Book Review: TRUST ME, I'M LYING by Mary Elizabeth Summer

Photo credit: Goodreads
One of my favorite movies is Catch Me If You Can. Maybe because I just really love smart people, but the story of a con artist—especially a young one—was fascinating to me then and is now. So saying that, it's kind of a tragedy that it took me so long to get to Mary Elizabeth Summer's Trust Me, I'm Lying, which is, in fact, about the daughter of a con artist who has picked up the tools of the trade herself. 

Before I go into how much I enjoyed this book, here is the Goodreads summary:

"Julep Dupree tells lies. A lot of them. She’s a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at Chicago’s swanky St. Agatha High, where her father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, sends her to so she can learn to mingle with the upper crust. For extra spending money Julep doesn’t rely on her dad—she runs petty scams for her classmates while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average. 
But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and her father gone, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, and her loyal hacker sidekick, Sam, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. With everything she has at stake, Julep’s in way over her head . . . but that’s not going to stop her from using every trick in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her. Because that would be criminal."

Trust Me, I'm Lying checked off all the things I could have wanted in a book about a con artist: smart protagonist who cleverly works through problems, high stakes, and immediate and pervasive conflict. Julep was a really fun protagonist to read about—she's witty, sharp, independent and determined. I loved seeing her work her way through the clues to find her dad while hiding her parentless status at school and trying to make ends meet. I was, however, a little disappointed that she was completely oblivious of Sam's crush on her (not really spoiler—it's obvious early on) because how did she not notice? But that wasn't a major issue and didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book.

And then the twists! There were quite a few that I honestly didn't see coming, and I loved how the book kept me guessing the whole time. What happened to Julep's dad? Who is coming after them? Who can she trust? Combined with Julep working her way through dangerous situations and the implied ticking clock of her missing father, I was engaged from beginning to end.

Overall I'm giving 4.5/5 stars, I've added the sequel, Trust Me, I'm Trouble to my TBR, and I recommend it for a fun, clever read.

Diversity note: There wasn't much, although Sam (Julep's best friend) is Black. I hear there's major bisexual rep in book two, however, so I'll definitely be checking that out. :)


Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 4.5/5 stars to Mary Elizabeth Summer's TRUST ME, I'M LYING. Is this smart con artist YA on your TBR? (Click to tweet
Like smart protagonists, clever plots, and lots of twists and turns? Check out TRUST ME, I'M LYING. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Your Favorite Posts

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Short post today! So as I've recently hit the 1,000 blog post milestone (for which a giveaway is still running, by the way), I thought now was as good a time as ever to take stock of what you guys have enjoyed and would like to see more of.

My blog posts generally fall into one of many categories: book reviews, how to, writing life, writing tips, character development, social media, editing, publishing, and miscellaneous. Both because I'm curious and because I'd like to gear future posts toward what you guys would like to see most, I'd like to know: what blog posts have been your favorite (or what types of blog posts have been your favorite)? And what would you like to see more of?

Similarly, if there are any topics or questions you'd like me to cover, let me know in the comments and I'll add them to my list of possibilities. :)

Thanks!

Twitter-sized bite: 
Have a publishing or writing question you'd like answered? Author @Ava_Jae is taking blog post suggestions. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How Chronic Illness Affects My Writing

On my chronic illness and how it's affected different aspects of my writing—a collaboration with Lily Meade.


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What life factors have unexpectedly affected your writing?

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Ava_Jae shares how her chronic illness has affected her writing. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #27

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Somehow, it's the last week of September, which means the time has arrived to critique another first page here on Writability.

As per 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.

Let's go! 

Title: SAVING ERIIA'S WINDSTORM

Genre/Category: YA Fantasy

First 250 words:

"The entire throne room was filled to bursting, elves in every row, some even filling the spaces between seats and walls. The day the king banished his own daughter was not a day to miss. 
But Eriia didn’t see the elves in the seats, high above her and behind. She saw only the two thrones before her, one empty and the other with the tall, imposing figure of her father. She hadn’t meant to hurt anyone, she really didn’t. She had just wanted to prove to her father that she was good enough, so she wove a spell to light a candle, something Ileon had been doing since he was five. Now he was eleven and could make fire into shapes, dancing dragons and flowers and things Eriia couldn’t even name, and she was nine and set the Hanging Castle on fire, because she had no control. 
'Eriia,' her father’s voice boomed. He wouldn’t even call her a princess anymore. 'You’ve become quite the spectacle to this family.'
'Father, I—' she tried to say, but King Cepheus held up a hand and a frown. 
'You destroyed part of the castle. You’re lucky no one was hurt, but our poor Queen is sick in bed from the smoke. Do you realize what you’ve done?'
'Father, I’m—'
'You’ve always been a menace, causing trouble since you were young.'
Hot tears welled up in Eriia’s eyes. She hadn’t meant to make trouble. Trouble just always found her. 
'Where’s mother?' Eriia looked up at her father, 'Where’s mama? Does she know?'"

Awww. This is sad. :( Okay, interesting opening with nice details but I'm sensing this is a prologue. It's hard to say how necessary a prologue is without looking at the first couple chapters, but given that this is when Eriia is nine and this is a YA, I'm assuming this is just background information on how she got banished. While I understand the urge to start there, as I imagine a princess getting banished from her kingdom is a pretty big deal, I suspect it'd probably still be better to start closer to the actual inciting incident, whatever that is, and fill in this background information either woven into the text, or through a flashback or something, or both.

It's not badly written or anything (far from it!), but in terms of plot and tendencies I've seen with many, many prologues, that'd be my guess.

On a different note, I'd also like to see more description—the throne room is filled to bursting, but what does it look like? She sees the thrones—what do they look like? I was having a bit of trouble picturing the room where the scene takes place.

Now for the in-line notes!

"The entire throne room was filled to bursting, elves in every row, some even filling the spaces between seats and walls. The day the king banished his own daughter was not a day to miss. Nice.
But Eriia didn’t see the elves in the seats, high above her and behind. She saw only the two thrones before her, one empty and the other with the tall, imposing figure of her father. She hadn’t meant to hurt anyone, she really didn’t. She had just wanted to prove to her father that she was good enough, so she wove a spell to light a candle, something Ileon had been doing since he was five. This is a great detail and gives us some nice, subtle world building and tells us she has a brother (or I'm assuming, anyway). Now he was eleven and could make fire into shapes, dancing dragons and flowers and things Eriia couldn’t even name,. 
and sShe was nine and set the Hanging Castle on fire, because she had no control. Moved this down a line to give it more punch. :)
'Eriia,' her father’s voice boomed. He wouldn’t even call her a princess anymore. This is also a great detail to bring attention to. 'You’ve become quite the spectacle to this family.'
'Father, I—' she tried to say, but King Cepheus held up a hand and a frowned. Adjusted both because we don't need the dialogue tag (we know she's speaking because "Father") and also "a frown" sounds like "he held up a frown" which is not what you meant. :)
'You destroyed part of the castle. You’re lucky no one was hurt, but our poor Queen is sick in bed from the smoke. Do you realize what you’ve done?'
I recommend inserting some of Eriia's emotions and thoughts in here. We have her external responses (dialogue) but until two lines from here we don't really get any internal reactions at all, and I think they'd help. This must be a really emotional scene for her, so where are her emotions? 'Father, I’m—'
'You’ve always been a menace, causing trouble since you were young.'
Hot tears welled up in Eriia’s eyes. She hadn’t meant to make trouble. Trouble just always found her. This is a great paragraph and makes me sad, which is good because I'm connecting emotionally with your protagonist.
'Where’s mother?' Eriia looked up at her father, 'Where’s mama? Does she know?'"

Overall, the writing is really well done. There's more I'd like to see, like I mentioned (description, internal emotions and thoughts), but what's there is nicely polished and I only felt like it needed a few tweaks. If I saw this in the slush, I'd keep reading.

So all in all, while I'm not convinced it's starting in the right place and I think it could use more embellishing, this is a really solid start. Nicely done, Magdalyn!

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

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


Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks prologues, description, internal emotion and more in the 27th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

On Writing the YA Voice

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It's no secret that nailing a great voice is absolutely essential to YA. Whether lyrical or quirky, casual or full of gorgeous imagery, voice can make or break the reception of a manuscript.

