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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Every so often, I’d estimate maybe once or twice a WIP, I come down with what I call Story Envy.  I’m not sure how many of you have caught Story Envy, but I find the writing disease so troubling, so annoying, that I wanted to touch on it here.

For me, it usually begins fairly innocuously.  I’ll be talking to another writer about a great idea she’s working on.  Then, maybe a couple days later, I’ll read a deal in Publisher’s Marketplace that just sounds so original.  Around the same time, I’ll be reading a book that blows me away, and almost always in a genre or market that’s not really my “thing.”  And then I come down with the fever.  I start thinking….

Maybe I should be writing contemporary YA.

Maybe I should be writing adult thrillers.

Maybe I should be writing something light, and fun, and younger.

Maybe I should be writing a space saga.

And I look at what I’m working on, and it’s none of those things — I can’t even describe what it is except by way of what it isn’t.  Which panics me … and then the panic becomes doubt about the WIP … then hatred … then loathing … and then I just want to bury the WIP-in-question in a locked drawer.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone else?

Like any flu, I suppose, previously I’ve just let it run its course, and eventually (whether out of compulsion or that writerly itch) I find myself back working on the project I was working on, some days loving it, and some days hating it, only to bide my time until the next bout of the Story Envy bug.  But this time, I’d had it — I wanted relief.

So I made a list of my favorite movies, TV shows, and books of all time and then studied them for common elements, if there were any — I think part of my problem is that I read widely and across genres, and I like a lot of different things, which always makes me wonder if I’ve really found my writing niche, or if my first book was something of a fluke.  But my list of favorites surprised me, as nearly all of them had all of these elements: (1) odd mix of realism and fantasy/sci-fi/some other genre, (2) some kind of pervasive human condition theme, and (3) dark to very dark in tone.  And naturally, that’s what I’d written the first time around, and I think that’s a fair top-down description of my other two WIPs.

And then I thought about what’s happened when I try to write out of that zone: my heartfelt fantasy MG became darker, for an older audience, and sadder.  My “historical fiction” included magic drugs.  Then I thought back to college, when I prayed I was going to be the next Jonathan Safran Foer: tons of abandoned literary Chapter Ones, tons of half-baked sweeping family sagas outlined and discarded.

And I realized, I write what I like and I like what I write.

I’ve saved this list of favorite TV shows, movies, and books on my desktop so that I can pull it up and remind myself that even though I appreciate a lot of stories, I too have preferences — and the best work I’m going to put forth is the kind of work I want to live in for long periods of time.

Now hopefully I’ve nipped this bug for good.

Do you have story envy? How do you deal with it?



Lee Kelly is the author of CITY OF SAVAGES coming February 3, 2015, from Simon & Schuster.

Lee was born and raised in Philadelphia, went to Georgetown University and, with the exception of a couple years spent in glorious Santa Monica on the West Coast, has been buzzing around New York ever since. She’s currently working on AMERICAN SHINE, her next novel with S&S, a magical realism crossover that follows two up-and-coming bootlegging sorcerers through an alternate Prohibition-era America.

You can find Lee online: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr



Posted in Middle Grade, Writing, Young Adult Comment

Freshman Fifteens author Kim Savage  chatted with fellow Freshman Stacey Lee about her forthcoming debut, UNDER A PAINTED SKY (G.P Putnam Son’s/Penguin, March 17, 2015).


A young adult Western Thelma and Louise, in which a Chinese girl and a house slave disguise themselves as cowboys to run from the law, seek revenge for a murder, and find freedom in the California Gold Rush frontier.

“I cradle the Lady Tin-Yin to me, her warm wood as comforting as the touch of an old friend. Then I pick out Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Father loved any instrument he could strum—banjo of course, guitar, harp, even washboard if that was the only thing available. Lady Tin-Yin understands my sorrow like no one else, singing my pain through mournful triplets, filling my speck of the world with a poem of aching sound.”

UNDER A PAINTED SKY draws on your heritage as a fourth-generation Chinese-American. How much and what kind of research did you do to write your novel?

I spent a lot of time in the children’s section of the library for starters. There are a lot of great videos made for children (which I find entertaining) on the Oregon Trail and pioneer life. Eventually, I graduated to the big kids section, where I read a lot of pioneer diaries. I also spent a lot of time on the National Park Services website where they have a great map of the Oregon Trail, and even spoke to a National Parks Ranger who was an expert on pioneer life.

