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!

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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: 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.

March, briefly

March has been a pretty awesome month. For one thing, the weather has improved considerably, so I have been able to get outside for walks with my husband and dog and enjoy some long overdue sunshine. And to make things even better, this will go down the month I finally managed to find a happy medium behind plotting and pantsing.

champagne

Not just for special occasions.

Working on: For the most part, I have adhered to a schedule of at least 2K each day to get a first draft of my current YA contemporary WIP done. And I’m happy to say that I met my goal! Since this was the hardest first draft I’ve ever written, it’s also the one I’m the most proud of. I couldn’t just fly by the seat of my pants with this WIP, and learning to reconcile a plot with my pantsing tendencies has challenged me and pushed me to new limits as a writer. I now have 85K to reread, play with, and revise the heck out of. As much as I love the exhilarating freedom of a first draft, I also enjoy the deconstructive element of revising—breaking everything down, figuring out what isn’t working, and putting it back together as something even better.

Reading: I read two books that I absolutely loved this month, and both were 2015 releases. (This is shaping up to be a totally killer for reading!) The first was ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven, which is equal parts touching, heartbreaking, and hopeful. I love that we get into the heads of both main characters, Finch and Violet. Finch, especially, is one of the most memorable characters I have read in a long time. I really enjoyed Jennifer Niven’s writing style, and I’ll definitely be picking up her other books.

I also binge-read Jasmine Warga’s debut novel, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES. Binge-read because I could not put it down. This is a hugely moving, beautifully written debut that tackles very difficult subject matter with grace and humor. Aysel and Roman (aka FrozenRobot), the two main characters, feel very real: their personalities, struggles with depression, and the tragedies they have had to endure. Their relationship is unlike any other I have seen in other books, and I enjoyed seeing it develop and change as they start to break down each other’s walls.

Listening to: I’m an easily distracted person. (Evidenced by my many failed attempts to be one of those people who can write while a TV show plays in the background.) I’m finding out that I can’t write very effectively to music with lyrics either because the lyrics end up drowning out my thought process. So I have been listening to a lot of movie soundtracks lately. My very favorite soundtrack is AMERICAN BEAUTY, which has basically been on repeat for the past few weeks.

Well, that’s March in a nutshell! I’m really looking forward to taking this WIP and making it shine as April progresses. And speaking of shine, a bit more sunshine would be nice, too…

#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.”

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!

#SixteensBlogAbout: How and Why I Started Writing

Grade4story

One of my fourth-grade creations. Thanks Mom and Dad for keeping this stuff, and digging it out for me!

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are talking about a question that really made me think. A question that took me back to the fourth grade, when I couldn’t hold a pencil right and made multiple trips up to my teacher’s desk to ask for more paper to write my stories on. I still remember the excitement of getting a fresh page and the joy I felt filling it with words.

The question? How and why I started writing.

The truth is, I didn’t know how I was supposed to be writing back then, or what constituted good writing. I just knew that I loved doing it. And that love is what started it all.

I filled those pages with stories about monsters and dragons and horses, and several retellings of the Little Red Robin Hood story. I wrote freely and quickly, not caring about things like voice or tense or character development, not knowing what was going to happen from page to page. I crossed things out when I decided they didn’t fit and left big gaps and question marks in the narrative. I renamed characters at will. And I didn’t know it yet, but I was beginning to have a serious thing for plot twists.

Fast-forward to now, when I’m a year away from becoming a debut author. A lot has changed. A lot more thought goes into anything I write. Under every new idea, there are numerous point-form notes and bullet points and unanswered questions. I think about things like finding a killer hook and introducing conflict. I wonder if people will want to spend a whole book with my main character. I consider whether my ideas are worth pursuing, if they are saleable in today’s market.

Maybe the biggest thing that has changed is that I go through phases where I find my inner editor to be almost crippling, a major impediment to progress. During these times, I’ll write something and erase it almost immediately because I have deemed it as not good enough already. During these times, I convince myself I have writer’s block and find reasons to avoid my story altogether. During these times, things like laundry and shoveling snow start to look appealing.

But looking back at my old stories—riddled with typos and gaping plot holes and illegible handwriting—I think maybe I could take some cues from my fourth-grade self. Maybe there’s something to learn from that little girl who didn’t care what anyone else thought about her stories, if people wanted to read them or not. She liked them—she believed in them—and that was enough for her.

Maybe part of my problem now is that I think too much and don’t trust my instinct enough.

I wrote FIRSTS very quickly—too quickly to have room for self-doubt to creep in. I wrote FIRSTS much like the fourth-grade me wrote her stories: fast and furious, with words spilling from my fingertips and somehow fitting into place. But since then, I have encountered bumps in the road with my other WIPs. Run-ins with my inner editor, who tells me to go back and fix what I have instead of moving forward. False starts and massive plot overhauls. It’s not easy to just write without a filter. But in 2015, this is exactly what I’m trying to do.

Because when it comes down to it, it’s so much more fun that way. And that’s the biggest lesson I can take away from my fourth-grade self. That writing is supposed to be fun, above all else. Frustrating and stressful and maddening at times, but also the best feeling in the world.

And while a lot has changed since I started writing, some things haven’t. I still have a love affair with plot twists. I still don’t know what happens from page to page sometimes, and I think that not knowing can be the best part.

Oh, and I never did learn to hold a pencil right.