Father’s Day

For my family, June is historically a busy month. (Case in point: two years ago, I got married, my sister got called to the bar and started her career as a lawyer, and my mom and mother-in-law both had birthdays, all in one week.) And every June, there’s Father’s Day. Every June, I feel like my dad gets neglected because of everything else going on. And every June, he never once complains. This tells you just a little bit about the kind of person he is.

MeandDad

The best dad ever. Photo credit courtesy of the wonderfully talented Shirley Vander Heide.

When I was a little kid, I basically idolized by dad. Not for any of the many reasons I do now, but for little things. Back then, my dad was larger than life. He made the best shortbread cookies and didn’t get mad when my sister and I ate the dough. He was always up for playing Lego or running around the block with me or reading to me or taking me to the park for bike rides. On those bike rides, apparently, I wouldn’t ever stop talking. It’s an early example of how even when I had nothing to spout out but gibberish and random questions, he was always there to listen.

When I was a teenager, my relationship with my dad changed, and I respected him for different reasons. I was involved in competitive long-distance running, and my dad was the one who drove me to every practice and cheered me on at all my meets, even the out-of-town weekend ones. He was the one who made me feel like I was doing a good job, the one high-fiving me and telling me I ran the best race I could have, even if I felt like a failure. He was the one who didn’t care that I didn’t win. In those days, making my dad proud was everything to me.

Only now, as an adult, do I fully understand and appreciate the full extent of what my dad has been to me. A role model showing me what’s important in life: dedication to family, hard work, and taking chances, even if they don’t pan out. A mentor, living proof of what discipline and principle can achieve. A listener, someone who gives honest advice. A friend, someone to laugh with and talk to about anything. A supporter, someone incredibly generous and giving, the kind of person who would do anything to make life easier for somebody else. When I found out that FIRSTS was going to become an actual book, I was so excited to tell him my news and hear the pride in his voice. But the truth is, he was already proud of me. He has been proud the whole time.

I got my dad a chain necklace one Christmas, a dog tag engraved with Father, Hero, Friend. It was a great gift, except for one limitation. It just didn’t have the space to include the other things he is to me.

It’s not the dog tag’s fault. It’s just kind of impossible to find the space for everything.

To all the dads out there—I hope you all get to spend an amazing day with your families and the people who love you. To my dad, the father who is everything—you deserve the world, but I hope you’ll be okay with a backyard barbeque instead.

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FIRSTS has a cover! (And it’s stunning!)

Hello, everyone! You might have seen the cover for FIRSTS revealed at YA Highway yesterday, or over at Griffin Teen. But if you haven’t, here it is in all of its glory, along with my thoughts!

4_28_FirstsCover

My first (pun intended) reaction when I saw the cover? I was floored. The insanely talented cover designer, Danielle Christopher, captured the essence of FIRSTS perfectly. It’s bold without being too provocative, edgy without being too suggestive. The color palette took my breath away. I was lucky enough to have the wonderful Amanda Maciel, an author whose work I greatly admire (TEASE is one of my all-time favorite young adult books), provide a blurb that makes my heart beat faster whenever I read it, and having her words on the cover is such an honor.

The first time I saw the cover turned into the second time. And third time. I whipped out my phone to check it while I was at work, oh, probably a hundred times. (I think I walked into a wall one of those times….)

FIRSTS is a story about a lot of things. It’s about sex and rumors and secrets and slut-shaming. It’s about mistakes and friendship and lust and love. There’s laughter and tears and heartbreak and at the very core, a girl who is slowly learning that the only way to find the control she craves is to stop looking for it. And in one image, I think this cover conveys all those things.

Don’t forget to enter the ARC giveaway on YA Highway before the contest ends!

FIRSTS is available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and for the Canadian crowd, Indigo!

May, briefly

May has been a flurry of activity, to say the least. (Thankfully, no flurries outside… but touch wood, because in Canada, you never know.) I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to stay organized and on top of things, because otherwise something would have slipped through the cracks. The best part is that we have been experiencing summer-like temperatures here (Heat! Humidity! Be still, my heart!), which means I can do my work on the back deck with a glass of wine. Basically, that’s my happy place.

This month, I have been:

Pen

The coolest pen ever.