My favorite part of the novel is the way “big themes”–religion, gender, ethnicity, racism, sisterhood, just to name a few–are woven into a compelling plot so gracefully. It made me wonder where you started, and how the other themes worked their way in.

I knew I wanted to write a book with a Chinese American heroine back when the Chinese were starting to arrive in America in significant numbers. The other themes grew from there as I developed her story. As a Chinese girl in 1849, Samantha would’ve faced overt racism and gender inequality. Annamae the runaway slave was there at the beginning too, and it was a natural process to let the two characters develop each other.

The frontier you describe in UNDER A PAINTED SKY is stunning, and the reader is completely transported. Did you do any locational research?

Yes. I live in Northern California which is steeped in history about the Gold Rush and the western expansion. I took weekend trips up to places like Coloma where gold was discovered, old mining towns now ghost towns, and Carson’s Pass, where the pioneers forged a treacherous stretch of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Visiting those areas were truly a step back in time.

Sammy’s perspective is shaped by her father’s teachings, many of which are based in Chinese philosophy and lore. How do you think that helps or hinders her throughout the course of the novel?

We each come into our lives with our unique perspectives and Sammy is no different, really. She struggles to reconcile her Chinese beliefs with her Christian upbringing, and since she is constantly facing issues of life and death, those competing philosophies give her much trouble.

I can’t resist. In the vein of Ginger vs. Mary Ann: Cay or West?


You’re a four-time Pitchwars mentor, and a winner besides. What would you say to aspiring authors, especially teens, who are trying to hook an agent?

My father constantly told me when I was growing up, don’t get discouraged. I would always roll my eyeballs, but as I grew older, I see that was pretty good advice. Life will hand you disappointments, rejections and criticism. But don’t get discouraged. Let those things make you stronger.

uapsStacey Lee is the author of UNDER A PAINTED SKY coming March 17, 2015 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Stacey loves papayas, baubles, chocolate peanut butter anything, taking walks, nature shows, Spanish guitar, funky dancing. And if you ever wrote her a letter with pen and paper, she probably still has it.

You can find Stacey online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | FacebookPinterest

Posted in Debut Authors, Writing, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , Comment

Even before we Freshman Fifteens signed our book contracts and officially entered the KidLit writing world, we were floored by the generosity of this terrific community. We’ve each been helped beyond words by our agents, editors, fellow authors (published and not-yet-published), and each other. It’s made this crazy (and stressful!) journey a much more enjoyable ride. As a group, we wanted to work together on a project that would allow us to pay it forward and help the next generation of authors.

And so on June 26, we kicked off our COMMON ROOM short story teen mentoring contest. We were extremely lucky to find a terrific partner in this contest to mentor teen writers: the 25-million-plus online community of Wattpad.

Common Room CoverIn the contest, the winning teen writers experience the process of having a book published, from the “query” stage where they pitch us their short story idea, to getting their “deal” when a Freshman Fifteens author selects them as their mentee, to working with their author as they would a book editor, going through two rounds of revisions, through the copy edit stage, cover reveal, release date, and—finally!—book launch.

The finished collection of fictional short stories will be published as an anthology, titled COMMON ROOM, on Wattpad, debuting in January 2015. Winners will also receive signed books, swag, and more.

For the past month, our Freshman Fifteens have been reading the entries, and we’re astounded by the talent. The short story pitches submitted to us were so incredibly engaging and the writing so universally strong and vivid that it made choosing our final 15 an extremely difficult challenge. (Check out the entries here.)

Before we announce the winners, we want to congratulate each writer who submitted to us. It is a very brave thing to put your work forward for reading and critique. You should be proud of yourself for entering and, more than that, know how hard you—with your talent—made this decision for us. Please continue writing. Keep entering contests, keep honing your craft, and keep reading to learn and improve. That’s what we all did—and still do.

And now, here are the winners and their Freshman Fifteen mentors!

