So the thing with pre-orders is you often can't see the chapter sample. NO BUENO.
My newsletter friends got a sneak peek of one of my favorite chapters/scenes from I'll Be Yours, but that didn't include the all-important chapter one. So…here 'tis!
Sometimes I stare out my bedroom window, find the North Star, and wonder if it’s shining down elsewhere—on the life I was supposed to live.
A different version.
With different people.
And a different me.
When I was nine, I came to live with the O’Malleys. For my eleventh birthday, they adopted me. Rescued me, really.
They were a family of beautiful, athletic, overachievers.
Let’s just say if life were a nerd parade, I’d be its grand marshal.
“Harper, you just sighed three times in fifteen minutes.” My mom passed me a bowl of peas. “Are you feeling okay, honey?”
“Yeah.” I handed the offensive vegetables off to the person to my right, pulling my thoughts from the deep, dark edge, then shooting my two brothers a glare at their buffoonish guffaws. “Here, DeShawn. Your favorite.”
“Are you sure?” Mom asked again.
“Maybe after the guys leave, we could talk?”
Her pink lips gave me that familiar smile. “Of course.”
“What’s wrong over there?” my dad asked from the end of a table big enough to feed half of Kentucky and still leave elbow room.
“Nothing.” I adjusted the napkin in my lap, gaining the rapt attention of the two dogs on guard beside me. Jay-Z and Kanye were not stupid. If there was any time to expect floor scraps, it was when the football team came to dine. I’m a vegetarian who eats a whole lot of salads and beans, so the mutts gave up on me long ago.
“I know what’s wrong with her.” My oldest brother, Michael, wore a grin as wicked as a snake rattle.
I felt the earth shift beneath my chair.
Oh, no. Not this. Not now.
Not with them.
“That’s enough, Michael. I don’t need you to—”
“Harper likes a boy.”
Fifteen heads swerved in unison.
I sank lower in my chair. And watched the table explode.
This wasn’t just any dining room table. It was Coach O’Malley’s table. Almost every Sunday, my mom, dad, two brothers, and I sat down for pot roast or fried chicken. And so did about a fourth of the football team from the University of Southern Kentucky.
Voices fired around me like grenades, and I did what any miserable girl could. I reached for more gravy.
“Who is he?”
“He dat punk kid who wears the trench?”
“I want a name!”
“What’s his GPA?”
“He treat his mama right?”
“Where’s that fool live?”
“You got pictures?”
“He got a hot sister?”
Even with my burning face and exasperated thoughts, I couldn’t help but smile.
Though the faces of the players changed through the years, their presence in my life, at my dinner table—it was a constant I held close to my heart.
Most times I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
This wasn’t one of those moments.
I had finally, finally contracted the Love Plague.
And the only remedy was Andrew James Wesley Levin.
A boy so fabulous his parents had to give him three names just to contain all the wonder. He was basically the most amazing junior at Washington High School to ever sit in the trumpet section.
Unfortunately, when it came to guys, I was kind of remedial. We’re talking way behind.
At the age of ten, while my friends were writing love notes, I was watching Shark Week. When I was twelve, my friends all proudly had boyfriends. I just wanted to show off my VIP library card.
But six weeks ago, during an ordinary Monday of my junior year at Washington High, I got it.
The Boy Crazies.
It was as if a fairy had tapped me on my curly head and sprinkled love glitter and man-awareness magic.
Because on that auspicious day in September, not only did Andrew enroll at WHS, but he showed up in my band class.
Boys were scary business to me, but I had resolved to push through the fear this time. I would have a normal crush if it killed me. Not only could I confirm that I liked Andrew, but also I had developed a strategic plan in winning him over. So far I hadn’t implemented it, unless you considered stalking him from afar my warm-up.
The doorbell rang, and the melody was a chime of salvation. “I’ll get it!” I jumped up and ran toward the foyer. Sensing imminent danger, one of the dogs leaped after me, ready to maim someone with slobber.
I cut through the living room, walking past framed pictures hanging on walls and occupying tables. Pictures of my dad clutching championship trophies. My mom smiling at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. My brother Michael shooting a buzzer-beating three. Ten-year-old Cole in a graceful leap over a hurdle.
