GIVEAWAY: Paperback of LIGHT YEARS by Emily Ziff Griffin

Two years ago, I reviewed LIGHT YEARS by Emily Ziff Griffin as part of the blog tour for the book’s release. Last year, the paperback of the book was published.

And this year, I have a copy of the paperback to give away! Check out the glorious cover below, as well as the synopsis. In my review, I said, “It's a book with a huge scope; namely, exploring how the world will react to a deadly virus…And Emily has taken on a huge task for herself in grappling with things like empathy, disease, family bonds, romance and even spirituality, all in a book aimed at teenagers. It's a book that deals with the soul of the person as well as the body, that deals with how to choose between two difficult options, and that shows teenagers stepping up to the plate.…overall I found it entrancing and powerful.”

LightYears paperback  high res.jpeg

Luisa is ready for her life to start. Five minutes ago. And she could be on her way, as her extraordinary coding skills have landed her a finalist spot for a fellowship sponsored by Thomas Bell, the world’s most brilliant and mercurial tech entrepreneur. Being chosen means funding, mentorship, and most importantly, freedom from her overbearing mother. Maybe Lu will even figure out how to control the rare condition that plagues her: whenever her emotions run high, her physical senses kick into overload, with waves of color, sound, taste, and touch flooding her body.

But her life is thrust into chaos as a deadly virus sweeps across the globe, killing thousands and sending her father into quarantine. When Lu receives a cryptic message from someone who might hold the key to stopping the epidemic, she knows she must do something to save her family—and the world.

Suspenseful, lyrical, and thought-provoking, Light Years features a remarkable heroine on an intensely physical and emotional quest for hope and existential meaning.

Go ahead and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway above: you’ve got until Sept. 20th!

Happy Birthday 88 Cups of Tea (and Why You Should Listen)

Man, what to say to express my true and intense love of 88 Cups of Tea in honor of the show’s fourth birthday at the beginning of this month?

Let’s start by explaining what 88 Cups is for those of you who don’t know! 88 Cups of Tea is a podcast (my very, very favorite podcast) in which the host, Yin Chang, interviews storytellers — mostly writers, often young adult authors, but there’s variety as well — about their process.

Ugh, that description sounds so dry. Here, let’s try this: 88 Cups of Tea is like listening to your favorite cool, slightly older cousin (because Yin is so personable in every episode and to everyone who interacts with her that she feels like family, but at the same time she’s super cool so she’s like a cousin a few years older than you — you know, the one you always looked at with mouth slightly agape in awe? Yeah, that’s Yin).

Anyway, it’s like your favorite super cool and slightly older cousin Yin Chang sits in an armchair and drinks tea and chats with your favorite authors about everything from their books to their writing process to their childhood to the joys and sorrows that made them who they are. (The tea and armchairs are metaphorical, but that’s how I like to picture it.)

And we, the listeners of this podcast, get to eavesdrop. And we get to feel like we’re even more a part of this weird, wild, terrifying world that is p u b l i s h i n g.

I don’t really know how to accurately list all the ways I love this podcast. Here, let me quote myself from my very excited iTunes review of the show:

I love listening in on [Yin’s] convos with authors because she’s SO EXCITED about them and their work and that’s inspiring. She loves what she does and there’s nothing better, honestly. The authors who come on are incredible, so hope-giving and encouraging! I can’t speak highly enough of the people on Facebook who are a part of it. This show is so amazing. <3”

Yes, I’m a total fangirl. Am I ashamed? No. Am I literally the embarrassing younger cousin who’s always hanging around going “OMG look, so cool!”? Undoubtedly.

I’m gonna break this post, this appreciation post, into two parts: the show itself, and the community around it.

The show itself

Like I said before, listening to each episode is like sitting in on a cozy conversation between two great friends. Yin is the perfect choice for a podcast host, as she’s incredibly personable and finds ways to connect with every. single. guest. I don’t know how she does it, except that she must just see everyone as somehow simultaneously special and ordinary; someone worth celebrating but someone just like you and me. Which, really…isn’t that how we all should look at everybody?

So the host is one factor, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the guests weren’t a massive part of the show’s appeal. I’m unashamed to admit that I’m one of those readers and fans who wants to feel like I can know my favorite authors. Writers have always been A-list celebrities in my mind. I go to signings and get all shaky and nervous when I’m in the autograph line, like I’m about to meet Captain America himself: my mouth runs dry and my palms get slick.

Every opportunity to learn more about them — from their creative processes, which always teach me to be a better writer; to their backstory, which remind me to view them as humans and not mere faces on a pedestal; to their advice — every chance I get to know more about my favorite writers is something I cherish.

And such great people have passed through the halls of 88 Cups of Tea! Sabaa Tahir! V.E. Schwab! Sandhya Menon! I could go on, but you could also just find the archives here.

There’s something thrilling about hearing your favorite storyteller’s voice in your ears and listening to them have this personal yet somehow, by some miracle, publicly accessible conversation so rich in goodness and inspiration.

The community around 88 Cups

To be honest, this is one of the two things that truly sets this podcast apart from others, for me (the first being, that’s right, Yin as host).

So the thing is, there’s this Facebook group where more than 1,000 listeners and fans of the show, writers and readers of all kinds, have gathered and formed a digital community. It’s one of my favorite Internet spaces — next to Twitter, which for some reason I do love, despite its issues (but that’s another post).

It’s a space that Yin actually created and nurtures, and that makes it all the more special; it’s a fandom-space, but it’s hosted by someone we’re a fan of.

I have the sweatshirt, yes.

I have the sweatshirt, yes.

We don’t just talk about the show — in fact, most of the posts and discussions in the group…aren’t necessarily about the show at all. Every day of the week there’s a different discussion post for us to share things like what we’re working on and what we’re proud of from that week, and these posts are broken up by members popping in to introduce themselves, ask for advice, just in general chat. And each post has tons of responses from everyone else.

I’ve gone there to post about writing; I’ve gone there to (do my best at) encouraging others; I’ve even gone there when, in the depths of my depression, I needed encouragement and advice.

In the beginning of June, I went to an in-person meet-up with three other listeners. We sat around a table at Kopitiam, Yin’s girlfriend’s restaurant, ate Malaysian breakfast food and drank tea and coffee, and chatted for hours about everything from our life stories to the projects we were working on to the things we were struggling with — both personally and in writing.

Those two hours were so refreshing I almost don’t have the words to describe them, and I still cherish the memory of that incredible morning and the lovely, wonderful people I met.

The conclusion?

I’m a fan, of this podcast and the people who create it and those who listen to it, and I’m so grateful to my friend Vanessa for telling me about it three years ago.

Happy birthday, 88 Cups of Tea (And here’s to many more)!

Reading The Daevabad Trilogy, AKA Learning to Appreciate World-Building

The book (and series) that shone a light for me on world-building: how to do it well, why it matters, and what it really is at its core.

How did I not appreciate world-building before, you might be asking? I am, after all, a writer. Even if I don’t write fantasy or sci-fi, I should still have had a strong grasp of world-building: not just how to do it, but you know…what it is. And why it matters!

And yet. Here we are. All this time, when my fellow writers waxed poetic about their favorite authors, and how great they were at building worlds, my smiles and nods of understanding were a mere farce. Flashing onto my face out of fear of being discovered, called out: she doesn’t understand world-building!

Okay, I might be acting a little dramatic right now, because I can’t see anyone actually reacting that way (writers are so nice!), but the fact remains: I didn’t get it. Worse, I didn’t think I had to get it, because I write contemporary. The world is built! We live in it! I don’t need to construct anything.

I am proud, but not too proud to admit how horrifyingly wrong I was. And it was The Daevabad Trilogy, by author S.A. Chakraborty, which showed me the true error of my thinking.

Chakraborty is an author I’ve been excited about and followed since even before the first book in the trilogy, her debut, published. I was so excited, in fact, that The City of Brass is the first time I ever reached out to a publisher to request an ARC (advance review copy) of a book. It was terrifying, but I did it! I also interviewed Chakraborty, for Ravishly’s People We Love column.

