December 11, 2013
I've devoted a post to this word before, but after the insanity that is #PitchWars, I thought it might be helpful to offer a little refresher.

Here goes.

What's your favorite movie of all time? WRONG. It's Tombstone.
I don't understand why Starbucks sells hot chocolate.
I can't believe some people actually think Mockingjay made any sense at all in relation to The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.
NFL Football is stupid. It should just stop after college.
Fall is the best season. Summer is too hot. Winter is too cold. And spring is just annoyingly indecisive.
Dogs are great, but cats are better.

So. If you disagree with any of the above sentences, does that make you WRONG? (I mean, aside from  number 1, of course. Because, obviously.) Since I only order coffee from Starbucks, or hated what Suzanne Collins did to Peeta in Mockingjay and couldn't stand the decisions Katniss made because THEY MADE NO SENSE, or think that the whole world should permanently be 70 degrees with orange-leafed trees year-round….does that mean that hot chocolate, Mockingjay, and all other seasons should cease to exist?

NFL football has millions of fans. (I have no idea why, because its rules are stupid and the teams are no fun and there's no excitement of a new freshman class and and and…) Plenty of people hate cats. There might even be like, one person, maybe, who doesn't think Tombstone is a good movie.

Just because I personally prefer one thing over another doesn't mean that every one else feels that way. It also doesn't mean that everyone who disagrees with me is wrong. Our tastes are just different. And that is OKAY.

Two people read the same book. One of them writes a glowing review, fangirls over the author, and writes poetry in the book's honor. The other uses the book as a doorstop and preaches its plot failures to everyone that will listen. Neither of them is wrong, and neither of them is right. Or they're both wrong and they're both right. Regardless- we all get to have our opinions.

You KNOW these things.

The trouble is, now something you've created is the subject of this subjectivity. There's no guarantee that everyone will love our books. We can't even hope that everyone will LIKE our books. It's a really difficult thing that we all have to find our own ways of dealing with--but the most important thing is to remember, this isn't about YOU as a person. You created something. You put it out in the world. People will respond to it however they like, based on their own personal preferences and experiences.

All we really have control over in this entire process is the product we create--we craft it, we send it out to critique partners and beta readers, we hear the feedback, we make the changes that we feel are necessary, and when we are sure that it's ready, we let it go and hope for the best. After that, the reader--whether s/he's a judge in a contest or a literary agent or an editor or Reader McSweetface at the book store--gets to form his or her own opinions about it. That's the way it works.

You can't be arrogant enough to believe that your book is above subjectivity. You're going to have your haters. You're going to have your fans. There's a tendency to forget all the positive feedback in light of a few negative comments--but don't judge your book's worth (or your own) on something as fickle as someone else's opinion. Let the readers do their job and you do yours. Keep working. Write the next book. Gain more fans and haters. Repeat.

Isn't it pretty amazing that you wrote a book and people are reading it and forming opinions on it?


Cover Reveal! SALT by Danielle Ellison

December 5, 2013
So you know how I've told you guys repeatedly that my editor rocks? That she (and the rest of my incredible team at Spencer Hill Press) helped me turn my book into something I never imagined it could be? That without her push, I would've given up too soon?

In case you weren't aware, that editor is Danielle Ellison. She's awesome, and I love her, and I'm so thankful she loves my book like I do.

And TODAY, Danielle and Entangled Teen are revealing the cover for her  book, SALT, releasing in early 2014! Check out the gorgeous cover, exclusive excerpt, and enter to win an eARC!

On to the reveal!

About the Book
Author: Danielle Ellison
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Publisher: Entangled Teen

Penelope is a witch, part of a secret society protecting humans from demon attacks. But when she was a child, a demon killed her parents—and stole her magic. Since then, she’s been pretending to be something she’s not, using her sister’s magic to hide her own loss, to prevent being sent away.

When she’s finally given the chance to join the elite demon-hunting force, Penelope thinks that will finally change. With her sister’s help, she can squeeze through the tests and get access to the information she needs to find "her" demon. To take back what was stolen.

Then she meets Carter. He’s cute, smart, and she can borrow his magic, too. He knows her secret—but he also has one of his own.

Suddenly, Penelope’s impossible quest becomes far more complicated. Because Carter’s not telling her everything, and it’s starting to seem like the demons have their own agenda…and they’re far too interested in her.

Exclusive Excerpt!
 “Jealousy is cute on you, Pen.”

“Don't call me that,” I snap, pushing my coffee away from me. “And I'm not jealous.”

He leans back on the chair. "Sure. And I don’t think you’re adorable." I jerk my eyes up. He’s smiling. Screw this—this is so frustrating. I tap my foot under the table.

"We're stating the facts, right?" he says.

“Right,” I say.

I don’t have time for this. And what is wrong with this coffee? I feel like I swallowed a fire and it’s all just burning at my stomach.

“You look sick again,” he says.

The poorly—or perfectly—timed waitress comes back with Carter's coffee and a whole tray of drinks. Carter, obviously, flirts again. I don’t know if he’s doing it to get a reaction out of me, but I’m not going to give him one. I watch him and say nothing, but the whole time it feels darker inside my head and my stomach whirs. It’s more empty, and more full, and unsettled at once. The waitress turns to leave a when it happens.