An issue I frequently see with unpublished YA manuscripts is the attempt to make a voice sound YA is there, but it falls short and ends up sounding like an adult who is trying to sound like a teen (I'm sure you've all seen this at some point; it's noticeable). I understand why this happens—getting the voice right can be especially challenging in why—so today I'm sharing some tips on getting the YA voice to sound authentically teen.

  • Read (a lot) of voice-y YA. There's a reason it's essential to read what you write—and this is a big part of it. The best way to get a sense of voice in a category is to read—a lot. A while ago I asked Twitter for recommendations for YA with especially good teen voices, and this is what they came up with:

  • Listen to teens (and keep listening). TV shows and movies can help, but even better is listening to actual teens in your life, because they'll be way more up to date with how teens actually speak today. (Remember, it often takes over two years to make a movie.) Don't have any teens in your life? Go to your local mall, or park, etc. and listen to people speaking around you.

  • Don't rely on outdated clich├ęs or stereotypes. Teens don't really text like "R U going tonite? C U l8r!" anymore. I'm not entirely convinced most teens ever did, but now in the age of autocorrect, it takes a lot of extra effort to text like that and it's lost its cool shine, so most don't. That's just one example, but basically, pay attention to the changing world and don't rely on stereotypes.

  • Pay attention to word choice. Remember to ask not only "are these words a teen would use" but "are these words this particular teen would use?" An art student might know that bike is cerulean blue, but one less oriented in the arts probably would just say blue (or bright blue, or intensely blue, but blue nevertheless).

So those are just a couple tips on getting YA voices right. What would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggling to get the voice right in your YA? Author @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #27!

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Quick pre-post post to announce the winner of the twenty-seventh fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the twenty-seventh winner is…



MAGDALYN ANN!



Yay! Congratulations, Magdalyn!

Thank you again to all you wonderful entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in October, so keep an eye out! :)

1,000 Blog Posts and Counting

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Yesterday I published Writability's 1,000th blog post, which happened to be, somewhat perfectly, a vlog about getting traditionally published. When I first began blogging almost five and a half years ago, I was petrified and had pretty low expectations. I honestly wasn't sure I'd come up with enough material to blog for a year, let alone ever make it here.

It's amazing and I'm so glad I took that step and hit post.

A lot has happened in five and a half years:

  • I've written ten manuscripts.
  • Overcame my photo-on-the-internet phobia. 
  • Hit a bunch of blogging milestones. 
  • Switched majors from Film/Digital Media to English.
  • Took a year off of college.
  • Got an agent. 
  • Began (remote) interning in the industry.
  • Began vlogging. 
  • Went to my first writers' conference.
  • Got a book deal. 
  • Saw my debut published. 
  • Presented at two conferences. 
  • Graduated college.
  • Began freelance editing.
  • Reached 5,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel. 
  • Got a book deal for two sequels.

Writing out that list honestly made me kind of emotional. It's so easy to forget the steps you've taken and milestones you've hit along the way. When I first began blogging I didn't dare to hope half of those things would happen—and I certainly didn't imagine many of the others. 

I started this blog figuring if it helped one person, it would be worth it. Now, five and a half years later, I have more readers than I ever imagined making it worth it every day. 

Thank you all for reading—and here's to another 1,000 posts. 

To celebrate, I'm giving away a signed copy of my debut, Beyond the Red, along with signed swag (US only). You have until the end of the month to enter. Good luck! :)

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Vlog: How to Get a Book Deal

Last week I shared the simplified steps to getting an agent, and this week I'm moving on to the next milestone toward traditional publication: getting a book deal.


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Twitter-sized bite:

Want to get a book deal but not sure where to start? Author @Ava_Jae continues her how to vlog series. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Do You Plan to Participate in NaNoWriMo This Year?

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So we've flown past the September halfway mark, which means October is on its way. This means, of course, that even though it's a month and a half away, I've been thinking about NaNoWriMo.

I've known for a couple months now that if I'm able to, I plan to participate. I have a project I'm really excited about that I already fully plotted (I've been calling it #MagicMurderMayhem on Twitter), but I haven't had a chance to draft yet because I've been too busy with Into the Black drafting and revising, which takes precedent for obvious reasons. My goal, then, has been to get ITB through two CP/beta rounds before sending it off to my agent, and in order to participate in NaNo, the deadline I set for myself is November 1st.