Oh, look. There was one of me. Holding a band camp certificate.
The bell sounded again, and mid-impatient ding, I swung the door wide open.
And I did not like what I saw.
I blinked against the sun, the heat, the arrogance.
On my front step stood Ridley Estes.
I took in his dark jeans and his Washington Wildcat T-shirt, observing a tiny hole in his sleeve and the outline of muscles sculpted from years of football. A baseball cap covered the short-cropped black hair that complemented his Latin skin, which looked forever tan. Pasty white girls like myself noticed these sorts of things.
“Hello . . .” His voice trailed off, as if he’d just hung a question mark in the air.
“Harper,” I reminded him. “My name is Harper.” I gave my best first-chair trumpet stare of intimidation. But it was no use for the one the girls called Ridley with all the reverence and awe usually reserved for pop stars and movie heartthrobs. Wide receiver of my high school football team, a little too rugged to be an Abercrombie model, king of campus, and unexpected guest. A guy who’d clearly made an illicit deal with the underworld.
I couldn’t stand his type. Too cool to be aware of the rest of us
mere mortals. Used to everyone oohing and aahing over him.
“Harper,” he said, trying my name out on his lips. “I knew that.”
“Oh, no reason to.” His crooked grin was a rubber band on the sunburn of my annoyance. “Just because we’ve been at the same school for four years, we had art together, and last year your locker was over mine.” Constantly hitting me in the head while he snuggled up to some honey. “No reason at all.”
He cocked his head as his brown eyes studied me. “I’m sensing some anger issues here, Harper. You might want to do something about that. Frustration could shrivel up some of those genius brain cells.”
Before I could respond, he looked past my shoulder and straightened his six-foot posture.
“Can I help you with something?” I asked. Like letting some air out of that ego?
He stared right through me. “Your brother invited me to lunch.”
“With the team? I doubt—”
“Ridley!” Michael stood behind me and nudged me out of the way.
“Don’t mind her. Come on in. Get yourself a seat.”
The two filed on into the dining room, and I was left to walk in their shadow.
“Dad, you know Ridley.”
My dad’s smile slipped as he sent a sharp eye to Michael. “Son, we live and die by NCAA rules in this house,” he said quietly. “I don’t have to tell you that possible recruits cannot be sitting with me at my dining room table.”
“He’s not.” My brother plopped back in his seat and grabbed another cob of corn. “He’s sitting at my dinner table.”
Dad mumbled something about a waiver and violations, but nobody else seemed too concerned.
So Ridley was a possible University of Southern Kentucky recruit. I knew he was good, but I hadn’t known he was that good. Normally my dad liked boys who had decent GPAs and stayed out of trouble. Surely that counted Ridley out.
The campus darling settled into a chair beside my brother.
Forks paused. Water glasses stopped mid-sip.
The stare down began. Happened every time a new person sat at our table, especially one who had his eye on being an Eagle. My football family was protective of us. Plus, they didn’t like to share Mom’s chocolate pie.
Mom cleared her throat. “Well, I’m glad you can join us.” She gave the team the discreet glare that promised dish duty to anyone not behaving. “We always love having the kids’ friends around. You know Harper, right?”
“Oh, yeah.” Ridley had the nerve to smile. “We go way back.”
My mother introduced my younger brother, then quickly named off the team.
Michael sent the senior captain a look that said, “He’s cool.”
Dominic Vago nodded, then smacked Ridley on the back. “Get you some potatoes. Mama O’Malley makes some mean mashed potatoes.”
“Yeah.” Tyler Nicholson talked with his mouth around a bite of green beans. “You gotta try her garlic bread too. She makes that herself, dude. It’s not frozen or nothing.”
“You guys are so sweet.” My mom’s face flushed pink as my dad wrapped an arm around her chair and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
“The lady can cook,” Dad said. “These Sunday lunches will add at least another hour to your workout.”
Ridley took the platter of roast from the junior wide receiver.
“Sounds worth it to me.”
“Harper”—Marcus Ross pushed up his glasses with a fat finger—“you were telling us the name of this boy you like.”