Photo from    Barnes &amp; Noble    page

Photo from Barnes & Noble page

So yeah. You could say I am (and have been) a fan. That picture up top, in fact, comes from a vlog I recorded (part of my short-lived and hopefully gracefully dead series about fab books) where I pretty much just gushed about The City of Brass for 5 minutes.

This post is for me to gush about her second book, The Kingdom of Copper.

It took me so long to read this book, partly because I’ve been in a reading drought, but partly because it’s long and rich and the tension doesn’t so much hit you in the gut from the first page as climb, over the course of 600+ pages, to mind-spinning peaks.

No, really. I read the book on Kindle, and the last 20% or so I think my heart galloped along, without stopping, at like 180 beats per minute. I kept having to pause and take deep breaths, but I couldn’t pause for long because I was desperate to get back into the story, into the world, and see how things turned out.

That slow build is when it finally clicked with me: this is how you build a world. No, let me rephrase: this is how you build a world well. It’s not just about sitting down and coming up with the details, though those are done so well: the various djinn tribes, the mythical creatures, the different types of magic that live in Chakarborty’s world. All of those well-done and fit together perfectly and you can tell, by reading both books, that she put the kind of thought and care into imagining them as a fine carpenter would into crafting the most intricate of chairs. For example.

The thing that clicked with me was how much the slow build tied into, added to, my ability to appreciate the world that was built, and the overall story as well.

By the time things started moving, by the time things started really hitting the fan, there were so many pieces ready to go that the book could jump forward, slamming on the accelerator, and it didn’t feel like going 0 to 100. More like 40 to 100. Still a big jump, but it made sense.

And as I was mentally racing through the streets of Daevabad like Nahri and her companions, or battling enemies in combat like…literally everyone else…it struck me that none of what was happening in that moment, in that final 20%, would have made sense if it hadn’t been earned through the slow build.

So many different pieces had to click into place for the third act of the book to work, and the only way for them to click was for Chakraborty to spend the initial bulk of the novel building those pieces, from the most detailed almost-throwaway-line to the long-running mysteries we finally saw answered.

Oh, and it’s not just Book 2 pieces that came together! Answers from the first book made their way into the climax scenes. It’s…honestly thrilling to read, and mildly intimidating to think of as a writer.

When I first started reading, at around the 16% mark, I made a note in Goodreads mentioning political allegiances, and how mine stood with two particular characters. By the end, well…things are different. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m still confused! It’s so wonderful!

The politics of this series are so integral to the overall success of the story. And they are well. done.

They’re stressful. They’re complicated, by family ties and friendship and liars and centuries of history. Just like our own world, huh, whaddya know! You start out the book thinking you hate one character and love another, and by the end you’re…well, I won’t tell you, because you should READ IT YOURSELF and then tell me who your allegiances lie with.

This was the first book where I really stopped to take in the care that had gone into building the world. Maybe it’s because I follow the author on Twitter and know how much she loves researching the history she’s weaving through her story, reading her threads about history in which she spins even more stories, or maybe it’s because of the interview I did with her where I asked about this, but whatever the reason, this book hit me in the gut.

And then I started thinking about world-building in my own writing. No, I don’t have to craft magic systems or form governments or design cities, but I do have to build tension, set scenes, and even in high school friendships and modern families, politics have a part — and I don’t mean Republican vs Democrat politics (well, not just those ones), but the politics of who ate lunch with whom and which child got the bigger serving of macaroni and cheese and who got promoted at their summer job.

All of these things speak into the world of each novel, give it the richness and indelibility that I’m striving for. The permanence.

The Daevabad Trilogy is a series that sticks with you. After I close the book on the last page of the third book, or 10 years from now, maybe in the final days of my life even, I’ll still hold this story in my heart, still remember how I rode the “R” train to work and my heart pounded so hard I thought it would leap out of my chest and the subway roared into the station when I was at 95% and I had to stop reading to walk to work and all I could think about was WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN I’M SO STRESSED THIS IS AMAZING!

Is it too much to say it has the same permanence for me that Harry Potter has had for millions of readers? I THINK NOT IT’S REALLY GOOD OKAY.

Do you have any books or series like that, stories that live in your heart forever? Share them in the comments! And don’t forget to check out The Daevabad Trilogy and maybe buy it and support an amazing, exciting author.

I'm Getting Back into Essays (And How You Can Help!)

It feels like an eternity has passed since the last time I published an essay anywhere other than this blog.

In reality, it’s only been since last September. Maybe August? Either way, somewhere under a year.

But I went from publishing multiple posts a month to absolutely nothing, for months on end, suddenly and abruptly and to be honest because of work stress and mental illness ravages and just an entire host of issues. So I guess maybe it seems like it’s been longer just because I’m not used to it.

I haven’t published anything in what feels like a million years because work got busy and I stopped feeling creative and suddenly even contributing to Operation Awesome (the group blog I’ve since had to leave) or updating this blog was too much. I was still writing of course, occasionally, but publishing? Felt like even more of a pipe dream than it did that long-ago day when my first piece went live at Seventeen.com

So what am I doing today, just sitting here moaning and groaning about how long it’s been?

Nah, not today. Moaning and groaning is totally up my alley, but today I have a plan. Today I’m coming to say that I’m setting things in motion once more.

I reached out to editors at a few publications I wrote for regularly and we talked about getting me back on track, back to contributing, and I’m ridiculously excited to say that I’ll have a piece published at LitReactor on July 23rd! I’m not going to tell you what it’s about (yet) but I’ll share the link all over my social media so you know…feel free to check that out. Or like my Facebook page.

I’m trying to get back into regularly writing personal essays, editing them so they’re the most excellent they can be, and submitting them to publications. Both publications that have never heard the faintest whisper of my name before and ones where I have existing relationships with editors and therefore (perchance) a greater hope of being published.

I’m also trying to make this blog better. Trying to commit to writing love posts about the books I adore, and writing honest takes about my mental health, and occasionally sprinkling in random personal blogs.

So here’s where you guys can help. There are actually a few things you can do if you want to support me and my career as a writer. Stay tuned for a list! Below!

  1. Tell me what you want to read on this blog. You can contact me, or drop comments on any posts, or go through the aforementioned social media links, but if you have a book you want to hear my thoughts on, or a specific mental health issue you’d love to know about, or if you saw a picture on my Instagram and want to know the backstory…let me know! I’d love to write what you want to see.

  2. If you feel so inclined, follow or like my various social media pages (linked below) so you can get updates on my published pieces. There’s a chance I’ll bring my newsletter back and send out biweekly-to-monthly updates with links to my favorite blog posts or articles. Feel free to sign up!

  3. If you see my posts and want to read them, go for it, and then a like, a share, a comment on social or the website hosting the work does wonders, not just for my confidence, but for added visibility to each post and, in the case of published articles, showing editors that people like my content.

  4. Finally, and this is a big one that I know is asking a lot, you can support me financially through Patreon or, for gifts without the commitment, Ko-fi. Patreon is a site where fans (called patrons) can sign on to regularly support my work by pledging a set amount per essay traditionally published, whether it’s already paid or not. Feel free to head to my profile to learn more, if you’re so inclined. On Ko-fi, you can give a one-time gift of a “coffee” ($3) if you, say, like a blog post or essay or just feel like you want to do so. No commitment!

In the end, if you do nothing but silently read my posts and appreciate them…I may never know you’re doing that, but the truth is, that’s why I write. For anyone who wants to read my words and takes hope, happiness, encouragement, learning from them. Whether you tell me, share my work, or pay me for it, I appreciate that you’re here.

Have the most excellent of Thursdays!

What THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE Means To Me (A Fat Girl)

I have never felt beautiful, and while there are so many reasons for that in my mind (frizzy hair, nose I don’t like, eyebrows too thick, bad posture), there’s always been one that stuck out the most: I’ve been fat for so long.

To be fair, for most of my high school and even part of college life, I wasn’t fat, I was just not-as-thin-as the girls, both around me and in magazines, who were held up as icons of beauty. My stomach had rolls and if I angled my face down just right, welp, there was my double chin.

