Moving Forward, I Guess

So things are not going great. I’m pretty sure I posted earlier about my plan to give myself a real chance of getting an agent and getting published by a large press. My book coach told me that while she thinks my writing is good, it’s not quite at the publishing industry standards of quality. She said I was close, but just needed a little more to get my work all the way. Current wisdom says that agents won’t take on a project unless it’s publication-ready. No more do they take someone on and develop them. Or so it’s said. But I’ve heard plenty of stories about people being taken on by agents who then work with them on several revisions of their manuscript(s), so I don’t really believe it. Still, it does seem that I'm not going to be one of the lucky exceptions. I’ve done everything I possibly can to improve my craft to the point where my work is publication-ready, and I’m still falling short. Whatever the situation really is, I am not good enough to get an agent. 

So my book coach felt like with the right editor, who could make a deep dive into UGLY, maybe I could get it all the way to publication-ready. The trick was that this needs to be exactly the right editor. Someone who really knows the industry as it stands now, and would therefore know what I need to change to make it pass muster. She suggested one developmental editor, only to find out they weren’t taking on new work. I also got another recommendation from a Printz Honor author who is really good friends with a really good friend of mine, but she also wasn’t taking on new work. Then my book coach came up with another name she also felt confident would be able to help me with my specific needs. 

I sent the manuscript off in the first week of May. At first she was really helpful—she even looked at a query I had to send by the end of the month because of an opportunity I had to submit to Delacorte that month. I understood that it would take her about six weeks, which would mean that I’d have the manuscript back by the end of June. At that point, I followed up and got an answer that made it sound like I’d have it in less than two weeks, because she was just finishing up the second read and would then only have to transfer her comments to the document and write the edit letter. Two weeks passed and I followed up, and that is really where the nightmare began for me. Fast forward to October now, and I have had promise after promise that it would be delivered, and still don’t have it. The reason I let it go on this long is because she was having some really big and awful family and medical stuff going on. I don’t think she was lying. Though I’m not sure when it all started. But I would follow up about every two weeks, and every time I’d hear promises of an imminent delivery. At one point when I hadn’t heard back, I asked my book coach to follow up (they know each other), and then I heard back from the editor with more promises. She also claimed she loved the book and did have suggestions, but really believed in the book. Every time she was very credible, and I’ve become convinced that this was one of those things for her where you just get stuck on something, and can’t do it no matter how hard you try. But she still kept promising. By early September she was promising to refund me the first payment I’d made and still get me the feedback (earlier she had told me she wouldn’t be charging me the second half of the charge). I told her I didn’t want a refund, just the manuscript. I talked to a couple other writing friends who said I should just give up on the feedback and cut her loose. So I emailed a couple Saturdays ago telling her that if she couldn’t get it back to me by the following Sunday (last week), I just wanted a refund. As that date approached, an idea started forming in my head. Sunday came and went, and the next day, I got another email promising to get me the manuscript in what sounded like the same day. Didn’t happen. So Tuesday I finally officially gave up. I emailed her telling her I didn’t care about the feedback anymore and just wanted a refund. 

This whole thing has been hard for me because it has always been my dream to be agented and published by a major publisher. I have worked like crazy to get there. UGLY is my best work, and it still has collected over 100 agent rejections (adding to the mountain of rejections for Finding Frances, over 200). It just seems delusional to keep believing that me getting an agent is really possible. So telling the editor I don’t want the feedback anymore is giving up on a major dream I’ve been working toward for almost ten years.  

The editor did respond, saying she would be refunding me in a few days. She also said some nice things about the book and my writing—I know she did read the book—but I just think it’s not a good time to try to get an agent. It’s not going to happen. She again said she’s going to send me feedback. I believe that she will, but not necessarily this weekend like she promised. 

