State of the Blogger: idk.

Back at the end of 2016, I posted my creative goals for 2017:

  1. Finish Salt Novel.
  2. Find the soul of Yes Novel.

So. Yeah. Life.

Salt Novel is getting closer, but it won’t be done before the end of the year. The exciting news is that my agent, my editor, and I all want another pair of eyes on the manuscript, so I’m getting to work with an editor I really admire who has worked on NYT Bestsellers in the YA world. I’ll get notes from her in mid-January, which means a 2.5 month break from my novel! It’s quite needed. I’ve been working on this since I finished Truest back in 2013– well, along with a time where I wrote out a draft of Yes Novel. Speaking of …

Yes Novel. For those of you who didn’t know what it was about, it’s about a boy named Asa with OCD. If you’re active in the YA community, you’ll know that John Green’s latest novel just came out last month. About a girl named Aza with OCD.


Yup. So Yes Novel is headed to the backburner for now.

But all this means that I have 2.5 months to brainstorm new ideas. Or, as my therapist put it, to “be playful.” I am truly, deeply excited to just explore ideas and characters and names without any stressful deadlines I have to meet. I have a handful of ideas (Fox Novel, Ivy Novel, Glass Novel, Gold Novel, Egg Novel) and a handful of characters that have been … percolating. It’ll be fun to mix and match and dream.



Slow, Blessed Work

I’m writing as much and as hard and as fast as I can, but it’s still painstaking, slow work.

I can’t help but think of how Annie Dillard described it:

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then – and only then – it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way.

This feels like blessed work. Slow slow slow. But I can sense the narrative arc taking form; right now I am climbing with it.

Spare a thought for me.

Series Review: The Heirs of Watson Island (No Spoilers!)

Last weekend I finished Illusion, the third book of the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy by Martina Boone. This book, of course, builds on its two predecessors, so– in order to avoid spoilers– I just want to share with you what this series is about and the things I like about it.

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.

Barrie Watson is a girl who, newly orphaned, moves to South Carolina to live with her Aunt Pru. There, she finds family secrets she never knew; magic that is hard to understand; and a super-cute boy who knows what she wants better than she knows herself.


What I liked:

Eight. My gosh, dream boy. Eight Beaufort is sweet and thoughtful and gorgeous and funny and smart. Love him to pieces.

Barrie. She’s sassy and brilliant and refuses to be trampled on. My kinda girl!

The writing. It’s gorgeous. English is Martina Boone’s second language, and yet she has total mastery of it. The descriptions are to die for.

The south. Southern culture infiltrates every part of this book– but in a totally natural, not-at-all-distracting way.

The cultures. The book has stories and legends from diverse backgrounds, and they make the series so rich. I really appreciate that Boone did her research, and she even includes additional details in the pages after the books end.

Also interesting to note, the second book was my favorite one of the series– which is really unusual for me! Usually the second book in a series is my least favorite, as it often seems to just be a bridge. But Persuasion was my favorite!

Have you read this series? What did you think?


Six Parts of Writing a Book that Aren’t Actually Writing

There is so much more to writing a book than just writing a book. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and thought I’d write up a few thoughts about it. Note that this is my experience; every writer has his or her own methods!


When I was younger, I thought, “I’ll never write historical novels; that way, I won’t have to do research.” HA. I think any well-thought-out piece of writing requires so much research, and not always the kind you might imagine. I’ve spent countless hours researching things that my characters are interested in, just so that I can have my characters talk about them with convincing acuity. When those things are above my head (i.e. the quantum mechanics in Yes Novel), I have to still find a way to write just enough to convince the audience I know more. (Then I had to have my physics Ph.D friend read those scenes to make sure I didn’t say anything absolutely wrong.)

Speaking of bringing in friends, I do this all the time. My Facebook friends usually assume that any random question that comes from left field is usually book research. Sometimes I will spend hours just finding the name of a color or how to build a table or how to translate one sentence of Portuguese. I remember taking so long just to find the name for the “blanket” used during X-rays: a lead apron. That sentence wasn’t about X-rays either; it was about how depression presses weighs on a person. I spent all night researching boats for a paragraph in Salt Novel. And if I get the details right, the reader probably won’t notice– it will flow smoothly instead of tripping someone up!


For me, this usually looks like conversations, either prayer or otherwise. I get out either my prayer journal or my process journal and start asking questions, thinking, waiting for answers. Sometimes I tell my friends, “I have a problem to solve. I need this square peg to fit into a round hole,” and we go back and forth until we make it work. Sometimes this takes a long time and means headaches and tears. But I don’t do it alone.


I’m not sure if that’s entirely the right word. But with the exception of when I’m sleeping (although not always– sometimes I think about my novel while I dream!), I am always on alert for ideas, solutions, objections. My co-worker said, “Can I still rent a vehicle if I’m not 25 yet?” and my first thought wasn’t how to help her but, “Oh crap, I have a 19-year-old renting a car in my manuscript. FIX.” Anything funny or beautiful or interesting– all my experiences, in fact– pass through the novel-sieve: is this something I can use for the story?


