Teens and Books and Fangirls, Oh My

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This past weekend I traveled out to Texas for the North Texas Teen Book Fest. I seriously could not have picked a better one for my first book festival. Not only did I get to go with some of my closest writing friends, I also got to see/talk to/flail over some of my absolute favorite authors, including Nova Ren Suma, Stephanie Perkins, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Leigh Bardugo. There were countless others whose books I’ve read and enjoyed the hell out of, but these ladies manage to speak right to my soul as a reader and as a writer. And I got to share the same space with them. (And you know, politely force them into pictures with us!)

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Rebekah, Sarah Rees Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Me, and Stephanie

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Rebekah, Nova Ren Suma, and me hanging out after the fest.

We didn’t go to as many panels as we’d planned (I mean, c’mon, why would anyone put Book Boyfriends 101 in the smallest room available???) and we didn’t do as much writing/plotting as we’d planned during the rest of the weekend (I mean, there was Gilmore Girls to watch and good luck pie* to bake and eat and Manhattans to drink).

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Me, Rebekah, and Courtney (with the good-luck pie)

But I came home so inspired. I want to write. And I have ideas. (Thank God for new ideas!) Ideas for how to fix my overly-complicated adult magical realism WIP and how to rework the opening to my YA WIP that seems to make almost everyone HATE my MC’s best friend (though it’s why I love her!). And it’s all thanks to those amazing, hysterical, smart, witty, talented women.

*Side note: If you’re curious about the good-luck pie, I’ll be posting some news on Monday!

Favorite Books of 2014

According to Goodreads I read 71 of my wanted 75 books in 2014. But what Goodreads doesn’t know is that I also read 6 full manuscripts for friends (not to mention the number of times I read my own books, but M said mine don’t count!). So, I’m considering my reading challenge a total win.

There were books that I enjoyed, there were books I honestly didn’t care if I finished, and then there were books that blew my mind with their sheer brilliance. Books that I will push on friends and strangers just because everyone needs to read them. Books that inspired me, tortured me, made me laugh, made me cry and, most definitely made me grateful for so many different kinds of characters and stories. Below are the ones that I still can’t get out of my head.

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A Corner of White and Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan

Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (I’m not finished with Dreams of God and Monsters yet, otherwise it would be on here too!)

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Reading Rewind: The Walls Around Us

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So last week I was lucky enough to read an ARC for a book I’ve been wanting to read since it was announced. I’m a huge fan of Nova Ren Suma’s and when she read from the opening chapter of The Walls Around Us at my Djerassi retreat/workshop, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. So when ARCs went up on NetGalley, I politely begged the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, for one on Twitter. And they said yes! Just let me say that you NEED to read this book when it comes out next March. So. Damn. Good.

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Goodreads Summary:

“Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.”

The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.

Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

My Thoughts:

The Walls Around Us is a gorgeous, haunting read. In true Nova Ren Suma fashion, this book is lyrical and magical and full of complex layers that peel themselves away, revealing a story that is not at all what it seemed on the surface. And that makes it absolutely unputdownable. Amber and Violet and Ori are all at turns sympathetic and calculating, loyal and lethal. Their stories are captivating and twisted and will keep you guessing about what really happened right until the end.

*I received this ARC from Algonquin Young Readers and NetGalley for an honest review.*

I Read YA Week

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This past week was I Read YA Week (hosted by This Is Teen), and I’ve been thinking all week about some of my all-time favorite YA books. I know I’m a little late to the bandwagon, but that’s kinda fitting with the fact that I didn’t like to read until I was 17 (yes, I know how terrible that is, but I swear I’ve more than made up for it since then!)

So here are some YA books that I would push on anyone who likes a good read, regardless of the target audience.

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Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (yes, the VMars creator himself!)

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Death by Bikini by Linda Gerber

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Yield to Whim

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Inspirational sign as you drive down to the Djerassi house/barn.

To say that my YA Writers Workshop and Retreat at Djerassi with Nova Ren Suma was inspiring is almost an insult. It was inspiring and encouraging and peaceful and productive and mind blowing and delightful and so many other things.