So, I have decided to publish UGLY on Kindle Vella, even though the Always the New Girl stories have completely bombed there. But supposedly your stories have a better chance of getting discovered if you are actively publishing episodes, so I will be publishing maybe two episodes a week. I have no idea how long it will take to get through the whole book, because I’ve got to break the manuscript down into episodes first. I am going to go the Vella route because I think if I publish it as a standard novel, I will never find readers. Most of the promotion things I know how to do target adult readers. And we all know that adult women do read YA, but this particular story is really going to appeal to teens more than adults. And supposedly Vella has teen readers. So that’s what I’m going to try. I do not anticipate success this time, either. I’m just not top-tier. But I have been wrong before, so maybe I’ll get lucky this time. If it doesn’t work out, when I finish publishing all the episodes on there, I can pull it off and publish it as a novel. So I was planning to send the manuscript as it is—and has been for over a year—to a line editor. She’d be able to get it back to me by the second week of November, and I’ll be able to make the necessary changes and split it into episodes hopefully by mid-November. But I’m thinking it might make more sense to wait until January to publish it, which means I have to time to see if the developmental editor really does send feedback, and attempt to incorporate it. Either way, between now and then, I need to get a really good book description written, a cover image ready, and figure out seven good tags to use. 

So I guess I’m forging ahead.

Stuck

This past week I tried my first advertising on Facebook and Instagram. I made an ad for “Now Would Be Good,” the first story in Always the New Girl as posted on Kindle Vella. I can’t say it’s working at all. People are clicking on it, but not a single episode from the series has been read this week. I have no idea how to get the message out. This writing thing is so hard. But I do think I’m going to go ahead and make an ad for Finding Frances. I suspect that one reason I’m not getting reads on “Now Would Be Good” is because people aren’t familiar with Kindle Vella.

I’m still waiting on the Ugly edits from the freelance editor, who’s having some (pretty awful) personal issues and can’t seem to finish the last step in getting it back to me. I’m just in limbo without it, though. I don’t want to start anything new. I want to wrap that up and start sending it out to agents again.

If it still fails to get me an agent, I don’t really know what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll just self-publish, even though I already know nobody would buy it. I just don’t seem to have the marketing chops to make it happen. But after that, I’m not sure if I’d start working on Sadie Speaks again. As much as I love YA, it doesn’t seem to feel the same about me. I do think I’m going to work on some of my romance projects and get those out there (self-published) to see if I can do any better in that genre (which is much more self-publishing-friendly). So most likely I will continue my break from YA for a bit.

On the other hand, if I do manage to land an agent, I will probably refocus and get back to Sadie Speaks. Or I might dive into the sequel to Ugly, for which I have the premise and main characters already worked out.

Anyway, time will tell.

Review: Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe book coverI lucked into finding this book to fulfill the “genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author” category for the Read Harder challenge (which I am so not going to finish—my reading has slowed so much this year). It definitely fits that bill, as an urban fantasy grounded in Apache and other native cultures. The characters exist in an unusual world where certain aspects of the supernatural are recognized and handled in different ways, but otherwise it is just like modern America, microaggressions and all. 

The somewhat light supernatural element is established early on, as the story opens with a plastic skull with googly eyes in the eye sockets, which scares the crap out of Ellie’s ghost dog, Kirby. We learn pretty quick that she’s the one who raised him from the dead, because she can do that. At the end of the first chapter, we learn that Ellie’s favorite cousin has been in a serious accident and probably won’t survive, and her mom forbids her from raising him if he does die. 

That night, Trevor comes to Ellie in a dream and begs her to avenge his murder, even though everyone will think it was an accident. Soon afterward, Ellie and her dad follow her mom to Texas, where they are helping Trevor’s family. Ellie begins trying to figure out what happened to Trevor and how he could have been murdered. In the process, she uncovers the centuries-old secret of the town of Willowbee and its rather “special” inhabitants. She enlists the assistance of an old friend of hers, Jay, who helps from afar and then in person, and also brings along several other useful people (including a vampire). 

I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that the world-building is great, as it gives you just enough info to know what’s going on without overwhelming you with details. And Ellie’s raise-the-dead gift isn’t as simple as you might think, leading to several interesting situations. The native aspects of the tale are woven in tightly and couldn’t be removed without totally changing the story. There is some mythology (I guess that’s what you call it) and old family lore (Ellie feels a big connection to her quietly heroic sixth great grandmother, whose name she bears), but there’s also some of the day-to-day crap that indigenous and other people of color have to deal with from a lot of white people, who are still the majority of the cast in this book. There’s enough of this last stuff to make it realistic, but not so much that it distracts from the fact that this is a book meant to entertain. So I’d highly recommend this if you’re looking for an urban fantasy that’s fresh and interesting. 

