Freshman Fifteens author Victoria Aveyard  chatted with fellow Freshman Laura Tims to find out more about her forthcoming debut, Please Don’t Tell (HarperCollins, Winter 2016).

Joy discovers the reason why her twin sister won’t leave the house. His name is Adam Gordon.

Everyone thinks Adam’s death was an accident. Only Joy knows that it’s her fault.

Guilt is eating Joy alive, her sister’s still not okay, and one day she gets a note:

“I know you killed Adam Gordon. Unless you do what I want, so will everyone else.” –Red

How did you first come up with the idea for PLEASE DON’T TELL?

It was when the Steubenville rape case was circulating in the media, and like a lot of people, it brought up feelings of rage and helplessness. I saw a lot of online comments from people with dark fantasies of killing someone who’d raped them or their friends. In many ways I think that kind of anger is unavoidable, and even a natural part of healing, but I wondered what would happen if someone actually went through with it – and what the emotional consequences would be.

You wrote and sold your first novel at a very young age (congrats!). What are the pros and cons of exploding out of the gate so early? How did you balance college and and a career?

It was less of a balancing act and more of a swapping act. One month my writing would suffer, one month my grades would. I had some very understanding professions. As far as pros and cons go, I’d say it’s tricky feeling like you have to solidify and build your brand when you’re still taking huge leaps of growth as a writer. Pros…I’m not sure! I imagine it’s just as exciting at any age!

What do you feel is your strongest suit, writing-wise? Weakest?

That’s always such a difficult question to answer! Since my instinctive answer veers toward dramatically deciding I’m a failure at everything, I’ll think about what I enjoy most. I really love getting into the nitty-gritty of character, all the dark stuff that rarely gets to see light.

You’re a bit of a world traveler. Favorite vacation/place to visit?

I visited Tibet on a study abroad trip about a year and a half ago, and it was one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. I also spent part of the spring in Japan, and ate my weight in sushi!

You’ve got another book coming out in 2017, THE BEST THING ABOUT PAIN. How was the journey to Book 2?

Mostly it’s just a lot of fun seeing how much you’ve grown between books, and putting that new experience into your writing. And there’s nothing more exciting than getting to know a new set of characters.

What’s up next for you?

Not sure! I’m working on a couple things here and there. I love Middle Grade literature as well as YA, and I’m hoping to try my hand at that.

1501817_10151891721342759_2084006540_nLaura is a YA author, blogger, college student, and former literary agency intern. Her goal is to someday be able to cook things that are delicious and not lethal. She lives in San Diego with her cat, who is smarter than her. Laura’s favorite word is crepuscular. Her least favorite word is feisty.

Laura is represented by the amazing part-unicorn, part fairy-godmother Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency. You can find Laura online:

Website | Twitter | Goodreads


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Over here at the Freshman Fifteens most of us have completed deadlines for our first books. Those initial crunch times were fraught with trying first-timer experiences and fears of whether we could really, truly turn our beloved manuscripts into real, live books. We gladly let our deadlines turn us into crazy monster-beasts (or, wait, was that just me?)  in our quest to impress our new editors.

Now, as most of us round upon our deadlines for book 2, we’re still crazy, but we at least know what to look for and what to expect when it comes to morphing into monster-beasts. After all, self-awareness is the first step toward personal evolution, am I right? I’m writing to you on Day One of my next deadline when I can just feel the cusps of my monster-beast horns beginning to sprout from my soon-to-be oily head and I can see the signs of what’s to come.

So without further delay, here are 5 signs that you’re on deadline:

(1) You are wearing your deadline sweatpants. These are not normal sweatpants. Oh no! These are special sweatpants that only come out when all shame has gone out the window. These have holes and are three sizes too big and drag on the floor when you shuffle off the couch for another glass of tea and Oreo cookies.

(2) You can’t see your sink faucet anymore because the dishes are piled so high. Does your kitchen look like a war zone? Are you stuffing another pizza box in an already full trashcan so that you don’t have to take the trash out? Yes? Well, then signs are good. You are probably on deadline.

(3) You have given up any semblance of a beauty regimen.  People might think your hair is wet. Let them. Only you have to know it’s just greasy. And hey, so what if yesterday’s eyeliner has wound up somewhere above your eyebrow? You could be starting the next trend to follow the cat eye. You never know. Besides, no one is around to see you anyway. You “misplaced” your Fitbit for the duration of the deadline and count walking to and from the Oreos as adequate, if not downright rigorous, physical activity for the day.

(4) You are having a meltdown.  The Meltdown is the surest of the surest signs that you are in the midst of a deadline. The Meltdown builds and builds until you know you can no sooner stop it from coming than you could plug the Hoover dam with your pinky finger. Personally, I generally have only one Meltdown per deadline. There are other meltdowns, but those are different. Those can happen in really bad traffic on my way home from work. You’ll recognize the Meltdown by looking in the mirror and finding a reflection of your ugly cry face. Try not to flinch. It only makes things worse.

(5) You are awake at 3 AM. You are not in college. You have not been drinking even though your eyes are red and bloodshot and you are talking nonsense. You are continuously coaxing yourself, “Just this one more thing I have to do then…” And now you know, this is the end of the deadline and you are in a full-on, manic sprint to the finish. I can do this one, maybe two, nights before I must sleep like I am literally dead. It is even less pretty than the Meltdown.