I’m fat now. I carry my weight in specific areas on my body and I don’t have a big frame, but I look at myself in the mirror, in pictures taken of me, and it’s clear: I am fat.

So I hated myself for that. Granted, it wasn’t the only thing I hated myself for, but it was a big one. It was especially bad because I’ve always been this huge believer in romance, someone who once believed if I wasn’t married by 19 (why 19? I was reading a lot of historical fiction, okay, it’s fine) my life would have no meaning. And in the books I read, the heroines didn’t look like me. Oh, for sure, they were still white, which is a big issue of representation, and sometimes they even had frizzy hair or noses they didn’t like; but they weren’t fat.

They were never fat.

And so, I bought into the belief that nobody would love a fat girl.

When I was 23, I read DUMPLIN’, a YA novel by Julie Murphy, and it meant everything to me. So much so, I even wrote about it for Bustle. A fat heroine, whose journey isn’t about losing weight, and a love interest who thinks she’s beautiful just the way she is?

Revolutionary.

That’s how I feel about THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE (Simon Pulse, May 14), written by Sandhya Menon, whose previous two YA romcoms are both deliciously sweet, and whom I interviewed two years ago.

From the book’s blurb: “Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat.”

That description hits me because it’s so...multi-dimensional. Sweetie isn’t just a fat character who has no other qualities or personality traits. Her reason for existing as a protagonist isn’t merely to check off a box: yes, the fat character is there, carry on then.

Sweetie is as real a person as she can be while remaining … fictional. In addition to the traits listed above, readers learn within mere pages of the book that Sweetie is a girl with a fraught relationship with her mother; a big factor in what makes their relationship tense is her clothing size.

In a preface to the book, Menon shares that she, while thin at the moment, has in the past been fat. She explained her desire to write, specifically, conversations between Sweetie and her mother in which the teen daughter received this pervasive message that fat is bad, thin is good. No matter how many times Sweetie tries to remind her mother that my body is healthy, my body is strong, I am an athlete and I am good at it and I am not ashamed, her mother cannot or will not hear her.

I asked Menon about this in an interview I sent her, you know — what was it like to write these conversations so many young girls have with their mothers, and to have Sweetie put her foot down and say there’s nothing wrong with being fat?

“I wanted it to be there in very clear terms, in black and white, with no ambiguity, that even mothers have no right to say fat-shaming things to their children,” she answered. “Even if it’s coming from a place of love or fear or desperation, it has everything to do with the messages the parents themselves have internalized and very little to do with reality.”

Although Menon specifically chose to write Sweetie as a South Asian, fat athlete, both to reflect experiences she had and to show South Asian teenagers having the same experiences what it might look like to accept themselves as they are, she acknowledged that communities all around the world struggle to fully accept fat bodies.

“I want to start having these conversations about what it means to be fat and happy in your own skin, and how thin people can be more supportive of their fat loved ones,” she said.

Honestly…these are exactly the kind of conversations I want to start having with my loved ones…and with myself. There were so many moments in the book where I just had to close it (metaphorically…I read it in Kindle format on my phone, so there’s really no “closing,” but you get the picture), close my eyes, and just breathe.

I don’t think there’s a person living in a fat body who hasn’t lived through having someone, be they stranger at the Farmer’s Market or grandparent or close friend or stranger on the Internet, think they had a right to discuss our body: with us, behind our back, as a call-out or an intervention or cloaked with a sheen of concern.

It begins to seem as though everywhere fat people turn there’s a voice telling us we’re disgusting, unworthy, lazy, somehow less-than everyone around.

Every voice which counteracts these negative ones — every fat actor who scores roles that don’t mock fatness; every comedian who’s able to make it through a set without even one fatphobic joke; every fashion brand making plus sizes that don’t cost additional arms and legs; and every author writing about badass fat characters who don’t need to lose the weight to learn they are beautiful, smart, lovable…each of these voices is precious.

I think one thing that makes THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE ring so true to me is because it comes from a place of authenticity for the author. Menon has been there. She has been fat. She has had the conversations Sweetie has to have. She has felt the sting of someone judging her in the street, and the shame that brings, even while questioning why we’re letting someone else’s poor judgement bring us shame.

“All of my fiction thus far has had hints of autobiography,” she said, explaining that each of her characters’ main obstacle are things she herself has worked through. “All of these are deeply personal struggles from my own life, and I wouldn’t know what it feels like to write without pulling from that pool…that level of honesty makes the story feel so much richer and, I think, leads to a more fulfilling storytelling experience for both writer and reader.”

She’s right: there’s something comforting about knowing that the character you’re reading, the one who looks like you and is being hurt like you have been, was written by someone who understands. Someone who, having been through it, won’t be careless in her handling of that hurt, won’t make you hurt again.

At the end of the day, as much as THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE is a powerful book about self-acceptance and body positivity, it’s also a young adult rom-com. And knowing that the author herself had experienced the same things the character goes through makes it easier to read the book with almost a sigh of relief, a knowledge that you’re not going to get your heart broken this time.

And you won’t. The cover doesn’t lie. First of all, it’s a nod to a super adorable scene; but secondly, that joy that sparkles through Sweetie (and her cover model)’s eyes? It’s sprinkled throughout the whole book. It’s uplifting and cute and, simply, adorable.

If you need something to read this summer that is both pure sweetness as well as uplifting and empowering, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE is, really, the perfect choice.

IN ANOTHER LIFE by C.C. Hunter [Blog Tour]

Imagine it: you’re 17, you move to a new city for your senior year of high school, and you meet a boy. The chemistry is electric between the two of you, the connection undeniable. So maybe being the new kid in 12th grade won’t be the worst thing in the world after all, right?

Until he tells you: his foster parents lost a daughter 14 years ago, and you’re the spitting image of the age-progression photos detectives mocked up a while back.

Could it be? Are you…the kidnapped daughter of your new boyfriend’s foster parents?

As Chloe and Cash delve deeper into her adoption, the more things don’t add up, and the more strange things start happening. Why is Chloe’s adoption a secret that people would kill for?

This is the key question that IN ANOTHER LIFE, New York Times bestselling author C.C. Hunter’s newest YA thriller hinges upon. Published yesterday, the novel delves into the mystery of Chloe’s adoption while simultaneously undertaking a look at complicated family dynamics and relationships; delving into questions of how to overcome childhood trauma and whether what we experience as children — and the choices we and our parents make — determines our fate; as well as increasingly life-and-death stakes for our two protagonists.

I was lucky enough to send a few questions to Ms. Hunter for this tour and I’m thrilled to share some of her background and story with you today. The first thing that intrigued me in researching was her name: C.C. Hunter is a pseudonym for Christie Craig, her real name and the one under which she writes humorous romantic suspense novels.

I’d labored for ages under the impression that pseudonyms were chosen to keep identities private or to, at least, separate two identities, that is, keep readers from knowing the same author is writing in both genres; however, it’s made clear on every platform online, that Christie Craig and C.C. Hunter are the same person.

“I was already publishing my humorous romantic suspense novels when an editor asked me to write a young adult paranormal series,” Hunter told me when I asked why this was. “She advised me to use a pseudonym to avoid confusing my readers since it was a different genre.” [You can find C.C. Hunter’s website here.]

Hunter grew up in Alabama, in the deep South, and says, “storytelling was infused in my blood.”

Not only did her grandfather gather her and all her cousins around him to regale them with stories, but dinnertime in her immediate family was also a time for sharing and storytelling.

Courtesy of Wednesday Books

Courtesy of Wednesday Books

“Our dinner table conversations were supposed to be interesting,” Hunter says. “If our day was boring, we had to find some deeper meaning to the mundane events or elaborate to make the conversation more interesting.”

Hunter told me she is dyslexic, meaning she wasn’t much of a reader, she struggled in school, and she didn’t allow herself to dream of being a writer. She couldn’t keep herself from dreaming up stories in her head, though.

