Sunday, October 26, 2014

YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt!

YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt

Today I get to be part of a YA Contemporary Scavenger Hunt - which is pretty amazing because A) if you know me, you know I love Scavenger Hunts and B) my next book is about girls banding together to beat the football team at their annual scavenger hunt. Thanks Katie and Montana! I also get to host an interview and giveaway with Tiffany Schmidt, which is very exciting because her books sound so freaking good!


What was your inspiration for writing Send Me A Sign and Bright Before Sunrise?

Both of these novels started with characters. 

With Send Me a Sign I wanted to explore a character who was superstitious and thrown into a situation where her life felt out of her control. So those superstitious beliefs became her coping mechanism. I also wanted to write a story that went against a lot of the cancer tropes that felt very prevalent to me. So I wanted Mia to be very flawed instead of saintly, scared and selfish instead of stoic and sacrificial, a Person with cancer vs. a Cancer Patient.

Brighton in Bright Before Sunrise developed in reaction to a lot of the Mean Girl/Queen Bee cliches that are so common in literature and film. I wanted to create a female character who was popular not because she was manipulative or cruel, but because of how well she adapted to others’ expectations for her. I wanted to explore a character that’s so busy being a people-pleaser that she’s lost sight of what she wants for herself. 

And I wanted to pair Brighton with someone who would see right through her exterior and challenge her — so that was my inspiration for Jonah, the new boy in school who sees all the different versions of Brighton she presents to different people. He decides this makes her incredibly superficial and fake. Of course, the more he dislikes her, the more determined Brighton is to win him over…

Oh wow, I love books that take a more careful look at Mean Girls/Queen Bees, so I'll definitely be reading that one! Out of all of your characters, which one do you relate the most to? 
Brighton. Like her, I’m also plagued by an inability to say no. (gah, it’s only two letters, why is it so hard?) And I definitely spend far too much time worrying about being nice or if I’m liked. I’ve never managed to develop that ability to not care. And while writing Bright Before Sunrise didn’t cure me of this, it’s certainly made me much more aware of my Brighton-esque tendencies. I’m a work in progress :)

But, like Bright, I also truly love helping other people and cherish my relationships with my friends and family (even when they’re driving me nuts!).

Are there are there any other YA genres that you'd like to eventually write in? 
My next novel, HOLD ME LIKE A BREATH (book 1 in the ONCE UPON A CRIME FAMILY series) is a romantic thriller about crime families that traffic human organs. So, while there’s no magic or paranormal elements, it’s a fairy tale reimagining and a thriller, which are both fun new challenges for me.

After that… who knows :) 

If you could have dinner with any three authors, who would they be?

JK Rowling. 
Jane Austen
Louisa May Alcott

What 2015 release (or releases) are you the most excited for right now? 
Courtney Summers’ ALL THE RAGE
Ally Carter’s WE ALL FALL DOWN

What advice would you give to aspiring authors? 

Read! Write!  A LOT. And plan to continue to do both of those things forever. (If this idea isn’t appealing to you, then you probably don’t really want to be an author! — to me it sounds like the Best Thing Ever. It’s ‘work’, but also my favorite type of fun.)

But, it’s also my job, so it’s not all snuggling up with books and coffee. While you’re reading and writing, start educating yourself on publishing too. There are so many great resources on the web — take the time to read through them. Join local (or online) critique groups. Focus on your craft. Challenge yourself. Accept that you’ll hear no more than yes, and that there’s not such thing as a ‘perfect book’ — there’s always, always room for improvement and revision. 

Buckle up and be patient — because publishing is a game of hurry up and lots of waiting. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and luck and chance—it’ll break your heart and make you cry from happiness. It’s the best thing ever—but it’s not easy. And it can’t happen without putting words on a page. So… go start writing and reading. 

What do you like to do when you're not reading or writing? :)
Snuggle down with my Schmidtlets & puggles
Binge-watch TV shows with St.Matt


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Summary: 
When Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, "miserable" doesn't even begin to cover it. He feels like the doggy-bag from his mother's first marriage and everything else about her new life—with a new husband, new home and a new baby—is an upgrade. The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real... until she breaks up with him. 