I spent the entire evening earlier this week nailing down the timeline of my story. For me, I find it easiest to use an actual calendar and to fill in the days with the names of scenes. Timeline matters especially if there is a “time bomb” in the novel or if there is some process (pregnancy, an academic year, etc.) that has to follow certain general guidelines. It also keeps me from bypassing important holidays. And the weather has to be right for that time of year (see above: research). And if there is a love story, I want to make sure that it’s reasonable. I don’t want my characters falling in love in just three days.


This is something I am learning. With my first novel (Lights All Around, unpublished), I had no strategy. I barely even considered the most basic constructs of a novel: action, climax, resolution, and the like, let alone thought strategically about how the characters were changing from beginning to end. I did that so much more with Truest, and now it’s becoming a built-in part of my writing life. I find myself thinking things like, “If I want M to relax and C to become more assertive, then I should have a scene where C takes control and M follows suit.” That probably seems like a no-brainer, but for this writer, it took about three decades to get there. Now I think, “If I want X to be especially impactful, then I need to set it up by making Y more extreme. How can I do that?” (See above: brainstorming.)


When I am writing, I like to stay deep in the waters of great fiction. I have re-read a handful of books that inspire Salt Novel over and over again. I enjoy the story, but I also examine it. Why did that work? How did the author make me feel that way? Why did I change my mind about that character? If I am trying to create a river, it helps to stand in one. 

There are other things too, like outlining, marketing (eventually), and finding connections between themes (my favorite!). It’s a lot of work, but soooo rewarding! How blessed am I to get to do this with my life?

Off to write now– actually write!

Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a book cover misrepresent the story inside so much as this one. Let’s take a look at it.noggin

What do you expect from this title and cover?

I pictured a Grasshopper Jungle type of story– weird and wild and fast and sort of hard-to-believe-but-I’ll-go-along-for-the-ride, you know?

Not at all. This story was the most emotionally exhausting book I’ve read so far this year. And maybe for ALL of last year too. In fact, I can’t remember a book putting my heart through the meat-grinder quite like this one did since I read The Fault in Our Stars. My gosh. I’m still reeling.

First of all, what’s this book about? Travis Coates is the second person to have a successful head-transplant surgery. When he died, his head was cryogenically preserved while they figured out the procedure– the medical organization he was with suspected they would have a solution within twenty years, though, secretly, neither Travis nor his friends or family thought it would ever work. So, when only five years later, it does work … well, everything is different. Most notably, Travis is still sixteen and in love with his girlfriend Cate … who is now 21 and engaged to someone else.

This book was intense. All the feels. Multiplied exponentially. While I often love to just binge-read through a great story, I couldn’t with this one. I could only handle small doses– an hour of reading here, a half-hour there. And when I finished it today, I just sobbed and sobbed and then took a nap to deaden the feelings.

Noggin was incredible. Layered characters. Meaningful story. Made my head spin and my heart break. This book was so much more than I ever anticipated.



Review: In A World Just Right by Jen Brooks

I met Jen Brooks during a panel discussion we were both a part of last November, and I was fascinated by the excerpt she read from In A World Just Right. I bought a copy that very night, but I haven’t had a chance to dive in until yesterday. I started it yesterday. I finished it yesterday. I was home sick from work, so I legit just read for eight hours straight.

in a world just rightThis book.

Let me tell you.

The premise is clever: ever since Jonathan went through a traumatic accident at age eight, he’s been a world-maker, that is, he can invent worlds and come and go from them as he pleases. The one he spends the most time in is Kylie-Simms-is-my-girlfriend, where– you guessed it– Kylie Simms is his girlfriend. In real life, that’s not even close to being true. Jonathan is a bit of an outcast, mostly invisible to his classmates.

Fascinating, right?

Things get trickier from there, once the real Kylie Simms starts paying attention to him and Jonathan starts learning the extent of his powers and has to deal with some pretty huge moral decisions. Like, fantastically huge. He really, really wrestles through things, and I loved him for it.

Then things get even trickier. Really.

Let’s just say that this is as close to a YA Inception that I’ve ever read. That’s a good thing– no, a great thing.

About halfway through, I tweeted to Jen that “I can’t figure out how in the world(s) this will end,” and she tweeted back, “Fingers crossed you like where it ends up. :)”

After my eight-hour journey of my mind being blown, I tweeted her, “PERFECT ENDING!”

Not my typical read, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. You guys know I love books that make me think. This book will make you think.


Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

It feels like a million years ago that Marisa Reichardt first contacted me– she wanted to interview me for The Sweet Sixteens (interview here). I sent her a PDF copy of Truest, since there weren’t even ARCs at that time. Since then, Marisa has become so dear to me, someone I can go to about all my writer-problems, someone who gets it and is brimming with compassion and empathy.

underwater3Now it was my turn to read her book!

