young adult books

20 Awesome Quotes About San Francisco

Last Time We Were Us_REV SNAPMy two years in San Francisco has a special place in my writing career. After all, it's where I wrote almost all of THE LAST TIME WE WERE US. SF is truly a magical place, and while I doubt I'll be setting any books here in the near future (North Carolina is for the time being, my setting of choice), the energy of the city was awesome to soak up, only for a little bit. It definitely inspired me, and it was a wonderful place to compose my novel.

Here are a few quotes from writers--and non-writers--about the city by the bay.

“One day if I go to heaven … I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.’”~Herb Cain

“The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here.”~Billy Graham

“My San Francisco on her seven hills is smiling, beside an opalescent sunset sea.” ~George Caldwell

“I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved.”~Mark Twain

“San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth.”~William Saroyan

“Perpetual spring, the flare of adventure in the blood, the impulse of men who packed Virgil with their bean-bags on the overland journey, conspired to make San Francisco a city of artists.”~William Henry Irwin

“I don’t know of any other city where you can walk through so many culturally diverse neighborhoods, and you’re never out of sight of the wild hills. Nature is very close here.”~Gary Snyder

“You know what it is? It’s a golden handcuff with the key thrown away.”~John Steinbeck

“San Francisco has only one drawback—‘tis hard to leave.”~Rudyard Kipling

“San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.”~Paul Kantner

“God took the beauty of the Bay of Naples, the Valley of the Nile, the Swiss Alps, the Hudson River Valley, rolled them into one and made San Francisco Bay.”~Fiorello La Guardia

“I’m just mad for San Francisco. It is like London and Paris stacked on top of each other.”~Twiggy

“San Francisco is poetry. Even the hills rhyme.”~Pat Montandon

“To a traveler paying his first visit, it has the interest of a new planet. It ignores the meteorological laws which govern the rest of the world.”~Fitz Hugh Ludlow

“San Francisco is a city where people are never more abroad than when they are at home.”~Benjamin F. Taylor

“It's an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.”~Oscar Wilde

“If you’re alive, you can’t be bored in San Francisco. If you’re not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life.”~William Saroyan

“Los Angeles? That’s just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for the trip to San Francisco.”~John Lennon

“Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips Cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe in San Francisco.”~Joe Flower

"I'm proud to have been a Yankee. But I have found more happiness and contentment since I came back home to San Francisco than any man has a right to deserve. This is the friendliest city in the world."~Joe DiMaggio

How my writing process completely changed, a new piece for Distraction 99

awesome GIF, frustrated GIF, best GIFs, writing GIFs Yesterday, I did a post on Nova Ren Suma's blog, Distraction 99. Nova is an inspiring YA author who I met several years ago in New York, and I was excited to have a chance to guest post for her. As part of her regular series, she asked me to talk about my "turning point" as a writer. It's a tall order, because as a writer, we have so many "turning points". The day your 3rd grade teacher tells you your a great writer, the day you finish you first "book" (mine was in elementary school and about an enchanted rose garden, illustrated by yours truly), the day you get your first rejection letter, the day you get an agent, the day you get a book deal, the day you realize that getting a book deal is nothing like you thought it would be.

But a lot of that is business, not the important stuff. And I chose to write about process. I've touched on it here, but let me just say, at least for me, it never gets easier. While I cranked out my first complete manuscript with an outline in only four months (revisions were necessary, of course), I didn't have a similar experience at all for The After Girls. And that was not exactly easy (see the GIF above). But it was worth it.

Here's a little bit from my piece for Distraction 99:

My turning point didn’t come in my first foray into novel writing. It came when I began The After Girls. The idea for the book came first as a title and a question: What would take a group of friends from before to after instantly? The concept came quick enough as I filled in the gaps—two high school friends shaken by their best friend’s suicide right after graduation, set against the eerie backdrop of a rural Appalachian mountain town—but the details were another thing. I was writing from the point of view of two girls instead of one. I added characters and removed them. I was walking a fine line between magical realism and contemporary. And I had no outline.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I wrote outline after outline, hoping to find one that would work like the first one, with no success. I wrote 50 pages, rewrote those pages, and didn’t look at the manuscript for weeks or even a month at a time. I felt like a failure. I was the girl who could crank out a novel in mere months. Now I’d been months and months at a single idea and had very little to show for it. I wasn’t writing on a schedule. I wasn’t even writing regularly, for that matter, but I was writing—a page here and a chapter there.

