Sunday, December 29, 2013

Where You'll Find Me

So, I haven't blogged in a few months. Oops. But I have a good reason! I was busy editing my debut novel, WHERE YOU'LL FIND ME, coming to you January 7, 2014 from Entangled Teen! (Cue flailing. And also massive panic.)

For those of you who have known me for a while, WHERE YOU'LL FIND ME is the manuscript formerly known as GARAGE BOY. Here is the gorgeous cover and the description:

When Hanley Helton discovers a boy living in her garage, she knows she should kick him out. But Nate is too charming to be dangerous. He just needs a place to get away, which Hanley understands. Her own escape methods (vodka, black hair dye, and pretending the past didn't happen) are more traditional, but who is she to judge?

Nate doesn't tell her why he's in her garage, and she doesn't tell him what she's running from. Soon, Hanley's trading her late-night escapades for all-night conversations and stolen kisses. But when Nate's recognized as the missing teen from the news, Hanley isn't sure which is worse: that she's harboring a fugitive, or that she's in love with one.

This book started back in 2010, when I walked into a dark garage, sneezed, and thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be weird if a stranger in the garage said, 'Bless you?' Wouldn't it be weirder if the stranger was actually living in the garage? And wouldn't it be weirdest if the girl who discovers the stranger didn't kick him out, but fell in love with him instead?"

The answer to those questions was obviously "yes," and the story was born. I absolutely loved writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | iTunes

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Four Types of Critiquers

For almost three years, I've been a member of a fabulous YA and MG critique group. During this time, I've given and received innumerable critiques. I've celebrated group members' book deals, publications, agent signings, and writing awards. I've said goodbye to old group members and waved hello to new ones.

The list of lessons I've learned from my critique partners is about two miles long, but near the top of the list is the fact that there are four types of critiquers:

1.  The Nit-Pickers - These are the critiquers who notice the "their" you used when you meant "there." Who identify the fact that a sentence on p. 17 contradicts a sentence on p.2. Who make sure your work shines on a sentence level. Their critiques usually look something like this:

2.  The Big-Picture See-ers - Though these critiquers are often light on the in-line comments and tracked changes, their notes address the "big ticket" concerns: plot, character motivation, pacing, etc. These notes are especially helpful in the early stages of the drafting process, because they can keep you from straying too far down a wrong path, or staying on a decent path when a far superior path is just off to the left. Their critiques might look a little like this:

3.  The Call-You-on-Your-BS-ers - Let's be honest. These critiquers aren't always the easiest to work with. At best, they force you to read their notes from behind your hands. At worst, they make you want to quit writing forever. Difficult as they may be, I suggest you find one of these critiquers and hold on tight. Because guess what? It's better for a CP to call you on BS than an editor. It's better for you to find out what's wrong with your work when you can fix it, not when you've already sent it to your dream agent. Thick skin and all that. Like this:

(That's a relatively small BS-calling. I've ditched entire stories based on CP feedback, and later realized that they were absolutely right!)

4.  The Lovers - Ah, The Lovers. The critiquers who pepper your pages with smiley faces and "LOL"s and excessive punctuation in the form of !!!!!!!!!! The ones who make you keep going. Who boost your spirits. Who make you doubt yourself a little bit less. They typically give you gems like this:

While most critiquers fall into one of these categories, some are a mix. Some are Lovers with certain pages or chapters, and Nit-Pickers elsewhere. Some are Big-Picture See-ers with a hint of Call-You-On-Your-BS.

When possible, I suggest you surround yourself with all four types of critiquers. All are beneficial in different ways and in different phases of the writing process. 

If all four types don't come together naturally for you? Tell your CPs how they can help! Need a little more Big-Picture Seeing and a little less Nit-Picking? Or vice versa? Ask for it! And always, always ask your CPs to call you on your BS. You'll be a better writer for it.

Are you the person doing the critiquing? Think about what your CP needs most of all at his or her stage of the writing process. Not sure? Ask! And don't shy away from calling BS, but also don't be afraid to love. Those pages you're critiquing contain a little piece of your CP's heart and soul, and there's always something to love. 