“From the time I was about eleven, I would run off by myself into the woods, find a tree to lean on, and I would create stories in my head,” she said. “ Stories of young love and adventure…It wasn’t until I was 23 when my husband asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life that I admitted I wrote stories in my head and I wondered if I could learn to put them on paper.  His reply, ‘Just do it,’ was like a challenge.”

It took 10 years to sell her first book, and another 13 years to sell a second: but she persevered, kept at it, and now she’s a bestselling author in multiple genres.

I’m going to tie this back into IN ANOTHER LIFE here, because it’s relevant, even though it might not seem so on the surface. Learning to translate the stories you’ve in your head onto paper after 23 years of believing you can’t do so takes gumption, guts, and incredible fortitude. It’s the kind of thing even I, ambitious and big-dreaming to a fault, don’t know if I could do. It’s incredibly impressive.

I’ve only read one of Hunter’s books (yes, it’s the one I’m discussing for this here blog tour ;)) but I can see that her character, Chloe, possessed similar fortitude. No, not always. She’s a 17-year-old whose life was turned upside down and in reading there were moments I wanted to step into the pages of the book and shake her and just tell her what to do.

But I know from my own experience as a writer, aspects of who we are translate into our protagonists. Our weaknesses and also our strengths. Including, when we have it, our gumption, guts, and fortitude.

I enjoyed IN ANOTHER LIFE in part because, as much as Chloe is scared to learn the truth because it will turn her life upside-down…as scared as she is of confronting people at the beginning of the book…by the end she has grown into a take-no-enemies woman who tells people what she wants and stands her ground. It’s admirable, heroic, and the kind of role model that’s needed.

If you wandered over to Hunter’s website at any point, you might notice her blog page is fairly active and up-to-date. She also releases novels regularly, has a husband, friends…the usual trappings of a life. She explained the value of prioritizing work time, including sometimes saying “no” to fun events…while at the same time realizing that it’s a balance, and sometimes she realizes she’s cutting back on too much social life.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she offered as one piece of advice to others who may be struggling to find balance. “As I have gotten busier, I have hired an assistant to help me keep up with things…The biggest piece of advice I can offer other authors juggling all things writing related is to not compare yourself to other writers.  Your life is different and only you can set your goals.”

But the biggest thing to remember?

“The most important thing you can do for your career is to write the next book,” Hunter said.

Hey, thanks so much for reading this stop on the IN ANOTHER LIFE blog tour! I hope you’ll click through the link to check out C.C. Hunter’s website, and if you’re intrigued by the sound of the book, you can find the buy link here. Thanks for checking it out!

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER: Being the Hero's Heartbreak

trigger warning: depression, mental illness, suicide, suicidal thoughts

possible spoiler warnings for THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, by Emily X.R. Pan

Chapter 2. The book starts with a series of scratched-out suicide note attempts. So simple, such a small thing, and I am immediately wrecked. Fingers trembling, aching to turn the pages and move on, eyes fixed to the words, I’m already crying.

I get it. I’ve been there. How do you encompass a lifetime’s suffering into a note? How do explain that you love them so much, so much that you have to go? How do you convey your sorrow and apology when they won’t get it?

I want you to remember: I do, too. Remember me. The good times, not this pain. Raise your children with my picture on the mantel. Don’t forget me. Just because I have to go doesn’t mean I want to erase my existence entirely.

The day before I began reading Emily X.R. Pan’s stunning debut THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, I sat down and, for I think the first time in my life, began typing out a suicide note.

Books, tables, plants, oh my!

Books, tables, plants, oh my!

I didn’t get far. Just the act of typing out the words “I’m sorry” sent me reeling because it made it so real. So much more real than ever before. I’d had previous attempts, but they’d always been impulsive, the kind that happened because I was overcome with emotion and couldn’t see past the pain of the moment, and never had I come even close to my life being in danger. I’d never had the time to sit down and write a note. 

This time was different. This time started with me speaking to myself in a rational tone of voice. Making a promise. And slowly, as the days passed, growing ever surer in my promise. I had motive. I had a plan. I had determination. If such-and-such didn’t happen…I would kill myself.

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER is about coping with a mother’s suicide. It’s contemporary but fantastical, the story of Leigh, a biracial girl who, after losing her mother, travels to Taiwan to visit the grandparents whom she’s never met, in search of the bird she believes her mother has become. It is exquisitely written and heart-squeezingly devastating at times. As I read, I kept stopping to take notes, to write down a chapter number and a line or two that specifically affected me.

Chapter 6. One of the first books I ever tried to write was a dual-perspective novel, following a girl after her best friend killed herself as the left-behind finds she can hardly cope. I had tried to kill myself a few months before, wound up in the hospital, and was trying to put myself in my friends’ shoes and imagine their life after me.

The biggest struggle was I just couldn’t fathom that they would be devastated.

Leigh says: “The mother-shaped hole became a cutout of the blackest black. Something I could only see around.” (19).

Am I wrong for wishing they might be sucked into the black hole?

The day before I began reading THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER was the day such-and-such was supposed to happen, or not. And as the hours dragged on, I became surer that it wouldn’t happen. That I would have to die. I was a mess. I cried. My hands shook. I scrolled through my phone’s contacts, trying to find someone I could tell. I started my note. I shuddered and couldn’t finish. 

In the end, I didn’t do it. I lived another day, to open up Pan’s novel, and find myself…completely shaken.

Chapter 19. Leigh wants to know whose fault it is. Did she not love her mom enough? Did her father fail in some way? Did her mom’s friends drop the ball?

I wanted to yell that no, of course not. The ball is too fucking heavy for them to carry. It’s too heavy for me to ask my mom, my best friend, the boy I have a crush on, to carry. It’s definitely too heavy for me, but I’m trying. I’m lugging it behind me and brushing the sweaty hair from my forehead and wishing I were stronger.

“If I had only— ” (77). 

No, baby, there was nothing you could do. 

I wish I could blame someone for this. Say they didn’t love me enough. But the truth is my brain is a cannibal and it’s eating me alive and no one’s sacrifice will ever be enough. Ever. Not even mine.

What do you when you find yourself relating not to the book’s protagonist, Leigh, but to her dead mother? When every description of the mother who killed herself rockets through your body and lights you up from the inside, eating you alive with recognition? 

Everything about Leigh’s mother could have been written about me. From the memories where she shines, joy sparkling from her eyes to her fingertips to the way she moves about the room. There are moments in which I feel this about myself. Moments when I am joy incarnate, when I imagine a third-person narrator saying of me, She walked with a spring in her step, emanating a joie de vivre that infected everyone around her. She may as well have been in a musical on a beautiful spring day, waltzing through a quaint, charming town while wearing a fluffy, pink sundress. 

And then there are descriptions of her as she is depressed. Slumped, physically bowed down by the weight in her mind, in her heart, unable to even recognize that it’s time to celebrate someone else: a prisoner to her illness.

That’s me so much of the time. It feels like there are weights tied to my fingers and my toes and my nose and they’re all pulling me downward, pressing me into the ground. I get in the car and my hands barely hold onto the wheel, my foot presses the gas gauge too far…I have to pull over, take a deep breath, straighten my back and demand strength from my limbs that isn’t there.

Chapter 24. Leigh finds her mom passed out on the kitchen floor.

I used to pray I could pass out. Hell, I still do. I am overcome with emotion and it hurts like hell and I want it to go away, at least for a moment.

When I cut; when I walk crying down the street; when I post on Twitter; I’m screaming. I’m screaming for you to help me. What do I have to do to get your attention? Pass out? Collapse? Bleed?

Die?

Help me. 

Chapter 29. They thought she was better.

But it was always going to come back.

THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER is a story of grief. Intense, brilliant grief. Every instant where Leigh grieves her mother hit me in the gut, not because I’ve felt that grief, but because I’ve almost been the cause of that grief.

I haven’t lost a loved one to suicide. I’ve been the loved one who was almost lost to suicide.

Chapter 30. Leigh asks herself what makes someone decide to kill herself. Especially when this person is loved.

