Anna Michels' 26 Kisses

Hi all! Today I'm participating in The Book Belle's 2016 Contemporary Scavenger Hunt and I'm thrilled to treat you to an excerpt of Anna Michel's 26 Kisses.

What is 26 Kisses, you ask? Well, it's a contemporary YA novel releasing on May 24, 2016 from Simon Pulse. Here's the gist, and allow me to say, I think contemporary lovers will eat this up

Breaking up with her boyfriend is not how Veda planned on starting her summer. When Mark makes it clear that it’s over between them, Veda is heartbroken and humiliated—but, more importantly, she’s inspired. And so she sets out on the love quest of a lifetime: use the summer to forget about Mark, move on, and move up. All she has to do is kiss twenty-six boys with twenty-six different names—one for each letter of the alphabet.

From the top of the Ferris wheel at her hometown carnival to the sandy dunes of Lake Michigan, Veda takes every opportunity she can to add kisses (and boys) to her list, and soon the breakup doesn’t sting quite as much. But just when Veda thinks she has the whole kissing thing figured out, she meets someone who turns her world upside down.

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Anna Michels’s debut is the story of one girl who realizes that moving on from the supposed love of your life means taking a chance—and having the courage to love again.

Right? So, without further ado, the excerpt!

~

Chapter One

Seth loved me first.

And maybe it was wrong of me, but I think I really did believe that, deep down, he would always love me best. Even when I started dating someone else, even as school and life and other friends got in the way, for some reason I assumed that because of everything that had happened between us, I would always come first. But now, as we’re ducking through the crowd lining the street for the Dune Days parade, I see him look at Melinda the way he used to look at me. That look where his eyes go soft and his jaw relaxes, where the tension that's usually wound up inside him like a spring driving him forward, always on to the next thing, the next adventure, just...evaporates. The look that always made me pull away from him and turn my back because it was too intense. He gives her that look, and instead of being happy for him, all I can think is Oh, shit. Because if my two best friends hook up this summer, where does that leave me?

A microsecond later, Seth pulls himself together and takes a giant bite out of his churro, sending a cloud of powdered sugar floating into the air.

"Come on," he says over his shoulder, plunging straight into the thickest part of the crowd packing the street for the parade, his trademark dark clothes making him stand out from the tourists dressed in brightly colored t-shirts and hats. "We're not going to be able to see from here."

Mel hooks a finger into my belt loop as the crush of people engulfs us, and I fight the urge to shake her off, to disappear into the chaos. But Seth reaches back to grab my wrist and the three of us end up sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the curb, in a prime location to catch any freebies that might get thrown from the floats. 

"Do you want some?" Seth offers his half-eaten churro to Mel, who shakes her head and turns away in disgust. 

"Too much sugar," she says, running a hand through her short black hair, fingers tangling in her curls. 

"It's Dune Days," I say. "What's the point of life if you can't have a churro or some ice cream?" I try to keep any tinge of annoyance out of my voice—it’s none of my business if Mel has recently decided that sugar is basically poison.

She shrugs and leans back on her hands, stretching her feet out into the street, the laces of her untied Converse dragging in the dust.

From the author, Anna Michels:

When I was writing 26 Kisses, I asked myself, "If you could be seventeen again and be kissed anywhere by any guy, what would happen?" My favorite scenes in the book grew out of that question--scenes that are stuffed to the gills with the sights, sounds, and smells of summer, and the fluttery feeling you really only get with a first kiss. I loved writing 26 Kisses, and I hope you love reading it!

Bitch

The fire isn’t always red—

cool blue of every shade

more often than not. It fades

and blooms a jagged line and we all wade

in its shallows and depths.

 

Fear that I’m irreparably flawed—

that is the scorching red.

Behind me, the ghosts of the dead

make me in their image. I bled

out and I breathed in.

 

Monster or maiden fair—

a tail coils around my porcelain thigh.

A bloody heart beats under a frozen sigh

and the crowds adore, the people cry.

I am who I have always been. 

 

©Ashley Herring Blake 2015

Missing

The smell of your skin,

softer somehow, and mine

a dull glow underneath.

If I touch you, will

I disappear,

blurred by that silken

sameness?

My head, a mess of

color and never evers,

stitches you into my

world,

the threads delicate

and unbending.

I don’t remember the

day my face slid over yours—

the hours I left you behind,

a picture underwater.

But you’re still here,

always the question in my mind.

