Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We're really excited to feature Abigail Johnson, author of IF I FIX YOU, this week as she shares what made the difference in becoming a published author.

"I decided to talk about critique partner's and how they were the one thing that made the most difference in getting me from aspiring author to published author".

I like to think I’ve always been an aspiring author. I wrote little stories as a kid and never really stopped. It wasn’t until college, however, that the idea of becoming a published author took root. That’s when I started writing my very first novel.

You guys, it was such a turd of a book.

It was an adult action-adventure novel with an archaeological bent a la Clive Cussler. I had no idea how to write a novel, much less one that required the obscene amount of research needed for the story I came up with. I spent months and months researching locations and time periods and historical figures who were quasi-connected to my plot. By the time I actually got into writing the story, I had so much info crammed in my head that it strangled the enjoyment for me. I don’t think I made it halfway before I gave up on it.

I didn’t mind though, because while I’ll always get a kick out of reading Dirk Pitt’s latest adventures, my heart will forever belong to YA. There is something endlessly exciting about being a teenager and straddling that line between childhood and adulthood. One I realized that I wanted to write the kind of books I loved reading most—YA—I got an idea for a new story and I could not write it fast enough. There were no tomb robbers or car chases, but there was heartache and first kisses and broken characters. That book would eventually become If I Fix You, my first published—and completed—novel.

Becoming a published author wasn’t as easy as simply finishing a book. I had to rewrite and revise and cut and tear my book apart over and over again before that happened. And I didn’t do it by myself, I couldn’t have done it by myself.

"That all started with Maggie Stiefvater."

Oh, how I love Maggie Stiefvater. Not just because her writing owns my heart. Every. Single. Time she releases a new book (The Scorpio Races remain my favorite), but because if it weren’t for her, I would never have met the two people most responsible for helping me transition from aspiring author published author.

I’m talking about Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Love Connection and the two best CP’s on the planet: Sarah Guillory and Kate Goodwin. We were all fans of Maggie’s books and follower’s of her blog when she inaugurated the annual matchup years ago. Maggie invited aspiring authors to share some info about a current WIP in the post comments and then see if anyone seemed interested in swapping pages. We were all writing Contemporary YA and ended up trading a few chapters, and we’ve never looked back.

I was drifting as a writer before I connected with my critique partners. Yes, I had a story and characters I liked, but I didn’t have a book, much less something publishable. I had a draft and a messy one at that. Once we started critiquing for each other, I gained a new focus. For the first time since college, I had people expecting me to write. I had an audience beyond family and friends. I had other writers helping me to identify the strengths and weaknesses in my writing, helping my set--and keep--deadlines, and encouraging me every step of the way. When it came time to start querying agents, they must have read dozens of versions before I sent the first one out. When the inevitable rejections started rolling in, they were the ones who kept me motivated until I landed the perfect agent for me. And you better believe they cheered as loud as anyone when I sold my first book.

We’ve all grown a lot as writers and critique partners since Maggie first “introduced” us, and if anything, I feel like I rely on them more. Beyond reading and critiquing each other’s books, every month we write short stories based on the same prompt and get to try out genres and styles we might never explore as full-length novels. We still brainstorm new ideas, titles and work through plot holes together. We share tips and book recommendations. We help each other with promotion, software, all the other non-book related stuff too. They are, without a doubt, the most invaluable resource I have as a writer and I can’t imagine writing a single word without them. And I love getting to help them too. It’s an incredible feeling to know we’re in this industry together, both as friends and authors.

"[Critique partners] are, without a doubt, the most invaluable resource I have as a writer and I can’t imagine writing a single word without them."

If you are looking for critique partners to help get you to the next level, a quick search will offer you are a lot of options. If you want to try Maggie Stiefvater's Critique Partner Love Connection, she's evolved and streamlined the program into an ongoing Google group here.


If I Fix You
by Abigail Johnson
Harlequin Teen
Released 10/25/2016

Readers of Sarah Dessen, Cammie McGovern and Morgan Matson will adore this thought-provoking, complex and romantic contemporary novel from debut author Abigail Johnson, about finding the strength to put yourself back together when everything you know has fallen apart.

When sixteen-year-old Jill Whitaker’s mom walks out—with a sticky note as a goodbye—only Jill knows the real reason she’s gone. But how can she tell her father? Jill can hardly believe the truth herself.

Suddenly, the girl who likes to fix things—cars, relationships, romances, people—is all broken up. Used to be, her best friend, tall, blond and hot flirt Sean Addison, could make her smile in seconds. But not anymore. They don’t even talk.

With nothing making sense, Jill tries to pick up the pieces of her life. But when a new guy moves in next door, intense, seriously cute, but with scars—on the inside and out—that he thinks don’t show, Jill finds herself trying to make things better for Daniel. But over one long, hot Arizona summer, she realizes she can’t fix anyone’s life until she fixes her own. And she knows just where to start . . .


Abigail was born in Pennsylvania. When she was twelve, her family traded in snow storms for year round summers, and moved to Arizona. Abigail chronicled the entire cross-country road trip (in a purple spiral bound notebook that she still has) and has been writing ever since. 

She became a tetraplegic after breaking her neck in a car accident when she was seventeen, but hasn’t let that stop her from bodysurfing in Mexico, writing and directing a high school production of Cinderella, and publishing her first novel.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

1 In Contentious Times, It's Time to Ask for Forgiveness

There was another incident of senseless violence at Ohio State University yesterday. It seems like the news makes no sense anymore. Ever. This Thanksgiving, I felt guilty for giving thanks for so many blessings when I know other people are hurting, whether that hurt is physical, emotional, or financial.

It’s tempting to retreat inward in times like these, to ease away from the news and social media and resort to watching videos of puppies and kittens. That’s a selfish impulse, though. We can’t retreat from the pain other people are feeling and make anything better.

What can make things better? Kindness. Compassion. Understanding.

We can make an effort to recognize graciousness and selflessness whenever we find it, and that’s what I’m going to do in this post today.

I want to give a shout out to a brand new web site called Founded by Liza Wiemer, it’s just one more example of the kindness and emphasis on forgiveness that she is constantly putting out into the world. Today, we need that more than ever. We not only need to forgive others. We need to forgive ourselves and let go of pain.

Here’s a video that explains about the site:

In a nutshell, the site is a place to post anonymous stories of the hurts, big and small, that people have inflicted on each other. The hurts that continue to stick with us. It’s a place to reach out and show the world that we all have pain and to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes so that we can all go on to be better and kinder.

Go read these stories. Reading inspires empathy.

