So NaNoWriMo is Over

Photo credit: greg westfall. on Flickr
Incredibly, it is now December 2nd, which means NaNoWriMo 2016 has come to an end. This has been a particularly difficult NaNo for many—with what happened with the election at the beginning of the month, a lot of writers were completely thrown off and understandably found it difficult to get back into the swing of things again. Not to mention all of the very important events that have happened after the election, which have proved to be the kind of distraction from writing you really can't ignore, because it's too important.

So all of that is to say NaNoWriMo was understandably difficult for a lot of writers this year. Luckily, some writers on Twitter are putting together a NaNoWriMo re-do, headed by literary agent @HannahFergesen, under the hashtag #NaNoReDo.


If you have finished NaNoWriMo, however, congratulations! I did manage to finish #MagicMurderMayhem's first draft (complete around 60,000 words), which I am both relieved and happy about, because it means I wrote three manuscripts this year, which is a first. It was more of a struggle than usual because even without the election stuff, I've been the busiest in my life this month—but it was definitely rewarding.

So if you've finished NaNoWriMo, now what? I've already written a blog and posted a vlog on Post-NaNoWriMo steps, so I won't reiterate everything, but the most important part is this: take a break. Whatever a break means for you, do it—for me, it means not writing until 2017 (unless something deadline-related comes in, of course), reading, getting back into my exercise routine, playing some games, and enjoying the extra couple hours I have in the day. Earlier this week, for example, I finished all my daily work by 1:30PM which hadn't happened this month before at all. It was nice. :)

But the point is, absolutely make sure you give your brain a break before you dive into revisions. I always try to take at least a month off whenever possible—and given that I have two recent manuscripts to choose from when it comes to revisions, I may very well get more distance from my NaNo novel by starting the one I wrote earlier this year first.

But before I start really thinking about revising anything, it'll be time to relax, read, and enjoy not working on any particular manuscript. Because breaks are a truly important part of the writing process that shouldn't be forgotten.

Did you finish NaNoWriMo if you participated? Are you taking a break? Doing #NaNoReDo? Share your thoughts! 

Twitter-sized bite:
Finish #NaNoWriMo? Will you take a break this month, write, or revise? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: LAST SEEN LEAVING by Caleb Roehrig

Photo credit: Goodreads
I love Thrillers. Back in the day when I read mostly Adult novels, probably 80% of the books I picked up were Thrillers, so while I don't read them as often as I used to anymore, they hold a special place in my heart. So when I heard about Caleb Roehrig's Last Seen Leaving and discovered it was not only a Thriller but a Thriller with queer representation, to say that I was psyched was an understatement.

I'm glad to report that now that I've read the book, it did not disappoint.

But before I go on! Here's the Goodreads summary:

"Flynn's girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own? 
Flynn's girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can't answer, and her friends are telling stories that don't add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January's boyfriend, he must know something. 
But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January's disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself."

So the way Last Seen Leaving is set up, it reminded me a bit of Far From You by Tess Sharpe—another YA with major queer rep in which the protagonist is trying to solve the murder of her best friend. In Last Seen Leaving, however, what happened to January isn't immediately apparent. When the book starts, Flynn learns his girlfriend has disappeared—but did she run away? Did someone take her? Is she still alive? There are immediately a lot of questions, and worse, Flynn can't tell the whole story of the last time he saw her to the police and what they argued about without admitting his huge secret: he's gay.

As the story goes on, the questions build. January's unhappy (but luxurious) home life, the lies she told people about Flynn—and the lies she told Flynn about others—the connections to who she knew and when they last saw her, and through it all Flynn isn't sure who he can trust.

This book had me ripping through the pages to answer all those questions and more—I actually read the second half of the book in a day because I couldn't put it down. I also loved how much this book played with my expectations—even when I was specifically looking for red herrings I still didn't guess what or who was behind January's disappearance. My only super-minor gripe was there were words and phrases throughout that occasionally threw me out of the narrative because it didn't really sound teenager-y to me—but it certainly wasn't distracting enough to take away from the incredible plot and characters that had me exclaiming out loud as I read.

All in all, I definitely recommend this one, especially if you like YA Thrillers and/or enjoyed Far From You. This book and its twists and characters are going to stay with me for a long time.


Diversity note: The protagonist, Flynn, is gay (which is #ownvoices rep!). There's also a minor Japanese character, and the love interest is a gay, Muslim, POC boy.


Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 4.5/5 stars to LAST SEEN LEAVING by Caleb Roehrig. Is this FAR FROM YOU-esque YA on your TBR? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for a YA Thriller w/ twists, queer rep, and an addictive mystery? Try LAST SEEN LEAVING. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Challenges Writing BEYOND THE RED

You asked, I answered. Today I'm talking about some challenges I faced while writing BEYOND THE RED—and how I overcame them.


