YA Scavenger Hunt

October 1st, 2015

Hello, my lovelies, and welcome to the Fall 2015 YA Scavenger Hunt!

This event is the brainchild of author Colleen Houck, your chance to access exclusive bonus material from your favorite authors, AND an opportunity to win some huge book prizes! At each stop on the hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from a different author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues and enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours.

YA Scavenger Hunt Team Gold

There are EIGHT contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all. I am a part of the GOLD TEAM, but there are also Teams Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Teal, Purple and Pink. At 20 authors per team, that’s 160 books we’re giving away!

For official rules, links to all the authors participating, and the full list of prizes, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.


Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favourite number. Collect the favourite numbers of all the authors on the gold team, and then add them up.

Entry Form: Once you’ve totalled the numbers, fill out this form to qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally. Anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by October 4, 2015, at noon PST. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered. Winners will be announced on October 9, 2015.


Rachel HarrisWith all that administrivia concluded, I am so pleased today to host New York Times bestselling author Rachel Harris! Rachel is a Diet Mountain Dew addict and homeschooling mom who gets through each day by laughing at herself, hugging her kids, and watching way too much Food Network with her husband. She writes young adult, new adult, and adult romances, and LOVES talking with readers!

Here’s the scoop on her YA novel, The Fine Art of Pretending.

The Fine Art of Pretending

With 57 days until the dance, Aly launches Operation Sex Appeal and sheds her tomboy image. The only thing left is for Justin actually to notice her. Enter best friend Brandon Taylor, the school’s second biggest hottie, and now Aly’s pretend boyfriend. With his help, elevating from “funny friend” to “tempting vixen” is only a matter of time.

But when everything goes according to plan, the inevitable “break up” leaves their friendship in shambles, and Aly and Brandon with feelings they can’t explain. And the fake couple discovers pretending can sometimes cost you the one thing you never expected to want.

You can learn more about Rachel and The Fine Art of Pretending here, at her website.


To go with The Fine Art of Pretending, Rachel wrote a companion adult romance novel, The Natural History of Us (coming April 2016). Today, she’s sharing a sneak preview from that story!

“What do you think are the components of a satisfying, successful marriage?” I ask instead, setting the paper down so he won’t see how badly my hands are shaking.

I avoided the blatantly obvious question, but this one is every bit as pointless. Based on our prior history, it’s almost a given he’ll say there’s no such thing as a successful marriage. Which makes it surprising when he replies:

“Honesty. Commit—”

“Really?” I interrupt with a laugh. “You’re gonna start with honesty? You?”

Justin leans forward, the paper tablecloth crinkling as he rests his elbows on the surface. With the way he stares into my eyes, it’s like he can see straight through to my soul. Maybe Gabi had the right idea hiding behind the menu.

“Yeah,” he answers. “I am. Look, Peyton, I know you don’t believe it, but people change a lot in three years. I’m not the complete asshole you think I am.” I scoff under my breath, and he holds my gaze for another long moment before the thick knot in his throat bobs and he glances away. “At least not anymore.”

A twinge of guilt hits my stomach. Which, when you think about it, is so stupid. He cheated on me! But, luckily, before I can do something even more foolish, like apologize for my well-founded doubts, he turns back and continues.

“Honesty,” he says it again, this time emphasizing the word. He holds up a hand and starts listing components on his long fingers. “Commitment. Telling your wife she’s the most beautiful girl in the room.” He pauses there, three fingers extended, and my hand clenches beneath the table. With a grin, he adds, “Remembering what a lucky bastard you are that she ever chose you in the first place.”

That’s four, according to the tally, and my pulse picks up speed with each uptick.

“Never going to sleep angry.” Five. “Getting all your shit out there before it can build.” Six. “And kissing her every damn chance you get.” Seven.

He leans back, leaving his hands extended in the air, and I just keep staring at his fingers. I chastise myself—stupid heart, he’s not saying these things about YOU!—but the longer the fingers remain up, the longer the moment stretches, the more the air around us shifts. The cool tickle of awareness races up my spine, and as I shiver, chill bumps prick my skin.

