Tag Archive: YA books

November, briefly

Being a writing buddy is exhausting!

Usually, November ushers in snow and cold weather and I start to get a case of the winter blahs. We have been especially lucky this month to have mild temperatures (for the most part), and I’m in much better spirits than I normally am at this time of the year. This November has been very productive and fun, and I owe a lot of that to the fact that I’m back in a solid writing groove.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I finished a (very sloppy) first draft of a YA contemporary thriller I have been conjuring up in my head for several months. I used this first draft to get to the heart of the story and show myself what it’s really about. As usual, my characters had different plans than I did, but for me as an author, those revelations are half the fun. Now that I have words on pages and know my characters better, I can work at refining the mess and getting the story to look on paper how it does in my head. Which is always the hardest part…

Reading: I finished two excellent Sweet Sixteen debuts: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson, and The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander. The former is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts, and I loved its creativity and how totally real the characters felt. The latter, about a girl haunted by the drowning death of her twin brother who begins to challenge her fears through freediving, is beautiful and haunting and evocative. I also read Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou, whose writing is in a league of its own. Her autobiographies are many things, but inspiring tops the list. I ended the month with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, a book I had been eager to read, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the humor and heart, and how relationships were portrayed– family bonds, friendship, and romantic love.

Watching: After hearing so many great things about Westworld, I knew I had to start the season and give it a try. (My husband was surprised I suggested it since I’m not usually a huge fan of sci-fi.) We were both sucked in right away by the totally imaginative concept, plot twists galore, and fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. I’m glad I ventured outside of my TV comfort zone!

I love Christmas, so I’m looking forward to all that December brings… picking out a tree and decorating it, wrapping gifts, spending time with friends and family, and eating all the holiday food! Wishing you all the best in the last month of 2016!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Girls In The Moon

I was extremely lucky to read an advance copy of a seriously amazing late 2016 debut that releases next week. Girls In The Moon by Janet McNally gave me a serious book hangover, because its pages are rich and sumptuous and soaked in gorgeous language and depth.

Girls In The Moon is the story of Phoebe, the daughter of rock stars who were famous in the 90s with their band, Shelter. Phoebe lives with her mother, Meg, and hasn’t seen her father in over three years. In the heart of summer, she visits her older sister Luna in New York City, where Luna has recently dropped out of school to pursue her own musical career—a choice Meg isn’t too happy about. Phoebe wants to get the kind of answers from her family that nobody can provide, as Meg avoids talking about Shelter and Luna has seemingly convinced herself that she doesn’t need her father in her life. Phoebe’s story in the present is interlaced with flashbacks from Meg’s point of view in the early days when Shelter was being formed, and I loved the contrast—that as Phoebe surges forward in her quest for truth, Meg’s journey is going backwards, from marital breakup to the first seedlings of fame.

I cannot adequately describe how incredible the writing is in this book. Janet McNally is a poet as well as a writer, and this comes as no surprise—her use of words is thoughtful, visceral, lush, and utterly original. Her descriptions of things through Phoebe’s eyes are so unique and compelling that I wanted to highlight pretty much every line. Her sentences are infused with grace, hope, curiosity, sometimes sadness, always so much insight.

This is a book that deals with a lot of things. It’s about relationships—sisters, mother-daughter, father-daughter, friends, romantic love. It’s about regret and mistakes and choices. It’s about faith and taking chances and finding not only yourself, but different versions of yourself that you may not have yet stepped into. It’s the brassy collision of music and reality and fame and responsibility. And it’s completely captivating.

I’m so excited for everyone to discover Girls In The Moon. This is a book I’ll come back to when I need to feel inspired, because it has this magnetic energy. If there’s a formula to make words jump off a page, Janet McNally has fully mastered it.

Add Girls In The Moon to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder your copy!

Learn more about Janet McNally and her writing.

A Halloween giveaway spectacular!