Working on: With one finished WIP in the very capable hands of my CP, I have been revising another completed WIP draft. Because of everything else going on, this second WIP has sat on my computer, untouched, for several months—and the time away has done wonders. After reading the full manuscript, I was able to pick out exactly what needed to be fixed and get to work quickly instead of dawdling over a page filled with question marks. I guess that saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” works for an author’s relationship with her writing, too. This WIP (another YA contemporary) is unlike anything I’ve ever written before, and it was something that started as an “in between” project, which was great because I felt no pressure from myself to make it into something.

I have also been hard at work for a secret project we have cooked up for FIRSTS. I’m looking forward to sharing more about this as soon as I can! I’ll say this much: it has been an insanely fun thing to do, and I hope everyone enjoys it!

Reading: I have been a bit behind on my massive TBR, unfortunately. (Can there please be more hours added to the day solely for reading?) But I finished BECOMING JINN by Lori Goldstein, which kept me up way too late at night. My relationship with Lori, my former Pitch Wars mentor, is very dear to me, so I was obviously quite excited to read her debut. She’s tremendously talented and balances drama with humor to absolute perfection. BECOMING JINN is the story of Azra, whose Jinn powers are released on her sixteenth birthday. I loved Azra’s snarky, sarcastic voice, her relationships with her Zar sisters and her mother, and how she reconciles her feelings for two very different guys. Often, the hardest part of writing is balancing the elements that make a good story, and Lori makes that seem easy: she has the perfect amounts of world-building, action, tears, laughter, tragedy, and plot twists. My only complaint? Having to wait for the sequel after THAT ENDING!

I also read I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson this month. I have heard nothing but great things about her writing, so I was really looking forward to diving in to this book. And basically, it knocked the wind out of me and replaced it with sunshine. Stunning, beautiful, and unputdownable, I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN is about many kinds of relationships– brother and sister, daughter, son, student, lover– and at its core, the relationship between artists and their art. For a book that centers around art and the “ecstatic impulse,” this book is art itself. Funny, sad, smart, insightful, and electric. Jandy Nelson knows how to make words bend, sizzle, soar, and take shape, just like art. I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN inspired me and made me want to create things.

Watching: My husband and I are mainlining Dexter on Netflix. We’re six seasons in now and I’m continually impressed with the suspense and tension and how it has held up. Generally, I feel like shows lose some steam as they get into later seasons, but in my opinion, Dexter is just as good or better as when it started. The writers have done a great job of keeping the storylines creative and making us care about the characters. I tend to compare Dexter to Breaking Bad (which is one of my all-time favorites) because in both shows, we root for a character who does seriously questionable things. I think this moral ambiguity is so interesting, and it’s a lesson to be learned for writing, too– characters need to have both good and bad elements for us to care about them. Plus, I can’t help it—I’m a total sucker for an antihero.

All that said, May has been a great month, and I hope June brings more hot weather, words, and backyard wine!

Mother’s Day

My parents are in Memphis for the Blues Music Awards this weekend (seriously, they have a much more active social life than I do), so I won’t be spending Mother’s Day with my mom. I’ll be spending it with my in-laws instead, celebrating my amazing mother-in-law. But in honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to write about the role my mom has played in my writing career, and my life.

My beautiful mom!

My beautiful mom!

For a lot of parents, I may not have been the easiest child to support. I changed my mind about things as often as I changed my hairstyle (which, in my early 20s, was basically every week). I always knew I loved writing, but my attention was forever getting jerked in other directions every time the wind blew. Two days into my first year of university, I decided I’d rather go to school out west. Then I got into modeling and told my parents I’d be jetting off to Tokyo, then Athens, then Paris. When I got back, I impulsively bought a dog without telling anyone first. A couple years later, I thought it would be fun to move away again to study Journalism and live in Toronto.