At a certain point, The After Girls began to write itself. It was like that great E.L. Doctorow quote: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Page by page, I made the trip. The characters took over—they surprised me. The plot took twists—the ending changed multiple times. I even added a character in a few hours before I sent a final version to my agent, one that came to me in the shower when I thought I was almost done. At page 50, 100, 150, 200 … I still wasn’t sure of what would happen beyond the next ten pages. But in the end, the flexibility was what I needed to uncover the mystery of why a beautiful, smart young girl with great friends and a whole future ahead of her would take her own life.

See the full piece here.

And one last thing, thank you everyone for your support on my "book birthday" yesterday. It was a great one, and I can't thank you all enough!

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

Feminism and YA

Bella Swan vs. Hermione Granger It's been hard to read the news lately, especially concerning women. The horrific rape and death of the student in India has left all of us wondering what we can do. I just got back from breakfast with a good friend, and we both could only really talk about how bad things are. It's hard to see solutions when you hear about things that are so brutal and heartbreaking.

I think a lot of the people who say that there is no need for modern feminism were silenced by what happened in India. But the truth is, and maybe not to the same extent, but it happens here, too. Jessica Valenti wrote a good piece in the Nation on America's rape culture, and it shows that there are so many reasons why feminism is still necessary, whether across the world in India or right here in the U.S.

All of this got me thinking about the role of feminism in YA lit. These books are being read by young girls (and boys) when they are at their most impressionable. And while we think a lot about how much mature content can be included in this evolving genre (I struggled, myself, with whether to include swearing in my book--I chose to include when I thought it was necessary, as that is how teenagers talk), I think we don't focus enough on how these characters and their entire outlook affect kids at one of their most developmentally crucial stages of life.

An obvious example is Bella Swan in the Twilight series. Much has been written about Bella as a dangerous role model for young girls. I won't add too much here. Except for the idea that we should be encouraging young girls to literally trade their souls, their humanity, and their entire family and community to be with their first love is scary (oh, and I never understood the appeal of stalker-like Edward). Worse, though, is the sheer number of knockoffs that Twilight has inspired. And I'm not talking about just vampire books--there are tons of  stories and series created around young girls who make literally every decision for love.

I've read several dystopians that all had the same plot--Girl is in oppressive world, Girl has Cool Best Friend who hates the oppressive world, Girl clings to the ideals of that oppression, ignoring/falling out with her friend until Boy arrives to explain to her how oppressive it is, then she understands, then they fight evil together and ride off into the sunset (usually leaving Cool Best Friend behind). This plot device bothers me because A) it's pretty predictable and boring, but B) why do these characters need romance to have their awakening? Can't they reach that decision on their own? Or with the help of their kick-ass friend? It feels very 1950s, like they can only vote the way their husband does. What if the girl doesn't have a boy falling all over her (I didn't in high school)--will she just go on thinking her oppressive society is really cool?

Of course, there are the obvious heros. Katniss Everdeen. Hermione Granger. They are smart, self-assured, strong, powerful, magical, interested in boys but not solely motivated by them. They are delightful, and I wish I'd been as cool as them when I was that age (hell, I wish I were as cool as them now). But they are also fantasy characters. Sure, without the bows and the wands they'd still be awesome, but most of us weren't like that in high school. So the question is--how do we create feminist role models in contemporary young adult lit? In realistic young adult? We could make them act and move independently of the dream boys (or the dream girls), but is that realistic? I, for one, thought about my crushes a lot in high school. Plus, love is fun to read about (and write about).

I think the biggest thing we can do is to have them fight their own battles. It doesn't matter if it's for the state of the world or for the state of a friendship. I think that's the biggest difference between Bella and Katniss--Bella joins Edward to fight his battle, Katniss fights her own. On a smaller scale, in realistic YA, it means having them argue with their parents, question their teachers, realize that popularity doesn't always lead to happiness (Cracked up to Be is a great example of this), or that having a great boyfriend doesn't define your whole life (Mia's decision in If I Stay). They can mess up, they can do stupid things, they can cry over love and hurt their friends say things to their mothers that they will most definitely regret later (that's being a teenager). They don't have to be perfect feminist role models, but at the end of the day, we should at least be writing characters who live for themselves and not for someone else. At least that's my thought on the matter. I'd love to hear how other writers feel.

Oh, and on a lighter note, there's this, from Buzzfeed (Bella Swan vs. Hermione Granger). It's also the photo above.