finishing a novel

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

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

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?