The waitress coughs, as if she suddenly can’t breathe, and trips. She flies across the air. The tray spills all over a table of four. I gasp, horrified. Another waitress grabs her by the waist, trying to give her the Heimlich. The waitress coughs out the gum. She’s crying hysterically, apologizing to the customers dripping with water.

The weirdest part? As soon it happens, all the fury that was building up inside of me disappears. It’s calm again, normal. The change is so sudden that my fingernails dig into the table. All I can hear is the waitress’s cry. 

"I don't know what happened," she sobs over and over again. I close my eyes. Everything inside me is completely still. No storm, no clawing, no emptiness or fullness. In fact, I’m suddenly starving.
Carter's looking at me when I open my eyes. There's something unsettling in his gaze, something suspicious.

“I gotta go,” I say. He starts to say something. I don't stay long enough to find out what it is.
Somehow I just did magic.

About Danielle:
Danielle Ellison is from a small town in West Virginia. She spent her childhood pretending to fly and talking to imaginary friends. When she grew up, she finally flew away (in an airplane) and started traveling the world. She hasn’t stopped yet, but someday she may decide to settle in one place. Her real life friends would definitely like that; they would probably also like if she stopped talking to her characters out loud.

SALT comes out in January 2014, and then it's sequel. In October 2014, FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS (book one of the BOUNDLESS Trilogy) comes out. She's got a busy few years! 


Giveaway Details:

1 eARC of SALT International

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Author Photos!

December 1, 2013

I got really insanely lucky because one of my best friends, Bret (this Bret), married a super sweet, wonderful, funny, charming, and crazy talented photographer, Cilla, of Priscilla Baierlein Photography. Cilla started taking photos professionally nearly a year after Lauren was born, just as a little side job because it's something she loves. When she asked if I'd mind to let her take pictures of Lauren to help build her portfolio, I was like, "Sure!" because obviously who doesn't want a million pictures of their kids? But I wasn't expecting what I got. Her photos were incredible. Until I saw what Cilla could do with a camera, I never really understood photography as an art form. All the professional photos I'd ever had done were in a studio or a carefully staged session (like my wedding).

Basically, Cilla showed up with her camera and just followed us around. She directed a little bit, like telling us to go to the front yard or near a window or wherever the light was best, but for the most part, she just started shooting without saying things like, "Tilt your head," "Look this way," etc. (She does family photos for us every year now, and every time, I'm always like, "I have no idea how she got any pictures at all because we were in constant motion.) But every time, EVERY SINGLE TIME, she manages to capture moments so beautifully that it blows my mind. She is MAGIC.

It didn't take long for other people to take notice of her talent, and she was able to start taking photos full-time. I remember thinking how awesome it was that she found this thing she loved to do and figured out a way to make a career of it all on her own.

When I found out Between would be published, I knew I'd need a nice author photo for the back of the book, and Cilla's the only person I'd trust to take such an important photo.

A couple months ago, she took some pictures of me while she was doing our yearly family photo shoot.  The pictures were great. As always, Cilla takes gorgeous photos. But as I looked over them, they didn't really feel like me. (I was wearing a button-up shirt. Like a grown up. With a collar. And my hair wasn't dyed or anything.) Cilla and I decided that both of us got caught up in the idea of what an Important Official Author Photo was supposed to be, and Cilla was nice enough to be like, "Yeah, these really aren't you. Let's redo them. Wear your favorite t-shirt and we'll go to your parents' farm."

This is her busiest time of year, guys. It was INSANELY nice of her to offer to redo the photo shoot instead of saying just use one of the SEVERAL PERFECTLY FINE PHOTOS I ALREADY TOOK OF YOU.

So we did another round a week ago. And they are ME. I'm so happy with them. Here are a few! (Also, to anyone in Central Kentucky area, in case it's not clear, I cannot recommend her enough.)

That very last one is the one I chose to be The Photo. :) Thanks for putting up with a post filled with my face. Love you guys.


My Pitch Wars Wish List (aka PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME)

November 20, 2013

Hi guys!!

I'm so excited to let you know I'm going to be a Pitch Wars Mentor this year! Now it's time for me to explain what I'm looking for and why you want me to be your mentor!

My Wish List

I'm looking for YA only in the following genres: fantasy, contemporary, romance, thriller, and horror.

Some tips:

  • I prefer light fantasy over high fantasy, but that doesn't necessarily mean I won't like your high fantasy, especially if you have a strong voice and your main character has a sense of humor.
  • I NEED kissing scenes. If you don't have romance in your book, it's not for me.
  • I prefer first person. I'll read third, but it has to be extremely engaging. I don't want to feel any distance from the character.
  • If you have a twist in your book that I don't see coming, I'll be your fangirl for life.
  • I don't generally enjoy super dark, sad themes--but again, so much depends on your MC's voice. I Hunt Killers was dark and had some depressing stuff going on, but I loved that main character--he was honest, smart, and funny.

Why You Want ME ME ME

My YA fantasy, Between, will be published in July 2014 by Spencer Hill Press, and I'm currently working on book two of the trilogy. I've just finished the most brutal year of revising that has ever occurred in the history of ever. I ripped my story to shreds and rewrote it. And then I rewrote it again and again. Once the plot was solid, I had to flesh out all the scenes, adding inner monologue and external cues all over the place. That book is a million times better than it was a year ago. My editorial team at Spencer Hill Press is UH-MAZING, and I've learned so much from them. I'm going to pass all of this awesomeness on to you and your manuscript, too!