Justin’s eyes dip to my arms. The corner of his mouth twitches and as he curls his hands closed, he shrugs. “That’s my opinion, anyway. What about you?”

My opinion? I’m discombobulated.

Before dinner = fully combobulated.

Now = completely and totally without combobs.

“Uh.” My head is void of all thought but I clear my throat, grasping to pull something out of the air. Another trait to list or quality to check that he didn’t already cover.

Since when did the player of Fairfield Academy become a frigging marriage expert?

“Those are good,” I say, stalling as I think about my parents who have, hands down, the most incredible marriage ever. They support each other, they listen, and they make room for daily bouts of silliness. Remembering a few of their more gooberific moments I add, “Laughter.” Justin looks at me. “I think it’s important to laugh with the person you’re in love with.”

He nods as a small smile plays on his lips. “I like that one. You should write it down.”

Oh, right.

We’re not just sitting here, dredging up our pain-filled past for kicks. We’re actually supposed to turn these answers in and use them to begin our joint paper. Grateful for the excuse to break eye contact, I grab my oversized purse and dig for something to write on other than the tiny margin of the question sheet or the butcher-paper tablecloth. Usually I’m much more prepared.

And much more combobulated.

I really like the word “discombobulated”. And I love the idea of walking around counting my combobs!

Before you start to count yours, dear reader, you might want to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, Rachel Harris, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favourite number is 12. Add up all the favourite numbers of the authors on the gold team and you’ll have the secret code to enter for the grand prize!


To continue your quest for the prize, you need to check out the next author, Shannon Grogan. Go go go, and luck be with you!

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It’s almost time for the YA Scavenger Hunt!

September 30th, 2015

Hello, friends. Although I usually blog on Wednesdays, would you mind coming back tomorrow?

YA Scavenger Hunt 2015

October 1 marks the start of the Fall 2015 YA Scavenger Hunt, and I’m taking part in this one! I’ll have full contest details up tomorrow. See you then!

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Writing incentives

September 23rd, 2015

Hello, friends! FINALLY, everyone’s settled into school and I’m back in a writing rhythm (until children start to get sick, of course). I’m making good progress on my WIP (huzzah!) and I want to talk today about writing incentives – aka straight-up bribery.

Let me start by saying it’s an enormous and inarguable thrill to get paid for writing fiction. Being a writer involves a huge amount of privilege and a certain amount of luck. But it also takes a ton of discipline – something I didn’t always know I had, or until recently failed to recognize as such.

As a graduate student, I wrote my essays and doctoral dissertation with grit and cold determination. There wasn’t much joy in the process – nearly all the mild thrills of having fresh insights into a subject and working out my argument had long evaporated before time came to Writing the Damn Thing. But I did. Once I’d finished my research and parked myself at the computer, I could crank out about a page an hour. That’s about 350 words an hour, sustainable for a maximum of 5 hours a day before I wanted to throw myself out the window. (Not literally. If academic writing actually makes you want to throw yourself out a window, even a fairly low one, please don’t. Please get help and seriously consider leaving the academy.) What I’m trying to say is, academic writing was hard work.

When I transitioned to writing fiction, I felt incredibly liberated. Here I was, writing WHATEVER I WANTED! No references required! If what I wrote was dull, I could delete, delete, delete. In fact, it was my duty to excise the boring. And yet somehow, I failed to recognize that some days would still be weary, fingers-to-keyboard, no-you-can’t-have-another-snack days. For some reason, I thought fiction would just flow from my tingling fingertips.

Four published novels later, it turns out that fiction-writing still requires grit and cold determination. Sometimes, there is little joy in the process. Sometimes, I have to write the equivalent of an introduction or a critical overview. Fiction, too, is hard work. And in my current quest to become ever more efficient at this writing lark, I’ve decided to turn to writing incentives.

Nearly every writer I’ve asked about this uses them. Erin Bow recommends stickers. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Stephanie Burgis loves chocolate. Graham Greene liked, er, amphetamines. (This last bit is only partly true: Greene wrote his first thriller, The Confidential Agent, in a benzedrine-fuelled six weeks. But he says that was his only foray into speed.)