 

©Ashley Herring Blake 2015

Listening, Part II

When it comes to diversity in literature, most people have good intentions. Okay, okay, not everyone. Some people out there are simply hell-bent on being right and those people can go ahead and stop reading because I'm not talking to you. I'm talking to those of us who want to learn and continue learning even when we eff up. So, ahem, let me start again: Most people I know and encounter in the book world, in real life and through social media, want to get diversity in their books right. They believe in it. They strive for authenticity. They research and, if they're writing characters outside their own experience, they get readers with that experience to check those characters. It's part of responsible writing, especially responsible writing for teens.

Sometimes though, we screw up. I know I have. As a white girl born and raised in a middle-class, Christian environment, there is so much I wasn't aware of for so many years of my life. Until the past few years, in fact, I didn't try very hard. Back then, I wouldn't have even recognized it as not trying--it was simply my reality. Only by actively seeking to learn about people whose experiences differ from my own did I finally realize how huge my white bubble really was. So, I hope I'm different now. I hope I'm listening. I hope I can look at instances in my writing that don't live up to the standard I have now for diverse characters and take whatever steps I need to make them better, to make them real

I've recently experienced something like this with my debut novel Suffer Love. The book follows two teens, Sam and Hadley, who attempt to navigate an intense relationship in the wake of their parents' infidelities. I love these characters, but my favorite character in the book is Ajay, who's Indian-American. He's funny, snarky, compassionate, and charming. I'm proud of this character. He's fleshed-out. He feels real and he felt real to all of my readers. 

But.

There are two instances where I messed up and didn't even know it until recently. In the first, I describe his skin as caramel-colored. When I wrote it over a year and a half ago, I thought, "That's a nice descriptor. It's warm. It gives me a good visual of what he looks like and it's attractive to me." In one other instance, another secondary character describes Ajay as "a steamy Chai latte." Huh. Well. Okay. At the time, I thought, "That's cute! Exactly what this character would say about him!" This character has a crush on Ajay. She thinks he's hot. She likes him and loves Chai lattes.

But no. No, Ashley, no.

I had no idea until recently that "brown" would've been much more appropriate descriptor. I didn't know that people of color don't appreciate it when I pluck words out of my pantry to describe them. Truthfully, I don't know what it's like to be described that way, but I can imagine that one might feel demeaned and disrespected, especially considering you never hear white characters described as "flour-colored" or "skin the color of pasta." I can see how this would upset people of color and I fully admit being an ignorant player in that. While writing and revising the book, I talked to a few Indian-Americans about Ajay's vegetarianism and other cultural elements and what that looks like in America, the whys and the whens and the hows. But I didn't check these descriptors because it honestly didn't occur to me to check them. I didn't realize this was how people of color felt about this until I started listening to themListening to their experiences. I recently saw a discussion between a few people of color on Twitter about food descriptors and was like "Oooooh. Okay. I get it now." But I would never have gotten there if I hadn't take the time tap on that thread and listen. Before, I just simply didn't think about it. And truthfully, there are so many things that the white and the privileged, the straight and male and cis, don't think about. They're not bad people. They're just too comfortable, like I was. They're too used to being right because they haven't listened to other voices telling them they're wrong. Not bad person wrong. Just think a little broader wrong.

Now I want to get a little uncomfortable. And it's okay to be wrong. Being wrong is human and it's part of growth, part of change.

Maybe these examples from Suffer Love seem small, but they're not. They matter. They count. Because while they may have slipped by me and other white readers, from what I've learned, I don't think they feel small to people of color who have dealt with this kind of misrepresentation all of their lives. 

So, these descriptions of Ajay will be taken out of my manuscript for the hardcover. But "caramel" and "Chai latte" will be in the ARCs. And that's on me. I thought too narrowly, relied too heavily on what I thought I knew.

But you know what? I learned from it. Other people who've worked on my book learned from it. I'm listening a little harder now. Being a little more careful. Vetting certain scenes a little more thoroughly. As more and more writers attempt to write outside of their own experience, there are going to be mess ups. Even characters and plots thoroughly researched and vetted won't be perfect, because no two experiences are the same. It's still important, at least in my opinion, to try. It's important to try again, seek a wider range of readers, when we mess it up. It's even important to acknowledge the mess up. Honestly, I'm terrified of posting this. Not only because I'm like, "Hey, look at my insensitive screw up!" but also because I'm afraid I'll never get it right. I'm even afraid I messed up this post and if I did, I want to know. 

