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!

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!

#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.

April, briefly

I cannot believe April is almost over. I’m still blinking and rubbing my eyes, wondering where the month went. For the most part, I have been deep in the revision cave, only coming out for coffee and an occasional breath of that thing called fresh air. My weekend wardrobe has consisted of pajamas and one time I almost called my husband the name of a character in my book. So, yeah… April has been a blur.

The glamorous life of a revising writer.

The glamorous life of a revising writer.

Working on: (See above…) Revising, revising, revising. Note to past Laurie: you thought it was such a good idea to write scenes out of order and stitch them together. Well, it wasn’t! Revising this WIP has been a completely different experience for me. Since there are two timelines and lots of short chapters, I have employed different tactics to stay organized (and sane). One involved my closet door, a lot of Post-It notes, and quite a bit of swearing when the Post-Its didn’t want to stay put. The other strategy, which I have come to love, is a mini three-ring binder I bought at Staples as a total impulse buy. (I’m one of those people who gets sucked in at the checkout.) I have used the little pages to keep chapters in order and shift things around while retaining (some of) my sanity. This method made it (somewhat) easy to add new chapters and take out ones that weren’t working. Plus, it’s easy to tote around in my purse. Because every writer should have a tiny binder full of desperation and betrayal jostling around with her lipstick and loose change.

Reading: The new releases for 2015 debut authors are insanely amazing. Like, so good I need to become a full-time reader so I can devour them all. This month, I read the cyberthriller DUPLICITY by N.K. Traver, and completely loved it. Brandon’s voice was excellent (I adore boy POV, especially done this well), and the plot had plenty of twists that kept me rapidly turning pages.

Another fearless debut I read was NONE OF THE ABOVE by I.W. Gregorio. This was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2015, and it blew all of my expectation away: stunning, totally original, and beautifully written. I.W. Gregorio tackles Kristin’s struggle to accept herself for who she is with grace and unflinching honesty.

Wearing the lovely infinity necklace I won in the #BecomingJinn Twitter chat. Just like the one Azra wears!

Wearing the lovely infinity necklace I won in the #BecomingJinn Twitter chat. Just like the one Azra wears!

I was beyond excited for April 21st, the book birthday for BECOMING JINN! Its author, the supremely talented Lori Goldstein, is my former Pitch Wars mentor and somebody who has shaped my writing journey in a huge way. I preordered BECOMING JINN and my copy arrived a few days ago, so as a reward for getting so much revising done, I started reading it. I’ll have more to say when I’m finished, but I was hooked from the first page and totally love Azra, the snarky, rebellious sixteen-year-old who learns that becoming Jinn comes at a cost greater than she ever imagined. Lori’s attention to detail, amazing premise, and sense of humor make this book something very special. (Plus, it has a sequel coming out next year!) I could definitely see BECOMING JINN well, becoming, a classic must-read teen series.

Watching: I went to see FURIOUS 7 with my mom and sister. I have been a huge fan of the whole franchise since the first one came out. (My mom has taken me to see all of them in the theater, with the exception of Tokyo Drift. She’s the best!) I’m so not a movie crier, but the end definitely brought some waterworks. It’s strange to imagine the series carrying on without Paul Walker, but I love their dedication to him and how much the cast seems like a family.

(On a totally awesome note, later the same day, my sister got engaged! I’m so excited to be her maid of honor and for her to marry a truly wonderful guy.)

So, that’s April, not-so-briefly. If you need me, I’ll be stewing in my revision cave, stitching chapters together like Dr. Frankenstein!

An interview with Lori Goldstein, author of BECOMING JINN!

Today, I’m honored to have the talented, smart, and all-around wonderful Lori Goldstein on my blog. Lori’s debut YA contemporary fantasy, BECOMING JINN, comes out April 21, 2015 from Feiwel and Friends. BECOMING JINN is the story of Azra, whose genie powers awaken on her sixteenth birthday—but she soon learns that becoming Jinn comes at a cost.

BecomingJinn-203x300For those of you who don’t know, Lori was my mentor during Pitch Wars in 2014, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now without her amazing guidance and support. Our relationship didn’t stop at Pitch Wars—Lori has been there for every step of my publication journey, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to celebrate the release of her debut.

One of the coolest things about having generous and talented writer friends like Lori is being able to ask questions about their writing process—what inspires them, what frustrates them, what motivates them. So Lori has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on how she conjured up JINN and more.

Hi Lori! Thanks for letting me pick your brain. With BECOMING JINN coming out just over a month from now (!), can you tell me a bit about your journey to publication?