I’ve never been much for external motivation (for one, I find it hard to suspend disbelief: this is all a fiction of my own devising, why should I obey my own rules?), so call it an experiment. A couple of mornings a week, I’ve begun working at the public library. If I hit my target of 1000 words in 2.5 hours, I get to browse the used book sale. No target, no used books for me. Also, I have strong feelings about the Pilot G-TEC-C4 pen, so I recently bought a package in rainbow colours. Every time I have a perfect work week – defined as a week in which I was diligent and productive and did not fritter away time on the intertubes – I will give myself the gift of a new pen. We’ll see how it goes.

Also! As I was writing this post, I came across this blog post by V. E. Schwab in which she asks 18 authors about their daily writing habits. Fascinating!

How about you, friends? How do you motivate yourselves to work your best?

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Return of the bullet journal

September 16th, 2015

Hello, friends. About eight months ago, I posted about starting a bullet journal. I had known, at the back of my brain, that I needed a new way to plan and organize my days. I just didn’t know what it was, until I heard about the bullet journal, via Stephanie Burgis. I loved the idea of combining dayplanner, to-do lists, mid-term goals, and gratitude in one place. And after I blogged about it, I discovered that SO MANY writers I admire and want to emulate (including Sarah Albee) are bullet journallers!

Anyway, I thought I’d check in and show you how things are going. Here’s my July spread:


As you can see, I stick quite closely to the original bullet journal. I’ve added a list of books read each month (in July we did a lot of travelling, which is why there are so many blank days on the left, and also why I only read one book, J. G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur). And on the Tasks page (on the right), I’ve broken down tasks by category: writing, writer admin (very important not to conflate the two!), blog posts (blogging doesn’t count as writing, for me), yoga, and life admin. I list the dates when I need to do the most important things – writing, yoga and blogging – so that I’m blocking out time.

And here’s eight pages from the month of July, right after school finished:

bullet journal

If you’re reading closely, you’ll see that my son and I had strep throat in early July, so the daily to-do lists were really useful for tracking our antibiotic doses, which differed in quantity and timing. I even write down the names of people I need to email, to make sure it all gets done. I normally have a gratitude list on each page, too, that I add to every couple of days. But between vacation prep, houseguests and strep, it just didn’t happen in the first week of July. And that’s okay, too.

As I think is obvious, I adore my bullet journal. It keeps me on track, it enables me to look ahead, yet functions as a kind of diary, too. Colouring in the little box beside each job, as it gets done, feels like a tiny reward in its own right. I believe I’ve been a lot more productive since I began using it.

In future, I might start embellishing it a little – writing down funny things I’ve overheard, children’s milestones – or I might not. I love that it’s a flexible tool, something with such a strong framework that it can bear a great deal of tinkering. And that might be the highest compliment of all.

How about you, friends? Are you loyal to a particular planning system? Still searching for your ideal? Do you have any suggestions for embellishments?

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Fierce girls

September 9th, 2015

A friend recently said that our four-year-old, H, reminds her of a Yoshitomo Nara character. I’d never heard of Nara but googled him and promptly fell in love with his paintings. I also saw the resemblance straight away.

At home, H is brave and affectionate, funny and confident. What most visitors and strangers see, however, is this face:

Yoshitomo Nara, Sprout the Ambassador

Yoshitomo Nara, Sprout the Ambassador

(No, she’ll never be a Mouseketeer.)

But those who care to make the effort can see what we see: an introvert who takes her time getting to know new people. A child who scrutinizes situations with care, and who will not be rushed into interactions. A person who knows her own mind.

Yoshitomo Nara, Looking for Treasure

Yoshitomo Nara, Looking for Treasure

Parenting a child like this is always interesting, not least because others are so often full of advice: “Don’t be shy!” “Smile, peanut!” “Nobody likes a sulky girl!” They offer this advice in loud, bright voices, usually while trying to touch her. And more often than not, they’re offended when she flinches away.

While this can be awkward, I’m not-so-secretly thrilled. I love the idea of raising a fierce girl. A girl uninterested in pleasing strangers. A girl who trusts her own judgement.

