welcome Shannon Lee Alexander, author of LIFE AFTER JULIET, as she shares her success story and why it was based on the hope she found thanks to a great group of cannibalistic writers!

"If you’re a writer who feels like you have hit a writing plateau...Find a tough-love writing group. Gold stars and compliments feel good, but they don’t improve our writing...Then...tear those characters’ lives apart so you can put them back together in the greatest story ever written!"

Thank you, Adventures in YA Publishing, for inviting me to hang out here on the blog today!

I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life. One of my earliest memories is of learning to read. I remember it was an early morning, and I’d snuck into my parents’ bathroom with Dr. Seuss’s ABC book. I sat on the edge of the tub in the morning light and tried to read the book by myself. I wanted to surprise my parents when they woke by reading to them. There were some pretty tricky words in there that had me flustered as I tried to sound them out. But as my parents snored softly in the next room, I was blinking back tears because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out the words on the letter Q page (stupid letter Q)! I forced myself to take a deep breath and refocus.

"And then, BAM! It was like a light was turned on. I could read."

Okay, so perhaps it was my father turning on the bathroom light. And maybe he helped me sound out the words that were tripping me up, but the pride I felt as I read along with him is something I’ve never forgotten. And the worlds that reading opened up for me, the places I could go from the comfort of my own bedroom, kept me coming back for more.

That morning I became a reader. I devoured every book I could get my hands on. Reading was my thing. Making the transition from reader to professional writer over the past few years has been somewhat difficult. The number one tool that has made the biggest impact on my writing, that which I credit for turning me from a reader who sometimes wrote stuff into an “author,” is my writing group.

"The number one tool that has made the biggest impact on my my writing group."

When I moved to Indiana, I knew no one outside my husband and two kids. No one. That loneliness spurred me to start making some connections. I reached out to the Indiana chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an international group with local chapters across the globe, asking if any writing groups might have an opening for a newbie writer.

At the time, I had a draft of what is now Love and Other Unknown Variables (LAOUV) completed and one shiny rejection from an agent. That was the sum total of my writing experience. Until meeting my writing group, I’d never had writer friends. Thankfully, a group in Indianapolis took me in. Shortly thereafter, we named ourselves the YA Cannibals and gave ourselves our motto: We Eat Our Own.

"We named ourselves the YA Cannibals and gave ourselves our motto: We Eat Our Own"

The Cannibals are tough critics. They never avoid telling me the sometimes harsh truths about my stories. However, they are all invested in my stories, the characters, and most importantly, me. Over the past five years, we’ve become very close, even through shake-ups and mix-ups. We’re a writing family that pushes each other to be our best. I’d rather have a fellow YA Cannibal make my story bleed than see it rejected over and again by editors. An knowing that the Cannibals are working over my stories, leaves me with more confidence that by the time I’m ready to submit, I know my story is as tight and strong as I can make it.

That draft of LAOUV I submitted when I joined the Cannibals was almost completely rewritten due to their advice and help (I think only one scene survived unscathed). The cannibalized version of LAOUV caught the attention of some literary agents, helping me find my agent match in Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency.

"The cannibalized version of LAOUV is what sold to Entangled Teen two weeks into the submission process. And that cannibalized version is what is now sitting on bookshelves in stores across the globe...But it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if I’d continued to work in a vacuum."

It’s mind blowing, really, to think of all the places my story has traveled, places I’ll probably never see in my lifetime! But it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if I’d continued to work in a vacuum. My story needed the love and care (and utter destruction) that came from other writers reading and critiquing it (numerous times).

I believe the YA Cannibals have helped me grow as a writer. I’m a better critical reader and thinker from the years of reading their stories and offering my own advice, too. And I am more aware of my own common writing pitfalls. Often when writing, I can hear their voices in my head complaining as I let my characters “sit and think” too much. When I let my sense of humor get too crazy and hyperbolic, I can see them pulling on invisible reins, reminding me that less is more. And when I slip into purple prose, stinking up my story with cheap, dime store perfume, I envision a whole chorus of eye rolls.

"Knowing my weaknesses allows me to avoid them."

Knowing my weaknesses allows me to avoid them (or at least, has taught me to carry a ladder with me for when I fall face first into my personal writing pitfalls, so I can climb back out). If you’re a writer who feels like you may have hit a writing plateau, my advice is to find a tough-love writing group. Gold stars and compliments feel good, but they don’t improve our writing. Find writers who will love your characters as much as you. Then, together, tear those characters’ lives apart so you can put them back together in the greatest story ever written!


Life After Juliet
by Shannon Lee Alexander
Entangled Teen
Released 7/5/2016

Becca Hanson was never able to make sense of the real world. When her best friend Charlotte died, she gave up on it altogether. Fortunately, Becca can count on her books to escape—to other times, other places, other people...

Until she meets Max Herrera. He’s experienced loss, too, and his gorgeous, dark eyes see Becca the way no one else in school can.

As it turns out, kissing is a lot better in real life than on a page. But love and life are a lot more complicated in the real world...and happy endings aren't always guaranteed.

The companion novel to Love and Other Unknown Variables is an exploration of loss and regret, of kissing and love, and most importantly, a celebration of hope and discovering a life worth living again.

Purchase Life After Juliet on IndieBound


Shannon Lee Alexander is a wife and mother (of two kids and one yellow terrier named Harriet Potter).

She is passionate about coffee, books, and cancer research. Math makes her break out in a sweat.

Love and Other Unknown Variables is her debut novel. She currently lives in Indianapolis with her family.


Website  |  Goodreads  |  Facebook  |  Twitter

-posted by Michelle Taylor-


  1. I've wanted to read this one since I saw the cover reveal. Nice to have a group to help critique your work. Sometimes what you see in your writing others may need a bit more to get the whole picture.

  2. As a YA Cannibal, I've already read this book and love it... now:) Also love this post. Good stuff.

  3. I can remember when I first learned to read too and have been a reader ever since. Congrats on your book.

  4. Thank you AIYAP for hosting me! I'm so happy to be here. Thanks to bookbunny68 and Natalie. Hope you like LIFE AFTER JULIET. And hello and high five to Middle Grade Ninja, the Cannibal who doesn't like "sitting and thinking."


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