My eyes automatically flew to Ridley. Then away. Anywhere but him. “No. No, I wasn’t.”
“Yeah, she’s wasn’t,” said my ten year-old brother. “Michael was.”
I shot my oldest brother a look promising creative forms of death and torture. To no avail.
“His name is Andrew Levin.”
“No, it’s not!” I shook my head like my hair was on fire. “It’s not. I don’t like anyone. That’s just the name of some boy at school. Michael, I don’t even know where you got that.”
Cole took a bite of potatoes. “Your laptop. The file labeled diary.”
The blood drained from my face, my arms, my legs. If I looked down, surely there would be a pool of it at my feet.
“Did you read your sister’s diary?” Mom’s voice carried an edge that let my brother know he would be dealt with later.
“He like you back?” Marcus asked.
Marcus sat at my right, and I had to admit he was one of my favorites. Overweight, short, and totally in the closet. The book-reading closet, that is. Over the past two years, we’d spent many an hour talking Harry Potter, Shakespeare, and the psychology crap his professors made him read.
“He does not like her back,” Cole said. “Ow! Quit kicking me, Michael. You told me that’s what it said.”
I wanted to die. I wanted to flop in the floor like an oxygen-deprived fish in my torment and slip away into the great beyond—far, far away from this inhumane humiliation. My brothers were clearly conspiring to make sure I had zero self-respect left. Might as well announce to the table that I’d never had a date. That I’d never been properly kissed. That the only reason I had boobs was because I bought them at Victoria’s Secret.
“He’d be a fool not to chase you, Harper.” My dad smiled and gave me his comforting slow wink. Just one drop of the eyelid, one easy grin, and for a few seconds, I felt special. Beautiful.
I just wished it was enough for Andrew Levin.
“We should probably meet this dude.” Tyler Nicholson turned to Michael. “You know him?”
“I do.” Ridley set down a pitcher of tea and looked right at me.
At this, the whole team broke out into celebration, like the boy had just handed off the game-winning pass.
“Let’s hear it.” Dominic cut into his roast beef. “Oh, girl, you in trouble now.”
“Maybe we should respect her privacy,” Marcus said.
“Yes, let’s.” I stared down every single member of the team.
Fifteen men dropped their attention back to their plates, and knives and forks clanked as they quietly returned to their lunch.
“Then again,” laughed Marcus, “she’s always up in my business.”
The table once again erupted into shouts, and soon the questions flew anew. Only this time for Ridley.
Mr. Arrogance watched me from the opposite end of the table, a pirate’s smile curving those lips. “I could talk to him for you, Harper.”
“That won’t be necessary.” As I expected to self-combust within the next minute.
“Just think,” Michael said. “If the Eagles offer Ridley a contract, he’ll be eating with us every Sunday.”
I glared at my brother’s newest annoying friend.
I was angry that he had shown up. Even more angry at my brothers.
But determined more than ever to be Andrew Levin’s next girlfriend.
Hey, guys! This post will just bore the pants off of some of you, but I've been getting a lot of questions about indie publishing. I thought I'd post a few “must knows” here.
1. Series is king. You can do really well publishing stand-alone books (not that series books aren't stand alone), but overall, series is where writers are finding the sales sweet spot, especially if you're writing romance. It doesn't have to be series in the sense that we have this story arc that evolves throughout the books. It can be books that can be read in any order that are tied by setting or some characteristic, like all books include the adult grandchildren of a crazy, retired CIA operative in a small Arkansas town. Like my Sugar Creek series. 🙂
2. There's a lot of talk about Permafree not being effective anymore. For many of us, that's simply not true. (Permafree is setting a book to free that stays free indefinitely, like my In Between.) Once you have at least three books in a series, try putting that first book free. It helps to have copy in the back and multiple places of Book One that nudge the reader on to book two. Include a sales link to book two, include a sample chapter to book two.