Monday, September 16, 2013

Taboo Breaking

Over the past few years, I've discovered that there are certain taboo topics for writers.

Some of those topics are obvious, like querying and being on submission.

But some of those topics are less obvious, like admitting to certain books or authors you enjoy.

I've always been a Nicholas Sparks fan. During high school, too much "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" drove me away from reading entirely. (Talk about taboo topics...yes, I did just admit that I don't like Shakespeare.)

But in college, I picked up "The Notebook" and haven't been without a book since. Nicholas Sparks re-introduced me to the love of reading. I'd never been ashamed of that fact until I saw multiple writers badmouthing his work on multiple occasions. Taboo, at least if you're a fan.

Another taboo topic? The number of years you've been writing or the number of manuscripts you've written.

Taboo breaker alert: I recently finished writing my sixth manuscript. That's right. Six.

There are some writers who are naturally gifted. Who get it right on the first try. I am not one of those writers. I didn't get it right on the first or second or even third try. It was my fourth manuscript that got a book deal. And there's absolutely zero guarantee that my fifth or sixth manuscripts will follow suit.

There are probably a hundred blog posts out there saying you shouldn't talk about your "failed" manuscripts.

(By the way, have you ever told a non-writer how many manuscripts you've written? It usually goes something like this...
Me: "I'm a writer!"
Non-writer: "Really? How many books have you written?"
Me: "Six!"
Non-writer: "Cool! Can I buy them all at Barnes and Noble?"
Me: "That's not how it... It doesn't just... No.")

But you know what?

I'm proud of that number.

It means I'm not a quitter.

It proves I have the capacity to learn and grow. (That first manuscript was really bad, y'all.)

It shows I'm a writer regardless of whether or not I'm an author.

So, yeah. I have a shelf full of signed Nicholas Sparks books, CliffsNotes for "King Lear," and a stack of trunk novels.

Does anyone want to talk religion or politics?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Peanut Butter Cups and Peer Pressure

On Sunday mornings, you can usually find me volunteering with the children's ministry program at my church. It's not a typical "Sunday School" program. There's air hockey and Foosball, loud music and videos, games and interactive lessons. The 4th and 5th graders I work with actually want to go to church.

Last week, the large group lesson contained an experiment that kind of blew my mind. It affected me as a YA writer, so I thought I'd share.

The large group leader (we'll call him Mike) introduced a game called Mike's Match-tastic Extravaganza! With a stellar name like that, he had no problem getting 3 volunteers to play the game. We'll call the volunteers Joe, Chris, and Adam.

The secret? Joe and Chris weren't really volunteers. Earlier in the morning, Mike had asked them to "volunteer" and told them exactly what to say.

The game consisted of three questions. If the boys' answers to the questions matched, they would get a prize. Said prizes would escalate through the three rounds. If the answers didn't match, no one would get any of the prizes.

The reward set for the first round was one Reese's Miniature. The sound tech played a clip of a thunderstorm, then Mike asked if it was loud or quiet. Predictably, all three boys said "loud."

The prize for the second round was a Reese's Big Cup. Mike had each boy taste something, then asked if it was salty or sweet. All three boys correctly said "sweet." Easy!

The last and final prize was a highly coveted, sugar-high-inducing Reese's King Size.

Mike showed the boys a whiteboard with two lines drawn on it. Line A was obviously longer than Line B. 

Mike went to Joe (secret "volunteer") and asked which line was longer. Without hesitation, Joe said that Line B was longer.

Next in line was Chris (the other "volunteer"). He was also adamant that Line B was longer.

Last was actual volunteer, Adam. When Mike asked which line was longer, Adam hesitated. I could see the wheels turning in the kid's head. Line A was longer! But if he said that, no one would get any candy! And if Joe and Chris said Line B was right, it couldn't really be wrong, could it?

A set of bright stage lights shone on Adam. At least 100 pairs of eyes watched from the audience. Mike's microphone waited for his answer.

And what did Adam say?

Line B.

Adam succumbed to peer pressure and the lure of chocolate-covered peanut butter candy.

