Title: The Smartest Girl in the Room
Author: Deborah Nam-Krane
1. Are you a reader? What are your favorite books?
I am a HUGE reader, and I’d like to think that my reading has helped my writing. I read a lot about a wide variety of subjects- my friends know I have this economic history and policy habit- but my absolute favorite books are mythology and, lately, mythology fan-fiction. Right now I’m reading Diantha Jones’ Oracle of Delphi series, and I’m blown away.
2. What is your path to publication?
After two or three years of research and meeting some wonderful self-publishers on Twitter, I knew that was the route I wanted to take, but I didn’t think I would have enough money to afford an editor and a cover illustrator, which I knew I would need if I wanted to put something out there that people would read. One of my writer friends recommended a Facebook writers group, and from there I happened to glance someone recommend the editor they used. I checked her out, got up the courage to contact her and then almost fell off my chair when she told me what her prices were. Even I could afford that. Emboldened, I checked that groups “yellow pages” and found an illustrator whom I could afford as well.
As I’ve put my ear to the ground even more, I’ve found so many editors, illustrators, formatters and publicists in all price ranges. In short, if you’d like to publish but you’re worried that you can’t afford the necessary services, take a good hard look and you might be surprised.
3. How much time do you spend writing each day/week?
Funnily enough, I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago. I call myself the Inconsistent Writer, but sometimes I write for 30 minutes, and sometimes I write (or edit) for three hours. Basically, as much as I can, but since I homeschool my children, it’s not always as much time as I want and it’s never predictable. I get around that by taking the time to plan as much as I can. That way, when I can sit down at a keyboard, I can make the most use of my time.
4. How do you work? Are you an island unto yourself? Or part of a larger community?
When I come up with ideas and do the actual writing, I’m a one-woman show. But I’m part of a couple of communities that help keep me in touch with trends, best (or improved) practices and what good resources are, whether it’s websites, software or other people.
5. What is your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?
Being a storyteller is a license for me to let my imagination run away with itself. There’s something liberating about that, and maybe we should all do it more often. The hardest part of the writing is making sure that I’m being true to the characters. Sometimes that’s a tough order, especially if they’re very complicated.
6. Are writers born, taught, or both?
I think storytellers all human beings are storytellers, but maybe what separates writers from other people is how long a story stays with us- or how easily it can let us go. I don’t think I’m the only writer who’s ever said “I can’t get these characters out of my head!”
There is, however, definitely a part of this that’s taught, or at least practiced: making words flow, getting the rhythm of a good story, the conventions of your genre and, of course, the mechanics of writing. Spelling and grammar may be open for discussion in the real world, but when it’s on a page someone else is going to be reading, stick with the accepted rules.
7. What would you tell younger and less experienced you if you could?
Not to worry if you don’t have everything tied up in a bow at a certain time, and that when you’re ready, you’ll know what to do.
~ Synopsis ~
Nineteen year old Emily wants her college diploma fast, and she’s going to get it. But when the perfect night with perfect Mitch leads her to a broken heart, Emily is blind to her vulnerability. When the person she cares about the most is hurt as a result, Emily’s ambition gives way to more than a little ruthlessness. She’s going to use her smarts to take care of herself and protect the people she loves, and everyone else had better stay out of her way. But shouldn’t the smartest girl everyone knows realize that the ones she’d cross the line for would do the same for her?
~ About Book Two ~
~ Synopsis ~
Miranda Harel has been in love with her guardian Alex Sheldon since she was five years old, and Michael Abbot has despised them both for just as long. When Miranda finds out why she wants both men out of her life for good and questions everything she believed about where and who she came from. Finding out the truth will break her heart. Without family or true love, will her friends be enough? The Family You Choose is Book Two in The New Pioneers Series
~ About the Author ~
Deborah Nam-Krane was born in New York, raised in Cambridge and went to school in Boston. You’re forgiven for assuming she’s prejudiced toward anything city or urban. She’s been writing in one way or another since she was eight years old (and telling stories well before that). She first met some of the characters in this story when she was thirteen years old, but it took two decades- and a couple of other characters- to get the story just right. In 2012 she wrote the History section of her sister Suzanne Nam’s Moon Thailand (Moon Handbooks). A blogger since 2006, she can be found in a number of places. Please check http://writtenbydeb.blogspot.com
for more information and to join her mailing list.
