books

The Romantics, my love letter to Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Chapel-Hill-Graduation.jpg So if you've read my books, you know that I have a thing for North Carolina. It's where I went to high school and college, and though I haven't lived there in some time, I still treasure the years I spent there. I've set two books in NC now, but both have been in fictional composite towns, little pieces of places I've loved and been inspired by, wrapped up into something new.

That's why I'm so excited about The Romantics, my newest book that comes out in just over two months from Abrams/Amulet. Because The Romantics is set in my favorite place in North Carolina (and one of my favorite places in the world), Chapel Hill.

If you haven't been to Chapel Hill yet, I'm sorry. You should fix that. Now. And if you have, you know how magical and wonderful it is, the perfect little blend of historical university, quirky college town, and Southern charm. (Seriously, you can see how beautiful it is in the silly graduation shot above. That's us in front of the Old Well, a Chapel Hill landmark.)

Even though it's set in a college town, The Romantics mainly follows Gael, a high school student who lives near campus. As he and his friends explore their hometown, I had the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of my favorite college haunts. Below are just a few ...

Cosmic Cantina: The best Mexican restaurant in the world. Home of the super burrito. The ultimate post-bar dive. Frequented by myself and two friends every Wednesday at midnight for four years. Visited in the book by Gael and his friends almost as frequently.

Franklin Street: Main drag for college students. I don't care how many of my favorite spots close, I will never stop loving this street. And even though Gael is in high school, he's spent his fair share of hours hanging on it, as well.

Hinton James: An abysmal, behemoth dormitory that holds a ton of Chapel Hill freshmen. Colloquially referred to as "HoJo," though most Howard Johnsons are probably a hell of a lot nicer. Residence to Sammy Sutton in the book.

The Morehead Planetarium: A gorgeous planetarium on campus, used mainly by students who want to fulfill their science requirement with something that's not Biology or Chemistry. (Actually, Astronomy was still quite hard for a non-science type like me.) Setting of a fictional first kiss in The Romantics.

Spanky's: One of the fancier restaurants on Franklin (meaning you might have to spend $10-15 for dinner, which is just about highway robbery for a college student). Their steak sandwich, the best thing on the menu (and our hero, Gael Brennan's, favorite food), is just $9.75, though. Seriously, go order it. NOW.

The above list is certainly not exhaustive, so you'll have to read The Romantics to find them all. But if you love Chapel Hill as much as I do, I have a feeling you're going to have fun reading this book.

The Romantics releases November 1. Pre-order it here.

 

 

New Interviews: On Writing Inspiration, Struggles and my Current Creepy Reading Preferences

Writing GIF Happy Monday! I enjoyed an amazing weekend of awesome San Francisco activities and productive writing (finished exactly 1/3 of the news project ...).  I also had the pleasure of doing two interviews with some awesome bloggers, and I wanted to share here. Below is my interview for What is This Book About. I spoke with blogger Michelle on my inspiration, struggles, advice for writers and what I'm currently reading. Check it out!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?  In a way, I think so, though maybe I didn’t always know it! I never really thought of it as a profession, per se, but as a kid (I was a definite “inside kid”), I spent hours crafting stories on our old PC. There were fairies. A lot of fairies. And magical lands. And unassuming girls who got to explore said lands.

What inspired you to write your first book? THE AFTER GIRLS came first as a title. I can’t say where it came from--it just did. From there, I began thinking about what would take a group of friends from before to “after” more than anything else. The answer was suicide, and all the guilt, confusion and heartbreak that come with it. More than anything, that is what I was exploring in THE AFTER GIRLS.

Now that you have published your first novel, did you have any expectations on the process? If you did, were they met? If not, what have you learned that could help other writers? It still feels very surreal. When I see my book in a library or bookstore or anything like that, or when I hear from a fan whom I’ve never met and loves it, I almost feel like it’s not really happening. Like I’m somehow fooling everyone around me! I try to take a step back and remind myself that, indeed, it is happening, but it’s difficult.For aspiring authors, I’d suggest that they enjoy the writing process--in many ways, it’s a lot more fun (and less stressful) than the publishing process. You’ve got to be in it for the joy that comes from the writing itself.

What was the hardest part writing your book? Finishing! Letting your baby out into the world for it to be judged and noticed and hopefully loved.

Your book has gotten some favorable reviews, was there something or someone that inspired the theme of your story?  At first, no. But about halfway through writing, a friend of mine passed away at a young age from cancer. Friendship and grief became incredibly real to me, and it definitely affected how I wrote THE AFTER GIRLS.