3. Get a good editor. Editors are like toilet paper–you get what you pay for. : ) (I mean, editors are like fine chocolate! Editors are like imported coffee!) If you need referrals for editors, I'll be glad to help you there. I have a handful of editors I really, really believe in. It's important to not only get someone with experience (lots of it), but to get someone who gets your voice and your goals for your books. Define some characteristics you need in an editor and stick to that. Straying from my list has not served me well, in indie or traditional publishing. For my list, I need someone who has a sense of humor, can handle a little edge, but make sure I'm not mean or crossing a line I've established, has years of experience, and gets ME. I also really prefer someone who has worked in traditional publishing and knows the rules we tend to stick to and the rules we just don't care about anymore. This list is not for every writer. It's just what's worked for me.
4. Exclusivity is a personal choice. Some writers prefer to enroll their books in KDP Select, which means they gain some benefits by allowing Amazon to be the only seller to have access to their books. No iBooks, no Nook, no Kobo. This is one of those things you need to research and maybe even test the waters. I have yet to go exclusive for a number of reasons, but mostly because I want all my readers to have access and because I believe in iBooks and their potential. I have friends who are exclusive with Amazon, and some are doing well. As Nook becomes less and less of a contender, my opinion might change, but so far having my book available in all channels has really worked well for me. There are bigger, better, more successful indie writers who talk about this often, and I'd really suggest following them on a regular basis. Folks like Hugh Howey, JA Konrath, Marie Force, and The Passive Voice. Their opinions have evolved as KDP Select has evolved, and their input is pretty important.
5. Get a good cover designer. Unless you are a top level designer, don't do the cover yourself. Also get feedback on your cover from folks you trust, absolutely trust, to give you an honest opinion. I promise on my Holstein Cow YA, that covers will make or break your book. They aren't cheap, but they're SO SO important. Ask around for referrals, and check out the designer's portfolio. I “save” photos of covers I like on a Pinterest board and in a folder in my gmail. That way when it's time to create my next cover, I usually have comp titles ready to go to better help define what I'm looking for or what I like. Pull up the Kindle best seller lists in your genre. What do those covers look like? What do they have or not have? One area that indie covers often fail is font. Get good ones that could be on any best selling book in a Barnes and Noble.
6. Once you get that Permafree book up, get a BookBub ad. There are other outlets to try as well, such as Ereader News Today and Pixel of Ink (I think they're up and running again?), but BookBub is the best in getting the news of your free (or discounted) book into the hands of digital readers. BookBub is expensive, but when advertising a free book, I've always made my money back on the first day. (Advertising for a book that is more than .99 was not successful for me, but one attempt does not make for good data.)
7. Do your research. The cool thing about indie publishing is there is SO SO SO much information out there. The indie community is awesome about sharing what they learn and know. We want people to succeed and we want people to be informed. Get last year's RWA conference recordings, which was FULL of classes on going indie. (Also great info that would transfer to traditional publishing.) Follow blogs of indie writers like James Scott Bell, Joanna Penn, etc. There are a handful of great podcasts out there. I really like Joanna's podcast The Creative Penn. It's so helpful and full of info–sometimes more than I can handle. Read some books by successful indie writers. One of my favorite books on indie publishing is The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing. Some of the info might be a little dated now (it only takes a few months), but it's incredibly encouraging to read the success stories of these writers who have hit the NYT, hit the million dollar club, and/or were able to write full time and make a living. Write, Publish, and Repeat is good, as is The Indie Author Survival Guide and Let's Get Digital. If you are not interested in any of the above and “just want to write,” then this probably isn't the route for you. And that's okay. Some days it's not for me either. 🙂
8. Join a list-serv for indie fiction writers. I subscribe to one hosted by Marie Force, and it's very informative to just lurk and a helpful resource for when I have a question of my own. I recommend leaving any list-servs that get negative, especially about traditional publishing or publishers. Traditional publishing is still a good choice for a lot of authors, and it drives me nuts to see that option immediately deemed stupid. It happens–it happens a lot.
9. Get Scrivener. Despite the huge fan club it has, I still don't love it for word processing, but it's very useful for formatting your indie book yourself. I also use a wonderful formatter who is AMAZING to work with–very kind, patient, prompt, and reasonable. Paul Salvette of BB eBooks is just the best. I can't recommend him enough.