~ Excerpt ~
Emily closed her book and stood up, yawning as she did so. It was time to leave the library and meet her best friend Zainab at Princess Cappuccino.
The café’s owners were indebted to Zainab Oginabe-Kensit. Not too many guys were tempted to go into something called “Princess” anything at first. But within one month of Zainab’s discovery of the little café it was filled with men. While not all of them were friends of hers, many of them were friends-of-friends-of-friends. Every small business grows by word of mouth, but Zainab’s was the first mouth.
So Zainab was often there, surrounded by friends and acquaintances. She frequently reminded Emily that meeting new people was an important part of the college experience. “So is studying,” Emily would always reply.
Emily believed in studying like it was a religion. The first year of college she was content to divide her time between classes, the library and her room at her mother’s house. All places that were conducive to making sure her work was done on time and done well. That strategy had earned her a very good grade point average despite her ambitious workload.
Now Emily was out of class and out of her room, and that was because of Zainab. She had a way of making Emily feel like she didn’t have to assume the worst about people (well, not everyone). It was nice to look at the world with a smile. But Emily thought she should repay the favor by making sure Zainab spent less time in cafés- and bars.
She tried not to criticize Zainab every time she disapproved. She couldn’t be sure her initial reaction wasn’t concern but jealousy. Zainab could go out, party and still do well enough in her classes. Her parents were still going to pay for school and her apartment in Brookline no matter what. And if she failed? Zainab would still be taken care of. She, however, had to get through not four but five classes per quarter. Her mother had made it clear she wanted to leave her job at the university. So Emily didn’t even have time for a job. Even with her savings she could barely afford to have tea with Zainab a few times per week. Emily was grateful that coffee, which she despised, was always more expensive than her tea. She sighed. Who was she to tell Zainab not to do what she couldn’t? She wrinkled her nose. Actually, Emily hated the taste of alcohol anyway so it was good that she couldn’t afford to go out often.
Emily had just thrown her scarf around her neck when someone tapped her shoulder. “Oh!” When she turned around there was Drew Strand. He was a cute, tall, blonde from Comparative Literature.
“Heading out?” He asked holding his books in one arm and his half-empty bag on the other shoulder. It seemed almost as if he’d rushed to pick up his stuff.
“Uh, yeah. Just going to grab some decaf tea.”
She hugged her bag closer. “Princess Cappuccino, of course,” she replied, trying to be friendly while hoping the gods of any persuasion were watching out for her.
“Anything good there?” He asked. It seemed that tonight the gods were on a break.
“You’ve never been?” Emily asked. Zainab would protect her. “What’s your poison of choice?”
“Considering my first class is at eight tomorrow, I should take the decaf too.”
“Brutal. To what do you owe the pleasure?”
“Poetry. And that’s not even as much fun as it sounds.”
“Are you an English major?”
“Actually, a Physics major with a minor in English. How’s that for obscure?”
“Better than obtuse,” Emily smirked.
“Hey, I may not be a Math major, but I do know what you’re implying.”
“Did I mention that I was a Math major?”
“First day of class; ‘Now class, tell everyone why you came and where you’re from.’ Must be why you thought I was an English major.”
No, Emily thought, it’s the way you keep going on about the most obscure and obtuse points of the text with Professor Hazlett, like you’re trying to get a gold star from the department head, that makes me think you’re an English major. “Must be,” she said. “Oh, here we are.”
