Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Remember How it Feels to be a Teenager in Love

This one goes out to all the YA writers, the creators of teens, and especially the writers who aren't, well, teenagers anymore. If your teen character is going to fall in love, you need to remember what it's like to fall in love at that age. If you can't remember or never experienced it, my high school diary and I are here to help.

Disclaimer: I married my high school sweetheart, so I've never fallen into new love as an adult. I can't compare new teen love to new adult love. Buuuut, after you read my diary excerpt, you'll probably agree that new adult love wouldn't look the same.

A little background on my highschool love story:

In sixth grade, my family moved into a new house, where I met my future husband, who lived next door. At first, I thought he was a weird creep because he and his siblings stood on their side of the hedges and just watched us move in all our bags and boxes. Then, to my dismay, he started coming over to our house to hang out with my brother. Little did I know, he was only befriending my brother to spend time closer to me! I can't remember how or when it happened, but suddenly I started caring how my hair looked when he came over. I found out he thought Donna from That 70s Show looked cute in her school uniform, so I started keeping on my school uniform after school, but in a totally chill way, like, "Oh, I forgot to take off this outfit I'm forced to wear every day? Huh." I giggled over every little thing he said and couldn't wait to come home from school so we could play dodgeball together.

We both like liked each other, but we pretended not to until the summer before ninth grade. Everything changed the night of the Miss America Pageant. He was watching the pageant on TV with my family and me (I know, he REALLY liked me), but we were bored and passing notes. Because you don't just have a conversation right there with your parents and siblings listening. And we didn't have cell phones quite yet. I asked him if he liked anyone, he said yes. Someone I knew? Yes. How many letters in her name? Seven. (SEVEN! OH MY GOSH, THERE ARE SEVEN LETTERS IN JESSICA.) And then finally he sent a note back that said, "YOU." My face erupted with heat. I couldn't breathe, couldn't form a response, and definitely couldn't look at him. Because it was the only answer I wanted, but at the same time...when you're a teenager, falling in love for the first time feels like:

Source: giphy.com

Source: giphy.com

Source: giphy.com

Source: giphy.com

Source: giphy.com

Source: giphy.com

You get the point. Lots of emotions backed by lots of hormones.

Okay, so I mentioned a diary excerpt. My old diaries should probably be burned, but instead, I'll share pieces of them with the internet because that's a good idea and not at all embarrassing.

The diary:

First of all, check out this cover.

I was obsessed with Hilary Duff. But not as obsessed as with Gary, my crush and now husband, as you can see from the inside cover.

I mean, when I was fifteen and he was fourteen, I actually thought that a marriage proposal was in the realm of possibility just because he said he had a surprise for me.

And then here are a couple just in case you don't understand how consumed I felt.

As an adult with normal amounts of hormones and some life experience, it's tempting to tell the teen who wrote these diary entries, "Whoa, calm down because you're kind of desperate and obsessed and there's more to life than this boy." But my feelings were real. Healthy? Ehh, probably not. But real. And that boy was the great love of my life. My forever. (And you know it's real love because he has since seen this diary and did not run away.) 

So when you're writing teen love, checking to see if you pass the Bechdel test, and writing independent young women, don't forget what love actually feels like to young people. It's HUGE. Love consumes. Love is wild, torturous, good, emotional, physical, and oh so real. Don't be afraid to go there because teens need to see themselves in books...even the parts of them that are desperate and obsessed.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

GUESTOPIA: YA Author S.J. Lomas

It's February Guestopia time, and today we're welcoming the fabulous S.J. Lomas to YAtopia!


S.J. is a cheerful Michigan girl who writes strange and somewhat dark stories. Librarian by day and writer by whatever free time she can find, she has an extra special fondness for books by Michael Lawrence, Beth Revis, and Kelly Creagh. Her to-be-read pile will take several lifetimes to get through, yet she continues to add to it. She thinks she'd enjoy living an extra life in a dreamworld, especially if she could dream her way to England

Off we go!

Is this your first published book?

This is my first YA book. I have also published 3 digital picture books with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as Sarah Perry. Pajama Girl, Pajama Girl Meets Blanket Boy, and There Was an Old Woman: An Alphabet Adventure.

What’s it called?

Dream Girl. The sequel, Dream Frequency, will be released this spring.

Which genre?

Young Adult

Which age group?

Teens age 13+

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s a duology. Just the two books.

Are you an agented author?

Not yet, but I’m hoping to get there someday.

Which publisher snapped up your book?

An independent publisher in Royal Oak, Michigan called Scribe Publishing published Dream Girl. Unfortunately, the publisher is no longer doing fiction so I’m putting Dream Frequency out on my own.

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

For Dream Girl, I was lucky to have a good amount of creative input into the publishing process. For Dream Frequency, I am the publishing process. I have a lot of great connections so I can’t say I’m going through it alone, but it is cool to have the final say on everything.

Do you have another job?

I’m a librarian. (Can you tell I love books?)