I'm gentle with my critiques. If I spot an issue, we'll discuss it and brainstorm to come up with solutions together. I have no interest in taking your story from you. It's your book, and I'm just here to help you turn it into the best manuscript it can possibly be.

I'm super active on twitter, and I blog with YA Misfits and The Write Notes. (And Jimmy Fallon follows The Write Notes twitter account. I'M JUST SAYING. PICK ME AND BASICALLY JIMMY FALLON MIGHT SEE YOUR NAME OR SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW.) I also post weekly vlogs on my personal channel, as well as monthly vlogs on the Parenthetically channel. In other words, I will pimp your manuscript all over the place. If I love your book, I'm one of the best cheerleaders you're ever going to find.

Plus, I'm basically super fun and I love this stuff. Feel free to check out my web site to get to know more about me, I know how difficult it can be to take critique and apply it to your story, but we'll have a good time and get through it together, I promise.


For submission guidelines and the list of agents participating, go to

To check out the other mentors (but why would you want to do that when you clearly want ME), check out the Linky below!

(Sorry Charlie, no clues here!!)

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Be Somebody's Ben Folds

November 18, 2013

(This was originally posted on All The Write Notes.)

Ben Folds is one of my favorite artists of all time. A lot of people are familiar with him because of his mainstream hit, Brick, from the late 90s. If that’s all you know of him, PLEASE dig deeper. He’s an incredible musician and songwriter, and his songs have fantastic lines such as:

“Make me feel tiny if it makes you feel tall, but there’s always someone cooler than you.” (There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You, supersunnyspeedgraphic, 2006)

“Sara spelled without an ‘h’ was getting bored on a Peavey amp in 1984, while Zak without a ‘c’ tried out some new guitar, playing Sara-with-no-h’s favorite song.” (Zak and Sara, Rockin The Suburbs, 2001)

“All this breathing in, never breathing out.” (Fair, Whatever and Ever, Amen, 1997)

“Neither of them knew what was going on–a strange feeling of never–heartbeat becoming synchronized and staying that way forever.” (From Above, Lonely Avenue, 2010)

I love him because he never settles–he’s constantly getting better and doing new and different things. He’s collaborated with Weird Al, William Shatner, and Regina Spektor. (If you haven’t listened to Ben and Regina sing You Don’t Know Me, I demand that you do so. Right Now.) He’s also worked with authors such as Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman.

His lyrics are honest and his music is always fresh–and while his music is constantly evolving, he has a style that is most definitely “Ben Folds.”

A few weeks ago, he did a free concert in Nashville at the Ryman. FREE. At the RYMAN. When I mentioned it to a friend of mine, he said, “I hate Ben Folds.”

To which I promptly replied, “I don’t even know you right now.”

HATE?! HOW CAN ANYONE HATE BEN FOLDS? SERIOUSLY?? I’ve been thinking about this for weeks and literally can’t come up with a reasonable explanation that doesn’t involve some sort of alien mind control or severe mental illness. I know that some musicians aren’t for everyone. But Ben-freaking-Folds? HOW CAN ANYONE NOT LOVE BEN FOLDS?
My friend’s (clearly insane) abhorrence for Ben Folds has been a good reminder to me that every artist has his or her critics. While I consider Ben Folds to be an amazing songwriter who offers something for everyone, my friend considers him a (Mr. Folds if you ever read this I swear to God I’m only saying this because my friend said it and I think you are the total best please don’t hate me I love you) “piano douche.”

I think it’s important for us, as artists, to remember this as well. Everything has its haters. When my book comes out next July, I know there will be a few bad reviews. Will that mean my book is crap? No. (Lord I hope not.) It means my book might not be for everyone. Some readers won’t get my humor. Others might not like my premise. Some people will simply be annoyed that my main character is a redhead. We’re never going to please EVERYONE.

Let’s do a little exercise, shall we?
  1. Think of your favorite book.
  2. Look it up on Goodreads.
  3. Read the negative reviews
I guarantee the reviewers will point out things that will leave you scratching your head, either because there are flaws you never noticed or simply don’t care about.

Now, let’s do another!
  1. Think of a book you hate.
  2. Look it up on Goodreads.
  3. Read the positive reviews.
You will think those good reviews are total nonsense. You’ll wonder how anyone could think that book was brilliant or that writing was solid.

We’re all different with a variety of things we look for in a book, song, tv show, movie, etc. I might hate your most-loved book. You might think my favorite song is dumb. That doesn’t mean either of those things is actually bad!  ISN’T THIS FUN?

Seriously, don’t get wrapped up in who loves or hates your work. You’re going to have fans and critics, and all that really means is that you have an audience. Isn’t that what we all want? Reviews of any sort couldn’t exist if we weren’t putting ourselves out there and  inspiring people to respond to what we create. That’s amazing, you guys! You made something! And someone read it!

Do what you love and what interests you. Evolve. Keep working. Be somebody’s Ben Folds.


RECLAIMED by Sarah Guillory - GIVEAWAY!

October 15, 2013
Hello my loves!!

My friend Sarah Guillory's book, RECLAIMED, comes out today!