Emily waved to Zainab. Zainab, beautiful with dark golden skin and wide, expressive eyes, waved back. She was in the center of everything, as usual. “Hey, gorgeous!” Zainab called as soon as Emily opened the glass door. “Shove over, everyone!”
The crowd rearranged themselves so Emily and Drew could find a cramped seat. They put their bags down while Emily quickly made introductions.
“What are you having?” Drew asked once they were at the counter.
As broke as she always was, she still did not want him buying her anything. Unfortunately she couldn’t find a graceful exit. “Just some chamomile tea, thanks,” she mumbled.
While Drew was ordering she turned around, caught Zainab’s eye and mouthed “Help!” Zainab started laughing, and Emily turned around quickly so she wouldn’t be noticed.
A few moments later, Zainab smiled when they came to sit down. “So, how do you know Em?” Zainab asked Drew the second they sat down.
“We both ended up in the same Comp. Lit. class this semester, and she’s definitely the highlight. I’m afraid whether Ann Boleyn was an evil schemer or a martyred mother doesn’t hold my interest that much,” said Drew.
Emily bit her lip. Comp. Lit. was her favorite class so far, and she found the historical implications of Ann Boleyn’s execution engrossing. Before she could say anything, Drew asked, “And how do you two know each other?”
Emily and Zainab looked at each other. “Student Government Council!” they burst out, then laughed.
“Am I missing a good joke?”
Zainab giggled. “Yes, but don’t worry, SGC will take you anyway if you want to serve.”
“Shut up, Senator Oginabe-Kensit! And when are you quitting?”
“I told you, as soon as the Budget Review is complete.”
Emily grimaced. “The BRC: the stepping stone of one Mister Joseph P. Welles.” Joe Welles was the Vice President of Student Affairs and oversaw the Budget Review Committee. It was something of a tradition the VP of Student Affairs was the leading candidate for President the next year. Emily didn’t really care that Joe didn’t seem qualified to lead a class discussion, much less a student government body; she was more irritated that Zainab was so smitten with him.
Zainab cocked her head. “Yes, and what did Giles Reichart like the SGC for?”
Emily blushed. “Touché, mon ami, but I left.” She noticed Drew sitting up straight. “Everything okay?”
“Uh, yeah. But did you say Budget Review Committee?” Drew asked.
Zainab sighed. “What did we do now?”
Drew seemed to relax. “If I said I was the Vice President of the Solar Car Club would that clear it up?”
Zainab put up her hands. “Don’t look at us. We voted last year to increase your funding, but the administration didn’t feel like you guys were ready for primetime. I think our advisor also said it was a wash. Someone on the team was connected enough to secure the funding themselves, but I don’t know.”
Drew shifted in his chair a little bit. “They don’t know what they’re talking about but what a surprise at this school. Last year we really improved…”
Emily did her best to stretch out small talk with Drew. Innocently, she looked at the clock and noticed that it was ten, about an hour before she was going to turn into a pumpkin. Drew saw the look on her face and turned around. “Damn! Eight o’clock class. I’d better go. Maybe I can stop in at the lab now and develop a strategy to woo the administration.”
“Now?” Emily asked as Drew stood up. “Isn’t it hard to test a solar car at night?”
“These guys are true believers. I’m sure they’d love to show off their work. Really, anytime you guys want to see it, let me know.”
“Sure, I’d love to.” Emily was genuinely interested- in the car.
“Cool. And thanks for letting me tag along.”
“Thanks for joining us. Next Monday in Professor Hazlett’s room?”
“I wait with baited breath,” Drew replied.
Emily blinked. “Yeah, well, Henry and Ann have a way of doing that.”
As soon as Drew was out of sight, Emily pointed at Zainab. “You didn’t help.”
Zainab couldn’t stop laughing. “I wanted to, but it was too funny.”
Emily narrowed her eyes. “As funny as SGC? Z, how are you going to do that and school? From here? And what about finals?”
Zainab rolled her eyes. “Still a while before finals.”
“Uh huh. And Joe isn’t exerting more pressure than he should be, is he?”