Have a story to share? Something you regret? A mistake you wish you could erase? A hurt you've inflicted for which you never asked forgiveness? It's not too late. Go share it. Ask for forgiveness.

And a big THANK YOU to Liza for inspiring this at a time when we need it.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Hugs and much love,


Monday, November 28, 2016

6 New Releases this week 11/28 plus Giveaway of AVALANCHE

Happy Monday! Don't forget to check out all the new releases and enter to win below.

Happy Reading,

Shelly, Sam, Jocelyn, Martina, Erin, Susan, Michelle, Laura, Anisaa, and Kristin


* * * *

by Melinda Braun
Signed Hardcover Giveaway
U.S. Only

Simon Pulse
Released 11/29/2016

Two groups of teens—those waiting to be saved and those doing the saving—are in a race against time and a battle against Mother Nature after an avalanche traps them in an isolated cabin in this chilling novel.

“I promise it’ll be a weekend you’ll never forget.”

A trip like that is exactly what Matt was hoping for—a fun adventure. A daring escape. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go cross country skiing in a thrilling but dangerous pass through the Rocky Mountains. The perfect way for Matt to forget about his disappointing father and maybe let loose a little with his best friend and a group of carefree adrenaline junkies.

But then their guide takes them off-path … and straight into an avalanche. By the time they make it safely into an abandoned cabin, one skier is dead and another severely injured. Trapped with no heat, no water, and no radio the group decides to wait it out. Help will come. It has to.

Until it doesn’t. And Matt knows if they wait any longer they’ll be dead—just another bunch of victims in Mother Nature’s twisted games. Armed with only a handful of supplies and his fierce determination Matt decides to goes head-to-head with the elements, battling hypothermia, frostbite, and even mountain lions in order to find help and save them all. That is if Mother Nature doesn’t kill him first.

Purchase Avalanche at Amazon
Purchase Avalanche at IndieBound
View Avalanche on Goodreads


Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley: Any B.
Gap Life by John Coy: Ellie M.


* * * *

Dear Yvette
by Ni-Ni Simone
Released 11/29/2016

All sixteen year old Yvette Simmons wanted was to disappear. Problem is: she has too many demons for that. Yvette’s life changed forever after a street fight over a boy ended in a second degree murder charge. Forced to start all over again, she’s sentenced to live in a group home far from anything or anyone she’s ever known. She manages to keep her past hidden, until a local cutie, known as Brooklyn, steps in. Slowly, Yvette lets him into her heart and he gives her the summer of her dreams...

But in Yvette’s world things are never as they seem.

Brooklyn has a few secrets of his own and Yvette’s past comes back with a vengeance. Will she face life head-on? Will she return to her old ways? Or will an unexpected letter decide her fate?

Purchase Dear Yvette at Amazon
Purchase Dear Yvette at IndieBound
View Dear Yvette on Goodreads

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Frozen Charlotte
by Alex Bell
Scholastic Press
Released 11/29/2016

An instantly gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller filled with haunted dolls, creepy settings, and horrific twists.

When fifteen-year-old Sophie's best friend dies abruptly under mysterious circumstances, Sophie sets off to stay with her uncle and cousins on the remote Isle of Skye. It's been years since she last saw her cousins -- brooding Cameron with his scarred hand; Piper, who seems too perfect to be real; and peculiar little Lilias with her fear of bones.

Sophie knows that in her uncle's house, there are rules she must follow: Make no mention of Cameron's accident. Never leave the front gate unlocked. Above all, don't speak of the girl who's no longer there, the sister whose room lies empty of all but the strange antique dolls she left behind.

As Sophie begins to explore the old house, a former academy for girls shut down long ago, she discovers unsettling secrets that shed light on a dark and dangerous history. But there are some secrets Sophie never expected to uncover. Secrets about her own family. Secrets that suggest Sophie may be in more danger than she could have ever imagined.

Purchase Frozen Charlotte at Amazon
Purchase Frozen Charlotte at IndieBound
View Frozen Charlotte on Goodreads

* * * *

Girls in the Moon
by Janet McNally
Released 11/29/2016

An exquisitely told, authentic YA debut about family secrets, the shadow of fame, and finding your own way.

Everyone in Phoebe Ferris’s life tells a different version of the truth. Her mother, Meg, ex–rock star and professional question evader, shares only the end of the story—the post-fame calm that Phoebe’s always known. Her sister, Luna, indie-rock darling of Brooklyn, preaches a stormy truth of her own making, selectively ignoring the facts she doesn’t like. And her father, Kieran, the cofounder of Meg’s beloved band, hasn’t said anything at all since he stopped calling three years ago.

But Phoebe, a budding poet in search of an identity to call her own, is tired of half-truths and vague explanations. When she visits Luna in New York, she’s determined to find out how she fits in to this family of storytellers, and to maybe even continue her own tale—the one with the musician boy she’s been secretly writing for months. Told in alternating chapters, Phoebe’s first adventure flows as the story of Meg and Kieran’s romance ebbs, leaving behind only a time-worn, precious pearl of truth about her family’s past—and leaving Phoebe to take a leap into her own unknown future.

Purchase Girls in the Moon at Amazon
Purchase Girls in the Moon at IndieBound
View Girls in the Moon on Goodreads

Saturday, November 26, 2016

1 Sarah Raughley, author of FATE OF FLAMES, on writing for yourself

We're delighted to have Sarah Raughley here to tell us more about her latest novel FATE OF FLAMES.

Sarah, what was your inspiration for writing FATE OF FLAMES?

Since I was a kid, I've had an idea of creating my own band of magical girl warriors, and I've had different characters and plotlines in my head for years and years. I think it's when they first announced Sailor Moon Crystal that I just got really excited and decided to go ahead with some of the ideas I'd been playing around with. I'm a huge geek so fantasy novels as well as anime and j-RPGs really kind of form the basis of my inspiration for the story.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

I don't know if there are scenes that were particularly difficult to write. In scenes, you're always thinking about getting the emotions right and making sure you reveal the right amount of information or character. Perhaps in that respect, the emotional scenes between Belle and Maia in the later chapters were pretty difficult since I had to communicate the conflict while still helping people to understand where each was coming from.

The scenes that I particularly love are all the fight scenes :) Because I'm very visual so writing big fight scenes and having big set pieces is always a lot of fun.

0 John Coy, author of GAP LIFE, on writing the entire novel before trying to fix everything

We're thrilled to have John Coy with us to share more about his latest novel GAP LIFE.

John, what was your inspiration for writing GAP LIFE?

