Monthly Archive: March 2016

March, briefly

March went by so fast that I almost forgot it was time to write this post! Besides the fact that I was derailed by a bad cold for part of the month, it was great to see the snow melt (hopefully it stays gone) and some flowers (or maybe they’re weeds… but they’re pretty!) start to shoot up from the ground in our backyard. There’s something so energizing about the first signs of spring, and as soon as the temperature rises, I’m ready to ditch my winter coat and boots for my shorts and flip-flops.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Revising, revising, revising! I’m almost done a revision of a YA contemporary project that can pretty much be summed up in three words: Girls behaving badly. This book has challenged me and made me dig deep as a writer, and seeing the story come to life has been especially rewarding. Looking forward to working more on this one, because there’s nothing I love writing more than complicated girls and their stories.

I’ve also been posting the Boys Tell All stories, which are told from the perspectives of the virgin guys Mercedes hooks up with in Firsts. I’m sharing a new story every Tuesday on Wattpad and Tumblr, and there are 10 in total. If you’re a Wattpad user, you can check out the series here, or else you can catch up here!

Reading: I’ve read a few great books by the Sweet Sixteens this month. First, Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia, which is fresh, smart, and wickedly funny– plus, the main character is arguably an unlikeable female protagonist, so obviously I was destined to love her. Next, I read My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul, which is my kind of book– full of humor, heart, and quirks. To finish up the month, I read The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by fellow St. Martin’s Press author Lily Anderson. It’s a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and I was immediately sucked in by the witty voice and whip-sharp banter.

Watching: Since I’m now the proud owner of an Android box, I have a scarily vast wealth of movies and TV shows at my fingertips. The hardest part is deciding what to watch next (and not getting sucked into hours of viewing instead of writing, because I’m sadly not one of those people who can work effectively while a show plays in the background). The only good thing that came out of being sick this month was finishing the seasons of Sons of Anarchy I hadn’t yet seen. It’s such a compelling, gritty, well-acted show (and the eye candy that is Jax Teller doesn’t hurt, either).

That pretty much sums up March in my world! Looking forward to more mild weather, long walks, great reads, and writing progress in April!

On (not) giving up, or why writing won’t quit you

I’ve done lots of interviews over the past several months surrounding the release of Firsts. It has been such an honor to answer so many thoughtful, amazing questions from readers and bloggers and book lovers everywhere. I have been asked how I got the idea for Firsts (I still wish I had a better answer for that!), about my writing process, best parts of debuting, and lessons learned along the way.

There’s one question I have been asked several times, and it’s a great one.

Did you ever think about giving up?

To which I answered yes. There have been several times along the path to publication where I considered giving up on my dream of seeing a book of mine in print. I was querying, but getting more rejections than requests. I was learning, but not fast enough. I felt like there was an excellent chance I would never sell a book and nobody would ever read my work.

But ever since giving those interviews, I’ve thought a lot about that question. Generally, people think it only pertains to the trying times along that elusive path to publication. Once you reach that goal and see your book in print, there’s the expectation that you are confident and calm and the words flow every time you sit down at your computer. You have things figured out.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I don’t have less doubts than I do before. I just have different doubts. The brain is a scary place, especially when you’re in a creative field. The same brain that houses your dreams also takes your happy thoughts and puts shackles on them and turns good things inside out, analyzing them for flaws. The same mind that conjures up ideas can just as easily crush them.

I don’t think about giving up on writing these days, but I do have days where I think writing has given up on me. That my words are on strike, my characters holding up little signs that say “WE WANT A BETTER AUTHOR!” and chanting for me to get my act together. I have days where I have no clue how to write a chapter and moments when I read what I’ve just written and shake my head because it’s such steaming crap. Each book after Firsts has been a struggle for me. I’ve said in interviews that at times while writing Firsts, the book practically wrote itself. Well, that hasn’t happened since. Not a single word wrote itself.

But does that mean I forgot how to write?

I’ve realized that the answer is no. Because it’s impossible to forget how to care fiercely about something you love. Some days, you read over the words you put down and realize they aren’t as bad as you thought. Some days, they’re worse. But always, they are there, on the page, no matter how hard it was for them to arrive.