“I don’t know. Ask his girlfriend.”
“Right, because he’s so faithful.” Joe was such smiley smarm, and she couldn’t understand Zainab’s crush.
“Jesus!” Zainab snapped. “For the last time, I am not sleeping with Joe Welles!”
“That’s good to hear, he’s a clown!” Emily turned around and found herself staring into the most gorgeous pair of green eyes she had ever seen. Zooming out, she noticed dark, thick, eyebrows, then the olive skin, high cheekbones and wavy light brown hair. Not to mention the perfect teeth on full display in a wide-open smile. “And why would someone as lovely as you be worried about Zainab being with such a dork?” said the gorgeous stranger in a nice deep voice.
Emily found her own voice after a moment. “Got to watch out for my girl in that SGC cesspool.”
“Should I be insulted before we’ve even been introduced?” said the stranger.
“Emily, Mitch- Mitch, Emily,” said Zainab. Emily stuck out her hand and it was enveloped in Mitch’s warm, strong grip.
“Pleased to meet you,” Emily said and looked at Zainab, then looked back at Mitch. “And how do you know VP Welles?”
Mitch winked. “Apparently the same way you do if you’re using that overblown title.”
Emily shrugged. “’Popularity Contest Winner’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
The perfect teeth again. “But I like that. Why don’t we shorten that to PCW so we’re all on the same page?” suggested Mitch.
“Agreed. So tell me, who are you in the SGC?”
“Mitchell Graham, member-at-large, doing time on the BRC.”
“About two months ago.”
“I must have just missed you.”
“My loss,” said Mitch.
Zainab cleared her throat. “Mitch, babe, why don’t you get yourself a drink while Emily thinks of a comeback?”
“Did you plan this?” Emily whispered as soon as Mitch was out of earshot.
“I might have mentioned that he should meet me here tonight, right about now, when I know you’re usually done at the library,” Zainab whispered back.
Emily looked down at the ground and laughed. “Aren’t you thoughtful?”
Mitch returned and sat down next to Emily. “So, what made you decide to leave the SGC?”
“I thought Star Trek was a better use of my time,” Emily smirked.
“Star Trek?!?” His eyes popped. “Oh my God, no one told me this was one or the other!”
“You’re a Trekkie?” Emily gasped.
Zainab shook her head. “Em, the twenty-first century word is ‘Trekker.’”
“Zainab, you too?” Mitch said excitedly. “How come you never mentioned this?”
“It doesn’t usually come up in civilized conversation. Besides, I’m not into The Original Series. Kirk is such a womanizing caricature.”
“Ugh!” Emily and Mitch both laughed at the same time. “Okay, first of all,” Mitch leaned forward, “can’t argue with the womanizing, but he’s got some standout episodes. I mean, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ chokes me up every time-“
“Well, yeah!” Emily nodded. “It’s one of the few where he isn’t all ‘My ship!’”
“Exactly!” Mitch almost shouted. “And, I don’t know about you, but I was always much more into Spock than I was Kirk.”
Emily sighed and put her hand on her chest. “Oh my God, Leonard Nimoy. Spock was the most perfect character ever. Handsome, brilliant, tortured… what girl wouldn’t want to rescue him from himself?”
Mitch grinned. “I had no idea dysfunction was so attractive.”
Emily blushed. “Anyway… are you a Next Generation and DS-Nine fan?”
“DS-Nine rocks- Sisko is awesome, and Worf and Kyra and Dax- but The Next Generation is just ‘eh’. I’ve got all of them pretty much memorized because I’ve seen them so many times, but unless the ship is in danger or Picard is saving the Federation or meeting Spock’s dad, I can’t make myself care.”
“Yeah, DS-Nine’s much better,” Emily nodded. “I think I love Garak.”
“Argh!” Zainab put her hands on her ears. “Guys, I’m going to turn into a Tribble or whatever if you don’t stop!”