For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. It may have kept her family together, but she has no clue how to handle how she's really feeling. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She's determined to change his mind, and when they're stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance. 

Jonah hates her at 3p.m., but how will he feel at 3 a.m.? 

One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.

Author Bio:
Tiffany Schmidt lives in Pennsylvania with her saintly husband, impish twin boys, and a pair of mischievous puggles. She's not at all superstitious... at least that's what she tells herself every Friday the thirteenth.

SEND ME A SIGN is her first novel. BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE will follow in Winter, 2014. The ONCE UPON A CRIME FAMILY series begins with HOLD ME LIKE A BREATH in 2015. You can find out more about her and her books at:, or by following her on Twitter @TiffanySchmidt.

Other Novels:

Send Me A Sign, Hold Me Like a Breath (coming 2015)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

17 FIRST KISSES Launch Party!

My launch party for 17 FIRST KISSES was last night at Little Shop of Stories, and it was so much fun! I'm so grateful to everyone who came out and so lucky to have such wonderful family and friends! And to live in an area with such a fantastic local bookstore!

Here are some photos, courtesy of Ross Laver:

Zack and I doing a reading together - he read the boy parts for me :)

A cake with my book cover on it! Does it get any better than that? (Thanks, Mom!)

Signing books! (This was so surreal!)

Ansley is practicing for her very own book signing.

Me and my mom.

I have no idea what terrifying thing is happening on the other side of the camera.

Me and my grad school girls.

Xander loved the reading.

Mom, Xander, and Micah. (And my sister in the background. I think she looks like the 17FK cover model!)

Hannah, me, and Dad.

Ansley chowing down on some cake!

Days 14 and 15 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

First Kiss Friday - 17 FIRST KISSES giveaway!

Hi! Today for First Kiss Friday, I want to hear about your first kisses! So, tell me in the comments, link to your blog, or hit me up on Twitter with the abridged version. The first five responders win a signed copy of 17 FIRST KISSES and a lip gloss :)

The kiss can be your very first kiss, your first kiss with your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, any first kiss you think would be fun to share! I'll be sharing mine with RT Book Reviews on Tuesday, June 17th. And here are some previous First Kiss Fridays to get you started.

ETA: I don't want people to be discouraged if the contest fills up fast, so the best story will also win a signed copy + lip gloss + something awesome I will think of.

Open to US and Canada.
Day 13 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Interview and First Kiss Story with Susan Hawk!

Hey guys! 

I'm so excited because today I get to interview my fabulous agent, Susan Hawk! She saw something in my book and helped me revise it until it shined (she sent me a five page revision letter full of great ideas and happy faces - I love her!). And then she sold my book to the amazing Jen Klonsky at HarperTeen. So, basically, she makes all my dreams come true, and if you have an awesome book, you should be querying her right now! 

And if that wasn't enough to keep you reading, Susan is going to tell us a first kiss story (YAY!). And now, on to the interview :)

What do you look for in a book?
I want to be moved!  There are lots of ways to do that – make me laugh, make me think, make me cry.  But no matter the reaction, I want to feel something; I’m looking for books that make an impact on me. 

Is there anything you're particularly excited to see at the moment?
See above.

Just kidding!  Other than what I described above, I am especially focused on finding more great YA and middle grade novels right now.  Earlier  this year, I posted on The Bent Agency blog about what I’m looking for:

In addition to that list, lately I’ve been craving:
-          A novel in verse that’s FUNNY
-          A YA Joy Luck Club
-          A middle grade contemporary with siblings that have a good relationship, that isn’t all about arguing and funny quips

Oh, I would love to read a YA Joy Luck Club too! Next question - what's the best book you've read recently?
Aside from your new novel you mean?  GUYS: you are going to LOVE Rachael's new book -- it's sooooooo good!  I don't want to give too much away before it's out, but stay posted!

If you're looking for something you can read right now, try Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith.  I loved the wild mix of things that this book is – romantic and tender, funny, sexual, honest – all that wrapped up in a crazy end of the-world-as-we-know-it adventure.  I loved how inventive it is, how clearly this is a book that only one person could have written.