The truth is, nobody would indulge this sort of craziness for anything less than a passion and it’s because we love what we do so much that we’re willing to let this thing that we love consume us for a few weeks or a few months at a time. It’s simultaneously the worst and also the best but, in the end, it’s so so worth it.

Tell us: What are your signs that you’re on deadline?



Chandler Baker_biopicChandler Baker is a twenty-something lawyer, author of young adult and middle grade fiction, and dedicated nerdfighter. She graduated law school from the University of Texas in Austin and undergraduate from the University of Pennsylvania. Fun fact: Chandler graduated early so she could take time off and try her hand at this whole writing thing. So far, so good. Chandler likes morbid facts, watching scary movies through her fingers, Thai food, Eminem, and very high heels.

You can find Chandler online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads




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Yup. It’s the time of year for reflection and to give thanks. Debut authors have a lot to be thankful for. Trust me, I think about this all the time. There are the big-picture moments when you get perspective on how far the journey has taken you.

Ksav ancient timelineLike when you come across timelines from really, really early, really, really bad, drafts.






ksav scbwicardWhen you find your very first SCBWI membership card.






And when you open an old journal and find a New Year’s resolution to finish the book and land the agent.

Then there are the day-to-day blessings.

ksav coffecupThe coffee shop to which you owe your executive functions.








ksav pressfield quoteThe writing partners who share bits of timely wisdom that you return to again and again.








ksav room of ones ownAnd a room of one’s own.









There are other things. Preternaturally wise editors and agents. Patient spouses who in another age might be called patrons of the arts. Office supplies, wrist splints, noise-canceling headphones. Wasabi peas.

But what I’m really thankful for is the gift of a vocation instead of a job. That’s one I don’t take lightly. Writing is a calling. Writers don’t think about things like retirement. Vacations without writing time make them restless. They rub their hands together at the Saturday-night cancellation, because it means more time to write.

When I got the call, I almost didn’t answer. Life was hectic: my oldest son has a chronic disease that requires an all-consuming vigilance. And the younger two were, well, young. But then I went to my first SCBWI conference, where Cindy Lord, who won a Newbery Honor for RULES, was the keynote speaker.

Cindy doesn’t know this, but she made me answer the call.

For those of you who haven’t read RULES, it’s about a girl whose brother is autistic, and the dynamics are inspired in part by Cindy’s own daughter and son. The only time she had to write RULES was a few short hours in the very early morning, before her son woke. It would have been easy to quit, easy to convince herself that now was not the time. But Cindy said: “I had to do it or stop wanting it.”

I knew I would never stop wanting it. Ah ha.

So Cindy, I am grateful to you, along with my Freshman Fifteen sisters, many of whom have their own thankables this holiday season:

Chandler Baker is thankful for her Mac Air nicknamed Macaulay Culkin (this may be the first thing she’d save in a fire), hot tea, and the Freshman Fifteens for keeping her sane.

Virginia Boecker is thankful for work: for the privilege of being able to put words to paper (or, screen). She’s also thankful for her amazing, talented, can’t-do-this-without-them writer friends, and for her can’t-do-anything-without-them family.

Jen Brooks is thankful for full-day kindergarten, brilliant critique partners, and the wonderful community of YA readers and writers.

Kelly Loy Gilbert is thankful for all the wonderful people in her life, the online writing community, and lots and lots of chocolate to keep her company on late nights writing.

Lori Goldstein is thankful for the supportive community of Kid Lit writers that is so welcoming and nurturing to newbies. She’s had the opportunity to ask several authors for advice of late and they have been more than generous with their time. She’s also thankful for the support of her editors and publisher as BECOMING JINN approaches its release date. Oh, and she’s freakin’ ecstatically thankful that this season of The Vampire Diaries is kicking major butt.

Charlotte Huang is thankful for Kind Bars, stretchy pants and holidays.

Lee Kelly is thankful for old Halloween candy (which she is eating by the fistful as she chugs towards her revision deadline), the Millburn Library, and her toddler –The Great Master of Writing Distraction Penn Kelly.

Stacey Lee is thankful for mothers who watch her children so she can write, techie husbands, and the Mayans for inventing chocolate.

Kim Liggett is thankful for her writing friends–writing is freaking hard–they make it almost tolerable.

Jenny Martin is thankful for her Grandmother Joy’s hot rolls, her Grandmother Joy’s table, and for all the good times her family’s had sitting around it (love you, gma…).

Jenn Marie Thorne is thankful for a writing spot in her back garden, surrounded by ripe fruit trees; the impending delivery of DRAGON AGE: INQUISITION (her reward once her revision is done); and the support of her bookish buddies.

Laura Tims is thankful for pizza, cats, and people who give good book recommendations on Twitter.

What are some things you’re thankful for? Let us know in the comments!

Kim Savage 2Kim Savage is the author of AFTER THE WOODS, a debut psychological thriller for young adults coming in Winter 2016 with Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan. THESE ARE THE NOTES YOU DIDN’T GET, also with FSG/Macmillan, comes out in 2017. She is working on her third novel. Before writing fiction, she worked as a business journalist, pitching stories along the lines of “Stigmatized Properties: When Murder Kills Property Values”. You get the idea.