Because I want diverse books. I need them. They excite me and give me hope and open my eyes and expand my mind. They give teens who aren't white-male-straight-cishet a home and books in which they can find themselves. I'm not trying to write more diversely because I should. But because I believe in diverse characters--a diverse world--and I want to be a part of that.

I'm still learning. I hope I never stop. There will always be more to learn, more to listen to, more ways to authentically, truthfully, respectfully write a range of characters in my books. More ways to be a good human. 

And that, I think, is the whole damn point.

 

Listening

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about diversity in middle grade and YA. This is a topic that has been on a lot of our minds lately, in our Twitter feeds and Tumblrs. Movements like We Need Diverse Books and Diversify YA and The Gay YA have worked tirelessly to open up these conversations and provide kids and teens with books in which they can find themselves. I'm a white, middle class girl living in a pretty white, middle class town right outside of Nashville, so if there's one thing I've learned about diversity--in books and in life--it's this: LISTEN.

Diversity isn't always salient. On the outside, I look like a white, straight, cis het female. I'm married to a man and have two kids. But sexuality isn't so clear cut. At least not for me. It's not something I talk about a lot, but I'm starting to. I need to. I grew up in a very white, middle class town in Georgia, and my teen years were spent in church youth groups. My college years were spent in praise bands. These were not bad experiences. They shaped me and led me to the place I am today, but I'll admit that, probably of my own volition, I was pretty close-minded for many years--to voices unlike mine, but even to my own voice. My own desires and needs and views. 

I never really tapped into this side of myself because it didn't fit with those around me. It didn't make "sense" for where I was in life, what I was doing. I didn't have anyone else who was like, "Oh, yeah, totally". And that's hard. That's alienating. That's terrifying.

What helped? Listening. Through Twitter, I've met so many people unlike myself. I've also met so many people who can say to me "Oh, yeah, totally." Listening to PoC, people who identify somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, people with disabilities, neurodiverse authors, I've not only found a home, I've been able to look at another's experience totally unlike mine and learn. I don't always need to put in my two-cents. I don't need to say to a woman of color, "Yes, and here's how I relate to that..." No. All I need to say is, "I'm listening. Your voice is heard." Because I don't know what it's like to grow up as a woman of color. I don't  know what it's like to be a Jew in America. I don't know what it's like to identify as genderqueer. That's when it's time to listen. To shut up and give voices unlike my own space, so that those who need to hear them the most--kids, teens, even adults looking for someone who can say, "Oh, yeah, totally," can find them. Because I don't appreciate white dudes butting into my conversations about feminism and telling me about their experiences as an oppressed whatever. That's when they should listen. I need my own space for that. It's no different for those who have experiences with which I can't identify.

I have a voice too, no doubt. My own story. My own struggle to find out who I am and to find those who will love me and accept me through all of it. For me, that's the beauty--the necessity--of diversity. Listening to those unlike yours to learn and support. Pressing close to those like yours to spread awareness and community. To understand, to embrace, that everyone has a voice and everyone deserves a space to speak and everyone deserves a book in which they see themselves reflected. I'm encouraged by what's happening in the book world. There's still so much to do, such a long way to go, but that's how change happens. Opening up to yourself, to others. And understanding when to speak and when to listen.

Night Walk

You puttered down the hall,

with white socks on your little feet,

to the asylum where you buttered the bread

and poured the cold milk into the tall

and vitreous glasses. A form of heat

rose from your throat when you put the red

napkins in their place on the tray; this was all

 

you had to offer. Your childhood slept

while your wiped up the crumbs, fearing

to leave such traces of those intentions

that ignited in the water that day and had crept

stealthily for years in every dress you stood wearing

in front of long mirrors. Their faith premonition,

becoming louder by the breath, now kept

 

you at home that night. Solace in the form

of a morning meal wavered like the crystal balls

you used to hide under the pillows. You released the tray

as though it held your children, using a touch warm

and humming with finality. After you sealed them in the crawl

space of their certain futures, the yellow haze

of your years came rushing like a hero, like a whiskey, like a storm.  

 

©Ashley Herring Blake

Sunday Walk

We walked between the trees on a Sunday,

the pollen falling in our hair.

We didn’t care as long as the colors

came out every year.

You loved the way things grew and I

loved how you talked about miracles,

better for your lungs than oxygen’s clear

stream.

 

I remember when Sundays grew heavy

on my skin, a southern spirit

singing some nameless dread.

I could never put my finger on it,

but I tucked it in my bed

every week, waking and wearing it, my Monday

dress. I welcomed the rain

to soothe the burn;

puddles to fill the holes dotting the streets.