Aw, thanks, Susan! And I've been hearing great things about Grasshopper Jungle. I will definitely be picking that one up. Next - who is your book boyfriend and why?
I don’t know how many people know this book, but I fell IN LOVE with Peaceable Sherwood from The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope (who also wrote The Perilous Gard), in high school and am in love with him still.  Don’t let the cover of this book scare you off!  It’s a total pleasure from start to finish – alternating between present day Peggy, who’s spending the summer at a creepy old family mansion in New York state, and Peggy’s Colonial ancestor Barbara.  Barbara visits Peggy as a ghost to tell her the story of her romantic past, and how she fell in love with a young British spy, Peaceable Sherwood, right under the eye of the Revolutionary Army, quartered nearby.  Dashing, daring, witty Peaceable!  No one can catch him, no one except for Barbara, of course.  How could anyone resist?

I haven't read that one, but Peaceable does sound quite dashing :) (Side note: I love that name!) And now for the last question (and my favorite!) - do you have a first kiss story you can share with us?
The first time I met H was at a friend’s house.  He didn’t live here, was at grad school in Boston and visiting for the weekend.  To celebrate his visit, our mutual friend decided that a group of us needed to read a very long novel (exactly what it was escapes me, for reasons that will become clear shortly) out loud to each other, from start to finish, all night long.  From the minute I saw H, I couldn’t stop noticing him.  Noticing the way he laughed, the way he read, the way his eyes sparkled, the way he sat in a chair!  He was mesmerizing.  I felt a connection.

That connection was solidified when we realized, the next morning, that we were the only two to fall asleep before the reading was over.

But the next day he went back to Boston, and I went on with things in NYC.  Six months rolled by and my friend mentioned that H was coming back for the summer.  By that point, I was putting all my energies into a different guy.  Yet everywhere I went, H was there, part of the group – in the park, at the corner bar, backyard party.  And every time, we spent most of the night talking to each other.  He started calling me and we’d stay on the phone for hours.  Finally, he suggested that we go out, just the two of us.  Of course, it was the night before he was leaving New York. 

Once again we spent the night talking and laughing and I realized how much I didn’t want him to leave the city, but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.  Finally, we had to go.  In a burst of nervous anxiety, I bounded to the corner and flagged a cab, thinking that I’d dart away before any awkward handshake goodbye ensued.  I threw open the heavy cab door, almost knocking H over, and just as I was about to duck in, he grabbed my hand, pulled me close and kissed me.  I can remember the feeling of his lips on mine to this day.

Luckily, his kisses don’t live only in my memory.  H and I will be married for twenty years, next September!

Awww, I love this story! I love that she noticed "the way he sat in a chair" and also I think stop-you-before-you-get-in-a-cab kisses are the height of romance :) I hope you guys have as much fun reading this interview as Susan and I had doing it! Thank you so much, Susan!

Day 12 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

17 FIRST KISSES Teaser - Claire Meets Luke

17 FIRST KISSES is about a lot of things, and one of those things is the complicated friendship between Claire and her best friend, Megan. And then there's Luke - the boy who does the complicating. Here's the scene where Claire meets him for the first time:

All day at school I think about the pact I made with Megan. Right up until the last bell rings and it’s time to go to soccer scrimmage. I weave through packed halls, past Buck Bronson (Kiss #1), who is shoving some scrawny freshman boy into the girls' bathroom, and Steven Lippert (Kiss #7), who is picking his nose and wiping it on the bottom of his tuba case. He’s a complete tool, and I never would have let him kiss me anyway had I not been under extreme emotional duress at the time of said kiss.
I change clothes at warp speed because I like being first to the park and having extra warm up time. I've vowed to make this year different, to make my next kiss count. But seeing Steven and Buck just reinforces how desperate and impossible my situation is. I shake my head as I pass the entrance to Salt Lick Park, a Christmas tree farm on my right, acres and acres of unused fields on my left. I have no idea how I’m going to pull off my end of the pact.
And that's when I see him.
Bouncing a soccer ball from foot to foot and looking so perfectly gorgeous, I half expect to see a halo of light descending over midfield. What can I say? Nothing is hotter than a boy in soccer gear. I think it’s the shin guards that do it for me.
He’s wearing this black, vintage Felix the Cat tee, totally different from the redneck-prepster look most of the guys at school have. In fact, he doesn’t look like he’s from around here at all. I start to wonder if I’ve wished him into existence. Then I realize: A. I’ve stopped walking, and B. I’m staring (in what is probably a really dorky and obvious way), so I jog over and say hi.
“I’m Claire.”
The boy kicks his ball into the air and catches in with one arm. “I’m Luke, uh, Dawson.”
He smiles and holds out his hand. I try to ignore the giddy feeling I get when our palms touch.
“Are you here for the scrimmage?” I ask. Maybe he goes to school in the next town over.
“Nope, just messing around.” He shifts from foot to foot and flicks his strawberry blond hair out of his eyes. “Is there a game starting soon? Do I need to clear out?”
“No! I mean, it’s fine. It’s not an official game or anything. The high school girls’ and guys’ teams get together and play pick up games during the off-season so we don’t get rusty.”
“You mean Rutherford High School?”
“Uh-huh. There’s just the one.”
“Cool. I’m starting at Rutherford tomorrow.” He tosses the ball into the air and maneuvers under it so it bounces off his forehead.
“Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah. Just transferred in from Miami,” he says, still heading the ball.
Score. A new student means he’s never dated, crushed on, or stalked my best friend. If you made a Venn diagram of all the hot guys at school and all the guys Megan has dated, you'd have about three guys left. And speaking of hot guy Venn diagrams, if you made one with all the hot guys at school and all the guys who are smart, there’d be, like, four guys who are in that middle overlapping section, two of which I already kissed in a debacle that earned me the Yoko Ono nickname.
“What year are you?” With my luck, he’ll be a really tall freshman.
“I’m a senior.”
“Me too. Wow, you had to switch schools in the middle of your senior year?”
He nods, and the ball bounces off his head at a funny angle. He starts passing it from hand to hand in circles around his waist, and I can’t help but smile at his inability to hold still.
“Yeah, it kind of sucks, but my dad’s in the military, so I’m used to making friends fast.” He shrugs. “At least I got to spend middle school in Germany.”
“You did? That’s awesome.”
I am genuinely impressed. Our eight stop light town is halfway between Atlanta and Alabama and all the way redneck. Most of the kids at school have all the culture and ambition of sea monkeys, so it’s nice to meet someone else who realizes there’s a whole world out there.
“So, do you think it’s cool if I stay for the scrimmage?”
“Definitely. It’s not for another 20 minutes, though. We could play one on one while we wait? First to five wins?” This guy may be cute, but the true test is how he performs in this soccer game.
He gives me a confident shrug and tosses me the ball. “Sure. Ladies first.”
I don’t like the way he’s standing there, all cocky and sure of himself, so I set the ball down and give it a few dainty taps. His stance relaxes, the way it would if you suddenly realized your opponent was five years old.
This is going to be too easy.
I cut to the left and before he has time to think “I just got beat by a girl,” I’m past him and I kick a straight shot to the back of the goal. Too. Easy. His eyebrows rise into his hairline. I know that look. It’s the face people make when they realize how good I am. I live for that look.
“Ohhh…” says Luke as I run to retrieve the ball. “I didn’t realize I was playing with a shark.”
I hand him the ball with a smirk. “Maybe.”
“It’s cool. I like a girl who can play.” He winks at me, and I’m momentarily startled by his eyes. They’re blue and dreamy and everything, but there’s something else, something shuttered, and that’s the part I find myself strangely drawn to. If my life were one of those paranormal romances, he would be the guy that turns out to be a were-manatee or whatever.
And because I’m so busy mooning over said manatee eyes, Luke gains the split second advantage he needs to get around me and score. Oh, it is on.
I have to earn my next point. With fakes and spin moves and every trick in my arsenal. Luke isn’t cutting me any slack, and I’m glad. I could never respect a guy who did. Plus, I kind of like the way he’s all up in my personal space. I finally pysch him out with a quick Cryuff turn, and my shot just makes it.
Then it’s Luke’s turn. He manages to maneuver around me, and not to be outdone, crosses one leg behind the other when he kicks the ball into the goal. It is a showy, showy move. 
My mouth hangs open. “Seriously? Did you just Rabona me?”
He fixes me with a charming smile, dimples included. Whew. Any second now, his new guy glow will wear off, and I’ll realize he has poor dental hygiene and a hunchback, but I’m swooning over those dimples until then.
I fake glare at him. “You just wait.”
I drop the ball and take off, juking from left to right, wracking my brain for a move that will top his. Luke’s on me in a second, stealing the ball away. Crap. I should have been more worried about winning than getting fancy. Crap, crap, crap. I mark him with my hand against his shoulder, determined to steal the ball back. He makes a tiny mistake, and I lash out, kicking it away from him. He’ll be on me again, so I have to hurry. I turn, putting on a burst of speed, my arm flailing behind me…and I feel something crunch against my elbow.
I turn to see that the something was Luke’s nose. It’s bleeding. Like a faucet.
“Ohmygosh, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he says with his hand cupped over his face.
I run over to my bag, scrambling for something, anything, to stop the bleeding.
A crumpled receipt, some gum wrappers, a couple movie tickets. Useless. My hand brushes against something in the side pocket, but I can’t use that. It would be mortifying. I give my bag a second sweep, hoping a Kleenex or something will magically appear, but there’s nothing. I know what I have to do.
I reach into the side pocket, cringing as I unwrap it.
Luke’s eyes bulge. “Is that what I think it is?”
“I don’t have anything else!”