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Freshman Fifteens author Jen Brooks  chatted with fellow Freshman Jasmine Warga to find out more about her forthcoming debut, My Heart and Other Black Holes (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, February 10, 2015).

MHAOBHSixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

I’m getting higher and higher and I feel the swing set creak.

“Be careful,’” he says.

“Why?” I’m not thinking about being careful. I’m thinking about one last push, of letting go, of flying, and of falling.

‘”You aren’t allowed to die without me,” he whispers.


My Heart and Other Black Holes is about two teenagers who meet online with the intent of finding a suicide partner. What was the origin of your idea for this story?

This question is always so hard to answer. I guess the most honest answer is I’m not entirely sure. I started writing this book during a dark period in my life and I woke up one morning and had this voice in my head. I typed the sentence: “The way I figure it, everyone has a hobby and mine is planning my own death.” And everything else sort of flowed from there. That sentence is no longer the book’s first line—it actually doesn’t exist anywhere in the book—but it definitely was my gateway into Aysel and her mental state. I also think the book was born from thinking a lot about the darkness that exists inside all of us, and how as society we often refuse to acknowledge it. I was interested in how we bury so much inside ourselves and how we only rarely share those emotions with other people. I’m also fascinated by how certain people make us see ourselves differently, and furthermore, the gap that often exists between the way we see ourselves versus how other people in our lives see us. So I guess this book was a way for me to explore all that and more.

I have to admit that I was in tears while reading most of your novel. My heart simply broke for Aysel and all the pain she was feeling. What was it like for you to write her character? Did you find it more or less difficult to tell Roman’s likewise heartbreaking story since he was 1) a boy, and 2) not a POV character?

Well, thank you so much! I’m touched that you were that affected by Aysel’s story. To be honest, in some ways Roman’s story was even harder for me to tell because I had to dig deeper to understand him. Aysel came to me almost fully formed, but Roman was more of a mystery. I can’t say very much because I don’t want to reveal too many plot points, but Roman’s backstory almost hurts my heart even more than Aysel’s because of his very raw guilt.

Not only is the subject of depression a part of this book, but Aysel’s father commits an unspeakable crime as the result of mental illness. Do you have any training in the field of psychology? What kind of research did you have to do to write this book?

I definitely don’t! And I actually didn’t do much research, and instead I mostly wrote from my own emotional truth. Depression affects everyone differently, so I didn’t set out to write some sort of blanket or declarative statement about depression. Rather, I wanted to tell a story about people, real people, who happen to suffer from depression, both situational and chemical. I wanted to explore the murky boundaries between chemical and situational depression, as well as depression’s genetic legacy. That said, my editor did have the manuscript reviewed by a professional psychiatrist and we were both really pleased when the expert said that he found the book to be an accurate, authentic, and responsible depiction of depression and suicidal ideation.

What was your favorite scene to write in My Heart and Other Black Holes? and/or What scene was most challenging to write?

Oh, wow. I’m not sure. I think the most challenging part to write for sure was the ending. I rewrote it at least twenty times before selling the book, and my editor and I worked even more on it after that. My favorite scene? Probably Mike’s (Aysel’s little brother) birthday party. I felt really emotionally gutted while writing that scene and it made me think so much about family, especially the inherent bonds we have with our siblings. It surprised me while I was writing it, and surprise, I think, is one of the most rewarding feelings you can get while creating something.

Why do you write in the “contemporary” genre?

Oh, I don’t know! I want to write all types of things. This story in particular works as a contemporary novel since it’s about depression and love and identity and immigration and all of these things that are very rooted in our real, modern world. But I’m also very interested in playing around with all types of genre. To me, the story chooses the genre and I’m much more interested in story than I am in genre.

What books would you recommend to young adults looking for good stories in the contemporary genre?

Jandy Nelson! Both of her books—The Sky is Everywhere and I’ll Give You the Sun. Her writing is pure magic. I also love A.S. King’s work (do they count as contemporary? I know they have a surrealist quality to them…), Sherman Alexie, and Lauren Oliver (again, I know she writes in all sorts of genres, but her contemporary YA books are fantastic). My two favorite YA books as an actual teen were Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat and Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower And also everyone should read Natalie Standiford’s How to Say Goodbye in Robot.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Read! And walk my wild, crazy dog. And snuggle my precious cat. And drink too much coffee and wonder why I’m so terrible at yoga.

Who are some of your favorite authors? OR What are some of your favorite books?

Oh, well I named so many of my favorites in question #6. But other favorite authors include Junot Diaz and Margaret Atwood. I’m also obsessed with Adrienne Rich, Frank O’Hara, and Sylvia Plath’s poetry. And We Need to Talk About Kevin is a book I haven’t stopped thinking about since I read it, as is The Hours. Finally, I’m reading Americanah right now and I’m pretty sure it will go on my favorites ever list.

What has been your greatest challenge as you travel the road of traditional publishing? Your greatest reward?

I think my greatest challenge has been, and still is, staying out of my own head. I tend to second guess everything and so I’m constantly having to work on handling my own anxiety. My greatest reward has been getting to meet so many wonderful people–other writers, my brilliant editor, my wonderful agent–who all love books and have been so welcoming to me.

Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now?

Eee! I’m playing around with a bunch of things, but I guess in the most simple of terms the answer to the above question would be that I’m working on another dark love story. It’s still in such a fragile state that I don’t want to say too much and jinx it because I’m not entirely sure what it is yet.

What advice would you give to other writers? Anything specifically for teen writers?

Write! I know that sounds simple, but really that’s my advice. Write, write, write. Writing, like anything, is something you only get better at by doing all the time for a really long time. Also, take risks. Write the types of stories you wish you saw on the shelves and don’t worry so much about what other people will think about it. Remember you’re not only the story’s writer, but also the first reader. Write for your inner reader. Be vulnerable. Be honest.

If someone reading this interview is wrestling with the question of suicide, or knows or suspects that someone they know is wrestling with the question of suicide, where can they go for help?

First, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always open: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). I’m also a huge fan of the website/community, To Write Love On Her Arms. They do wonderful work and provide great resources. But most importantly, I think if you’re in that place, you need to find a way to verbalize how you are feeling to SOMEONE. Maybe that person is a friend, a parent, a guidance counselor, a teacher, a significant other–you need to find a way to communicate how you are feeling because sometimes just opening up about it makes all the difference.

 JWYearbookJasmine lives and writes in a small town a few miles outside of Cincinnati. She likes animals of all sorts (especially her cat Salvador and her puppy, Scout), surrealist sketches, iced coffee, the night sky, old swing sets, lemonade, and rainy mornings.

You can find Jasmine online: Website | Twitter | Tumblr | Goodreads


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When the Freshman Fifteens first met online back in the summer of 2013, we modeled ourselves after another small group of YA debut authors: The Fourteenery.

As we are entering the final months of their debut year, we turn to this group of talented and generous authors once again. In honor of Halloween, we’ve asked them to share what they found to be the scariest part of their debut year.


“That moment you totally blank when someone asks you what your book is about. Or, alternately, what your book is called. — Katie Cotugno, author of  HOW TO LOVE, Balzer + Bray, October 1, 2013


“Bookscan numbers.” — Livia Blackburne, author of MIDNIGHT THIEF, Disney-Hyperion, July 8, 2014


“The feeling that this is IT. This is what you’ve been working toward for years, and this is what’s going to determine the rest of your career. Bad sales or reviews will mean it’s all been for nothing: that all the writing you’ve done was a waste, people will look down on you, and your career is dead in the water. The good news: there is life after the debut. (And life after bad sales and life after bad reviews.) The bad news: from what I can tell, authors feel this way about every book they publish. Oops?” — Corinne Duyvis, author of OTHERBOUND, Amulet Books, June 17, 2014


“The abyss you find yourself staring into when your book is launched into the real world for that first time. Will people like it? Will people even read it? Will people even *notice* it? And you don’t even know if you want them to! The unknown is TERRIFYING.” — Robin Talley, author of LIVES WE TELL OURSELVES, Harlequin Teen, September 30, 2014

As a writer, debut or not, what scares you? How do you handle the fears?

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Freshman Fifteens author Lori Goldstein chatted with fellow Freshman Jenn Marie Thorne to find out more about her forthcoming debut, THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT (Dial/Penguin, March 17, 2015).


Wrong Side of Right_Thorne

After a shy 16-year-old is outed as the illegitimate daughter of the Republican nominee for president, she joins his campaign as part of an attempt at damage control.

“The moment my horrible yearbook photo first appeared on millions of television screens, sending jaws dropping, phones ringing, and joggers tumbling off their treadmills all across America, I was in the middle of my AP US History final.”

What was the origin of your idea for THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT?

A few years back, there was sort of a cluster of political scandals, culminating in the revelation that Arnold Schwarzenegger had fathered an illegitimate child. I remember seeing this photo of the boy taken by paparazzi and thinking, “That poor, poor kid.” It got my mind whirring about what it would be like to be a teenager in that situation, but thrust into the political limelight in a more central way. Would you want to escape? Or would there be a part of you that longed for acceptance from the family you didn’t know you had?

Kate is the illegitimate daughter of the Republican nominee for president and she winds up hitting the campaign trail with him and her new family. After reading your book, I was convinced you had been on a presidential campaign circuit. It is an incredibly realistic portrayal. What sort of research did you do prior to writing?

Well, thank you! I had a few friends who worked on the Obama campaign back in 2008, so although I didn’t volunteer, I’d had politics on the brain for a while. Arun Chaudhary in particular was helpful through his Facebook posts—he became the first ever White House videographer after his central role in the 2008 campaign and his photos, updates and videos gave me (and all his viewers) a great sense of what day-to-day campaign life looks like. I also read some riveting political nonfiction, like GAME CHANGE and Meghan McCain’s DIRTY SEXY POLITICS for further inspiration. But mostly, I made it up and fact checked later. Luckily, my imagination didn’t stray too far from reality!

You have an MFA in Drama and a background in acting. Are there any similarities in the two forms of artistic expression: acting and writing?

