Tag Archive: young adult contemporary

2016: The Debut Year

I think I filled my quota of Firsts puns long ago, but… this really was a year of many firsts! So I keep saying it anyway, because the firsts kept coming as the months went on. My first book came out. I got to travel to other cities to promote it. I spoke on panels and attended conferences. I met my critique partner, fellow authors, one of my lovely publicists, and my amazing editor. I had a launch party. I signed more books than I can count. I cheered for my fellow debut authors and read as many of their books as I could. I got to see my book on shelves, was able to call myself a published author. Family and friends bought my book. I heard from so many readers who told me Firsts had an impact on them.

But now that the year is almost over, I’m realizing 2016 was also a year of lasts. It’s the last time I’ll ever get to call myself a debut author, which is bittersweet, because I have had such an unforgettable time being a Sweet Sixteen and Sixteen to Read, and part of the debut community. At the same time, I’m so excited to move forward into what 2017 has in store… I happen to know some very exciting and wonderful things are on the horizon!

I don’t know what word I would use to describe 2016, if I had to sum it up in one word. (I’m an author… there are too many perfect words!) Thrilling. Intense. Full. Busy. Fun. Looking back, the year feels both extra long and super short– like it wasn’t that long ago I was celebrating my book birthday with flowers and champagne, but at the same time, that I have come so far and learned so much since that day. I feel like I’m able to put things in perspective more now than I ever was in the past. I learned from my mistakes, figured out what was working, and was able to achieve balance. I had my moments of stress and anxiety, but took away important lessons from the tough times.

Most importantly of all, I realized what keeps me happy and sustained, after the debut hype started to fade. And that was writing”The End” on three new books.(I amend my earlier statement. “The End” are the most beautiful words in an author’s vocabulary!) That’s what I’m taking into 2017, more than anything else. The knowledge that working on the new thing, the next thing, anything, is what keeps me happy and inspired. Because my heart and soul is being a writer, and that means writing.

I’m so very excited to ring in the new year and so ready for everything that comes with it. Happy New Year, everyone!

December, briefly

Tree decorating fun!

Ah, December… the last month of the year, and possibly my favorite month of this year? (Which is saying a lot, because I have been pretty vocal about how much I hate any kind of snow that isn’t Jon Snow.) But this December has really been amazing for a few special reasons. Not to mention, Christmas is a magical time on its own. I love the traditions– picking out a tree and decorating it, reciting National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation word for word, making pancakes and bacon on Christmas morning– and as much as I don’t love my annual procrastination when it comes to buying gifts, I was able to relax and really enjoy the holidays this year.

This month, I have been…

Working on: For the first time in several months… not very much! After finishing the first draft of a new YA thriller last month for NaNo, I took a few weeks off to mentally recharge. It worked, because I’m itching to get back to new words!

Reading: I finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and it really was everything. Heartfelt, hilarious, and so insightful, with characters who felt real. I’m not surprised that this book has not only been optioned for film, but will be an actual movie next year! So excited to see Maddie and Olly on the big screen. I also read Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, a story about the twists and turns of female friendship (a theme I am forever excited about reading in YA). And I was lucky enough to read Riley Redgate’s sophomore novel, Noteworthy, in ARC form before its 2017 release date, and I completely fell in love with it! It’s both funny and serious, a study in gender and what that means, and explores sexuality and sexual orientation with so much nuance and sensitivity.

Watching: Aside from the traditional Christmas movies (National Lampoon! Scrooged! A Christmas Story! It’s a Wonderful Life!), my husband and I binge-watched the first season of Stranger Things and were completely captivated. Not the most Christmas-y show, but… we couldn’t stop watching! I’m a huge Winona Ryder fan, so I was very excited to see her on TV, and I really liked the entire concept… the dark, twisty nature, plus the Stephen King-esque vibe. Can’t wait for the next season!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and enjoy the last days of December before we ring in 2017!

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.

September, briefly

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

September has always been one of my favorite months. I love the changing leaves, the crispness in the air, and the electric sensation that anything can happen. Summer clung on a little longer this year (which I wasn’t complaining about… I would wear flip flops year round if I could), but now I feel like we’re firmly into fall. The month was capped off by a fantastic trip to Toronto for the Word on the Street festival, where I spoke on a panel and got to hang out with some awesome writer friends!

This month, I have been…

Working on: The first half of the month was challenging… I felt creatively blocked and my attention was scattered, leaving me a lot less productive than usual. But instead of forcing myself to work on something I wasn’t passionate about, I wrote some short stories, which motivated me to take chances and explore. I finally hit a groove with the new YA contemporary thriller that has been percolating in my mind for awhile now. I managed to get a decent amount of words down in the last couple weeks and am looking forward to more fast-drafting in October!

Reading: September has been a huge reading month for me! I started with Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, which my CP has been telling me to read for ages. I finally got a copy for my Kobo and understood exactly why it’s her favorite book. It’s deep and intense and so different from any YA book I have read. Next, I was lucky enough to read my agent-sis Samantha Joyce’s sophomore novel, Dealing in Deception, before its November release date! I literally could not put this one down… it has everything a reader could possibly want! Plot twists, humor, realistic relationships, drama, and healthy doses of romance. Next, I read the highly anticipated The Girls by Emma Cline, which deserves every bit of amazing praise it has received. The writing totally blew my mind and seriously inspired me. I followed up The Girls with another eagerly awaited 2016 debut, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I loved this one too… such a true-to-live glimpse of working in the restaurant industry with incredibly sensory writing that made me hungry for gourmet food more than once. I then read Not That Kind of Girl, the memoir by Lena Dunham, which I really enjoyed since I’m a huge fan of her TV show Girls. I finished the month with two excellent YA contemporaries, Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway and The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine.