And then I wrap one hand around the neck of the cutest boy I’ve ever met, and shove a tampon up his nose.

Day 11 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Secret Experiment

I love Pretty Little Liars. A lot. I love the books, I spend way too much time looking at PLL stuff on Tumblr, and my husband and I watch the show together every Tuesday, and he is every bit as much of a rabid fangirl as I am. Also, I have a book coming out soon called 17 FIRST KISSES - it has kind of a lot of kissing.

If I could somehow combine my love of PLL + 17 FIRST KISSES + free books, it would be awesome.

Step 1: Message my favorite PLL blogs on Tumblr to see if they'd be up for helping me out.

Step 2: Have a contest where people post a gif of their favorite PLL kiss with the #17FirstKisses before midnight EST June 10th for a chance to win signed copies of CRUSHED by Sara Shepard and 17 FIRST KISSES by Rachael Allen.

Step 3: Wait for the awesomeness to ensue.

The amazing PLL bloggers were totally up for helping me out! So, I posted the contest! And then…nothing showed up on the hashtag. Like, not even when I did a couple test posts of my favorite PLL kiss scenes. There is literally nothing under #17FirstKisses even though there should at least be my stuff. I'm not sure why it's not showing up or what I did wrong, and I really hope people didn't post stuff and then think I'm a jerk for not reblogging it.

I am maybe too old to use Tumblr properly. At least I got to make friends with my favorite PLL bloggers :)

Day 10 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.

Monday, June 9, 2014

17 FIRST KISSES Teaser - Claire's First First Kiss

In 17 FIRST KISSES, the present day scenes alternate with scenes showing each of Claire's first kisses. As a teaser, I have Claire's very first first kiss for you. Enjoy!