Review: Indestructible Object by Mary McCoy

Indestructible Object book coverThis is my third McCoy book, and one thing I think is cool is that they’ve all been fairly different from each other. Though this one and I, Claudia do share some similarities, in that both protagonists are recording their experiences (I, Claudia in an epistolary fashion, and Indestructible Object as within-the-story podcasts). 

This book opens with Lee and her boyfriend, Vincent, breaking up on the last episode of their own podcast (“Artists in Love”) not long after graduating high school. The conversation in the podcast is interspersed with Lee’s narration and reflection. They live in Memphis and Vincent is moving to Washington D.C. for an internship and then to start college at Howard, and Lee isn’t going with him. It’s a bit of a system shock to Lee, who’d been thinking things were going to continue as they had been for two years, only to discover that everything is changing. 

She tries to carry on with other aspects of her life, especially her job as a sound technician for music and poetry readings at a coffee shop, until that falls apart, as well. And all the while she is also watching her parents’ marriage dissolve. Her parents have an eclectic set of friends dating back to their college days, and two of them and their sort-of-adopted son, Max, who Lee has grown up with, come for a visit. 

Lee explores her own love life while ostensibly hoping to get back together with Vincent and soon she, Max, and a new friend embark on a project: a podcast again exploring love but focusing on her parents’ relationship this time. Because Lee has stumbled across a few things that have shaken her understanding of her parents and their history. 

Lee is a great but quite flawed character. She doesn’t know what she wants and is having trouble identifying that, though not for lack of trying. But it turns out that investigating other people’s relationships is not a bad way to shed light on your own—and your feelings about love. The book takes Lee on a satisfying journey of understanding what exactly she wants and why that matters. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this book.

First Book Event and a Contest Milestone

Yesterday was my first book event, at Best of Books in Edmond, Oklahoma. It was with four other authors of three other books. They put me at a table with another YA author, Talitha DeVilliers, and we had a nice chat about YA and writing. The staff was all really nice, too, although we didn’t interact much. I even broke the double digits in sold copies of Finding Frances (I had very low expectations) and I was able to leave three signed copies on consignment. I handed out a few bookmarks that also had Always the New Girl information on there. I also got to see a friend I hadn’t seen since she visited me when I lived in Scotland, I think in 2002.

Here’s a photo my mom took of all of us:

Author Event
Best of Books in Edmond, OK

Also, in other good news, I submitted Always the New Girl (stories 1-6, not the prequel) to the BookLife Prize contest (the one Ugly semi-finaled in in 2019) and got the score back a few days ago—a perfect 10 out of 10. This should mean I should make it to the quarterfinal round, at least, which is awesome. It’s just nice that somebody in the industry thinks it’s good. The listing can be seen here. It includes the score and review, which was really glowing. 

Review: Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins

I enjoyed one of Perkins’ earlier books, which I reviewed here. Forward Me Back to You is another winner. 

The book is about “Robin,” a teen boy born in India and raised—and renamed—by basically decent but clueless white parents. The parents have a lot of money and Robin is set to inherit it, but he’s not very interested in that. He’s also very Christian and involved in a weekly youth group whose members he’s close to. But Robin really doesn’t know who he is. And he doesn’t really know that he doesn’t know. He’s very meek and lets other people define him and make decisions for him. It bothers him, but he doesn’t know how to do anything about. 

Kat is a teen girl with a black father who’s been raised by her white mother. She’s also a very accomplished martial artist. But after an assault at school, she’s plagued by nightmares, self-doubt, and the fact that of course the piece of shit got away with it. Her mother decides to send her across the country to a close family friend’s friend, who she ends up calling Grandma Vee. Grandma Vee sends Kat to the youth group because she thinks Robin and Kat have a lot in common.

The initial meeting doesn’t go great, as Kat is prickly. But eventually Kat, Robin, and another member of the youth group, Gracie, decide to go with the youth pastor on a service trip to Kolkata, India, which happens to be where Robin was born before being abandoned at a hotel and landing in an orphanage. They will be helping with an organization that rescues trafficked girls. The trip is eye-opening for everyone, even though we only get Robin’s and Kat’s perspectives. But before they even leave, Robin reclaims his true name—Ravi—before going and abandons a long-time “friend” who constantly belittled him. So we can see Ravi begin to change even before they get to Kolkata. He spends some of his time trying to learn about his past and the results aren’t what he hoped for, and his friends have to help with the fallout. Kat went to Kolkata with a mission to empower the girls she was going to be helping, and her own efforts don’t go as planned, either. Gracie helps her deal with the consequences, and Kat eventually comes to understand things on a deeper level than she ever would have expected. 

