April 21, 2014

Monday Pep Rally: YA Before It Was Cool

Since we've all gotten so used to getting our thoughts down in 140 characters - and it's fun to keep the conversation flowing - we've take the Pep Rally to twitter! Every Monday, we host a twitter chat and we'd love you to join in. Just keep an eye out for the #MisfitPepRally hashtag!

First off, I'd like to clarify that I've always thought YA was cool. I've loved it from the moment I started reading it, devouring all of The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High books back in fifth grade. I've added lots of other genres to my reading list, but YA has never been replaced.

Having said that, we all know YA literature has changed over the last few years. I see comments all the time from readers and reviewers about how much richer YA is now, how much more complex the characters and story lines are, and general praise for how much it has developed and improved as a genre.

I wholeheartedly agree. The books that are on my shelves now are much different from the books I was reading when I was a kid. When I look back at the books I read when I was part of the targeted YA audience, I feel like many of them simply don't hold up against the books that are being published today. (DISCLAIMER: This does not mean I love Jessica and Elizabeth any less. At all.) 

Of course, there are still some great YA books that were published before this revolution in YA, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Ask Alice, and A Wrinkle in Time, just to name a few. One of my very favorite YA books, I Capture the Castle, was published in 1949. 

And now I'm curious--what are some of your favorite YA titles that have older publication dates? 

Head on over to twitter and use the #MisfitPepRally hashtag to share your tips!

April 18, 2014

Casual Friday: Interview with Author Michelle Modesto

Happy Friday, Misfiteers!

Today we're chatting with author Michelle Modesto about her debut novel, MACHINE AND THE WILD.

It will be published by Balzer & Bray in 2016, and in case you missed it, here's the announcement:

Sounds awesome, right? We thought so too. So we asked Michelle to stop by and tell us a little more about it - Enjoy!

Welcome, Michelle! First of all, your book – what a concept! Tell us a little bit about it and what inspired the idea?

MACHINE AND THE WILD is a weird western set in an alternate gold rush era California. It’s about a wild, foul-mouthed girl named Westie who is hunting the cannibals that killed her family.

I had this idea for a sort of cantankerous female character with a mechanical arm. I wanted her to be kind of a badass but with a vulnerable side. The inspiration behind the world has a lot to do with where I live in Northern California. Nor Cal was the heart of the gold rush. I live only a couple hours from Truckee where the Donner party was stranded, so of course I had to add cannibals to the mix.   

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt you can share with us?

This isn’t exactly my favorite line, but I think it catches the essence of Westie’s character in a nutshell.

Westie stumbled toward the bar, finding an empty stool. The aristocrat followed behind her like a faithful horse.
            “Another Red Eye,” she told the barkeep.
            “Thank you for saving me back there,” the aristocrat said as he fumbled in his pockets for coin to pay for her drink. His eyes were beautiful she noticed when he looked at her, pale green with flecks of gold like the local creeks. Up close she realized he couldn’t be older than sixteen.
She let loose the belch that’d been stalking up her throat and reached down the front of her sweaty corset to scratch an itch between her breasts.

“Maybe you ought to be the one wearing skirts,” she said.

Your book is described as a “genre mash-up.” Were you nervous about querying something so unique? What kinds of feedback did you receive while querying? 

This book is a genre casserole for sure. I was a little nervous querying it—and even writing it. I’d never seen weird westerns on any agent or editor wish list, but I grew so attached to the idea and the characters. It was a book that nagged to be written. I didn’t get much in the way of feedback while querying the novel. I’d sent it out to a few agents and received two offers of representation right away. It definitely caught me off-guard since I had pretty much convinced myself it would be a hard sell. 

*** PSA - If you'd like to see the query that landed Michelle her offer of rep from John M. Cusick, click here to check it out on today's Kickass Queries Series over at my blog!***

How long have you been writing and what made you decide to pursue publication?

I fell in love with young adult fiction in 2009 and started binge reading on the weekends, extending breaks at work to finish chapters. That love and excitement for those stories started to fuel ideas of my own. Once I started writing I just couldn’t stop. I didn’t actually consider pursuing publication right away. I was very insecure about my writing until a professor/writer friend of mine, Sam Snoek-Brown, who was teaching writing in the UAE at the time, said I had great potential and helped answer all the questions I had. He gave me the encouragement I needed to go for it.