When I was in high school, a friend’s parents announced they would pay for college but only if he studied to become a doctor, which wasn’t what he wanted to do. That stayed with me as I learned that more parents were telling their children what they should study as college has become so expensive. I knew there was a story in that.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The scenes of Dad’s anger were hard to write. That’s painful stuff.

I wrote Cray and Rayne’s second kiss many times. I wanted to convey the excitement and urgency he feels followed quickly by the awkwardness and embarrassment. I love these two characters and all that they go through.

Friday, November 25, 2016

2 YALLFest interview with Jonathan Stroud

My first interview at YALLFest was with Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus series and the Lockwood & Co. series. I'm a big fan of Jonathan's novels, so I was thrilled to have a chance to pick his brain about his writing process. In fact, I'm such a huge fan that (this is embarrassing to admit, but we're all friends here) I actually named a character after him in my short film Saying Goodbye. So I
was super nervous before the big interview, as in knees-knocking, palms-sweating, will-my-voice-even-work nervous. Fortunately, Jonathan is a charming English gentleman, so my nerves immediately disappeared as we chatted about writing, the perfect cuppa, and giving kids the
opportunity to be creative.

Jonathan, thank you for the interview with AYAP! Since many of our readers are participating in National Novel Writing Month this month, I was wondering if you’ve ever participated?

I’ve never actually done it, but about ten years ago I contributed a pep talk for it, which I think they still use (read it here). I think it’s excellent. You need deadlines – deadlines are important.

When NaNo rolls around each year, it reignites the pantser versus plotter debate – where do you stand on this vital matter?

Well, in the outset, I am a pantser. For me, I always start with just jumping in – all my books tend to start with just a scene or a kernel of an idea, and I throw myself in and I just write and I see what happens. I think that’s kind of necessary because you get an energy and excitement. Though often some things don’t work, so plenty of times I’ll try that and it doesn’t have the energy, but when it does, it’s really exciting. And, you know, almost the fact that you haven’t got a plan means that you go down interesting avenues.

Later, I’m very much a plotter, and I will stop and I will create structure, and then I will carry on writing and change the structure. And I think, personally, it’s a bit of a 50-50. I think you need both – you need both sides of your brain working. I’m skeptical of people who say, “Oh, yeah, I just let the muse take me.” I think, no, you do need structure. There are certain books you read and you kind of go, “Hmm, this person’s got pretty good ideas but they haven’t actually got the discipline to make it tight,” which I think is something you do have to have as well.

One of the standard questions we ask authors is: “What's your writing ritual like?” but you helpfully have your Day in the Life on your website (check it out here). It says you print out your pages at the end of each day and read them in the morning – do you do revisions at that point or is it just to get you back in the work?
It sort of works on a number of levels. When I’m thinking creatively, when I’m making notes and sort of quick ideas, I like to use pen and paper because somehow that’s more instantly creative and you can do little drawings, and it’s just much more primal.

But when I’m trying to write, over the years I’ve gotten in the habit of typing it up, straight onto the computer, so immediately when I re-read it there onscreen, it’s like text, you can see it almost in its official state. Similarly, it’s important at the end of the day, I think, to print out your pages, and it’s there in a kind of an official form, so when you then re-read it the next day, you’re somehow reading it like somebody else’s text. And you can really see if it’s not good enough for you or you want to change it or if it doesn’t read properly. For me, that’s important. So I tend to re-read what I did the previous day, and then do a bit of tweaking, minor, minor stuff, and then jump in and try and carry on. This is when I’m in the middle of trying to write the book.

So then after you finish a first draft, what is your revision process like?

Well, I tend to revise very piecemeal. Like as of now, I’m working on the fifth Lockwood book, and I’ve currently got like 120 pages of stuff, and it’s bits and pieces from all over the book – versions, early drafts, things that won’t get into the book – but they are all attempts at finding ways in, opening windows on the book. When I get back from America, I’ll go back to the beginning and work my way through, and some parts I will be revising - I’ll spend a long time on them and work on them, work on them. Other chapters will be very easy, and I’ll sort of do it quite quickly. 

Then I’ll have a draft, and I will re-read, re-work. So by the time I get it to an editor, I’ll have re-revised it several times, some bits more than others. And I will think it’s quite close to what I want, and then the editor, of course, will give me some more ideas. *laughs* But at that point I would expect to go over it one more time incorporating comments and final, final tweaks, and that would be it.

Has there been an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

The one time when I had a real AHA moment, kind of a feeling of inspiration, was many years ago when I came up with the idea for the Bartimaeus books. I was walking along the road, and as I walked I had a couple of key ideas. The primary one was I wanted to write a book about magic, but I didn’t want to make it about hero wizards, which were very much in vogue. I thought, no, I’ll make the wizards the bad guys and have this demon or djinni as my narrator, my hero. And, yeah, that’s right, the magicians will be politicians and the country is ruled by them. And those two sort of linked ideas, I thought, ‘oh, that’s good,’ and I went home and quickly wrote the idea down. 

When I began to write a few days later, the voice of Bartimaeus just sort of came out and, actually, at that moment, even though it was just one day’s writing, I knew that I’d found a voice that was going to be good. And for me that’s kind of unique. I understand what kind of writer I am, so that was very exciting. My wife came home from work and I sat her down and read her those pages, which I would never do. But I just knew it was something good. It was very special.

Speaking of Bartimaeus, I'm a huge fan. How did you come up with doing footnotes for him, which is such an amazing part of his voice?

Well, thank you. On the first day, when I sat down to write the opening chapter – and this is a case in point when I had no idea what the story was, I just knew it was going to be spoken by the djinni and there was going to be this kid and that’s all I knew – and I sat down and his voice just came out, and I think on the second page the first footnote appeared. And it just seemed right because he’s such a know-all, and he’s been around for thousands of years, he thinks he’s far superior to anybody who might be reading the book. And I did it and thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be great, it’s a real aspect of his personality.’ It wasn’t sort of artificial, because footnotes, I love footnotes, but sometimes you feel like they’re kind of detached from the text. But, this, the whole point was it was part of his character to do this, and it was infinitely playful, which was wonderful. So it was a good day’s work.

You mentioned above that you’re working on the fifth Lockwood novel, so I guess that answers my ‘what are you working on now’ question.

Yes, this should be the fifth and final one of the Lockwood series. It’s been great - I’ve really enjoyed it. Again, it’s deadline things. Specifically setting out to write one book every year, which I find quite tricky because I’m not the world’s fastest writer because I’m revising and fiddling around, but I can just about do it. So this will be the fifth, and I’ll try to wrap things up in a kind of good and tight way.