Halloween is just around the corner… and what’s even better than candy? How about winning $220 to spend on books? My Sixteen To Read sis Jennifer Bardsley has teamed up with nine authors to stir up a pretty sweet giveaway. In the cauldron is a $220 USD e-gift card to spend on Amazon.

Abby isn't what you'd call an avid Halloween fan...

Abby isn’t what you’d call an avid Halloween fan…

Click on the Rafflecopter giveawayhttp://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/bc26dd6f9/ to enter!

Want to find out more about the awesome authors involved with this giveaway? You can learn about each author at her website!

Amy Allgeyer http://www.amyallgeyer.com/
Jennifer Bardsley http://jenniferbardsley.net/
Jennifer DeGiovanni http://jenniferdigiovanni.com/
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn http://www.laurieelizabethflynn.com/
Donna Galanti http://www.donnagalanti.com/
Shaila Patel http://www.shailapatelauthor.com/
Caroline T. Patti http://carolinetpatti.com/
Meghan Rogers http://meghanrogersbooks.com/
Liza Wiemer http://lizawiemer.com/

Spotlight on Sixteens: Girl In Pieces

To say that I had been eagerly anticipating this book would be a grand understatement. I heard it pitched as a modern-day Girl, Interrupted, and that was enough for me to know I had to read it immediately. A fear sometimes exists with books you crave that badly- the fear that they won’t live up to your expectations, but I didn’t even have that feeling with this one. I knew somewhere in my soul that I would connect with it and love it beyond words. And I did.

Girl In Pieces is the story of Charlie, a girl who has lived an incredibly painful life and experienced more sorrow in her seventeen years than most do in a lifetime. She’s haunted by many demons- her father, her best friend, her relationship with her abusive mother, her time spent on the streets. Charlie carries scars both emotional and physical- she’s a cutter, which is her way of dealing with the pain, and her skin bears the marks of her trauma. As she struggles to make a new life, Charlie has to learn to live in her own skin and make peace with herself, even as external influences threaten to bring her back to dark places.

This was a book that sucker-punched me in the first page, that grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go. Kathleen Glasgow has such a totally original, immersive way with words. This is the kind of writing that feels fully, shockingly inventive. Charlie’s voice is raw and hurt and sad, so sad, but she can also be hopeful and funny and strong and dynamic. I love that she is an artist and uses her drawings to channel her energy, both positive and negative. The emotions she channels into her art are visceral. Every time she pulled out her sketchbook, or got excited about the prospect of creating art, I wanted to cheer for her and hug her and tell her how amazing she is. Because she is amazing. She is learning that she can be loved, despite being told girls like her, girls with scars, are unlovable. And she is learning about a different, very important kind of love- the love she has for herself.

The sentences in this book are haunting, lyrical, sparse, purposeful. While the words aren’t easy to digest, there is so much raw beauty in them, a tenderness pulsing under the surface, a hope brimming through even Charlie’s ugliest thoughts. Charlie is a survivor, and I don’t doubt that her story will change lives. As a reader, I will certainly never forget her.

A heartbreaking, beautiful debut that I will be recommending to everyone. Girl In Pieces is nothing short of a masterpiece. It will be available everywhere August 30!

Add Girl In Pieces to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder your copy!

Check out Kathleen Glasgow’s website.

Spotlight on Sixteens: Unscripted Joss Byrd

Today’s Spotlight on Sixteens is all about Unscripted Joss Byrd, a book I adored that’s written by an author I adore just as much! Lygia Day Peñaflor’s debut is honest and authentic, and it hits shelves August 23rd!

I have a fascination with actors. The roles they play, their processes, their lives on and off screen. So when I first heard about Unscripted Joss Byrd, I was incredibly excited to start reading. A glimpse into the life of a young actress trying to leave her mark on Hollywood? Yes, please.

