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The Beautiful Agony of a Slow Burn, a guest post by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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I love kissing scenes. But what I love even more than a kissing scene is making the reader think they’re getting a kissing scene—only to rip it away at the last minute.

In a romance novel, a slow burn is a relationship that builds and builds as the tension simmers, until it reaches a wonderful, fiery crescendo. A good slow burn should be torturous, and the payoff should make all that waiting worth it.  

In my YA romantic comedy Today Tonight Tomorrow, the characters don’t kiss until around the 90 percent mark. I was so eager to get there, but because the book takes place over 24 hours, I didn’t want it to peak too soon. It was my first slow burn, and now that I’ve written a few more for future books, I wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way.

The Buildup

Wherever your two romantic leads start, there’s something preventing them from beginning a relationship. Maybe it’s circumstance, maybe they don’t know each other well enough, maybe they don’t know how the other feels, or maybe they hate each other, which is the case in Today Tonight Tomorrow—or at least, they think they hate each other.

Regardless of trope, here are some ways to linger in the slow part of a slow burn:

  • Emotional connection. What do these characters have in common? What do they talk about? How do they push and challenge each other? What do they admire about each other? This might also include a “they’re not that bad” moment—when the protagonist realizes that their budding love interest may have some redeeming qualities after all.
  • Physical touch. Maybe their hands brush, or one of them playfully nudges the other, or one of them sits just a little too close. Is it accidental? Who knows, but wondering about it is definitely something that will make your main character suffer!
  • Questioning. This is when the main character is trying to puzzle out their feelings for the other person. How are they trying to defend their new emotions to themselves or to their friends? I especially love when they try to explain away their feelings—I’m not blushing, it’s just warm in here.
  • Proximity. Maybe they’re forced together or maybe they just keep running into each other, but close proximity is going to take all that great physical and emotional tension and dial it up to a hundred. 

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The Almost

So all of those ingredients are simmering—emotional connection, physical touch, questioning, and proximity—and now it’s time to bring them to a rolling boil. This takes time, time, and you guessed it, more time. There’s no “right” point in 1a YA or adult romance novel for the couple to finally get together, but if it’s a slow burn, it’s probably going to be at least after the midpoint.

You can, however, tease your reader. Put the characters in those close proximity situations, get them hyped on oxytocin, bring their faces together until their lips almost touch—but then something stops them. It doesn’t need to be something tangible that interrupts them; maybe it’s the protagonist convincing themselves that this other person isn’t right for them and they shouldn’t be kissing them. Whatever it is, it should serve to drag out the burn.

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The Payoff

In a slow burn, it’s not when the pot boils over that the characters finally get to kiss and confess their feelings—it’s the moment right before the smoke alarm goes off.

And in my favorite slow burns, it’s usually not just a quick peck, either. They don’t need to jump right to ripping off their clothes, but if we’ve spent 300 pages waiting for these people to kiss, we’ve earned more than a couple sentences.

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I’m a fan of all kinds of romance in YA, but I continue to be drawn to the slow burn because it’s just so satisfying when the characters finally figure things out. In Today Tonight Tomorrow, though the characters uncover their true feelings for each other over the course of 24 hours, their romance has been simmering for much, much longer—and I hope that payoff is as thrilling to read as it was for me to write.

Meet Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, Our Year of Maybe, and Today Tonight Tomorrow. She is a Seattle native who loves rainy days, her tiny dog, tap dancing, old movies, red lipstick, and books with flawed, complicated characters. Learn more at RachelSolomonBooks.com.

Her local indie bookstore is Third Place Books.

About Today Tonight Tomorrow

Today Tonight Tomorrow | Book by Rachel Lynn Solomon | Official ...

The Hating Game meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by way of Morgan Matson in this unforgettable romantic comedy about two rival overachievers whose relationship completely transforms over the course of twenty-four hours.

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

ISBN-13: 9781534440241
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 07/28/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

‘You wrote an action-thriller?’ a guest post by Tiffany Rosenhan

Girl from Nowhere

You wrote an action-thriller?’

Emphasis on YOU. As in me. Yes, I wrote an action thriller. And, yes, I’m surprised as YOU are.

Most summer days you can find me wearing a broderie dress and espadrilles, frolicking through the mountainous fields behind my Utah home, my four daughters traipsing behind me with ribbons in their hair and jubilantly singing Do-Re-Mi. . . okay this is more a fantasy of how I wish my real life was. But, you get the picture. More importantly, I get the picture.

Perhaps because most would consider me, um . . . ‘girly’ . . . no one anticipated that I would write an action-spy-thriller.

Perhaps.

I suppose I could speculate the myriad reasons why I’m met with such astonishment when people read my book, but perhaps it all circles into a vortex of simple human contradictions. We – humans – are all contradictions, are we not?

I equally love sewing doll clothes and reading monotonous descriptions of tactical warfare. I am presently (and contentedly!) a stay home mother and a political scientist who once set out to join either the Foreign Service or the Central Intelligence Agency.  I am both unabashedly feminine and feminist. I love Ann Brashares and John Le Carre!

And of this I am certain: we must stop suggesting that these characteristics can’t all coexist.

We can write in any genre we choose to, even if it doesn’t fit the pattern of who people think we are. Who we think we are.

Like every other female I know, I am a contradiction (though my identical twin sister and I are certain that in the original division of us, some traits were unequally distributed) and I hope, in writing the character of Sophia Hepworth that the following comes across emphatically: women have many, varied, oft-conflicting, interests!

I loved writing GIRL FROM NOWHERE, because not only did it offer me a reasonable opportunity to research and study so many of these interests at once, it also offered me a story that could weld them together, particularly those which are far removed from my daily life (car chases anyone?).

Creating GIRL FROM NOWHERE was akin to writing a fantasy novel, except here the elements of fantasy take shape in a hyper-reality of our own world. The spy world became a fantasy.

I’ve been fascinated by both spy craft and military history since early elementary school. Once, at my grandparent’s house in California, I spotted a tattered black and white magazine cover, depicting a photograph of two soldiers crawling ashore Guadalcanal under raging enemy fire. ‘Who are they?’ I asked my grandfather. “Marines,” he said. He then looked down, tapped his crooked forefinger to the face of the soldier in the foreground, and said, “That’s me.”

My grandfather – A Marine. The word alone impressed me. It still does. I was too young then to associate anything other than prestige with the word; it would be years before I heard about, and studied, PTSD.

