#SixteensBlogAbout: Summer Reading

With the summer months practically here (seriously, how is it June already? Slow down, 2015…), the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about a particularly timely topic: summer reading.

This got me thinking about a lot of things. All the fabulous books I want to be reading right this second. The massive TBR list I’m dying to catch up on. The chair on my deck, beckoning me to sit down with a glass of Riesling and my Kobo.

Beach

Beach reading: one of the ultimate reading locations.

But the very first thought that came to mind? Being a kid and having the whole summer off, and not even appreciating how awesome that was. I  remember complaining to my parents, loudly and dramatically, that I was bored during those summers. Bored. There were only so many hours that could be spent playing outside, so many afternoons reading The Babysitter’s Club and hacking the hair off Barbies with my sister. So many days with nothing to do.

(It goes without saying that I also didn’t appreciate nap time back then. Because I had a lot to learn.)

As an adult, I relish any free time I get. There’s absolutely nothing more exciting for me than a whole day stretching ahead with no plans at all, nothing to do at all. It’s funny how things change— how what I now call the perfect day used to be a dime a dozen, ferociously underappreciated. What would summer reading look like for me, if I had back those endless summer days bereft of responsibilities that I didn’t value as a kid?

Summer reading would be both leisurely and fervent. It would involve starting and finishing a book in the same day. Maybe two books a day, since there wouldn’t be laundry to do or groceries to buy or meals to burn cook. Summer reading would happen everywhere. On my deck, where a waiter would magically refill my champagne when my glass got empty. (Hey, it’s my fantasy here!) At the beach, where I’d be careful not to get SPF 60 all over the pages. In the passenger seat during road trips, because let’s face it, I’m a useless navigator anyway. In my bed, where I’d sleep until at least noon like I did when I was a teenager. In an inflatable pool chair, floating from the shallow end to the deep end and back again, my toes dangling in the water. (In this wishful summer, I of course have a pool.) In the park, on a blanket in the grass. On a boat while my husband fishes. Summer reading would swallow up my days and the word “boredom” would never be used.

But that’s not the summer I have to work with. In reality, summer reading fits in wherever it can. On my breaks at work. While a TV show plays in the background. At the library. In coffee shops, accompanied by lattes. In my office. While I’m quickly eating breakfast before work. With a little lamp-light, under the covers at night. (Maybe I have something in common with kid-me after all.) I’ll read everywhere and anywhere, in whatever time I have, because quite simply, there is no better summer vacation than the ones found within a book’s pages.

And just for fun, here are some of the (many) books I hope to read this summer:

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

In A World Just Right by Jen Brooks

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

Learning Not to Drown by Anna Shinoda

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Mania by J.R. Johansson

Black Iris by Leah Raeder

Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Happy reading, everyone, whether it’s under the covers after dark, on a deck with champagne, or everywhere in between!

#SixteensBlogAbout: Luck

It’s Saint Patrick’s day today, which means green beer for some people, questionable green fashion choices for others, and for writers, a time to reflect on “the luck of the Irish.” This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about luck, so what better day to write about it than the luckiest day of the year?

Irish

That I am.

Good or bad, luck plays a role in publishing. It’s part of the formula that turns your hand-scribbled notes or the Word document on your computer into something on a shelf in a bookstore, but it’s the one part we can’t control as writers, which makes it so elusive—and so maddening. You can work hard and write a great book, but for your work to find its way to an agent or an editor, a bit of luck has to be on your side too.

I think a lot of luck has to do with timing. If you’re a querying writer, you might have heard this before. An agent might love your work, but feel like it’s not right for her list at this time. Or maybe she has something too similar already. Maybe you wrote a book about a trend that’s getting harder and harder for agents to sell and editors to acquire. Perhaps you get told that your book doesn’t have what it takes to stand out in an already crowded market. (FYI: I heard this more than once before with the first NA book I queried, and those agents were right.)

If you’re getting these kinds of rejections, you might think it’s you. You might doubt yourself as a writer and wonder if you have anything unique to say, or if you should just stop trying altogether. You might be looking for a sign, something to tell you what to do.

Here’s a sign: whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

Because as much as timing sucks sometimes and you might think you have the worst luck in the world, there is something hugely important that you do have control over: whether or not you keep writing. So maybe your first book doesn’t work out, or your second or third. But if you keep writing and have faith in yourself and don’t give up, you will find the right path for your work.