So far things are going well—I blasted through the first CP round and finished my revisions quickly enough to send the manuscript earlier than expected to round two. But given that this second round has way more readers than the first, I'm expecting those revisions will take me longer.

Thus, I still don't know if I'll be participating in NaNoWriMo this year—it depends on a lot of things, like when I get notes from everyone back, how long it takes me to implement those notes, and how much energy I'll have left to jump right into a new manuscript. I'm hopeful, though, because I've been dying to draft #MagicMurderMayhem since I finished plotting it a couple months back. So we'll see. :)

I'm curious, however, about how many of you plan to or are thinking about participating, and I think it'd be a fun discussion.

So let's discuss! Do you plan to participate or are you thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are you thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #27!

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I was pretty stunned to realize this week we're already halfway through September (!!!), which means October is almost here, which means NaNoWriMo is nearing and, happily, it's time for the twenty-seventh Fixing the First Page feature!

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a public (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.

Rules!

  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Thursday, September 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!


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5 (More) Ways to Support Your Favorite Authors

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NOTE: Sometimes, when you write nearly 1,000 blog posts, you forget you already (re-)covered a topic. Realized this morning this is actually the second time this year I've re-covered this topic, but there are still a couple new suggestions in this one. Consider the rest a reminder. ;) 

So way back in 2013, I wrote a 5 Ways to Support Your Favorite Authors post. Since then, I've learned lots more about ways to support authors whose books you enjoy, so today I thought I'd share more. In no particular order:

  1. Pre-order their books. Confession: I did not realize just how important pre-orders were until after I got my book deal and saw other authors talking about it. As it turns out, pre-orders are really important—they help determine print runs, how much bookstores will order, best seller lists, and so much more. Lisa Schroeder wrote a really great post, "The power of the pre-order," which I recommend if you're curious about the details.

    Long story short, if you plan to buy a book and are able to pre-order, it helps authors a ton. :)

  2. Cross-post your reviews. I see this all the time: a book will have hundreds of reviews on Goodreads, then only a handful on Amazon and even less on B&N. But reviews on consumer websites help a lot, especially on Amazon where books are ranked differently after they hit the 50 review milestone, largely most consumers aren't on Goodreads and many still like to see reviews before they purchase a book.

    Related to this, reviews don't have to be long: even a sentence can be useful and bump those review numbers. So consider this your friendly reminder to cross-post your reviews on retailer sites—which reminds me, it's been a while since I've done a cross-post check on my reviews...

  3. Suggest their books to your local library. I'm still trying to figure out how to do this at my local library, but this is a thing that helps a lot! Library check outs are totally helpful for authors, both because publishers see library purchases and because it can be great exposure for a book. So if your local library doesn't have some of your favorites—suggest them! Bonus: this is free. :)

  4. Don't wait until the series is over to buy. I get why this happens—binge reading is a fun thing and waiting for a sequel when you're in the middle of a series can be painful. But unfortunately, this buying habit has been known to get series cancelled mid-series. Remember that a dip in sales in the middle of a series, even if it's just because many readers are waiting for the last book to release, can spell doom for a series—so make sure you buy books in your favorites series as it publishes.

  5. Tweet/Instagram/Snap/Tumbl their books. Word of mouth works wonders for books, and social media can especially boost visibility. Whether it's an Instagram pic, a post on tumblr or just a tweet about books you're enjoying, even the little things can be very helpful. I can't tell you how many books I've discovered solely thanks to social media—which is pretty darn awesome.

So those are five (more) quick ways to help your favorite authors! What tips would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to effectively support your favorite authors? @Ava_Jae shares 5 (more) ways to do so. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Get an Agent

Last week I shared the simplified steps to writing a book, and this week I'm moving on to the next milestone toward traditional publication: getting a literary agent.


RELATED LINKS: 


Twitter-sized bite:
Want to get an agent but not sure where to start? Author @Ava_Jae vlogs the simplified steps to signing w/ an agent. (Click to tweet)

Writability's First Meet Your CP Event!

As I often talk about the importance of critique partners, one very common question I get is where to find them. While I've done two separate posts on where to find those elusive CPs, I've been debating a third option for a while and decided I'm just gonna go for it.