Emily lifted her arms. “I win the Geek-Off!” She threw her head back in triumph, but as she did she saw the clock. “Oh no!” She stood up and started gathering her stuff. “I’ve got to run to the train or I’m going to be stranded. Sorry to meet and leave, but-“
Mitch looked up. “Where do you live?”
“That’s on my way,” Mitch said, standing up. “I’m in Natick. I could give you a ride.”
“I’d love that! And, um, Brookline’s on the way too,” she added quickly.
Mitch looked confused. “Brookline?”
“Yeah, that’s where Zainab lives.” Emily turned to Zainab. “I mean, I’d feel like a jerk getting a ride from Zainab’s friend if she had to take the T.”
Zainab made a face. “Em, I’m fine.”
“I know you don’t have as far to go as I do, but if you don’t catch the T soon, you might have to walk down Huntington, and it’s getting cold.”
“Walk down Huntington? Not on my watch.” Mitch put his hand on Zainab’s shoulder. “I would never forgive myself if anything happened.“
“Nothing is going to happen, I’ve done it a bunch of times.” But Zainab started getting up anyway.
“There’s a first time for everything,” Mitch said earnestly. “Did I mention I was mugged twice? One time some guy shoved me over and took my wallet, the next time another took my backpack and slammed me into a building so hard I had to be taken to the hospital. Joke was on him though. All he got were my Sociology notes.”
Zainab’s eyes widened. “You never mentioned that. Where?”
“First time was right at the bottom of South Huntington and Huntington. The second time was near, of all places, the Christian Science Center.”
“In that tiny little tunnel?” Emily asked.
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“I used to live around here, and I walked by the Reflecting Pool and through that tunnel all the time. I never had a problem, but I used to see all sorts of stuff in there.”
Zainab blinked. “Stuff?”
“You know, sometimes you’d find paraphernalia, sometimes you’d see partners.”
Zainab pulled back. “Gross!”
Emily sighed. “If that’s how you feel, avoid the magazine stacks at the Boston Public Library. Me, I never let a little depravity get in the way of enjoying a good public place.”
“Are you serious?” Mitch shook his head. “I grew up in New York, but I never saw any of that.”
“New York?” The three had packed up their stuff. Zainab lingered behind to say goodbye to the others while Mitch and Emily slowly walked toward the door. “Which part?”
“Queens, of course,” Mitch answered matter-of-factly. “If you’re from New York, you’re either from Queens or Brooklyn. The other boroughs are just there for the tourists.”
“Right? I was born in Manhattan, but I lived in Queens for a few years before we came to Boston. And my mom has family in Brooklyn.”
“No kidding? My dad is from Brooklyn.” Mitch smiled. “So,” he said after a few seconds, “what brought you to Boston?”
“Long story.” Zainab joined them at the door. Emily put her arm around her neck. “Zainab’s is much more interesting.”
“Let’s hear it!”
Zainab launched into the winding story of her life: the idyllic first years in Africa, her father’s tragic death, her mother’s whirlwind remarriage in London and her crazy combined family’s adventures through South America and California.
By the time Zainab was finished, the three were warming up Mitch’s car: Mitch in the driver’s seat, Zainab in the back, and Emily in the passenger seat. Emily sat back and sighed. It was so nice to be in a car and not the bus or train. Better not get used to it.
Mitch was impressed. “Wow. So where’s the family now?”
“They’re in upstate New York, where all respectable people end up eventually.”
Emily gagged. “There is nothing respectable about the suburbs. Most of the people who live there are so bored they’ll do anything, whether it’s open marriages, swapping or hard core dealing. I’d feel safer being in a crack house in the roughest part of Boston than the most elite suburb.”
Mitch laughed. “I can promise you that there is no dealing or swapping going on at my house, and I’m not sure my parents could get an open marriage going. I had a great time in Natick. Maybe I lived in a parallel universe?”
“Oh God, stop!” Zainab threw her head back. “I feel a Trek recap coming on.”