What message do you hope people who read your book take away from your book? That friendship is everything and that life is beautiful and worth living, no matter what you’re going through.

What book would you say you were most inspired by? Though it doesn’t have much to do with the themes of THE AFTER GIRLS, I learned pretty much everything I know about writing from obsessively reading Jane Austen.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you are working on? Yes--and a really exciting one at that--I can’t reveal too much, but it’s also set in the South, and it focuses much more on romance than on friendship.

What are you currently reading? “The Stranger Beside Me,” a true crime story about the Ted Bundy murders. Don’t ask.

Do you have any advice on aspiring writers? A great quote by W. Somerset Maugham is this: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” I’d say my only real advice is just to keep on writing.

My other interview appeared on Ope's Opinions. Check it out here.

The After Girls is officially out! A little on how it all began

the-after-girls So The After Girls is out today. I could talk about how nervous I am, but I already did that to excess yesterday. So I thought I'd share a little on how I got from an idea to a book that's out in the world and that I really hope you all love.

Around three years ago, I had an idea for a title--The After Girls--it came to me out of the blue, and I loved it. I immediately saw it as about friends, and I started to think about what would take a group of friends from before to after in an instant. The answer was suicide. And the story began to unfold from there.

I didn't start working on it in earnest then. I was finishing up another project, and I still wasn't sure how it would all pan out. Instead, I tried (rather unsuccessfully) to write an outline and started talking about the idea with any friends who would listen (a big thanks to my NY friends for listening to my ever-changing plotlines). I took a writing class in New York and shared my idea with my classmates and soon-to-be friends. I still wasn't sure where exactly the story was going.

I wanted to set it in the mountains of North Carolina, because, honestly, what setting is more fun or creepy than that? I had only been to the mountains a few times there, but I had it all laid out in my head. And the summer after I got the idea, I visited my sister in Boone, NC (in the picture above), and everything was exactly as I had imagined--only better. It was the perfect setting, the one that would become the fictional Falling Rock, NC.

I began to write, following Ella and Sydney, two best friends as they mourned and  tried to understand their friend, Astrid's, suicide. I probably knocked out about a hundred pages. Slowly but surely I was making progress.

It was around this time that I got a call at 4 a.m., learning that a friend from college had passed away. She'd had cancer for two years, and it was very progressed, but none of that matters. When someone dies at 26, someone who is strong and beautiful and full of life, it's a shock. It's horrible.

My roommate at the time and I flew down to North Carolina to attend the funeral with the rest of our college friends. We spent the weekend crying and laughing and getting sunburned or tipsy on the beach. Our friend would have wanted it that way. She was one of the most happy and fun-loving people I've ever met in life.

It was also that Spring that I met and fell in love with my boyfriend. And it was only about a month before I would leave my job and travel to California and decide that I wanted to make the move to the West Coast.

There were a lot of changes in my life, but more than anything, highs and lows, grief and joy were more real to me than they'd ever been before. The story I had thought up a year before became more than just a story. I'd seen how much friends mean to each other, especially during times of loss. I'd seen how sometimes the most wonderful and inspiring person in the world dies way before they should. I'd seen the hole that they leave when they go, all the people they affect, all the people that miss them and remember them and still think of them all the time.

These are the things I was thinking about while I was writing it. And that's what I want to share with all of you.

As always, thanks for the support.

Leah

My advice for up-and-coming writers in Sadie magazine

Happy Saturday! I'm excited to share a little piece I did for Sadie magazine, a very cool online pub for young women. Sadie asked me to share tips and tricks for breaking into writing/publishing, culled from my experiences getting my first book published. Here are a few:

1. Stop stressing about how to get published and just write. Before you bother yourself about the whole business angle, remember that the only people who get published are the ones who have a finished product to sell. Whether it’s a novel or a screenplay or a magazine article, put in the dirty work (the creative expression that inspired you to write in the first place) before you make your business plan.

2. Start calling yourself a writer. Assuming you’re ready to commit to the first tip, start backing it up by the way you speak about yourself. Long before I wrote The After Girls—long before I completed a full novel, I began to start to call myself what I was—a writer. I wasn’t yet published, but by telling people I met at parties and events about my ambitions, it not only helped in building contacts, but it gave me a reason to be accountable—and it reminded me to shut off the Hoarders marathon and write.

3. Chill out about your “contacts.” It’s time to ignore the guidance counselor again. When it comes to publishing, it’snot all about who you know. I signed with my agent by humbly sending my manuscript over to her slush pile. Then she did the rest. Even if you do have a connection, unless you’re famous enough to entice a publisher on your name alone (ahem, YA novelists Lauren Conrad and Hilary Duff), all your connection will do is move you to the top of the pile. Publishing is a business (and a tough one at that), and no agent or editor is going to take a chance on you out of the goodness of their heart—or because you went to college with their half sister.