Fellow authors, no matter what stage of the process you’re at– don’t quit. Because I promise, writing won’t quit you.

Spotlight on Sixteens: The Way I Used To Be

Today, I’m happy to share a review of a Sweet Sixteens book that makes its grand debut on March 22nd– a book that has been on my mind since I turned the last page.

It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words, because, well, I’m a writer, and usually I have too many words for any given situation. But after finishing this book, my heart was pounding and I couldn’t find words big enough to describe how brilliant, beautiful, and powerful it is. Those words just don’t seem to do it justice. None do.

Amber Smith’s talent is immense. Her writing is searing, raw, courageous, deep. Her words cut, pound, take away your air supply, make you realize you’re not breathing. Eden’s story is not an easy one to read. After her brother’s best friend—someone she thought she trusted, someone she once thought she loved—rapes her, Eden buries the truth, along with the person she used to be. The whole time I was reading, it wasn’t like I was reading a character—it was like Eden was a real person. And in many ways, she is. She is a girl carrying around the weight of something horrible, something unimaginable, and trying desperately to show to the outside world that it never happened, that she simply doesn’t want to go back to the way that she used to be, not that she can’t go back. Eden’s hurt is palpable. It radiated off the pages and so many times, I wanted to hug her and tell her she’s worthy of love, she’s worthy of good things, that people will believe her if she tells them the truth. I thought, on so many occasions, how many girls we know in real life are carrying around truths they want to forget? How can we help them?

This book also deals with slut-shaming, which was handled in such a heartbreakingly true-to-life way. Nobody knew what Eden was going through, so they slapped labels on her, because it was easier that way. But in doing so, they made those labels something Eden could slip into, a way she could distance herself from the girl she used to be. People don’t realize that words not only cause permanent damage, but they can alter the course of a person’s life.

The fact that Eden’s story was told in four parts—one for each year of high school—allowed the reader to see that nothing goes away. Trauma and pain and anger and regret and sadness don’t just retreat to be buried by other feelings. They simmer right under the surface like a second pulse. What happened to Eden doesn’t fade as she gets older. It takes on new shapes, ones with sharp edges, ones that cut and flay and destroy any sense of confidence she might have had.

Stories like Eden’s need to be told. They need to be told more than once. Books like this need to exist. And stories like this, stories this sensitive and courageous and breathtaking, need to be told by authors as tremendously talented as Amber Smith, authors who aren’t afraid to channel all of the emotions, all of the devastation, authors who can be both fragile and bold.

By far one of the best books I’ve read this year. By far, one of the books I won’t stop thinking about.

Add The Way I Used To Be to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Visit Amber Smith’s website here!

Spotlight on Sixteens: The First Time She Drowned

The First Time She Drowned will grace bookshelves with its beauty on March 15, but read about it here first!

I have a great relationship with my mom. She’s not just a mom, but a friend, somebody I trust with everything, somebody I look up to. And she’s the type of mom who has always supported my choices because she wanted me to find out who I am, not define it for me. I was always told I could do anything I set my mind to, so I saw myself mirrored in that. Healthy, capable, strong, determined. Growing up, I might have taken that for granted, because not every mom is like that. Some mothers have their own unhealthy agendas, their own damage, their own distorted visions, and when that’s projected on a young child, the effects don’t just brand, but scar.

Cassie O’Malley is struggling with their weight of her family did to her—had her locked in a mental institution for something she didn’t even do. Instead of having a normal high school experience like most teens, Cassie lived in those walls and wondered why her mother did it, why her mother turned on her. When she turns eighteen, she enrolls in college—her mother’s alma mater—with hope of a fresh start and a real life. But Cassie can’t outrun the demons of her past, especially when her mother appears out of the blue, wanting a relationship. When Cassie unearths the incredibly painful truths of her childhood, she has to make a choice—does she choose the new life she’s trying to build, or her mother’s version of it?