That day, you said, a turbulent day

of mystic rest.

Sunday was a bitter apple and I, ravenous

at the table.

 

So this is the sea; the great distance

linking two worlds, two masses held

spinning on fire, waiting to be joined

again. These trees, the sprawling stance

of the oak and we crane our necks to spy on the leaves,

the only familiar line. 

Take your boat, let’s row to the top

in these green waters, once red.

We’ll make our own nest against the thread

of sun and moon.

We’ll fly on this Sunday, changing the grey

sky to blue with our touch. 

 

©Ashley Herring Blake 2015

Forever and Ever Amen

Your angels sing of beauty

after death

and I must say that I agree.

Your last kiss—

dry and full of years,

of words and songs and rules and tears,

full of nothing—

was a relief.

 

Forever and ever amen.

 

A slow death long coming,

a struggle for air underground.

I breathed in the dirt, the pure glow

of the unbelieving.

Nothing can replace you

and I suppose nothing should.

You were not real, you were not true,

and I was unreal inside you.

 

This is the word of the lord.

 

Your ghost stains the skies,

the earth, the skin.

It swells inside the lies

I speak each week,

the smiles I smile while something dies.

Two lives, a pressure in my head,

and a bloody heart stained bloody red.

 

Thanks be to god.

 

And you hold the world

in your nonexistent grip.

I scattered my pearls

and they gleamed in the rain,

so beautiful under all that blurry gray.

I gave you my love for a handful of dust,

and when I shook you off,

all the glory, all the rust,

my tears had long-since cracked and dried.

I smiled.

 

Forever and ever amen.

 

 

The First Year

 

You said it would be an adventure

and I agreed; a great expedition

north to the town of

 

salt-box houses haunted by Einstein’s ghost.

We emerged from our fortress

of books—my novels and your

 

theological masters—two southern

pilgrims under the mild sun of the

Jersey summer. When we got here,

 

I cried in our closet-sized living room,

moving awkwardly between the boxes

of white wedding gifts yet unwrapped,

 

the hazards of our three-day journey forgotten,

and I dissolved beneath the cardboard.

You pulled me out with sobriquets and

 

striding walks through the picturesque town

long covered over with pomp and

the elite sideways glance of the maitre de. 

 

We liked to walk. We loved the

bakery and the library, dousing ourselves

with sweet flour between the rising glass walls.

 

I gazed lustfully at the university, its

spires soaring to a heaven I would

never know. I thought how

 

sad it is, the lives we must forsake

to faithfully live our own.  Do

you remember when I told you

 

all the things I would do if I only

had wings and an open ear to hear

the words I scribble. Dreams,

 

it seem, wax and wane under the relentless

rains of the long Jersey winter; before it dried,

I stepped into a deep puddle

 

and disappeared. 

 

©Ashley Herring Blake 2015

In Which I Attempt to Suss Out a Secondary Character Through Flash Fiction

Five dollars isn’t a lot of money. Unless you’re a runaway with nail scratches up his arms and a bat-shit crazy mother who’s probably figured out that I’ve flown the chicken house by now. Five dollars is a goddamn fortune for that poor sap.

The store reeks of gasoline and day-old hot dogs. I wander up and down the aisles, letting my fingers trace over the cardboard boxes and plastic packages masking their sugary chemical deliciousness. I select a can of Mountain Dew—way cheaper than a bottle—and a bag of sunflower seeds. They’ll last me a few days. What I really want is to inhale about four packs of M&Ms, but last time that happened I puked all over my mom’s mom’s mom’s crocheted afghan and got a bloody lip for my trouble. Needless to say, bad memories.

I pile my spoils on the counter and throw a pack of mints on top. Whenever I get really hungry, a tiny green-speckled disc on my tongue sometimes tricks my brain into thinking it’s real food. The dude behind the register leans on his palms, inspecting my stuff. I glance up and startle, because he’s not checking out my meager meal, but staring at me with a mix of alarm and interest. He’s also sorta gorgeous—oceanic blue-green eyes that make me think his entire body tastes like the sea, a dark top-knot on his head coupled with, dear sweet holy lord, a beautiful beard. He’s maybe a little older than me.

“Is this all you need, man?” he asks, tapping one long finger on the soda can.

“Yup.”

“Sure about that?”