(I guess it’s pretty obvious how I spend my time when I have writer’s block!)

Watching: I was totally sucked in by Empire, a show I have been meaning to start for awhile now. I’m a big fan of Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson (they have such great chemistry on screen together!), and I sped through the first season. I love the family dynamics and watching the lies, drama, and betrayal play out. Plus, the music is amazing!

I have a feeling October will be a really fantastic month. I’m looking forward to walks in the woods, crunching leaves underfoot, and lots of writing!

August, briefly

August has been a ridiculously busy but fun month. Basically, my attention has been focused on three things: revision, Rio, and Pitch Wars! I watched as much of the Olympics as possible and was so inspired by the amazing performances by our Canadian athletes. And speaking of inspiration, the talent in Pitch Wars has totally blown me away. I remember how nerve-wracking it was being a mentee the year I entered Firsts (back then, it was called Fast Girl), and now I can confirm with certainty that being a mentor involves just as much anxiety. Choosing a mentee was not an easy task, and I’m honored that so many talented authors submitted their work to me. I wish I could have chosen several mentees! But there could only be one, and the story that captured my heart was Still Breathing by Mary Dunbar. I’m so excited to work with her… you’ll be hearing lots more about Mary and her beautiful manuscript later!

#TripleTriple success!

#TripleTriple success!

This month, I have been:

Working on: August has been a full-on revision month! I finished revisions on two different projects, and now they’re out of my hands. (Although, for a writer, nothing is ever truly finished until you hold that first copy of your book!) I feel very positive about both projects and am proud of what I accomplished. Going into the fall, I’m looking forward to changing gears and drafting again… there is nothing as freeing and rewarding as fast-drafting a project and seeing where it goes, learning about the characters and their motivations as I write. There are two projects I’ve made some initial progress on, so the next step is figuring out which one to focus on first.

Reading: ALL things Pitch Wars! I requested material from several of the authors who submitted to me, and was so impressed by what I read. These books made me laugh, made me tear up, got me angry, made me think, grabbed my attention, and kept me up way past my bedtime. I can’t even begin to describe the extent to which these stories impressed me. I look forward to seeing all of them on bookshelves someday, because I have faith that will happen!

Watching: To say I have been obsessed with the Rio Olympics is a bit of an understatement. If it would have been possible for me to sit on my couch for two straight weeks and do nothing but watch the Olympics, I would have festered there in my pajamas and made a pillow fort. I was jumping up and down when Usain Bolt completed his astonishing triple triple, and seeing Canada’s talent– including Andre De Grasse, Damian Warner, Lanni Marchant, and Penny Oleksiak, among so many others– made me incredibly proud. The Olympics are all about following dreams and pushing limits, and I think it’s impossible to not feel moved by the dedication and passion these athletes demonstrate to their sports. To be honest, now that Rio is over, I don’t know what will fill the void for the next four years! (PS you heard it here… De Grasse for gold in 2020!)

As much as I love summer, I’m looking forward to all things fall… the changing leaves, jeans and ankle boots, crispness in the air, and pumpkin spice everything. There’s an electricity in fall that always energizes me, so I’m excited for whatever September brings!

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.

July, briefly

It was pretty cool seeing our books in the window at Brilliant Books!

It feels like just a second ago I was changing my calendar to July and looking at the start of a fresh new month. Is it just me, or was this the fastest July in history? I guess it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun, and July was a whole lot of good times. The highlight of my month was definitely a trip to Traverse City, Michigan, to see my wonderful CP Emily Martin and do some book events. Thanks to many great conversations with Emily, I came home motivated to tackle revisions on one of my YA contemporary projects that has been giving me serious grief. Sometimes all you need as a writer is to talk things out with another writer who understands you and your work. (And when that other writer just so happens to be a great friend who makes killer cocktails… well, even better!)

This month, I have been…

Working on: The revision mentioned above, which has been consuming all of my time. While I intended to fast-draft a different project consecutively, I just couldn’t manage to multitask this month. I tend to be extremely hard on myself when I don’t meet my goals, but I have come to realize that I’m never going to accomplish everything I want and I’m always going to feel like I could have done more. That attitude is something I’ve had my whole life and I’m trying to be kinder to myself, but it’s a constant struggle. I think revision is especially hard for me since it’s difficult to measure progress in tangible ways– sometimes it’s counter-intuitive in that progress can be getting rid of unnecessary words instead of adding new ones. (Let’s just say there has been basically a whole book’s worth of murdered darlings as a casualty of this revision!)

Reading: It has been a slow reading month, but I finished two books I really enjoyed. The first was Signs of You by one of my fellow Sweet Sixteen sisters, Emily France. It has been pitched as a YA Da Vinci Code, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the layers of mystery and intrigue. I definitely ripped through the pages because I needed to know what happened next. I also finished The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, which has one of the most authentic and fresh voices I’ve read in a long time. I bought the highly anticipated The Girls by Emma Cline at Brilliant Books (seriously amazing bookstore, by the way!) when I was in Traverse City, so I’m looking forward to diving in next month.

Watching: I love anything involving travel, so when my husband suggested a travel documentary show called Departures, I got on board. (See what I did there?) It chronicles the adventures of Canadian travelers Scott and Justin, who take a year off their lives to travel the world. I’m always fascinated by stories of people who can leave things behind to venture into the unknown, and seeing the different destinations they visited definitely ignited some wanderlust within me.

I’m very much looking forward to August… I think it’s going to be another whirlwind month filled with not only my own writing projects, but Pitch Wars fun! I posted my wish list and have been enjoying all the engagement on Twitter with potential mentees. The submission window opens August 3rd, and I cannot wait to see the entries that come in and choose a mentee… although, I have a feeling that will be difficult with all the amazing manuscripts out there.

Wishing everyone a happy and sun-soaked August!

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