In Unscripted Joss Byrd, the titular character, Joss, is a twelve-year-old actress who has been praised for her movie roles thus far. But on the set of her most recent movie, The Locals, she struggles with script changes, jealousy, a director who is less than honest, difficult scenes, and her difficult mother. From the outside, Joss has it all. She has a promising career and she’s still cute enough to get “kid” roles. But being in Joss’s head is a different story. She grapples with playing a character based on a real person who doesn’t want her story being told, and feelings of inadequacy– that she’s not smart enough, not pretty enough, not enough. She desperately wants to do the right thing. But is what’s right for her right for everyone else– her mother, her director, her costars?

Joss’s voice is absolutely, stunningly real. She’s young and inexperienced, but also older than her years. She wants a movie career, but is terrified on a daily basis that she’s going to forget her lines. She’s afraid her career will end when she hits puberty. At times, she’s a mess of contradictions. She’s hopeful and confident and scared and insecure. My heart went out to her. I wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay. But that’s the point– there’s no guarantee everything will be okay, especially in the movie industry, when longevity only befalls the lucky ones. There’s luck and there’s hard work, and Joss is no stranger to either.

Unscripted Joss Byrd is deep. It’s an honest, unflinching look at the underbelly of Hollywood life from the eyes of a girl trying to make what she has last as long as she can, while simultaneously living in fear of what comes next. I love how Lygia Day Penaflor is unafraid of showing the gritty reality under the sparkling surface. This is a book that will make me think twice the next time I open a magazine and see the beautiful celebrities within. Because all that glitters really isn’t gold.

Add Unscripted Joss Byrd to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder a copy!

Visit Lygia Day Peñaflor’s website to learn more about her.

Six months later

Today is July 5. Which means Firsts has officially been out in the world for six months. I can’t even begin to thank everyone who has bought the book, requested it at their local library, wrote a review, or reached out to me to let me know what the story meant to them. My experience as a debut author has been beyond anything I could have hoped for, and I’m extremely grateful.

English and Spanish editions meet!

I recently started thinking about where I was two, three, four years ago. Two years ago, Firsts was on submission, and I was probably checking my email for the two hundredth time of the day, hoping for good news but steeling myself for bad. Three years ago, Firsts didn’t yet exist, and I thought maybe I sucked at this whole writing thing. Four years ago, I was finishing my first “real” book, a New Adult contemporary. I was too afraid to tell anyone outside of my boyfriend (now husband) and immediate family members that I was even writing a book. I knew there was a very good chance I’d never have a book published and I didn’t want people thinking I was a failure.

So, for two-three-four years ago me, the one who had no idea what to expect, and for anyone else in the same boat, I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve learned in my first six months as a published author.

You still have worries and insecurities. They’re just different ones now. Before getting published, all I wanted was to get an agent. Then, all I wanted was a book deal. Now that I’m a published author, I want to keep building on that dream and putting books out in the world. There’s always something else you’re striving for, something bigger and brighter, even when your dream comes true. Try not to obsess about whatever that something else may be, and enjoy the stage you’re at.

You still check your email a lot. At least, I do. I remember thinking that if I ever got an agent and got out of the query trenches, I wouldn’t be such an email addict. Then submission happened. Then a book deal happened. I consistently check my email, respond to emails, and send new ones– in fact, far more so than ever before. But the familiar ding of a new email coming in hasn’t become any less exciting!

Social media is important, but it’s not everything. I stressed out about social media– was I active enough? Was I tweeting about the right things? Was having a blog worth my time? Should I get Tumblr? And honestly, the answers are different for each writer. My thought is, be active on social media when you can and when it feels authentic for you, and use it to engage with readers, librarians, bloggers, authors, and other people in the bookish community. If you hate the idea of one particular platform, don’t make yourself be on it, because you’ll just resent the time spent there. If you don’t want to blog, don’t force yourself to think up post ideas. I love being on Twitter and Instagram, and I really enjoy blogging, so I focus on those areas. I’m finally in a place where I feel comfortable with social media– where it’s fun again instead of being stressful, and where I can not check my feeds for a few days and be okay with it. Know that if you’re absent from the social media world for days, weeks, even months– people will understand. Hell, they might not even notice, because they’re stressed out about the same things.