Do you have ideas on the horizon for what you’re going to do next?

Nooo? No. I am thinking about it. It will be something different. Having done ghosty, paranormal adventures for a while, I’ll definitely do something that’s quite different. Beyond that, I mean I’ve got lots of files, I’m sure you have ideas, you scribble them down, you put them in there. So there’s lots of different types of ways I could go, but part of the fun, I think, is not— it’s the plotting versus pantsing when you’re trying to start a new series. It’s quite important - you need to kind of riff and go with your instinct at the time.

Tea is a big part of your characters’ lives and from your website, I know it’s a big part of your writing process, so tell us how to make the ideal cup of tea.

Well, I mean, there are so many different ways. It depends on if you are Japanese or you Americans make tea in different ways to the way I make tea, and even that’s a generational thing. When I was a kid, I’d go around to my grandparents, and you’d brew the tea loose and it would be in the teapot and it would all be kind of stewing in there and then you’d have a strainer and it was all very sort of polite. 

I’m afraid I’m terribly degraded and we just have teabags, which we chuck into a mug and let it stew. The question of how long it stews for? I’m not a fan of very weak tea. I’m not a fan of perfumey tea. It’s very personal. A good honest breakfast tea, kind of quite strong. My recommendation for a proper bit of tea is to have it after a good walk. If you’ve been out and about and you’re kind of tired and thirsty – a cup of tea – that’s when it’s really the perfect drink. My perfect tea would be hot, not sweet – no sugar. A little bit of milk. Ahh, yes.

I love what you said on your website about author visits in that “it’s essential that a writer reminds himself of who he's writing for” – so what does a typical author visit look like for you?

Traditionally, it’s about an hour presentation. It does depend on where you’re doing it. If you’re doing it in a school and you’ve got an hour, then that’s great because you can get a PowerPoint thing going. I like to show visual things because in a typical audience of kids, some of them will be great readers who love all my books, others will not have a clue who I am and be kind of looking at their watch. 

So I’ll show covers, different international covers. I’ll show different sorts of ghosts. I’ve got a kind of kit, my ghost hunting kit, that people can get dressed up in. I do a lot of drawings. I talk about how I got going on the idea, and I’ll do lots of silly cartoons. So I try to make it very visual, very interactive. 

Again, in that hour, it’s like recreating the flying by your pants, improvisational thing. Because it’s about different parts of your brain. It’s not all just about sitting there and thinking of structure. It’s kind of making drawings and jumping around. And it’s in those moments, you’re kind of loose and you make connections and that’s when the energy really starts to flow.

That leads perfectly into your Freedom To Think campaign, so would you tell us more about it?

It comes from me thinking a little bit about how I create - the things that work for me and the things that don’t work for me - and looking back on my childhood and how I began as well. My parents unearthed all sorts of little books and things I’d done as a kid. And when I was looking at them, I thought, okay, there’s a strong connection between these things I did when I was five and what I’m doing now. And at the time, you’re not aware of it, but actually it’s pretty obvious. So even when I was very small, there was a certain route that I was trying to take, and it involved me spending a lot of the time on my own, kind of riffing and messing about just like we were discussing. And I’m sure it was the same with you and many others. People who have this kind of urge tend to find the time to do your thing, and it involves reading and looking around and daydreaming. 

And I’m aware that my kids, and I think it’s the same in America, more and more, it’s about you getting cracked with homework, you’ve got your clubs, structured time, music lessons. All of which is good because you’re exploring what you’re good at or what you may be good at, but you still need that time to riff and to be on your own and, if necessary, do nothing. Be bored. Because out of that boredom comes, “Well, look, I’m bored, what do I want to do? What is it that turns me on?” And not just watching TV, but I’m going to go out in the garden and I’m going to invent some kind of magical world behind the shed or something. It doesn’t matter. And it’s not just about writing, it’s about scientists and industrialists and entrepreneurs. Everyone. I think we all need those moments. 

And libraries are really important. I go into some schools, and they have these amazing libraries and the great librarians, and you can see it’s a sacred place where the kids will just come and work and play and look at stuff. And other schools you go in, and there’s kind of a resource center with a few books around the corner, lots of computers and sometimes it’s like in a corridor, and you think, this is eroding the library as a sacred space, where symbolically you can do these kind of free moments. 

So that’s what this campaign is all about. I’m just slowly starting to experiment ways of talking about it. In the UK, I try and get festivals and things involved. I’ll get other authors. And not just other authors, illustrators, it could be anybody, businessmen, pretty much anybody you like, politicians, it doesn’t matter, you just come and sit round and we talk about how did we find out who we were. Because that’s what it’s about actually – what sort of person are you, what is it that gives you free expression for yourself?

It seems like a lot of it will be about parents and schools giving children space, but what can writers in the kidlit community do to help facilitate this?

I think we’re all in a way doing it anyway because we’re promoting reading, which is one aspect of it. Reading is about sitting quietly and opening doors and looking in different directions, so we’re already doing it. 

I think as parents and teachers, it’s about saying, "is there physically a time and a place within a day where my kid is allowed to kind of just do their stuff?" With my children, with the amount of stuff they’re expected to do, actually there’s very little free time. And some of the teachers almost articulate it as a positive. “We don’t want your kids to be idle. We’re going to maximize their time.” And ultimately it’s wrong. You do need these free spaces, even if some kids will do nothing in them. And even then I think it’s important. You need those moments to just lie … to daydream. It’s like physical training. If you’re an athlete, you need to train, but you can’t train every day because you need a couple of days for your muscles to rest and strengthen. And then you go back and do another set. If you’re training, training, training then actually you’re going to offset a lot of the advantages, so I think it’s the same with everything. You need those moments of just lying, assimilating, contemplating.

For more information about the Freedom To Think campaign, including ideas to encourage kids and other ways to get involved, go here.

Thank you, Jonathan, for taking the time to chat with me!

As we wait for the last Lockwood & Co. book, make sure you've read his latest, THE CREEPING SHADOW.


The Creeping Shadow
by Jonathan Stroud

Released 9/13/2016

After leaving Lockwood & Co. at the end of The Hollow Boy, Lucy is a freelance operative, hiring herself out to agencies that value her ever-improving skills. One day she is pleasantly surprised by a visit from Lockwood, who tells her he needs a good Listener for a tough assignment. Penelope Fittes, the leader of the giant Fittes Agency wants them--and only them--to locate and remove the Source for the legendary Brixton Cannibal. They succeed in their very dangerous task, but tensions remain high between Lucy and the other agents. Even the skull in the jar talks to her like a jilted lover. What will it take to reunite the team? Black marketeers, an informant ghost, a Spirit Cape that transports the wearer, and mysteries involving Steve Rotwell and Penelope Fittes just may do the trick. But, in a shocking cliffhanger ending, the team learns that someone has been manipulating them all along. . .