However, if that photograph sparked my curiosity with military history and tradecraft, another sparked my fascination with the world. Most summers my twin sister and I would visit’s my father’s family’s farm in Ohio. Here, we would stay with my grandmother and she would instruct us to either read, explore, embroider, cook, clean, or play outside. There was an old television set, but I remember it only being turned on once, during a storm. She’d been a public school teacher before settling down to raise six children, and remained a voracious reader. Her house had many books.

My favorites included a collection of 1960’s encyclopedias. I was fascinated by the vintage pictures: vibrant toucans in Central America, zebras and antelope in Sub-Saharan Africa, Soviet women wearing traditional folk dress hanging laundry outside their cottages. . . It was the caption of this last photograph that caught my attention. It explained that these women resided in a country called Czechoslovakia, which according to my grandmother, had recently stopped existing. I couldn’t process. How does a country simply cease to exist? Does it disappear? Did it fall into the center of the earth? How? I did not, could not, understand.

On that rainy afternoon in the mid 1990’s, Czechoslovakia introduced me to the global trifecta: politics, diplomacy, and geography. Though I’ve since learned how a country actually ceases to exist, I’ve never stopped learning about the many reasons why.

So if these photographs sparked my curiosity about several topics that vein through GIRL FROM NOWHERE – geography, tradecraft, nature etc. – then motherhood ignited my willpower, and granted me the time, to write it all down.

From the moment Sophia Hepworth first took shape in my sub-conscious, I knew who I wanted her to become. And who I would not allow her to become. (Because, unlike with my children, I possess this power!) She would be skilled. Disciplined. Knowledgeable. Brave. She would also be an actual teenage girl. Hormonal. Frustrated. Moody. Prone to split-second-poor-judgement decisions. More than any other character trait I wanted to give Sophia, I wanted to ensure she remained just a regular (though super-skilled!) teenage girl entangled in a complicated life.

Therefore, in order to turn GIRL FROM NOWHERE into an actual manuscript, I needed facts. I read everything I could find that incorporated even a fragment of a location, skill, or event that interested me. I scoured encyclopedias, Wikipedia, and the library. I wanted to know everything I could about everything.

Which in case you are wondering, is impossible.

Yet, I loved this part of the process.

So, why did I write GIRL FROM NOWHERE as a thriller? Why not something more literary that offered a broader template to include more of the miscellaneous fruits of my laborious research?

I suppose my simplest answer is that I wrote exactly the type of book I like to read. I prefer fiction that is entertaining, informative, intriguing, and/or enthralling.

I like to be swept away, mesmerized by a plot so finely threaded through the narrative that I can scarcely pry away my eyes.

Yet, as all contradictory people might say, I also love literary fiction, epic historical tales, fantasy, and even memoirs. I’ve even been reading the Icelandic Sagas for a few days (years).

Above all else, I appreciate a well-paced story. And I knew, despite the enormous amount of effort it took to turn GIRL FROM NOWHERE from moderate ‘coming of age’ story into an ‘action-thriller’, it was the right decision.

I do actually wear sundresses and straw hats in summer; I do create whimsical tea parties for my daughters on rainy afternoons; I do pick wildflowers to assemble midsummer crowns.

Therefore, I do understand the contradiction. I am not necessarily qualified to write about avalanches, weapons or international espionage. Perhaps I should be writing and illustrating a children’s book of fairy tales instead. Perhaps I might!

However, becoming a published author has freed me from having to explain myself to myself.   

When people ask ‘Why did you write a thriller?’

I now like to answer, ‘Why not me?’

Meet Tiffany Rosenhan

Tiffany Rosenhan is the granddaughter of Oscar-winning screen siren, Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon). She has a degree in political science and four young daughters, and often travels the world with her family and husband, who is a critical care physician. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is her debut novel. https://tiffanyrosenhan.com

About Girl from Nowhere

Girl from Nowhere

Red Sparrow meets One of Us Is Lying in this action-packed, romance-filled YA debut about a girl trying to outrun her past.

Ninety-four countries. Thirty-one schools. Two bullets. Now it’s over . . . or so she thinks.

Sophia Hepworth has spent her life all over the world—moving quickly, never staying in one place for too long. She knows to always look over her shoulder, to be able to fight to survive at a moment’s notice. She has trained to be ready for anything.

Except this. Suddenly it’s over. Now Sophia is expected to attend high school in a sleepy Montana town. She is told to forget the past, but she’s haunted by it. As hard as she tries to be like her new friends and live a normal life, she can’t shake the feeling that this new normal won’t last.

Then comes strong and silent Aksel, whose skills match Sophia’s, and who seems to know more about her than he’s letting on . . .

What if everything Sophia thought she knew about her past is a lie?

Cinematic and breathtaking, Tiffany Rosenhan’s debut stars a fierce heroine who will risk everything to save the life she has built for herself.

ISBN-13: 9781547603039
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

A Banjo as a Bridge, a guest post by Erica Waters

I first got the idea for Ghost Wood Song, my debut YA novel about a girl with a ghost-raising fiddle, from a spooky experience of my own. I was home alone, writing in my attic office, when I heard a banjo playing below. I crept down the stairs with all my senses tingling, but the music stopped. The room was empty and still, and my banjo rested innocently against a wall, perfectly silent. I chalked the phantom music up to vibrations in the banjo’s resonator and went back to work.

However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of a ghost playing a musical instrument. What might he want to communicate? Could music be a bridge between the living and the dead? If so, would that bridge be safe to cross?

I was already deeply interested in bluegrass and folk music, so I knew I could write a story about ghosts set against those musical traditions. But I needed a character to bring the music to life. And out of the blue, she introduced herself to me. Her name was Shady Grove, named after my favorite Appalachian folk song. Her father had died and she was grieving and missing the music he’d taught her to love. But one day she heard his fiddle crying in the pine woods and believed he was calling to her.

Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

That fiddle became my bridge—an instrument that when played just right could call up ghosts and let them take a solid form, speak, even touch the ones they loved. It was temporary and dangerous, but it was a small form of resurrection. However, the real bridge wasn’t the fiddle itself but the music that Shady played.

Bluegrass tunes, murder ballads, classic country, gospel hymns.

It was music that I had grown up on in rural Florida but had forgotten until I moved to Nashville and started going to bluegrass joints and shows at the Ryman Auditorium. All these songs came back to me—ones that my grandfather had played on tape decks, that my father sang while he drove. It was intimately familiar to me and yet felt brand new. These songs connected me to a past that felt like such a part of me but also fractured, painful, irretrievable.