Kiss #1
The Summer Before 2nd Grade

My first kiss was with the most popular guy in school. For most girls, in most towns, this would be a good thing. Not for me.
Every high school has that popular boy who is not only an all-American athlete and devastatingly hot, but also a genuine, nice guy. Well, Buck isn't like that. I mean, yes, he is good at sports, and he does look like an Abercrombie model (for a parallel universe Abercrombie that sells rebel flags and jean shorts), but he's a jerk. He's the guy who still thinks it's funny to tape “I play with my instrument daily” signs to the backs of the band kids. He's the guy who tried to crawl through the ceiling Mission-Impossible-style to place a video camera over the girls' locker room (fortunately, he crashed through the tiles and landed on a desk in Mrs. Frankowski's history class). He's that guy.
Every time I see him I ask myself why (Why?!) my first kiss had to be with him. It was the summer before second grade. I’m with the boys riding our newly de-training-wheeled bikes, while the other girls play with Megan McQueen's Barbie Dream House on a blanket in her driveway. Our subdivision is one of the very first developments in town, the kind with nearly identical houses arranged neatly between the dogwood trees. We circle the cul-de-sac, sometimes popping feeble wheelies, sometimes letting go of the handlebars for a hot second. Then Buck gets the genius idea that we should try to ride down The Hill.
In reality, this hill isn't even that steep, but in my 7-year-old eyes, it looms like Mt. Everest. Many a kid had ridden up The Hill, only to have to turn around and walk their bike back down in shame when they chickened out. It is common knowledge that Glenn Baker's big brother broke his leg on The Hill. The youngest person to ever make it down was a third grader, and a biking prodigy at that.
But before we know it, all five of us are at the top, staring down in petrification at the meanest stretch of blacktop we had ever seen.
“Who wants to go first?” Buck waits for one of us to respond. “Nobody?”
My best friend Sam looks from Buck, to the street, then back again. “I don’t think this is such a good idea.”
“Well, we knew you weren’t going to try it. You wouldn’t make it 10 feet. Chunker,” says Jimmy, his chest puffed out.
“Do you want to try it?” asks Sam.
Jimmy’s chest deflates. “No.” He doesn’t want to look like a wuss in front of Buck, so he adds, “What about you, Glenn?”
“No way. I’m not doing it. That’s how my brother broke his leg. Mom would kill me.”
“Fine. I’ll do it.” Buck hikes one leg over his bike.
“And I’ll go next,” I say.
Jimmy laughs. “CJ, you can’t do it. You’re a girl.”
“So. I’m still tougher than you.”
Before Jimmy can reply, Buck kicks off. Our eyes glue themselves to his bike as it plummets down The Hill. He is going fast. Maybe too fast. I cringe. Just when I think his bike will skip over the curb and into Mrs. McQueen’s azaleas, he pulls his handlebars into a turn that sends him careening in the opposite direction across the blacktop without falling. He’s done it. The four of us jump up and down and holler.
I decide to push off before Jimmy can start in on me. My bike gathers speed quickly until the neighborhood whisks by in flashes. My hair whips around against my face. My heart rate is going off-the-charts crazy, but as long as I don't crash or pee my pants, this will be a raging success. I can’t let the fear take over, or I will crash. After what seems like an eternity of freefall, I slingshot around the cul-de-sac and skid to an ugly stop beside Buck. No crashing. No peeing.
 “You are the coolest girl I know,” Buck says, which is pretty much the highest compliment you can get from a 7-year-old boy.
I blush and look at my sneakers, and when I look up again, Buck's face is right in front of mine. He kisses me. Right on the lips. Right in front of everyone. I think maybe he is my boyfriend now. I can’t stop smiling. Until I hear it.
Followed closely by the K-I-S-S-I-N-G song.
And “Buck has a giiiirlfriend.”
Jimmy runs towards us leading the insult parade with Glenn at his side. Sam trails behind, huffing and wheezing, but not yelling anything. The full weight of what Buck did seems to sink into his brain all at once. The look of glowing admiration on his face twists into one of discomfort, and then anger.
“She's not my girlfriend. She's just a stupid girl.”
He grabs me by the shoulders and pushes me. Hard. I stagger backwards, the heel of one sneaker catching in the spokes of my bike, which is lying on the ground behind me. My butt hits the road with a thunk, and the asphalt scrapes all the skin off my elbows.
“You're not supposed to push girls, doofus,” says Sam, his chubby face red from the run down The Hill.
“What are you gonna do about it, lardo?”
Sam shakes his head, then helps me up and pushes my bike back to my house while I walk alongside him with tears welling in my eyes.
“I hate Buck,” he says.
I can't even answer. The mortification of being kissed, teased, and knocked down in a span of two minutes is just too much for my 7-year-old psyche to handle. Sam and I clatter downstairs to Mama’s basement studio, where she photographs other people’s babies for them. She has a knack for making even the ugly ones look cute.
Later, while my mom applies Neosporin, she explains that sometimes boys are mean to you because they like you. If I knew then what I know now, I would have called BS.