Jonathan Stroud ( grew up in St Albans where he enjoyed reading books, drawing pictures, and writing stories. Between the ages seven and nine he was often ill, so he spent most of his days in the hospital or in his bed at home. To escape boredom he would occupy himself with books and stories. After he completed his studies of English literature at the University of York, he worked in London as an editor for the Walker Books store. He worked with different types of books there and this soon led to the writing of his own books. 

Stroud is the author of the New York Times best-selling Bartimaeus Trilogy, as well as the Lockwood & Co. series, Heroes of the Valley, The Leap, The Last Siege, and Buried Fire. He lives in England with his family.

Which Jonathan Stroud books have you read? Do you print your pages so you can read them like they are somebody else's text? How do you make your ideal cup of tea? Do you think we all need more Freedom To Think? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy reading,


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

We're so thankful this week to welcome debut author Janet McNally, author of GIRLS IN THE MOON, as she shares the four things she learned while writing her novel.

"You can do so many of the things you think you can’t, the things you’re afraid of doing...You just have to find a way to carry yourself through."

I don’t remember much about writing Girls in the Moon. I do have notes in a file on my computer, and I skimmed through them once. It was fun to see my word count log grow from 5000 to 25,000 to 50,000, and fun to see the way the story started in such a different place from where it ended. Mostly, though, it felt magical, because like I said, I don’t really remember. Here’s why: when I started writing that novel, I had three daughters and they were very small. The oldest was nearly three and her younger sisters, twins, were nine months old. I was sleeping, sort of, but I was also nursing two infants who really wanted me to hold them as much as humanly possible. It was a weird, blurry, whirlwind time.

But somehow, I wrote a novel. I finished the first draft in seven months or so, then started working through revisions with my agent and after she bought the book, my editor. Now, my twin daughters are three and a half and that novel I wrote is a book-shaped thing in the world (out November 29th!). So what did I learn? I’ll tell you.

1. You have to lose yourself in your book.

Before I started writing Girls in the Moon, I had tried for years to finish a novel and couldn’t seem to manage. A while after my twins were born, something clicked. There are so many think pieces titled something like: “Can you be a mother and still be an artist?” (not nearly as many about fathers). They’re nonsense, but they’re everywhere, and I think I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to write anymore. I decided to work as hard as I could to prove that fear wrong. There was also something about that fuzzy-brained, I-am-trying-to-keep-two-tiny-humans-alive phase that unlocked something inside of me, some cache of creativity or maybe just of stamina. Am I saying that you should go out and have twins to help you write a novel? No. I am emphatically not saying that. But find your own way to motivate yourself, and to immerse yourself in your story.

2. You have to believe you’re a superhero.

Writing is hard. It’s full of doubt and frustration, dotted with beautiful sharp, clear moments when you finally figure out something and the light of heaven shines upon your laptop (or whatever). You have to commit to the long haul when you’re writing a novel. You need to believe you have superpowers that will let you finish.

A month ago I was invited to a local high school to share my poetry. During question time, I called on a student in the front row. “What advice would you have given yourself when you were fifteen?” she asked. I thought about it, then I said this: You can do so many of the things you think you can’t, the things you’re afraid of doing. You’ll think: I can’t do that and then there is a slight possibility I could do that and then I guess I could do that and then I’m doing it. (Note: this particularly applies to edit letters.) You just have to find a way to carry yourself through.

3. You need lots of sidekicks.

I’m continuing with the superhero metaphor here, obviously. Here’s my advice: find your people. For me, this began with my husband, who ran our three-girl circus while I was writing, and my parents who pitched in a lot, too. It’s also my writer friends, who help me see the things in my manuscript that I can’t, and understand exactly what it feels like to try to tell a story you feel is important and then send it out into the world. Find yourself some writer friends, stat, and value the ones you have.

4. You should make sure you’re writing for yourself and for someone else, too.

My students and I have been video chatting with my writer friends during our young adult lit class, and I’ve been struck by the way so many of them have encouraged us to tell the stories we want and need to tell, rather than worrying about what the market might want. I agree. If you put your whole heart into a novel it’s more likely to mean something to you, and to other people too. I wrote Girls in the Moon for my present self, and for my past self too, the girl who used to stay out late at indie rock shows and listen to the same songs over and over. I also wrote it for my daughters and everyone else who is trying to figure out where they fit into their families and the world.

Part of me feels I’m writing down these rules as much for myself as for you, because even though I’ve written one novel, I still have to keep reminding myself of all these things. So we’ll just keep them here in this place where we can come back to them every time we need them. Good luck.


Girls in the Moon
by Janet McNally
Released 11/29/2016

An exquisitely told, authentic YA debut about family secrets, the shadow of fame, and finding your own way.

Everyone in Phoebe Ferris’s life tells a different version of the truth. Her mother, Meg, ex–rock star and professional question evader, shares only the end of the story—the post-fame calm that Phoebe’s always known. Her sister, Luna, indie-rock darling of Brooklyn, preaches a stormy truth of her own making, selectively ignoring the facts she doesn’t like. And her father, Kieran, the cofounder of Meg’s beloved band, hasn’t said anything at all since he stopped calling three years ago.

But Phoebe, a budding poet in search of an identity to call her own, is tired of half-truths and vague explanations. When she visits Luna in New York, she’s determined to find out how she fits in to this family of storytellers, and to maybe even continue her own tale—the one with the musician boy she’s been secretly writing for months. Told in alternating chapters, Phoebe’s first adventure flows as the story of Meg and Kieran’s romance ebbs, leaving behind only a time-worn, precious pearl of truth about her family’s past—and leaving Phoebe to take a leap into her own unknown future.


Though her family is not rock and roll royalty, Janet McNally has always liked boys in bands. (She even married one.) 

She has an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, and her stories and poems have been published widely in magazines. She has twice been a fiction fellow with the New York Foundation for the Arts. 

Janet lives in Buffalo with her husband and three little girls, in a house full of records and books, and teaches creative writing at Canisius College. Girls in the Moon is her first novel, but she’s also the author of a prizewinning collection of poems, Some Girls.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

8 Revision Checklist: 30 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Your Tackle the Next Phase of Your Manuscript

With so many writers frantically trying to finish NaNoWriMo, I thought I'd share a revision checklist I've been toying with. Call it NaNoWriMo Now What? Because once you finish that initial blissful vomiting of words onto the page, you have to somehow wrangle the words into a coherent shape and structure and make sure they're the best words you can muster.

