Monthly Archive: July 2015

July, briefly

Since I was away on vacation for just over two weeks, July felt like an especially fleeting month. My husband and I took an epic road trip and drove through parts of Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories (briefly), and Alaska. It was a truly amazing trip and now I’m already excited for our next adventure, whenever and wherever that may be!

Needless to say, July wasn’t a typical month for me. But this month, I have been…

A FIRSTS first pass, complete with furry BFF.

A FIRSTS first pass, complete with furry BFF.

Working on: While I didn’t do much writing on our road trip, I can tell you that I’m working on something related to FIRSTS that I’m really excited to share with everyone prior to release! I also finished first pass pages this month, which was really awesome. It’s hard to believe that what was formerly a Word document on my computer is almost an actual book!

The writing I did do our on road trip mostly happened in my head or in the Notes app on my phone. I was really inspired by the different Northern settings we visited and I have a new story idea percolating in my head, so… we’ll see where that goes!

Reading: Pre-road trip, I loaded my Kobo with two books I was super excited about: Dahlia Adler’s UNDER THE LIGHTS and Laura Salters’ RUN AWAY. I told myself I should sleep on the plane ride to Calgary since it was the crack of dawn, buuuut… Dahlia’s book beckoned and I read it all in one sitting. Guys, you need to read UNDER THE LIGHTS. It’s brilliant and funny and heartwarming and a million other amazing things and Dahlia writes with such humor, boldness, and insight. The dual POV between Josh, the Hollywood bad boy with lots of insecurity lurking under his cocky facade, and Vanessa, the Korean-American actress who starts to question everything about her life, works so well. Josh’s POV was done perfectly. I love, love, love reading “unlikeable” characters, and with his actions, Josh fits the bill. I really liked learning what was going on in Josh’s head and the ways he wanted to change his life but felt stuck. Vanessa’s journey throughout the course of the book was inspiring, humorous, fulfilling, but most of all, real. I adored her relationship with Bri and all the conflicting emotions she felt when she realized she was attracted to a girl and what that meant– in terms of her sexuality, relationships, and career. This is the kind of story teens need to have– the kind of story YA needs.

RUN AWAY by Laura Salters is another book I have been coveting. I love a good, twisty story, and this one definitely delivers– plus, the gorgeous Thailand locales are described so well that the book really transported me and sucked me in. RUN AWAY is the story of Kayla, who escapes her dreary reality in Northumberland following her brother’s suicide for a tour group in Thailand. Here, she meets some new friends– and Sam, with whom she shares a strong attraction. But when Sam disappears, leaving behind a pool of blood, Kayla is left with unanswered questions– along with the sense that something doesn’t quite add up.

When I got back from my road trip, I had a little surprise waiting for me in the mail… an ARC of ARROWS by my Sweet Sixteens friend Melissa Gorzelanczyk. I had been dying for this book since I first heard about it. Greek mythology spun together with the drama of MTV’s Teen Mom? Sign me up. I’ll be writing a more detailed review about this one later, but in the meantime, add ARROWS to your TBR now! It’s available for preorder and just so happens to share a book birthday with FIRSTS!

Much better than any TV show, and no commercials!

Much better than any TV show, and no commercials!

Watching: I haven’t really been watching anything religiously since we were gone for the first half of the month. So I guess in July, I watched mountains and valleys and sunsets and glaciers and all kinds of wildlife from car windows. And that was even better than any TV show.

I’m really looking forward to August and everything it has in store. As the months creep closer to the release date for FIRSTS, I find myself getting more and more bouncy with excitement, like a little kid counting the months until Christmas.When I get my ARCs, there may be flailing on the same scale as the year Santa brought me and my sister a dollhouse on Christmas morning.

Who am I kidding? There will be even more flailing than that.

#SixteensBlogAbout: Characters

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about characters. I have written before about voice and how important it is, but the subject of characters in general got me thinking about how I create mine. Or more accurately, how they speak to me and tell me how to make them.

