Monthly Archive: September 2015

September, briefly

We all have those months that feel a bit more trying than usual, and that was September for me. I found it hard to focus my attention on more than one thing and time felt erratic, like it was either speeding way too fast or thudding to a near halt. (I blame debut author brain!) But it has been truly wonderful and mind-blowing to see all of the early support for FIRSTS. Knowing people are reading my book and wanting to read it is the best feeling ever, so thank you, everyone!

Enjoying the last of the backyard writing.

Enjoying the last of the backyard writing.

Working on: I received the FIRSTS swag I ordered, and I’m really excited for upcoming giveaways and super-fun stuff that has been in the works for awhile. More on that soon!

In the meantime, I’m revising a WIP that is quite different than anything else I’ve ever written. It has put up a struggle during revisions (I swear, it doesn’t WANT to be revised), but I’m finally starting to crack into the essence of the story and understand, at its core, what it’s really about. I find that when I draft, I force myself to write fast to get words on paper—but when it comes to revising, I sometimes don’t know what to do with those words. Figuring it out is a challenge, but comes with the greatest reward.

I’m also sporadically drafting two different projects that are still in early stages, because I’m a firm believer that when you’re stuck on one project and need a break, diving into something else can be the best way to find the second wind you’re looking for.

Reading: I didn’t read a lot for the first part of September, but in the last week alone, I have read three excellent books. It has turned into a seriously stellar reading month!

I started the month with Courtney Summers’s novella, PLEASE REMAIN CALM, which picks up where THIS IS NOT A TEST left off. If you read and loved THIS IS NOT A TEST, pick up PLEASE REMAIN CALM as soon as possible. I devour any and all Courtney Summers writing, so I was definitely not disappointed.

I read two incredible Sweet Sixteen debuts this month (both of which were written by Canadian girls!): SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN by Jenny Manzer and HOW IT ENDS by Catherine Lo. I’m going to post reviews of these books closer to their release dates, but I will say this: I was blown away by each book and am still thinking about both of them. I’m in the company of such insanely talented debut authors and I cannot wait for readers to find these books and get lost in their pages.

After a successful library visit, I came back with THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE by Adele Griffin, a book I’d been wanting to read for a long time. It turned out to be a book that kept me up way too late at night because it was seriously unputdownable. I’m pretty sure another story like this doesn’t exist—it’s so unique and entirely captivating. Told not just in words but in photographs and paintings too, this is the kind of book that stands alone and can be interpreted different ways, just like art.

I also borrowed Jessica Verdi’s MY LIFE AFTER NOW from the library. I hadn’t heard of it and had no idea what it was about, but the blurb on the back got my attention, and… Wow. I’m not going to say anything that will spoil the book for readers, but this is a truly brave book with so much heart. I commend Jessica Verdi for tackling such difficult subject matter with grace and compassion. I really loved her writing style, too, and I’ll be looking out for what she writes in the future.

Watching: My husband loves documentaries, and I have gotten really into the different ones on Netflix. We recently watched a really fascinating one called TINY: A Story About Living Small, about a young man and his girlfriend who set out to build a tiny house and downsize their lives. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a tiny house movement, and it was really eye-opening to learn about how people live alternate lifestyles and pare down their possessions and in the process, find out what actually matters to them. It made me look at my life differently—while I joked to my husband that I have way too many clothes to ever fit in a tiny house, I could definitely learn a lesson from people who clearly know what’s important and what isn’t central to their own happiness.

By far, my favorite part of September has been the walks my husband and I take in the woods near our home. The leaves are staring to change color and fall and the scenery is stunning. I’m looking forward to more long walks in October… Now that I’ve released my death grip on summer, I’m open to embracing all things fall. Starting with a pumpkin spice latte.

#SixteensBlogAbout: Weird Research

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about weird research. I think it’s an especially relevant topic for writers, because you probably can’t find one among us who hasn’t felt like we’ve been added to an Internet watch list at one point or another. (Internet Police: If I’m on your watch list and you’re reading this post… Hi! I’m not that strange. I promise. My friends can vouch for me. Er… where is everyone?)