I tilt my head and catch a glimpse of myself in the cheap mirror behind him. Its surface is wavy and bordered by packs of cigarettes, but I see enough. My sandy-blond hair looks darker than normal, days of grease and actual sand for all the hell I know slicking down the strands. My cheeks sink inward like they’re trying to eat my mouth. Don’t even get me started on my eyes. Usually a coffee-with-cream brown I’ve always sorta liked, they now look like a mud puddle a dog pissed in.

My eyes sting and I look away. I slap my five-dollar bill down on the counter, focusing on my dirty half-moon fingernails. After a few long-ass seconds, he takes it and hands me an even three bucks in return.  

“You didn’t ring up the mints,” I say.

“Sure did.” He disappears for a sec to grab a plastic bag, then tosses my stuff inside. He holds it out to me, biting his lower lip and still managing to smile in a way that makes me want to simultaneously maul and make out with him.

“Fuck it,” I mumble, yanking the bag from his grip before stalking outside. I have no idea why mumbling obscenities and yanking and stalking like a toddler seem appropriate reactions right now, but they are.

The humid afternoon air is sticky in my lungs, but I feel a little more in control. I know he didn’t charge me for the mints, if he actually charged me for anything. For some reason, his kindness infuriates me. Who the hell? I’m fine. I’ve lasted five days on only ten George Washingtons and this raw fed-fucking-up-with-life feeling in my chest to drive me. I’m only a couple hundred miles away from Asheville and my aunt, whom I haven’t seen in five years and who’s the only person on God’s green Earth who probably gives two shits about me. No one helped me out when I had to drag Mom’s drunk ass into the bathroom on my fifth birthday so she could puke her gin into the toilet. No one helped me scrape up change from the floorboard of her car so I could buy some Neosporin from the CVS for the cut burned across my right eyebrow from a flying beer bottle. That was all me and I’m doing just fine.

I meander down the sidewalk and dive into the bag, my stomach rumbling for some salty seeds. Inside I find three perfectly yellow bananas and two slick green apples. The hell? When did he slip those in?

Whirling around, I stalk—yes, stalk—back inside the store. He glances up from the comic book he’s reading, slipping off his stool as I approach. I empty the bag of its fruit on the counter and turn to go, but he snags my wrist.

“Just take it, man,” he says.

“I don’t need it.”

“Yeah. You do.”

His fingers tighten gently on my wrist, thumb brushing over my skin, then all at once loosen and slip free. I feel their absence, this phantom softness that brings a weight crashing down on my shoulders.

I can’t remember the last time someone touched me in a way that wasn’t out for blood.

Suddenly my chest is way too tight and the oxygen in the store way too thin. I stumble back a couple steps and Top Knot circles around the counter. He reaches out a hand, circling it around my arm to steady me. He doesn’t say a word. Just keeps his arm there for a few seconds while I heave and gulp air like a…well, like a runaway who’s scared shitless.

After a few minutes, he puts the fruit back in my bag and presses it to my chest. I grip it and he squeezes my shoulder. Tears stack up in my eyes, but they don’t fall. I don’t let them.

But I do take the bag.

 

 

 

10 Alternative Titles to SUFFER LOVE

There's a fun blog/Twitter swap in which we select 10 random phrases from our manuscript by scrolling through blindly and letting the cursor do its magic. I've done one of these with 8 titles, so I've added 2 more. I love this game. Cracks. Me. Up. I've been tagged by my pal K. E. Ormsbee, who is kind and witty and a wiz with the words. Her middle grade debut, THE WATER AND THE WILD drops from Chronicle Books in April of 2015 AND she's got a YA, THE LUCKY FEW coming in 2016. She is my favorite redhead I've never met IRL. Here are the results of that randomness, from Suffer Love.

1. Blood Roaring Through My Ears

2. When I Get Them Clean Enough

3. I'm Pretty Damn Desperate

4. Hold On and Run Like Hell

5. Jesus Christ Smoking Weed on His Neck.

6. Consider Yourself a Walking Catalytic Event

7. Softly, and Just Once

8. I Point to the Vacuum

9. The Toes Are Ragged

10. Everyone is Beautiful and Dazzling and Glittery

 

Well now. 

I don't know who I'm tagging. TBA. 

 

Favorite Words, Covers, and Characters of 2014

"Want to watch such-and-such with me?" Husband asks.

"Sure."

"You're not watching."

"Sure, I am."

"No, you're reading."

"I am not."

"Then what's that you're holding that's covering half your face?"

"A blanket."

"Not very cozy."

"Says you."