I think my background in acting has been enormously helpful to my writing process. Mentally, I do sort of “act out” the roles of each of my characters, figuring out the way they think, their motivations, the way their backgrounds give them each an individual window on the world. I sympathize with everybody I write, especially the antagonists. I think having studied drama also gives me a sense of narrative rhythm, both in terms of natural dialogue and the beats that each scene needs to hit.

I have seen firsthand (and drooled with jealousy) over your organizational skills in terms of world-building. How much of a detailed planner are you? What do you think is the most important aspect of plotting?

I do plan quite a bit—and most of it ends up getting chucked out along the way! My plot structures tend to be a little too neat in early drafts, and then I sort of muss them up and deepen them during the revision process. But I couldn’t write without a plan. My scenes would just meander and drop off a cliff. And anyway, I love planning. I love outlines, spreadsheets, character quizzes, ridiculously oblique timelines. The idea development stage is my favorite part of the writing process by far.

What are you working on now?

I’m several drafts into a companion novel to THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT, tentatively titled WHEN WE WERE OUT. It centers around a girl who goes a little overboard as an activist after her best friend comes out of the closet and accidentally becomes a national gay icon—even though she’s secretly straight. It’s about best friends and first love and loneliness and legendary pirates and Homecoming and all sorts of stuff.

What advice would you give to writers, especially teen writers?

I have sort of contradictory advice. One: Write every day. Even if it’s just a sentence. When you do a little work on a project every day, you start to write all the time, while you’re driving, in the shower, just before bed. When you skip a day, you sort of have to start all over again. Two: Relax. There is no rush. You do not have to be published by a certain day or a certain time. You will be published when you’ve written something that’s ready. And whether your very first novel is a masterpiece or it takes ten novels before any agent will even read past the first five pages makes no difference at all in the end. What matters is that you’re sitting in a chair every day and learning a craft by working on it. And I highly recommend always having a project on the go. Unless you’re Harper Lee. Actually, even if you are Harper Lee. It would be amazing if she would write something else.

Jenn MarieJenn Marie Thorne writes YA fiction from her home in beautiful Gulfport, Florida, alongside her dashing husband, two adventurous sons and trusty hound Molly. An NYU-Tisch grad with a BFA in Drama, Jenn still enjoys making a complete fool of herself on at least a weekly basis. Other hobbies include writing about herself in the third-person, studying classical voice, learning languages, and traveling the world with her family.

You can find Jenn Marie online: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


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We are officially less than three months away from our debut year of 2015! With all of the covers for our Winter and Spring book releases revealed, it seemed time to do a roundup and showcase our soon-to-be-born book babies!

Behold the beauty of the Freshman Fifteen covers, presented by release date!


City-of-Savages_LeeKellyLee Kelly, CITY OF SAVAGES,
February 3, 2015



February 10, 2015

RedQueenVictoria Aveyard, THE RED QUEEN,
February 10, 2015

Wrong Side of Right_ThorneJenn Marie Thorne, THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT,
March 17, 2015

uaps_staceyleeStacey Lee, UNDER A PAINTED SKY,
March 17, 2015


In-a-World-Just-Right_jenBrooksJen Brooks, IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT,
April 28, 2015


Jenny Martin, TRACKED,
May 5, 2015

BecomingJinn_Cover_High Res

Lori Goldstein, BECOMING JINN,
May 12, 2015


Conviction_KellyLoyGilbertKelly Loy Gilbert, CONVICTION,
May 19, 2015

The-WitchHunter_VirginiaBoeckerVirginia Boecker, THE WITCH HUNTER,
June 2, 2015 


Chandler Baker, ALIVE,
June 9, 2015





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Freshman Fifteens author Jen Brooks  chatted with fellow Freshman Kim Savage to find out more about her forthcoming debut, AFTER THE WOODS (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux/Macmillan, Winter, 2016).

Kim Savage“Statistically speaking, girls like me don’t come back when guys like Donald Jessup take us.

According to my research, in 88.5 percent of all abductions, the kid is killed within the first 24 hours. In 76 percent of those cases, it’s within the first two hours. So when they found me alive after two days, the reporters called it a miracle.

They liked it even better when they found out Donald Jessup didn’t want me at first. He wanted Liv. But I took her place. Not only did they have a miracle, they had a martyr.”

What was the origin of your idea for After The Woods?

I start my novels with a human impulse that interests me. For After The Woods, it was sacrifice. I wondered, would you sacrifice yourself for your best friend? Then I created a character who would.

I also considered its inversion: would you sacrifice your best friend to save yourself? I wrote a second character who does.

In After The Woods, the reader sees how those sacrifices play out, and questions follow: when is a sacrifice noble? Is it ever not?

After The Woods is set in a suburban town next to a wooded reservation. Is this setting inspired by the place where you currently live? Any anecdotes to tell about your experience in those woods?

The woods in After The Woods is inspired by the Middlesex Fells Reservation, 2,500+ acres of state park spanning five towns in Massachusetts, one of which is my town. So yes, it’s a local story for me. I actually recorded an excerpt on Boston NPR affiliate WBUR as part of their Zip-Code stories contest: you can hear it here.

I did a few things in the name of fact-checking. One involved a sleeping bag, a hill, and a couple of disturbed onlookers. But now I’m veering toward spoiler territory.