As I wrote, I was flooded with a longing for home and family, even though those things are deeply complicated for me. But the music that shaped Shady’s story cracked me open too, and something that felt miraculous happened: I found my writerly self. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to write and who I wanted to be as a writer. My writing had context, atmosphere, and voice. It was compelling. It was original. Finally, I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself from scratch; rather, I was returning to myself.

Shady’s music became a bridge for me. To the dead, yes. To a home I thought I’d left behind, yes. But most of all it connected me to myself and my own voice.

So maybe there really was a ghost playing that neglected banjo in the corner. Maybe the phantom music was my own personal fiddle crying in the pines. At any rate, it brought me here. It brought me home.

You can buy a copy of Ghost Wood Song at Nashville’s beloved indie bookstore, Parnassus Books: https://www.parnassusbooks.net/ericawaters.

Meet Erica Waters

Photo Credit: Amelia J. Moore

Erica Waters writes young adult fantasy with a Southern Gothic feel. She’s originally from the pine woods of rural Florida but has made her home in Nashville, TN with her spouse and two scruffy little rescue dogs. Ghost Wood Song is her debut novel. You can visit her online at ericawaters.com and connect with her on twitter and Instagram.

Links:

Book: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062894229/ghost-wood-song/

Website: https://ericawaters.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ELWaters

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ericawatersbooks/

Cover Design Credit:

Jacket art: Alix Northrup
Jacket design: Jenna Stempel-Lobell

About Ghost Wood Song

Ghost Wood Song

Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut, where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead.

If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.

Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.

But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.

In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.

Family secrets, a gorgeously resonant LGBTQ love triangle, and just the right amount of creepiness make this young adult debut a haunting and hopeful story about facing everything that haunts us in the dark.

ISBN-13: 9780062894229
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

How Writing Jennifer Strange (Quite Literally) Saved my Life, a guest post by Cat Scully

I did not know that I was dying.

In early summer of 2018, all of my symptoms pointed to bronchitis, or at worst, a particularly bad case of pneumonia. You see, people in their early thirties aren’t thinking about heart failure. It doesn’t even enter their possibility radar while typing their symptoms into Google one more time.

It started with a map. At the time, I had just come off designing dozens and dozens of different maps since Labor Day weekend, which bled through the fall months, barreled right on through the winter holidays, and spilled over into spring. Then, around mid-May, I received a map note from the author and publisher I couldn’t read. I tried to process it over and over, but the words melted every time I tried to read them. I had been fighting a terrible cold, coughing and sneezing and unable to breathe, so my husband carted me off to the doctor I had stubbornly refused to visit until the map was done. Gotta keep pushing, I thought. I can rest when I’m done.

The urgent care took a look at my symptoms and assessed it was bronchitis, gave me the typical prescriptions, and sent me home. Weeks went by with no relief. I finished the map but my husband had to read aloud every email that came across my inbox. I was tired, I thought. Why weren’t the pills working?

Smash-cut forward to the middle of June, and I’m face down on the floor of the shower unable to lift my head. I have to instruct my six-year-old son how to work my phone to call my husband at his office and tell him to come home. We fled to the hospital, both children in tow, and the ER nurses took one look at my CAT scan and confirmed their worst fears – I had heart failure. My heart was floating at around ten percent, and it wouldn’t be until weeks later in a genetic counseling session in Boston I would find out I had a genetic mutation prone to enlarging the heart when triggered by severe stress. I thought it had to be a joke. How could someone in their early thirties in possession of a health file so thin people had trouble finding it suddenly get heart failure?

I spent two weeks in the hospital removing sixteen pounds of fluid and wrestling with the fact I still wasn’t published. I had written a grand total of three novels over the course of five years. The first was sent to a publisher and my agent and I were waiting to hear back. I rested up, convinced I wouldn’t let my dream of publishing be pushed aside again. Three days after returning home, I got the call. The editor loved Jennifer Strange and wanted to publish it next year. I cried, maybe harder than I’ve ever cried. After five years, three agents, a slew of rejections, and almost dying, I was getting published. I couldn’t have known then what would happen when I sat down to write again. Symptoms in young women with heart failure aren’t as well documented as cases in eighty-year-old men. I didn’t know what was coming.

Jennifer Strange

After a few painful weeks of learning how to walk and a new salt-less diet focused on shrinking my heart, I sat down to the computer. It felt good to open my book with the knowledge it was finally going to print. As soon as I opened the file, the words floated into each other again, and the space between letters squashed and collapsed in lava lamp waves. I couldn’t read. It seemed back then an impossible thought, not being able to read. A writer writes. A reader reads. I was an author with a book getting published, not someone who struggled to connect sentences together. I closed my laptop. I thought all I needed was a little more time. It took months of processing and a dear friend telling me the work was basically illegible for me to finally face the truth—It wasn’t just that I couldn’t read. My mind could not connect the letters to the memories of what those words meant. 

We pushed back the book by another year, with everyone hopeful one more year of healing would help. I was the only one not convinced. I sat listening to audiobooks, wishing and hoping I could write again. It wasn’t until late 2019 that my heart improved enough to write again, and my symptoms of memory loss lessened enough to string together a sentence. Reading was a slow and painful process requiring total concentration without any interruption of sound or kids yelling for yet another packet of fruit snacks. I had to work at reading again, the same way I had to learn how to walk and then run and then jog on a treadmill.

Every revision of Jennifer Strange got easier, and by the time we got to producing the advanced reader copies, it still wasn’t perfect. I kept learning how to read as I pushed through posting on Netgalley and then sending more focused drafts each time through multiple revisions between my launch of early copies to July of my publication date. As of writing this blog post, my heart is at forty-five percent, healed enough I can sit and read a book, though interruption requires up to an hour of recovery to be able to read again.

I never thought I’d have to relearn how to read to publish a book, and I think even beyond Jennifer Strange as I move into book two in the series, my memory and ability will only improve. It seems to every week. This desire to write, to publish, and then repeat is a quest worth pursuing. Despite everything, I think having this book and my fierce desire to finally see it in print, flaws and all, healed my heart and saved my life all at once. It’s worth it to keep going, despite all the downfalls and weird left turns. I still have to read my books aloud, and audio books are easier than reading physical copies, but I found a method that works in a world post-heart failure. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.

I want to share my story not to scare, but to inspire writers who might be questioning if going forward is worth it after yet another rejection letter. The quest to publish is worth packing your bags and journeying out your front door into the great unknown. Jennifer Strange saved me, and I hope you find that your book might save you too.