The mornings were filled with sitting in the barn watching the fog roll in and out while we critiqued each other’s work, offered words of encouragement and praise for the sheer talent within the group; the afternoons with holing up in our rooms or the barn or some scenic spot outside to write. At night, we gathered in the living room of the house with glasses of wine and full bellies to listen to readings of fairytales and ghost stories and dystopian worlds and magical abilities.

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Fog-drenched path from the house to the barn.

We shared stories of querying and working with agents and getting book deals. We talked about our cats/dogs/kids and favorite books and our progress on our WIPs. We became friends and instant fangirls for each other.

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Left to right: Zoe, Me, Rebekah, Elle

And when I had a meltdown about the opening of my WIP and cried for hours because I didn’t know how to incorporate all of the excited ideas they had for my book, they wouldn’t let me give up. They listened to my self-doubt and reminded me that they loved the story and just wanted to see it live up to its potential, and in Nova’s case, sat down with a print out of my pages and calmly talked me through how the revisions could easily be handled by moving this bit here and taking out that part there and adding in this one small thing that would tie it all together so nicely.

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My writing space and outline for my WIP.

And I came home feeling invigorated and excited about making this book into something they would all love.

Everything about this past week—from the enthusiasm and kinship felt from and with the other writers, to the romantic fog that hugged the top of the mountain, to the sculptures tucked into redwoods and mud-slicked hills, to late-night wine-fueled talks about books and life—made me so incredibly grateful that I have stories in my head and people to share them with.

A Week of Writing (And a Little Fangirling too)

Tomorrow I leave for my Djerassi YA Writer’s Retreat. I was beyond thrilled (and stunned) when I was accepted into the Djerassi program this past fall. The competition was fierce. I know this for a fact because I know a number of other writers who applied as well. And since I adore them and their writing, I knew it was going to be tough to get in. And that if I did, I’d be in very good company.

As it turns out, there were so many applicants, that Djerassi asked Nova Ren Suma to come back in June to lead a second retreat. My CPs and I were split up between the two groups. But tomorrow along with going to California for an amazing week of writing and talking about books and critiquing each other’s work, I also get to hang out with my very dear friend (or as M calls her, my girl crush) Rebekah. There will be copious amounts of excited flailing, laughing, fangirling over books (The Raven Cycle books! The Lynburn Legacy books! Eleanor & Park!) and characters (our own–Math! Paul! Alistair! Aiken!–and other people’s too–see those in the previously mentioned books) and authors (Nova!) and writing and plotting and working through our books in person instead of just online or through texts. (There will also whiskey.)

And there will be serious amounts of learning. From Nova and the other amazing writers who are going with us. I plan to put all of that knowledge and experience to good use on my WIP while I’m there. To come home with a manuscript that is thousands of words heavier and the determination to finish the first draft by the end of the month. And I will be grateful for every second of it.

Fangirl Reads in 2013

If last year was my epic rock concert year, this year was my YA novel love affair year. I read some seriously amazing books this year. Books that inspired me. That made me cry. That invaded my sleep and caused me so much anxiety I could barely function for days on end. Books that I pushed on friends and co-workers and my sister because I needed people to talk to about them.

Not all of the books on this list are from 2013, but this is the year I found—and fell in love with—them. And there are dozens of other books that I read and loved, and dozens more that are still on my TBR list, because even though I managed to read 3-5 books/week on multiple occasions this year, I still had to do things like work, and talk to my husband, and, you know, write my own stories. All things I love, so sacrifices had to be made.

But for the books I did make time for, these were my favorites…

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The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (2011) and The Evolution of Mara Dyer (2012), Michelle Hodkin – Why I love it: A phycological thriller/paranormal romance series that is so expertly crafted you don’t know what to believe. Oh, and Noah Shaw, my favorite book boyfriend ever.

