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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

Sunday Reflections: Dear World, Here’s What We Want You to Know about Teen Girls

The other day, in attempt to express contempt for President Trump’s Twitter use, Judd Apatow disparaged him by comparing him to a 14-year-old girl who tweets. This is not the first time that I have seen a tweet like this. The idea of being “like a girl”, especially a teenage girl, is a tried and true way of putting down others, especially men. For many, being like a girl is the worse insult they can think of. Teenage girls are so reviled that we effortlessly use them as insults and then we wonder why they are growing up feeling unempowered and rejected by the world around them.

So in response to not just Judd Apatow but to a culture that wants to continue to use teen girls as an insult and a put down, I tweeted about the various teen girls that I know, love, raise and spend time with in my life. You can read those tweets in a Storify here. But I want to tell you specifically what two 14-year-old girls spent last week doing.

forneybooks

For some time, The Teen, a close personal friend and I have been talking about starting an initative to try and get books into the hands of needy children and teens in our local community. One in five children go to bed hungry each night and if you can’t buy food, you are most certainly not buying books. And as a librarian I know and preach the value of libraries exactly for this reason, but I also know that there is something special about owning a few books and having your own personal library that is open all the time and you get to call yours. So these past few weeks we worked really hard to start making it happen in our local community.

b4fk6

We knew that getting books wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – many people have already donated – but we kept getting stuck on the how do we distribute the books portion. Then, our local food pantry announced that it was starting a backpack food program. If you’re community doesn’t do this I highly recommend looking into it. Each child who needs one gets a backpack full of food and snacks to take home on Friday afternoon so that they have some food to eat over the weekend. For many children, breakfast and lunch at school may be the only meal they get each week, and weekends are hard. The food backpack program helps bridge the gap over the weekend.

Making bookmarks

Making bookmarks

So we called the local food pantry, who will be putting the backpacks together each week, and asked if we could also put a book in each backpack. They said yes! So now we have begun collecting book donations (or the money to go buy books as some people prefer we buy the books). We also are making bookmarks and READ buttons to put with each book. Our goal is to put a book in each backpack a couple of times a month so that by the end of the school year these kids will have a handful of books to call their own and they can keep reading when they no longer have access to their school library.

Making buttons

Making buttons

So Friday night, out of all the things these two teenage girls could have been doing, they set up and assembly line to make buttons and bookmarks, placed them in books, and organized books by ages to be placed next week in backpacks. To date we have about 131 books.

b4fk5 b4fk1

We made signs and put collection boxes up around the neighborhood. And we brainstormed other ways we could get books into the hands of kids. For example, our community has a monthly farmer’s market and we talked about purchasing a cart that we can set up with a “here kids take a book” sign. The girls are excited about the prospect of spending their Saturday’s out in the community handing out books to kids.

These are just two teenage girls, there are tons more like them all over doing equally amazing things. So maybe we can stop using them as insults and instead start respecting, nurturing and empowering them. And hey, maybe once in a while tell them they’re awesome. Because they are.