I flash back to mid-July, 2017. I wish I remembered details of the day other than that it was a Sunday, but that’s all I’ve got. It was a Sunday. I was on the middle or top balcony in Hammerstein Ballroom, at the Manhattan Center. I was out of control. I was surrounded by friends, people who didn’t just profess to love me, but who acted out their love, showing it to me in everything they did.

“You have so many people who love you,” someone mentioned, and the guilt knifed its way through my gut. I knew it was the truth.

It’s not often that I know I am loved. Most of the time I hope I am loved, but fully disbelieve it regardless. This time, though, I knew it.

And it still wasn’t enough. 

Chapter 33. Leigh thinks maybe a place to exercise her religion would have saved her mother. 

I have a place. I call it home. I call it church. I call it family. It’s a megachurch that meets in a theater in midtown Manhattan and the line stretches halfway down an avenue most Sundays. The worship music is loud and exciting and when I sing out so strongly that my throat gets raw, I feel like it will be okay.

If I could just stay in that cocoon all the time. If I could wrap myself in that comfort, familiarity, home, for the other six days of the week…

It still wouldn’t be enough. 

I don’t know what will be enough. I don’t know if anything can be enough. I have it all. I have friends and love and God and worship and home and dreams and safety and it is still not, never, enough. Because I still wander through the middle of most days wondering when it’s going to happen.

When I’m going to kill myself.

And I don’t know what the grief would look like for the people I love, who profess to love me. Honestly, sometimes I don’t believe that they would grieve. I doubt it would wreck anyone the way it wrecked Leigh. 

But maybe it would. Maybe, just maybe, my friends would find themselves shaken, at a loss, sick to their stomachs, knowing I was gone. Maybe they would attend my funeral and have no words for their sorrow. Maybe they would fling their lives away, travel to foreign lands in search of me, in search of a reason, in search of an answer.

Maybe.

I doubt it. But maybe that doubt is the depression speaking.

Regardless: what do you do when you read a book and know you’re not the hero: you’re her heartbreak?

Chapter 52. Leigh’s mom can’t hold herself upright. Her body droops, sags, drapes along the floor and the shoulders of those who carry her. 

There have been moments, usually when I’m behind the wheel of a car, when my body becomes weighted down. My shoulders sag, my head lolls forward. My eyes close for a blink and it takes a second, two, six, for them to snap open again.

We like to call depression a mental illness, relegate it to the kingdom of the mind and pretend it has no physical effects. But there are moments when my body is just as sick as my mind. When the strength seeps out of my muscles and my bones may or may not be made of silly putty and I think it would be easy, so easy, to simply disintegrate.

Chapter 52, but later. Leigh sees a happy family picture and wonders how a picture can lie about so much brokenness.

It me, the selfie queen

It me, the selfie queen

I am the queen of selfies. It’s partly because I have no shame in public, partly because I don’t like the way I look from any other angle. And I smile. Liberally. I laugh, loudly. I tell jokes and I spiral upwards and if you looked at me and didn’t know, you just might think I was okay. Better than okay: amazing.

It’s always the broken ones who laugh the hardest.

I don’t know how to cope with being a hero’s heartbreak. I honestly don’t. For me, I read to understand. To put myself in Leigh’s shoes and my friends in mine, to seek to understand what it’s like to lose someone to suicide, to envision my loved ones going through that…to swear to never put them through it.

There’s this thought I have often when I’m depressed: that I know this is a terminal disease. Not because it’s going to be with me until I die, but because it’s going to be the reason I die. Because it’s going to be my hand which takes my life in the end. 

An old counselor of mine used to say that even then, it wouldn’t be depression’s fault. Because it’s my hand which yanks the blade, scoops up the pills, etc, etc. 

I believe her but mostly I don’t. And I read THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER and I cry because I understand the mother and why she did what she did even though no one else does and it breaks me into infinitesimally small pieces. In every instance, I relate: not to Leigh but to her dead mother.

Chapter 63. It is the image of a cicada molting. How many times have I wished I could claw my skin off my back. How many times has the pain in my mind sent me reeling, cursing, clawing.

How many times have I wished for a new self, a new skin, a new mind. How many times.

Chapter 65. In which Leigh’s aunt, in a memory, reflects upon her sister, Leigh’s mother. The mother who killed herself. The mother who was depressed, yet had a spirit bursting with creativity and ambition.

I think I am Leigh’s mother.

Chapter 83. I have never seen my pain represented so clearly on the page, so fully and starkly. We kaleidoscope through suicidal moment after suicidal moment while Leigh’s mother — while Dory — contemplates death. A bottle of pills. A knife. The one that hits the hardest: freezing in the snow.

I didn’t know I was suicidal until I was in high school. It was a boarding school, in the Black Forest, in the mountains of Germany. I lived with a woman who abused my emotions. 

There is a moment, crystallized in the amber of my memories: I walked out of her apartment on the second floor of the centuries-old farmhouse. I stepped into the next room and looked out the window, took in the hills soaring into the sky, transforming into snow-topped mountains.

I would leave. I would walk, then run, then traipse and stumble through the chill, through the snow, until I could no longer move. I would rest. And eventually, my rest would turn to ice. My blood would stop moving in my veins. My heartbeats would slow down until eventually they stopped. I might not even notice when it happened. But one minute, I would be, and the next...I wouldn’t.

I didn’t know I wasn’t alone in dreaming of snow taking over.

I didn’t know, and I read the words, and I broke.

The last thing I want is to make the people who love me suffer. Grieve. Cry. Wonder. I don’t want to turn into a bird. I just want to turn into someone who can survive life.

On Writing and Procrastinating

There's this weird phenomenon I experience whenever I'm writing; or rather, whenever I'm thinking about writing: I want to do it. I ache to write. My fingers twitch on the keyboard...and yet I don't do it.

I can't bring myself to sit down, open up that document, and start typing. My brain is alive with ideas and plotlines, with snappy dialogue and fun descriptions, but that's all that happens...it just stays there.

And it's not just writing fiction; oh no, I do this with all genres. With poems, blog posts, personal essays...I think about writing so, so much, but I don't actually write that often. I just, like...marinate in my thoughts.

Honestly, if I were as productive in reality as I am mentally, I would be...so freaking prolific already. And probably actually be able to survive, financially, as a freelancer.

I think it's a common problem with writers, especially perfectionistic ones, this habit of thinking more about writing than actually writing. They say it's because us perfectionists are afraid that the end product won't be as good as what we've visualized. 

And I am a total perfectionist; I have this insane need to be excellent at everything, the best, top of the line...

But I don't think that's my problem. It's more this thing of inertia, where until I'm working on something I just can't get up the gumption to do it.

So, say, I sit down with a cup of coffee and my laptop, along with my annotated previous draft and the big book of notes I have, I'll have this fire and drive to start drafting, and that'll propel me through a good 1,500-2,000 words in one session.

It's just getting there that's so very hard.

And if I take a break for a day or so, it's even harder to get back in the swing of things.

In this way, writing is so much like exercising. Now, I don't know too much about that on account of, hahahahaha I don't work out, but still — I'm familiar with the general concept. Basically, what I hear is that the more you work out, the easier it is. 

It's the same with writing, at least for me; the longer a break I take, the harder it is to get back into it. For example, last week I was out of town working childcare for a conference — 8.5 hour days wrangling children and by the end of it all I could do was lie in bed, staring at the ceiling. 

I've been back since Friday, and today is the first day I was able to get some writing done. On the bright side: I'm pretty sure it'll be a smidge easier tomorrow!

Now, I do want to be clear: I'm not saying that the only way to write is to do it every day; honestly, everyone has their own process and technique, and for some people it's easier to spend, like, eight hours one day writing and then have a week off; for me, I can handle something like, oh, 45 minutes to an hour and a half in one day, but not a full day's work on one project. It's a weird focus thing. 

I could reasonably spend a whole day writing if it were different projects, but that's about all I've got.

And that's okay! Writing is so personal and such an individualized process that no two writers' days are going to look exactly the same. Which is, frankly, one of the beauties of this craft.