GrishaBooksShadow and Bone (2012) and Siege and Storm (2013), Leigh Bardugo – Why I love it: An epic fantasy series that sucks you into the world in the first few pages and refuses to let you go. There’s on-the-edge-of-your-seat action, and super swoony moments with multiple boys, and a girl who kicks serious ass. Also, the Darkling.

UnspokenBooksUnspoken (2012) and Untold (2013), Sarah Rees Brennan – Why I love it: Jared. He’s the ultimate bad boy who would do anything for the girl he loves. You know, except tell her he loves her. (Warning, these books may make you want to throw them across the room in agony.)

PivotPointPivot Point (2013), Kasie West – Why I love it: It’s like Sliding Doors but with teens with abilities and super swoony Texas boys and a little murder thrown in to complicate things.

Anna and the French KissAnna and the French Kiss (2010), Stephanie Perkins – Why I love it: All the feels. This books captures friends falling in love so perfectly, it made me fall in love with my husband all over again.

Imaginary GirlsImaginary Girls (2011), Nova Ren Suma – Why I love it: The writing is so f-ing gorgeous and the bond between the sisters is so powerful that it I’m pretty sure that if I went to the reservoir I would actually find Chloe waiting by the water for Ruby.

ShatterMeShatter Me (2013) and Unravel Me (2013), Tahereh Mafi – Why I love it: A girl, who can’t touch anyone because her skin kills them, meets the one boy who (seemingly) isn’t affected by her. I’m not even going to talk about the other boy. Even thinking about him makes my anxiety flare up, which is part of the brilliance of Tahereh Mafi.

AcossTheUniverseAcross the Universe (2011), A Million Suns (2012), and Shades of Earth (2013), Beth Revis – Why I love it: This sci-fi series set (mostly) on a spaceship felt like I was reading in a world based on so many TV shows I love. It’s this awesome mix of Futurama, Firefly, and Doctor Who with some teenage angst and love thrown in.

Devil_SeaBetween the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (2013), April Genevieve Tucholke – Why I love it: It’s creepy, and dark, and not at all what I normally read. But River is another (redeemable) bad boy I just couldn’t resist. And because of his powers, neither could Violet, which made it a whole helluva lot of fun.

SelectionBooksThe Selection (2012) and The Elite (2013), Kiera Cass – Why I love it: It’s a love triangle that made me switch which boy I was rooting for partway through. That NEVER happens.

TFiOSThe Fault in Our Stars (2012), John Green – Why I love it: The humor and frankness in a story about kids with cancer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s heartbreaking, but So. Damn. Lovely. Also, the diagram of virgins vs. 17 year old guys with one leg.

FangirlFangirl, Rainbow Rowell – Why I love it: It’s about a girl who would rather live in a fictional world than deal with the people around her. Enough said. (Well, not quite. Also, Levi.)

AllegiantAllegiant, Veronica Roth (2013) – Why I love it: Veronica Roth wasn’t scared to do what was right for the character of Tris, even if it did break my heart. It’s not the ending I wanted for Tris or Four (or for me, for that matter!). But as a writer, I have to respect how much guts it took to do what she did.

5 Things NaNoWriMo Taught Me This Year

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I just finished (and won!) my fifth NaNoWriMo. I’m still in that hazy, how-in-the-hell-did-I-survive-that mode and wondering why I put myself through it year after year. I’m tired—like down in the bones, every cell in my brain is fried, I could sleep for a week tired. And it’s one of the best feelings ever.

NaNo isn’t for the faint of heart or those with serious ADD. It takes concentration and determination and in some cases the ability to say “I’m not going to make 50,000 words and that’s okay because what words I do make will bring me that much closer to writing the end.” But getting to 50,000 words this year was hard. Harder than previous years. Despite that though, I managed to make it, and I learned a few important things along the way.