And here’s another thing about luck. It can be in your favor, too. After you fall down and brush yourself off and stand up even taller, you’ll realize that you learned more than you gave yourself credit for. You’ll come to understand that you’re smarter than when you started. Your writing will get better and so will your choices. Maybe you’ll submit to an agent who really gets you, and you’ll count yourself so lucky to have her in your corner. Maybe that awesome agent will sell your book to your dream editor. And you’ll realize that all the supposed “bad luck” you experienced along the way wasn’t bad luck at all, but was actually the best thing that could have happened to you.

Case in point: I remember a time when I was querying the first book I ever wrote. I had been in the query trenches for more than six months and I was discouraged because although I had come pretty close to a “yes” with a few agents, I hadn’t been offered representation. I felt like a failure. But I picked myself up and wrote a second book. Then, I had this crazy idea that I just had to write, and that crazy idea turned into FIRSTS. Looking back, I think luck was on my side the whole time, with each rejection that trickled in. It sure didn’t feel that way when I was in the query trenches, but in hindsight, I can see that all those “no’s” led me to where I am now. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Writers talk a lot about the path to publication. And no matter what stage you’re at—writing, revising, querying, entering a contest—guess what? You’re on it. You’re living your dream. And that, in itself, is an amazing accomplishment. As the Irish blessing goes, “may the wind be always at your back.”

January, briefly

January has never been one of my favorite months. It seems particularly obnoxious, like a guest who has long overstayed his welcome and doesn’t realize it. Maybe it’s the reality of New Year’s Resolutions sinking in, or just the comedown after the Christmas festivities. Usually by January 31st, I wonder how a month can possibly feel so long.

But this January has been different somehow. Instead of feeling tired and defeated, I feel inspired. When I looked at the calendar today and realized it was January 29th, I wondered where the month has gone. Then I realized where: into several Word documents and a couple handy notebooks.

I'm a handy notebook! Fill me with words!

I’m a handy notebook! Fill me with words!

When you work a lot, whether as a writer or at any job, it’s easy for the days to blend into each other. It’s even easy to forget what day of the week it is. (At least, for me.) So I thought it would be fun to record a little bit of what I’m up to at the end of each month, to remind myself what I have accomplished and how I got there.

This month, I have been…

Working on: The Young Adult contemporary I wrote after FIRSTS. This isn’t just a book of my heart, but a book of my sanity too—it has been a decidedly tricky one to write. I’ve been playing with a mix of perspectives and tenses and actually plotting (gasp), which felt foreign. But this is one story I’ve realized I can’t just “pants” my way through. I tried. I failed. I moved on. Which leaves me here, with an outline and lots of chapters in the process of being written. Now that I have taken January to plot and really know the story and characters, I feel confident that February will be the month where ALL THE WORDS come out to play.

Reading: I started the year off on a very high reading note. The first book I finished in January was Marci Lyn Curtis’s debut, THE ONE THING. I was lucky enough to read this book before its release date (September 8, 2015—mark your calendar!) and was totally blown away. A witty, sarcastic protagonist, an amazing concept, and writing that grips you and doesn’t let go—this is a stunning debut that I’m still thinking about. (Psst… come back on Monday and you’ll get to see Marci’s brand new cover! Trust me, you don’t want to miss it!)

I also read THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black and loved it. Holly Black has created a setting in Coldtown that feels chillingly real. Her writing is rich and beautiful and makes everything in the book so easy to visualize.

I just finished HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown, which had been on my TBR for quite awhile. I had high hopes, and the book exceeded all of them. I love how it’s not what it appears to be, which is a book about a high school shooting—it’s a book about Valerie, the girlfriend of the shooter, and her long road to recovery.

Watching: My husband and I started watching LOST on Netflix. I had seen parts of it several years ago, but watching it a second time through and picking up on more detail has been really fascinating. I forgot how totally captivating this show is, and what a brilliant job the writers did with the characters and their backgrounds and their interwoven lives. Not to mention… the suspense! Oh, the suspense. The reason I stay up way too late.

So that’s my month in a nutshell. Words, words, and more words. Written, read, listened to. February, I can only hope you’re equally verbose!

#SixteensBlogAbout: Resolutions

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about our reading resolutions for 2015. This made me start think about my writing resolutions too, which spiraled into an internal dialogue about expectation. Not other people’s expectation of me, but my expectations for myself. And I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the bar we set for ourselves is the hardest one to jump over.