 

And so it goes. I'll be the first to admit, I can get a little single-minded when it comes to books. I'd rather read than do almost anything. I love the smell. I love the covers. I love the feel of the paper between my fingers and the velvety texture of the bindings. I love the worlds inside and the authors who made up those worlds and made them come alive with words. I love staring at my books all lined up alphabetically on my bookshelf.

To celebrate my book nerdiness, and, well, because I'm a book nerd, I've complied a list of my favorite reads of 2014. Note, these are books I read in 2014, not necessarily that released. 

Without further ado.

 

Favorite Fantasy/Sci-Fi: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

This is probably not a huge surprise. Maggie Stiefvater is a queen of fantasy and, in my very humble opinion, what sets her apart are her characters. Yes, she has an unparalleled imagination, weaves truth and myth and fiction masterfully, but her characters are unmatched in their depth and raw emotion. One word: Ronan.

 

Favorite IRL: Everything Leads to You

Realistic, contemporary fiction is my one true love in both reading and writing. Nina Lacour is one of those authors who made me want to write. Her latest inspires me no less, full of romance and just figuring shit out. What's refreshing about this book is that the main character is a lesbian, knows she's a lesbian, and the book is simply about her finding love rather than coming out. Don't get me wrong, coming out stories are important and needful in YA, because for LGBTQIA teens, that coming out is a big part of life. However, it was also nice to read a beautiful, simple story about a girl and a girl finding each other.

 

Favorite Thriller: Dangerous Girls

There's not a lot I can say about this book without giving it away, but it's hella good. Murder mystery, romantic in a sort of disturbing way, and the ending is like whoa. 

 

Favorite Historical/Alternate World: The Winner's Curse

Most people I know who have read Rutkoski's series opener are pretty blown away. She creates such a rich world, full of swoony romance and political intrigue. Class systems and devious plots and the rich girl who shouldn't love the slave boy and vice versa and captivity and ships and oh my god excuse me while I go reread it.

 

Favorite Female Protagonist: Far From You

I love this book on so many levels and Sophie, the protagonist, is the main reason why. An recovering drug addict, grieving the loss of her best friend, who also happens to be the girl she fell in love with, Sophie sets out to discover the reasons behind her friend's murder. She's hurting and vulnerable, but tough and angry. Sophie is also bisexual and Sharpe portrays this is such a beautiful, true way that I immediately fell in love with her writing, as well as Sophie, who while she struggles with many things, does not necessarily struggle with who she loves or why. 

 

Favorite Male Protagonist: Boy Toy

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Barry Lyga's Boy Toy was released in 2007, so I'm way behind in reading it this year, but Josh is definitely my favorite male protagonist of the year. The book alternates between Josh as a 17yr old dealing with the aftermath of being molested by his a female teacher when he was 12 and recounting what happened during that molestation. It's a disturbing book, but it should be, and I found myself so moved by Josh's raw emotions, denial, confusion, love of baseball, fear of sex, and finally, honest and somewhat heartbreakingly free realizations. I love anything Lyga writes, but this book and its main character, is one of my all-time favorites. 

 

Favorite Secondary Character: Blood of My Blood

Howie is one of my favorite secondary characters of all time. I could say this of all three Jasper Dent books by Barry Lyga, but since Blood of My Blood came out this year, I'll stick to this one. Howie is a hemophiliac and best friend to Jasper Dent, the son of the most notorious serial killer alive. The series as a whole is pure brilliance in my opinion, and Howie adds this flair that lightens the entire thing. He's witty and sarcastic, full of bravado he often doesn't feel, but he's also fiercely loyal to Jasper. In a word, Howie is adorable and I sort of want to make out with him. 

 

Favorite Romance: Isla and the Happily Ever After

I mean, duh, right? Stephanie Perkins is the queen of beautiful romance with substance and Isla and Josh were definitely my favorite couple of the year. There's just this feeling I get when I read any of Perkins' books. Love, sunny days, sigh, ouch and then oh how sweet, kiss, kiss again please, flip back the beginning and start again.

 

Favorite Tear-Jerker: See You At Harry's

Jo Knowles' book, a middle grade, is a great book in general, but oh my the water works in produced. I can't say much more than that, but it's sad. And hopeful and beautiful. But it's sad y'all. 

 

Favorite Issue Book: Faking Normal

Rape is a hot button issue right now, in the world, and in the YA community. Courtney C. Stevens story is relevant, moving, raw, and real. It shows, not only the varying shapes this horrible experience can take and YES THIS IS RAPE, it delves into the complicated and painful healing process. She weaves in song lyrics and friendship almost magically, and I literally shiver at the though of all the girls--and boys--this book will help.