4. Make friends with other writers. Now that you’ve stopped stalking agents and editors on their Twitter pages, think about making the contacts you will need—writer friends. They’re good for critiquing, discussing plot ideas, guzzling wine post-rejection, etc. Simply knowing them will inspire you to write—and very likely write better. (And when you do sell your book, they’ll all attend your launch party.) To find writer friends if you don't have them already, join a Meetup, start a critique group, email that girl from your college English course whom you haven’t spoken to in years, or take a class yourself. I made some of my closest and most dependable friends from a Mediabistro course I took in New York.

5. Use the tools the Internet provides. Once you’re ready for the business stage of the game, get thyself to AgentQuery.com. It’s basically the Facebook of literary agents. You can sort by fiction, nonfiction, children’s, sci-fi, chick lit—the list goes on. Each agent lists whether they’re seeking new clients and how best to query them. Plus, they’ve got helpful articles on how to write pesky things like query letters and synopses.

See the rest at Sadie.com.

Awesome Girl in Fiction: Arya Stark

I've posted before on feminism role models in YA literature, and while the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) isn't exactly YA, given the age of Arya at the beginning of the series (9), I think she's worth a look.

Early on in the series, Arya is show to detest sewing, prettying herself and all those other girl things, and instead chooses to try her hand at sword lessons, which a series of circumstances cause her to master a bit sooner than she'd expected. She's a big like Hermione Granger, in that she's not afraid to be herself and never turns from adventure, but she's more rambunctious, more outspoken, and even less likely to be swayed by what society expects of her. In short, she's awesome.

Some might say that Arya simply adopts the traits of a boy, and thus her power comes from acting the part (she even pretends to be a boy later on in the story). But given the strength of Martin's other female characters (more on that later), I don't think he's at all saying that you have to act like a boy to have power. Instead, you have to be who you are--not what your teachers or your sister or even your parents want you to be. It's what I think most of us try to infuse in the characters in our books, regardless of whether or not they actually have swords.

Cunning, brave, adventurous, and even vindictive at times, Arya Stark deserves a place among the kick-ass girl heros like Hermione and Katniss.

Plus, how adorable is she above?

“A sensitive look at the wake of a friend’s suicide, infused with genuine emotion, hope, and just enough well-placed romance.”~Booklist

“The Writing King of Difficult Subjects has to be John Green. After reading The After Girls, I would definitely put Ms. Konen in his court.”~Ink and Page

“A striking debut and an eerily good book… THE AFTER GIRLS is a vivid portrayal of interrupted lives and enduring friendships. It is as much about the known as the unknown and as much about healing as loss.”~Michael Northrop, author of ROTTEN, TRAPPED and GENTLEMEN

Ella, Astrid, and Sydney were planning the perfect summer after high school graduation. But when Astrid commits suicide in a lonely cabin, the other girls' worlds are shattered. How could their best friend have done this--to herself and to them? They knew everything about Astrid. Shouldn't they have seen this coming? Couldn't they have saved her?

As Ella hunts for the truth, and Sydney tries to dull the pain, a chilling message from Astrid leaves them wondering whether their beloved friend is communicating from the after life. The girls embark on a journey to uncover Astrid's dark secrets. The answers to those questions--questions they never dreamed of asking--will change their lives forever.

Get a copy of my debut young adult novel, THE AFTER GIRLS, here. 

Author copies of The After Girls are here!

author-copies-the-after-girlsThey're here! Delivered in two big boxes! With my name all over! It's definitely all very surreal. And when I open one up, it looks and feels like a real book. And it is. I don't really have much to say except for, wahoo! Oh, and I have a lot. So expect a giveaway in the very near future.

In the meantime, you can get yours here.

xo Leah

Parking spots and book deals

Puppy gifI was parking on Friday in my neighborhood and marveled at how I always seem to get a spot without much searching. And yet on the street where I park there is almost always only one spot left. Do I just have good parking luck? I don't think so. It's just that when I park I only need to find one spot. There only needs to be one person who has recently left theirs. I have a medium-sized car and live in a neighborhood where parking is, at least, a possibility. Odds are, in the two or three always-almost-full streets I go down, one will indeed be almost full and not full, and I will find my spot.

There are so many things in life like this, and so many ways to get discouraged when you look at the odds, when you try and try, and it seems like finding even one is impossible. But still, you only need one of them.