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

Yes! It’s a disheartening experience, but I’ve read a lot of articles about how many times very famous authors were rejected so I always felt that I was in great company.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

The very first inklings of Dream Girl came to me during college. I woke up from a very weird and vivid dream and scribbled down some thoughts about it. I knew it would make a great story somehow, someday but I didn’t do anything with it for several years. Finally, I was reading A Crack in the Line by Michael Lawrence and when I finished it, my dream popped into my mind and it hit me it had to become a young adult novel. The storyline started coming to me after that.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

I am more of a pantser than a plotter. I scribbled a few character notes and took off writing.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

There were some missteps with the plot, but I tried to write as much as I could and not worry about the draft until I had to. Just getting something down was more important than having it come out right. You can always go back and revise.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

I was still writing it when SCBWI had a local conference with paid critiques available. It was for the first 10 pages so I decided to give it a try to see if it was even a project worth continuing. I was matched with NYT Best-selling author, Jay Asher. Even though it was pretty rough at that stage, he was very encouraging and enthusiastic about the pages he saw. That kept me going. I didn’t let anyone else read it until about draft five. And that was my fellow writer/friend, Jody Lamb.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

Jody Lamb read and edited for me before I sent it out. I was also lucky to have worked in advertising for a few years. Through that, I have friends who are graphic artists and proofreaders. I became good friends with one of the proofreaders and she went through the manuscript before I sent it out. 

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

I believe it was around seven.

How many drafts until it was published?


Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Not so dramatic that you wouldn’t think it was the same book, but there were some substantial changes, including a character who wrote himself in halfway through. He ended up becoming one of the most important characters in the book.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

Oh yes. I think I could always find something to change around, add, delete, or fiddle with. When I come up with an idea for a novel, it’s like this glowing orb of possibility in my mind. It isn’t concrete but it’s shining and beautiful. I think it’s impossible to ever get the finished project to fully realize that glowing ideal I started with, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. I get as close as I can, but there’s always more that could be done. At least, it feels that way.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

Naming characters and writing dialog comes easiest for me.

What part do you find hardest?

Getting through the marathon of completing that first draft is the hardest. I often find myself wishing I could just plug a USB drive into my brain and get the basic story out that way. I’d rather work on revising what’s already there, even though that is difficult too. But all of it’s difficult in a good way.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

It depends. Some days, I sit down at the computer, open my Word document and then say, Crap. It’s THAT scene. Suddenly, housework never looked so appealing, or scheduling appointments, etc. But I can only let myself get away with that for so long. Then I take a look at what’s really happening. If I’m so frustrated that I can’t write a scene, there must be something wrong with the story. If I don’t want to write it, then who can I expect to read it? Once I figure out where it went wrong, I can figure out how to fix it. Then I’m ready to dive back in.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

One is more than enough!

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

I believe it can be learned, but I think you’re born with the interest to do it. In my case, I fell in love with writing in 2nd grade when our teacher gave us little construction paper journals and had us write every day. I loved it! It was a joy that never left me so I decided to get serious about it.

How many future novels do you have planned?

Beyond Dream Frequency, I have a contemporary realistic YA that I’m going to work on next, followed by a New Adult novel after that.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I do have a couple short stories on Amazon. I have a blog but I only write posts when I feel I have something to say. I also write picture books as Sarah Perry.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

There is nothing like seeing the excitement someone else has for my work. Especially people who aren’t related to me! There are two teenage girls, in particular, who really enjoy Dream Girl and can’t wait for Dream Frequency to come out. I’m not going to lie. It was really difficult to write Dream Frequency and I often thought of those two girls and it helped me keep going.

Give me one writing tip that works for you.

Trust yourself to write the story that’s inside of you. It can be very hard writing a novel. It’s easy to second guess yourself or compare what you’re doing to what others have done. It’s nice to remember that my story is exactly that, mine. I am equipped to tell it if I just stop getting in my own way.

And one that doesn't.

Real writers must write every day! Sorry. That just isn’t my reality. I write when I have the energy and the time. I’ve tried to sit down and write when I don’t have either of those things and nothing happens. It may take me longer to get those drafts out, but I still do.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

Dream Frequency takes place mostly in the United States Agency of Dream Work. Readers finally get to see what that place is like and what it’s all about.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

I have always wanted Paul McCartney to ask me to dinner. The answer would be YES! Does that count?

Brilliant! I love this answer - and hope one day Mr. McCartney gets in touch! Thank you so much for joining us today, S.J. Lomas. We wish you heaps of luck with and your other titles and future works.

If you want to follow S.J. Lomas' journey and find out more about her, here are some links that will help!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

When a 'Meet Cute' Becomes 'Meet Am I being stalked'?

Writing the random meeting of two characters that you know are going to have romantic or friendship relationship is one of my favourite parts of being a writer. Whether it’s the love interest of the MC, or their future best friend, the Meet Cute is so much fun to create!