There is a lot going on in the novel, and it’s longer than most contemporaries, coming in at around 400 pages. But the story warrants the length, and it’s wonderful to see these characters come to terms with the harsh world and learn to deal with it in healthy ways. I really enjoyed this book, especially with its diverse cast of kids (Gracie is Mexican-American, as well) dealing with so many complicated things. Highly recommended for fans of Perkins and readers of contemporary in general. 

Another Win and New Release

I found out Finding Frances placed 1st in the YA Novel category of the NEST (National Excellence in StoryTelling) contest run by the Central Region Oklahoma Writers. You can check out the winners page. So that’s nice, too. 

But bigger news is that I’ve released a new book, on the new serial platform, Kindle Vella. This is the Sarah stories, which I’m now collectively calling Always the New Girl. I released it as seven separate stories, as #1 (Now Would Be Good) through #6 (The Weight of Choices) plus the prequel (Binding Off). If you are interested in reading it, you can search for my name or the series name on the Vella page linked above. To read the entire series, you’ll have have to have 703 tokens, which you should be able to get with the free 200 and a purchase of 525 for $4.99. I’d love it if you could:

  • Follow the story
  • Like each episode
  • Review the story
  • Fave the story (you can only do one a week, and only after you’ve purchased tokens)

One downside to this is that you can’t read on an actual Kindle, only in the app or on the website. But I’m really hoping this takes off a little and gets me new readers for Finding Frances (probably wishful thinking, but why not?). 

Review: One Great Lie by Deb Caletti

One Great Lie book coverI’ve been in the worst reading slump lately. From early March until a couple weeks ago, I read only one novel, and it was really hard to get through (not the novel’s fault—it was all me). But I’ve been wanting to break out, so I picked up Caletti’s newest. I started it on Friday and was so sucked in that I finished it the next day. It may have broken the slump (I’m hoping), as I’ve read another book since then, too.

So what made One Great Lie a reading-slump-breaker? Well, obviously it was good, which isn’t surprising given Caletti’s strong track record. This one starts in Seattle, too, with a girl, Charlotte, who has ancestral ties to a Renaissance poet named Isabella di Angelo. Her family had held on to a published book by the poet for centuries. Charlotte herself is a passionate writer and is a little fixated on understanding Isabella, whose association with a much more famous male poet overshadowed her own work. Charlotte’s trying to write a paper about Isabella for a class, but can’t find any information about her. 

This quest is important, but the story really gets started when Charlotte somewhat impulsively applies for a summer multi-week writing workshop in Venice with a very well-known author everyone, including Charlotte, admires. To her shock, she gets in and even earns a scholarship, the only way she could go. 

But things do not go quite as she expected. As one of the youngest there, she still befriends several of the other participants and they all learn that the author is … let’s say he’s complicated and very flawed. But she has an equally important other task while she’s in Venice: she is set on finding out more about Isabella, who was from the city. As the story unfolds, there’s a clear parallel between the horrible historical treatment of women and the gender-based challenges that Charlotte and other girls and women face nowadays. 

Caletti tackles another feminist issue in this book without sacrificing story in any way. I loved watching the tale of Isabella unfolding, and Charlotte’s friendships with local Dante and the other workshop participants are great to see. She had no idea she’d have to step up and do something really difficult and face unfair consequences, but she rises to the challenge and I enjoyed seeing how that happened. 

I loved this book, as I’ve implied, and highly recommend it if you like quality contemporary YA that addresses social issues. 

Another Contest Update

So I know I posted last week after ages, so posting again one week later is a little odd… but I found out Finding Frances got another award, an Independent Publisher Book Award (an “IPPY”). This is another one with tons of categories, but it’s still nice to get some more recognition. Last year they had close to 5000 entries (I couldn’t find this year’s number). This time the book placed third (in another tie—what the heck is up with that?) in the Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction E-book category, which can be seen on this page. 