Jenna Oliver doesn't have time to get involved with one boy, let alone two.All Jenna wants is to escape her evaporating small town and her alcoholic mother. She's determined she'll go to college and find a life that is wholly hers-one that isn't tainted by her family's past. But when the McAlister twins move to town and Jenna gets involved with both of them, she learns the life she planned may not be the one she gets.Ian McAlister doesn't want to start over; he wants to remember. Ian can't recall a single thing from the last three months-and he seems to be losing more memories every day. His family knows the truth, but no one will tell him what really happened before he lost his memory. When he meets Jenna, Ian believes that he can be normal again because she makes not remembering something he can handle.The secret Ian can't remember is the one Luke McAlister can't forget.Luke has always lived in the shadow of his twin brother until Jenna stumbles into his life. She sees past who he's supposed to be, and her kiss brings back the spark that life stole. Even though Luke feels like his brother deserves her more, Luke can't resist Jenna-which is the trigger that makes Ian's memory return.Jenna, Ian, & Luke are about to learn there are only so many secrets you can keep before the truth comes to reclaim you.

Since Sarah and I share an editor, I was lucky enough to get a peek at this book a little early. You guys. You know how I get all swoony over beautiful writing? GAH. Sarah's a master of putting words together into some seriously gorgeous prose. You should read this because the story is gripping and there's a twist at the end that will BLOW YOUR EVER LOVING MIND but also because you need to study the way she writes. 

The best part is, Sarah is one of the most genuinely nice people I've ever met. She's sweet and hilarious and you've probably heard me mention that her voice is basically the sexiest thing ever. 

So. Since I love Sarah and this book, you're gonna reap the benefits!! I'm going to give away THREE E-BOOK COPIES (kindle or nook, your choice!) of RECLAIMED!

And because I like to make my giveaways's what you have to do:

1. Tweet about Sarah's book. Here's the link you can tweet with it- Just copy and paste that link into your tweet and tell everyone they need it. NEED.

2. Leave a comment below and tell me the THREE PRETTIEST WORDS YOU KNOW. (IT'S OKAY AND PROBABLY EVEN A BONUS IF ONE OF THOSE IS "MEGAN.") Be sure to tell me how to reach you too- either a twitter ID or an email.

Also, I'd super love it if you'd spread the word about this giveaway, follow Sarah on twitter (@sguillory262), and check out her blog (

I'll use to choose three lucky lucky lucky winners on Friday, October 18 at 12pm EST.


Pondering the One Hit Wonder

October 3, 2013

(This post originally appeared on All The Write Notes.)
Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash
We all know the One Hit Wonder, right? It’s a term typically used to describe a recording artist known for only one hit song. Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby, Eddie Murphy – Party All the Time, Eiffel 65 – Blue (I hate myself a little for even thinking of that song), Macy Gray – I Try, James Blunt – You’re Beautiful…you get the idea. An artist has a wildly popular song, and nothing he/she releases afterward measures up.

One Hit Wonders exist in the literary world too. Margaret Mitchell – Gone With the Wind, Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird, Ralph Ellison – The Invisible Man. Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights.

As incredible a feeling as it must be to create something that becomes a huge phenomenon, it has to be completely terrifying to have to follow-up that kind of success. You’re not just competing in a normal market anymore–you’re competing against yourself. When JK Rowling released Casual Vacancy, she wasn’t just any author releasing her first adult book. This is the woman who created Harry Potter. Her name on that cover automatically raised expectations and put readers in a certain mindset.

How on earth do you deal with that kind of pressure?

The thing is, you never know what’s going to strike a chord with your audience. Let’s face it–talent and/or skill doesn’t always have much to do with what makes something a success. While Ice Ice Baby is still a great song (yes it is shut up no you shut up), does anyone actually think Aqua’s Barbie Girl was good? Critics panned E.L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy because of weak writing, yet those books made their way to the top of bestseller lists all over the world. Her writing, I’m sure, will continue to improve with every book she writes. But will she ever achieve that kind of commercial success again? Who knows?

This has the potential to sound a little depressing. “Improve all you want! Practice, practice, practice! Work super hard, but remember it still might not make you a success because in some cases there’s simply no explanation for why the world goes wild for a certain song, book, movie, person, idea, etc! BUT KEEP WORKING HARD LOL.”

But before we all throw in the towel, let’s consider one very important word in the previous sentence.


How do you define success? One Hit Wonders prove that coming up with one super popular song or book doesn’t 
guarantee a long-lasting career, and that just because something is super popular doesn’t mean it’s going to be critically acclaimed. You can’t judge the worth of your book by its commercial success. You can control the product, but your audience’s reception to it is a wild card.

You have no control over what happens to your book after you finish it.

You give that story everything you’ve got, you send it out into the world, and then–this is the most important part–you start writing something else. That’s how you get better and better. You don’t need to wait around for the world to tell you whether or not your book is good. You know it’s good. You wouldn’t have put it out there if it wasn’t.

In the end, the only opinion you can rely on is your own. Keep writing. Keep working. Keep creating. There are stories that would never be told, songs that would never be heard, and movies that would never be seen, if we all succumbed to the pressure of trying to be the Next Big Thing.

As long as you keep giving your work everything you’ve got and apply everything you learn along the way, you’re going to get better. Every book, every song–whatever you create–will be better than the last.

