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Less than two months ago, I got this note:

April, I can't begin to explain how much of a role model you are to me. I love all of your books; especially Girl, Stolen:) Recently, my dad passed away and my house burned down. And I look to your books and you inspire me to finish and accomplish a book I have been working on. I have been writing a kidnapping novel hence you are my favorite. I never thought i would see myself as a writer, and you have showed me that you can do anything and accomplish my dreams. One day I hope to have my book published and I would LOVE to send a copy to you and get your approval. I can't begin to explain again about how much you mean to me and how skilled you are.

Thank you so much
Your #1 fan, Carlie

When I wrote back, I found out that Carlie was only 13, and that just a month earlier her dad had set their house on fire and then killed himself. This girl had lost so much, yet she was sending love to me.

I sent her back a box of all my books, signed. But I wanted to do more. Maybe a Skype visit? But her librarian, Jessie McGaffin, had other plans, as you can read about here:

http://nevadaiowajournal.com/news/bestselling-author-visits-nms.html
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Meet the cover model for The Body in the Woods


Wow! Meet Isabelle Varga, the model pictured on the cover of The Body in the Woods. She recently contacted me to let me know that she is not only on the cover, she is also a fan. So of course I asked her a bunch of questions.

Q. How did you get into modeling?
A. I started modeling right before I turned 15. I was competing for Miss New Jersey Teen USA and a photographer who was doing my headshot for the pageant called an agency and I was signed as a model.

Q. Are you still in school?
A. I go to high school and take off when I get called to work. It was hard at first to balance modeling and school but I learned to do all of my homework in the car or on set at lunch break. I also learned to get ahead of assignments on weekends if I knew I was booked for a job that following week. My time management skills are really good from working.

Q. Do you have to be accompanied by an adult?
A. My mom always came with me to the shoots. Now that I am almost 19 I drive myself to most shoots. I am fortunate to work with the same clients so I know the team very well.

Q. How much did you know about the book before you did the shoot?
A. When I was called to shoot for your book cover I didn't know much until I got to the studio. The photographer, Jonathan Barkat, was shooting several different covers at once. I was told the name of the book at the shoot. I was not allowed to take any pictures since it was not going to be released for several months.

Q. How much of what you see on the cover is real and how much was done in Photoshop?
A. It was an awesome shoot....the dirt and ferns were real and they were piled around me and on me as I lay on the floor. They did several different poses until they found the one they liked best. The eyeshadow was real and it was super cool to see the images on the computer. I did not see the final image until it came out.

Q. How long did it take?
A. The shoot took about 7 hours because several covers for other books were shot simultaneously. Your cover probably took about 2-3 hours. It was a lot of putting the dirt and ferns on me then taking them off to move positions then covering me again.

Q. Do you like modeling? What do you plan to do after you graduate high school?
A. I absolutely love modeling. It has been an amazing experience to work with some of the best photographers and makeup artists in the world. I absolutely loved shooting your cover. The first time I saw it in Barnes and Noble was incredibly fun. All of my friends texted me when it came out. I also loved shooting a Canon commercial which aired in Tokyo. I am very fortunate to have been exposed to different cultures and amazing adults who have helped shaped me into the person I am today. I have a very strong work ethic which started when I began modeling. I was just accepted into college and I will attend Bentley University in MA in Sept. I am going to study Marketing and Media and Culture in college with a minor in management. I hope to work for a major fashion company one day in their marketing department. I also plan to compete in more pageants and hope to be Miss USA one day.
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Do you need a round rock?

Do you need a round rock today? I found this one while I was running.

When I was a toddler, my folks were having hard times. My dad was working at an all-news radio station that was going down the tubes (and would soon fire all the reporters and become an all-rock-and-roll station). He had chased jobs across four states, and my parents were so broke they couldn't even afford a stroller.

My grandmother came to visit and later went for a walk. She bounded back into the house, calling, "Nora, guess what?" She was so excited that my mom thought she must have figured out some way to solve their problems. Instead, she handed my mom a rock, exclaiming in amazement over how round it was.

After she left, my mom laughed until she cried (or maybe it was cried until she laughed). She carried that rock in her purse for years, and there were times there was no money in the purse, just the rock. But she always said, if all else failed, she had a round rock.

In my family, it's an honor to go through hard times and earn your round rock. So if you're in need of a round rock today, think of this one as yours.
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Fear of Flying

I'm normally fine with flying, which is good, because I do a lot of it. (9-seat planes, helicopters flying over glaciers - now those I'm a tad nervous about).

This week I paid extra to fly in the exit row. It was wonderful! My knees were nowhere near the seat ahead of me. The couple next to me did not seem to be experienced fliers. She tried to put her full size suitcase underneath the seat in front of her.)

As the plane started its descent into Chicago, water started dripping on my pants. I realized it was coming from the emergency exit
door release. It was like it was raining - inside. This did not seem good. I checked out the exit window behind me. No rain. The flight attendants were in their seats, and even if I summoned one, I wasn't sure what they could do. I thought of pointing it out to my neighbors, but decided they should spend their last moments enjoying their crossword. In the end, we landed without incident.
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Is it true you have to write what you know?

Question from a reader
I am an aspiring author (I checked out your FAQ page so don't worry about me asking you to read something of mine). I loved Girl, Stolen! I wanted to ask how you wrote about Cheyenne being blind? I was wondering if you knew someone who was blind, if you did extensive research, or if you just trusted your gut and thought about how you would feel? I was reading something from another author who said you should only write about things you've experienced, but as a pretty sheltered 16 year old there isn't a lot I've experienced. I was wondering if you followed the same rule.

My answer
You don’t have to write only what you know. I’ve heard “write what you want to know” and I think that’s more true.

Years ago, before I was published, I started writing a book from the POV of two middle-aged male Southerners who are identical twins, one of whom is paralyzed. (Not sure I had even been to the South - and I was younger, female, and not paralyzed. Oh, and not a twin.) That wasn’t the best idea. I think I thought it was more “writerly” to write a character I totally had to make up.

I am not blind and at the time I started writing Girl, Stolen, I did not know anyone who was. But I had just seen a news story that was basically the first few minutes of Girl, Stolen (the real girl was let go after 10 minutes) and I knew it would make a great book.

I think if you are going to write about someone who is not like you (especially someone who is in the minority), you should try really hard to get it right. So while I could walk around my house with eyes closed and think about what it would be like to be blind, I knew that wasn’t enough. So:
- I read books by people who had gone blind. (And I was lucky, because there are a LOT! Understandably, it’s a dramatic thing)
- I interviewed blind people and asked them to read the book when it was done.
- I got a white cane and learned basic caning technique.
- I went to the guide dog school for the blind and spent a day there.

And I also trusted my gut and thought about how I would feel.

I think it’s good to experience something yourself if you can. I have fired a gun, I have been handcuffed, and I have learned how to pick my way out of handcuffs with a bobby pin. When a copyeditor questioned whether the killer could really put a body under the kitchen sink, I pulled out everything and climbed in and took a selfie.

So you can combine trusting your gut, thinking about it logically, doing research, interviewing people, and having real life experiences. If you are writing fantasy, it is likely you are never going to experience what it is like to be a were-dragon or cast spells or whatever. So that’s going to be more thinking about it and trusting your gut.

I was a pretty sheltered 16 year old myself. Nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to become a serial killer to write about them (or do you…?). (Nope, pretty sure you don’t.)
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Is today ordinary, even boring? Appreciate it

Our only child got sideswiped by a truck on the freeway Saturday night. If you believe in string theory and alternate universes, there are so many where something much worse happened.

Reminds me to appreciate every day where all my family and friends are fine. 
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