Tag Archive: ya thriller

Some big news…

I’m so excited to announce the bookish news I have been dying to share with everyone! My next two YA books (both contemporary psychological thrillers) have sold to Erin Stein at Imprint (Macmillan), with a tentative release date of winter 2019 for the first book, which is called Last Girl Lied To. I’m really looking forward to working with Erin, who has brilliant ideas and such great insight, and I’m honored to join the Imprint family!

That’s the short version. The long version? Well, we’d have to go back to February 2014, just after Pitch Wars wrapped (I was a mentee for Firsts). An idea for a creepy YA thriller was taking shape in my head, and I wrote a first draft in just under a month, giving it the working title Heavy. But… it just wasn’t the story I envisioned in my head. I planned to revise it right away, but a lot of stuff happened at once. My husband and I bought our first house and moved in, and I received offers of representation for Firsts, ultimately signing with agent extraordinaire Kathleen Rushall. So my little draft was shoved to the side of my desk… or more like, buried among other Word documents. But out of sight was not out of mind, because it was still on my mind.

When I came back to revise the draft, I got frustrated. It wasn’t going to be easy, like how it felt with Firsts, where I intuitively knew what needed to be changed and could make a plan to address each issue. Each time I opened that Word document, I felt like I was in way over my head. Instead of just tackling it in pieces like I should have, I ignored it and cheated on it with other WIPs. But I always had this nagging sensation in my head that the thriller was the book I should be focusing on.

So finally, I did. And I didn’t just revise– I rewrote the whole book. Twice. Then I revised some more.

Portrait of an author being driven crazy.

The toughest part for me was actually plotting the book, not just flying by the seat of my pants like I usually do. Last Girl Lied To taught me a lesson: that every book follows a different process, and what worked with writing one book might not work at all with the next one. And there’s nothing wrong with that. At one point, I remember sitting on the floor of my office with different colored Post-Its stuck to my closet door and walls in an attempt to place scenes where they were supposed to go. I might have even told myself that I’d never write such a twisty book ever again. (Alas, that was a big fat lie!)

But then, after all the hand-wringing frustration that revision brought, something wonderful happened. I had… a book. A book I believed in, that I had poured my heart and soul into. I sent it off to my brilliant critique partner, Emily Martin, hoping she would like it. And she did. Then I sent it to Kathleen, and was a big ball of stress waiting for her response. I wanted so badly for her to love it. And she did. A happy dance ensued.

More revision happened with Kathleen, but I moved through that quickly and with a purpose. Knowing she stood behind the book really fueled me. Then, we went on submission. And waited. (If you’re a writer who has ever known the particular hell of being on sub, you know exactly what I’m talking about!) We waited some more. We received some great feedback and very kind passes, but hadn’t yet found the editor who would champion the book. In that time, Kathleen’s faith in the book (and in me) never wavered, and her support was constant. It’s my wish that every writer has an agent like that in their corner. Then, the book went to acquisitions at Imprint, and I got the call from Kathleen– we had an offer from Erin for a two-book deal!

In total, the book was on submission for over six months. (Don’t even ask me how often I checked my email during that time, because it’s a disturbingly high statistic per day. Oh, who am I kidding– per minute.) It took longer to sell than Firsts. At times, my writer insecurities got the best of me, and I was convinced it wouldn’t sell. Writers, if you’re in the same boat, do not give up hope on your work. It WILL find the right home, even if it doesn’t happen overnight.

Maybe the biggest lesson I learned from the process was not shying away from the writing when it got hard. Once in awhile, we’re lucky, and have books that write themselves. I got lucky like that with Firsts. But Last Girl Lied To was a different story, and has ultimately been the most rewarding writing experience of my life. The book is so important to me, and the fact that it took a lot of my blood, sweat, and tears (okay, maybe not any blood, but lots of frustrated tears), makes me that much more excited to know that it will soon be a book-shaped thing, on a shelf in bookstores. I wrote what scared me, what didn’t come easy. I forced myself to plow onwards, even when it would have been easier to give up and write something that didn’t give me so much grief. But I did not give myself permission to quit. And as a result, this book means more to me than anything else I’ve ever written. Writers often talk about the book of their heart. Well, so far, this one is mine.