Here are thirty questions to ask yourself before you pronounce it done.
  1. Does your story have a hook? Something that readers can talk about? 
  2. Are the characters rounded enough both on the page and off? Do they have histories and lives beyond the events within the story? 
  3. Are the characters distinct and differentiated from each other enough to merit all of them being included? 
  4. Do the characters have wounds and goals that collide against the plot? 
  5. Do your protagonist’s goals and decisions drive the plot? 
  6. Do you convey your setting in enough detail to ground the reader in the world with your characters? 
  7. Does the first page, or at least the first paragraph, hint at the story question and the type of book it’s going to be? 
  8. Does the inciting incident, the thing that changes the main character’s trajectory, come close enough to the beginning that you keep the reader hooked? 
  9. Is there a question on the first page, and every page after that, to keep the reader reading through the inciting incident? 
  10. Is the question in the inciting incident big enough to keep the reading reading after that? 
  11. Does the reader care about the characters by the inciting incident enough for the trauma in the inciting incident to matter? 
  12. Does every scene in the book change the story or the characters in a meaningful way? 
  13. Would the story suffer if you removed any of the scenes? 
  14. Are there scenes that you didn’t show that are needed to fill holes in the plot or the emotional development of your characters? 
  15. Does every scene have a beginning, a middle, and an end? 
  16. Does every scene have a goal that results in failure, a new goal, or an additional complication for the story? 
  17. Is there at least one conflict in every scene, either between characters, against an outside force, or within the protagonist? 
  18. Is the conflict in the main plot big enough? 
  19. Do the scenes in the book fluctuate between highs and lows for the protagonist and grow more intense toward the end of the book? 
  20. Do the scenes have the appropriate weight and space given the emotional impact of what happens in them? 
  21. Does the conflict push your characters into revealing the best and worst parts of themselves? 
  22. Do the relationships between the characters deepen and change in response to the events in the book? Do they push each other to change? 
  23. Are all the characters changed in both themselves and their circumstances enough to deserve a book written about them? 
  24. Is the pacing appropriate for the genre you are writing? Will it meet reader expectations? 
  25. Is the ending satisfying and both twist and meet reader expectations? 
  26. Did you allow enough time for the ending for the reader to feel satisfied before they closed the book? 
  27. Is the voice appropriate to the genre and is the book well-written enough? 
  28. Do you show over tell wherever possible and include enough detail in your telling moments to keep the reader’s interest? 
  29. Is the writing grammatically correct? Non-wordy? Do you overuse adverbs, dialogue tags, or certain words or phrases? 
  30. Do you love the book enough to be willing to read it at least fifteen more times? 

About the Author

Martina Boone is the award-winning author of the romantic southern gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy, including Compulsion, Persuasion, and Illusion, out now in the romantic from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. 

She was born in Prague in the shadow of a magical castle and grew up hearing stories about alchemists and hopeless dreamers, which may be  loves to write about romantic, magical worlds the lost characters who live in them.

She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Monday, November 21, 2016

3 New Releases 11/21-11/27 plus Two Giveaways

Happy Monday! Don't forget to check out all the new releases and enter to win below.

Happy Reading,

Shelly, Sam, Jocelyn, Martina, Erin, Susan, Michelle, Laura, Anisaa, and Kristin


* * * *

Gap Life
by John Coy
Signed Hardcover Giveaway
Feiwel & Friends
Released 11/22/2016

Cray got into the same college his father attended and is expected to go. And to go pre-med. And to get started right away. His parents are paying the tuition. It should be an easy decision.

But it's not.

All Cray knows is that what's expected of him doesn't feel right. The pressure to make a decision—from his family, his friends—is huge. Until he meets Rayne, a girl who is taking a gap year, and who helps him find his first real job, at a home of four adults with developmental disabilities. What he learns about himself and others will turn out to be more than any university could teach him—and twice as difficult.

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Gap Life?

Cray and Rayne, the two main characters. The more time I spent working on Gap Life, the more I enjoyed being with them and seeing how they felt, how they responded to things, and what they’d do next. One of the joys of working on a novel so intensely is that the characters stay even after the novel is written so I continue to think about Cray and Rayne and what they’re up to and how they’re doing.

Another favorite thing about GAP LIFE was working with my excellent editor Liz Szabla. She pushed me to heighten the conflict in a number of places, and as a writer from Minnesota where we hold our feelings in and emphasize being nice, that was exactly what I needed.

And one other favorite thing is the cover. Anna Booth came up with a cover design that I love. I hope you do, too.

Purchase Gap Life at Amazon
Purchase Gap Life at IndieBound
View Gap Life on Goodreads

* * * *

Fate of Flames
by Sarah Raughley
Hardcover Giveaway
U.S. Only

Simon Pulse
Released 11/22/2016

Four girls with the power to control the elements and save the world from a terrible evil must come together in the first epic novel in a brand-new series.

When Phantoms—massive beasts made from nightmares and darkness—suddenly appeared and began terrorizing the world, four girls, the Effigies, each gained a unique power to control one of the classical elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Since then, four girls across the world have continually fought against the Phantoms, fulfilling their cosmic duty. And when one Effigy dies, another girl gains her power as a replacement.

But now, with technologies in place to protect the world’s major cities from Phantom attacks, the Effigies have stopped defending humanity and, instead, have become international celebrities, with their heroic feats ranked, televised, and talked about in online fandoms.

Until the day that New York City’s protection against the Phantoms fails, a man seems to be able to control them by sheer force of will, and Maia, a high school student, unexpectedly becomes the Fire Effigy.

Now Maia has been thrown into battle with three girls who want nothing to do with one another. But with the first human villain that the girls have ever faced, and an army of Phantoms preparing for attack, there isn’t much time for the Effigies to learn how to work together.

Can the girls take control of their destinies before the world is destroyed forever?

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about Fate of Flames?

My favorite thing about Fate of Flames has to be all the girl power. And really, I think the phrase 'girl power' has been used and abused a lot in popular culture, but I think when it comes down to it, having a story told where the most prominent relationships are between girls is pretty cool. The main characters are not flawless super heroines. They're not perfect Mary Sues. They're kids who struggle and make mistakes like everyone else. The most important aspect, I think, is the fact that even when they fall down they get back up. I think that's an aspect about the story I really wanted to focus on.