How did you find out your book was going to be published? What was your reaction?

When John and I first went out on submission to editors he told me it usually takes at least a month to hear back. To keep from going crazy with anticipation I buried myself in my WIP. So when John emailed me two weeks later and said someone was interested I was kind of floored and in shock. Then I began laughing and couldn’t stop. I laughed all the way home and melted into tears. Then I slept the rest of the day. Emotions are exhausting!

Yes they are! Unless you were already asleep when the news arrived, like me. *smacks self* Moving on- If you could trade places with any literary character for a day, who would it be and why?

Oh, man. This is a difficult one. I typically don’t want to be the characters in most of the books I read. The authors put them through hell. But I have to say, I wouldn’t mind being Clarice Starling for a day, hang out with Hannibal Lecter—while he’s behind bars, of course.

Describe your ideal writing cave.

My ideal writing cave would be a house on the beach. I love the sound and smell of the ocean.

Favorite flavor of ice cream? Any food you can’t live without?

Can you believe I don’t really like ice cream? It’s a texture thing. I don’t like coffee either, but I like coffee flavored milkshakes. It doesn’t make any sense. There are no foods I couldn’t live without, but I most definitely can’t function without iced tea.

Where can we stalk you for more information about you and your work?

I can be found on Twitter @ellemodesto. I also have a website being made by Harbor Firm. They sent me a preview and it’s AWESOME. I can’t wait!

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Michelle! We can't wait until MACHINE is released into the wild! (*lame pun totally intended*) Best of luck with it!

April 17, 2014

Band Geek Thursday: THESE GENTLE WOUNDS by Helene Dunbar

Which came first, the book or the playlist? In the case of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS, (and everything I’ve written, really) they grew together. A song might change the course of my manuscript. A scene may cry out for a new song.  I should note that the playlist for TGW is not scene specific. Instead, I just played the whole thing over and over sometimes in random order, sometimes alphabetically, sometimes just one song on repeat when I wanted it to stay in my head.
Here’s a bit about the book:

Five years after an unspeakable tragedy that changed him forever, Gordie Allen has made a new home with his half-brother Kevin. Their arrangement works since Kevin is the only person who can protect Gordie at school and keep him focused on getting his life back on track.

But just when it seems like things are becoming normal, Gordie's biological father comes back into the picture, demanding a place in his life. Now there's nothing to stop Gordie from falling into a tailspin that could cost him everything--including his relationship with Sarah, the first girl he's trusted with the truth. With his world spinning out of control, the only one who can help Gordie is himself . . . if he can find the strength to confront the past and take back his future.

Peter Gabriel – Birdy Soundtrack
The album is basically made up of instrumental remixes of some of Gabriel’s other work and I don’t think it’s coincidental that the title character of the film is a young man suffering from (war-related) PTSD. The music is haunting and dizzying. I used to listen to it in college fairly obsessively. Whenever I needed to get into Gordie’s headspace, I turned to this, particularly the track, Slow Marimbas, which still gives me chills even after all of these listens. Check it out because, alas, it isn’t on Spotify!

Cat Matador - "The Address"
Cat Matador is a now unfortunately defunct band from England. I had this entire EP on heavy rotation when I was writing for similar reasons to the Birdy soundtrack. There is something “spinny,” for lack of a better word, and ungrounded in their music that helped me to really get into what Gordie was feeling.

Reeve Carney / Bono "Bouncing Off the Walls" and "Rise Above" from Spiderman on Broadway 
I adore Reeve Carney’s voice with its strong/vulnerable tones. For me the sound nailed both Gordie’s struggle and his strength.

Spring Offensive – "A Let Down"
This one isn’t on Spotify either, but it really sat at the core of the TGW playlist so I had to include it.  love this band in more ways that I can say, and this song (http://youtu.be/5nONHXIFGO8) almost changed the entire course of the plot. I opted not to go in that direction, but whenever I was starting a Kevin/Gordie scene, I would listen to it on repeat. A lot.