Now, I am looking forward to the next steps. Edits and line edits and copyedits and cover reveals and ARCs (!!!). I truly cannot wait for this book to find its readers. If you like your YA twisty and dark, I hope you’ll enjoy Last Girl Lied To! A little bit about it? It’s about seventeen-year-old Fiona, whose best friend goes missing, after which Fiona is faced with the reality that the girl she knew better than anyone might have been a carefully constructed lie– and her disappearance might not be an accident at all. It’s set in a coastal town in California and is full of secrets and betrayal and regret and friendship and first love and damaged boys and broken hearts.

Thank you so much for all of your ongoing support. My readers mean the world to me, and I am so fortunate to share this journey with you all. It’s official: my second and third book babies are on the way! This is the part where I would normally crack open a bottle of champagne, but… sparkling juice it is, for now!

April, briefly

Photo credit to Shirley Konu of SVH Designs!

It feels like April was exactly that… brief. I know there are only 30 days in the month, but is it just me, or did those days fly by exponentially fast? We have been so lucky with the weather here (I even stored my winter coat away… touch wood), and it has been warm enough to go for walks in shorts and a tank top. It’s hard to believe that by this time next month, there’s a very strong possibility that I’ll be someone’s mother! (Unless he or she inherits my bad habit of always running late…) I’m getting so excited to meet this little one and find out who has been in there this whole time!

This month, I have been…

Working on: It has been all about the YA psychological thrillers this month. I’m using a corkboard and cue cards to track my progress (thanks, Save the Cat), and I feel like I have been more productive than usual as a result. My attention was very scattered and unfocused near the beginning of my pregnancy and I was having a hard time writing anything I liked, but things have changed in my third trimester and I’m motoring along at pretty much my pre-pregnancy speed. Maybe it’s because I know this is the last time I’ll be able to write without balancing writing and motherhood? I’m not sure, but either way, I’m taking advantage of it! (And I may be hitting you writing mommies up for advice about balance soon enough!)

Reading: I was lucky enough to read an early copy of Heather Ezell’s 2018 debut, Nothing Left to Burn, a book I have been excited about since seeing her book deal announcement in Publisher’s Weekly. Heather was a fellow Pitch Wars mentor last year, and not only is she an incredibly sweet person, but she is one hell of a writer. I absolutely adored her debut. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and so different than anything else out there. I’m so excited for it to find readers!

I also read another book I had been highly anticipating– Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage. I was a huge fan of Kim’s debut, After the Woods (we were fellow Sweet Sixteen debut authors!), so her second book had long been on my radar. It definitely didn’t disappoint. Her writing is so gorgeous and evocative, and the story itself was full of mystery and intrigue and heartbreak.

Watching: My husband and I binge-watched two great series based on books this month. The first, 13 Reasons Why, had me completely captivated. Jay Asher’s book was one of the first YA books I read, and was very influential to me as an aspiring author. I thought the series did a fantastic job of bringing the book to life, and the actors were nothing short of amazing. The episodes were haunting and at times very hard to watch, but I think it’s such an important book and has opened a lot of dialogue between teens and adults alike.

We also watched Big Little Lies, which is based on the book by Liane Moriarty. I haven’t read the book yet, although it has been on my TBR for quite awhile, but the series was excellent (and now I want to read the book even more than I did before). Great acting by a brilliant cast of female actresses (especially Nicole Kidman), and such a twisty, surprising plot. There are only seven episodes, and I think we finished them in just a matter of days.

I hope all of you have had a great month! I have some big news I’ll be sharing this coming week, so stay tuned!

March, briefly

My curious little helper!

Well, it’s official… March has come and gone. I’m grateful that I have quite a bit of new writing to show for it (not to mention, a bigger baby bump)! All in all, it was a busy, productive month, and exciting things are happening that I hope to be able to share with you all very soon!