Writing as beautiful as Kerry Kletter’s is rare, and this book pulled me in like a riptide. It’s the kind of writing you want to savor and not rush through, because the sentences are quite literally like art. Kletter has a way of stringing words together like little jewels—gleaming, gorgeous, breathtaking. Not only that, but her use of language is so strikingly original and unique that I was left in awe. Cassie’s struggle is so effectively conveyed, and we’re so deep in her head that it’s almost hard to be there sometimes, in a place so raw and vulnerable and hurting.

Cassie is fascinated by the Atlantic Ocean, which ebbs and flows like her moods in this book. There’s the primal pull of her mother, tugging her in one direction, while her fresh start at college, with all its possibility, coaxes her a different way. As a reader, I could feel Cassie struggling not to sink, gasping for air, trying to do what’s right. As a reader, I wanted so badly for everything to be okay for her. But Kletter’s exploration of the psychological damage Cassie’s mother has inflicted, the degree of manipulation, is so painfully thorough that you can see why Cassie is in danger of being dragged out to sea, no matter how many people try to throw her a life raft.

Hands-down, this is one of the most stunning and memorable books I’ve ever read from a new voice in Young Adult literature that will be with me for a very long time. Kletter’s talent is nothing less than jaw-dropping.

Add The First Time She Drowned to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Seven Ways We Lie

Today, I’m highlighting a book that’s out TOMORROW! I had the pleasure of seeing it on the shelf early when I did my book signing at the Chapters Indigo in Erin Mills a couple weeks ago. I’m excited for readers to pick it up!

I was so intrigued by the idea behind Seven Ways We Lie. Seven different perspectives, each embodying one of the seven deadly sins? And one secret binding them all? It’s such a brilliant, ambitious concept, and I was so excited to see how Riley Redgate would pull it off.

Well, pull it off she did. This book gripped my attention from the first page and didn’t get go. I swear, the pages had teeth. As a writer, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to differentiate between different perspectives and make each character’s voice unique. This book took on seven characters and executed each voice brilliantly. My personal favorite was Juniper, the golden girl who isn’t as perfect as everyone thinks. Her voice is pure poetry, dynamic and lyrical, strong and fragile. Some of her lines were so shockingly exquisite that I underlined them to revisit when I need to feel inspired.

The story centers around a scandal at Paloma High—a student-teacher relationship, although the identities of the student and teacher aren’t known at the beginning of the story. I won’t give anything away, but watching the events unfold through seven different perspectives was fascinating. I loved being able to jump from one point of view to the next and interpret things differently depending on the character.

I don’t want to give anything else away about the plot or how each character is involved, but I highly recommend this book—it’s a testament to how a difficult concept can be carried out brilliantly. It’s an example of a writer taking risks and having them pay off. Riley Redgate is the kind of brave writer whose work I’ll definitely keep reading!

Add Seven Ways We Lie to your Goodreads bookshelf and order your copy here!

Check out Riley Redgate’s website!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Save Me, Kurt Cobain

Not only is Jenny Manzer, the author of Save Me, Kurt Cobain, a fellow Canadian, but she wrote a hell of an amazing story. A story that will be out in the world March 8th, so you don’t have to wait much longer!

There’s a line I love from one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous: “They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’Know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.”

Music has a lot of powers. It soothes and it incites, motivates and empowers, empathizes and hurts, sometimes makes us feel that we’re less alone. For fans, music can be a companion, a friend, an escape. But does music have the power to save someone? That’s one of the themes in Jenny Manzer’s riveting debut, Save Me, Kurt Cobain.

Nicola “Nico” Cavan, now fifteen, was abandoned by her mom when she was four years old. Her mother’s disappearance was never resolved, and when Nico finds some of her mom’s old CDs and a window is opened into her past, she wonders if there’s more to the story that nobody is telling her. On a ferry home from Seattle, Nico encounters a man she believes to be Kurt Cobain—a man who might be her real father.