On the heels of these wins, I felt emboldened enough to apply for another BookBub Featured Deal. And got a big fat rejection a couple days later. So I’ve signed up for another Bargain Booksy deal for June 26 (the ebook version will be on sale for 99 cents from June 25 through July 1, in case that is of interest to anyone... anyone?). Because I found out—and it’s a little embarrassing to write this, but whatever—I have not sold a single book in 2021. A couple books (maybe 3?) sold on Amazon, but apparently they had a few in stock, so not a single one has been purchased from the publisher (I did confirm this with them). No Kindle or other ebook, either. I knew this was going to be hard, but not this hard. Ugh.

Maybe if I can make some progress with the Sarah stories, starting with “Now Would Be Good,” on Kindle Vella, I’ll get some new readers for Finding Frances. I mean, it can’t make things any worse, as it’s not possible to have a negative number of readers. Also from the department of maybe-not-bad news: I heard from my developmental editor on this book that she started reading this past week, so I’m hoping she’s as fast as she’s been in the past, and I get it back in a week or two. I can get “Now Would Be Good” ready to post pretty quickly, as I’m not going to worry about sending it to a copy editor first since it’s been gone over so many times as part of my thesis and more. I am still going to send the whole book to a copy editor, so if they do find anything wrong with that story, I can always update the text later. The only thing that will slow me down is if my developmental editor suggests any major structural changes that impact that story (or anything that comes later but I need to set up there). 

Random image: here’s a self-portrait I had to do for a class. My mom says it’s “frownier” than the photo I drew it from. Maybe I was subconsciously depicting how I feel about my less-than-stellar writing career? 

May 2021 Update

So it’s been a couple months since my last post. Although my break has actually been kind of nice, I’m in a weird place. I haven’t been able to read YA lately (or anything other than picture books, really). Still, things have changed a little since then. I decided to send Ugly to a developmental editor my book coach recommended, as she thinks this editor could make the difference for me. So I’m going to give it one more shot. I should get it back from her soon, and then I’ll have to dive in. 

Additionally, I’ve decided to clean up the Sarah stories and publish them through Kindle Vella, which is a new serial platform that hasn’t been released yet, but is coming soon. This book is odd and was always going to be hard to sell. But it’s perfect for serialization, because it’s always been a novel in parts, where each part is a self-contained story, with all of them adding up to a larger story. So each novel part can be one “story” in Kindle Vella, with each chapter (or maybe a few chapters) making up an “episode”. Here’s an article if you’re interested in learning more about Kindle Vella. I’m in the process of finishing up the full draft (meeting with my critique partner today to go over the revised last story), and I’ll make any needed changes and send it to a developmental editor this week. Then, once I make any of her recommended changes, I’ve still got to send it to a copy editor (I could skip this step, but I probably shouldn’t—though I might be able to get away with it for the first one, since it’s been edited so heavily in preparation for going into my thesis). I’m still hoping to get the first story (I’m starting with “Now Would Be Good,” which is technically the second story chronologically, but I’m planning to do the actual first one at the end, as a prequel) published on Vella before it releases, but that probably won’t happen. But I can hope. 

I also found out that Finding Frances has won an indie award called the Next Generation Indie Book Award. There hasn’t been a press release yet, but I was notified earlier and you can see the list here. Once they’ve officially announced it, it will show up on this page. The book tied for first place in the First Novel (70k-90k) category. Now, this award isn’t exactly prestigious and there are a million categories, and I really would have rather placed in the YA category, but it’s still really nice to get some recognition. Somebody somewhere thinks it’s a good book, even if nobody is buying it. Also, the prize is $100, which I assume they’ll split in half since it was a tie. Which increases my income from this book by more than 50%. This book hasn’t exactly been a rousing success. 

Other than that, I haven’t been working on any other YA stories, instead focusing on my picture book venture. I’ve got two different drafts that are coming along nicely, and another new one I wrote a first draft of on Friday. I’m going to be starting drawing up thumbnails for the first one, even though it’s going to be a while before I can actually do the artwork. I’m taking Life Drawing this term, and let’s just say my ability to draw people… needs to develop a little. 

Here is a sketch I did in my Life Drawing class that doesn't suck.