My favorite part of your novel is the flawed nature of each of your characters. They display everything from guilt to bona fide psychological disorders. Do you have a favorite character? Do you have a secret to writing characters with such psychological depth?

Alice Mincus has a place in my heart. She’s one of the most morally upright characters in After The Woods in the sense that she is loyal to Julia. She’d have her back in the same way Julia had Liv’s in the woods. But she’s got a slow-burning grudge against Liv for dumping her back in middle school that reveals itself in ways that are pivotal to the plot. Alice may wear Hello Kitty sweaters and still bring a home-packed lunch, but don’t cross her.

Humans are fundamentally flawed, and as a reader, I want to see those flaws, swollen pink. The flawed character works my emotional plasticity: I’m forced to identify with her humanity, even if it’s as elusive as Deborah’s. I know readers who refuse to do this, who will diss a book because they didn’t agree with the actions of a character. Those aren’t my readers.

You are a former journalist, and an important character in this book is a journalist. How did your other chosen profession shape/affect your writing life or the characters/events in After The Woods?

I didn’t spend a long time as a journalist; a few years out of grad school, I returned to academia, my happy place. But the training I got working for newspapers and in J-school shaped my writing, and my story-telling, for the better.

In After The Woods, Paula Papademetriou is a broadcast journalist who lives in Shiverton. When a body is found in the woods a year after The Shiverton Abduction, Paula emerges as an unlikely ally, leading Julia through a revived media frenzy.

Paula sees this crazy story right in her own backyard. She has to meet these girls; it would be professional misconduct if she didn’t. As both a journalist and a writer, I’ve had stories tug at me in the same way. Whether her motive is self-interest or professional obligation—and if Julia should trust her—is for the reader to decide.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I write nearly every day. I’m like Rob Lowe on Parks & Recreation running constantly to maintain his endorphin-high. The alternative is ugly. But yes, I do other stuff: parent three sparkly children. Try not to let my body atrophy over my keyboard (i.e., workout). Devour books. Spend time with the loveliest friends. Lobby my endlessly patient and allergic husband for a Goldendoodle (it worked: I won.).

Who are some of your favorite authors and books?

I love authors for different reasons: I actually just wrote about this for my agent Sara Crowe’s blog. I’m currently reading Edward St. Aubyn’s Lost for Words, and I’m worried for him, because I can go fangirl at the drop of a hat.

I also adore certain books just because they hit a sweet spot. Reading Tartt’s The Secret History at our home near a Famous Vermont College Town was preppily atmospheric. I read Anna Quindlan’s Every Last One at a time my family was dealing with its own suburban stalker-ish issue. French’s In the Woods was lying on a table at a remote house we rented on Cape Cod. A raw chill pervaded the place, and inside felt like outside. Shiver.

What has been your greatest challenge as you travel the road of traditional publishing? Your greatest reward?

That some things are not under your control. But let’s be real: who cares? I couldn’t ask for a more perfect editor in Janine O’Malley. And to be published by the same house as Eugenides, Franzen, and Kincaid, among others? I’m okay with letting go a little.

The Freshman Fifteens have been a lifeline. It’s like being surrounded by muses who personify wit, candor, beauty, empathy, and wisdom. You couldn’t write these ladies if you tried.

But the greatest reward is in the act. I feel rewarded every day that I get to do this. Writing is a vocation. If you feel like it’s a job, stop.

What advice would you give to other writers? Anything specifically for teen writers?

Introversion is the mark of this profession, but here’s the thing: you must connect with other writers. I have two whip-smart writing partners who are the most important people in my life, beyond family. They make me show up every day, even if we’re not physically together. And they get what I need, because they need the same things.

For teens, Wattpad makes it easy to connect with other future authors. It’s also a great tool for developing the habit of writing regularly. I became aware of Wattpad through The Freshman Fifteens Common Room contest, where we’re mentoring teen writers who will be published in a short story anthology on Wattpad. When I see a girl or boy putting out chapter after chapter on Wattpad, I see someone honing their craft. That tells me that teen is going to be published one day. As a teenager, I would have been all over it.


Kim Savage 2Kim Savage is the author of AFTER THE WOODS coming Winter 2016 from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux/Macmillan.

Kim was born in Quincy, Massachusetts and raised in Weymouth, on the South Shore. Which might sound beachy, even luxe. Think Winnebagos and chicken coops. Today, Kim lives with her husband and three children in a town west of Boston. It’s a lot like Shiverton, near the real Fells reservation. Born with dysgeographica—she’s directionally challenged—the fear of getting lost in those lovely, dark woods lives close to her skin.

Her second thriller, THESE ARE THE NOTES YOU DIDN’T GET (working title), comes from FSG/Macmillan in 2017. She is writing her third novel.

Find Kim online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook

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Freshman Fifteens author Jen Brooks  chatted with fellow Freshman Jenny Martin to find out more about her forthcoming debut, TRACKED (Dial/Penguin, May 5, 2015).

Jenny BW

Phee Van Zant, a wisp of a girl who’s far more Han Solo than Princess Leia, tends to drive her way into trouble. More than reckless, she’s one of the most daring street racers on planet Castra. But Phee transforms from rebel to revolutionary after a taking a no-win deal to race the corporate rally circuit, where she’s catapulted between the boy who’s been running alongside her all her life and the intense, castoff rogue who prepares her all too well for the road. This YA debut is set in the future, yet in a galaxy not so far away.