Maybe this isn't startling because the consequences were relatively low and kids really like candy. But if you would have asked me the outcome prior to the game, I would have put money on Adam saying Line A. The correct answer was so obvious. Adam is so sweet and smart. And yet...he made the wrong choice.

So the next time I'm writing and wondering, "Would a teenager really do that?" I'm going to be more likely to say "Yes!" (Especially if peer pressure and/or candy are involved.) On occasion, kids and teenagers make dumb decisions. They suffer the consequences. Then they make even dumber decisions and suffer even worse consequences. But eventually they learn. And they grow. And they change. And isn't that what YA is all about?

(PS - Adam is totally fine. He quickly admitted that he knew Line A was longer, but didn't want to lose the game. He left with a lesson learned and a chocolate-covered smile on his face.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Real Writers Don't Do Math! (Or Do They?)

If you've been around the writing blogosphere, you know there's an ongoing debate regarding when you can be considered a Real Writer. (When you're published! When you sell x copies! When you get an agent! When you write! When the wind is blowing from the north and the day of the month is odd, but only if it's not raining!)

Ambiguous much?

Being a math-minded person, I'm convinced there must be a formula to calculate whether someone is a Real Writer or not. So, if x is the number of words you write and y is the number of cups of coffee you drink and z is the square root of pi multiplied by the number of query rejections you've received, and the product of x, y, and z is equal to the derivative of...

Um, yeah. I like math, but not enough to remember calculus.

Scratch the formula idea.

But I'm still convinced that math will not fail me. There must be a way. Some kind of system in which melding numbers and words creates the definitive Real Writer distinction.

Something like WRITER POINTS.

You know, the points you gain when you do writerly things. And the points you lose when you do decidedly non-writerly things.

Something like this:

100 points for every 500 words
100 points for every 10 pages
Wearing clothes that cannot double as pajamas
– 20 points
Having a cat
400 points
Having multiple cats
4000 points
Drinking a cup of coffee or tea
10 points per cup
Having a day job
– 200 points
Having multiple day jobs
– 2000 points
Brushing your teeth before noon
– 50 points
Not leaving the house for a full day
300 points
Sending out a query letter
1000 points
Receiving a rejection
5000 points
Having a conversation with someone who is not one of your characters
– 40 points
Watching “Honey Boo Boo”
– 300 points per episode
Making an entire meal out of Skittles/Starburst/jelly beans
50 points
– 10 points
Getting an agent/book deal
3000 points

*Not an exhaustive list.

So, what's the magic number? When are you a Real Writer? When you hit 10K points? 50K points? Any time your Writer Points balance is greater than zero?

Well...that's something you have to decide for yourself.

Because ultimately, being a Real Writer is more about how you feel than about anyone or anything else, including math. It's about writing and living the life you love and defining success the way you want to define it and then writing some more.

That's it.

But hey, if you hit a million points, let me know.

I'll probably send you a gold star.

(And remind you that showering every once in a while is a good thing.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

5 a.m. Words

Today I realized a somewhat crazy statistic: at least 60% of my WIP has been written between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. That's right. Those hours are not like the tooth fairy. They actually do exist.

Though I am what most people would call a "morning person," I don't enjoy getting up ridiculously early. On a typical weekday, my alarm goes off at 4:36 a.m. The process then goes something like this:
  1. Contemplate throwing alarm clock out window (realize this would take too much energy)
  2. Lie in bed, listening to just one song (hate radio stations who play "Apple Bottom Jeans" at 4:36 a.m.)
  3. Lie in bed, listening to just one more song (seriously, this time)
  4. Force self out of bed and into the shower (tripping over the cat is optional, but likely)
  5. Shower (errors may include stepping into shower while still wearing at least one article of clothing, using body wash instead of conditioner, etc.)
  6. Get dressed (chances of clothes matching: slim to none)
  7. Gulp coffee (burn mouth)
  8. Write
So why do I put myself through all of that? Why don't I just write in the evening? Simple. Because when I try to write in the evening, it goes something like this: 
I'll just check Pinterest real quick before writing. Ooo, that looks like a fun DIY project. But I would need lumber. Where does one buy lumber? A hardware store? I should search for the nearest hardware store. Why are they called hardware stores anyway? Twitter will know. I'll ask Twitter. Oh, look! 3 people tweeted. Oh, look! 4 more people tweeted. Oh, look! 1 more person tweeted. Wait, what was I doing? Pinterest. Right. That recipe looks delicious....
Before I know it, the day is gone and my word count is 0.