 

A Change

So I’ve made a decision. Despite years of my best efforts, I can’t get anywhere with the gatekeepers in YA publishing. So I’ve decided to stop writing YA, as it’s not worth continuing to put this much energy into something when there’s no hope of getting what I want out of it. Ugly was supposed to be the one that got me an agent, because it’s exactly what they’re all claiming they want: something diverse and different. But despite over 115 queries to agents on it, fewer than five requested anything, and nobody’s giving me anything but form rejections (most don’t respond at all). I do still have one full out on it—my only thing out there, which she’s had since December—so maybe I’ll change my mind if she decides to take me on. But that is unlikely, given my track record so far. I’m 95% done with the Now Would Be Good stories, but that is virtually unsellable because it starts when the main character is 13 and ends the summer she’s 18. Nobody buys YA with protagonists that young, at least not without some serious convincing. I’ve always known this was a problem, but I thought I’d have a chance with it if I could get an agent on Ugly, which for so long I believed would happen. I’ve been working on Sadie Speaks, too, and my book coach thinks this one could make it, but from what I’ve been hearing at conferences, the YA suspense/thriller market’s saturated and it’s hard for new writers to break in. 

I’m still debating what to do about the romances I write under a pen name, because those I’ve long planned to self-publish, so I don’t need to convince anyone I’m worth looking at there. But I never cared about those as much as my YA, so I don’t know.

As you might have noticed from my blog here lately, I’ve already been sort of shifting my focus to my art and learning how to make picture books, so I’m just going to make that my only real focus. 

I’m not sure what this means for this site. I don’t plan to delete everything, but I’m not sure if it makes sense to switch to talking only about picture books when it’s been so focused on YA for so long. Do I start reviewing the picture books I’m reading here, or should I make a new site for that? I have no idea. I am planning to publish any picture books I make under my real name, so maybe I should just keep the site as it is and change what I blog about. It’s hard to know. 

I guess I’ll just figure it out later. 

Feeling bit lost at the moment…

Review: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

The Weight of Stars book coverThe premise of this quiet book is really interesting. A couple of decades earlier, a private space company send a bunch of young women on a one-way trip out of the solar system. While I do not in any way see the appeal of this, it is an interesting concept and I’m sure there are people who would sign up.

Alexandria, the daughter of one of them—born right before they left and given to her surprised father—appears at Ryann’s school one day. Ryann is sort of a tough girl, and sort of a peacemaker. Early on, she’s tasked with befriending Alexandria. She doesn’t exactly get off on the right foot, but after Alexandria gets injured in an accident sort of indirectly caused by Ryann and her friends, Ryann figures out a way to make it up to her, and they eventually work out their differences. Their friendship develops in some complex ways.

There are some really interesting diverse representations in the book: lesbians, Black and Sikh characters, and polyamorous parents. And Ryann’s younger brother has a son. So there’s a good range of characters in here, as everyone in Ryann’s friend group is different from each other. The only thing I should mention is that I did have trouble with some of the characterization. There were several times in the books where the characters would do things that I didn’t expect and that didn’t quite seem to make sense, based on what I knew of them. So there were decisions made that seemed jarring to me. 

However, a lot of people really love this book, so I think the characterization must not have bumped for everyone. So if you’re looking for a quiet book with a variety of different characters and a unique space theme, check this one out.  

Review: Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner

Dear Rachel Maddow book coverThis is a book I picked up for one of my reading challenges, but I was looking forward to it even though I’m not a huge fan of epistolary novels. But I like Rachel Maddow and she always reminds me of an old friend, so I figured it would be a good read. 

Brynn has become an under-achieving student since her older brother died and left her alone with her weak-willed mother and horrible stepfather. On top of that, she was dumped by her girlfriend over the summer. She’s in remedial classes despite being smart and eloquent because she can’t muster the will to do anything better. The one thing she loved was being on the school paper, but she was kicked off when her GPA slipped too low. She wants back on the paper, but not quite enough to do anything about it. When something happens at school that finally gets her riled up enough to do something, she surprises everyone—but she surprises herself the most. 

There are a lot of great characters in the book, some good, some bad. Brynn’s ex-girlfriend Sarah is stuck-up, her tutor Lacey is a great friend (and in a wheelchair), Justin from the paper wants her to figure out how to come back, Michaela the hot new girl has a secret past, and Adam is the school’s resident nasty and entitled future politician. Her mom and stepfather are easy to dislike and her new older friends are easy to like, even if they don’t feature in the story too much. 