There's so many more, but...it's late, I'm tired, and this post has gone on long enough.

BUT in news: be sure to check out https://operationawesome6.blogspot.com, because I'm going to be blogging there every Monday starting next week! Woooot!!

LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS Will Change And Improve Your Life

Samira Ahmed's debut, LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS is one of those books that doesn't leave your mind after you've consumed it.

I say "consumed" because that's how this book is best read: all at once, inhaled and then savored. It leaves a pleasant taste lingering in the back of your mind, a book hangover but nicer.

According to the synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz can’t wait to graduate from her small town high school. She dreams of studying film in New York City and kissing a boy (or, maybe two). Her parents forbid both. While she wrestles with parental expectations and her own desires, Maya’s world is rocked by a horrifying act of domestic terrorism that ignites an outbreak of Islamophobia that threatens to alter the course of her life forever.

So already I'm feeling this book. I mean, hello, desire to move to New York City and wanting to kiss boys? The book may as well be about me! Well, except for some differences: Maya is into photography and I'm a writer; her parents don't want her to do what she wants and mine were relatively supportive; she's Muslim and I'm Christian. 

These differences between me and Maya really only made me love the book more; there's something delicious, to me, about reading a book that stars someone with core differences but to whom I can still relate on such a deep level.

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As I read the book, I was fully captivated by the contemporary YA storyline; when the act of domestic terrorism occurs, I had this fleeting worry that it would change the book. It did; it made it a little darker, a little more real, as Maya has to deal with Islamophobia. But Samira Ahmed does an incredible job at weaving the darkness into the story without letting it overwhelm you, and she planted me squarely in Maya's shoes in a situation I'll never experience but which I feel the emotions of as clearly as if I were living them.

That's what a book is supposed to do; it's supposed to let you live another experience so you can comprehend it better. 

But this book isn't fabulous only because of how Samira handles darkness; it's also a beautiful, romantic tale of passion and dreams. It has lovely moments of lightness to counteract the hard things Maya goes through. 

I'm such a fan of this book, you guys! It was published Jan. 16 (this past Tuesday!) by Soho Teen, and you can order a copy yourself if you feel the desire to read something brilliantly written, emotionally moving, and also just plain adorable.

    NICE TRY, JANE SINNER Is a Top Book of 2018, For Sure

    Phew, Y'ALL. Lianne Oelke has written what is possibly going to be on all my lists of favorite 2018 reads. I began NICE TRY, JANE SINNER on the first day of the year and finished it this Sunday; yes, that's how good I think the book is, I think it'll stay at the top of the list all year long! According to the synopsis: 

    jane-sinner-cover-offset.png

    Recently expelled from high school, Jane Sinner grudgingly enrolls in community college, a situation made slightly more bearable when she joins a student-run reality show. House of Orange is her chance to start over—and maybe even win a car (used, but whatever)—and no one there knows what she did in high school. What more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that gets why she’d rather turn to Freud than to Jesus. But she’ll settle for using HOO’s growing fanbase, and whatever Intro to Psych can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard television—that she has what it takes to win.

    Sounds intriguing, no? I read this book because I was given a free eARC on Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion, and my honest opinion is this: this book rocks.

    Here's a link to my Goodreads review in which I rave about it. 

    Basically, this book was one of the most well-done examples of a good young adult voice that I've read in a while. Jane is about the definition of "caustic," with an exceedingly biting tone and total no-nonsense approach to life that I adored. She's not like me (I'm overly emotional and she likes to pretend she doesn't have any) but I related to her on a visceral level, and I adored just how strongly her personality came through. When I write (and read) voice is one of the most important things to me, and this book nailed it.

    I won't talk about the part I loved the most about this book because SPOILERS, but I will say it accurately depicts what a lot of people go through during certain hard times. For that reason, it was at times a tough read; I had to take a break in the middle of charging through the words in order to reset my mind. It does deal with mental illness in a very unflinching way; but that's how I prefer to write and read, so I'm not mad about it.

    Another thing the book does really well is experiment with funky format and structure. The way the dialogue is written, as though it's a script, actually makes it really easy to read and to forget that it's in a journal-format, which is not always my favorite. It was good, though, because you get the feeling Jane wouldn't be so honest if it weren't in her journal. 

    This book turned my emotions topsy-turvy and I legit have a very real, very strong book hangover because of it. I'm...obsessed. 

    Give Lianne a follow on Twitter or check out her website, and I would highly recommend ordering this book because, y'all, it's just that good.

    Have you read NICE TRY, JANE SINNER? Let us chat about it!!! It's SO GOOD, RIGHT???

    Critiquing My Own High School Poems (This Should Be Fun)

    A Day in Rome

    We started the day off early -
                            eight thirty at the Coliseum,
                            seven a.m. on the bus to get there –
    and wandered all around that ancient
    house of death and murder.
    We took hundreds of pictures,
    laughed a lot and made plans for the afternoon.
    Then we went to the Roman forum,
    we explored that ancient governance of Rome
    and discusses the lack of great architecture today.
    We went to leave for lunch and discovered
    that our plans for the afternoon has been broken
    because you had found someone better.
    But I found friends too,
    we meandered through the streets –
                            got ripped off at lunch,
                            got lost, then found the
                            Spanish steps –
    and there you were again.
    Now I’m sitting at the Trevi fountain
    the wind ruffling my hair and peace in the air,
    thinking to myself about this day in Rome
    and the questions I now have about
    our friendship…
    or this one-sided thing we’ve got going on…
    Karis Rogerson
    October 4th, 2010
    Not the person this poem is about, just a cute friend from high school and beyond.

    Not the person this poem is about, just a cute friend from high school and beyond.

    Listen, I don't really know why I'm doing this. I was sitting here and realized that I didn't know what to blog about today, and I had the bright idea to, 'Oh! Share a poem you wrote in high school and critique it!" and now I'm doing it because, honestly...this is so bad.

    So let's jump into critiquing it, shall we? 

    It's a little derivative, if I'm being quite honest. (I don't know what that word actually means, if I'm being even more honest, but I've heard it used as a literary insult and it feels apropos right now.) It's just so on-the-nose, the language so bland, the images so...not-alive. I mean, the line(s): 

    We took hundreds of pictures,
    laughed a lot and made plans for the afternoon.

    Are just plain boring. Come on, High School Karis, you can do better than that! What about:

    We posed for our own cameras, 
    snap, snap went the lens,
    and giggles shook our bodies 
    as we laid out afternoon plots

    That's not my best work, but it's at least better than the one up there!

    Of course, I'd totally forgotten about this poem after leaving high school. I honestly don't even know for sure who it's about; but it's clear that I was pissed at her (I know it's a her, because I didn't talk to boys in high school, but that's a story for another day). And I feel like this poem would be more powerful if I hadn't tightened my language, reined in a bit of my anger, and kept an air of mystery instead of so openly flailing about.

    One thing I do like: the description of the Coliseum, "that ancient / house of death and murder." Not the most original descriptor, but it does its job fairly well, I think. 

    In conclusion? I was not as good a high school poet as I thought!

    Have you ever read your own early work? How did that work out for ya? Let me know in the comments!

    READING GOALS for 2018: The Most Exciting Things

    Hello, hello, hello! We're a full five days (what?? how??) into 2018 and I have finished one book already! Ha! Granted, it was less than 100 pages long, BUT STILL. It's an excellent intro for today's goal-setting post, which is all about my READING GOALS for 2018! Honestly I think this is the post I'm most excited about writing this year! Haha. Listen, I just love reading, okay???

    Anyway, this year I want to do a lot with books. I have so many goals, so I'm just gonna jump right in!

    Read at least 52 books

    This is my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for the year. Last year, I ambitiously set a goal of 65 books, which I downsized to 50 in September when Goodreads showed me 13 books behind. I just barely managed to actually hit that goal (what!) and so I upped it this year. This goal equals reading one book a week, which I consider inherently manageable. I highly doubt I'll always be "on schedule," because I read about four books at a time and often they sync up with each other (a few days ago, I was at 15% of all four books...ha!) but I should make it. The actual goal is to surpass it, but that'll just be a bonus if it happens.