What would Scarlett O'Hara do? Just about anything.

What would Scarlett O’Hara do? Just about anything.

A lot of good writing advice says that you have to know a character before you can write effectively about her, and this is true. You have to know what she wants, what’s standing in her way, how she’ll react in a situation, what drives her insane, what makes her knees weak. You have to know who she cares about and how she expresses her feelings. What thrills her and what paralyzes her with fear. But for me, these things come out in the writing. They’re never all there when I get started. I think of a first draft as a great way to get to know a character, much like building a friendship (or a frenemy-ship, depending on the character you’re writing!).

Before I wrote FIRSTS, I knew my main character’s name would be Mercedes and I knew what her struggle would be. The more I wrote, the more her voice became so familiar to me, and the easier I could slip into it. But even though at times it felt like the story wrote itself, that’s not to say every sentence was perfect. (Far, far from it, as early readers can attest!) Many scenes from the first draft didn’t make it to the second draft, or the fifth, or the final version. But does that mean they were a waste of time? Absolutely not. Every word I wrote from Mercedes’ point of view was a step closer to knowing her, and I wouldn’t trade any of those deleted darlings. Without them, FIRSTS may not be the book it is now.

I don’t know everything about a character before I get started. That’s not how my writing process works. I learn as I go, as words fill pages. I didn’t know Mercedes’ favorite foods or her hobbies or the college she wanted to attend. Not right away. But the more I wrote, the more she became a real person to me, not a character. I knew she was bold and sarcastic and strong and vulnerable. Controlling and scared and fiercely protective of her emotions. And because I knew that, I let her fill me in on everything else. When I doubted a turn in the story, I listened to her voice in my head. No, silly author, I would never say that! Are you kidding me? I really don’t think that’s something I would do. And the more I listened, the more authentic the book felt as a result.

I’ve heard many other authors talk about having the nagging sense that something isn’t working and being stumped with where the story goes next. Often, we realize it’s because we were trying to force a main character in a direction he doesn’t want to go. No matter how detailed an outline is, so much can change as a story progresses, just because you get to know your characters that much better.


What wouldn’t McMurphy do?

For those of you wondering who my all-time favorite character in literature is? Well, I have two. Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind and Randle Patrick McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Anytime I feel uninspired, I just flip to a page in either one of those books and remember that every character, even the ones in literary masterpieces, came from the same place: a writer’s imagination. As writers, we take thoughts and ideas and maybe a bit of insight from real life and the voices in our heads and meld all of that into the people between the pages who readers love and hate and maybe even look to for their own inspiration.

And I happen to think building someone out of nothing is pretty freaking cool.

On having faith in your story

With most of my writing projects, I’m a full-blown pantser. I like to start my WIPs with a main character or two, a hook, and a blank Word document. Part of the reason is because I find the writing process more fun this way. But also, I love starting out like this because I’m so curious to know where the story will go—what twists the plot will take, what other characters will pop up, what obstacles will get in their way. I like to surprise myself and dare myself to just write whatever comes into my head and make it work. To me, the absolute coolest part of writing is having your story develop as you go and when you read it over again later, thinking, I wrote that?

Give those words a chance!

Give those words a chance!

But this approach comes with its challenges. Days where I have no idea what comes next. (Those are, coincidentally, days when Netflix beckons.) Days where I’m sure I wrote myself into a corner and can’t possibly get back on track. Days where I stare at my computer and feel like the person who wrote the previous pages was some other version of me, a better version who must have taken a vacation. And what I’m coming to realize is that I usually get nervous and doubtful when I start getting invested in a project. When I think to myself, this could be something—that’s when I feel like I’m about to ruin it.