Promotion doesn’t have to break the bank. Promotion is another thing that varies wildly from author to author. Some writers go on book tours and seem to be in a different city every other day. Some do lots of school visits. Some have snazzy book trailers. Some send bookmarks and postcards to libraries. Some have really cool swag. Some do amazing giveaways. Some do all of the above, and others do none. Do what you can to promote your book, but don’t make yourself miserable over it. For Firsts, some of the most fun I had was writing a series of short stories from the perspectives of the guys Mercedes hooks up with. (You can read the series here!) I shared the stories on Wattpad, where they have now surpassed 190,000 views. I also did giveaways– some of which were successful, others not so much. Get creative: if you want to try something outside the box, go for it!

Read your reviews at your own risk. I quickly learned that Goodreads wasn’t going to be a good place for me to hang out. I love going on there to review books, but I only had to read a couple of negative reviews for Firsts to feel pretty discouraged. That’s different for everyone– some authors love to read all their reviews. After all, we do have to have a thick skin in this industry. But we’re also sensitive and full of neuroses– that’s how we create something out of nothing. I respect all reviews and certainly understand that not everyone will like my writing. At the same time, I don’t need to actively seek out something that might make me feel a little bit less like writing that day.

You can’t control anything but your own words. And once you accept that, it’s a huge relief. There are so many aspects of this business that are beyond our scope of control, but if you focus on your words, your head (and heart) will always be in the right place.

Comparison really is the thief of joy. Being a debut author is an incredibly exciting time, but it’s full of ebbs and flows. One week, you might get lots of great news, then face down a few interminable weeks of radio silence. My advice is to not live in a perpetual state of expectation, and don’t compare yourself to someone else’s news. You’re not competing with your fellow authors. There’s room on the shelf for everyone, so go shout all the happy news and spread the love!

Fellow debut authors are the best people ever. I’m so incredibly grateful to have gotten to know so many other debut authors– online, in person, and in some lucky cases, both. It’s such a positive, encouraging support network of people who understand exactly what you’re going through.Getting to read their debuts has inspired me endlessly, and I look forward to remaining friends and cheering for each other as our careers go forward.

Seeing your book on a shelf is the coolest thing ever. It really is, and it never gets old.

Hearing that your family/friends/coworkers/strangers have read it is surreal/awesome/terrifying. But mostly just awesome.

Hearing from readers who loved your book will mean the world. Seriously, there’s no feeling like this. When a reader reaches out to me and lets me know Firsts made an impact, my day is made. This is why I write what I write.

Writing doesn’t get any easier. If there’s a magic formula for writing a book, I sure haven’t stumbled upon it. If anything, the writing got tougher after my book deal, perhaps because I felt a sense of expectation that wasn’t there before. Worries like, is this right for my brand? Will my agent like it? Will my readers like it? chiseled themselves into my brain and stuck there like banners. Everything I have written since Firsts has challenged me in new ways… and made me question whether or not I have any clue what I’m doing. (My critique partner can attest to this… I’m pretty sure I’ve sent her some panicky emails along the lines of, “I forget how to write a book!”)

Writing the next thing trumps all. This is what it all comes back to. That’s how you grow, and learn from mistakes, and keep getting better as an artist.

So, those are some of the things I’ve learned over the past six months as a published author. Looking forward to the next six months, and the six months after that, because I really am living my dream, and I know how lucky I am to be able to say that!

June, briefly

With my lovely agent-sis Samantha Joyce and the #TeamKrush books we found at Chapters!