You might wonder where Rachel Maddow fits in. Brynn watches the show every night since getting started with Sarah, and she admires Rachel. Brynn writes to Rachel for an English assignment and when she gets a response, her teacher encourages her to write back. Instead she starts writing Rachel long emails, saving them all in her drafts folder rather than sending them. Some of them also get turned in as assignments, and her teacher’s comments are hilarious. The book is entirely told through Brynn’s emails, with a few emails from other people thrown in to liven up the mix. 

I mentioned that I don’t generally love epistolary novels, but I feel like this one worked. It was basically just a first person novel with a slight frame around it. Brynn’s emails are clear and full of details that tell the real story from her perspective. And although I was never super-into student government (too cynical), it’s interesting to see Brynn navigate that world. Brynn’s voice is great—funny and snarky, but not too much. 

Overall, I think a lot of people will like this one. It’s got a heroine that seems to be stuck getting herself unstuck, and a sweet romance. 

End-of-Feb Update

Well, I didn’t manage to post last week and I don’t have a lot to say this week. I should get a review up next week, however. 

Amazon took away one of the reviews of Finding Frances, so that’s extremely annoying. Those things are hard enough to come by. Other than that, there’s no news on the writing front. 

I finished my second term on the art degree and am starting three new classes this week. Due to some scheduling weirdness, I’m in two art history classes and one digital art class, so no physical art at all this term. I’ll have to figure out some stuff to make, anyway. I am still taking a weekly watercolor class, so I’ll continue that. Since I don’t have much to report in the writing world, I figured I’d share some of the art I made over the last few weeks. 

This is my first complete watercolor still life. 

Small pumpkin watercolor still life

We had to do a bird’s eye city scene with a character “falling.” That sort of creeped me out, so I gave the character an out. And made it a cat. Why not?

Winged cat over city

This one’s called “The Prize.” It was supposed to be three characters involved in a conspiracy of sorts. I figured a couple of boys arm-wrestling for a kitten would be close enough. Not that they particularly look like kids… I’ll get better—I take life drawing 1 next term. 

The Prize - two boys arm wrestling over a cat

Oh, and I figure I’d post a picture of my new cat, Xander, because why not? (Isn't he cute?) I’m working on a watercolor version of this picture because I love it, so if it turns out okay, I’ll post it here. 

Orange tabby cat on a chair

Review: Hanging Around for You by Stacia Leigh

Hanging Around for You book coverHanging Around for You is a YA romance set in Leigh’s biker world in the mountains of (I think) Oregon. The first two books were clearly tied together, but this third one’s connection is much looser, though it’s there. Pinecone, the heroine, made an appearance in Leigh’s second book (Burnout, previously reviewed here). 

Fifteen-year-old Pinecone has a terrible, narcissistic mom named Twyla who abandons her in the first chapter, leaving Pinecone with Twyla’s biker boyfriend, Ham. Both of them are upset by the abandonment, but what’s worse is what Twyla does after stealing Ham’s truck, which brings the police sniffing around, making both of them very nervous. Still, they make do, with Pinecone going to school while working at the Powerhouse Inn, which Ham owns, and avoiding her best friend, Dawn, because of the awkward situation of her missing, criminal mom. One day, Smiley walks into the inn’s lobby, and Pinecone is struck by his looks, but very much turned off by his interest in joining Ham’s biker club, the Pulver Skulls. 

But Smiley’s on a mission. He’s not just a hang around; he’s looking for info. But it’s important that no one figures that out. Still, he thinks Pinecone might be a way into some crucial intel. Soon, he finds that he genuinely likes her, despite the fact that Ham doesn’t want him around.

At a pivotal Halloween party, Dawn finds out that Pinecone lied about where her mom was and she and Smiley make out. The fallout is dramatic: Dawn pulls completely away from her and Smiley friend-zones her at school soon after. It takes a while for those things to turn around, but fortunately they do. Just in time for quite the confrontation in Ham’s basement. 

This romance may deal with the biker world, but it’s not gritty like you might expect, even though Smiley is really dealing in danger. Pinecone and Smiley make a great couple you’re rooting for, even though Smiley’s shady dealings are a little problematic. I suspect we’ll need a sequel to find out where things really truly land. But this book still makes for a nice story that fans of light YA romance will enjoy.