REM - "Fretless"
Recorded for Wim Wender’s movie Until the End of the World, this song captures the heartbreak of growing up in a broken home. (“He’s got his work, she comes easy, they both come around when the other is gone. Me, I think I got stuck somewhere in between.”)

Snow Patrol - "Fifteen Minutes Old"
This reminds me of Sarah. “Can I have a picture of you tonight? Keep it with me always in my mind” is the most obvious line, but really Sarah is the first person that Gordie really takes a chance at trusting: mind, heart, body, and soul. I’m not sure that he could make the choices he does had she not come into his life and the lyrics mirror that.

Duncan Sheik – "Shout"
I think that Tears for Fears first album is one of the most underrated of the 80’s. And Duncan Sheik’s cover really gets to the heart of the pain of that song and the anger that Gordie doesn’t really allow himself to feel.

Copeland - No One Really Wins / The Church - The Unguarded Moment / Cat Stevens - Sad Lisa / In Liverpool - Suzanne Vega
Sometimes it isn’t about the lyrics, but the sound and feel. There are certainly lyrical elements to all of these songs that relate to TGW for me, but really they formed the background and tapestry of the feel of the book for me.

Chevelle - "Bend the Bracket"
For me, this song captures Kevin’s anger: slow and simmering and focused. Again, it’s about the feel rather than the lyrics.


You can get your own copy of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS via any of the following fine retailers!  
Amazon UKBarnes and Noble
Indigo Canada

Helene Dunbar (Nashville, TN) usually writes features about fiddles and accordions, but she's also written about court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She's lived in two countries, six states, and currently holes up in Nashville with her husband, daughter, two cats, and the world's friendliest golden retriever.

April 16, 2014

Writing Club Wednesday: Hitting the High Notes in your MS through Musical Numbers

via wikia.disney.com

So I finally watched FROZEN the other day. And then I had Let It Go stuck in my head for pretty much every second until I was forced to watch it again. (That song! It’s like, get it out, get it out! But now I need to watch again! Am I right?) (And now it's probably stuck in your head. Sorry.)

The next time I watched it, I thought about musicals, and the impact of the musical numbers (beyond wanting to smack your face against a wall to get them out of your head).

In Disney movies, and in any musical, the musical numbers are the high points of the story. In FROZEN, we see songs at major plot points, at emotional moments, at big character turning points, and especially at places where these three things collide. Also, importantly, the musical numbers are spaced pretty evenly throughout the movie.

And I, of course, thought about what I was writing. Where—and what—would the musical numbers in my book be? What would the beginning look like, where we learn about the heroine’s old life? What about a turning point somewhere in the middle? The big evil closing in? The romantic duet? (All my romantic duets will definitely have a snowman now, btw.) Were my important moments having the impact they needed to have to carry a musical number?

I realized this looked more than a little like the Blake Snyder Save the Cat Beat Sheet (which I’ve previously blogged about here: http://www.yamisfits.com/2013/02/writing-club-wednesdays-beat-sheet.html), and that’s not surprising. Musical numbers, like the Beat Sheet beats, are turning points of some kind, which, if they’re skipped or not spread out evenly or not big enough, can make your story feel like its timing is wrong.

So if I’m ever worried about the timing or impact of my Big Turning Points, this is my new go-to solution. Where should I place the scenes that, in a Disney movie, would happen in a song that will drive millions of dollars of merchandise sales??

What about you? Do you have a strategy for making sure your manuscript hits the high notes?

April 11, 2014

Casual Friday: Agent Interview with Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis

Happy Friday, Misfiteers!

We have a special guest at our lunch table today--Literary Agent Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis! She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for us. I'm a bit biased, but Christa's the best ;o) 

A little about her...

Christa graduated from Binghamton University with a major in English and a minor in Anthropology. She started in publishing as an intern at both Writers House and Sterling Lord Literistic, where she fell in love with the agency side of publishing. Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. since 2009 where she is looking for picture books, middle grade and young adult projects and is currently building her list. You can find her on twitter @ChristaHeschke or visit her blog: http://christaheschke.blogspot.comHere's the link to her extensive list of what she's interested in acquiring.

Here we go!

If you were to make a soundtrack of your life with books, what ones would you choose?