RELATED VLOGS: 


What challenges have you faced with previous manuscripts?

Twitter-sized bite:
Curious about an author's challenges writing their debut? @Ava_Jae vlogs re: difficulties writing BEYOND THE RED. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #29

Photo credit: Javier Vieras on Flickr
We're now in the final days of November, the holidays are upon us, and the end of the year is nearing. I love the holiday season—it's my favorite time of year, so I, for one, am looking forward to the next (expensive) month. Which means it's time for this month's Fixing the First Page Feature!

As usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!


Title: MAKING LOVE & MUSIC

Genre/Category: Adult Contemporary Romance

First 250 words:
"Three days into June and she was still wearing long sleeves and jeans.

Addy sighed, eying the rain-dampened pavement outside with blatant disdain. Summer was always slow to hit Canada, but this year even spring was taking its sweet time. 'It’s a cruel joke,' she told the little unicorn bobble-head stuck to the dashboard of her beat-up gold Intrepid. He nodded in agreement as she reached up to pull the car’s sun visor down. She had always been a summer girl, through and through, and this weather was crushing her soul. 
Oh well. She’d have enough time to complain about it once she was properly made-up and inside the station. 
The visor’s mirror only proved that she looked just as exhausted as she felt; not even the extra large coffee she’d purchased was going to save her. It would definitely have been wiser to make the four-hour drive home from the cottage the night before. 
Missing sleep was among her least favourite things in the world, but it was worth it. She could live with one day of caffeine jitters and sleep-deprived misery if it meant she got to spend even a few extra hours with Dad and her big sister Alexis. She loved her family more than anything, and living across the border from them was the only genuine complaint she had about her life. 
After applying a quick coat of lipstick and mascara, Addy took a moment to evaluate her quickie makeup job. 'Nope,' she sighed. 'Still look like a corpse.'"

Okay! So, first thoughts: I think this is a nice start—I enjoyed the imagery and the line at the end was fun—but it's missing any hint of conflict. As I've said in previous critiques, you definitely don't need The Problem on page one, but it can help to infuse a little foreshadowed conflict or hint of whatever is wrong to come early on, because it establishes tension right away which can pull readers in. Without it, you have an opening that's nice, but it might not grab readers or be particularly memorable.

So overall, this isn't a bad start—I just think it could use some tweaking to make it grab a little more.

Now for the in-line notes:

"Three days into June and she was still wearing long sleeves and jeans.

Addy sighed, eying glaring at the rain-dampened pavement outside with blatant disdain. You don't have to use that phrasing exactly, of course, but I tweaked the sentence to show her disdain with an action (glaring) rather than saying she's looking with disdain. Summer was always slow to hit Canada, but this year even spring was taking its sweet time. 'It’s a cruel joke,' she told the little unicorn bobble-head stuck to the dashboard of her beat-up gold Intrepid. He nodded in agreement as she reached up to pulled the car’s sun visor down. Condensed that sentence some. She'd had always been a summer girl, through and through, and this weather was crushing her soul. 
Oh well. She’d have enough time to complain about it once she was properly made-up and inside the station. 
The visor’s mirror only proved that she looked just as exhausted as she felt; not even the her extra large coffee she’d purchased was going to save her. It would definitely have been wiser to make the four-hour drive home from the cottage the night before. 
Missing sleep was among her least favourite things in the world, but it was worth it. She could live with one day of caffeine jitters and sleep-deprived misery if it meant she got to spend even a few extra hours with Dad and her big sister Alexis. She loved her family more than anything, and living across the border from them was the her only genuine life complaint she had about her life
After applying a quick coat of lipstick and mascara, Addy took a moment to evaluate her quickie makeup job. Took out quick because the speed is implied with "quickie makeup job" and you don't need to say quick twice. 'Nope,' she sighed. 'Still look like a corpse.'" I like that last line. :) 

All right, so, main adjustments here are to cut out unnecessary wordiness, but overall there wasn't that much that needed fixing, as you can see. The main thing I think needs tweaking is what I mentioned above—some conflict—but other than that I think this is a well-written start. If I saw this in the slush, I'd keep reading...but if some conflict or tension didn't come up quickly, I'd probably stop reading.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Andrea!

Would you like to be featured in the next Fixing the First Page critique? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway in December!


Twitter-sized bite:


.@Ava_Jae talks wordiness, adding early tension, and more in the 29th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

On the Endless Temptation to Compare

Photo credit: ashleeappendicitius on Flickr
The closer we get to December, the more I've been preparing myself for list season. You know, those end-of-year lists that talk about the "best" or "most underrated" or "most memorable" etc. etc. books across various categories. The YA world has a ton of them.