Book I Wish I Had Written: I'll Give You The Sun

Not a huge surprise here. Every writer I know pretty much drools buckets over Jandy Nelson's writing. The Sky is Everywhere is another one of those books that really really made me want to write and her sophomore work is no different. It's just so effing beautiful. The language! The emotions! The all the things! 

 

Beautiful Prose Like Whoa: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

I mean, just read the freaking title! It's pure poetry! You'd think this one would go hand in hand with the aforementioned Nelson masterpiece, but it doesn't really. I don't wish I wrote this book because the plot--which is brilliant--is so out of my own wheelhouse I can't even begin to imagine writing something like this. Not that Nelson's not way out of my league in every possible way, but her stuff is realistic fiction so I can aspire. This? Nope. It's crazypants wild in the imagination department and so good. But the prose. OMFG, the prose! Gorgeous. Read it. Now.

 

How In Hell Did They Do This: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

The entire time I was reading this, I was like, HOW IS SHE DOING THIS? She being Adele Griffin. This book is a fictional biography, told through different voices of people in Addison Stone's life. It's complete with photographs. It's amazeballs. 

 

Favorite WTF: Grasshopper Jungle

If you've read this book, no explanation necessary. If you haven't read it...well, you should. 

 

Favorite Adult book: Vicious

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Since I read mostly YA, thought I'd throw out a fave adult book. Adult, as in marketed for adults, not as in, naughty. Anyhoo, Vicious by V.E. Schwab is uber unique and tense and scary and strangely beautiful. There are few more intriguing characters than Eli and Victor. 

 

Favorite Middle Grade: A Snicker of Magic

Oh, this book y'all. Words floating through the air. ICE CREAM. Stories. A quirky town. A girl in need of a home. So good. So beautiful. Just really special. 

 

Favorite WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

As you can see from the cover, this book won a ton o' awards in 2012 and this book is a paragon of excellently portrayed diversity. And it's beautiful. I mean, it's just gorgeous and Ari and Dante made a very compelling case for my favorite main and secondary characters. You are seriously depriving yourself of a very special thing if you have not read this book. 

Favorite Cover: These Broken Stars

I mean, look at it! Also an excellent book and ran a close second or third for my favorite fantasy/sci-fi.

 

Favorite Dual POV: Bright Before Sunrise

Because my first book, Suffer Love, is written in dual POV (1st person), I'm always on the lookout for books that really pull this off. It's not easy, but when done well (jury still out on yours truly) there is nothing I like reading more than a book in dual POV. Tiffany Schmidt's Bright Before Sunrise is the story of one night, told from both Jonah and Brighton's POV. The voices are clear and distinct and the story is excellent. Mission accomplished. 

 

Favorite Favorite: I'll Give You The Sun

Well, duh.

 

Most Anticipated 2015 Debuts

Because I have debuting on the brain and will until the spring of 2016, here are some YA/MG debuts I'm especially excited about. 

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

I Am Her Revenge by Meredith Moore

Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

 

 

And one that doesn't have a cover yet:

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

 

And with that, I'm out. Happy reading. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry and Emotion

So before I wrote fiction, I wrote poetry. I think. I can't 100%  account for those fuzzy preschool years, but I do remember writing poetry in middle school and high school. In college, I went through a very interesting and, in my hind-sighted opinion, dark period during which I only read and wrote nonfiction. Then I wrote songs, which as every one knows is just a more metered form of poetry. After my glorious, I have 750+ copies of my CD leftover music career ended, I returned to poetry.

Back in 2007, I moved to Princeton, NJ and it's there I really rediscovered my love of fiction and, more specifically, kid's fiction. While all of this was blooming, I was reading a lot of classics and became mildly obsessed with brilliant author's who died before their time. On a personal level, I was spitting out poetry like some kind of poetry-spitting machine because I was facing my father's untimely death, watching my lifelong relationship with Christianity grow more and more tenuous, and still sort of reeling from a messy past that send me fleeing to Nashville back in 2005. 

I had a lot of emotions churning around in me and they broke out in the form of free verse. 

I wrote a lot of poetry about my father. I wrote a lot about my family and about lies and betrayal. I wrote a lot about God/god. I wrote a lot about my first year of marriage and these, my friends, were really the only bright bits in the whole collection. I mean, I drift toward the melancholy anyway, so it was nice to have a sweet new hubs to balance all that out. 