So. I know many of you are looking for critique partners and now that I have a platform that can reach lots of people, I'd like to help by hosting Writability's first ever critique partner match event, Meet Your CP!

So, basically, if you're looking for a critique partner, or will be soon, follow these steps:

  1. Fill out the following template and post it in the comments:

    Genre(s)/Category(ies): [First, the category and genre of the MS you want critiqued, then what category/genres you usually write in and are willing to critique. i.e.: YA Science Fiction, MG Contemporary, Adult Fantasy, etc.]

    Elevator pitch: [A short, usually one sentence pitch. i.e.: An uprising on a distant, alien planet threatens the reign of a teen, alien queen.]

    First paragraph: [Pretty self-explanatory.]


    What you're looking for with a CP: [Long term CP? Just need a CP for this project? How often do you anticipate trading? etc.]

    Your writing background: [Is this your first manuscript? Fifth? Are you agented/unagented? Any relevant info can go here.]

    Contact info: [E-mail, Twitter handle, whatever]

  2. Browse the comments and see if there's anyone you'd potentially be interested in working with. If so, contact them!

  3. Do a critique partner trial. Trade a sample (I usually did first chapter) and while you're critiquing, think about whether your trial partner's writing style/story would be a good fit for you. When you get their critique back, look over the notes, and consider whether their critiquing style works well for you. If yes, yay! If not, that's totally fine too—you are both 100% allowed to say, "Thanks for your feedback! I don't think we're going to be a good fit, but I appreciate your input and wish you all the best." No hard feelings, no questions asked—not all CP trials work and that's totally okay. :)

So that's it! Feel free to contact multiple people if you'd like—both because CP trials don't always work out, and because it's good to have multiple critique partners. I recommend having 2-3 CPs. I like having odd numbers myself, that way there's always a tie-breaker if/when your CPs disagree. 

Good luck and have fun!

Twitter-sized bite:
Looking for a critique partner? Now you can find one at @Ava_Jae's first Meet Your CP event. (Click to tweet)

On Identity and Visibility

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When I first transferred to the university where I'd later complete my Bachelor's degree, I registered with the student disability center.

Though this was the third college I'd attended, it was the first time I registered the campus center. But I knew I would need it, if only to get permission to use my iPad in all of my classes, regardless of class policy, because taking notes by hand I'd already learned had become too painful, thanks to rheumatoid arthritis.

Even as I was registered as a disabled student on campus, though, I still hesitated to call myself disabled.

I knew, logically, I was and am, but when you have a chronic illness, some days it doesn't feel like you're disabled enough to really say you're disabled. On days when I'm not flaring, I appear, for all intents and purposes, able-bodied. Sure, I can't write by hand and it's ridiculously easy to make my hand hurt, and sure, I learned the hard way I can't jog if I value my ability to walk and I can't stand or walk for prolonged periods anymore, but most of the time I look fine. I can walk without mobility aids, and I get through the day with more pain than most, yes, but I've gotten good at hiding it and being in low amounts of pain throughout the day has become normal for me.

So I hesitated. I rationalized that I don't feel disabled most of the time—which, to be honest, is only half-true. More like I didn't feel disabled when I chose not to think about the things I couldn't do anymore: jog, participate in my favorite sport (taekwondo), help support myself through a part-time job I'm good at (waitressing), write by hand, etc. More like a part of me felt as though it was somehow disingenuous to say that I'm disabled because...I don't know? What's the bar for "disabled enough"?

(Ignoring, of course, the flare that put my whole left arm out of commission for a week because moving it at all was excruciating. Ignoring, the multiple flares that left me limping to class as my knee swelled up under my jeans, and that time I presented my final in so much pain I was gritting my teeth. Ignoring, of course, the bad days, because they were rare and not all the time.)

Which was illogical—I knew that, and I certainly didn't hold anyone else to that standard when they said they were disabled. And yet, I couldn't stop myself from hesitating when I said the words myself.

Then August happened, and I had the worst health month of my life: three flares in three weeks in a row. Three times when for multiple days I felt like I was running on half my energy levels or less. Three times when I fought full-body exhaustion on top of increased pain, for multiple days at a time.