First off, thank you so much for having me and for that lovely introduction. Being your mentor was a terrific experience because not only did I get to read a fantastic, unique, and bold new novel (coming in 2016!), but I also got to know you. And that’s one thing I will say about this journey to publication: meeting talented writers who become friends is the best part of this ride and one that I never expected. The community is welcoming and generous—and thank goodness for that! Because this journey is amazing, but it’s also scary and so much is unknown. Having other people to share it with and learn from is key!

As for the technical aspect of my road to publication, I worked on a manuscript for three years that essentially taught me how to write by letting me make mistakes—and I made many! By the time I started writing Becoming Jinn in the fall of 2012, I was able to write it in two months instead of three years. I entered many contests with it, lost a lot, received great feedback, revised, and was able to get my agent, Lucy Carson, in February of 2013. She had savvy insights into the manuscript and I revised for two months before going on submission in May of 2013. We sold in less than two weeks to Feiwel and Friends for Becoming Jinn and its sequel. It’s been a bit of a longer wait to publication than most, but I’ve had the chance to learn a lot in that time and feel – mildly – in control and prepared for what’s to come.

That’s a very inspiring story! How has your writing style and technique changed since you first started writing? Is there a certain routine you like to follow?

The biggest change is that I’m not a committed plotter. When I wrote my first manuscript, in addition to not having a clue what I was doing, I didn’t plan a thing. I figured the story would just “come to me.” And it did, over three long, grueling years during which I rewrote the novel from start to finish probably four or five times because I had no idea you needed to do more than have two people just chat with one another. That book was my education in writing. Combined with some great craft books and a course in novel planning, I changed gears before writing Becoming Jinn. I planned for a full month and had a 70-page outline before I began. I did character profiles, setting exercises, I went into the writing knowing so much about the world, which allowed me to write it fast. I consider that long outline essentially a very short draft of the book. My first draft is more like a second draft. It’s the only way I’ll write from now on. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s a good fit for me.

You have killer editing skills, as evidenced by the notes you made on the, um, first copy of FIRSTS I sent you. How has that affected you as a writer? Do you edit as you go, or wait till the initial draft is out of the way?

Well, thank you! I went to school for journalism, and I have been an editor, both content and copyeditor, for years, mostly nonfiction. Editing is second nature to me by now in terms of the nitty-gritty aspects, and I definitely edit as I go. I like to start each writing day by revising what I wrote the day before. I can’t move on until I feel the previous day’s work is in good shape. I find it really helpful for getting me into the zone; it takes me time to get into “writing mode,” and by rereading, tweaking, and changing the previous day’s material, I do double duty: I get into the zone faster than if I were starting to write from scratch and I remind myself of what I’ve just written, both in terms of plot and details like having just used certain words or turns of phrase so I can avoid them going forward in the new day’s work. I am not an “insert XYZ here” kind of writer. My brain doesn’t work that way.

We all have those days where we’re feeling less than inspired. What gets you out of a rut, or over a bad case of writer’s block?

Thinking helps me the most. But I can’t just sit in a chair and think. So I go for walks or swim, which I like to do for exercise. Those times when I’m alone with my thoughts are when I am the most creative and productive. I’ve worked through many a plot problem while in the pool or shower—waterproof notebooks come in very handy!

Waterproof notebooks? I need to get in on this! What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?

While I spend a lot of time plotting, I don’t enjoy it, especially at the start. I feel a lot of pressure to think creatively and while I know it will pay off in the writing, it’s not a fun task. However, the end of that process—when I have index cards lined up, type my notes into a long scene-by-scene outline, and sit down to actually write…well, that’s the payoff. I love that moment when it all comes together with real words and scenes.

What’s something surprising you have learned about yourself in the months leading up to JINN’s release?

I was just talking to my husband about this, actually. I never thought of myself as someone who’d be able to switch gears and turn on the marketing side of my brain. But I’m better at it than I would have thought. And by this I don’t just mean standing on the street corner and pushing my book into people’s hands, but I mean coming up with ways to promote it and story ideas to write for nonfiction publications, and doing all the research and outreach that’s involved whether it’s applying to festivals or conferences or looking for other opportunities. It’s a ton of work, and it leaves little time for writing, which is the downside. But it’s also more fun than I would have expected.

JINN is about genies and wishes. Speaking of wishes, what’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself before you had an agent or a book deal?

Ooh, I love this question. I would like to tell myself that it’s not as hard as I think it is and to enjoy the ride as much as possible. When you love something so much—when something is so important to you—the highs are sky high and the lows are subterranean. I think it’s natural, but it sure doesn’t make the bumps in the road easy to get past. Thankfully, see my answer to number one. Writer friends are what get us through. Externally grateful to all of mine!

JINN has a sequel, which is coming out in 2016! Can you tell me a bit about what you plan to work on next?