Of course, the fact that they're also super-powered warriors is really awesome too. As a geek myself I really wanted to riff of some of the magical girl anime and TV series I watched as a kid, so fans of those kinds of series (like Buffy or Sailor Moon) will see those influences.

Purchase Fate of Flames at Amazon
Purchase Fate of Flames at IndieBound
View Fate of Flames on Goodreads


This is Our Story by Ashley Elston: Heather C.


* * * *

Of Fire and Stars
by Audrey Coulthurst
Balzer + Bray
Released 11/22/2016

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

Purchase Of Fire and Stars at Amazon
Purchase Of Fire and Stars at IndieBound
View Of Fire and Stars on Goodreads

* * * *

by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books
Released 11/22/2016

In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.

Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives.

Purchase Scythe at Amazon
Purchase Scythe at IndieBound
View Scythe on Goodreads

* * * *

Trouble Makes a Comeback
by Stephanie Tromly
Kathy Dawson Books
Released 11/22/2016

A whip-smart, screwball noir mystery—with snappy prose, wry humor, and breakneck dialogue—this sequel to Trouble Is a Friend of Mine is perfect for fans of Veronica Mars, Sherlock, John Hughes, and Carl Hiassen.

After a fall semester of fiascos: getting arrested, then kidnapped, then blown up in an explosion (all thanks to the weird but brilliant Philip Digby), Zoe Webster is looking forward to a quiet spring. Now that Digby has left town, she's finally built a regular high school life for herself. She's dating Miles, the alternate QB; she knows girls she considers friends; she's learning to enjoy being normal and semi-popular. Which of course is when Digby comes back: He's got a new lead on his missing sister and he needs Zoe's help.

Suddenly Zoe is tussling with a billionaire arch-villain, locking horns with armed goons, and digging into what makes the Digby family tick, even as she tries to navigate the confusing and emotionally fraught world of high school politics and locker-room drama. After all, it's hard to explain Digby to a boy like Miles, especially when Zoe isn't sure how she feels about Digby herself—or how he feels about her.

Now that Digby's back, get ready for another hilarious whodunit filled with razor-sharp dialogue, ridiculously funny action, and the most charismatic, dynamic duo you've ever met. And just try to stay out of trouble.

We dare you.

Purchase Trouble Makes a Comeback at Amazon
Purchase Trouble Makes a Comeback at IndieBound
View Trouble Makes a Comeback on Goodreads

Saturday, November 19, 2016

0 Ashley Elston, author of THIS IS OUR STORY, on laying the groundwork for the rest of the story

We're thrilled to have Ashley Elston with us to share more about her latest novel THIS IS OUR STORY.

Ashley, what was your inspiration for writing THIS IS OUR STORY?

When I was in high school, I worked at my dad’s law office and got a behind the scenes look at what goes into every case. It was a pretty cool after-school job. But it wasn’t until my mom called a couple of years ago to complain about being picked for jury duty that the idea for this book clicked into place. I couldn’t quit thinking about how the outcome of most cases hinge on the “story” that gets told.

How long did you work on THIS IS OUR STORY?

​I wrote the first 10,000 words in a couple of weeks and submitted them to my editor for my option book. She loved it so I got to work finishing it. It took a couple of months to get a (rough!) first draft. We went through several rounds of edits that lasted about a year.

Friday, November 18, 2016

0 The YALLFest experience, as told through a series of terrible photos

I’ve been super excited about covering YALLFest for AYAP, and this year’s festivities did not disappoint. I took a bunch of pictures to help readers feel like they were there, but unfortunately they did not turn out as awesome as the festival itself ... although I will force you to look at them anyway!

After the election, YALLFest was the perfect place to be this past weekend. In addition to the love of reading and stories that are always a part of YALLFest, there was love for each other, from both the authors and audience members.

The opening keynote got off to a subdued start as YALLFest hosts Brendan Reichs and Veronica Roth addressed the elephant in the room, while assuring the audience – that was diverse in every way – that hate will not win.

Veronica read a number of inspiring quotes, including the one from Toni Morrison that is vital for writers (especially YA writers) right now.

Then they turned it over to the keynote speakers Victoria Aveyard and Sabaa Tahir. Victoria is a fierce troll-fighter on Twitter and Sabaa is a Muslim woman unfortunately familiar with prejudice being directed at her, so these two power-house ladies had a lively discussion about their experiences with hatred and how writing has the power to change hearts and minds.

After the keynote, the day continued with an impossible-to-choose-from lineup of panels and author signings. Check out the schedule of awesomeness here. Lines for the various events clogged sidewalks, and teens rolled suitcases overflowing with books all over Charleston. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

I didn’t get to attend any of the smaller panels because I was in the green room doing interviews (first up is Jonathan Stroud next Friday!). I was so honored to be there because the authors were planning and plotting away about how to help kids and expand their viewpoints. There were some excellent ideas being shared, and I can't wait to see them in action.

At the end of the day, it was time for the YA Smackdown, where the charming and witty hosts Danielle Paige and Alexander London introduced the authors to play silly games.

There was a rousing game of Never Have I Ever (played with signs rather than alcohol), where we learned things like: Jay Asher always buys and immediately returns a copy of his books when they first come out in order to empower himself by being the first person to return it. Kami Garcia can escape from handcuffs and zip ties. And Ruta Sepetys has been in prison twice!

Then Scott Westerfeld impressed us by singing from Hamilton as Donald Duck, in harmony with himself by using both cheeks. It was bizarre, yet amazing.

Also cool was when Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff choose an audience member to kill off in their next book by playing a game of Heads or Tails. So jealous of the winner!!

As a writer, the best parts were when the authors would come out at random moments to read poems or stories they had written as teens. They were hilariously awful and showed that we all have to work hard at our craft to get where we want to be.

The last part of the smackdown was a performance by Tiger Beat, the band made up of YA authors Libba Bray, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Natalie Standiford, and Barnabas Miller.

But before Tiger Beat started to rock out, Alex London requested everyone find someone in the audience they didn't know and introduce themselves. I usually hate that kind of ‘talk to strangers’ stuff, but I met two lovely women and had tears in my eyes while the same connections were going on all around me. It was beautiful.

So a horrible week ended with a fabulous day that buoyed the spirits of the audience. It's not all hate out there, and people are trying to make a difference.

Stop by on Fridays over the next several weeks for interviews with some of the YALLFest authors.

Did you attend YALLFest? Whose signing line would you have stood in the longest? Have you saved your horrible writing from when you were a teen to read when you are famous? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy reading,


Thursday, November 17, 2016

0 Red Light/Green Light Round Three Entries

Hello, Red Light/Green Light contestants!