I’ll start early. Before I even could read, I would look at any book and make up the story using the pictures and what I could remember from it being read to me. When I was a little older one of my first favorite books was The Teeny Tiny Woman…it was an early reader and my parents tell me that I would read it out loud over and over and quite dramatically…so it’s one of the book that made me a book worm :) After I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas I bought the book and really enjoyed it…so I suppose that one got me into the dark and strange.  The Fear Street series cemented my love for horror and The Hobbit started my love affair with fantasy.

Who is your book boyfriend?  

That’s tough…two of my favorite YA contemporary romances are Perfect Chemistry (Simone Elkeles) and The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson)…so either Alex Fuentes or Joe…they’re both quite different. Alex is kind of a reformed bad boy and Joe is sweet and cuddly :)

Who is your book bestie? 

I’m going back to The Sky is Everywhere again…Lennie is a lot like I was in high school. Katniss would be a pretty cool friend too…you know she’d have your back!

You like Game of Thrones AND The Vampire Diaries (you have great taste) what is it about those shows that appeal to you? 

I’m a big fantasy buff and it’s so much fun to escape into other worlds for awhile.  With Game of Thrones you never really know what’s going to happen or who is going to die for that matter, so it keeps me on the edge of my seat every week. I’ve come to really like or love to hate the characters on both of these shows and enjoy following them from week to week. For Vampire Diaries, I’m a big Damon fan so that’s one thing that keeps me tuning in.

Are you able to read a book without the "agent hat" on or does it creep in? 

I can turn it off when reading non-work stuff for the most part.  I’m looking for entertainment value and something to keep me turning pages. Of course, I look for that when reading for work, but I’d also be reading much more critically. What’s working? What’s not? If something doesn’t make sense when reading outside of work I’ll go back into agent mode and start thinking, how could they fix this? Could this have been done in another way?

Have you ever had a "fate" moment when you've read a query? Like your gut just said yes this is it! What was it about that moment? 

I’ve had it a few times! I’m generally not going to offer representation unless I have some sort of positive reaction to the query such as “Wow what a cool idea” or “What an interesting twist!” An engaging query leads me to read the pages quicker and if the writing is just as great it’s an awesome feeling-- I have to work with this author!

Since we're the YA Misfits, we want to know what moniker you had in high school, or which one you would have been had you been able to choose. 

I didn’t really have a moniker in high school. My graduating class got along pretty well for the most part. There were only 80 something of us and while we weren’t all best friends I tended to get along with most everyone. My high school had its cliques but they certainly weren’t like the cliques in Mean Girls. I kind of see myself as a band geek, in the best of ways, looking back at high school. I was in band and jazz so it definitely was a big part of my identity, but I really wasn’t defined by any given group. I was also pretty quiet and shy…so I don’t know. I’m having a hard time giving myself a moniker. Let’s just call me The Band Geek :)

Thank you so much for stopping by, Christa!! Misfiteers, make sure to add Christa to your query list.

Have a great weekend!

April 10, 2014

Band Geek Thursday: OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord

I am so, so excited about today's guest on YA Misfits! I like to think that everyone knows by now how utterly obsessed I am with this book (and in case you're not clear, I talked about it just last week), but guys, it is so good. If you love light contemp, or books about friendships, or romance, or road trips, or music, or anything, you need to pick this up ASAP. And, of course, since the book is so music-centric, I knew fabulous author Emery Lord would have the perfect playlist for it, and I was obviously correct. So, here's Em to discuss the fabulous soundtrack to her fantastic debut, which releases on Tuesday!


Hiya Misfits! Thanks for having me and my stupidly too-long playlist. What can I say? OPEN ROAD SUMMER is about musicians, so playlists were an integral part of writing this book. Sometimes I wasn't even sure where I was taking the story until I found the right song. (Plotting is...um, not my strong suit.)
So, while there's no excuse for how long this is, I've included 3 makeout songs and several pieces of insider info as apologies. And I'll give a few chapter mile-markers in case you own this book (I LOVE YOU) and might like to read a chapter with its song, which is something I enjoy doing with other writers' books.