    Read outside my comfort zone

    Last year and in 2016, I mostly read young adult (YA) books, because these books are my Linus' blanket. They comfort me, they make me happy, they soothe me. Toward the end of last year, though, I started reading some nonfiction as well, and found that it's also wonderful. In 2018, I want to expand that. I want to read all sorts of nonfiction: essay collections, memoirs, biographies, history books...I also want to read poetry collections, theology books, and select literary fiction titles. I want to expand!

    Re-read some old favorites

    Last year I decided I would never in my life have time to re-read books. This year, I've decided that I just need a little structure to make it work (more about the structure next). This is purely because I want to go back to when reading was something I did for fun, not a task, and a lot of the books I read otherwise are for work as an interviewer, blogger or author. These are just for fun.

    Stick to my reading structure

    I read (at least) four books at a time, and my reading structure is as follows: 

    1. An ARC (advance review copy) that has been sent to me by a publisher: this is because I have a lot of them sent to me to review, blog about, and interview authors for.
    2. A published YA novel: because, duh, they're my favorites and there are still so many books that I don't get ARCs of.
    3. A nonfiction/adult title: kind of self-explanatory, ya know?
    4. A re-read: a favorite of mine that I'm reading for the second time.

    I read in 30-minute chunks and sprinkle my reading throughout out the day, during downtime (when I'm working) or after completing two other tasks. Poetry collections, theology books and literary fiction books will be filed under "tasks" and I'll read 30 minutes of them every couple of days, aka they're not in the official rotation. 

    Become a real BookTuber

    I dabbled in 2017 with some bookish vlogs, but this year I want to become a real BookTuber. I want to do at least two bookish videos per month. If you're interested, follow my channel or check out one of my first "Fab Book Friday" videos here:

    Subscribe for more!!

    What are your 2018 reading goals? Leave them in the comments and let's discuss!

    I Will Fail My Goodreads Reading Challenge, But Survive the Year

    At the beginning of this year, I set an ambitious Goodreads reading goal: I was going to consume 65 books in 2017. Somehow, despite the fact that I epically failed to read even 50 in 2016, I was convinced I would make it work. Around the time I was getting ready to leave New York, I edited that goal, downsizing to 50.

    Well...as of today, I'm...at least seven books behind that revised goal. And there's a very low chance that I'll meet even that.

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    For an assiduously competitive person, this might seem like a travesty of the highest degree. In fact, for a while, it was. On top of all my other failures this year, I can't even manage to read enough? Good grief. What kind of writer, book blogger, fan am I that I can only read 43 books in a year? The worst!

    Or so I thought. Until I realized, you know what? So I've only read 43 books this year. So stinking what? I've had success this year, too!

    That success has looked nothing like I would have hoped in January. Back then, my goals included being promoted at the pizzeria, querying and getting an agent (and mayhaps even a book deal) for Saving Grace, probably finding a boyfriend, going back to grad school and being a part of the #resistance. I anticipated a smooth year, as much as it could be given the political topsy-turviness of everything, in my own personal life.

    Instead?

    I quit the pizzeria, have put Saving Grace on the back burner, found exactly zero boyfriends, left New York City and, with it, my dreams of grad school, and after participating in the Women's March in January, mostly fell silent about political issues.

    There's a very good reason that sums up why pretty much all of those things happened: my mental health took a deep dive to the bottom of the proverbial ocean. 

    In early April, I contemplated killing myself at work (and then again at home, and then again on the subway), which directly led to quitting a few weeks later.

    At the same time, I was rejected from two writing contests and decided to temporarily shelve Saving Grace; it wasn't working, and I couldn't figure out why.

    In late June, after a few months of a peaceful mental state, my depression flared up again, and I was hospitalized in early July, after spending a fraught 4th of July on top of a building — not the safest of places for someone in my mental state!

    In September, things got so bad that I quit my job, moved away from New York City, and then in October came to Italy to rest for a few months.

    In the meantime? In the meantime I broke into two new publications which I love, Ravishly and LitReactor, which have been great homes for my writing on various topics. I finished drafting and editing a new novel, Allie Mae Doesn't Get the Guy in This One. It's the book of my heart. I developed relationships with various publicists and have been receiving ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of highly anticipated books, interviewing authors I'm obsessed with, and seeing those interviews published. I began a vlog which then turned into a YouTube channel where I have a mental health series and one about books. I began Bookstagramming (see my #selfieswithbooks below) and became Twitter "friends" with some of the aforementioned authors I'm obsessed with.

    And also, I went on two dates. No big whoop, right, except they were the first two dates of my life and therefore are majorly monumental. I made amazing friends at both my jobs, with men and women whom I will forever treasure in my heart. I had hard conversations with people who loved me and still feel like they love me and I love them. I got to see my best friend in another play. I met some amazing kids all over the world and now they're rooted in my heart. I fell in and out of love countless times.

    In short? This year, I accomplished a Whole Heck of a Lot. It might not seem like it, if you look at the things I set out to accomplish, but I'm choosing not to look at it that way and instead think about the ways in which I crushed 2017

    But I also need to think about the ways 2017 crushed me, and how I survived it.

    1. I was hospitalized. I keep coming back to that as a big deal, because it is. I don't take going to the hospital lightly. The two previous times I only went because health professionals recommended it. This time, it was because I was convulsing on the floor at church, unable to keep the unending stream of negative thoughts from consuming me. Things were Bad. 
    2. Things got so bad I had to leave New York. This is also not something to be underestimated. I was never going to leave New York. It just wasn't in the cards. It's a real sign of how negative my mental health was that I actually did leave. But it's worth noting that I left on my own two feet, not in a body bag. I got out while I still could. I chose to leave. That empowers me.
    3. I quit the pizzeria. Yeah, like, what, why is this making the list? Guys, I loved the pizzeria with a passion. I loved my coworkers, my customers, the work itself. I still cry when I think about the fact that I quit. But that's how bad my mental health was, that I couldn't handle the fast pace and high stress of it. 
    4. I stopped participating in the #resistance. By this I mean, I didn't call my Senators or Representatives during the entire health care debate. I desperately wanted to, because I have both a mental illness and a pre-existing condition and I believed the health bill would have been destructive to me, but my fingers felt like lead and I couldn't move them to take the phone. Phone anxiety is very real, and very Me. I hate myself for not engaging as I should have. But I have sent emails about net neutrality, the tax bill, and more...and I'm planning to do more in 2018.

    That's just a few examples of how this year was a hard year. There are ways in which it gutted me, destroyed me, trampled me, consumed me...and yet.

    And yet I'm still here. 

    So in the end, did 2017 vanquish me, or did I vanquish 2017?

    Yes. Absolutely. 100%. 

    I know my posts have been hard lately, especially my latest, on the Mental Health tab, and it's true, I am going through a hard time. Still. My mind is dark, and I'm not sure how to move forward. I think, though, that looking back at how I've already survived? Is a good plan.

    How did 2017 hurt you, and how are you defeating it? Leave a note in the comments!

    Emma Mills: Author of FOOLISH HEARTS, Multi-Tasking Genius

    Hello, hello, and welcome to the book birthday celebration for FOOLISH HEARTS, by Emma Mills! 

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    FOOLISH HEARTS is a contemporary young adult novel that, when I read it this summer, simply filled me with happiness. I'm pretty sure there were parts at which I giggled like a middle schooler with a crush, and others where I cried and clutched my heart like an overdramatic elderly woman at a wedding. 

    It was, quite simply, adorable.

    So I was stoked to also get the chance to chat a little with Emma, the author! We talked about her life as a multi-tasker who has a writing career, is pursuing a Ph.D in cell biology and occasionally moonlights as a vlogger, as well as some other interesting topics. The Q&A is below!

    I know you’re pursuing a PhD in cell biology — what interested you in that field?