As writers, words are our currency. We type hundreds, maybe thousands of them, at a time. We fill Word documents and notebooks and random scraps of paper and Post-Its and even napkins at restaurants with them. We add them. We delete them. We string them together, craft them into characters, emotions, relationships, scenes. We use them to make people laugh and cry. We turn them into entire books. And that’s a pretty amazing thing.

But I’d be lying if I said it was all about words. Because numbers squeeze their way into a writer’s world too. And once numbers become part of the equation, it’s hard to not notice them. On Twitter, where we can report how many words we have written on any given day and keep each other accountable. On the calendar in my office, where I reward myself with a sticker on days when I write at least a thousand words. On Goodreads, where we can keep track of how many books we have read throughout the year and see how many our peers have read. During NaNoWriMo, when the magic number everybody wants to hit is 50,000 words.

It’s easy to turn words into numbers and measure progress that way. I do it all the time.

So my resolution for 2015 is not to.

That’s not to say I’ll abandon my calendar or my shiny little heart stickers. That’s not to say I won’t feel a swell of pride when I hit the 5K mark after a productive afternoon. I’ll still do a happy dance and have a big glass of wine when I finish a new first draft. But my goal for 2015 is to measure progress in different ways. Progress doesn’t have to be a thousand brand new words. Progress might be editing a current manuscript, taking it to the next level. Progress might be a blog post or a short story or experimentation with something that might go nowhere. Progress might be taking a day off to read a book I’m excited about. Progress might be taking words away instead of adding them.

2014 was a busy writing year for me. I wrote three new WIPs. I edited FIRSTS, turning it into the book that sold to my amazing editor, Kat Brzozowski at Thomas Dunne Books. Then I edited some more. 2014 was a year of first drafts and revising. I also read a decent amount– somewhere in the ballpark of 65 books in a variety of genres. 2014 was a year of words and numbers. And it was incredible– I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I successfully achieved the thing I wanted most to do, which was silence my inner editor, trust my instincts, and just write. I learned to love fast-drafting above all else.

Except the more I wrote, the harder I became on myself when I took a day off. The harder it became for me to measure progress by anything other than adding new words. I became a bit obsessive about word count. I was in a competition with myself, desperate to keep the flow going. And there’s nothing wrong with expecting a lot of yourself. Inner competition drives us, keeps us trying to make our writing better. But there has to be a balance.

My problem was, if I wasn’t adding new words, I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. I felt like I was wasting time. If I fell short of a word goal, I was disheartened and felt like I had failed.

This year, I want to make those three first drafts shine. And that will mean a lot of things. Rewriting. Cutting scenes. Outlining. Making notes to myself in margins. A lot of this will be slow, tedious work. A big chunk of this will mean I have no new words to show for myself. And I’m okay with that. Because in 2015, I’m measuring progress not by how many words are on a page, but how I feel about what I’m doing. Just like I learned in 2014 to silence my inner editor, in 2015 I’m telling my inner critic, the one keeping score, to take a vacation.

So while my goals for 2015 aren’t all that tangible, they’re the goals that make the most sense to me. I want to make progress more about how I feel than what I do.

I’d love to know– do you have any reading or writing resolutions for 2015?

#SixteensBlogAbout: 2014 YA Standouts

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about favorite books and authors, a subject I could go on and on forever about. To narrow it into a readable blog post, I thought I would feature some of my favorite YA books that came out in 2014.

Let me first say this: 2014 was an incredible and important year for YA. So many amazing books came out, and while I read as much as I could, I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of my gigantic TBR list. (This is why when my parents and husband asked what I wanted for Christmas, I told them without hesitation: Kobo gift cards.)

So without further ado, here are the YA books that came out in 2014 that I’m still thinking about, by some tremendously talented authors!

Listed alphabetically by title:

 

behindthescenes2 BEHIND THE SCENES by Dahlia Adler

I have followed Dahlia’s blog religiously since my days in the query trenches (which wasn’t all that long ago– what a difference a year can make!), so I was quite excited to read her YA debut. I especially love Dahlia’s use of humor– Ally’s voice made me laugh out loud more than once– the friendship between Ally and her BFF Vanessa, and the fresh spin Dahlia puts on a girl-meets-Hollywood-star love story.

 

bleedlikemeBLEED LIKE ME by Christa Desir

Pitched as a YA Sid and Nancy, this book tells the obsessive, intoxicating love story of troubled teens Gannon and Brooks. It’s not your traditional love story– not even close. And Gannon is not your typical likeable female protagonist, either. She makes her share of mistakes and bad decisions, and hands-down, she’s one of the most memorable protagonists I have ever read. Gritty, haunting, and unflinchingly real, this is one book that will be on your mind long after you read it.