Quick character overview:
Reagan: a seventeen year-old girl with a broken wrist, a broken heart, and a lot of anger. She takes off on a summer concert tour with her BFF across the US, vowing to get her life together.
Dee: Reagan's best friend and an up-and-coming country singer. She's excited to headline her first tour, but she's still reeling from a breakup with her longtime high school boyfriend months before.
Matt Finch: youngest member of a "family band" with sister and 2 brothers, which broke up a few years back. He joins the tour to open for Dee and lend credence to the rumors that they're dating.

"American Honey" - Lady Antebellum
This one is Dee's for Chapter One. Couldn't wait to get going / wasn't quite ready to leave.

"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" - Bob Dylan
There are some musicians who are comfort-listens for us. Bob Dylan is one of Reagan's. I think this song in particular.

"Rowing Song" - Patty Griffin
Another Dee song, by one of her heroes. So much of her story is: what can she hold on to from home and what does she have to let go? (And The further I go / No letters from home / Ever arrive / And I'm alone / All of the way / All of the way / Alone and alive

"Cooler Than Me" - Mike Posner
This song HAS to be on the playlist because it was what originally inspired me to write Reagan. I was blasting it down the highway one day and was like: why isn't anyone in YA narrating from THIS GIRL's perspective? So I tried. This song still totally represents Matt's take on Reagan at first.

"Carolina" - Matt Wertz
Chapter 6. Matt Finch's songwriting style, in my head, is a combo of Matt Wertz, Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney, and Ben Rector. You can...probably guess why I named him Matt. (Also because he looks like Matt Lauria to me.)

"The Beat" - Ben Rector
Another Matt song. Her heart is broken / but she won't say that.

"Born to Run" - Bruce Springsteen
Chapter 12. July 4th festival, so it's gotta be The Boss.

"The Swimming Song" - Vetiver
End of Chapter 12. Swimming & fireworks. The in-the-sky kind and the other kind.

"Good Man" - Josh Ritter
Finding this song was major for me in terms of developing Matt Finch's character. He's nineteen and kind of lost, identity-wise. He's had girls fawning over him and people kissing up to him half his life, and he's used to coasting by on charm. Reagan won't have that. So, Matt starts digging for what else he has to offer--and it's a lot. I think the first thing he comes up with is, hey, I'm a good guy. He IS a good guy. But nobody ever really asked him to be or expected him to be before.

"Mercy" - Matt Nathanson
Chapter 13. Mercy, mercy / Both hands. (...if you didn't get that this is one of the makeout songs from that, I'm not sure what to do with you.)

"Learning to Love Again" - Mat Kearney
This entire song is the thesis of OPEN ROAD SUMMER. I mean, "Trying to pull your hometown 'cross a telephone wire" is a lyric that I actively hate myself for not writing.

Your poker face ain't foolin' nobody, nobody here
That was the real you running through the fields of gold, wide open
Standing in the places no picture contains
That was the real you with the windows down, we could smell the mint fields crying
Singin with the radio to a song we can't name
Hey, brother, we're all learning to love again.

"Let's Be Still" - The Head and The Heart
Chapter 16. Another theme I tried to pull in.
The world's just spinning / a little too fast / if things don't slow down soon / we might not last / so just for a moment, let's be still.

"I Don't Want Love" - The Antlers or "It's Over" - Civil Twilight
There's a makeout scene in Chapter 17. Set to either of these songs, your pick.

"Tennessee" - Mindy Smith
Chapter 18ish, Reagan's, about how your sense of home can change once you leave it.

"You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" - Shawn Colvin
The inspiration for Matt's cover of the Bob Dylan tune in Chapter 21. Cried the first time I heard it.

"American Secrets" - Parachute
For Dee, Chapter 21. There's two parts to this song, joy and longing. It sounds like growing up to me, kind of angsty but perfect.

"Stubborn Love" - The Lumineers
I actually finished OPEN ROAD SUMMER before this song came out, but I listened to it during revisions, and it's uncannily perfect for the ending.

It's better to feel pain than nothing at all 
 The opposite of love's indifference 
So pay attention now: I'm standing on your porch screaming out
And I won't leave until you come downstairs.

"Compass" - Lady Antebellum
Cheesy/not sorry: This is 100% the song that Dee and Matt would write together, half-teasing Reagan and half really meaning it, about the summer together.
Ugh, this book is so good, and SO MANY MAKEOUT SONGS. (It's Dahlia again, obviously. Emery is far more subtle than I am.) And you can buy your own copy via any of these links!

