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!

#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: Diversity

This month, The Sweet Sixteens are blogging about diversity, so I wanted to share what diversity means to me– as a reader and as a writer.

I first remember hearing about We Need Diverse Books last year, when the hashtag kept appearing in my Twitter feed. I was blown away by what so many people had to say, and at how the whole kidlit community rallied together for something we all not only want to see happen, but need to see happen.

WNDB2It makes me very sad to think that kids grow up without being able to find faces that look like theirs on book covers, or characters like them within its pages. A big part of the joy of reading is being able to identify with characters, to relate to their struggles and feelings and realize that you’re not alone. There are few better escapes than retreating into a book and hiding there until you feel okay again. I remember lots of times where I felt awkward and geeky and out of place growing up, but turning the pages of a book and losing myself in the characters could deflate my worries like nothing else. I idolized characters, loved them, hated them, pictured myself in their shoes. I felt better about myself when I realized they made mistakes too, because they were just like me. Maybe when I was younger, a straight, white, teenage girl from the suburbs, I took it for granted that I would find a version of myself in a book’s pages. But that feeling is one that everybody deserves to have.

Every experience is unique, and reading about the experiences of people different from us makes readers more educated, more empathetic, more understanding. As writers, it’s our responsibility to create characters that resonate with people. It’s our duty to make our characters authentic. This means writing characters who are identified by more than their gender, skin color, weight, religion, cultural background, or sexual orientation.

Books should be more than that. Books need to be more than that. Because everyone deserves to see themselves as a main character. Not a sidekick, not a secondary character, not a stereotype, not the best friend or the loner or the misunderstood bully. But as fully fleshed-out, multifaceted main characters, with laughter and tears and triumphs and failures.

And don’t get me wrong: I think art is doing a great job of covering ground. There are so many writers out there creating wonderfully diverse books, changing the landscape of publishing. Brilliant writers who are making a difference, not just in the writing world but in the lives of so many readers.

But until everyone can see themselves as a main character, art still has a long way to go.

#SixteensBlogAbout: Revision

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about revision. Which is kind of perfect, since I’m smack-dab in the middle of revising my current WIP. This means I’m overly caffeinated, entirely spacey, and my closet door is covered in a whole tree’s worth of Post-Its. (Sorry, tree.)

My revision bible, aka the best impulse buy I ever made.

My revision bible, aka the best impulse buy I ever made.

Honestly, I think highly of revision. It’s one of the coolest parts of the writing process, the stage where something rough around the edges starts to be transformed into a bright and shiny thing. But it’s also one of the most daunting, frustrating, and painstaking. It’s hot and cold, like an unreliable boyfriend. Because no matter how hard I try to approach it like a science, no matter how badly I try to organize and plot and figure out a plan to make a revision go as smoothly as possible, I always end up throwing my “revision schedule” out the window (well, not literally—I recycle!) because things always, always get messy. Characters don’t want to cooperate. Scenes don’t want to sit beside each other. Plot threads just don’t want to blend with other plot threads. Giant plot holes are perfectly content to remain unfilled and wallow lazily in the middle of the action.

The more books I write, the more I learn that revising, like writing, is an art. It’s not a scientific process and it’s not cut-and-dried. It’s temperamental. The glee of discovering a way to make a plot twist work is quickly replaced by the realization that you used the word look 238 times and you still don’t know how to fix the sagging middle of your story. The triumph of killing as many of those unnecessary looks as possible is overshadowed by the terrifying task of blending two minor characters into one. Plus, you have to accept that a lot of your darlings are going to end up dead. You might be sad about it now, but later you’ll look back and see how much better your book is because of the excess weight you cut out.

Here’s the thing about revision: you have to really get comfortable with it. If you don’t have a good love-hate relationship with it already, you need to spend some more time with it and see that it’s only trying to help, as stubborn and obstinate as it may be. Pull up a chair and get cozy with your laptop, with your Post-Its, with the messy notes you made that you can’t even decipher. Even with those annoying plot holes, because they sure as hell won’t fix themselves. (Trust me, I’ve tried that.)

Because the other thing about revision? It never ends, at least not for a long, long time. Writing “The End” is misleading, because we all know the end is nowhere in sight.

If you’re looking for me this week, you’ll find me in fleece polar bear pajamas (don’t judge), my second tenth cup of coffee getting cold, tweaking and reworking and deleting and layering… and hopefully making sense of those handwritten notes.