This month, I have been…

Working on: I had a creepy new idea for a YA thriller, so I started writing it, and a week later, had almost 50 pages. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here! (I think the key to my progress was writing at coffee shops a couple times instead of just at home, where I tend to get distracted very easily.) In the latter part of the month, I went back to revising last year’s NaNo book (also a YA thriller), and I’m still trying to untangle it and figure out what it’s really about. I have a feeling that revising in this case will involve a lot of rewriting, but that’s okay… the framework of the story is somewhat there, and I’m figuring the intricacies out as I go. It just feels great to have words flowing again after being in somewhat of a rut earlier this year, and I hope this momentum continues until baby gets here!

Reading: I read a seriously fantastic book that I’m still thinking about– Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Very quickly, I became pretty much obsessed with it. The writing, the intricate storyline and structure, the incredibly realistic characters… I was left with a book hangover for several days after I turned the last page. It’s gorgeous and evocative and so, so compelling, and I recommend it to everyone looking for a read that will really suck them in.

I also finished Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, which is chilling and disturbing and twisty and compulsively readable. This was actually my first Karin Slaughter book, and I’ll definitely be looking into more of her thrillers going forward!

Watching: I owe a big thank you to the Lyon family of Empire for keeping me company when I had a horrific bout of the stomach flu early in the month. I was pretty much prone on the couch with crackers and Gatorade for a couple of days, and those Lyons kept me entertained! I’m on the third season now, and I seriously adore this show. If there’s a better screen couple than Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, I don’t know about it. My husband and I also watched the second season of Love on Netflix, which is such a quirky, funny show. (Gus is so adorably awkward!)

Now that April is just about here, I hope to finally be able to ditch my winter coat and boots for good! But in Canada, you never know…

January, briefly

Fur baby, book baby, and human baby!

The year has started off on a good note! Aside from gray skies for most of the month, things have been decidedly cheerful. I’m back into a routine with writing and revising (I had been admittedly derailed by December festivities), and recently shared some amazing news… my husband and I are expecting our first child at the end of May! We’re very excited about the new addition to our family (and my beloved dog, Abby, is hopefully just as excited to be a big sister)! Aside from needing a bit more sleep than usual, I have felt fantastic through my whole pregnancy. Hopefully that continues!

This month, I have been…

Working on: I’m revising a YA thriller (my most recent NaNo project) and have used a couple new strategies to maximize revision efficiency. As a pantser, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed at the thought of tackling my messy first draft and trying to fix what isn’t working. This time, I read the entire manuscript before making any changes, which made a huge difference. I was able to pick out inconsistencies, plot potholes and craters, and threads that are mysteriously dropped or picked up. I also printed the manuscript off so that I have something physical to review and mark up, instead of trying to scroll back and forth on my tablet screen. These changes have gone a long way toward making me a more efficient reviser, so now maybe the urge to draft won’t be so tempting all the time!

Reading: The first book I finished in 2017 was Room by Emma Donoghue, a renowned author from the same city as me. Told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who has spent his entire life in captivity with his mother, it’s a harrowing, heartbreaking, and brilliant perspective into what happens when living in one room turns into living in the world overnight. After reading it, I watched the movie, which was so well-acted!

I was lucky enough to read a copy of A.V. Geiger’s debut novel, Follow Me Back, ahead of its May release date. It’s a YA thriller and it’s so twisty and suspenseful! I’m pretty open about my love of a plot that will keep me guessing, and this one was not just surprising, but completely shocking. (That ending!)

Next was Flower by Shea Olsen and Elizabeth Craft. I got to know Shea last year, and had been anticipating her debut YA contemporary romance novel for so long. It definitely didn’t disappoint! I finished it in one weekend and stayed up past my bedtime, and for a sleepy pregnant lady, that’s saying a lot.

I finished off the month with a book that left me completely floored- Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. This one had so many twists and turns I did not see coming. It’s dark, sharp, and haunting and at times hard to read, but it left me thinking for a long time afterward, which is a sure sign of a very compelling read.

Watching: I used to be in denial about it, but I can now say without shame that I’m totally hooked on cheesy reality shows, especially The Bachelor. They’re my guilty pleasure when I just need to turn my brain off and not think. I was excited to tune into this season, and it already looks like it’s full of drama, so I’m sure I won’t miss an episode!

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!