What was the origin of your idea for Tracked?

I grew up in a sleepy Oklahoma town, watching the cycle of oil boom and bust. For better or worse, “black gold” fueled our tiny city; the industry literally kept it going. So living in that red-dirt, flat-plained world, I became acutely aware of the way commerce and corporations can make or break a society. At the same time, in school, we learned about the way Oklahoma was settled—through breakneck land rushes and wild, claim-staking runs for homesteads on the new frontier. (I think that’s why I enjoy science fiction so much. Interstellar colonists aren’t so different from 18th century pioneers?)

So that history planted the seeds for Phee’s world, a corporately controlled planet in the far future.

But the final inspirations for Tracked came to me from two very different places. I’d watched two things on TV in quick succession: Death Race with Jason Statham and the documentary, Hot Coffee, an eye-opening look at corporate exploitation of the law—forced arbitration, the legalese of contracts, and the slow erosion of civil rights. Add a lifetime of devouring sci fi sagas like Star Wars and there you have it. I asked myself…what if Han Solo’s story were different? What if the “scruffy-looking nerd-herder”—the scoundrel—was a girl, and the roles of rogue and princess were reversed? What would happen if my hero faced down a powerful, corrupt force? How could one girl possibly race against an empire?

Tracked is about a teenager who races cars (on another planet, no less!). I really appreciated the authentic feel of the details surrounding her racing experience. Do you have any experience in the professional car racing circuit? How do you know so much about the subject?

I work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, not too far from Texas Motor Speedway, and while I’ve never raced a car, I’ve always daydreamed about it. Every time I cruise by the speedway or visit TMS, I imagine the rush of careening around the turns. And when the idea for Tracked came to me, I started researching all kinds of racing—Formula One, Nascar, rally racing. I read like a fiend—technical books, racing magazines (Hello, Red Bulletin. Thanks for all the speed junkie features!), driver memoirs, you name it. I watched footage. I even interviewed an amateur racer. But ultimately, the rally racing in Tracked isn’t modeled on any one contemporary motor-sport. I drew inspiration from many of them, and the “circuit” is one part research, two parts imagination. ;)

My favorite part of your novel is the main character, Phee. She is referred to as a “spitfire” in the book. She pushes the envelope,and can be sarcastic and impulsive, but she is also fiercely loyal. Lots of authors write characters that take their qualities from real-life people, even themselves. Could you tell us a little about Phee’s origin as a character?

I guess you could say that I’m a bit of a Walter Mitty, and Tracked is 84,000 pieces of daydream, strung out and shouting, 250 declarations per page. And as for Phee…on the one hand, she’s the devil-may-care rogue, my polar opposite. Because in truth, behind the extroverted facade, I’m an extremely timid, fearful person. (Seriously. So many phobias. So little confidence.) And you certainly wouldn’t catch me behind the wheel of a race car, pulling death-defying moves. No way!

On the other hand, I do believe there are tiny bits of would-be me buried in Phee. We’re both passionate and emotional—on the inside, more than a little out of control. And like me, Phee’s 100% Gryffindor. She’s not afraid to speak up and stand up for what she believes in. I wish I could borrow that courage! And as you mentioned, she’s headstrong but loyal to the last. Protecting the ones she loves, that’s what drives her. Phee is a spitfire. Flawed, fiery, and fierce; she’s the brave hero I wish I could be.

In addition to being a writer, you are a full-time school librarian. Has your other chosen profession shaped/affected your writing life?

Yes! By day, I am a school librarian, and that means I get to breathe/sleep/eat words and stories. By day, I get to connect kids and adults with good books and resources. Nurturing budding readers…reading, buying, talking up good books…that’s my job description. How fun is that? And at home, I get to spin my own stories. I feel very, very lucky. The only tricky thing is time management. Balancing family and work and writing isn’t easy, but I love being an author and a librarian. I’m grateful to be in a good place, doing what I love.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I nap. You think I’m kidding, right? Totally not kidding. Napping is my favorite hobby. Okay, I have other hobbies, too. I hang out with my family. I read, I watch movies, I go to rock concerts. I play air guitar. I look at my real guitar and pretend I’m going to make time to play again. I run. I work out. I eat pancakes. (I can’t overstate this. So many pancakes.) But napping is the best. It fuels daydreams and gives me the energy to go out and eat more pancakes.

What advice would you give to other writers? Anything specifically for teen writers?

First of all, I don’t know who first said this, but I learned it at DFW Writers’ Workshop. There, I heard it over and over…when it comes to writing, there are really only two rules:

1.) Don’t bore the reader. And 2.) Don’t confuse the reader.

Beyond that, nothing else matters. My other advice is…read and read and read and find your voice. You’re not a news reporter. You’re not making a list of “stuff that happened.” Instead, you’re interpreting an experience. Channel your narrator or character and choose the exact, just right words that get that unique experience across. Forget about passive verbs and adverbs and all the other paint-by-numbers rules. Just get inside. Tell the story from under the skin, from the heart. Tell it the way no one else can, and you’ll make it.