 

damagedDAMAGED by Amy Reed

I just finished reading this (it kept me up late!) and it’s still lingering in my head, which is fitting because this beautifully written book deals with ghosts, both literally and figuratively. Kinsey and Hunter are both struggling with the weight of their guilt following a car accident that kills Kinsey’s best friend Camille. The two teens are about to realize that they can’t outrun their guilt and fear that easily– especially when Camille starts haunting Kinsey’s dreams. DAMAGED is both a ghost story, a love story, and a story that doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.

 

perfectlygoodwhiteboyPERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY by Carrie Mesrobian

After SEX & VIOLENCE blew my mind, I was eagerly anticipating Carrie Mesrobian’s next book– and PGWB went above and beyond my expectations, giving an achingly honest glimpse into the life of a teenage boy searching for meaning and something to hold onto. After getting dumped by popular senior Hallie, Sean is left to make sense of his last year of high school– and to figure out his future. This book features a male voice so masterfully written that Sean feels like an actual person, one with both good and bad qualities. You completely forget you’re reading a fictional character at all.

 

sweetunrestSWEET UNREST by Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell’s debut novel features voodoo, a spooky mystery, and a mesmerizing love story. When Lucy’s family moves from Chicago to New Orleans, she finds herself plunged into an age-old mystery tied to the strange dreams she has been having. Lucy is the kind of main character you want to spend a whole book with– rational, yet spirited and inquisitive. This story features plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing, and the chemistry between Lucy and Alex is undeniable– and undeniably fun to read.

 

teaseTEASE by Amanda Maciel

I love a protagonist who’s not traditionally likeable, and Sara, the main character in this book, fits the bill. TEASE tackles the subject of bullying and its tragic consequences, and it’s utterly fascinating getting into the head of the one doing the bullying instead of the victim. Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is that it’s not moralizing, just very honest. Sara isn’t painted in shades of black and white, as a terrible person– she’s just a person dealing with the terrible weight of her actions. This is a daring, provocative read that left me thinking about exactly how much damage words can do.

 

thetruthaboutaliceTHE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Mathieu

This book is multiple POV done absolutely perfectly. Each character’s voice feels so distinct, and hearing perceptions of Alice Franklin from each different perspective is fascinating. I love the way we get to know Elaine, Kurt, Josh, and Kelsey and hear their personal biases toward Alice before actually hearing from Alice herself. It really shows how much a story can be skewed beyond recognition through gossip and lies. The damaging effects of stereotyping and slut-shaming fuse together in this extraordinarily powerful book.

 

wearethegoldensWE ARE THE GOLDENS by Dana Reinhardt

This book deals with how the bond between two sisters is threatened when one of them is keeping a huge secret for the other. I haven’t read many novels from second-person POV, and it’s used exquisitely here. As a reader, I feel all of Nell’s emotions as she is torn between loyalty to her sister Layla and doing the right thing. I loved being in Nell’s head as she felt herself drifting apart from her older sister, and as she navigated friendship, fear, and love under the weight of Layla’s secret. I couldn’t put this book down until I knew how it ended.

 

wewereliarsWE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

There’s a reason why everybody has been talking about this one since it came out. Dark, twisty, and beautifully written, with an unreliable narrator and an ending that will leave you totally shocked. This is one book I don’t want to say much about, because everyone should go in with the element of surprise. I will say that it’s all about secrets and lies, and the damaging power of both.

 

That’s a wrap! Now, as I get caught up on more 2014 reading, I also can’t wait for all the YA coming out in 2015… I feel like my Kobo and I will spend a LOT of quality time together in the new year. And that’s just the way I like it.

A bit of news…

On a recent gray, chilly October morning, my day started with my dentist informing me that I have a cavity (damn those pre-Halloween mini-chocolate bars). Then I burned myself with a curling iron and got stuck in traffic and was in a mad rush to make it to work on time. I figured it was just going to be one of those days– the kind wherein nothing goes my way. The kind that practically demands a big glass of wine after work.

Boy, was I wrong– about everything except the wine champagne. Because later that day, I got a call. A call from my fabulous agent, who had the best news ever.

WE HAVE AN OFFER!