An agent, for example. You only need one person to really love your manuscript enough to want to sell it. And then you only need one editor to love it enough to convince all the people at the publishing house that it's worth taking a risk on. For each book, you only need one book deal (as much as we all may dream of being sold at auction). From Suzanne Collins to J.K. Rowling to many, many more, every literary success has had people in their lives and careers that believe in them--and people that weren't willing to take the risk.

Writing is difficult, yes, and there is absolutely no guarantee of success (though writing, in and of itself, is it's own kind of success) but lately, when I get discouraged, I find it's better to remind myself that I don't need to convince everyone I meet that my work is worthwhile. Just like I don't need to get offered every job in the world. And I don't need to find ten affordable apartments in New York or San Francisco. Just one.

Just like finding a parking spot, falling in love, making friends and almost everything in life, there is so much that you can't control or guarantee. But when I remind myself that every great success is made up of small victories--and a series of ones--it makes everything challenging seem a little bit more manageable.

Oh, and if that doesn't work, looking at puppies usually does.

Cover Debut, Catalog, and Amazon Link (This is Really Happening)

The After Girls Young Adult Novel Friday was a good day. A day when it really finally hit me. I have a book coming out and it is really, truly going to be published ... on paper ... with a cover and everything ... with my name!

A lot of things happened at once. A good friend of mine requested a catalog from my publisher to see if my book was featured. We were both surprised to see that it not only was in it, but it was on the front page! You can see it here.

About an hour later, I got a text from another good friend saying he saw my book on Amazon--another pleasant surprise! I knew it was all coming up soon, but I had no idea it would be available for pre-sale already. That's the cool (and at the same time trying) thing about  publishing your first book--you really have no idea how it works and are just along for the ride. Needless to say I was thrilled to see it actually for sale somewhere. It really made it feel real.

All that led me to the conclusion that my cover, which had been through some back and forth, was finally ready to be shown to the world. There is it up top (and on the side, and in the header, as well--don't judge me). I really love it and hope you guys do, too. When I first saw it, it wasn't what I expected, but I instantly knew that it conveyed the mood and the heart of the story perfectly.

I think one of the coolest things about all of yesterday's revelations is that I got the news not from my agent, not from my publisher (they're busy doing about a million things to get it ready), but from my friends. It's so encouraging to have people in my life who are so invested and supportive, they're discovering developments about the book before I even have a chance to look for them.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for all the support along the way. Much love from the West Coast!

Book Deal!!!

I've been meaning to announce this for awhile, but between being superstitious/paranoid about telling too early and the little matter of driving across the country, moving into a sublet, and setting to work finding a new apartment, I've been a little preoccupied.

That said, the contracts are signed, the revisions (which I completed--I kid you not--in the passenger seat of a 16-foot Budget truck) are in and accepted, and my first official novel, The After Girls, will be coming out from Adams Media/Merit Press Books in hardcover in spring 2013!

Even after getting and accepting the offer, talking to my editor, the talented Jacquelyn Mitchard (of The Deep End of the Ocean fame--good book, if you haven't read it already), and embarking on a light revision, I don't think the news really hit me until I saw the cover, which was the exact thing I never knew I wanted, and I will share it here as soon as it's ready and I'm allowed to. As my editor said, seeing the cover of your book for the first time is like meeting a child--you feel like you've known them forever even though you're seeing them for the first time.

Well, all I can say was that she was right. I'm thrilled that this thing I've created is going to be real and on paper, but mostly I'm just thrilled that so many people decided to take a chance on my story, from my amazing agent, Danielle Chiotti, to my friends, family, and boyfriend  who supported me the whole time I was writing it, to my Mediabistro writing group who gave me amazing notes, to the editor and publishing team who are putting it on the shelves.

More than that, I'm blessed to be embarking on this new phase of my writing life in a beautiful new city with my wonderful boyfriend, and in a new apartment (we sign a lease next week)--I only have to figure out the little matter of finding a new job.

It's weird how the good and the bad always seem to come together. My boyfriend and I moved out of NYC literally two days before Hurricane Sandy hit. And even though the coverage has waned in the wake of the election, there are still so many without power, without homes, mourning loved ones, eager to get back to work, having two-hour commutes each morning. I've been hesitant to talk about all the good things happening to me during this time, but all I can say is, I'm incredibly blessed--and incredibly grateful--and I'm thinking of the brave people of New York every day.