Jenny Martin 2Jenny Martin is the author of TRACKED coming May 5, 2015, from Dial, an imprint of Penguin.

Jenny is a librarian, a book monster, and a certified Beatle-maniac. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son, where she hoards books and regularly blisses out over all kinds of live and recorded rock. She loves to connect with readers and writers (and anyone else) who loves music and words (and anything delicious).

You can find Jenny online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook

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Freshman Fifteens author Jen Brooks  chatted with fellow Freshman Kim Liggett about her forthcoming debut, BLOOD AND SALT (Putnam/Penguin, Fall 2015).


BLOOD AND SALT is Romeo and Juliet meets Children of the Corn.

“When you fall in love, you will carve out your heart and throw it into the deepest ocean. You will be all in—blood and salt.”

These are the last words seventeen year-old Ash Larkin hears before her mother flees their home in New York City to rejoin the spiritual commune she escaped long ago. Determined to get her back, Ash follows her to Quivira, Kansas, to unravel their family legends of alchemy, immortality, and revenge.

But something sinister and ancient waits for Ash among the rustling cornstalks of this small village lost to time. As charming traditions give way to cult ceremonies and a string of gruesome deaths, Ash begins to feel things she never thought possible. A new and seductive power pulses through her veins as her very blood reaches for an achingly beautiful boy she can’t have, harkening back to the town’s centuries-old tales of unrequited love and death.

As the community prepares for a ceremony over five hundred years in the making, Ash must fight not only to save her mother, but herself. She’s desperate to discover the truth about Quivira before it’s too late. Before she’s all in—blood and salt.

What was the origin of your idea for Blood and Salt?

It started with a legend, a scent, a feather, and a ribbon.

The title, which is an integral part of the story, came from something my grandmother said to me on her deathbed. She told me that I would dive into life headfirst — blood and salt. I think she meant to say “body and soul” — it was her favorite song, but the words haunted me.

Blood and Salt is (mostly) set in a Kansas cornfield in the middle of nowhere. I’m remembering you used to live in the rural Midwest? Tell us a little about the development of your setting.

There’s a lot of similarities between my fictional setting and the real place I grew up in. It was a small gated town. I never fit in. I felt trapped. It’s funny, I couldn’t wait to get out of there as a teen, but it’s all I seem to write about now. There’s magic and horror in the landscape itself. I think there’s a part of my soul that never left those fields.

My favorite part of your novel is the intricate plotting. There isn’t a detail in the book that is insignificant, and so many details become essential to the climax of the story. Can you talk about your plotting process? Did you think of the details first and build the plot around them? Did you know where the plot was going and have to make the details up to fit?

All of the above. Plotting is like childbirth — you tend to block it out. I always write the beginning and the ending first. Those elements of Blood and Salt never really changed — it’s everything in between that was up for grabs. I have a tendency to over-plot and under-write, which is an interesting combination. My editor really reined me in — made me accountable for every choice. I’m grateful. I learned so much.

There are references in here to historical figures and events. There is also a Native American language spoken. Plus there’s black magic, strong scents, alchemy, and symbology. Oh yeah, and a real live cult. How much of your story is research and how much is imagination when it comes to these elements of the book?

Coronado really came to Quivira in 1541 searching for the land of gold. I spent my childhood running around the woods like an animal, digging up arrowheads and making up the stories to go with them. I was obsessed with the Quivira tribe — their history and their stories. A lot of research went into this book — most of which I never had the opportunity to use, but I had a blast spending all that time in the Coronado Quivira Museum and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This story has been with me for a very long time.

Why do you write in the horror/romance genre?

It’s not because I’m a creepy perf — well, okay, I might be, but I find in all great horror there’s an element of seduction and in all great romance there’s a whiff of death.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I read a ton. I was a late reader — didn’t really start reading for fun until I was around nineteen. I’m dyslexic, so it didn’t come easy for me. I guess I’m making up for lost time. I love films, too. I’m also a pretty badass bowler.

Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books?

I always go back to the books that made a huge impression on me — books that came into my life at the exact right moment: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I could go on and on.

I will read anything by Stephen King, Clive Barker, Gillian Flynn, Holly Black, and Melissa Marr.

What has been your greatest challenge as you travel the road of traditional publishing? Your greatest reward?

Greatest challenge: Patience. It’s been a long hard treacherous path into murky water. I’m still trying to feel my way around. Greatest reward: the friends I’ve met along the way. My writing friends are the best friends I’ve ever had.

What advice would you give to other writers? Anything specifically for teen writers?

Take risks. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t be afraid to show people who you are through your writing, because I guarantee you there’s someone out there who needs to read it.


twitter-headerKim Liggett is the author of BLOOD AND SALT coming Fall 2015 from Putnam/Penguin.

At sixteen, Kim left her rural Midwestern town for New York City to pursue a career in both music and acting. While attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Kim sang backup for some of the biggest rock bands in the 80s. After settling down to have a family, she became an entrepreneur, creating a children’s art education program and a travel company specializing in tours for musicians.
She’s married to jazz musician Ken Peplowski, has two grotesquely beautiful teens, and a very neurotic dog that drags her through Riverside Park everyday on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

You can find Kim online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook 

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