10. One of the encouraging things about indie publishing is the main thing that sells your book is the next book. So you can post selfies on Instagram all day, publish witty quotes on Facebook, tweet hilarious photos, hire the world's best publicist. But your next book is the best “pusher” of your previous novels. And the more indie books you have, the better your income flow and readership.
11. Be encouraged that at some point, through trial and error, you will assemble your team. One of the biggest things indie converts miss about traditional publishing is not having a support system and their “team.” But eventually you find the right editors, the right cover designer or two, a few beta readers, a formatter if necessary, and those writing friends in the trenches who will listen to you whine while on deadline. I no longer have to worry about the possibility a devo editor who has never read YA, a copy editor who doesn't have a sense of humor, or a middle aged man with no taste deciding my covers. Not that that's ever happened. But you get to customize your team now until everyone aligns with you and your brand and just rocks at what they do. It took me at least a year, but I have my team, and they are keepers.
12. Take the time to write a good book. All of the above will be about as useful as a Kardashian without Botox if you haven't made sure you are putting out the best product possible.
Happy Friday that is definitely not a Wednesday! Is everyone having a good summer so far? I am really, really proud to say I have yet to contract poison ivy, which I've done the last few years, and when I say “done,” I mean DONE REALLY WELL. Like, I don't want to brag, but I kind of take the whole poison ivy thing to new heights of itchy achievements. But enough about my personal accomplishments. Today kicks off a new blog segment that I'd like to call Writerly Wednesday.
Writerly Wednesday will be the semi-occasional Wednesday of some tips for my fellow writers, especially those new folks. Today's tip is…DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
In the last year I've talked to a handful of new writers who are into writing, into getting those books out, but not into studying the craft. And you gotta. Show me a writer who hasn't read a craft book in a few years, goes to a conference and attends zero classes, or doesn't read for analysis, and I can show you a writer who has a really great chance of not going the distance. I love the story someone told me years ago how a fairly new writer went to an introductory plotting class at a conference. She was kind of feeling like it was a waste of her time when she looked over and saw a well-known author taking copious notes. It was Francine Rivers.
I am the queen of buying writing books. Admittedly, I don't read them all. And some I've read only to think, “I have no idea what that guy just said.” Someone once told me if she can get one good idea from a writing craft book, then it was worth it. I tend to agree. Here are some of my newest favorite craft reads:
1. Super Structure by James Scott Bell.
You know what I really like about books on writing in the last year or so? They're super short. Which is great–because so is my attention span. Mr. Bell has made this book short and sweet, with no filler. He just gets down to business. It's a great book on structuring a novel and revisits his idea of the Mirror Moment, something he also write a book about. I liked this one so much I bought the paperback because I knew I'd want to mark it up and flip through it often. I've even gifted it. (P.S. The digital version of this book is super cheap!)
2. Take Your Pants Off: Outlining Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
I was a little disappointed to order a book called Take Your Pants Off and realize it was not the pictorial memoir of Chris Hemswoth. Instead, this is a book about plotting and outlining. I'm not an Outliner. If the Outliners evangelized door to door like a Jehovah's Witness, I would not only let them into my living room, I would absolutely read their literature and convert, thank you and amen. I'm a Seat-of-the-Pants Writer (thus, the title, sadly). I would give my next box of cereal to be a plotter, so I buy lots of plotting books thinking “THIS will be the one that will help me!” Plotters typically write faster than I do. Plotters typically don't toss out hundreds of pages like I do. Plotters typically don't want to drink as heavily as I do. (Sonic lemon water, extra ice) (P.S., the digital version of this book is ALSO super cheap!)
3. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
This is an oldie, but a goodie. Mr. Snyder is no longer with us, God bless his legacy, but he wrote a fabulous, easy-to-read book about movie structure. He breaks down the events that are in every great movie, and you see how it's incredibly relevant to books as well. I think of his book and advice often. If you get nothing else out of his book other than employing his “save the cat” moment, you'll be doing well.
4. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
I'm late the Story Engineering party (I was too busy writing and making bonfires of my wasted chapters), but I finally bought this book as a summer read. Many writers refer to his advice, and many folks who teach writing or write books on writing use Larry Brooks methods. I've yet to even start it, but I mention it because I think we writers should always have “that next thing” we're reading or intend to study to become better at what we do. If writing is what you're passionate about, be a student of it.
There are lots more great writing books out there. These are just a handful that have my attention lately.
What about you? What's a favorite writing craft book? Favorite blog? What are you reading now?
Oh, and by the way, if you do find that Chris Hemsworth memoir…let me know.
Hey, guys! As you read this, I'm in Scotland! I'm so grateful to awesome author Natalie Lloyd for stopping by my blog and letting us bug her with nosy questions. Don't forget, we're giving away a copy of her book Paperdoll. It's a great book to read and have on hand for advice and encouragement. To win it, just leave a comment for Natalie by this Wednesday. Winner will be announced approximately (depending on jet lag, sleep deprivation, and how bad the cat box is) June 22nd. Let's get back to interrogating Natalie.
So…what is the best movie you’ve seen lately?
Up! It was hilarious but it was also way sad. Nobody warned me about the sad.
That is DEFINITELY on my list of “must see.” But what's with the sad? I don't know about that. If it's related to the old man, I don't know if I can handle that. Animals and old people. Gets me every time. And lonely donuts.
How would you describe your perfect Saturday?
I would sleep late, then meet my brother at Aretha Frankensteins for Waffles of Insane Greatness (actual name) and coffee. Then we would go to Chad’s, a record store downtown I’m wild about, and I would finally buy Joni Mitchell’s Clouds album. Then I/we would hang out downtown for awhile. Maybe meet up with some friends or family for dinner. Then I would sit out on my back porch, drink a Diet Dr. Pepper, and watch fireflies. I would pull the screen door, so I could hear “Both Sides Now” playing on the record player. (I love the crackly sounds records make.) Then I would read I'm So Sure and fall asleep thrilled because Bella and Luke finally declare their coupledom (because they are going to do that right? Not that I am pressuring you or anything. Don’t dash my dreams Jenny Jones!)
Um…no comment. But I'm a sucker for keeping couples apart. Fictional happiness kinda bores me. (wink) I LOVE that restaurant name–Aretha Frankensteins. That is the best name ever. And by the way, I have been singing “Both Sides Now” ALLL day. Except I don't know all the words, so it's just this mishmash of something I've made up about clouds, sides, love, illusions, and hamsters. I think only part of that is actually in the song.
Natalie, if you could meet anyone dead/alive, who would it be? Either Lottie Moon or Dolly Parton.
I LOVE Dolly Parton. Did you see her on the opening of the Tony's? In fact, everyone should watch the opening of the Tony Awards. You get to see Dolly (I gotta get to NYC and watch 9 to 5) AND you get to witness Bret Michaels of Poison get knocked down by the set. (He did fracture his nose, so I guess that takes away some of the funny…almost.)
If you were not a writer, what would you be doing?
I’ll probably always have a job other than writing (even though writing is, hands down, my favorite “job” :). Worth mentioning: a friend of mine knows someone who is a taster at an ice cream company. This lady just tastes ice cream all day to make sure it isn’t poison. I suppose if it is contaminated that would be a bad day on the job, but otherwise can you imagine?!
That is pretty much my DREAM job. I would give my right arm to work for Ben and Jerry's ANY DAY. (After all, I just need one arm to scoop the ice cream out.) So if you could go back in time, what advice would you give teenage Natalie?
1. Wax your eyebrows. It will make a drastic difference.
2. Spend more time with your grandparents. Hug them tight and tell them you love them every time you leave. Write down the stories they tell you. Remember little quirky things–like the way they talk and laugh. You'll be surprised how fast those little quirks start to face from your memory.
3. Don't spend so much time thinking about you and how you aren't pretty/smart/outgoing enough. Don't mold your identity around somebody else. Pour your heart into what you love. Your high school years won't be the best years of your life, but they aren't bad years either. Someday you'll wonder what the heck you were always so uptight about.
We've talked about the fact that we both love young adult lit. What do you not like about some YA out there?