As a huge Nirvana fan, I have to say that this book was one of my most anticipated debuts of 2016. And I completely devoured it. I loved Nico’s voice—smart and intense, at times sad and wounded, at others snarky and sarcastic. I really liked the element of mystery in the plot and all of the relationships between the characters. But most of all, I gravitated to the fusing of real-life events—such as the Nirvana concert in Victoria in 1991—and fiction. Jenny Manzer has created such an intensely believable story wherein true facts about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain are interwoven beautifully with the events in the story. Many times, the details about Cobain are shared and placed so effectively that they made my heart hurt.

This book kept me guessing up until the last page. Not only that, but there’s a line in the last chapter that made me tear up, and I’m not a book crier. There are only one or two other books that have ever brought tears to my eyes.

Kurt Cobain’s fans loved his music so much it hurt. This book does him justice. It’s a song, a tribute, a brilliant piece of work. And for anyone who believes a song can change your life, put your headphones on and read this stunning debut.

Add Save Me, Kurt Cobain to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Check out Jenny Manzer’s website here!

Spotlight On Sixteens: The Serpent King

The Serpent King will celebrate its book birthday on March 8, and I’m more than a bit excited for readers to discover it.

My bordering-on-rabid desire to read this book has been well documented. To the point where every time I saw it praised on social media, I became ever-so-slightly bitter that I hadn’t yet read it. So when I attended the ALA conference last weekend and saw ARCs, I grabbed one right away. I also squealed in a decidedly unprofessional manner (there were witnesses). I started reading on the plane home because I couldn’t wait any longer.

I had heard the writing was powerful, original, masterful. It is.
I had heard that I would fall in love with the characters. I did.
I had heard that my heart would get broken. It did.

Told from three perspectives—Dill, Lydia, and Travis—The Serpent King is the story about three misfit friends who are more like family and their senior year of high school. Jeff Zentner perfectly encapsulates the shaken-up cocktail of emotions that comes with leaving behind what you know. The excitement, the fear, the jealousy, the regret. Dill feels trapped in his life in Forrestville, Tennessee, because of his father’s name and his obligations to support his mother financially. Being in his head is both sad and hopeful at once. Dill is incredibly intelligent and loyal, but keeps getting told he can’t do things, and part of him is suffocating under the guilt his family burdens him with. I wanted so badly for Dill to recognize his full potential. Lydia is the story of a very different upbringing, one with supportive and loving parents. She has a successful fashion blog. Her future is bright and she’s determined to make a new life in New York. Travis lives between the pages of his favorite fantasy series, Bloodfall, tries to avoid his dad’s drunken temper, and thinks he’s intent to stay where he is—until a special encounter awakens faith in himself he never knew he had.

This story is about all kinds of faith. The religious kind, yes, but also the other kind. Faith in your friends. Faith in your own capabilities. Faith in the unknown.

I fell in love with these characters very quickly in the story. I wanted the best for them. This meant the stakes were high for me. I hoped when they hoped. I hurt when they hurt. And when the unexpected happened, I sobbed uncontrollably. That kind of attachment is rare for me with a book—feelings so strong that I had to close the book and actively remind myself that I’m reading fiction because it hurt too much otherwise.

That’s quite unusual for me. I pride myself on being a hard rock to crack as a reader. I rarely cry. But The Serpent King made something burst inside me and opened floodgates I didn’t even know were there. The fact that I cared that much about these characters is a testament to Jeff Zentner’s brilliant skills as an author.

This book is going to mean something different to everyone. To me, it means all-encompassing friendship, the kind that can’t be broken no matter how circumstances change. It means love and loyalty and defiance and breaking comfort zones and crushing through the mold of who you think you are to become the person you want to be. It means bravery. Dill, Lydia, and Travis embody courage for me. They inspire me. Bravery comes in different shapes and sizes. It’s big and small. The bravery these characters display is nothing short of astounding.

The Serpent King is one of the best books I’ve ever read, period. Yes, it broke my heart. But the undercurrent of hope is so strong that you can’t help but feel buoyed by it. Yes, I cried. But they were sad tears and happy tears. And any book that can make you feel not just something but everything, to me, is nothing short of spectacular.

Add The Serpent King to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Visit Jeff Zentner’s website here!

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