Meet Cat Scully

Cat Scully is the author and illustrator of the young adult illustrated horror novel series JENNIFER STRANGE, with the first book releasing July 21, 2020, from Haverhill House Publishing. Cat is best known for her world maps featured in Brooklyn Brujas trilogy by Zoraida Cordova, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, and Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis. She works in video game development for the Deep End Games, working hard on their next title. After five years as a mentor in Pitch Wars for middle grade and young adult fiction, she is a core editor for Cornerstones Literary, focusing on editing speculative fiction for adult, young adult, and middle-grade markets. She lives off Earl Grey tea, plays a lot of Bioshock, is a huge Evil Dead fan, and plays the drums with her musician husband. She lives outside of Boston and is represented by Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.​

About Jennifer Strange

Jennifer Strange

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is the Sparrow, cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demonic spirits a body-a flesh and blood anchor in the mortal world-with the touch of her hand. When a ghost attacks her high school and awakens her powers, her father dumps her unceremoniously in the care of her estranged older sister Liz, leaving only his journal as an explanation.

Drawn to the power of the Sparrow, the supernatural creatures preying on Savannah, Georgia will do anything to receive Jennifer’s powerful gift. The sisters must learn to trust each other again and uncover the truth about their family history by deciphering their father’s journal…because if they can’t, Jennifer’s uncontrolled power will rip apart the veil that separates the living from the dead.

A fast-paced and splattery romp, fans of Supernatural, Buffy, and Evil Dead will enjoy JENNIFER STRANGE – the first illustrated novel in a trilogy of stylish queer young adult horror books with big scares for readers not quite ready for adult horror.

Cat Scully’s illustrations bring the ghosts and demons of her fictional world to eerie and beautiful life, harkening back to the style of SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK and Ransom Riggs’ MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.

ISBN-13: 9781949140064
Publisher: Haverhill House Publishing LLC
Publication date: 07/20/2020
Series: Jennifer Strange #1
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Writing Your (Hidden) Self, a guest post by Jessica Pennington

I write romance. I write kissing books. I write love stories.

I don’t know how many times I gave those answers—at book launches and conventions, festivals, and family functions—before I realized it wasn’t the most accurate description of my work. Yes, my stories are full of sweet book boyfriends and swoony kisses. There are nights under the stars getting to know someone new, and long, painful discussions with former first-loves. And they are most definitely the type of books you see being read poolside or at the lake. But that’s not the only thing all of my books have in common.

As authors, many of us set out to write a book and have a map of where it will go. We have character sketches, plot points, beginnings and endings in mind. Some authors don’t, but for now let’s just say a lot of us do. Personally, I can’t even start a project until I have at least a general idea of where I’m headed. Of course, even for plotters, stories change along the way; characters reveal themselves to us, or a really great scene can steal the show and send us in an entirely different direction. Still, as the author, we have ultimate control of the story and the words we put on the page.

Despite that illusion of control, it took me two published books and five years to figure out what I was actually writing. My debut, Love Songs & Other Lies is about two teens who are unexpectedly trapped with their ex on a battle of the bands tour bus, but it’s also about a girl who doesn’t know how to share her feelings, even with those closest to her, except in the form of song lyrics. And it’s about caring for someone so much that you accept less than you deserve, just to preserve the relationship.

When Summer Ends is about two teens forced to work together when each of their summer plans fall apart, but it’s also about a girl who has planned her future so carefully, that she can’t see the problems—or fresh new potential—in her present.     

And by the time I wrote Meet Me At Midnight, I already knew it wasn’t just going to be about two teens forced to vacation together while torturing one another with yearly pranks, until they’re forced to call a truce and work together. It’s also about a girl who is emotionally guarded, and finds control in her life by meticulously organizing and planning things.

It may have taken me two-hundred-thousand written words to figure it out, but I finally did: I write stories about girls like me. Not thirty-seven-year-old me, of course (wow, what a disappointing YA novel that would be) or even the teen girl I saw myself as at the time, but the teen girl I didn’t realize I was until I started writing parts of myself into my stories.

As authors, we’re always hearing about how books affect readers, but one thing I’ve thought about a lot while stuck in my house for the last three months, is just how much writing my books has affected me. It’s funny how looking at your life from the outside can show you a new perspective, even fifteen years later.

I didn’t realize how dysfunctional one of my high school friendships was, until I tried putting it on the page in Love Songs & Other Lies. The friend I read in that first draft was not the one I remembered, but it was accurate. So I re-wrote that character into the friend I wish I’d had—the person that would have been what I actually needed in high school. Olivia in When Summer Ends is stripped of her carefully laid plans and shown that flipping a coin and living life by chance isn’t the great disaster she would have thought. I gave my social anxiety to Sidney in Meet Me At Midnight, and forced her not only to acknowledge it, but to find someone who held her hand and loved her through it.

Today, when I describe my books, I still say I write romance, but more importantly, I write books about girls like me: Type-A, focused, self-conscious, anxious, driven, emotionally guarded, a little too serious sometimes, and absolutely worthy of love. I write teen girls who need to make some mistakes to realize not all mistakes are bad. And I hope that readers will see my characters bruised-but-not-broken (and in love) and they’ll discover some things about themselves, too—hopefully twenty years earlier than I did.

Meet Jessica Pennington

Jessica Pennington is the author of contemporary romance novels for young adults (and the young at heart), including Meet Me At Midnight, When Summer Ends, and Love Songs & Other Lies. A self-proclaimed “professional romantic,” she has spent the last fifteen years immersed in love–first as a wedding planner and now a novelist. Jessica lives in a Michigan beach town suspiciously similar to the one in her novels, with her husband and son.

Find Jessica on IG @jessicapennington and Twitter @jessnpennington

Sign up for her monthly newsletter The EpistolarYAn here: http://itsjess.com/newsletter/

Website: www.itsjess.com

Jessica’s local indie bookstore is Forever Books.

About MEET ME AT MIDNIGHT

Meet Me at Midnight

They have a love-hate relationship with summer.

Sidney and Asher should have clicked. Two star swimmers forced to spend their summers on a lake together sounds like the perfect match. But it’s the same every year—in between cookouts and boat rides and family-imposed bonfires, Sidney and Asher spend the dog days of summer finding the ultimate ways to prank each other. And now, after their senior year, they’re determined to make it the most epic summer yet.

But their plans are thrown in sudden jeopardy when their feud causes their families to be kicked out of their beloved lake houses. Once in their new accommodations, Sidney expects the prank war to continue as usual. But then she gets a note—Meet me at midnight. And Asher has a proposition for her: join forces for one last summer of epic pranks, against a shared enemy—the woman who kicked them out.