But if I'm going to get out of bed 2 hours before I need to? I'm not going to waste time on Pinterest. I'm not going to let time pass with nothing to show for it. I'm going to work. As a result, my morning word counts are typically high.

Plus, there's something magical about writing while it's dark and the rest of the world is asleep. It's quiet and calm in a way that doesn't exist the rest of the day.

I know what you're going to say. But Erin, I can't get up that early. My "writing" would look like hgdffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff because I'd end up doing this:

I get it. For you, my dear keyboard sleeper, here are some 5 a.m. writing tips:

  • Check in on Twitter with #5amwritersclub. There's an entire group of supportive people who will write with you. For me, the accountability and camaraderie are huge.
  • Coffee. Tea. Diet Coke. Caffeine. 'Nuff said.
  • Find a friend. Once a week, I try to meet up with one or two of my local writing friends. We're usually at the coffee shop by 6:30. It's my favorite morning of the week.
  • Invest in one of those alarm clocks that runs away from you.
  • Remember, this isn't time that you have to write. This is time that you get to write. Attitude is everything.
Try it for a week. Or even a day. You might like it.

And while you're at it, pass the coffee.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Broadening Genre Horizons

As a writer of contemporary YA stories, I tend to read a lot of contemporary YA novels. It is my default genre; the one that fills both my Goodreads virtual shelves and my physical bookshelves.  At times, my obsession can lead to an unhealthy exclusion of other genres.

For example, my local library is having a summer reading program in which adults can read any three books, attend a library event, and be entered to win a Kindle Fire. I was enthused about the program until I saw the catch: those three books have to be adult books. Non-YA books. Grown-up books. Books that I don't read.

I stifled the urge to have a conversation with the librarian about the devaluation of YA novels, then stepped back to take a look at my own reading habits. A quick scroll through the books I've read over the past couple of years shows that some of my highest-rated books are not contemporary YA. 

I may be reluctant to pick up non-YA, non-contemporary, and/or even (*gasp*) non-fiction books, but when I do, I typically like them. Plus, stepping outside of comfort zones can be good for growth. Just because I don't write sci-fi or non-fiction doesn't mean I can't appreciate it and learn from it!

So here are a few of my favorite non-contemporary-YA books I've read recently along with a few I'm going to make a point to read this year:

Non-Contemporary-YA Favorites
  • Every Day by David Levithan (Fantasy YA) - Words cannot express how much I love this book. Suspend disbelief and let yourself get sucked into this intriguing premise and beautiful story.
  • Room by Emma Donoghue (Adult drama) - Very few books keep me up reading into the middle of the night. This was one of them.
  • Home Front by Kristin Hannah (Chick lit) - I've read and enjoyed a couple of Kristin Hannah's books, but this one with the military family story launched it onto my list of favorites.
  • Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz (Fantasy YA) - Magical fish are about as far from contemp YA as you can get, but this exquisite book is well worth the read.
  • Crazy Love by Francis Chan (Christian) - Extremely well-written and convicting in the very best way.
  • Exposed by Kimberly Marcus (YA in verse) - So, technically this is contemp YA, but since it's written in verse (which I don't normally read), I'm including it here. With characters that leap off the page, exquisite writing, and a heartbreaking plot, this is another book that I don't just love, but LOVE.
Non-Contemporary-YA Books I Plan to Read
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Adult mystery) - I've heard all good things about this one. Plus I really just want to know what The Twist is.
  • Losing It by Cora Carmack (Contemporary NA) - I want to give the whole "NA" thing a try, and this seems like a good place to start.
  • Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (Chick lit) - Generally I try to avoid books written by celebrities but as an avid Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fan, I think I'm going to give this one a chance.
  • Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis (Memoir) - An 18-year-old who gave up everything to go to Uganda and adopt 14 children? Yeah. I want to read her story.
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein (Classic fantasy) - No, I've never read the books. No, I've never seen the movies. Yes, I plan on changing that.
Don't get me wrong - I still plan to stay on top of "my" genre. I will still read and adore the fabulous contemporary YA out there. (I mean really, have you read Eleanor & Park yet? So good.)