However, recently I realised how important it is to step outside of the fact that you, as the author, know these two characters are destined to spend a lot of time together. Instead, get into their heads during that first meeting. For example, when revising the love interests’ first meeting in my WIP a few months ago, I revelled in their witty banter and loved making both characters’ personalities shine through so that they could see they were meant to be. It wasn’t until I reread it, getting into my characters’ heads at that particular point in the story (rather than my own head which knows them inside-out), that I realised…


My poor characters were simply trying too hard. Realistically, when you meet someone for the first time, you aren’t that invested. Yes, I believe in instant attraction, and you can want someone to like you straight away, but ultimately, if you’re going about your daily business and strike up an unexpected conversation, you aren’t going delve into straight-up teasing/banter/surprising that person with your one-of-a-kind personality. In fact, if someone starting taking the mick out of me within seconds of first meeting, I’d probably think they were an idiot, and not in a ‘hate-to-love’ type of way, just a ‘leave me alone’ kind of way.

Of course, if you want your characters to find each other annoying then it’s perfect! A person who is initially annoying to your MC can grow into something else (and it’s SO much fun to watch that happening!). But my point is if you’re trying to give your characters an instant spark, then sometimes you have to forget that you already know they’re going to become friends or lovers. Imagine the situation as though the interest were any Tom, Dick or Harry and ask yourself, WHY is my MC continuing this interaction? WHY is the friend/love interest continuing this conversation? Have they got a super friendly personality and talk to anyone? Or are they singling your main character out (if so, why? And is that a bit creepy? Are they just hanging around waiting to meet your MC?)

These are all questions that I ask myself when I write character meetings. Of course, fiction isn’t an exact reflection of real life, and so it’s OK to keep your characters talking when in reality your MC might have walked out of that coffee shop checking their bag for stolen items. Simply take a moment to get into your MC and romantic/friendship interests’ heads and ask yourself why they’re still chatting. If you know that, then the Meet Cute will stay cute!

Monday, February 20, 2017

#PitchMadness - I want you to woo me!

There is no doubt about it - I love pitch contests. And my two favourite are definitely Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness, which I am both involved in.

And Pitch Madness is about to start! You'll find me as the leader of Team Liquorice Castle, waiting impatiently for your pitches, along with my cohost, Jeyn Roberts, and our readers Heather Bryant and Laura Brown.

What would I love to have on my team this year? Well, at the moment it's totally up for grabs! Woo me with your wonderful words.

There is no doubt I'm a fan of weird. I adore unusual stories, especially those that come under the speculative fiction umbrella. SciFi and Fantasy are my jam. I love underrepresented voices in fiction, and there's bonus points for Own Voices. Geek is a family past-time so anything to go with gaming, cosplay, comic lovers and the like could make me swoon. Topics that are dear to my heart at the moment include women's rights, refugees, mental health, hidden conditions (such as epilepsy) and family. I'd also like to see some non-conventional settings (outside of the US/UK).

Here's some #MSWL inspired topics that also tickle my fancy:

  • A villain MC. 
  • Space Opera
  • Activists/protest kids - in YA or MG
  • YA Mystery
  • Gender-flipped League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Historical female superheroes...time travel optional). 
  • Spies
  • Anything with dialogue that rivals Buffy!
  • Cowboys from a wild west that isn't in the US.
  • YA X-Files
  • Under utilised historical figures in retellings/reimaginings
  • Bookstore romance
  • Literary Horror (Think Stranger Things)
  • Intergalactic refugees (Think Titan A.E.)
  • Ancient underused folklore
If you're thinking about entering, you can find deets here, and the agents participating here

I hope you see you in the slush. Make me fall in love with your pitch and your opening words, and you just might end up on my team. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Normal Love

The month of love is nearly over. Whether it was great, or you just curled up in bed and waited out the baby with the bow and arrow, congratulations, you’ve survived another Valentine’s Day!
In writing YA it’s easy to believe that every date is a make or break moment for your life. This boy is the one! This date is the start of something amazing (or, depending on the genre you’re working in, how a serial killer chooses you as his next victim)!
Sometimes I worry that the literary community is setting the world’s youth up for disappointment. In all likelihood, that date is just going to be a date. Hopefully it won’t be terrible. If it is terrible, maybe you’ll at least get a good story out of it. Maybe you’ll have a second date, maybe you’ll stay together for a while, but in all likelihood, it’ll just be a date. Telling stories that promise breathtaking romance seems like a cruel lie when the beginning of Bridget Jones is more likely to be the truth.
In an age where social media gives us polished looks into people’s lives, it’s easy to think that being swept off your feet by the perfect partner happens once a week, lavish bouquets are standard practice for Tuesday breakfast, and if a relationship does end, it will be in utter tragedy. It’s all either perfection or disastrous. It’s what we see in storytelling and online.
How do we normalize…normal? It wouldn’t make a good book. A long string of average dates with a side of being ghosted rather than dumped. I don’t know how many people would want to read a whole book about having nothing to say when someone flirts with you.
So then what? If the author platform won’t work, then perhaps we should rely on the storytelling of those around us.
My Valentine’s Day consisted of brunch with my husband and a ten hour rehearsal. There were no rose petals or drama involved. But that’s okay. That’s how life should be. It might not be a great book, but it is a great day.

So how was your normal, non-literary Valentine’s Day?