Their truce should make things simpler, but six years of tormenting one another isn’t so easy to ignore. Kind of like the undeniable attraction growing between them.

ISBN-13: 9781250187666
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Continuing Anti-Racist Work in Publishing in the Wake of the George Floyd Protests, a guest post by Roseanne A. Brown

Being a Black debut is weird right now.

Being Black right now is weird. And being a debut right now is weird. But being both? Being both is a whole new level of weirdness I did not know it was possible to achieve.

My debut novel A Song of Wraiths and Ruin came out on June 2nd, and like most writers with spring/summer releases this year, I spent the months before coming to terms with the reality that the launch I had dreamed of for years would not be possible in the wake of COVID-19. As disappointing as it was, the health and safety of my community mattered more.

But then June 2nd itself arrived. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin came out on a day when the world was gripped in the throes of some of the largest scale protests we’ve seen since MLK was assassinated. The unjust killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police marked a turning point in the conversation on racial injustice, and institutions around the globe are still reckoning with what it means to not only be non-racist, but anti-racist in the face of centuries of subjugation and oppression of Black people.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

In the publishing world, this looked like a push to highlight books by Black authors that might have otherwise gotten lost in the chaos. The people of the publishing community, lead by amazing Black women writers, came together to create a Black Tuesday to ensure that my book, A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, You Should See Me In a Crown by Leah Johnson, and several other books by Black authors that released on June 2nd were not forgotten. Posts went up, the books went out of stock across multiple retailers, and everyone from authors to booksellers to publishers and beyond reaffirmed their commitments to amplifying Black voices in our industry.

I have zero complaints about the reception ASOWAR has gotten. Seeing readers connect with these characters I’ve loved for years has been a highlight of my career. But I am curious to see how the commitment to amplifying Black voices will continue now that Black Lives Matter is no longer trending and people’s feeds have gone back to normal.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) recently released the 2019 figures for the yearly report they compile on the state of diversity in children’s literature, and the numbers are simply appalling. Out of the 3,716 books that the CCBC received, there were more books about animals than there were books about children of color. Of the measly 11.9% of books that featured Black/African protagonists, less than half were actually written by Black/African authors.

We Need Diverse Books has been a fixture in the industry since 2014, and the movement for more inclusive children’s media has brought hundreds of wonderful books into the world that are going to change young reader’s lives for the better. But the numbers make it clear that the work is far from over, and now—when the world feels like it’s ending and the future is murkier than it has ever been—now is the time to ramp up our efforts instead of pulling back.

Buying books by Black authors is a great start, but the work to elevate and amplify Black voices cannot end there. As a community, we need to be pushing Black voices front and center when there isn’t a national tragedy happening. We need to be listening to these voices even when the truths they are saying are uncomfortable to hear. We need to make sure that Black and other IPOC publishing professionals at all levels have the support and mentorship they need to continue putting out books of anti-racism and radical Black joy.

In the weeks since Black Tuesday, several organizations that committed to doing better by Black writers and employees have proved that their environments are still unsafe for the very people they claim to support. The same Black writers people were clamoring to support a few weeks ago have been silenced and harassed as they continue to speak up about racist practices in the industry.

Being anti-racist is going to take more than a few weeks of hyping certain books and creating aesthetic Instagram posts. It’s going to take a fundamental shifting in the way we all view and interact with the world. It’s going to take interrogating the way each and everyone of us has allowed the structures of this industry to function unjustly for so long.

The work does not and cannot end with buying a copy of a Black author’s book or even blacking out an entire bestseller list, though that is an excellent start. The work will end when Black and other marginalized voices are no longer working in this industry at a structural disadvantage. And it’s going to take every single one of us at every level of the publishing hierarchy to make sure this change stays for good.

We all need to keep showing up for Black voices and Black lives, even when it’s no longer on trend to do so.

Meet Roseanne A. Brown

Photo credit: Ashley Hirasuna

Rosanne A. Brown is an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she completed the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her work has been featured by Voice of America, among other outlets. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is her debut novel.

You can visit her online at 

Website: roseanneabrown.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rosiesrambles

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rosiesrambles/

Roseanne suggests getting her book from her local indie, Books With a Past.

About A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

The first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction—from debut author Roseanne A. Brown. This New York Times bestseller is perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi, Renée Ahdieh, and Sabaa Tahir.

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts his younger sister, Nadia, as payment to enter the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a heart-pounding course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

ISBN-13: 9780062891495
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/02/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Teen Friendship: It’s Complicated, a guest post by Kit Frick

Photo credit: Simon Maage on Unsplash

When I was a teen, I clung tight to my small, close-knit friend group. I liked to describe the sandstone walls that surrounded us as “Abercrombie and Fitch High School,” and by nature and by nurture, I did not fit in with the mainstream aesthetic. Social interactions with anyone outside of my little group of misfits made my anxiety spike big time. It didn’t matter how kind or thoughtful the other person was being; I was convinced that niceness was a trap. I lived with the pervasive fear that anyone and everyone was judging me. Sometimes, they probably were. Most of the time, I was my own harshest critic.

I was a few weeks into my life on a residential college campus in New York when a worldview-shattering realization hit: I had spent the last few weeks talking to strangers, sometimes strangers with backgrounds and experiences very different from my own, and the world had not ended. Quite the opposite—I was building an expansive, life-affirming network of new friends. I was newly nineteen, and for the first time, I wasn’t consumed by social anxiety.

I’m known for writing YA thrillers, but my books are also about complicated female friendships. I put my characters through a lot, but in a way, they’re lucky: they learn to foster important peer relationships outside of their comfort zones earlier than I did, and thank goodness for that, because these friendships are key to these teen girls’ ability to save themselves from the perilous situations I’ve written them into.

Amanda and Rosalie, the co-protagonists in All Eyes on Us, begin the novel at serious odds. These two girls from opposite sides of Logansville, West Virginia have pretty much nothing in common aside from the intense, harmful pressure they’re being subjected to by their families and communities. Pressure that has driven both of them into staying in unhealthy relationships with real estate heir and town golden boy, Carter Shaw.