Indiebound * Barnes & Noble * Amazon * The Book Depository

Emery Lord lives in a pink row house in Cincinnati with one husband, two rescue dogs, and a closet full of impractical shoes. Open Road Summer is her first novel. 

April 9, 2014

Writing Club Wednesday: Research: the Essential Marmite, by Sarah Benwell

Keeping up our new tradition of having a special guest poster on the second Wednesday of every month, today we've got the lovely Sarah Benwell, author of the heartbreakingly gorgeous 2015 debut THE LAST LEAVES FALLING. She's British, so please excuse the fact that she spells a lot of things wrong and thinks that all of us know what Marmite is!

Research: the Essential Marmite

Research. You love it or you hate it, sort of like marmite or synopses.  But it’s necessary, right?
Except the other day I heard somebody proclaim that research is a waste of time. “It’s not like I get credit for all that stuff. No one ever sees it.”
 Kids, wonderlings, no. Writing is not – usually – like primary school mathematics. You don’t get to show your working, you just do it and hope you got the answers right. And anyway, “Well, she’s very knowledgeable,” is not as much of a compliment as it sounds, and if that’s what your reader notices above all, you might want to go back and try again.
But just like maths problems, you do still have to do the work, because worse (oh god, SO much worse, I genuinely have nightmares about this) is, “Bollocks. She has no idea. This is wrong, wrong, WRONG.”
Thankfully, you can avoid much of this. Not all of it. There will always be things you miss or misunderstand, but you can reduce the chances. How? Research.
I trust most of you reading this blog to know the basics, but sometimes it is good to be reminded. So here are Sarah’s top tips for Getting It Right:
Sources: We live in the age of the internet. Let’s face it, some of us basically live in the internet, period. Google is amazing. But it’s not the only source, and sometimes it’s far from the best (I know, I know, I’m sorry. **passes smelling salts**).  Try your library – get acquainted with the reference books and fiction. For TLLF I read work by every translated-into-English Japanese author I could get my hands on (if you can read the originals, even better!), and honestly, the details – cultural references and language style and recurring themes – have made all the difference. Similarly news and music and art and movie/TV trends.
Go places. If you can visit the places you’re writing about, do. There’s nothing better than knowing exactly what it smells like, or how the wind grabs at your hair, or how that clerk at the museum desk greets visitors. If you can’t get to the right place, somewhere similar can work; it might not be the right swamp, but there might be another one nearby which can lend swampy details to your work. And failing that, find all the above and photos and maps pictures. Trek Earth is one of my favourite wanderlust-and-research haunts.
Sometimes, if you’re writing about something/ somewhere unaffected by the internet, you won’t find anything online, and maybe not written (or written in English and available) at all. See ‘go places’. And talk to people. This SO deserves it’s own point…
Talk to people: ;) Whether you can find other sources or not, first-hand information is like gold. It is the holy grail of research. People will meander through answers. They’ll surprise you. You’ll get stories and side-notes, instead of fact sheets. It’s personable and personal and the closest you’re going to get to being or experiencing things outside of your own sphere. And to be honest, it's just common courtesy.
So if you can find a way to communicate with members of that remote tribe, do it. It’s possible, I swear (and for most groups/ people it’s easier. Hello, internet!*). And If you can’t do that, at the very least, try to find people who are close to them, or understand better than you. Talk. Ask questions.  Just be aware of who you’re asking, because there’s always, always bias, even when it’s hidden.
Culture: whether your story’s set in Deepest Darkest Peru, Hobbiton or space, and whether you’re writing humans, orcs or anthropomorphic space-pigs, there will be culture. Stories and songs and sayings, rules and expectations; a million things which all gather to influence your characters. Yes, you want to stay relevant. No, you don’t want to stray too far from your plot, but this stuff matters, and it adds a richness to your work you won’t find anywhere else.
Mechanics: if you’re going into space, you want to know the physics. You probably also want to know your way around a spaceship engine room. If you’re handling swords please know how to wield one or you might get someone killed. If you’re writing about a sick kid in another country, know what healthcare is available. Seriously. This is where your readers stop believing in you and your story if you get it wrong. Become an expert.
Betas: Have people who know your genre or the culture you’re writing or whatever read your manuscript. You can’t know everything. You can’t hold the whole of your book in your head at once even if you do know everything. You’re going to miss stuff. There are things – tiny things and bigger ones – which I’d never ever have put into the book without my betas’ help; things which I’d never have found myself because I wouldn’t have even known to look for them.
Learn how to apologise: even utilising all of the above, with all the time in the world, you will sometimes get things wrong. Often it’s not really a problem. Sometimes, you’ll get something spectacularly wrong and upset people. Apologise. Learn from your mistakes. Move on.