Thank you so much for your patience in waiting for these results. At long last, I am pleased to announce our 5 third round entries. For those who didn't make it through, we strongly encourage you to keep putting your work out there! This is just one contest, and there are many other opportunities available for your words to shine and catch the right person's eye.

Kelly Barina

            As I hurried down the castle’s vast stone corridor to meet my half-brother for the first time, his name echoed around me, whispered like a curse: Mordred.
            The vaulted doorway of the Great Hall loomed ahead, hewn from stone older than the ages. Squaring my shoulders and forcing my spine straight as a sword, I marched toward the raised dais, careful to keep my pace steady—calm and collected as a Prince of Camelot should be. At least I hoped I looked that way. My muscles strained as my legs urged me forward. Every step was too fast, yet the dais still seemed far away.
            Armored knights and soldiers filled either side of the high-ceilinged hall. I passed them, focused straight ahead on the three thrones. Poisonous words infused the room, burning my ears and hardening my jaw.
            “How is that bastard Mordred still alive?” A knight to my right sneered.
            “Vermin never did die easy,” another said.
            I bit my tongue, not for the first time that day. Such disrespect, all because of an unfounded—and unreliable—prophecy made decades ago.
            Ignore them. They speak in ignorance.
            My heels clipped against the stones. No point in arguing with them; they wouldn’t heed me, prince or not. In terms of garnering respect, Mordred and I stood on almost equal ground. Though I was King Arthur’s son, my rank did not erase the years I spent as a reclusive sorcerer’s apprentice.
            Or the lies the queen had spread about me. 

Beth Wertz

            The only thing Raya Steadwell could think as she stood next to her brand new locker was how much she hoped no one would have the opportunity to step on her that day. She hadn’t had an episode in years, but, as her mother kept reminding her since they’d moved, her disease tended to resurface in stressful situations, and moving to a new town for her freshman year of high school probably qualified as stressful. Doctors called her condition narcolepsy, but given the ridicule she endured, she usually referred to it as a pain in her ass. Raya leaned against her bright green locker as she silently watched the second hand on the clock tick slowly.  She kept overhearing snippets of conversations from people around her, as friends met up to compare schedules and reminisce about their summer. The girls all looked hopeful, had dressed nicely, and were complimenting their friends on a cute dress or skirt. Raya never had many friends at her old school. She didn’t expect this school would be any different.
            The hands on the clock weren’t going fast enough for her. She bent down, brushing her long, straightened brown hair out of her eyes, and picked up her stack of books from the floor. She took out and unfolded the school map she had tucked inside the cover of her history book to find her first classroom as one of the older boys in the group from the end of the hallway approached her.
            “Raya?” he asked tentatively.

Taylor Rew

            Sloan Pepper was losing her footing. She eyed the ground, estimated about sixty feet between herself and death, and dug her nails into the cliff. Tucking her hips in close to the wall, she rested the inside of her left arch on her right calf, which trembled from the strain of the deteriorating support. Sweat rolled from her temple to her chin. She couldn’t risk a fall. Falls meant evidence, especially falls on self-belay.
            Sloan spotted a sizeable crack in the rock above. If she could just get her fingertips securely in that space, maybe she could shift that foot up where her hands rested now. Gripping hard, she inhaled sharply—drawing strength from her torso—and reached.
            “Ow!” She jerked her arm back causing a little wobble. “Damn ants.”
            Her left foot dragged along the rock, feeling for an alternate route. She couldn’t show for breakfast covered in red welts—a dead giveaway—she’d have to go around them. Mother would be out for blood if she knew Sloan snuck out to climb alone. Though fire ants were slightly preferable to her mother, she’d take the wrath and the stings over tomorrow’s agenda. Her hands went clammy. No one should have to face the guy they left brokenhearted, but that’s high school. She dipped into her chalk bag and robotically climbed through the dread, letting muscle and memory guide her. Adrenaline fueled action as she pushed, pulled, and hoisted her way to the top.

Robin Hall

The first time I met Jeremy Davies he didn’t break my heart, but he broke my ribs, and that was close enough. Since that day in fifth grade, my ribs seem to always know when Jeremy is close by. Even now, as I rush up the gymnasium steps, my Jeremy-radar goes into overdrive. I push his skinny, trombone-wielding self out of my mind and put my attention back into Devlin and all six-feet, two inches of incredible, Scottish gorgeousness. He’s leaning against the wall by the old-fashioned, white-bowled drinking fountain where he always waits for me before his basketball games.
I step into Dev’s powerful arms, brush his dark hair behind his ear, and kiss his stubbled cheek. “All right, team captain, you going for twenty-two tonight?” It’s both his jersey number and game-point average. 
“You know I am.” He gives his devilish grin, which I return, then meet his mouth with mine. 
Not only are lips two hundred times more sensitive than hands, but they also release a cocktail of hormones. They quiet my rushing, Type-A mind, and send me into happy delirium. I’m living proof that kissing is power.
Hoops, our center and Dev’s best friend, envelops both of us, yelling, “Group hug!”
We break our kiss, laughing.
“Dev,” Hoops says with a nod to the band section. 
In the sea of scrawny arms and musical instruments, Jeremy’s tall, dark head stands out as he spars with our muscled forward Ramsey. Jeremy holds his trombone case more like a weapon than an instrument, but I doubt he’ll swing it.

Kalyn Josephson

            Sometimes all I could think about was fire. 
            I’d see it in the reflection of the sun on the gray castle walls, or in a flash of red hair flickering in the wind. Or I’d see it in the swirls of burn scars creeping up my left forearm, etched there the night the Illucian Empire killed the Crows. Images of burning rookery towers and Illucian soldiers covered in blood echoed through my mind as I absently traced the edges where the red splotches met my brown skin.
            Something struck me in the nose and tumbled into my lap. I blinked at the blackberry settled on my dress, then looked at Kiva. She sat across the patio table, the morning sun reflecting off the metal buckles of her guard’s uniform, hand poised to turn the rest of her blackberries into weapons. 
            “Don’t make me throw the actual bowl at you,” she said.
            I tried to smile, but my lips only twitched. Kiva was my best friend; she deserved more than an empty shell to have breakfast with. But on days like this, when the morning sun warmed my skin and the sky was a clear blue, I always thought about the Crows. I couldn’t shut out memories of visiting the royal rookery to tickle Stormcrow chicks until they buzzed with lightning, or walking under the glow of a Suncrow in the dusky moonlight. I’d trained my entire life to become a Rider, soaring high above Aris on a Crow’s back.