Thing went on like this for a while. I wrote close to forty poems in a matter of months. I look back at them now and I don't even remember writing half of them. But I do remember the release of writing them. I remember the relief. The spark of recognition when I wrote something about one thing only to realize it was about another thing. 

Mortality was on my mind quite a bit, and at the time of this sort of literary and writing awakening in Princeton (an excellent town in which to have an awakening) I wrote a lot about dead writers. Plath, Sexton, Woolf, Millay. Later on I'd write some poems inspired by some of favorite classics like One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Grapes of Wrath. All of this poetry writing was a huge step toward writing fiction for me. I don't write novels in verse, but I love beautiful prose. I love descriptive and figurative language, so much so that my editor is like, "Take it down a notch, Ash." Which is okay, but as I embark on this wild publishing-story-making journey, I'm glad I have those poems to fall back on. I'm glad wild and difficult times in my life made me dig deep. I'm glad I bled onto a page in verse, in a form that only had to make sense to me if I so chose, because it enabled me to grab onto that emotion and mold it into something that could make sense to everyone.

Does that make sense?

Now, I'm delving back into that poetry a bit. My current WIP deals a little with mental illness and the fear of mental illness and the fear of not belonging and the pain of mortality. Lots o' emoting going on and I find myself going back to some of my poems from that time in my life as reference. When I'm stuck on a character, I look back over my poetry, or I write a new poem from that character's perspective. Those verses will never, ever see the light of day, but the freedom of the form helps me tap into that needed emotion and saves me from putting in a lot of unnecessary visceral emotive language that can sometimes be a cop out to that emotion. So we'll see. 

In farewell, here's a poem. It might make no sense to you. It might sound like total chaos. And maybe it is. But this poem helped me with my MC's mother and her story.

 

 

"Margaret Mary"

The moon is rising, Margaret Mary.

I’m going home now.

For all my thousands of listening ears

my tongue is still somehow,

trembling with the many words your heart

lusts after and your mind spits back

in a fiery flash of bitter endearment.

I’ve done all I can tonight, my part

relentlessly unfulfilling. You wander in the void

of that pristine piece, the daddy to your

cowering child, the perfectly round

pill to that perpetual itch. 

Disappointed again,

you stay awake, scrubbing the ground

till your fingers bleed;

perfection attainable,

sanity hesitating, possible

in the frenzied quiet hours as

you create your colored hell,

your drop in the blue bottle acidic. 

I cannot paint over that red stain,

rendering the raw a stale black and white

of afternoon coffee and whims.

No one can pull the sun through the rain,

flinging the shadows from your door.

The sun is his own man.

The light,

rebellious and fickle, strays from

your screams as a pen from wet paper.

 

So the night comes

again, like a friend who never speaks,

without hand or body to feel, to clasp.

When the dark slips from your fevered grasp,

I’ll come again, Margaret Mary. 

 

 

 

777 Challenge

To kick-off my blog, I've been tagged in the 777 Challenge! Basically this means you get to see a random blurb or my current WIP, which may or may not suck in its current state. You get to read the first full 7 lines on the 7th page, starting 7 lines down. Lucky you! Er...

The tentative title of this little darling is Sky Blue Sky. An artist and severe introvert, 16 year old Annabel panics after finding out her long-estranged mother has been trying to reach her for over twelve years. One huge bad decision later, Annabel has a secret that only the misunderstood and lonely Mateo knows. Meanwhile, her best friends are drifting further and further away from her, and Annabel begins to believe only her mysterious mother can help her.

So that's the gist. A very rough gist. And without further ado, here is the 777.

 

I laid there for another hour, my breath shallow and quick, wondering what my name was supposed to be. Wondering why the idea of it made her so happy. Wondering if Dad would answer if I asked him on one of the other 364 days out of the year when he’s stone-cold sober and freshly pressed into his crisp suit and tie.

Dad’s usually an impenetrable tower when it comes to Libby McKee. He never talks about her and never lets me or anyone else in town ask about her. The questions about Mom faded out just a few months after she left...

 

Intrigued? God, I hope so. Write on!

Here are the 7 writers I've tagged to carry on, fellow/future Sweet Sixteeners and a couple Fifteeners because I like them a lot.

K.E. Ormsbee

Mackenzie Lee

Emily Martin

Jen Maschari

Melanie Conklin

Samantha Mabrie

Ellen Goodlett

Write on!