Then, last week, my family and I went to the zoo. It was a fun trip, and for the first half of the day or so I was fine. A little tired from a quick flare the night before, but all in all I felt okay.

And then my knee started hurting. This surprised me, because I haven't had my knee bother me in probably almost a year. But it was familiar, and I didn't think too much about it. I asked my family if we could sit, and we did for five minutes or so, and then I felt fine and we kept going.

And then my knee hurt again, and my hips joined the chorus. Both of them. This was completely new—I'd had issues with my hips before, but only when I was sitting. But now I was definitely flaring and as I walked, the pain and stiffness got worse. Much worse.

I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore it for a while. I was determined to enjoy myself and tried to distract my brain by focusing on the animals. I told myself I was out doing something fun and everything was fine and I didn't want to cut our day short. Besides, I reasoned, we were almost done. I could get through the last bit.

It wasn't long after that I realized the pain was distracting me from what we were seeing. That I could no longer focus on having a good time because my body hurt too much. That every step was a battle and for the first time in my life I wished I had a wheelchair.

That was scary. And sobering. And when I finally broke down and admitted to my family I needed to sit down because I couldn't walk the rest of the way without a break, a thought hit me very clearly: I really am disabled.

Because my chronic illness is largely invisible, I've struggled with how to incorporate it into my identity. Like so many things, it can feel strange to say "this is part of who I am" when other people can't see it. Visibility absolutely makes a difference and changes how the world interacts with you, but plenty goes on beneath the surface that others can't see, and it's one of the many reasons why people are to be believed when they say, "This is who I am."

Twitter-sized bite: 
Author @Ava_Jae shares a personal post on chronic illness, invisibility, and identity. (Click to tweet)

On Supporting Diversity

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr
So as sometimes happens when something negative goes viral, bookish Twitter took action on Monday and responded to an anti-diversity rant that had gone up the night before with a powerful message—that we as a community support diverse narratives.

It began with an author asking people to raise their voices and support diversity and the marginalized in the process. The author later asked to become anonymous and people not connect them to the hashtag anymore, because the backlash against the positive hashtag that came out of it unfortunately brought loads of racists and hateful people into their mentions—another problem all on its own. The hashtag began as #IStandForDiversity, but later transitioned to #ISupportDiversity because the first hashtag was unintentional ableist, but important tweets were shared at both, so I'm going to share some here.













As Paul and Heidi said, one of the best ways to really support diverse books and marginalized authors is to buy books and request them at the library. So, of course, here are a couple book recommendation threads.


And, in conclusion:


So there you have it. Support with your voices, and more importantly with your bought and requested books. Because representation is so, so important and we're just getting started. 

Vlog: How to Write a Book

YouTube asked, I answered. Today I'm vlogging about the (simplified) steps to writing a book.



RELATED LINKS: 


Twitter-sized bite:
Want to write a book but not sure where to start? Author @Ava_Jae vlogs about the simplified steps to writing a book. (Click to tweet)

On (Not) Closing the Skill Gap

Photo credit: Rsms
Today I'm thinking about writing and how there's always more to learn. How there's a perception gap between the words that flow on the page when you're first drafting and the quality of words you want on the page as you go.

I'm thinking about the e-mails and comments I get about writers, especially new writers, paralyzed by their own perceived skill level. How they recognize that the words they're putting on the page aren't as good as they imagined—and how that realization can be paralyzing.

I'm thinking about how sometimes, it doesn't matter what words you put on the page, because they always feel not right. Not good. Not even remotely worth being proud of.

The truth is, this happens to everyone. With new writers, it often happens because the words they're writing don't come close to matching up the words they're reading, and they recognize that gap between what is publishable and what is not. With experienced writers it happens too, because after working on polished manuscripts for so long, it can be really, really hard to go back to those raw, uncut first draft words. It can be hard to remember those polished manuscripts didn't start off polished—it can feel like going back to step one.

It can also feel like taking the steps necessary to get to the end result is impossible.

The thing is, closing the skill gap completely is impossible—and it should be. Because once the gap is closed, once there isn't better writing to strive for, once there's no reason to push yourself because the words are good enough, you've stopped learning. You've plateaued.