October, briefly

It’s hard to believe that the end of October is here! Fall has definitely come to Ontario, and the warm days have been replaced by cool weather and plenty of beautiful changing leaves. I have officially swapped my shorts for jeans and my flip flops for boots, candy has been consumed, and my dog may have tried on a few different Halloween costumes. As much as I tend to despise what’s coming (ahem… winter), I’m trying to focus on all the things I have to look forward to in hopes that the cold weather will be more bearable!

Perfect October viewing!

Perfect October viewing!

This month, I have been…

Working on: It’s almost Halloween, so what better project to undertake than a thriller? I have apparently had darkness on the brain lately. I’m currently playing around with a couple different ideas, so we’ll see which one sticks! I’m planning to fully commit to something in November, but I have a feeling some outlining will be required, because the twisty nature of thrillers doesn’t always mesh so well with my pantsing style.

Reading: I was lucky enough to start the month with Fear the Drowning Deep by fellow Sweet Sixteener Sarah Glenn Marsh. I have known Sarah since our days in the query trenches, so getting to read her gorgeous debut was a really amazing feeling! Sarah’s writing is absolutely luminous, and this story– about monsters lurking in the deep off the Isle of Man and the girl determined to stop them from harming her village– is unique and unforgettable.

I’m currently reading City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, which is incredibly captivating– it’s told from multiple perspectives and culminates around a blackout that happens in New York City in the summer of 1977. The writing is masterful and the characters feel so realistic. It’s the kind of book I want to take my time with, and it has been the perfect companion for chilly fall evenings.

Watching: My sister and I have an annual tradition of watching all of the Halloween episodes of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (we watched the show religiously when it was on TV), along with the classics– Hocus Pocus and Teen Wolf. It’s not Halloween otherwise!

I have some exciting plans coming up for November, so I have a feeling it will be a great month– and if the snow can hold off, that would be even better. (I’m of the mindset that the only good kind of snow is Jon Snow…)

Spotlight on Sixteens: Genesis Girl

Genesis Girl by my Sixteen to Read sister Jennifer Bardsley is such an original, thought-provoking book. It’ll hit bookstores everywhere June 14, but you can read about it here first!

Some days, I feel kind of horrified by the influence technology holds over my life. I’m joined at the hip with my phone. My fingers are glued to my tablet. My iPod is on full blast. So I was immediately intrigued by the premise for Genesis Girl, which is set in a future where the aftermath of a brain cancer epidemic brought on by cell phones scared parents though to entrust their children to a leader who would keep them safe and technology-free. These children would grow up to be Vestals, and would have no Internet footprint. This makes them extremely valuable. Companies want them to advertise their products, knowing there is no chance that a Vestal could have a sordid backstory traceable online.

The main character in Genesis Girl is Blanca, a Vestal who is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Except instead of being on billboards and magazine covers selling soap, Blanca’s buyer, Cal, has a different idea. He wants her to act as his daughter, and help him gain a relationship with his estranged son, Seth, who is the total opposite of Blanca—technology-addicted and the operator of an online blog intent on exposing Vestals. But even though she’s fundamentally opposed to everything he stands for, Blanca finds herself falling for Seth, although she’d never admit it. When she starts to learn more about the Vestal leader and the secrets of her past are brought to the surface, Blanca must tap into the courage to do what she’s never been able to—think for herself, and make her own decisions.

Fast-paced and action-packed, this was a book I had a hard time putting down. I desperately wanted Blanca to claim the life Cal wants her to have, complete with freedom and the ability to do the things she wants to do. As a main character, she’s very intriguing—because of how she was raised, she has no idea what she wants in life or how to achieve it. Her journey to find herself is, for me, the most fascinating part of the story.

I love how completely original the concept of the story is. Jennifer Bardsley has envisioned a future wherein technology isn’t just at one’s fingertips, but in them, in the form of finger-chips. Blanca is disgusted with how dependent people are on technology. Having never been online, she’s at the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s a commentary on our society today– how sometimes, it’s almost impossible to disconnect from our devices.

A thought-provoking, imaginative, and totally unique story—I’m looking forward to the sequel!

You can add Genesis Girl to your Goodreads bookshelf and preorder a copy!

Visit Jennifer Bardsley’s website to learn more about her!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Crossing The Line

Today, Crossing The Line by my Sixteen to Read sister Meghan Rogers has the spotlight… this thriller is out April 12 and you don’t want to miss it!