I may not have been the easiest child to support, but my parents sure made it seem that way. They never once discouraged me or tried to talk me out of doing anything. Wherever I was in the world, I got care packages filled with my favorite cereal I could only get in Canada or my dad’s famous date-filled oatmeal cookies. My mom learned how to use MSN Messenger so that she could talk to me while I was abroad sitting in Internet cafes. When there was an earthquake in Tokyo, my parents called my Japanese cell phone (which was always on the fritz) to make sure I was okay. My parents supported me when I had no money and no clue, and instilled in me what was perhaps the most valuable life lesson: above all else, follow your dreams.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am in my writing career without that kind of support. When I was little, my mom tried to send some of my poetry off to a publisher, even though she didn’t know the process, just because she believed in me. When I told my parents I wanted to write a book, their reaction was basically: “that’s what you were meant to do.” Despite all the rejection and uncertainty that comes with the publishing industry, my parents’ words were the loudest of all. Getting to tell them FIRSTS was going to be published was one of the best moments of my life.

My mom has always been more than just a mom to me. She’s also a best friend, a confidante, someone who boosts me up when I’m having a bad day and cheers with me when I get great news. She’s there to listen to my fears and offer words of encouragement. She’s there to babysit my dog when I go out of town. She spent the days before my wedding helping me with last-minute wedding-favor baking, then treated me to a day at the spa. She took me and my sister to Toronto for a girls’ weekend to celebrate my book deal. She’s beautiful and kind and loving and generous and smart. Which also makes her my role model, because I want to be all those things to someone one day too. If I’m lucky, I’ll be just a little bit like her when I have kids of my own.

So in honor of all the awesome moms out there—all the women who do so much for their kids, who put themselves last, who celebrate our dreams and make us feel like our failures aren’t so bad—I raise a glass of champagne to you today.

And to my mom, the whole bottle.

Foreign rights news!

Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to share the news that Russian rights to FIRSTS have been sold to AST. Huge thanks to the incredible Taryn Fagerness and my amazing agent, Kathleen Rushall!

I think this needs to be celebrated with a vodka cocktail… За здоровье!

RussianRights

#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.”

On celebrating small victories

When you’re on the path to publication, the big milestones are easy to distinguish. Finishing a book. Getting an agent. Revising. Selling a book. If you’re a querying writer trying to get traditionally published, these are probably the goals you strive for. If you’re anything like me, you tell yourself to enjoy the writing part, to truly love creating stories, because it’s the only part you have any real control over.

Words to live by.

Words to live by.

And if you’re anything like me, you might sometimes find that advice annoyingly impossible to follow when all you can think about is what you haven’t accomplished yet.

A lot has happened in the past year. I was lucky enough to achieve the goals I had always dreamed of, and I’m still shocked sometimes that it’s all happening. But even though I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at now, I still have days where I forget to live in the moment because I’m too busy thinking ahead. Days where I fail to see my own progress. And that got me thinking about the importance of celebrating small victories.

As writers, we’re naturally our own biggest critics. We get frustrated when things don’t go our way. We get mad at ourselves if the words aren’t flowing as easily one day as they did before, and when we’re uninspired or have a case of writer’s block, we question if we’ve lost the ability to write entirely. (This happens to me more often than I’d like to admit.) And while those big goals are easy to celebrate, the smaller ones deserve some glory too. The ones we work at each day and forget to recognize as achievements at all.

Coming up with a title. Finishing a chapter. Fixing a plot hole. Fleshing out a secondary character. Not just adding words, but taking them away when it benefits the story. Learning a character’s voice. Figuring out a satisfying ending. Finding out how to weave a plot thread throughout your entire story. Conjuring up a perfect first kiss. Describing a delicious meal. Capturing the mood you were striving for. Creating a snappy dialogue exchange. Waking up in the middle of the night to write down a sentence fragment that changes everything.

These are among the milestones that we sometimes fail to acknowledge at all. These are parts of being a writer that we can easily take for granted because there’s something else, something bigger obscuring our vision. A brighter, glittering jewel blocking out the rest of the light. But I’m starting to believe, more and more, that the small victories need more credit. Because those bigger, brighter accomplishments are built on each word we write. They’re built on sentences and characters and dialogue and pure hard work. They’re constructed on those times we sit and stare at a gaping plot hole and spend hours figuring out how to fix it. They’re built on the days we don’t want to write at all, but somehow find the drive we need to put words on paper.

Not all goals are celebrated with champagne and much happy dancing (although those ones are undoubtedly very exciting and fun)! So many go by unnoticed, and this is something I’m trying to remedy this year. I want to recognize and enjoy the small things and see them for what they are: not small at all.