Every year up until now, I've seen authors remind themselves and others not to pay much attention to list season. There are often tweets about how not getting picked for a list doesn't mean your book is bad, or unmemorable, or doomed to failure or whatever—the truth is, a lot of really great books get left off lists every year.

Of course, this is the first year where that advice actually will apply to me.

In a way it's interesting—we writers have to remind ourselves not to compare ourselves to others all the time even before we get published or agented. We have to remember that one person's writing speed isn't our own, that just because someone got published at sixteen doesn't mean you suck because you didn't, that not being able to "win" NaNoWriMo doesn't make you lesser than those who do, that not making that pitch contest, or getting a pitch request or, or, or, or—

You get the idea. Now that I am published, however, there's a whole new list of things where I have to remind myself not to compare. Advances, number of contracted books, bestseller lists, review averages on Goodreads and Amazon and Barnes & Noble, sales ranks on the latter two, royalties, marketing budgets, shelf and endcap and table placement, presence in stores, features on big websites, starred and professional reviews, tours and conference appearances, marketing budgets, publishers—the temptation to compare and avenues to do so are truly endless.

But sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves of what we have accomplished. Of where we have gotten recognition. Because while it's super easy to forget, when you sit down and make a list or at least give yourself time to consider it, it really can be all the encouragement you need to tell the side of you that wants to compare to be quiet and feel awesome about things you should feel proud about.

So here's my quick book and writing-related list for 2016:

  • Saw my debut face-out at B&N
  • Did a mini-tour and spoke at an SCBWI conference like a pro
  • Was featured as a local author at two B&Ns during B-Fest where I sat at a table with a stack of my books and hand sold my debut
  • Sold my debut's two sequels, which will be published in Fall 2017 and 2018
  • Wrote two new manuscripts and am nearly done with my third
  • And, most recently: Beyond the Red made Buzzfeed's "Ultimate YA Book Gift Guide for 2016" (!!!!)

For my writing and book stuff, at least, 2016's been a good year so far—something I'll be reminding myself of every time the temptation to compare arises. 

Now I want to hear from you: what writing-related things have you accomplished this year? What are you proud of?

Twitter-sized bites:

Feeling tempted to compare yourself to other writers? Author @Ava_Jae blogs on the endless temptation to compare. (Click to tweet
What writing things have you accomplished this year? What are you proud of? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #29!

Photo credit: Sugar Daze on Flickr
Quick Thanksgiving post to announce the winner of the twenty-ninth fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the twenty-ninth winner is…



ANDREA SMITH!



Yay! Congratulations, Andrea!

Thanks again to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in December (December!!), so keep an eye out! And Happy Thanksgiving, US friends!

Book Review: GEMINA by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Photo credit: Goodreads
Ho-lee shit. This book. Where do I even start with how incredibly, mind-blowing-ly amazing Gemina was?

I guess I'll start where I always do—the Goodreads summary:

"Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed. 
The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault. 
Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy's most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion. 
When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station's wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands. 
But relax. They've totally got this. They hope. 
Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless."

Much of Illuminae was about trying to survive so that the passengers could make it to the space station/wormhole guardian Heimdall. Gemina picks up where Illuminae left off—except from the perspective of some of the people at Heimdall. Our main protagonists are Hanna and Nik; Hanna is the rich daughter of Heimdall's commander and Nik is part of a gang known as the House of Knives. Two very different people with very different social circles, though that doesn't stop Nik from flirting mercilessly with Hanna, and neither does the fact she has a boyfriend.

Of course, those everyday details become pretty irrelevant when everything goes to hell.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Gemina when I picked it up—mostly because I pre-ordered it after reading Illuminae and didn't read anything about what it was about (since, you know, I knew I was reading it no matter what). What I did expect was what I'd gotten from Illuminae: loads of action and twists, a very high body count, and edge-of-your-seat type pacing. Also probably something about Heimdall.

Gemina is all of that and more.

There are very few books that make me exclaim out loud, and Gemina can take the crown on "book I swore out loud the most while reading." It's hard for me to say too much without spoiling, so what I'll say is this: I ripped through the pages like nothing else (except Illuminae), the sequel absolutely lived up to the incredible first book, and I need the final book of the trilogy yesterday. Basically, I intend to continue to tell people to read it or else.


Diversity note: Of the main cast of characters there isn't a ton—both Hanna and Nik (our protagonists) are white, cishet, able-bodied, etc. One of the major non-protagonist characters, however is disabled (uses a wheelchair and needs an oxygen mask 24/7), which was good to see. If there's anything I have to request out of book three it's that we see more diversity rep with the protagonists, please!


Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️to GEMINA by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman. Is this action-packed, twisty sequel on your TBR? (Click to tweet
Looking for a twisted, mind-blowing YA Sci-Fi? Check out GEMINA by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. (Click to tweet)
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