I have made my love of twisty plots no secret, but I definitely know how hard they are to write. It’s not easy to keep readers on the edge of their seats, to keep them always second guessing, to keep them from fully trusting some of your characters. To leave readers in that perpetual state of tension is a difficult feat indeed.

It’s also one that Meghan Rogers makes look easy in her debut, Crossing The Line. And that is a true measure of her talent.

Jocelyn Steely was kidnapped when she was just a little girl and made to work as a spy in North Korea. I won’t give anything away as to why she didn’t try to escape—but let’s just say it’s both shocking and very sad. When her agency sends her to infiltrate the group her spy parents once worked for in the United States, Jocelyn sees an opportunity for freedom—and to expose KATO, her North Korean agency, for its horrible practices and robbing kids like her of their childhoods. But Jocelyn doesn’t exactly get a warm welcome in the United States—especially not from the agent known as Scorpion, a boy she has faced off with in the field more than once. With barely anyone trusting her, Jocelyn has to finish what she started—and uncover new and unsettling information in the process.

As a heroine, Jocelyn is a total badass. I don’t just mean that because she’s a highly trained spy who literally kicks ass—she struggles with her inner demons too and has more emotional baggage than most people who live a whole lifetime. I totally loved her relationship with Scorpion, which was fraught with tension—at first, just distrust, then some serious chemistry. Seeing their tenuous bond get stronger was one of my favorite parts of the book. The pacing is perfection, with twists and turns around every corner, and Meghan’s writing style is so fluid and intelligent. I stayed up way too late reading this book on more than one occasion, telling myself “just one more chapter.” And that’s the mark of an unputdownable book.

Oh, and I definitely won’t give anything away—but the ending, folks. That ending. I cannot wait for the next book in The Raven Files series!

Add Crossing The Line to Goodreads and preorder a copy!

Check out Meghan Rogers’ website or visit her at Sixteen to Read!

Spotlight on Sixteens: AFTER THE WOODS

AFTER THE WOODS by Kim Savage will grace bookshelves everywhere with its dark beauty on February 23, but for Spotlight on Sixteens, I’m sharing my review of this incredible debut!

I was immediately intrigued after I heard the premise for this book. I love a good twisty plot, and it sounded like Kim Savage’s debut had just that. But I wasn’t prepared for just how twisty, just how deep and dark and gorgeous and terrifying this story would be. I wasn’t prepared to feel like I was getting yanked in by a pair of claws, unable to put the book down until I read just one more chapter. Even now, after turning the last page, what happened after the woods haunts my brain and hurts my heart.

AFTER THE WOODS is the story of two best friends, Julia and Liv. One year after they were attacked in the woods, they’re both living in the aftermath of what happened. Liv chose flight. Julia chose fight, and saved Liv in the process. But it’s not that clear-cut. After a girl’s body is found in the woods and Julia starts to piece together what happened, and as she faces memories of her time spent with her attacker, a whole new layer is exposed—a rotten layer, an underbelly even more grotesque than Julia could have imagined.

The friendship between Julia and Liv is so beautifully drawn. I loved the details about how close they were before the woods, and what changed for each girl. Julia is the kind of protagonist I feel lucky to have spent a book with. She’s whip-smart, perceptive, sarcastic but sensitive, and determined—determined to find out why her best friend is self-destructing after getting a second chance at life, determined to face her own fears, and most of all, determined to figure out why the woods happened at all.

This book is at times a thriller, at times a highly emotional contemporary, and at times, a puzzle with jagged edges that you’ll be increasingly desperate to put together. I was breathless with the desire to know what happened—as much as I wanted to savor Kim Savage’s incredible writing, I was flipping pages lightning-fast to figure out the mystery of what happened to Julia and Liv in the woods. And without giving anything away, I’ll say that this book was never once predictable. The plot twists had twists. And for this reason, AFTER THE WOODS is a book I will continue to think about for a long time.

Add AFTER THE WOODS to your Goodreads bookshelf here and preorder it here!

Visit Kim Savage’s website here!

Learn about other awesome Sweet Sixteens debuts here!

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