Overall, June was a pretty fantastic (and busy) month. It started with a YALSA BFYA nomination, which was such a surprise and an incredible honor! The weather has been hot and sunny (my favorite!), and a truly wonderful celebration took place– my sister’s wedding. It was a very special and unforgettable day! Later in the month, I went to Toronto for a book signing event at Chapters with fellow authors Jenny Manzer and Catherine Lo, and a panel at the Canadian Writer’s Summit conference with Jenny, Catherine, Jen DiGiovanni, and Wendy McLeod MacKnight. Both events were so much fun. I felt so energized being able to talk about my path to publication with readers and writers at varying stages of the process, and I was grateful to be able to meet up with so many writer friends while I was in the city. (Erika David, Samantha Joyce, and Tanaz Bhathena, I adore you all!) The weekend was exactly what I needed to recharge and recenter myself going into the summer.

This month, I have been…

Working on: I am officially project-hopping. While the revision of one YA contemporary manuscript has most of my full attention, I’m cheating on it with two other WIPs. One is a draft of a NaNoWriMo project from 2014, which just goes to show that sometimes distance and time away really do make the heart grow fonder (and give you the space you need to figure out what wasn’t working). The other is still in the magical early stages where anything is possible, but since there’s a mystery element and things are getting twisty, I think some plotting will be required in the near future.

Reading: It was another slow reading month for me. I’m usually a very fast reader, but lately I’m not turning pages at my regular rate. I’m chalking it up to the humidity, which makes me extra sleepy! But I was able to finish The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass, which came out at the beginning of the month. It’s dark, haunting, and feels completely unique in voice and theme. I also read Girls in the Moon by Janet McNally, which is arguably one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read, and a fantastic fusion of music and love and identity. It doesn’t come out until November, but I highly recommend preordering a copy!

Watching: Besides Game of Thrones, which I’m full-on obsessed with (helloooo, Jon Snow!), my husband and I started watching Billions, which is smart, dynamic, and very interesting. I’m a big fan of Damian Lewis, who plays one of the leading roles. There’s only one season out so far, but I look forward to watching more!

That’s my world in June! Looking forward to what July brings (including a book event in Traverse City with my amazing CP, Emily Martin). And stay tuned for something fun happening next week!

On those drawer darlings

While looking through the various folders on my computer recently, I realized that I’ve completed eight books.

And started about twice that many.

In an effort to stay organized, I give each book a folder. But some of these “books” don’t quite materialize, and the folders don’t have much to show. Some are partway toward being a completed novel– one has over 30,000 words, while another is encroaching on the 50,000 mark. Some are a lot less far along– a few chapters in, or even just a few pages. As I clicked through the neglected documents, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I had abandoned them. I never gave them a chance.

Or did I?

A drawer darling that just may be resurrected.

A drawer darling that just may be resurrected.

More than once, I’ve wondered—am I commitment-phobic? Am I just in it for the glorious honeymoon period, when everything feels shiny and effortless, before it becomes a big confusing mess? Do I take a hike when the words dry up and sentences feel like a massive undertaking and that paralyzing feeling of “what’s next” takes over?

I honestly don’t think so. I’m pretty sure my prognosis is that I’m just a regular writer.One thing my journey to publication has taught me is that most of us have lots of those half-started, half-finished, halfway-maybe-something projects in our proverbial drawers. Some of them are terrible and we’d never show them to a single soul. Some of them might become something, someday. So why do I still feel guilty that my drawer darlings exist?

I think it’s because such a huge part of success in writing is persevering through the hard times and never giving up. You’ll hear a lot of writers (myself included) say that habit is the key to success. You have to put in the work and commit in order to finish something. A first draft only has to exist, not be anywhere close to perfect. But not everything makes it even to first draft status. Those not-finished somethings don’t mean you didn’t commit or that you didn’t care. Making the choice to abandon a project isn’t the same as giving up. Maybe you’ll go back to it in a week, month, or even two years. Sometimes, distance is the best solution. And sometimes, the book just isn’t working, and you have to accept that. Accepting that it didn’t work isn’t a failure– it’s growth as an artist.