Trust yourself. Create things you can be proud of. If you can do that, regardless of whether or not it makes you a household name, I consider you a success. You’re doing something you love for no other reason than because you believe in your ability to do it. You’re a rock star. Let’s be friends.


Creating Memorable Characters

September 25, 2013
(This post originally appeared on

Usually, when I sit down to write a story, I have a pretty good idea of who my characters are. I know their names, I know their personalities, I know what their general roles are in the story. But they don't become REAL to me until I figure out what it is that makes them different from every other character in every other book.

It's hard, right? It's hard enough to come up with a story that hasn't been told yet, or a new twist on an old tale. But of all the stories that have already been told, there are even more characters that have already been created. How do you make yours stand out? I love my characters. I want you guys to love them as much as I do. I want you to remember them. Here's one strategy I use to make that happen:

Take a stereotype. I like to start with The Breakfast Club in my head. A jock, a princess, a loner, a brain, and a troublemaker. (There's a million more. The drama queen. The artist. The painfully shy kid. The bully.) Very, very broad categories.

I know we're supposed to avoid stereotypes, and I agree, but here's the thing--stereotypes exist for a reason. They're everywhere, and they're relatable. You say that your character is a gorgeous quarterback, and most of your readers immediately have an idea in their heads about what kind of person he is.

And that's where you use the stereotype to your advantage--make your character more interesting by going against the expected traits. Maybe your quarterback is a girl. Or gay. Or secretly hates football. Maybe he's actually not all that popular because his parents are control freaks who won't let him do anything (they're obsessed with making sure he's goes to college on a full ride thanks to football, so he's not allowed to hang out on the weekends, but he meets a girl and....yeah, okay I want to write about this poor sweet guy with no social life who's supposed to be the king of the school).

What was I saying before I got all distracted by Ben? (Ben, right? He sounds like a Ben. His parents probably call him Benjamin. And the head cheerleader calls him Benji because she thinks she's ten times cuter than she actually is. And we'll throw that cheerleader stereotype a curveball by making her a virgin who desperately wants a boyfriend but comes on so strong it freaks guys out. Her name's Jenna.)

My point is- give your characters a quirk. There's always a great thread of character quirks in the Nanowrimomessage boards every year. I love to read through it. I've seen everything from "speaks only in song lyrics" to "paralyzed by conflict" to "constantly plays freeze tag." Some of them wouldn't be practical for an entire novel, but they give me fun ideas for scenes or inspire other more suitable quirks.

In BETWEEN, my main character Charlie (Oh p.s. for those of you who know my book- Harper is no longer Harper. SURPRISE!) doesn't swear. She makes up her own swear words. So she says things like, "Holy sheet!" and "unduckingbelievable" and "glammit." There's also a pixie who's obsessed with country music. And a hot boy who's an annoying goody two-shoes.

The quirks can serve various purposes--they might provide comic relief, they can be plot device, they can cause conflict--but whatever quirk a character has, it must be consistent. Don't just set up the quirk in the beginning and then forget it throughout the rest of the book. Make sure that the quirk isn't there ONLY to make a character memorable. Make it mean something. Use it to delve deeper into your character's thoughts and personality. (i.e., Why doesn't Charlie swear? Why is Seth such a rule-follower? Why does Lulu love Patsy Cline?) You know how posers are quirky just to be quirky? Don't do that to your characters.

What about you? Do you have any particular tips or tricks you use when creating characters? 

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2013

(Sections of this post were taken from the post I wrote on this same day a year ago.)

My desk was loaded with folders, a stack that grew by the day. I was supposed to file them, but it was the task I put off the most. I didn't want to stuff folders in drawers. I wanted to write journal articles  and press releases, which at least seemed like a step in the actual career direction I wanted to go in.

But that Tuesday morning, I wasn't even doing that. I was downloading music to Napster on my work computer, which was so very not allowed, and trading emails with my friend Bret. We used email like instant messaging, talking our way through our days--me in Lexington at my boring desk job as a Communications Assistant with a non-profit education association, he at his much more interesting position as a Marine at the Pentagon.

Bret and I had been friends since middle school, although we didn't become close until high school when he dated one of my best friends. While that relationship eventually ended, he became one of my dearest friends after high school and through college.

I don't remember at all what we were talking about.

The phone rang. I worked in a small office, and every single person aside from me was in a meeting to plan the group's annual conference. It was mostly women, and they all shared a hairdresser. That hairdresser was on the phone, calling at a little past 9:00am to tell me to turn on the TV.

"A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center."

Still holding the phone to my ear, I emailed Bret, "Hey, did you know a plane crashed into the World Trade Center?"

The hairdresser was still talking, something about how they'd originally thought it was some kind of horrible accident but then another plane crashed into the second tower. 

"It's a terrorist attack," the voice on the phone said.

"What? No." Because those things didn't happen here. Not like this. 

Bret hadn't responded to my email, so I sent another one. "It's two planes. This guy is saying it's a terrorist attack. Is it a terrorist attack?"

I went to the conference room to interrupt the meeting. The only TV in the office was in there. I don't remember what anyone said or did, but I do remember ending up alone in that room, glued to the TV. I watched dark smoke pour from the towers. News anchors didn't bother to keep up a cool, reserved appearance--they were emotional, and it was weird. I'd never seen or heard anything like it. The screen kept showing a replay of the aftermath of the first plane crash, and the stunned live reaction of the news anchor when the second crash occurred.