But I'm also going to broaden my reading horizons. Maybe I'll enter that library contest after all.

What non-contemporary-YA books have YOU enjoyed lately? 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Happy Character Syndrome

Confession: I once wrote an entire novel without a single bit of conflict. That's right. 50,000+ words. Zero conflict.

It was the first novel I ever attempted, and it was horrific. Sure, my main character had a goal. There were things she needed to do to reach said goal. And my naive, first-novel-writing-self thought that was all I needed to create this thing called plot.



When I finished writing and revising the manuscript, I searched for beta readers on the NaNoWriMo forums. A kind, gracious, more-experienced writer said, "I love this premise! I'll beta read for you."

So with high hopes and a gratitude-filled e-mail, I sent my first manuscript out into the world.

The response was honest and harsh. "Everyone is generally nice to your main character," my beta reader said. "There's nothing to stop her from reaching her goal. I never doubted that she would make it, so I had no reason to keep reading."

As I looked back over the manuscript I had poured my time, my energy, myself into, I realized she was right.

I suffered from Happy Character Syndrome.

I desperately wanted my characters to be happy and would stop at nothing to make it so, up to and including removing all obstacles that stood in their way.

Happy Character Syndrome is a problem for two huge reasons:

1. It's not realistic. Mean people exist. Bad things happen. Life is rough. Get a helmet.

2. Happy characters make for really boring reading. Check out your bookshelf. There's a lot of misery on those pages.

Fast forward to today, when the novel I'm working on is not my first (or second, or third, or...) novel. I still suffer from HCS. I'm putting a couple of characters through the ringer with this one, and I tear up a little just thinking about it.

There are mean people. There are obstacles. There are twists and turns. There's conflict.

And even when it's hard to write, it's a good thing.

I'm not saying that none of my novels are ever going to have a happy ending. I love happy endings. I love when a story is tied up with a neat little bow, and I'm smiling as I place the book back on my shelf.

But the payoff for that neat-little-bow ending is a lot greater when the characters had to go through something to get there. And if the edges of the bow are a little frayed as a result? That's life.

To the beta reader who helped diagnose my Happy Character Syndrome: I can't thank you enough.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Maybe you know me from Twitter. Maybe you vaguely remember me from an old blog, One Year to Write. Maybe you don't know me at all. Whatever the case, I'm happy you're here.

I'm Erin and I'm a YA writer. Therefore, on this blog you can expect to see: thoughts on writing, gushy reviews of must-read YA novels, and occasional odes to coffee and cats.

Want to know a little more about me? Here are five random (or not-so-random) facts:

1. The title of my blog (and the quote below it) are from the movie 17 Again. Those words embody the reasons why I write YA: the highs are higher, the lows are lower, and infinite possibilities abound. Before you judge me for loving a Zac Efron movie, here, have this:

Okay. Now you can judge.

2. I live in North Carolina and would spend every minute of every day at the beach if I could.

3. I am perhaps the world's pickiest eater. I am a vegetarian who eats seafood. I'm allergic to apples, strawberries, pineapple, and kiwi. The scent or consumption of anything mint makes me ill. I cannot eat green vegetables in large quantities. Who wants to have me over for dinner?

4. My cat, Sammy, is named after Sam Winchester from Supernatural. The resemblance is rather striking:

5. I am not just a morning person, but a Morning Person!!!!! Most days, my alarm goes off at 4:36 a.m. I'm at the computer and writing from 5:00 to 7:00. Then it's out the door for the day job by 7:30. Pass the coffee!

So, that's me. Thanks again for stopping by! I'm looking for more blogs to read, so if you have a blog about writing, YA books, etc. please let me know in the comments!