Day 9 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Megan's BFF Chocolate Souffle

For today's Countdown post, Megan and Claire are going to teach you how to make the soufflé Megan makes during the scene where she and Claire begin to become friends:

M: Hi, I’m Megan.

C: And I’m Claire.

M: Today I’m going to teach all of you how to make the soufflé that started our friendship.

C: And I am going to painstakingly record every last detail of what she does so I can scientifically prove she uses voodoo magic to make soufflés.

M: I do not! Just because I make ultra-fabulous soufflés every single time does not mean I practice dark magic.

C: *coughs* Mmm-hmm. I’m just gonna copy down the ingredients.

            5 egg whites and 3 egg yolks
            ¼ cup heavy cream
            ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar if you’re fancy like Megan)
            5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (cut up)
            1 stick (1 cup) unsalted butter (melted and then cooled)
            2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
            Powdered sugar
            Voodoo magic
M: First, you separate the egg whites and yolks into two bowls while the eggs are still cold. No egg yolks in the egg whites bowl! This is key!  Every time a molecule of egg yolk makes it into the egg whites, God kills a kitten. Write that down, Claire!

C: Egg yolks = dead kittens. Got it.

M: Then, we want to give the whites a chance to warm to room temperature, so we’ll do some other stuff.
1)    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line four 1-cup ramekins with 2 coats of butter and 1 coat of granulated sugar.

M: Do it just like how Curtis Stone does it with the 2-minute refrigeration in between. Like in this video: Just watch it. The man is a genius.

C: Plus, let’s be honest, watching a hot chef with an accent cook chocolate desserts is eight different kinds of bliss.

2)    Combine chocolate and cream in a small saucepan or double boiler, stirring occasionally until smooth. Then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
3)    Whisk yolks and cocoa powder together and then combine with the chocolate mixture until smooth.
4)    In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they look foamy. Then gradually beat in the ¼ cup of sugar.

M: Make sure to beat the eggs long enough so that peaks form on the beaters when you lift the mixer. *lifts electric mixer* See?

C: That looks highly unnatural. But I’m still gonna lick those later.

            5) Fold two scoops of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture using a rubber spatula. Then fold in the rest of the egg white mixture.

M: You have to be super gentle here. And you definitely don’t want to over mix or you’ll lose all the air bubbles that make the soufflé puff up in the oven. If there really is voodoo magic in this soufflé, it’s hiding in those air bubbles.

C: I knew it!
            6) Put an equal amount of soufflé batter into each ramekin, making sure the batter comes to the very top of the dish without going over.
            7) Bake 10-20 minutes.

M: This really varies by oven. You want the soufflés to puff out the top of the dish but you also want them to be moist in the middle. I suggest sitting in front of your oven the first couple times and watching them. Every. Single. Second. The perfect soufflé takes trial and error. If you don’t cook it long enough, it falls. If you cook it too long, it falls.

C: If you talk above a whisper or make sudden movements or give it the stink eye, it falls.

            8) Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and pour on chocolate sauce (made from more chocolate and heavy cream in the double boiler). Serve immediately to your new best friend.

C: I feel like the “immediately” part is unnecessary. Anyone who wouldn’t shove this in their mouth immediately is not someone I want to be best friends with.

M: Word.

*Note: This recipe is adapted from Easy Chocolate Soufflé (p. 173) from 365 Great Chocolate Desserts and Curtis Stone’s The World’s Best Chocolate Soufflé video.

Day 8 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

From rough query to polished query to cover copy (or Why I love my critique group)

Today I’m showing you the evolution from the rough query for 17 FIRST KISSES to the polished query to cover copy for the book.

First up, the rough query. I wrote it all excited to send 17FK out into the agent world, but I knew it needed work (side note: even if you don’t think it needs work, if the query has never been seen by eyes other than yours, it does.). Here’s what I sent to my critique group:

Claire Jenkins has kissed the biggest jerk in school and all five members of the band Screaming Lemurs, but she still doesn’t have a boyfriend. Having to keep her messed up family a secret makes bringing a guy home problematic. Then she meets a new boy named Luke (and she can actually talk to him). The best part: Luke's a transfer student, so he's one of the only attractive guys at Rutherford High who hasn't been tainted by Megan McQueen, the most popular girl in school and Claire’s best friend.