I went back to my office.

Nothing from Bret.

But at this point, I knew it was a terrorist attack. I imagined his day had just become insanely busy.

Back to the conference room. I pulled a chair up to the TV and sat, wondering who would do this and why. I was twenty-one years old. I should've been much more concerned about the rest of the world than I was.

The screen went dark, filled with smoke so thick you couldn't see anything else. I can still very clearly remember what I heard next. "I'm not sure what we're looking at here. Ok, alright. It's the Pentagon. A plane has crashed into the Pentagon."

I stood straight up, staring. The smoke had hardly cleared, but you could barely make out the unmistakable shape of the building.

I flew back to my desk, pulling my cell phone from my drawer at the same time as I logged back into my email.

Nothing from Bret.

I sent another email. "Let me know you're okay."

I left a voicemail. "Call me as soon as you can."

I spent the next hour sending more emails and leaving more voicemails. "I know there's probably no way you're going to be able to get to your phone or your email anytime soon. I just don't know what else to do. I want to know you're okay. I hope you're okay."

I left work around 11:00. The whole office shut down, like most other businesses that day. I drove to my parents house. The drive took about an hour, and took me down quieter, two-lane roads that allowed me to cry in my car without anyone seeing.

It was a long afternoon, sitting at my mother's table, wondering if my friend was okay. I cried for all the people I knew had died, for the people who experienced the horror in and around the towers, in the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, and in the Pentagon. My heart hurt for all of them and their families, but I was very much focused on the guy who had been such a wonderful friend to me for so many years. He'd served his country abroad, and came home to a position in the Pentagon doing what he loved. Bret was always so proud to be a Marine.

I finally heard from him late that afternoon. Just a quick phone call to let me know he was okay, but the things he saw and dealt with that day were horrifying. I was so relieved to hear from him I started crying again.

There are so many images from that day that come to mind every year. Watching people jump from windows; seeing the towers eventually crumble to the ground, knowing I'd just watched thousands of people die; watching the TV screen fill with smoke and hearing the words "A plane has crashed into the Pentagon"...I'll never forget it.

It strengthened us, in a lot of ways, and shattered our arrogance. It was the kind of thing that I never thought could happen here. Now, it's the kind of thing I think about every time there's a major national event or whenever I board an airplane. The anxiety is fleeting, but it's there.

I can't understand the kind of deeply engrained hatred it takes to carry out such a horrible attack, but I try to remember that for the people who carried out the attack--that hatred is all they've ever known. They grew up in a world where Westerners are evil. In their minds, they were doing the right thing in the name of the God they believed in (or their interpretation of His words). That's the part that I find most terrifying--How do you make sense of  that kind of radicalism?

As horrifying as that day was, I try to focus on the way people came together like nothing I'd ever seen. It didn't matter what else had separated us before--for the next few months, we were all united by our grief and by the compassion we felt for people we didn't even know.

That's the feeling we need to remember--the closeness we felt to our fellow humans, our compassion for each other no matter who we were or where we came from, and our willingness to set aside our differences and remember that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.

Creating Writing Playlists: Where to Start?

August 19, 2013
(This post originally appeared on All the Write Notes.)

We all know that, in my opinion, music is as important a part of the writing process as pen and paper (or, you know, fingers and a laptop). Whenever someone is stuck on a scene, I tell them to make a new playlist. The other day, that suggestion was met with the following reply, “I don’t know how to make a playlist.” 

STUNNED, you guys. I make playlists for everything in the world, far beyond my book-related ones. (Literally, aside from playlists for Between, Room for Two, and Finding, my iTunes library is divided into things like Sing in the Car, Cleaning, Worship, Move, Makes Me Smile, etc.)

After I thought about it a bit, I realized that, with all the very different types of music out there, creating a playlist can be pretty daunting. When I start a new book, I skim through my library and add any songs to the playlist that catch my eye as songs that might fit the mood of the story, a specific scene, or a character. (I end up with a silly number of songs at first, and then cut them out as I get to know the story better.)

But here, for you, I thought I’d give a few great artists and songs to start with when you’re looking for songs to fit specific moods.

Is your character in that “goofy in love, completely smitten with everything his/her love interest says or does” stage? You need Happy as the Sun by Tyrone Wells.

Every day with you just keeps getting better. The world’s as it should be when you are here with me.

What about the forever, committed kind of love? Soulmate love? I Choose you by Sara Barielles.

There was a time when I would’ve believed them if they told me you could not come true, just love’s illusion. Then you found me and everything changed. I believe in something again.

Just having a great day? Most of you know I hold a special place in my heart for On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons, and this live version rocks.

I could’ve gave up then, but then again I couldn’t have, ’cause I’ve traveled all this way for something.

What about something darker?

When your character is heartbroken, try Regina Spektor’s How.

Oh baby how can I begin again? How can I try to love someone new? Someone who isn’t you? How can our love be true? When I’m not over you? 

Depressed? Ben Folds Five’s Brick.

Now that I have found someone, I’m feeling more alone than I ever have before.

A few random notes….

Got a battle scene to deal with? The How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack is great for that.

Need a slow, haunting song? Rosie Thomas’s Farewell.