I’m so thrilled to announce that my YA contemporary debut, FIRSTS, will be published by Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press in 2016! My editor is the wonderful, super-smart Kat Brzozowski. I can’t even express how excited I am to be working with her on FIRSTS.

I’m still pinching myself that this is all happening– that what started as an out-there idea in my head is now going to be an actual book, a physical thing I can pick up and flip through. (And maybe hug tightly to my chest from time to time. Just kidding. Sort of.)

I feel like the luckiest writer ever to have the dream team of Kats supporting me. My rockstar agent, Kathleen Rushall, who has been so unfailingly positive and helpful every step of the way. And my new editor, Kat, who is so insightful and enthusiastic and knowledgeable. She has made me feel right at home already. Both of these lovely ladies understand my book so well and I know that I couldn’t be in better hands.

What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, the idea for FIRSTS was just taking shape. I had no CPs and no agent. I was querying a different book and poring over other writers’ success stories, hoping that someday I would have my own to tell. I was reading widely and writing every day, turning it into a habit. I was learning to trust my instincts more. I was determined to never give up.

And in the end, I think that’s the most important thing– not giving up. Not quitting because it’s hard or because finding an agent or getting published is taking longer than you thought. FIRSTS was the third book I wrote. Beforehand, I wrote two NA contemporary books that I shelved. There were times when I felt sure I’d never be published. But ultimately, I realized that the only way I would ensure that nobody would ever read my writing was if I stopped writing. So I kept going. I kept writing and learning and querying and entering contests. (Like Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars, which was the greatest experience. Read about it here!)

The one thing I did stop doing was comparing myself to other writers. Everybody has a different journey and a different story, and rarely do we know the full extent of these stories. Once I stopped comparing myself to other writers and focused on enjoying the stage of the process where I was at, I honestly felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Like I had given myself permission to live in the moment I was in, not the moment I wanted to be in or the moment somebody else was in.

Now I’m in this moment, and I’m loving it. I couldn’t be happier that FIRSTS has found its perfect home with Kat and Thomas Dunne Books!

Now, for that glass bottle of wine champagne…

PWAnnouncement

PMFIRSTSAnnouncement

Behind the Scenes: Release Week!

BehindtheScenesBlogTour3

If you’re a writer at any stage in the path to publication– drafting, editing, querying, or just trying to find a great read– chances are, you have probably stumbled across Dahlia Adler’s blog, The Daily Dahlia. (And if you haven’t– go visit, because it’s awesome.) You should also follow Dahlia on Twitter if you don’t already, because she’s full of amazingly helpful information (and is also quite hilarious)!

The lovely Dahlia Adler!

The lovely Dahlia Adler!

 

Dahlia is such an all-around positive person in the writing community, from making all of our TBR lists a lot longer with her book recs to posting inspiring author stories to blogging about all different facets of the publishing industry, all while doing her own writing. So I’m happy to be part of her blog hop to celebrate the release week of her debut, BEHIND THE SCENES, which officially releases today! I just bought mine for my Kobo and I’m dying to start reading. BtS is the story of Ally, a high school senior whose best friend is TV star Vanessa Park. Ally nabs a job as Van’s on-set assistant to earn some much-needed money, but things get more complicated when Van’s sexy co-star Liam gets involved… and Van and Liam are forced to date for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss. Read more about it here and just try not to get hooked.

In honor of BtS, I’m doing a behind the scenes look at something I make time to do when I’m not writing. Something that relaxes me and lets me zone out of whatever characters and dilemmas are taking up residence in my brain.
I love to paint.
I taught myself how to paint. I never had any formal training, and I never really considered it. Mostly because it was never a serious pursuit for me– more something that I didn’t want to get too serious about, because I was afraid that would take away from the fun. I used to sell my paintings at festivals and art fairs, but generally these days I just make them for family and friends. I usually work with acrylics, but once in awhile I’ll do something in oils. I have an easel set up in my office overlooking the backyard and I try to spend time there as often as I can.
I paint just about anything– landscapes, people, animals– but some of my favorite subjects are birds and flowers. There’s just something peaceful about them that I gravitate toward.

 On the other end of the spectrum, I really have a thing for tigers. They’re fascinating. One day I’d love to see one in real life (and not just the zoo).

And once in awhile, I just feel like painting something totally weird. Because weird is always the most fun.

Painting7

I hope you all enjoyed the look into my hobby.

If you need me at all today, you’ll find me glued to my Kobo…

Happy release week, Dahlia, and thanks for letting me be a part of it!

behind-the-scenes-adler-cover