When Rosalie and Amanda are targeted by an anonymous harasser out to get Carter and take the girls down with him, they come together to end their stalker’s reign of terror. I have to give it to Rosalie especially; Amanda hates her when the book begins, and Rosalie knows it. Amanda’s only seeing a small sliver of the truth, but Rosalie’s actions, while justified by the physical and emotional necessity to shield herself from the conversion “therapy” she’s already been subjected to as a younger teen, are nonetheless hurting Amanda. And if I were Rosalie as a teen, I don’t think I would have allowed myself to trust Amanda’s olive branch when it comes. I probably would have run for the hills, and without the uneasy alliance the girls form, who knows where they would have ended up. (Nowhere good!)

I Killed Zoe Spanos also explores an unlikely friendship between two teen girls—this time bonded by a search for truth and justice. When local teen Zoe Spanos goes missing, Anna Cicconi confesses to playing a role in her death and the concealment of her body, but her story is riddled with holes, and teen true crime podcaster Martina Green is determined to uncover the truth and get justice for Zoe’s family. Here’s the thing, though: Martina isn’t convinced of Anna’s innocence, just that Anna couldn’t have killed Zoe in the way she described to police. Either the wrong girl is in juvie awaiting trial, or what Anna did is a lot worse than the accident she confessed to. Throughout the course of the novel, Martina puts her friendship with Zoe’s younger sister Aster in jeopardy in her quest for the truth, and Anna allows herself to trust Martina, despite the reality that Martina’s not necessarily out to exonerate her. It’s a lot. Way more than I would have been capable of dealing with as a teen, where the most explosive fall-out in my friend group involved a punk rock hoodie. Don’t ask.

Photo credit: Simon Maage on Unsplash

As a writer of YA thrillers, it’s important to me to not just write girls into peril, but to also allow them to fight their way out of danger. Often that involves high-stakes relationship building, and I think that has a lot to do with my own adolescent experiences as a very timid relationship-builder. I would not have fared well in one of my own books, okay? Don’t drop Teen Kit in a thriller; it’s going to end badly. But fiction allows us to explore our shortcomings as well as our successes. And important teen topics shouldn’t be limited to realistic YA contemporary. Genre fiction allows us to write about issues important to real teens—such as complex female friendships—against the backdrop of thrills, chills, and twisty mysteries. Thrillers can be both an escape and a space for social engagement. This capacity to “walk and chew gum” is part of what makes engaging with the genre so exciting to me as a creator writing for a teen audience.

Meet Kit Frick

Photo credit: Carly Gaebe, Steadfast Studio

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow from Pittsburgh, PA. She studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press and edits for private clients. She is the author of the young adult thrillers I Killed Zoe SpanosAll Eyes on Us, and See All the Stars, all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, as well as the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs from New American Press. Kit is working on her next novel.

BUY LINKS:

Signed pre-orders from Riverstone books: https://riverstonebookstore.indielite.org/pre-order-signed-copies-kit-fricks-new-book

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-killed-zoe-spanos-kit-frick/1134080087

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/i-killed-zoe-spanos/9781534449701

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781534449701

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1534449701/

SOCIAL:

Website: https://kitfrick.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kitfrick

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kitfrick/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kitfrickauthor/

About I Killed Zoe Spanos

For fans of Sadie and Serial, this gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Kit Frick weaves a thrilling story of psychological suspense that twists and turns until the final page.

ISBN-13: 9781534449701
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 06/30/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

So I Guess Now I’m Someone Who Talks About Boobs, a guest post by Laura Zimmermann

Somehow, as I was writing a book about a girl with uncomfortably large breasts, I didn’t anticipate how much people were going to want to talk to me about breasts. Strangers. Neighbors. Mammography techs. Usually their own. Occasionally someone else’s.

To be clear, there are other things to talk about in the book, too. Greer, the narrator of My Eyes Are Up Here, leads a full and complex life of ideas, relationships, responsibilities, and a range of human characteristics. She’s got an excellent best friend who thrives on confrontation. She’s super good at math and skeptical about the quality of the Spanish language instruction she’s getting at school. There’s a new boy who is relying on her to shortcut his acclimation to school. There’s some drama with the drama kids (as is often the case), who are performing an outdated and sexist musical (as is often the case). There’s quite a lot of volleyball. I could talk about volleyball all day.

Greer is confident in a lot of ways and painfully unsure of herself in other ways—like most of us are when we are on the way to adulthood. Like many of us are even now. And finding the way through is what this book is about.

….but there are also breasts. And, it turns out, a lot of people who want to talk about them.

Please indulge a sidebar here to note that once you start talking about breasts, you quickly run into a vocabulary problem. In most cases, I am a proponent of calling body parts by their proper (but non-Latin) names, with the exception of refusing to say “abdominal pain” when what I really mean is “tummy ache.” In the case of breasts, however, unless we are talking about surgery, feeding a baby, or self-exams, a lot of people don’t use the word. “Breasts” are what is still staggeringly susceptible to cancer, or the driest part of a chicken. It sounds clinical. (Or culinary.)

Most women I know say “boobs” instead. I try to be little careful, so as not to appear cavalier (especially in my new role as boob confidant), and because I don’t believe it feels right coming from, say, the guy who works at the animal hospital behind my house. There is a near endless list of other names ranging from cutesy to deeply misogynistic, and probably a dissertation in the works somewhere examining that list. In regard to My Eyes Are Up Here, you could go super clinical and say “macromastia,” but then only librarians, my editor, or other word-loving nerds would know what you were talking about. So please forgive boobs. (In the book, Greer often refers to hers as Maude and Mavis. This, unfortunately, is not a solution that scales to wider discussion.)

I wasn’t always someone who was comfortable talking about bodies—especially not mine. Like Greer, who spends each day under the cover of an extra-large sweatshirt, I spent my high school years doing anything to divert attention from my body: big, drapey clothes; the posture of a Disney crone; no swimming without a t-shirt. I went to chiropractors for my back, to orthopedic doctors for my neck, I took a lot of Tylenol for everything. I stretched and did physical therapy to strengthen my core, in case the real reason my shoulders hurt was because my abs were weak. I ran with two sports bras at once, which is the Spandex equivalent of a python. I didn’t own a tank top. When I got invited to a formal event, my mom sewed me a purple taffeta sleeping bag with a pretty lace collar. It was a weird thing for a 19-year-old person to wear to a fancy party, but it was very nice of her to sew it to my specifications. Even after I had breast reduction, I let all my coworkers believe I was having back surgery. (Most people come back from back surgery with all new shirts, right?)

Over a long time, I got more comfortable. I mean that both physically and not physically.

