young adult fiction

New York Trip Part Two: Book Expo America (with lots of pics!)

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Since my return from New York, I have of course been way behind on everything, but I am belatedly getting to one of my favorite events there--Book Expo America (BEA).

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Let's be clear--I have never been to a book event of this magnitude before. It's thousands of square feet at Javits of ... BOOKS. Yes, it is truly, amazingly booktastic, and now they open it to the public one day, so you should def check it out next year.

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But anyway, my publisher had set up a half-hour signing for me in the autographing area. It felt super official (and super nerve-wracking). You had to go sign in at this special booth and then make your way through this behind-the-scenes curtain (where they stored boxes of everyone's books) to pop out just as the author before you left and make everything look super seamless. Then a bunch of people get in line and you just sign your book to your heart's content. Since I'm such a new, unknown, I was a little worried I'd have the sad empty line, but I didn't. It was full the whole time. I met a lot of cool people, and got some great practice on my autographing skills :) It was awesome to meet people who'd seen the book in the show catalog and had marked it down as one to pick up!

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After that, the publicist swept me back to the F&W booth, where we did another impromptu signing with my tower of books. See above. (It's not really allowed, so shhh, but it was really fun.)

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All in all, it was truly an amazing and humbling experience. I felt like a real author for maybe the first time. One of the women walking by even said, "You're the author? You look to young to be an author!" I'm going to take that as a compliment.

Other highlights included cool LEGO structures and getting a glimpse of the Ron Hubbard scientology booth. See below.

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I want these.

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Really bad.

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That's right, a book really is sold every 2 seconds... If that's not terrifying, I'm not sure what is.

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

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.

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

Seeing Your Book for the First Time

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So ... these arrived. My official ARCs. I have never seen my name on/in a book before. Magazine, yes. Newspaper, yes. Book, no. It's weird.

The box came yesterday, and Thomas and I were trying to figure out what it was. "It must be one of your textbooks," I said.

"I already got all mine," he said.

"Are you sure?"

He cut the box open, looked at me, and smiled. "It's not my book."

It's crazy seeing them on actual paper--with an actual cover--and it they looked so great in ARC paperback, I can't wait to see the real deal.

I opened a read over the first page, flipped a few pages in. I read for a bit, and it's strange--it started to feel like an actual book, not like something I wrote or dreamed up. Not like an overly long Word document that I 've looked at and tweaked a million times. The words were closer together, more bookish. The background was the kind of matte white you only get on real paper. I kept on going, and I thought, wow, I would really read this. Which is the point, right? To write something you'd love to read yourself.

I can't wait to go through the whole thing, but for now, it's the best early xmas present I could get.