Top Ten Revising Tips from a Writer Who's Always Revising

Revising is hard. I've always been a big reviser. Though I wish I could crank out near-perfect prose in a first or second draft, that's just not me. I tend to follow Anne Lamott's "shitty first drafts" model, which leaves me in the revision phase A LOT. I'm currently finishing up the last (and hopefully light) revision on my most recent project, and so I've pulled together some tips for tackling this necessary evil. Without further ado ...

1. Always begin with a complete draft. This may seem obvious, but so many people delay finishing projects by obsessively tweaking the first half of their novel before they've written a climax or conclusion (which may change that first half, leading to even more revisions). While it's tempting to make something perfect before moving ahead, I think it's best to get the whole thing out first. That said, Revising shouldn't be confused with Starting Over--if you've got less than 100 pages, starting anew may be necessary before you go further.

2. Wait. Then wait some more. Finishing a novel is such an accomplishment and such a high, and you may want to jump right into revisions as soon as possible. Don't. A couple of weeks to a couple of months spent relaxing, drinking champagne, and indulging in bad TV will give you some much-needed perspective before you go back to it. This is also a great time to get a friend, fellow writer, agent, or anyone you trust to give your manu a read before you tear it apart.

3. Read your novel! Again with the patience. You shouldn't start changing your novel before you've READ THE WHOLE THING. Seriously. My favorite method is to load it onto my Kindle--reading it in the same way that I read other books creates a much-needed separation between me and my work and makes me look at it like a reader, not a writer (if you don't have an e-reader, a good old-fashioned printer will work just as well). Resist the urge to take notes as you read--if anything is really glaring, you'll remember it later, and without a pen in hand you'll stay focused on the bigger picture.

4. Fix the structural stuff first. You wouldn't paint a house before all the walls are up. In the same vein, don't get bogged down by language until your book's in good order. I like to create a new document with the reworked original text--moving chapters around, adding notes where I need new scenes, etc.--only once I have that in place will I move onto the nitty gritty.

5. Kill your darlings. Faulkner's advice is particularly true in the revision stage. While I typically think of it in relation to dialogue or turns of phrase (but it sounds so fancy, do I really have to cut it?), this notion is equally helpful with bigger things like minor characters or motifs. Just because you've written a funny younger brother doesn't mean he deserves a place in your novel (all his wisecracking might actually be distracting), or just because you want to make your main character's favorite book Pride and Prejudice (who doesn't love Mr. Darcy?) doesn't mean you should. Unless these minor elements are crucial to your story, they need to go--plus, you can always work them into another novel down the road.

6. Tell, don't show. I know, I know, every English teacher from 8th grade on has been saying just the opposite. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I'm working off the assumption that if you've finished a novel, you know you can't get by writing sentences like "Suzy was sad." That said, it's important to make sure your readers are well-informed in every scene and that you don't withhold crucial information from your readers to build drama. The readers shouldn't be left confused, nor should the drama come from figuring out basic facts. I think a great example of this method used effectively is in the first line of The Secret History by Donna Tartt: “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” You know the basics, but you've got just enough questions to keep you turning the page.

7. Make sure every character wants something in every scene. This is a big one for me, because I tend to go for a slow burn, descriptive kind of writing, and I'm often guilty of sacrificing plot in the name of character development. My agent actually sent me a rant by the executive producer of The Unit to the show's staff of  TV writers to help with this issue. I can't put it better than he does--every character should want something in every scene. If they don't, rewrite it so they do--or else it's got to go.

8. Make your transitions awesome. The physicality of scenes often stumps me--I hate writing about people arriving in restaurants or getting into cars--so a lot of the time I just skip over these points and start right in the middle. While this is not an entirely bad technique, it's important to make sure there are a few key establishing details in every scene (I've personally been guilty of writing 3 to 4 pages before the reader even knows where they are). You can also use this time to make sure your chapter beginnings and endings are poignant, punchy, and keep readers turning the page.

9. Read your writing aloud. It feels awkward at first, but I think it's the hands-down best way to navigate trickier scenes and dialogue. If something is off, it's going to be very obvious when spoken. You can even imagine you're at a book signing or event--if anything you're saying makes you want to cringe, it definitely needs to be tweaked.

10. Trust your gut--not your timeline. Writing a novel is a LONG process, one that has always taken me about five times as long as I anticipated. When you're nearing the end of the revision, trust your instincts to decide whether you're really done or need to go back for another sweep. Similarly, don't ignore a stroke of genius just because it comes at the last minute and will require more work. Some of my biggest breakthroughs have come during the last leg of a revision. It's no fun to have to go back, and it may end up delaying a self-imposed deadline, but who ever said the writing process was easy?