And then came this book. One of the first things people learn about Greer is what makes her so uncomfortable in her own skin (the cover and title help with that). Early on, I wondered if that it might make it uncomfortable to talk about—though to be honest, that’s also exactly why I wanted to write it in the first place. But a few things have surprised me. The first is the number of people who readily chime with their own experiences, as though they’ve been waiting to be asked. Sometimes it’s about breast surgery (way more common than you think), or a funny or painful story about their own Maudes and Mavises. (One friend described an embarrassing net fault playing volleyball. Her team essentially lost a point because she wasn’t a B-cup and got too close to the net on a block.)

Sometimes someone will tell me that she had “the opposite problem,” meaning that she felt self-conscious because she was flat-chested. But’s that’s not the opposite; it’s really kind of the same. I know this because it’s never really about boobs at all. It’s about being too big or too small or too slow or too hairy or simply too much in the eyes of somebody else. It’s about wishing your body or your face or your skin or your walk or your voice fit a mold. And then, hopefully, realizing that it doesn’t have to.

The second thing that’s surprised me is how much I love these connections, these tiny revelations from friends or strangers. When someone launches unbidden into a tale about underwires or nursing a baby or trying out those weird strapless adhesive things, I am all in. And I come back with perspective on built-in shelf bras or the magic of lanolin or a vow to never try those weird strapless adhesive things. I love how quickly we find solidarity in vulnerability, and how maybe solidarity can create invulnerability. It is not uncomfortable; it’s a relief.

There was a time I would have dropped to the floor and hidden under a rack of underwear rather than tell the lady at Nordstrom what size I was looking for. But now? I guess now I’m someone who talks about boobs.

Meet Laura Zimmermann

Photo by Jeff Wheeler

Laura is a writer, a storyteller, and a maker of cheesecakes. You might find her at a softball game, a jazz concert, or a nonprofit board meeting, but you’ll never find her on a ladder or entering a triathlon. She is a multi-time winner of Moth and WordSprout story slams, and has frequently shared stories on the Twin Cities Listen To Your Mother stage. Her debut YA novel, My Eyes Are Up Here, will be published by Dutton Books in June 2020. She lives in Minneapolis with her three favorite people, who show up in her stories whether they like it or not.

My website is laurazimmermannbooks.com

My Twitter is @laurazimbooks

Instagram is @laurazimbooks

Laura suggests purchasing her book from her favorite local indie, Red Balloon Books in St. Paul.

About My Eyes Are Up Here

“An original, feminist, and timely first choice title for all libraries serving teens,” School Library Journal starred review.

To see Amanda’s review, hop over here!

My Eyes Are Up Here is a razor-sharp debut about a girl struggling to rediscover her sense of self in the year after her body decided to change all the rules.

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on excelling at math or negotiating peace talks between her best friend and . . . everyone else. She wouldn’t spend any time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head.

But you can’t play volleyball inside your head. Or go to the pool. Or have confusingly date-like encounters with the charming new boy. You need an actual body for all of those things. And Greer is entirely uncomfortable in hers.

Hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, My Eyes Are Up Here is a story of awkwardness and ferocity, of imaginary butterflies and rock-solid friends. It’s the story of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.

ISBN-13: 9781984815248
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/23/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

The Messy, Complicated In-Between, a guest post by Katie Cotugno

Image

Twelve or thirteen years ago I heard a piece on NPR about an engaged couple who were members of a conservative religious group and weren’t allowed to have any physical contact at all until the day they were married. I’ll be honest: I was expecting a pretty bleak courtship story, bracing myself for some kind of patriarchal purity culture BS, but when I heard the host interview the husband-to-be, I have to admit the whole thing actually sounded the tiniest bit romantic. Here were two people who’d gotten to know each other intimately—who’d had deep conversations and shared secrets and legitimately fallen in love—without ever so much as holding hands.

“Right now,” the man said, “the basic complication is that we can’t touch each other.”

Oh, I thought, my ears perking up. I reached for a pen and scrawled the quote in my notebook, where I’d return to it again and again over the years as I tried to figure out what to do with it. That is a very good complication.

Amazon.com: You Say It First (9780062674128): Cotugno, Katie: Books

The two main characters in my new book, You Say It First, live eight hours apart—Meg in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Colby in rural Ohio—but they may as well have grown up in completely different dimensions. Meg’s headed for the Ivy League; Colby barely graduated high school. Meg’s laptop is covered with campaign stickers, while Colby is less than convinced by cheery idealism. They “meet” when she dials his parents’ landline from her job at a voter registration call center: they bicker, they banter, he bests her, she calls him back.  They fall in love—or something like it—over the course of long, meandering, sometimes tough conversations that challenge them both to rethink certain inalienable truths about themselves and what they believe. Their relationship thrives in that strange, liminal space, an invisible phone line tethering them together.

Grounding those feelings in the reality of their day-to-day lives—their families, their friends, their communities—proves to be a little bit trickier.

“I don’t know,” I said, when I first started toying with the idea of a project that touched, however lightly, on politics. “I’m not interested in writing a book about, like, two white people debating abortion. And I definitely don’t want to write about how we might believe different things, but deep down in our purest hearts we’re all really the same and all opinions are created equal.”

Because here’s the thing: I don’t think all opinions are created equal. I don’t even think all opinions are valid. And I certainly don’t believe in meeting in the middle for the sake of keeping an uneasy peace.

But I do think that part of being a human is navigating messy, complicated relationships with people whose experiences are different than yours are. And part of growing up is realizing you don’t know everything you thought you knew.

That was the problem with Meg, Colby laments at one point in the novel. He could never manage to feel just one thing about her at a time.

I think that’s a very good complication, too.

I’ve been thinking about Meg and Colby a lot lately, both as I try to figure out how to launch a book during a pandemic and as I’ve watched that first basic complication—we can’t touch each other—become literal in a way that never occurred to me as I was writing. The last few months have laid bare all the fissures in our society we try so hard to ignore, drawing a big fat circle around the ways in which the random luck of people’s circumstances dictates their privilege, their prospects, the sturdiness of their safety nets, their chances of survival.

I knew I was writing a book for an election year. I didn’t realize I was writing a book for a quarantine, too.

Here is what I know to be true: we’re not all the same deep down in our purest hearts, and we’re not all weathering this storm from the same boat. But as we say goodbye to our old world and wait for the new one to reveal itself, I wonder if there’s a way for us to reach out and connect with each other in this strange place in between.