Artists and creative types—and yes, that means writers—should never stop learning. It's kind of a great thing about art—you can't even reach a place where you have nothing more to learn, nothing new to try, no real way to push yourself. It means you can keep pushing harder, keep getting better, keep watching your art evolve and evolve and evolve. And it's wonderful—but some days, it's also hard.

This post isn't really a cure for anything, but I do want to say on those days you're struggling, the best thing you can do is keep getting words down. Keep reminding yourself that, in a way, it's a good thing that you recognize your writing isn't great from the get-go—because it means you recognize how you could continue to improve and push yourself. Because it means when time comes to revise, you'll be ready to go.

You'll never close the skill gap, not really. But you should never want to, either—because there will always be room for you to explore and grow and further develop your skills as a writer. And as hard as it is, it's good, too.

So get out there and keep writing.

Have you ever experienced the skill gap?

Twitter-sized bite:
On the gap between your writing and what you want it to be. (Click to tweet)

Fall 2016 YA Books to Look Out For

So today is my first post of September 2016 and Fall 2016 YA books are IMMINENT. It's very exciting, because this bookish season is looking amazing and the only sad thing about it is I've run out of bookish gift cards but anyway. BOOKS.

In honor of September and kicking off some YA awesomeness, here are ten Fall 2016 YA books to look out for, ordered by release date.



Photo credit: Goodreads

As I Descended by Robin Talley
September 6

As Talley put it, this is a queer Macbeth retelling, and I've already heard is super creepy and murdery and it sounds awesome. Even better—it'll be out next week. Also, that cover is gorgeous.


Photo credit: Goodreads

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
September 6

I've been very curious about this one, as we don't exactly have a whole lot of books out there with masculine-leaning AFAB protagonists. People who have read it so far have said there's a lot of nuanced gender identity stuff, so this is one to look out for!


Photo credit: Goodreads

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
September 8

Comic with a girl-crushing-on-girl protag with a superhero lineage but no superpowers of her own? Who accidentally ends up the intern of a supervillain? SIGN ME UP. This book looks like a ton of fun and I definitely want to check it out when it releases soon!



Photo credit: Goodreads

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
September 27

CROOKED KINGDOM IS ALMOST HERE! Six of Crows was definitely one of my favorite reads last year, and I'm super psyched to see how the duology ends. Can't wait to see more of the crew and get some closure on this amazing series.



Photo credit: Goodreads

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
October 4

This book sounds so great! Boy's girlfriend disappears, and the secrets he's holding are connected to her disappearance, and it's dark and twisty and there's a coming out narrative involved and I need.



Photo credit: Goodreads

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
October 4

This book has a lot of things you don't see all that often—two POC leads in a romance (a Latina protag and South East Asian love interest), some trans boy representation, and plus it's promising a magical realism spin with multicultural elements. I'm really excited about this book, and the #ownvoices representation involved (the author is Latina) and all in all, definitely looking forward to this one.



Photo credit: Goodreads

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
October 18

So this one's pretty obvious—Illuminae is one of my favorite reads of the year (and I'm counting it for this year, as technically I finished reading it right after New Years). I devoured that monster-sized book in like two days and am dying to see what happens next. I've been bracing myself for the inevitable body count and look forward to diving into the series again!



Photo credit: Goodreads

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith
October 25

So I've been pretty psyched about this book since it was first announced because a dark, time-travel revenge fantasy that takes place in Japan sounds awesome. Then I learned the protagonist is bi and it got great reviews from trusted readers, including in-community readers, so now I'm extra excited. I'm definitely looking forward to Lindsay Smith's latest!



Photo credit: Goodreads

Timekeeper by Tara Sim
November 1

I've mentioned my excitement for Timekeeper on this blog several times and now it's almost here! Victorian London! Clock mechanic boy who alters time and falls for a clock spirit boy! I actually have an ARC now and will read as soon as I can because need.




Photo credit: Goodreads

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
November 22

Finally, I am so psyched for this fantasy—princess is engaged to handsome prince and falls for his sister. Plus magic and assassination and endangered kingdoms in the hands of princesses and this book sounds truly fantastic.


So that's just a sample of books to look out for this fall! What Fall 2016 YA are you looking forward to?

Twitter-sized bite:
Check out 10 Fall YA '16 books to look out for + a discussion—what Fall YA books are you excited for? (Click to tweet)
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