Longing for someone you can’t have? What I’d Give by Sugarland.

Need to love someone? Fall Into Me by Sugarland. (Yeah. That’s two in a row by them. I love that band.)

And let’s just go ahead and say that if you’re writing teen romance, you should go ahead and download Taylor Swift’s entire collection.

The main thing, is make a playlist YOU want to listen to. If you hate my style of music, take a moment and think about how wrong you are, and then look for songs that suit you. It should make you want to dive into that scene and deal with those characters. You should want to write just to get to listen to the specific mix you’ve put together.

What are some of your favorite mood-setting songs?


Five Singer-Songwriters You Should Love (Because I Do)

July 18, 2013

(This post originally appeared on All The Write Notes.)

When it comes to music, there’s little I don’t like. My iTunes library is pretty diverse–from Chopin to Metallica to Tone Loc to Brad Paisley to She & Him to Taylor Swift to… get the idea. All genres, all decades, etc.

I just. like. music. Whatever mood I’m in, I want a soundtrack for it. I like to feel my feels, guys. And as a redheaded southern woman, I’ve got a WIDE VARIETY of feels which require a wide variety of music.

However, I do have a clear favorite when it comes to the category of music I love most:


There’s just something so incredible about listening to someone sing the song he/she wrote. There’s a level of intimacy that you don’t always see when a singer performs a song written by someone else. Its performed exactly the way its creator imagined it. (Also I’m insanely impressed by anyone who can write a song at all. If he/she can sing on top of that, I want to be their friend for life.)

With that in mind….here are five of my favorites you should know!

Oh….Amos Lee. The very first Amos Lee song I ever heard was Dreamin from his self-titled first album, and I was hooked immediately. My favorite song in the world, Arms of a Woman, is on it. If you’ve never heard of him, go here and check that song out first. Follow it up with Seen It All Before, Dreamin, Windows Are Rolled Down, and Better Days. While his debut is my favorite, I’ve bought (and will continue to buy) everything the man sings. His voice, you guys.

I am basically the happiest person ever to call Nick one of my friends. We met through Twitter, and as soon as I checked out his music I added him to my Buy Everything Forever list. The combination of his incredible voice and his heartfelt lyrics–LOVE. (Those of you who watched my book deal announcement video will recognize his song, Presence of Greatness, at the end.) Go here and listen to Nobody Gets out Clean, follow it up with Lost At Sea, Long Way Home, Good Enough, and Tired of Me (which features Stacy Lantz, who I talk about below).

For a country girl who loves lyrics, it doesn’t get much better than Magnolia Tree. I have about a million reasons to love this song, from the lyrics to his voice to my own personal memory of the first time I heard it, but I’ll let you listen to it and come up with your own. Go here and listen to it, then follow up with Fire and Dynamite, Live Forever, and Another Man’s Shoes.

Stacy’s fairly new to me–I first heard her on Nick Flora’s Tired Of Me, and immediately LOVED her voice. She has a new album coming out this summer (and the tiniest bit of one of the songs on it, Ready This Time, is in one of her youtube videos and I’m already in love with it based on the 5 seconds of it I’ve heard. So.) BUT! You don’t have to wait for the new album–you can go here and start with my favorite, Pennies & Dimes. Follow up with Breathe and Fool.

Marie’s style is a little different from what I usually like–it’s a little more “pop” or something? (Yet I adore Taylor Swift. I’m a complex person.) But there’s this song- Beauty in Walking Away (I prefer the acoustic version) that I love SO MUCH. As a person who sometimes has a hard time letting go of things, I really love the sentiment of it–don’t ever discount the beauty in walking away. So go here and start with that one, then follow it up with Miss Invisible as well as her covers of Umbrella and What I’ve Done.
Be sure to check out ATWN’s Song of the Week this week! It was my choice, and it’s another singer/songwriter I just learned of a couple weeks ago–Joe Purdy. I’m basically in love with The City (this week’s song), along with Why Do I and I Love the Rain the Most. Do yourself a favor and listen!


I'm a Bust a Move Kind of Writer

June 13, 2013

(This post originally appeared on All The Write Notes.)

I'm one of those people who's wanted to be a writer since I was old enough to understand what it meant. Throughout my childhood, I wrote story after story and shared them with everyone I could. 

And then I stopped.

I mean, I wrote all sorts of dramatic emo journal entries and some pretty terrible, angst-filled poetry throughout my high school years. But stories? No way. 

It's not that I didn't have ideas. Characters, plots, and settings were constantly tumbling about and weaving themselves together in my mind. But nothing seemed big enough. I was convinced that if I was going to write a book, it had to be amazing. It had to be absolutely life-changing for every single person that read it. People would read my book and WEEP. They would share it with their friends. It would be studied in schools and quoted in daily conversation. Hemingway? Steinbeck? Faulkner? Chumps. 

Whatever I wrote had to be a masterpiece, and if I couldn't achieve Nobel Peace Prize Level Greatness, I was wasting my time.

I quit creating stories for years. YEARS. I kept reading, of course, but I gave up on writing completely. Why even try to live up to the kind of pressure I was putting on myself? 

Then one day, it hit me--sometimes, it's enough just to be entertaining.

Think of it this way: 

Does anyone think Young MC was trying to create life-altering art when he was writing Bust a Move?