So what I’m thinking about more and more is the importance of having faith that the writing will unfold exactly how it’s supposed to. That there’s no such thing as ruining it. That there are a thousand possible twists and turns and none of them are wrong. The only way to ruin a story is to not finish it. Everything can be fixed later—that’s what editing is for. I have never once sat back after a writing session and thought, that was such a waste of time. It always, always feels worthwhile, no matter how bad the words on the page might be, no matter how strongly you feel like you’ll throw them out later. The only wasted writing time is time not spent writing.

There have been times when I was so in love with the first few chapters of a manuscript I wrote that I’m afraid to write more and mess it up. And as a pantser, that’s a hard mentality to break. The only way to break it is to write more. And more and more and more. Because having faith in your story, in your ability to write it, is what will take you to those magic words. THE END.

Give your words a chance. They might just surprise you.

Six months out

Totally Crazy Fact #1: It’s July, which means 2015 is halfway over.

Totally Crazy Fact #2: FIRSTS comes out exactly six months from today.

Time... looks shiny, goes by fast.

Time… looks shiny, goes by fast.

When I say it feels like this year has moved at rocket speed, I’m not kidding. I can’t even believe we’re into July. My book has a cover. It’s available for preorder. Super exciting pre-release stuff is in the works. Everything is becoming… real. I’m not pinching myself and expecting this all to be a dream anymore. I’m realizing that it’s real life, and I’m actually living the dream. So in honor of six months until my release date, I wanted to share what I have learned on my road to becoming a debut author.

In 2015, I have learned…

… that fellow debut authors are the best people ever. I’m so, so grateful for the members of the Sweet Sixteens and Sixteen to Read. These groups are made up of the most creative, talented, and supportive writers I’ve met, and I’m so proud to know them. I have really enjoyed celebrating milestones with everyone and sharing stories about our journeys to publication. I’m so thrilled to cheerlead for everyone’s debuts and buy their books for all of my friends and family. (Yes, you’re all getting books in 2016.) I’m excited to recommend them to everyone and put their books facing out prominently at bookstores. (Yes, I’ll be that person.) In 2016, I’ll be able to meet some of these authors in person, and I plan to hug all of them and probably flail a bit, too.

… that staying organized is paramount to success at everything. Having a plan—a plan for tackling edits, for copyedits, for marketing and promotion—is absolutely essential. Also, I’d probably be walking aimlessly in circles if not for the Reminders app on my phone. Nothing is too small to make it onto the Writing Reminders list—even things like “Tweet about _____.” I have always considered myself to be a fairly organized person, but this year has challenged my definition of “organized” and forced me find a system that works. Color-coded Word document? Working. Illegible notes scrawled in ten different notebooks I can’t find? Not so much.

… that with everything else going on, there might not be as much time for regular, old-fashioned writing. Which brings me to the second part of this: there’s such a thing as making time, and it’s incredibly important. Even though I may be itching to check things off that Writing Reminders list, I’ve realized that without writing almost every day, I’m not as happy or fulfilled. So no matter how busy I get, I’m making time to write.

… that taking breaks is okay. Breaks from social media, breaks from planning, even breaks from writing. Sometimes taking a long walk through the woods is the best thing I could do for myself. Sometimes sleeping until noon is the perfect way to spend a morning, and a few glasses of wine with my phone turned off is the ideal way to cap off a night.

I already knew this, but I learned even more just how awesome everyone involved with FIRSTS really is. My agent and editor take the word “amazing” to whole new levels. The whole team at Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press is kind, helpful, talented, and really, kind of magical. I feel so insanely lucky to be working with all of these people.

Most of all, I’ve learned to enjoy the ride. It can be easy to stress out about the things that need to get done, but if I let myself relax and take a step back, none of it feels like work at all. This is the only time in my life I’ll get to be a debut author, and when I look back at these months, I want to always remember how crazy and fun and exciting they were, not how frenzied I was. I can honestly say that this year has been the best ever so far, and there’s nowhere else I would rather be.

2016, I’m really looking forward to meeting you. We’re going to have a lot of fun together. But not yet.

Because 2015, I’m not even close to being done with you.

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