5. Knowing you’ll be using this book in a workshop/retreat with an author you admire/respect/fangirl over causes a lot of stress

A few months back, I applied for a spot in a YA writers workshop/retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California. The main draw was that it was bring led by YA magical realism writer and all around cool chick Nova Ren Suma. After taking the class with her this past spring, it renewed my desire to interact with other writers. That class gave me some of my closest writing friends to date and a support group I am grateful for every damn day. On Halloween (aka the All NaNos Eve) I got my acceptance. (Insert serious flailing and squeeing with my friend Rebekah who also got in to the Feb workshop with me and our other CPs who are going in June!) I had planned all along to use the novel I would write this NaNo as the MS I workshopped at the retreat. Stupid, stupid, Sus. Instead of giving me the extra push to write when I wanted to take a break, all it did was make me stress about what I was going to do if the story wasn’t Nova-worthy and I wasted this amazing opportunity to work with her because I couldn’t get my shit together. (For the record, Nova is way too nice to ever tell anyone their work isn’t good enough, but I respect her too much to turn in something half-assed or merely perceived as half-assed by me.)

4. Writing chronologically is not for me

This is not new to me. I’ve never written a book in order from start to finish, but seeing as how I knew I needed to have a minimum of 50 pages ready for my workshop at Djerassi in February, I was determined to try. I made it partway into Week 2 before abandoning this plan. And here’s why: I write what excites me. When I get stuck on one scene, I don’t have to struggle through it just to keep in order. I can jump around and write a swoony scene or a fight scene or a big emotional revelation scene and get myself unstuck. I’m pretty sure this is the only way I’ve made it through every NaNo I’ve done. I’m glad I tried something new, and that I have 80ish pages straight through that I’m very happy with, but I just. could. not. do. it. anymore.

3. Being prepared won’t eliminate the inevitable Week 2 freak out

This book was the most prepared I’ve ever been for NaNo. I had a full scene-by-scene outline for the whole story, character sketches with photos, a Pinterest board of inspiration and who knows what else. And then Week 2 swooped in, laughed in my face, told me my book was shit, and then kicked my ass just because it could. What’s worse, Week 2 was right. My plot leaned toward the epic side of things (with big deaths and shocking betrayals and a love story so big it would be, as VMars’ Logan Echolls said, “spanning years and continents, lives ruined, bloodshed epic”). What I had planned was over the top and trying to be something my stories just simply are not. Not to mention one character was so disjointed I couldn’t even write him because I had planned for him to be one way (broken over the death of his sister) and was writing him to be something completely different (flirty, and swoony, and dealing with his loss like a healthy person). And I had no clue how to get myself out of the mess I’d made by trying too hard. I was thisclose to slamming my computer shut and quitting. Which leads me to…

2. Husbands and caramels save lives in November

M cares about my writing in so much as that he cares about me and I care about my writing. He’s not the type of husband to be my first reader (or even my tenth). He’ll read things if I ask him to, but what I write is just not his thing. And that’s okay. But when I descended into full on freak out mode, he calmly sat there with me, asking questions about the characters, making me dig deeper into their motivations and desires and hangups and flaws. He talked strategy and plausibility of plot. He didn’t laugh when I practically whined about how damn hard writing is or when I almost started crying because it seemed like the only logical thing to do (because, yeah, Week 2 is that much of a bitch). And somehow he got me through it. Then I went and reworked most of my plot and rewarded myself with a caramel because some days (or weeks in this case) will try to kick your ass, and when you survive it’s definitely cause for celebration.

1. NaNoing with other writers kicks ass

Over the past couple NaNos, I’ve convinced a few writer friends to do it with me. We’d touch base at work or sporadically though email, and that support was great. This year, however, four of my CPs decided to do it too. We spent the month cheering each other on; joining in on writing sprints; emailing fun scenes we’d written and inspirational quotes to each other; encouraging each other when one of us had a hard day; sending goodies, including caramels, mix CDs, “In case of NANo emergency break glass” vodka and other hole-up-in-your-room-and-not-talk-to-anyone writing essentials, and celebratory champagne. And on the days when I wanted to sit and read a book instead of writing, I’d make myself keep going because I didn’t want to have to tell these girls that I’d given up for no good reason.

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I’m still a long way from being done (at least 15,000 words I think) but even after a month as difficult as November was, I still love this story and these characters and will see them through to the end.