All this sounds like a lot of work, I know. It is. But writing isn’t a quick-fix hobby or profession, and I promise you it’s worth it. And if you’re not convinced by richer, deeper work or accuracy or the chance to win ALL the pub quizzes, I give you my one, final argument: batshit crazy discoveries. Here are 6 randomly selected items from TLLF’s not-in-the-book wonders, and if this doesn’t not convince you, I don’t know what will:

·         Basashi ice-cream
·         The noise fork
·         wabi sabi; a philosophy/ aesthetic centred on transience and imperfection. It’s not so much crazy, but beautiful (for a beginner’s insight, if you can get hold of  Marcel Theroux’s documentary, do.)
·         The KFC Christmas Chicken Dinner. Yes. Pretty clever marketing from KFC, considering how tiny the Christian minority is over there.
·         Tea ceremony. It’s a glorious thing. If you have a few hours/ weeks to spare, go read all about it. Surprisingly though, the annual per capita consumption of tea in Japan is only 0.99kg, compared with 2.74kg in the UK, and 6.87kg in Turkey. Everything in moderation?
·         And this. You’re welcome.

*Shameless plug: wanna know more about minority experiences? Come on over to the DiversifYA archives. Lots of us would be happy to answer further questions, too. Try us!


Sarah is a YA author and mentor. She lives in Bath but prefers living in books, or on planes or trains or remote unmapped places. She’s an advocate of diversity in life and bookcases, and is part of the DiversifYA team.
Her debut novel, THE LAST LEAVES FALLING, is set for release in spring 2015.

April 4, 2014

Casual Friday: Five April Debuts to Watch

Obviously, I'm the tiniest bit biased when I say that 2014 is an absurdly fantastic year for debut authors, but not so much about the fact that of all the months within, April might be the best of the best for them. I know we're only four days in, but I've been lucky enough to read these five books in advance, and now I pass their awesome along to you:

SEKRET by Lindsay Smith (April 1)

 An empty mind is a safe mind.

Yulia's father always taught her to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive the harsh realities of Soviet Russia. But when she's captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she's thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power. Yulia quickly realizes she can trust no one--not her KGB superiors or the other operatives vying for her attention--and must rely on her own wits and skills to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.

Why so awesome: Major bonus points from the start for being set in a fascinating time and place, and being one of the rare YAs that's set in a foreign country with a foreign MC. Smith knows Russian culture and history, and it's glaringly apparent in every detail. Add that to some killer characters, a seriously cool premise, literal heart-pounding action, and skillful writing, and you can see why I think this book is...[insert the Russian word for "awesome"].

FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe (April 8)

Nine months. Two weeks. Six days.

That's how long recovering addict Sophie's been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong - a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.

Forced into rehab for an addiction she'd already beaten, Sophie's finally out and on the trail of the killer - but can she track them down before they come for her?

Why so awesome: This is one of my absolute favorite examples of LGBTQ literature done right, and one I always recommend to people looking for a great bisexual character in a category that seems to fundamentally misunderstand them. Sharpe also does an excellent job with both the often-tricky non-linear structure and the crafting of a character with a rarely seen yet all-too-common-in-real-life prescription drug addiction. Enough reasons to pick it up for you?
POINTE by Brandy Colbert (April 10)

Theo is better now.

