Monthly Archive: December 2014

One year later

I started this blog one year ago. When I look back, it seems like both yesterday and forever ago. At points during the year, time was flying by so fast that I was tripping over myself trying to keep up. At other points, time moved so slowly I could count the individual grains of sand as they slid through my fingers.

A year ago, I had no agent and no editor and no clue that FIRSTS would become anything other than a Word document in my computer. I had an ancient MacBook computer that took forever to start up and I wrote wherever I could because I didn’t have my own office in our apartment. I had moments of doubt so heavy that I wondered if I was cut out for the writing industry at all.

But I also had hope, and I underestimated how strong of a force that was.

Hope translated into a lot of things. Hope made me believe in my work. Hope made me hit “Send” and submit my first (no pun intended) YA manuscript into a contest called Pitch Wars that would change my life and open me up to a whole new amazing community of writers. Hope allowed me to query my now-agent, Kathleen. Hope buoyed me through the submission process, bobbing at times right alongside uncertainty and disappointment, but never sinking to the bottom. Hope was right there when I got the call that FIRSTS was going to be published, jumping up and down with me.

If I could go back and tell me a year ago that so many incredible things were in store, that 2014 would be the year my dreams came true, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it would hurt too much if the prediction was wrong. Sometimes hope hurts like that. Sometimes no matter how badly we want to be optimistic, we’re afraid to be, because it’s easier to expect the worst.

I wanted FIRSTS to be “the one.”

But I was prepared for it not to be.

I was learning from past mistakes. I worked on new manuscripts while querying, because I knew that took the sting away from rejections. I knew that the fresh words of a new story acted as the only kind of armor that could keep the negative words from populating in my head. This isn’t saleable. It’s too edgy. It’s too out there. Maybe this just wasn’t meant to be. The new words gave me the strength to stop caring about perception and write the story I wanted to write.

The other thing I did right in 2014? I had fun with writing. I tried new things. I tried different styles and perspectives. I experimented with random ideas and Googled some things for research that have probably put me on a few Internet watch lists. I let myself have days where I wrote nothing but garbage, because garbage was what I needed to write that day.

When I wrote my first ever blog post detailing my goals for 2014, I hoped I would someday be in the position I’m in now. But I was also learning to be happy with the stage I was at, which I think is the most important thing in this industry. There will always be somebody out there who has something you don’t have, or who is farther along on the journey than you. But nobody has what you do have. Nobody but you has your imagination or your ideas or your style. And once you give yourself permission to be proud of that, you recognize yourself for who you are. A writer.

Things look a lot different going into 2015. I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at in my path to publication. I have the best, most supportive agent. I have an amazingly talented and thoughtful editor who believes in me. I get to be part of the wonderful, supportive kidlit community, along with the lovely and talented Sweet Sixteens. I have a computer that works and an office that inspires me and a few first drafts that I’m itching to revise. I feel so lucky and honored. But if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that I didn’t need all that to happen for me to become a writer. I was a writer all along.

I’m so excited by all the experiences coming my way and I know that the new year will bring both challenges and victories. As far as years go, 2014 will be hard to top.

But I think 2015 is up for the challenge.

#SixteensBlogAbout: 2014 YA Standouts

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about favorite books and authors, a subject I could go on and on forever about. To narrow it into a readable blog post, I thought I would feature some of my favorite YA books that came out in 2014.

Let me first say this: 2014 was an incredible and important year for YA. So many amazing books came out, and while I read as much as I could, I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of my gigantic TBR list. (This is why when my parents and husband asked what I wanted for Christmas, I told them without hesitation: Kobo gift cards.)

So without further ado, here are the YA books that came out in 2014 that I’m still thinking about, by some tremendously talented authors!

Listed alphabetically by title:


behindthescenes2 BEHIND THE SCENES by Dahlia Adler

I have followed Dahlia’s blog religiously since my days in the query trenches (which wasn’t all that long ago– what a difference a year can make!), so I was quite excited to read her YA debut. I especially love Dahlia’s use of humor– Ally’s voice made me laugh out loud more than once– the friendship between Ally and her BFF Vanessa, and the fresh spin Dahlia puts on a girl-meets-Hollywood-star love story.


bleedlikemeBLEED LIKE ME by Christa Desir

Pitched as a YA Sid and Nancy, this book tells the obsessive, intoxicating love story of troubled teens Gannon and Brooks. It’s not your traditional love story– not even close. And Gannon is not your typical likeable female protagonist, either. She makes her share of mistakes and bad decisions, and hands-down, she’s one of the most memorable protagonists I have ever read. Gritty, haunting, and unflinchingly real, this is one book that will be on your mind long after you read it.


damagedDAMAGED by Amy Reed

I just finished reading this (it kept me up late!) and it’s still lingering in my head, which is fitting because this beautifully written book deals with ghosts, both literally and figuratively. Kinsey and Hunter are both struggling with the weight of their guilt following a car accident that kills Kinsey’s best friend Camille. The two teens are about to realize that they can’t outrun their guilt and fear that easily– especially when Camille starts haunting Kinsey’s dreams. DAMAGED is both a ghost story, a love story, and a story that doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.


perfectlygoodwhiteboyPERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY by Carrie Mesrobian

After SEX & VIOLENCE blew my mind, I was eagerly anticipating Carrie Mesrobian’s next book– and PGWB went above and beyond my expectations, giving an achingly honest glimpse into the life of a teenage boy searching for meaning and something to hold onto. After getting dumped by popular senior Hallie, Sean is left to make sense of his last year of high school– and to figure out his future. This book features a male voice so masterfully written that Sean feels like an actual person, one with both good and bad qualities. You completely forget you’re reading a fictional character at all.


sweetunrestSWEET UNREST by Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell’s debut novel features voodoo, a spooky mystery, and a mesmerizing love story. When Lucy’s family moves from Chicago to New Orleans, she finds herself plunged into an age-old mystery tied to the strange dreams she has been having. Lucy is the kind of main character you want to spend a whole book with– rational, yet spirited and inquisitive. This story features plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing, and the chemistry between Lucy and Alex is undeniable– and undeniably fun to read.


teaseTEASE by Amanda Maciel

I love a protagonist who’s not traditionally likeable, and Sara, the main character in this book, fits the bill. TEASE tackles the subject of bullying and its tragic consequences, and it’s utterly fascinating getting into the head of the one doing the bullying instead of the victim. Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is that it’s not moralizing, just very honest. Sara isn’t painted in shades of black and white, as a terrible person– she’s just a person dealing with the terrible weight of her actions. This is a daring, provocative read that left me thinking about exactly how much damage words can do.


thetruthaboutaliceTHE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Mathieu

This book is multiple POV done absolutely perfectly. Each character’s voice feels so distinct, and hearing perceptions of Alice Franklin from each different perspective is fascinating. I love the way we get to know Elaine, Kurt, Josh, and Kelsey and hear their personal biases toward Alice before actually hearing from Alice herself. It really shows how much a story can be skewed beyond recognition through gossip and lies. The damaging effects of stereotyping and slut-shaming fuse together in this extraordinarily powerful book.


wearethegoldensWE ARE THE GOLDENS by Dana Reinhardt

This book deals with how the bond between two sisters is threatened when one of them is keeping a huge secret for the other. I haven’t read many novels from second-person POV, and it’s used exquisitely here. As a reader, I feel all of Nell’s emotions as she is torn between loyalty to her sister Layla and doing the right thing. I loved being in Nell’s head as she felt herself drifting apart from her older sister, and as she navigated friendship, fear, and love under the weight of Layla’s secret. I couldn’t put this book down until I knew how it ended.


wewereliarsWE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

There’s a reason why everybody has been talking about this one since it came out. Dark, twisty, and beautifully written, with an unreliable narrator and an ending that will leave you totally shocked. This is one book I don’t want to say much about, because everyone should go in with the element of surprise. I will say that it’s all about secrets and lies, and the damaging power of both.


That’s a wrap! Now, as I get caught up on more 2014 reading, I also can’t wait for all the YA coming out in 2015… I feel like my Kobo and I will spend a LOT of quality time together in the new year. And that’s just the way I like it.

My NaNoWriMo experience

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year. In fact, I had firmly decided to sit this one out.

I’m invested in another WIP, one I wrote very quickly after Pitch Wars. A story that I have put together, pulled apart, ripped open, and dissected. A story that has been through one full draft and a bunch of false starts at rewriting. A story currently existing in half a dozen Word documents and scribbled on countless Post-It notes. Starting a new project would just complicate things. The timing was wrong. Right?

But at the same time, there was another idea percolating in my head, and a character who demanded my attention at the most inconvenient times. I was itching to fast-draft again, to let myself be free with my words. I wanted a ticket past the critical self-editing watchdog taking up residence in my brain. I wanted a magic formula to unstick the places I was stuck in with my WIP.

And while I’m pretty sure that magic formula doesn’t exist, NaNo does, and maybe that was exactly what I needed. Time away from my WIP. I wondered if absence really would make the heart grow fonder.

So I dove in. In the end, I only spent 16 days of November working on my NaNo novel for a total of 50,014 words, including a 15K sprint for the finish on November 30 that left me bleary-eyed and sore-wristed. It’s probably the loosest, most sparsely detailed first draft I have ever created. (I recently described it to my CP as a “hot mess.”) But that’s okay, because it’s a first draft, and that’s all it has to be for now.

And more importantly, that time away from my WIP was invaluable. It was different than just taking a break from writing entirely, which I have also done in the past when I felt burnt out. Because as I was typing those fresh words, the puzzle pieces of my WIP were also coming together inside my head. Shifting, interlocking. Taking shape.

Maybe that would have happened without NaNoWriMo. Maybe I would have figured things out without fast-drafting something new. But I think that by giving myself that freedom, by not treating my words like glass that would break if they weren’t placed in careful sentences, I helped shut that self-righteous editing watchdog up.

Does anyone else use this strategy, fast-drafting to stimulate creativity on other stalled projects? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!

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