I don’t write horror. I don’t write murder or gore or weapons, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t looked up some seriously horrific, twisted, and downright bizarre things in the name of writing. From high school chemistry to cookie recipes to football plays to broken arms, there are few things my poor Google browser hasn’t seen. Often, I’ve wondered what someone would think if they walked past my computer while I was in the throes of research. Although my husband knows and accepts that I’m a writer, he still might have been alarmed if he saw “how to disappear without leaving a trace” in my search history.

Google is a lot of things to me. It’s inspiration and information and distraction and sometimes, revelation.

The scene of the, uh, crime.

The scene of the, uh, crime.

The truth is, real life can be horrifying and twisted and downright bizarre. Real life can make no sense at all. As writers, we want to do justice to our subject matter. We want to make our words authentic. And sure, some writing advice tells us to write what we know. But I don’t necessarily agree with that. Yes, we can write from our own emotions and remember what we were feeling during certain life experiences to color our words. But there’s a lot I don’t know, and I’m not going to let it stop me from writing the story pressing against my brain.

I’ve learned a lot since I started writing seriously, about varied things. Some of the search results have made me smile, some have made me laugh hysterically, some have made me sad. Some things are hard to read about, but I read about them anyway, because sometimes it’s important to be uncomfortable. We need stories that make people uncomfortable.

I thought it would be interesting to look at my search history and share some of the things I have Googled for the sake of writing, from the tame to the terrifying. (I’m talking about the pie—the prospect of baking anything from scratch is frightening to me.)

  • MIT admissions criteria

  • how to tell when someone is lying

  • cheerleading terminology

  • how high school football scouting works

  • signs that someone plans to disappear

  • how to make a pie from scratch

  • how to make a fake ID

  • how to survive outside in the winter

  • most common boys names

The strangest thing I’ve ever Googled for a WIP? I’m not telling.

I have my secrets, too, and I don’t want to give them away.

** Disclaimer: In writing this post, I Googled more stuff and came up with a new WIP idea that I can’t stop thinking about. Being a writer is hazardous, folks.

The other double standard

A big theme in FIRSTS is first times and virginity and the way girls have to tiptoe carefully around sex to get through high school without a bad reputation. I wrote a guest post about this on Bookish Babes last month, and it’s an expectation that I wish we could completely eradicate. It’s something I thought a lot about while writing Mercedes’ story. Something that made me angry on behalf of every teenage girl who has gone through that.

But there was something else that made me angry, too: The expectations placed on teenage boys to want sex, to want to give up their virginity as soon as they realize they have it, to think about sex once every seven seconds. Girls are conditioned to want a certain type of first time, the kind with flowers and candlelight and soft music and a devoted boyfriend. Guys are supposed to be born ready, and there’s a whole lot of pressure on them to create that perfect first time. But in real life, first times aren’t perfect. They’re awkward and fumbling and a lot of times, totally embarrassing. The blame may very well fall squarely on the guy, because it was his responsibility to give his girlfriend what she wants and deserves. And along with the blame comes the shame and disappointment and humiliation.

This is one reason why Mercedes starts her system. She wants to give the guys a judgment-free first time experience and equip them with the skills they need to make their girlfriends happy. She wants to give them a place to make the rookie mistakes they’d otherwise make in front of their girlfriends, the kind that would diminish the ideal first time experience. She thinks she’s doing them a favor, building up their confidence. Because isn’t that the one thing guys are supposed to have in spades?

It’s another completely unfair double standard. Girls are chastised for wanting and enjoying sex unless it’s under what society calls the right circumstances, and guys are judged and questioned for not wanting it under any circumstances. It’s just plain wrong, and it’s something I hope FIRSTS punches a giant hole in.

I don’t want to give anything away, but maybe you’ll be surprised by the reasons why some of the virgins find themselves in Mercedes’ bedroom. Maybe you’ll find that what’s under the surface doesn’t match up with the exterior, the face that’s being shown in school. Maybe you’ll realize that people play up to personas and wear masks because they have to, because they’re afraid of what people would think if they saw what was under them.

Above all, I hope FIRSTS makes people understand that behind every first time is a whole lot of second-guessing.

That nobody is born ready for anything.

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