Yoshitomo Nara, Bandage

Yoshitomo Nara, Bandage

(And, in the future, a woman who embraces her RBF.)

That’s why I love Nara’s paintings so. Most images of girls and women still fall into one of three broad categories: pensive/passive, playful/pliant, or faux-fierce. In contrast, Nara’s girls seem completely uninterested in pleasing the viewer – or, often, even acknowledging one.

Yoshitomo Nara, The Complete Works, vol 1 (cover)

Yoshitomo Nara, The Complete Works, vol 1 (cover)

One day, fierce girls will rule the world. I hope ours is one of them.

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A Tyranny of Petticoats

September 2nd, 2015

Hello, friends. This week, I am tremendously excited to share with you the absolutely glorious cover of Jessica Spotswood’s historical anthology, A Tyranny of Petticoats. Behold!


My friend Cat taught me the phrase “on fleek”, and now I just want to walk around now yelling, “It’s SO ON FLEEK!”

Here’s a bit more about the collection, which combines historical realist and historical fantasy stories:

From an impressive sisterhood of YA writers comes an edge-of-your-seat anthology of historical fiction and fantasy featuring a diverse array of daring heroines.

Crisscross America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.

With stories by:

J. Anderson Coats

Andrea Cremer

Y.S. Lee

Katherine Longshore

Marie Lu

Kekla Magoon

Marissa Meyer

Saundra Mitchell

Beth Revis

Caroline Richmond

Lindsay Smith

Jessica Spotswood

Robin Talley

Leslye Walton

Elizabeth Wein

My ARC arrived in the mail just this week, which means that it’s time to proofread my own short story, “The Legendary Garrett Girls”, one last time. As regular blog readers know, I really appreciate this last chance to check the story and catch any clangers. Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to read the other 14 short stories in the anthology. Yes, I could have read them earlier in PDF format, but – call me traditional, if you must – I still find curling up with a print book more satisfying.

I am giddy with delight to be part of this sisterhood, and I owe it all to fellow novelist and worshipper-at-the-altar-of-history Stephanie Burgis: she’s the one who first suggested to editor Jessica Spotswood that I might want to be involved. THANK YOU, Steph!

This was my first time contributing to a fiction anthology and I learned so much. To begin with, the parameters were incredibly open: a story with a girl protagonist at any time in American history. Indeed, it was so liberating that I felt almost frozen with indecision – until I realized that fourteen other writers were simultaneously staking out their own historical and geographical territories. Suddenly, it felt like the start of an open-water swimming race: fast and splashy.

I’ve noticed that in my fiction I lean towards borders and margins, both literal and figurative. Sure enough, I first proposed something along the Great Lakes or in the Thousand Islands area – specifically, a midwinter prison escape from Ontario into New York state, over ice and open water. But Jessica suggested something less marginal and more definitively American, so I began to scan my shelves.

Several years ago, I went on a family holiday to Alaska. True to nerd form, the souvenir I brought back was a reprint of a nineteenth century memoir and travel manual, William B. Haskell’s Two Years in the Klondike and Alaskan Gold Fields, 1896-1898.

Haskell, Two Years in the Klondike and Alaskan Gold Fields, 1896-1898

I’d read bits and scraps of it in Alaska, but when I pulled it from the shelf last summer, it fell open to this quotation: “They now say there are more liars to the square inch in Alaska than any place in the world.” — The Seattle Times, August 1897. Clearly, this was fate: I was going to write a story about con artists in the Gold Rush town of Skagway, Alaska.

That story, “The Legendary Garrett Girls”, is just one of the fifteen in A Tyranny of Petticoats. Gloating over the table of contents, I’m struck by how diverse our geographical choices are: not just Boston and Los Angeles, but Wyoming and Indiana; Washington, DC and Washington State. It reminds me how relatively little I know of American history.

I can’t wait to change that.

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My home landscape

August 26th, 2015

Hello, friends. We were recently in Tofino, B.C., and I took a walk along the beach at sunset. Here are some shots of the landscape I love best; the one I consider “home”.