It's a song about a guy who tries and tries to get a girl and fails because he can't dance. There's no deep,  hidden message there, but come ON. It's Bust A Move. It was a huge hit. Young MC won a Grammy for it and and people still love it, over twenty years after its release. 

Compare that to John Lennon's Imagine.

This song challenged listeners to imagine a world "with nothing to kill or die for." It was a message of peace, asking all of us to look past our differences and come together as one. It's listed as number three on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

One is fun and light, the other is a poetic, political statement. The two songs are different in nearly every way possible, and people loved them both.

There's just as much value in writing an entertaining story that the reader can escape in as there is in writing the Next Great American Novel. Every book should be entertaining and engaging, but not every book is going to make the reader feel all the feels and end world hunger.

That's it. That one, simple realization changed my life, you guys. I gave myself permission to tell whatever kind of story I wanted to tell in whatever way I wanted to tell it, and BETWEEN was born.

Trust me. BETWEEN is of the Bust A Move variety, not Imagine.

Writing is hard enough without putting unreasonable expectations on yourself. Whether or not you're the next J.K. Rowling, your writing still has worth. You'll never know if readers will connect to your world, your characters, or your prose until you finally take the plunge and commit to your story. Don't give yourself excuses to quit--look for reasons to keep going. 


My Favorite Wedding Story

June 4, 2013
(This post originally appeared on HerKentucky.)

Wedding season is in full swing, and I want to share my favorite wedding story with all of you. I tell this story to every single bride-to-be I come into contact with as a reminder that even if your wedding day isn't perfect, that doesn't mean your marriage can't be.
July 10, 2004 was a beautiful day. Aside from the sweltering heat, the weather was gorgeous. My friends Crystal and Clay were getting married that day. It was the wedding Crystal had dreamed of--an outdoor wedding on Clay's family farm in Lawrenceburg, perfect for the country girl at heart. The wedding guests would sit on hay bales, there would be daisies everywhere, and the men would wear cowboy hats. It would be the gorgeous.
There was a bit of a mishap in the afternoon when the fellas were having their pictures taken. Clay laid his cowboy hat down and a wasp got inside of it. When he put the hat back on, the wasp stung him. Since Clay is allergic to wasps, his head swelled to the point that his hat wouldn't fit right and just sort of sat on top of his head.
One tiny problem. Nothing major. The beautiful wedding Crystal had planned for months was still on track. 
As the day wore on, a storm rolled in. Like any bride with an outdoor wedding, Crystal had a backup plan--a large barn nearby. The mothers argued with Crystal about moving the ceremony inside. They insisted that the ceremony would be fine outside, until the lightning started. When the rain hit, it hit hard. 
What followed was a series of unfortunate events that would've had most brides curled up in a corner somewhere, rocking and pulling their hair out.
The bride and bridesmaids ran from the house where we'd gotten ready to the limo that would drive us to the barn. Inside, we did a quick champagne toast...which I proceeded to spill all over myself and a fellow bridesmaid, Kristin. We ran back into the house to use a blowdryer to dry the spill from our dresses. Luckily, the material was shiny and a bit metallic, so it wasn't noticeable at all.
We exited the limo beneath an array of umbrellas. The dogs had been put in a cage in the barn so they wouldn't run loose during the wedding, and because of the storm they were absolutely losing their minds, barking like crazy. 
There wasn't enough seating for guests. The hay bales they were supposed to sit on were drenched with rain.
As Crystal's father walked her down the aisle, her nephew ran across the aisle behind her, stepping on her cathedral-length train and pulling it off of her dress.
Her train. Fell off. Her dress.
Once she was up the aisle, the wedding went pretty smoothly. When it was over, the bride and groom hopped into a limo and left--just to have a few minutes alone before returning for pictures and the reception.
They were gone for over an hour. No one knew where they were. We finished all the photographs we could take without the bride and groom. Finally, a very loud flatbed Dodge truck made it way up the gravel drive to the barn, and Clay and Crystal hopped out of the passenger side. We stared, completely confused. They'd left in a limo. They returned in a truck driven by some guy we'd never seen. Crystal quickly explained--
The limo had broken down.
They'd hitchhiked back to the wedding.
They'd hitchhiked. Back. To the wedding.
At this point, all the bridesmaids were starting to wonder what Crystal's breaking point would be. We gathered, we talked, we strategized. We were not going to let our friend fall apart. I heard someone gasp and I raised my head from the circle to glance back at Crystal. She was standing with Clay near the front of the barn, smiling and posing for pictures. 
There was a dog standing right next to her with his leg hiked up.
The dog. Peed. On her dress.
After that, Crystal decided to change into the white sundress she'd purchased for the reception. We all ran back to the house to help her, and as she slipped it on, one of the straps broke. Because, of course.
Through it all, Crystal never lost her composure. She was so happy, and took every single thing in stride. When I made my toast, I told her that if the two of them could survive that wedding, they could survive anything.
Almost ten years and two beautiful children later, they're still going strong. 
Remember, as much planning as you put into your wedding and as perfect as you want it to be--something will go wrong. (Or, in Crystal's case, a whole lot of somethings.) Don't let yourself get so caught up in the details that you forget the end result--you're marrying the person you love. Whether the weather doesn't cooperate or the music is wrong or a dog pees on you, at the end of the day you will be married. Don't let anything ruin that.

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