I can’t even fathom how many thousands of words of mine will never see the light of day, how many hours of work I put into projects that nobody will ever see. Maybe some people would deem that a waste of time, but I’m okay with it. None of the time and effort was a waste, because I was writing and learning and honing my skills, even if I didn’t see it at the time. I can go back to one of those abandoned folders and see why a project wasn’t working, why an idea fell flat. I can resurrect it. Or I can leave it, because the passion isn’t there anymore.

A writer’s imagination is a crazy-awesome place. There’s so much going on in there– your imagination lets you build worlds and characters out of nothing. That’s kind of like magic. Don’t cover all that with the heavy blanket of guilt. Let those words be wasted, if that’s the best thing for you. Let those drawer darlings gather dust. They’ll still be there, if– and when– you ever go back to them.

Spotlight on Sixteens: In The Shadow Of The Dragon King

When I was a teenager, I was full-on obsessed with The Lord of the Rings. I had practically memorized the maps of Middle Earth and imagined how cool it would be to escape my life and go on a quest with the characters. (I also had a huge crush on Aragorn, but that’s beside the point…)

Anyway, reading Tolkien spurred my love of dragons and fantasy. I have massive amounts of respect for any writer who can create a fantasy world out of nothing and make it feel real, as real as the world in which we live. J. Keller Ford proves that she is such a writer in the first book in her Chronicles of Falhallow series, out May 31 with Month 9 Books!

In The Shadow Of The Dragon King is a riveting read. It’s rich with details and has an ethereal quality that’s hard to describe, but as I was reading, I felt like I could escape into the words and be in the world Ford created. The main characters, Eric and David, feel so genuine and authentic. Eric lives in the enchanted realm of Falhallow, while David lives in the modern world—until he finds himself called to Falhallow. Further complicating the plot is David’s best friend, Charlotte, who he has more than friendly feelings for. To destroy the dragon, Eric and David have to learn to work together and trust each other, which is a bit more difficult in reality than it sounds in theory.

I’m so excited for teens to discover this book and fall in love with it like I did with fantasy when I was a teenager. In The Shadow Of The Dragon King is a story with a timeless, classic feel, and I’m looking forward to the next installment in the series!

Add In The Shadow Of The Dragon King to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Check out J. Keller Ford’s website here.

Spotlight on Sixteens: Please Don’t Tell

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book at ALA Midwinter, where I was even luckier to have the lovely Laura Tims sign it for me. But I had no idea exactly how lucky I was that I had my own copy until I started reading… because I was literally underlining quotes from every single page and dog-earing at random. (Sorry, book!) It’s not an understatement to say I was floored by the writing. It’s bold, gripping, original, evocative, poetic, jarring. It’s light as a lullaby, beautiful as a song, loud as a scream. Sentences hum with electricity, with passion, with raw fear and rage.

Please Don’t Tell is told from alternating perspectives—the narrators are twin sisters Joy and Grace, and the timeline goes from Joy’s voice in the present to Grace’s voice in the past. I loved this fragmented style of storytelling, because it kept me fully engaged and so, so invested in the story. Each sister’s voice was distinct, and Laura Tims does a great job of showing the complicated web of sisterhood, and how guilt and regret and doubt can tangle even the strongest bonds. Through Joy and Grace, she also explores what it means to be a girl and how that can be warped and change shape and lose importance entirely. It’s heartbreaking, but also vividly real.

I don’t want to say much about the plot, because I don’t want to give anything away. I will say that it involves the aftermath of a party where Joy isn’t sure exactly what happened—and the events that follow, which lead her to believe someone else does know, and is willing to use it against her. It’s complicated, twisty, surprising, dark, and wholly, entirely captivating. I couldn’t put the book down and I didn’t want to. Consider me a die-hard Laura Tims fangirl—this is one of the most unique and daring YA books I’ve read.

Add Please Don’t Tell to Goodreads and preorder your copy before its May 24 release date!

Learn more about Laura Tims on her website!

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