I have several story ideas that I’m working on now that JINN 2 is finished and in copy edits (yay!). Two are really speaking to me, and I’m exploring them both right now, but it’s too early to say which will be the one that steals my heart. But they are in the vein of JINN in that they are steeped in the contemporary world (which though JINN has magic in it, I very much consider it to have a contemporary feel). They will have both humor and deeper emotion like JINN. I’ll always write with some humor, but I think these two ideas might push me in ways that I’m very much looking forward to.

That’s so exciting! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog, Lori. Are there any words of wisdom you’d offer to writers in the query trenches?

Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t compare yourself to others, which is natural for all of us at every stage. But it really is the thing that will stop us from pursuing our dreams. You have to disconnect from that as much as possible. And you know what? We all give in to it at times. Let yourself, but then move on. And also, don’t be afraid to receive strong feedback on your work. If people didn’t tell me my first page wasn’t working or my query sucked—and if I didn’t accept that they were right—I’d have never moved on. You have to be able to evaluate your work subjectively, which is really hard. But if something’s not working, figure out why. Read craft books; research everything you can about writing a good query. That’s how you will be able to change and have success.

Thanks, Lori!

Thank you, Laurie! I cannot wait until FIRSTS is out in the world!

Lori-Goldstein-Author-2-200x300You can learn more about Lori and the world of Jinn by visiting www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com or follow Lori on Twitter @loriagoldstein! And if you preorder or buy Becoming Jinn before April 25, 2015, email Lori the receipt at becomingjinncontest@icloud.com and you’ll be entered into a raffle to win gift cards in the amount of $5-$50 to places like iTunes, Starbucks, Amazon, and more.

Want to know more about Lori’s writing process and Becoming Jinn? Join Lori for a Twitter chat hosted by New York Times best-selling author Anna Banks on Monday, March 23 at 8 pm EST!

February, briefly

February has a reputation as the shortest month that feels like the longest. Normally, I’d be inclined to agree. But we’re almost at the end of the month and for the most part, I never had any of those days or weeks that dragged on indefinitely. One thing we have had a lot of is snow—and I’m one hundred per cent NOT a fan of that. (I’m a bad Canadian, I know!) But instead of griping (much) about having to shovel the driveway or wear my giant winter coat everywhere, I have been using the frigid weather as an excuse to stay in and write.

This month, I have been…

HPMug

I solemnly swear that most of my characters are up to no good…

Working on: I can sense that I’m getting very close to that “snowball” stage in my current Young Adult contemporary WIP—that phase where you finally know the story and chain of events well enough for everything to flow without any roadblocks. I find that the middle of a MS is always the hardest part, and the part wherein it’s easy to lose momentum. The tension seems to sag, and I start to worry if I’m threading everything throughout the story well enough. Finally getting out of the middle and into something resembling the home stretch is always a great feeling. Plus, my pantser brain keeps trying to deviate from my outline, which at first was annoying—until I started listening to myself and realizing that sometimes instinct trumps logic.

I’m beginning to learn that if I stop to think about things for too long (and there’s a lot to think about with this story—so many secrets and lies!) I tend to remove myself from the flow of the story and get intimidated when I try to wade back in. So what I’m doing now is writing what’s in my head, knowing I can (and will) go back and make changes and shuffle things around.

Reading: This has been a particularly slow reading month for me. Usually I read at least one book a week, but this month I have been writing so much that I’m going to bed exhausted—and usually the bulk of my reading time comes before bed. I did read a couple books I really liked, though.

I finished SEND by Patty Blount, which is a really interesting story dealing with the issue of bullying. Although the subject matter is serious, I love the author’s use of humor and how authentic the main character, Daniel/Kenny’s voice felt. I really enjoy reading male POV in YA, and I think Patty does a great job with it.

I also read MORE THAN COMICS, the second book in Elizabeth Briggs’ New Adult CHASING THE DREAM series. If you’re looking for a great NA series to start with characters you’ll cheer for, I highly recommend this one. MORE THAN COMICS is set against the backdrop of Comic-Con, an event I knew nothing about going into the story. It was really fun to learn more about it through the eyes of the main characters, Hector and Tara.

Watching: My husband and I have been watching the BORGIA series on Netflix, which is really interesting. I don’t know anything about the history of the Borgia family, so I can’t comment on the historical accuracy, but the entertainment value is definitely there. It’s dark and sexy, with lots of morally challenged characters in impossible situations, which makes it very intriguing. Any show that deals with lies and corruption is right up my alley, and this one is no exception!

Speaking of which… as of tonight, you can find me firmly planted in front of a HOUSE OF CARDS Season 3 marathon… so long, productivity (for the next few days, anyway).

Anyway, that’s February summed up. Looking forward to more snowballing with my WIP and less snowballs outside in March!