Underwater is Morgan’s story– readers learn in the earliest pages that she was witness to a school shooting and has since been dealing with agoraphobia. Yes, Morgan has not left her family’s apartment in months. Then a new guy moves in next door, and things start to change.

My favorite part of this book was how much I understood what Morgan was going through– the panic, at first, then later, as she begins to venture out (starting with just the welcome mat!), the way she has to sit with so much uncertainty and fear– but how she accommodates to it! I had the distinct thought, “This is exposure therapy. This is also how you treat OCD.” Afterward, I looked it up online, to see if my guesses were right. The sites that I looked at talked specifically about exposure therapy being the best treatment for agoraphobia.

Mind. Blown.

Here I thought we with OCD had the corner on the exposure therapy market! Not so.

Some reviews I read said that the book is a little dark and heavy– but I disagree. Well, time out. Yes, it begins dark and heavy. But it should. We are dealing with PTSD here, people, not a hangnail! But what I loved most about Underwater was how it bent toward the light.

Perfectionism Digs a Deep Hole

Exhibit A.


Exhibit B.

mm no

Exhibit C.


Exhibit D.


Exhibit E.

Runner crossing finish line

Achiever. That’s honestly my #2 strength after Learner via StrengthsFinder. But so often it doesn’t feel like a strength; it feels crippling.

Perfectionism is something I’ve battled my whole life. I didn’t just want an A on the test, I wanted the highest score in the class. I might get 100% but if someone else also got an extra credit point, I’d feel like I didn’t perform well.

Performer. My freedom from OCD has given me so much freedom in this area too. I’m learning that my worth isn’t based on my performance.

But it’s still a lie I all too often believe.

I’m a writer. But I can never measure up to my own standards for myself, and so I walk around defeated even when I’m living my dream.

I don’t have answers to this. I just needed to share. Thanks for listening.

2016 Books I’m (More Than) Excited For

I’m sure there will be many, many more as we progress through the year, but from the get-go, these are the ones on my radar:

The Series-Enders:

raven kingThe Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. NEED.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crows knocked me off my feet. I can’t wait to find out what happens to this crew of misfits.

Illusion by Martina Boone. Eight Beaufort. That’s all.

Rose and DaggerThe Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh. Many of you know that Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn was my favorite read of 2015. I’m more than ready for the sequel.

The Series-Starter:

crown's gameThe Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye. This has been pitched as The Night Circus in an alternate Russia. So much yes.

The Standalones:

salt to the seaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. I had the pleasure of hearing Ruta talk about this book when she was in St. Paul this winter. It’s the true story of an accident on the sea that was astronomically worse than Titanic. I can’t wait to see how Sepetys brings it to life.

underwater2Underwater by Marissa Reichardt. I “met” Marissa when she interviewed me about Truest, and now it’s her turn to debut. Listen to this description. Is this not right up my alley? “Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.”


What about you guys? What books are you looking forward to in 2015???

Being a Creator is Uncomfortable

Writing a novel is a long, difficult journey full of emotions. Some days I’m thrilled with my work; some days it disgusts me. Sometimes I feel a sort of writer’s high; often I am in a slump.

But amidst all the join and pain of writing, I experience this level of … discomfort. Discomfort is probably the best word for it.


I’ve been thinking a little bit about it, and I have a few random thoughts. Do you care if I use bullet points? Thanks.

  • My discomfort stems from having something incomplete. I understand that the nature of creation is that something is being created and that likely doesn’t happen in a moment. But I hate having messy drafts. I want to know that if I got hit by a bus today, something could still be done with my manuscript. (Gruesome much, Sommers?)
  • I think this discomfort is a huge reason for how driven I am in writing. I go into beast mode as I write and revise. And it’s all because I want to get the manuscript back to a modicum of order.
  • Does this say something about my innate desire for order? Maybe. (Though you would not think that if you looked at my bedroom. #tornado)
  • I’m thinking about God creating– some think he made the world in a literal six days (and rested on the seventh), some think those days are just metaphors, some think there is no God. But I’m intrigued at the idea of him hammering through all this creative work and then finally getting a chance to rest. Sometimes I feel that way too. I have to get this work done before I can properly rest and recover.
  • I understand that I need to learn to live with this discomfort. It’s been the major lesson of my adult life: learning to embrace uncertainty, learning to stay knee-deep in discomfort until I acclimate. I am trying to stretch these lessons to my creative life. I tell myself I only need to revise 1000 words a day … but then I barrel through and do 10k because I can and because it’s uncomfortable and because I want to get things back to good. But how much more will I learn if I stay in the discomfort? I don’t know.

Just some thoughts for you. Would love to hear if these ideas prompted any reaction in you.

Thanks for being lovely.