Meet Katie Cotugno

Katie Cotugno is the New York Times bestselling author of Top Ten99 Days9 Days and 9 Nights, and How to Love. She is also the coauthor, with Candace Bushnell, of Rules for Being a Girl. Katie studied writing, literature, and publishing at Emerson College and received her MFA in fiction at Lesley University. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in Iowa ReviewMississippi Review, and Argestes, among others. She lives in Boston with her husband, Tom. You can visit Katie online at www.katiecotugno.com.

Find Katie’s book at Frugal Bookstore and wherever books are sold.

About You Say It First

You Say It First

An addictive, irresistible YA novel about two teens from different worlds who fall for each other after a voter registration call turns into a long-distance romance—from Katie Cotugno, the New York Times bestselling author of 99 Days. Perfect for fans of Mary H.K. Choi, Robin Benway, and Nicola Yoon.

One conversation can change everything.

Meg has her entire life set up perfectly: she and her best friend, Emily, plan to head to Cornell together in the fall, and she works at a voter registration call center in her Philadelphia suburb. But everything changes when one of those calls connects her to a stranger from small-town Ohio.

Colby is stuck in a rut, reeling from a family tragedy and working a dead-end job. The last thing he has time for is some privileged rich girl preaching the sanctity of the political process. So he says the worst thing he can think of and hangs up.

But things don’t end there.…

That night on the phone winds up being the first in a series of candid, sometimes heated, always surprising conversations that lead to a long-distance friendship and then—slowly—to something more. Across state lines and phone lines, Meg and Colby form a once-in-a-lifetime connection. But in the end, are they just too different to make it work?

You Say It First is a propulsive, layered novel about how sometimes the person who has the least in common with us can be the one who changes us most.

ISBN-13: 9780062674128
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/16/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Me and My Abuela: The Stories that Made Me Want to Become a Storyteller, a guest post by Alex Aster

Storytelling is one of our most ancient and sacred abilities as humans. From cave drawings, to woven tapestries, to the bards in Ovid, to my abuela, whispering terrifying tales in the dark. I remember it all—me and my twin sister tugging at my grandmother’s soft, starfish-like hand, leading her to our room. As a child, my abuela, at four-foot-eight, was always more of a conspirator than an adult figure. She would sneak us apple juice at 9pm, way past our bedtime, which we would request through a matching pair of Barbie walkie-talkies. She was scared of the same things we were—I remember screaming at the sight of a giant spider in my room, and calling for her to help, only for my abuela to say tentatively in the hallway, in Spanish, “What is it? I might be scared too.”

I don’t know how it started, but somehow, every night, my abuela would end up at the end of the bed my sister and I shared, swaddled in endless blankets like a giant child. My sister and I would shout requests, and then she would start, in a voice completely different than the high-pitched laugh that always echoed through our house. Everything about her would change—her voice became serious. Her spine straightened. And now, thinking back on it, maybe she wrapped herself in so many blankets because she was afraid for any of her skin to be exposed to the darkness. Because she understood something I do now. Words have power. Scary stories can make the room change—make the shadows on the wall longer, make the darkness hungrier.

Though my grandmother has been on a desperate, long journey to learn English since my sister and I were born, she never mastered it. So these stories were told the same way her mother had told them to her—in Spanish. And language, in storytelling, makes a difference. There are words I can’t begin to translate, not because I don’t know what the English equivalent is, but because the available words are unworthy. They don’t capture either the tenderness, or wickedness, or humor. They don’t sound the same. And, since these stories were always told orally, sound also makes a difference.

My grandmother knows dozens of stories that she can recite word for word—and they’ve never been written down. These tales have been passed along the same way they were passed to me. In dark rooms, on stormy nights, as cautionary tales to curious children. They contained warnings that used to shape my nightmares—don’t wear a ponytail to bed, or it’ll fall off. Don’t sleep backwards on the bed, or your life source will be flipped as well, and the devil will think you’re old instead of young, then collect you for death. Follow the rules, or you might just end up with horns on your forehead.

These Colombian legends shaped my creative brain, during a time when it was still growing, when critical connections were being made. And they continue to influence me now. One story in particular, La niña con la estrella en la frente, inspired the world of my debut book, Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch. In the story, a girl earns a star on her forehead for following the rules, and her sister is given horns on her face for breaking them. That tale inspired me to create a world where markings on one’s skin could be earned, and could come with great power—or could end up being a curse. And, as a tribute to all of those cuentos my abuela told me before bedtime, I created a Book of Cuentos for my debut, an ancient book of legends on Emblem Island that the main characters must use to track down the only person that can break their deadly curse—the Night Witch. Some of these cuentos are based on Latinx monsters, like “La patasola,” “La ciguapa,” and “La llorona.” Some I wrote from scratch. We included these stories in between each chapter, creating a book within a book. Nothing can quite capture the magic of my grandmother telling stories herself, or my sister and I on the edge of our seats (only for my abuela to start snoring before we lightly kicked her awake again). But, hopefully, my book will introduce children who have never heard of these Latinx monsters to our beautiful, rich culture.

I’m lucky to still have my grandmother in my life. She’s still four-foot-eight, still laughs more than she talks, and still can’t quite speak English the way she wants to. But, now that I’m twenty-four, I haven’t heard her storytelling in years. I asked her recently, if she told these stories to my cousins, who are four and eight. I believe she’s tried. Perhaps I’ll ask her to tell them to me again sometime. I owe everything to her, and to our family’s traditions. Because my abuela’s stories made me want to become a storyteller too.

Meet Alex Aster

About — Alex Aster
Photo credit: Kathryn Wirsing

Alex Aster recently graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch is her debut novel, inspired by Latinx myths her Colombian grandmother told her before bedtime. She is currently working on the second book in the Emblem Island series. Explore the world of Emblem Island at asterverse.com.

About Curse of the Night Witch

A fast-paced series starter, perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time and filled with adventure, mythology, and an unforgettable trio of friends.

On Emblem Island all are born knowing their fate. Their lifelines show the course of their life and an emblem dictates how they will spend it.

Twelve-year-old Tor Luna was born with a leadership emblem, just like his mother. But he hates his mark and is determined to choose a different path for himself. So, on the annual New Year’s Eve celebration, where Emblemites throw their wishes into a bonfire in the hopes of having them granted, Tor wishes for a different power.

The next morning Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin…the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. There is only one way to break the curse, and it requires a trip to the notorious Night Witch.

With only his village’s terrifying, ancient stories as a guide, and his two friends Engle and Melda by his side, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only knows through myths, in a race against his dwindling lifeline.

ISBN-13: 9781492697206
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 06/09/2020
Series: Emblem Island Series #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years