She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

Why so awesome: This book was just so many things I wasn't expecting, and all of them made me so, so happy. (Including the racial diversity.) Paramount above all was that this book felt so true. It isn't moralistic, but it isn't romantic, either. The fact is that people screw up, and make bad decisions, and sometimes we pay for them, and sometimes we don't, and sometimes we learn, and sometimes we don't, and sometimes we realize how troublesome our actions are, and sometimes we don't, and all of that is truth I was thrilled to find sharply and boldly reflected in Colbert's debut. This isn't a Dance book or a Kidnapping book or an Eating Disorder book, although I see how the cover and blurb could give expectations of any of the three. It is a real, at times gritty, examination of the way past decisions inform the future, and the different ways people change and grow and cope.

After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

Why so awesome: Matt Finch is one of the best, sweetest book boyfriends to come along in a good, long while, but the major magic of Lord's debut is the wonderful friendship between Reagan and Lilah, aka Dee. As much as I love YA, too often I feel like the friendships between characters are secondary to the romances in every way, dissolving into some sort of frenemy-ship as soon as The Boy comes along, but not here. The bond between the two girls here is strong and palpable, and this was the rare book that made me wish I had my own teen girl so I could hand it off to her and say, "Here, this - this is what I want for you in life. Make a friend who treats you like this, and a partner who treats you like this. And if you have the misfortune to go through similar rough spots, let the people who love them help you through them, no matter how much your instinct is to fight it." This is the perfect book to buy for yourself...and all the great girlfriends in your life.
THE BREAK-UP ARTIST by Philip Siegel

Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples. 

After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the dreaded L-word. For just $100 via paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she'll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity.

No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.

Why so awesome: I loooove YA, but man, it's gotten crazy serious in recent years. Sometimes, you just wanna have fun, and laugh, and read a story that's a little less romantic and a little more depraved. Obviously Becca's not your typical YA sweetheart, and it's such a refreshing change I could cry. Though I do have to confess that sappy as it may sound, it's the subplot of Becca and her sister that's actually my favorite part of the book, but, you know, read all of it ;)


April 1, 2014


Once upon a time, a beautiful Misfit named Gina wrote an equally beautiful manuscript titled LAST YEAR'S MISTAKE.

LYM is the story of Kelse, who is broken and flawed and complex and relatable.

And the story of David, who is, well:

LYM is one of those contemporaries that literally oozes voice.

LYM has scenes that break your heart to tiny pieces and scenes that make you so, so happy.

LYM is one of those rare stories I fell head over heels in love with--one of those stories that make me want to read everything G ever writes, because she is just that good.



So, go congratulate our amazing G! And add LYM to your Goodreads shelves! AND PARTY BECAUSE YOU ARE GOING TO GET TO READ THIS BOOK AND IT'S FREAKING AMAZING.


March 31, 2014

Monday Pep Rally: The Perfect Song

Since we've all gotten so used to getting our thoughts down in 140 characters - and it's fun to keep the conversation flowing - we've take the Pep Rally to twitter! Every Monday, we host a twitter chat and we'd love you to join in. Just keep an eye out for the #MisfitPepRally hashtag!

Like I mentioned in my previous Writing Club Wednesday post, music is a big part of how I stay motivated to finish my projects. Playlists are a huge part of how I and a lot of the other Misfits write, which is why the Band Geek Thursday posts offer such a big insight of our (and our guests')  writing processes.

For me, personally, no matter what kind of project I'm working on, there is always that one song in my playlist that sounds like the world/mood I'm trying to craft in my novel or sometimes even the narrative arc/structure of the novel. Even in times when I feel the least motivated to work on my novel, I can always listen to this song in order to feel inspired about my project again. For the project I'm currently working on, that song is:

"Science and Visions" by CHVRCHES

Although I don't normally listen to CHVRCHES, I happened to run across this song on Spotify and was amazed by how much it "sounded" like my newest project, and it continues to inspire me as I construct the world, characters, and etc. that are going to be in it. Not only do the echoey/other-worldly effects match the supernatural elements of the world, but the gradual increasing in tempo/complexity matches the growing intensity/pace of the events I have planned out for the story. The lyrics also closely match the premise of my novel, which definitely help it be the "perfect song" for the project I'm working on right now.

So the question I have for you today is: Do YOU have a particular song that is a perfect match for your novel? If so, please do share and tell us what about the song inspires you as you write!

Head on over to twitter and use the #MisfitPepRally hashtag to share your "perfect" songs!

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