Kingston is beautiful, too, but today I’m really missing the Pacific Northwest. See you next week, with a more substantial post!

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Late harvest

August 19th, 2015

Hello, friends. Happy August! Know what this is a photo of?


If that photo didn’t make you squint or recoil, CONGRATULATIONS! You are probably a fellow garlic obsessive.

We’ve been travelling, so we’re really late harvesting our garlic this year. We’ve also lost the tiny diagram I made to indicate where we planted the different varieties. Still, the garlic looks pretty good. When I’m pulling the plants, I tend to feel disappointed by how tiny the bulbs appear. Later on, when they’re drying off, they seem to grow in size – at least, to my eyes.

We picked about 150 bulbs this year. We’ll save the biggest and best of them for planting as seeds in the autumn, and either eat or give away most of the rest.

What are you up to, in the waning days of summer?

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First pass pages

August 12th, 2015

Hello, friends. A few weeks ago, I wrote about re-reading; I’m here today to talk about a different kind of re-reading.

Recently, I went through the first pass pages of “The Legendary Garrett Girls”. That’s the title of my short story in Jessica Spotswood’s upcoming A Tyranny of Petticoats – a collection of 15 short stories about girls in American history, to be published by Candlewick Press next year. (Here’s its Goodreads page, if you want to add it to your reading list.)

“First pass pages” (also called “page proofs”) is the stage at which an author sees something resembling the finished book. At this point, the manuscript has already been substantively edited, line-edited, and proofread. It’s then laid out (or “typeset”) using the appropriate number of lines per page, in the font we’ll see in the finished book. It’s a terribly exciting moment because until that point, the manuscript is a Scrivener or Word file (usually with a ton of tracked changes). When you receive the first pass pages, it suddenly looks like a book.

It’s also a pivotal moment because some months have elapsed since you, the author, last fiddled with the book. Seeing it suddenly re-framed (new font, new layout) after a gap like that makes the story seem like a faintly familiar stranger. Previously, depending on your writing process and personality, the story might have been a best frenemy of many years’ standing.

Sometimes, this distancing effect is delightfully liberating: I freely confess to having laughed at my own jokes. At other times, you gasp with horror because you suddenly realize that you’ve omitted something really important. In the case of “The Legendary Garrett Girls”, I had a moment of genuine queasiness when I noticed the omission.

Happily, this is why the various editorial stages exist. (First-pass-pages is NOT the time to add/strike a character or rework the plot, but small emendations – a sentence or two – are usually okay. This varies from publisher to publisher, of course.) I added two sentences to the story and a line to my author’s note, and we’re now good to go.

I’ll have one more chance to check the story for uncaught errors, when the advance reading copy (ARC) is printed. At that stage, though, our book will also be in the hands of reviewers and booksellers, so it’s much better to have corrected my oversight in this round.

I’m so grateful to work with passionate editors and proofreaders who lend me their expertise and make us all look good. And, as you can tell, I’m a big fan of re-reading.

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August 5th, 2015

Hello, friends! I am not presently in North Wales, but our holiday was too lovely not to share with you. This week’s photos are from the Victorian seaside town of Llandudno.

We took an Edwardian tram car up the very steep side of a cliff called the Great Orme (Pen y Gogarth, in Welsh). Here’s the view from the midpoint:


And from the top of the Great Orme:


And then we descended to the seaside, which features one of the longest seaside piers in the UK (not pictured, sadly, as my phone was acting up). But here’s the beach, where bold and overfed seagulls snatch ice creams from the hands of children. (True story.)


Halfway through our ice creams, I was distracted by an extraordinary, piercing, squawking voice. I turned around and saw my first-ever, real-life, Punch & Judy show.


Obviously, I couldn’t just watch the show and move on; I was burning to find out more about this Victorian seaside tradition. As a result, the rest of this week’s post is over at the History Girls and it features, among others, diarist Samuel Pepys, Victorian artist George Cruikshank, and the notorious hangman, Jack Ketch.

Here’s Mr. Punch with Jack Ketch:


“That’s the way to do it!”

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