#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.”

One year later

I started this blog one year ago. When I look back, it seems like both yesterday and forever ago. At points during the year, time was flying by so fast that I was tripping over myself trying to keep up. At other points, time moved so slowly I could count the individual grains of sand as they slid through my fingers.

A year ago, I had no agent and no editor and no clue that FIRSTS would become anything other than a Word document in my computer. I had an ancient MacBook computer that took forever to start up and I wrote wherever I could because I didn’t have my own office in our apartment. I had moments of doubt so heavy that I wondered if I was cut out for the writing industry at all.

But I also had hope, and I underestimated how strong of a force that was.

Hope translated into a lot of things. Hope made me believe in my work. Hope made me hit “Send” and submit my first (no pun intended) YA manuscript into a contest called Pitch Wars that would change my life and open me up to a whole new amazing community of writers. Hope allowed me to query my now-agent, Kathleen. Hope buoyed me through the submission process, bobbing at times right alongside uncertainty and disappointment, but never sinking to the bottom. Hope was right there when I got the call that FIRSTS was going to be published, jumping up and down with me.

If I could go back and tell me a year ago that so many incredible things were in store, that 2014 would be the year my dreams came true, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it would hurt too much if the prediction was wrong. Sometimes hope hurts like that. Sometimes no matter how badly we want to be optimistic, we’re afraid to be, because it’s easier to expect the worst.

I wanted FIRSTS to be “the one.”

But I was prepared for it not to be.

I was learning from past mistakes. I worked on new manuscripts while querying, because I knew that took the sting away from rejections. I knew that the fresh words of a new story acted as the only kind of armor that could keep the negative words from populating in my head. This isn’t saleable. It’s too edgy. It’s too out there. Maybe this just wasn’t meant to be. The new words gave me the strength to stop caring about perception and write the story I wanted to write.

The other thing I did right in 2014? I had fun with writing. I tried new things. I tried different styles and perspectives. I experimented with random ideas and Googled some things for research that have probably put me on a few Internet watch lists. I let myself have days where I wrote nothing but garbage, because garbage was what I needed to write that day.

When I wrote my first ever blog post detailing my goals for 2014, I hoped I would someday be in the position I’m in now. But I was also learning to be happy with the stage I was at, which I think is the most important thing in this industry. There will always be somebody out there who has something you don’t have, or who is farther along on the journey than you. But nobody has what you do have. Nobody but you has your imagination or your ideas or your style. And once you give yourself permission to be proud of that, you recognize yourself for who you are. A writer.

Things look a lot different going into 2015. I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at in my path to publication. I have the best, most supportive agent. I have an amazingly talented and thoughtful editor who believes in me. I get to be part of the wonderful, supportive kidlit community, along with the lovely and talented Sweet Sixteens. I have a computer that works and an office that inspires me and a few first drafts that I’m itching to revise. I feel so lucky and honored. But if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that I didn’t need all that to happen for me to become a writer. I was a writer all along.

I’m so excited by all the experiences coming my way and I know that the new year will bring both challenges and victories. As far as years go, 2014 will be hard to top.

But I think 2015 is up for the challenge.

Fun with terrible titles

One of the super fun things about debuting in 2016 is getting to be part of the Sweet Sixteens, an awesome group of Young Adult and Middle Grade authors with books coming out in 2016. And today, I’m accepting my first Sweet Sixteen challenge: create #8TerribleTitles by scrolling through my debut novel, FIRSTS, and landing randomly on eight phrases. Thanks, Ashley Herring Blake and Emily Martin for tagging me for this challenge!

For some writers, titles come easily. For others… writing a title is almost as hard as writing a whole book. (Case in point: FIRSTS was not the, um, first title for FIRSTS.) But I sure am glad it wasn’t called…

1. JUST ENOUGH FOR PROTECTION, NO EXTRA FRILLS

2. I’M MY OWN STATISTIC

3. EVEN AFTER SIX MONTHS OF THIS

4. A COUCH CUSHION THAT MIGHT AS WELL BE AN ICEBERG

5. SIMPLIFIED AND PREDICTABLE, MY WEDNESDAY FRIEND

6. THE ONE COG LEFT IN THE MACHINERY

7. THEY LOOK DIFFERENT HORIZONTAL

8. HAVE BEEN JOINED BY BITCH

Well… this has been very entertaining! I tag Shannon M. Parker and Nisha Sharma!