    I have always been fascinated by biological sciences and it seemed like a natural progression from my college studies. I love being a student and really wanted to continue my education after college.

    How do you time-manage in order to be an author, vlogger, PhD student (and also have time to be enthusiastic about Nutella!)?

    It’s definitely a juggling act! I’ve become really good at writing when I should be cleaning my apartment.

    What tips do you have for aspiring writers who also want to pursue careers in different fields as to how to do it all?

    In my experience, it comes with a degree of compromise about certain things--maybe less lounging around time, less nights out on the town!—but if you’re really interested in pursuing two different areas, you can definitely make it work. 

    What initially interested you in vlogging, and why is it something you still do?

    I got into Youtube when I was in college. It was such a fun community to be a part of at that time, and I loved watching videos as much as I loved making them. It’s not something I’m able to do as often as I’d like these days, but I still really enjoy it when I can!

    Would you recommend blogging or vlogging to aspiring authors?

    If it’s something you’re in interested in, definitely! I’ve been able to meet some amazing people and have some really cool experiences through my work online.

    On a craft level, how did you develop your writing and your voice?

    Practice practice practice! I did a lot of writing growing up, both in school and out. I wrote a lot of stories back then that will probably never see the light of day, but they really helped me learn some of the mechanics and technique involved in telling a story effectively.

    What advice would you give aspiring writers who want to have their own signature style and voice?

    Reading widely is really helpful; it helps you identify what you like and don’t like, what works for you and what doesn’t.

    What advice would you give aspiring writers on how to find an agent and an editor to love their work, especially if it’s out of the “mainstream” in either genre or subject matter?

    I don’t necessarily think being outside the “mainstream” is a disadvantage—I think people are often looking for something new and outside-the-box! I would just say to do your research prior to approaching specific agents or editors, and make sure you’re contacting them in line with their guidelines for submission. 

    Thanks to Emma for letting me chat with her a little bit, and for writing a book I loved so much! Check her out on YouTube, and read some of her books as well!

    Suki Kim's North Korean insightful masterpiece

    I felt like I was there.

    The cold seeped into my bones as I read about frigid nights bundled under too many blankets.

    Fear invaded my heart at the idea that I was being watched every second of every day, every email, blog post, communication monitored.

    It was as if I, too was walking the frozen walkways of PUST, the English-language university just outside of Pyongyang where journalist and writer Suki Kim spent six months teaching the "creme de la creme" of North Korean students.

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    I'm talking about the immersive writing in Kim's 2015 investigative reporting memoir, WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US, about the time she spent as an writer pretending to be a missionary pretending to be nothing more than an English teacher in the elusive regime that, in recent days, has infiltrated American news with fight and American people with fear.

    We've all heard the stories about North Korea amping up its missile testing; we've probably either seen or read about the tweets sent by our president in reaction to said missile tests; and a lot of people are wondering what it means.

    It reignited, in me at least, a curiosity about this regime. 

    I'm fascinated by the idea of North Korea; that there exists a country out there that is closed-off from the rest of our increasingly global world? That they hate Americans—me—and are groomed to do so by their government? That apparently you can (but probably shouldn't) visit, but only on state-sponsored, highly controlled trips? It's a mystery and an enigma.

    I bought my copy of Kim's book in part as a reaction to a controversy it sparked; there are those who decry her description of the book as investigative journalism because it has such a strong memoirist element. I read an article Kim had written in defense, and being a woman who finds investigative reporting and memoir equally intriguing, I thought a combination of the two would be simply entrancing.

    I wasn't wrong.

    The book gripped me, nearly from the first page. Kim does an excellent job of placing the reader right there with her in the narrative, to the point where I began to feel affection for the young men she taught in the same motherly way she did.

    And it's timely, now more than ever as headlines are nearly constantly filled with news about the reclusive country in the north of the Korean Peninsula.

    If you're interested in North Korea or in politics or in good books written with a strong narrative, I would have to recommend you buy this book. It's well worth it. 

    Lauren Miller: a Life Woven Through with Writing

    I've always had a thing about scars. Like they were a reflection of the way we live life. Accidental scars are the window to a good story, I thought, like the one on my knee from when I broke my nose, or my "Harry Potter" forehead scar. 

    But scars aren't always just a fun memory of a good time. Some scars, like the ones on my arms and wrists, are markers of the hurt in my brain. Sometimes scars are there because our bodies have been through something terrible and it's just...impossible to heal.

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    That's the case for Jessa Gray, the protagonist of author Lauren Miller's latest YA title, ALL THINGS NEW.  

    According to the book's synopsis: 

    Seventeen-year-old Jessa Gray has always felt broken inside, but she’s gotten very good at hiding it. No one at school knows about the panic attacks, the therapy that didn't help, the meds that haven’t worked. But when a severe accident leaves her with a brain injury and noticeable scars, Jessa’s efforts to convince the world that she’s okay finally crumble—now she looks as shattered as she feels. Fleeing from her old life in Los Angeles, Jessa moves to Colorado to live with her dad, but things go from bad to worse when she realizes she’s seeing bruises and scars on the people around her that no one else can see. She blames it on the accident, but as her body heals and the hallucinations continue, Jessa wonders if what she’s seeing could somehow have a deeper meaning. In her quest for answers, she falls for Marshall, a boy whose kindness and generous heart slowly draw Jessa out of her walled-off shell and into the broken, beautiful, real world—a place where souls get hurt just as badly as bodies, and we all need each other to heal.

    ALL THINGS NEW is a love story about perception and truth, physical and emotional pain, and the messy, complicated people we are behind the masks we put on for the world

    I read and adored ALL THINGS NEW, finding it a powerful book that reflected and enhanced some of my own thoughts about scars and the way our physical selves can mirror our spiritual ones. And I was not just surprised, but delighted, by some of the faith elements in the story.

    So I was honored to get the chance to chat a little bit with Lauren, over email. Lauren grew up in a suburb of Atlanta and says she writes because it's one way to capture the images in her mind.

    "When I can express my thoughts in words, I feel more fully myself – almost as if I take shape on the page," Lauren said. "I write because I can’t imagine not writing."

    In fact, Lauren said that even if she knew the world were to end in a year, it wouldn't keep her from writing.

    "Writing is an element of how I live – I process the world and myself with words – and if the world were ending I would absolutely want to continue doing that until the very end," she explained. "That said, I wouldn’t write a book. I’d travel the world with my family and write short stories that I could complete within a couple days."

    On her own blog, Lauren shares the story of how she wrote her first novel, PARALLEL, and you can read the shortened version here

    Essentially, Lauren chose to write a novel during the first 100 days of her newborn's life. Which is just...wild. I've written a few books and I know how mind-consuming the process can be, so kudos to Lauren for managing to write and take care of a newborn at the same time!

    Photo credit:&nbsp;Genine Esposito.

    Photo credit: Genine Esposito.

    "Those 100 days were both the most creatively challenging and the most mentally rewarding days of my life," she says in retrospect. "But I’m so glad I did it.  I found my voice during those few months, both as a writer and as a mom."

    The most rewarding part? When an agent, who had followed along with the blog she wrote about the experience, reached out and wanted to see the manuscript.

    But along with the joys of writing, including a recent moment when a co-worker shared, tears in her eyes, how much ALL THINGS NEW had meant to her, there are of course difficulties. 

    One thing that's hard to handle is the harsh criticism writers often face. 

    "There are a lot of readers with very strong negative opinions no matter what you write, and hearing them is never easy," she said. However, she keeps perspective. "If I’ve learned anything in my 30s, it’s that everything is relative and that sometimes the hardest things in our lives are the things we should actually be the most grateful for," she said.

    "I suppose I’m still a little disappointed that the pilot script Abigail Spencer and I sold to ABC Family five years ago never got made into a TV show," she continued. "It was called TEACH, and it was a fun, soapy drama about three Teach for America teachers trying to make a difference in a failing public high school in post-Katrina New Orleans." (Honestly, y'all, I'd watch the heck out of that show.)

    Go ahead and check out Lauren's site and her novel; I think you'll like it!