Claire wants him. Bad. But so does Megan.

Megan gets Luke, just like she’s gotten every other guy she’s ever wanted, and Claire is crushed. But when Luke starts to realize he made the wrong choice, Claire must choose whether she wants him enough to steal him from her best friend.

17 FIRST KISSES is a young adult novel set in Atlanta, GA and is complete at 61,000 words. The story alternates between Claire's senior year and each of the 17 kisses. It’s a story about a complicated friendship, a family dealing with loss, and lots and lots of kissing.

My critique group gave me a ton of great feedback (seriously, they are amazing! LOVE all of them!):
-       We need a better sense of who Claire is and what her dilemma is so we can relate to the stakes better.
-       Could I get Claire’s family issues into the query somehow?
-       We need to know why Luke is so special that these two girls are risking their friendship to go after him.
-       Could I show off the small town setting?
-       Could I put more emphasis on how the title fits in with the story since that’s a fun part of the book?
-       The third paragraph needs to end with more of a bang.
-       Could I show more than Megan’s queen bee side in the query?

I took it all in and put together the query below (I love this one so much more!), which is what I sent to agents (sometimes I added a personalized sentence to the last paragraph). It had a pretty good request rate, and it ended up landing me the fabulous Susan Hawk 

No matter how many boys Claire Jenkins kisses, she can’t seem to find a decent boyfriend. A boy who won’t decide he’d rather be dating her best friend Megan. A boy who won’t freak out when he realizes her family never recovered from her brother’s death. A boy whose kisses can carry her away from her backwoods town for one fleeting moment.

Claire’s already at 12 kisses and counting when she meets a new boy named Luke. He tells her some dark family secrets of his own, and she thinks maybe he could understand her. Plus, he’s a transfer student, so he's one of the only cute guys at Rutherford High who hasn’t been mesmerized by Megan, the most popular girl in school and Claire’s biggest support in a crisis.

Claire wants him. Bad. But so does Megan.

As usual, Megan gets the guy, while Claire gets to be ‘happy’ for her. But when Luke starts to realize he’s dating the wrong girl, Claire must choose whether backstabbing her best friend is worth a chance at love. And whether Luke’s secrets are worth all the drama.

17 FIRST KISSES is a 70,000 word YA contemporary that alternates between Claire's senior year and each of the 17 kisses. It’s a story about a complicated friendship, a family dealing with loss, and lots and lots of kissing.

17 FIRST KISSES would appeal to fans of THE BOYFRIEND LIST and 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES. Thank you for your time and consideration.

After you sign with an agent, your query will likely become the basis for the pitch letter they send to editors, which could eventually become the basis for the copy that goes on the back of your book. I love my cover copy even more than my query – it was so much fun to watch it get better with every iteration. Also, my editor came up with the tagline, and I am kind of in love with it 

[tagline] Sometimes a girl has to kiss a lot of frogs…

No matter how many boys Claire kisses, she can’t seem to find a decent boyfriend. Someone who wouldn’t rather date her gorgeous best friend, Megan. Someone who won’t freak out when he learns about the tragedy her family still hasn’t recovered from. Someone whose kisses can carry her away from her backwoods town for one fleeting moment.

Until Claire meets Luke.

Luke is adorable and he’s lived all over the world. But Megan is falling for Luke, too, and if there’s one thing Claire knows for sure, it’s that Megan’s pretty much irresistible.

With true love and best friendship on the line, Claire suddenly has everything to lose. And what she learns—about her crush, her friends, and most of all herself—makes the choices even harder.

In her moving debut, Rachael Allen brilliantly captures the complexities of friendship, the struggles of self-discovery, and the difficulties of trying to find love in high school. Fans of Sarah Ockler, Susane Colasanti, and Stephanie Perkins will fall head over heels for this addictive, heartfelt, and often hilarious modern love story.

Day 7 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.