Rachel W., Wattpad username Chandelier, writer of SOULLESS, to be mentored by contest organizer Lori Goldstein

GracieWacie, Wattpad username Graciewacie73, writer of LOCKED OUT, to be co-mentored by contest organizer Lori Goldstein and Virginia Boecker

Anne Lutz, Wattpad user name AnneLutz, writer of VIOLET, to be mentored by contest coorganizer Jen Brooks

Make Me Swoon, Wattpad username MakeMeSwoon, writer of MIXED MESSAGES, to be mentored by contest co-organizer Jen Brooks

Arminius, Wattpad username Arminius, writer of POISONED PEAR, to be mentored by Chandler Baker

Antara, Wattpad username _coralsky_, writer of MARRIED TREE, to be mentored by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Julia, Wattpad username ceilingflower, writer of ATTACHMENT, to be mentored by Charlotte Huang

Aisha, Wattpad username, Metaphorphosis, writer of IMAGINE, to be mentored by Lee Kelly

Anne Brees, Wattpad username AnneBrees, writer of HONESTLY, to be mentored by Stacey Lee

Christina, Wattpad username wordshipwrecks, writer of DESTINATA, to be mentored by Kim Liggett

Ashley, Wattpad username AshJellison, writer of LEAVE THE LIGHT ON, to be mentored by Jenny Martin

Katie Spektor, Wattpad user name KatieSpektor, writer of VOICES IN MY HEAD, to be mentored by Kim Savage

Coralie, Wattpad username terryco, author of BABYSITTING GRANDMA, to be mentored by Jenn Marie Thorne

Britton, Wattpad user name CutieFlutie, writer of A THOUSAND STARS, to be mentored by Laura Tims

Shelly, Wattpad user name shellyzev, writer of LIBRARY OF OLD GHOST, to be mentored by Jasmine Warga


We will be working with our writers throughout Fall 2014 to revise their stories in anticipation of their January 2015 debut in the COMMON ROOM anthology.

Be sure to follow the Freshman Fifteens on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or right here on our blog to find out more about the winners in the coming months and to read their stories in the COMMON ROOM anthology!

Freshman Fifteens
Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/Freshman15s

Web site: www.freshmanfifteens.com
Twitter: @Freshman15s
Tumblr: http://freshmanfifteens.tumblr.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FreshmanFifteens



Posted in Contests and Giveaways | Tagged , Comment

Freshman 15er Lori Goldstein interviewed author Jen Malone about her MG debut, AT YOUR SERVICE, coming August 26, 2014 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX!


Writing Thesis: AT YOUR SERVICE

Abstract: In this love letter to NYC, tween Chloe longs to follow in her concierge father’s footsteps, and when she’s awarded the role of Junior Concierge (tending to the needs of guests’ children) at the fancy hotel where she lives, she’s well on her way. Right up until the point she loses a visiting royal. She’ll have to race through NYC’s tourist spots in search, but can she find the young princess before the incident becomes international news and dashes both her reputation and her dreams?

Department: Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX

Faculty Advisors: Annie Berger and Amy Cloud

Release Date: August 26, 2014

Hometown: Boston, MA

Minor(s): overusing the word “just”, overbooking Future Jen, and (over)pining for a hedgehog.

Most Likely To: fall while walking down (or up) stairs.

Friday Night Whereabouts:

_X_ Library (except why isn’t dueling piano bar an option?)

___ Party

___ Cafeteria

___ Missing in Action

# Books Queried Before AT YOUR SERVICE: #1

Quote from Thesis: “I’m sorry, but does she not have the slightest clue how special this city is? Does she think Frank Sinatra would “start spreading the news” about the worst place ever? Has she not seen all the t-shirts? They don’t say “I FROWNY-FACE NY”. No. They say “I HEART NY”. And anyone who doesn’t heart it themselves must not have a heart to begin with.

AT YOUR SERVICE is a mini love letter to NYC. Whats your connection to the city and what made you set the book there?

As a child, I completely adored every trip we made to NYC and every book I read set there. Still do. I think it really helped to “know” the city as a tourist and write from that perspective, because I can still describe the sights and sounds (and smells!) from a… let’s call it “less jaded”… perspective, which might not be the case if I’d lived in the city for years and years. That said, it was exceedingly helpful to have an editor and critique partner who DO live there and could steer me straight if I got something wrong!

If you were a concierge in a fancy hotel like Chloes dad, what would you be great at recommending and what would be out of your comfort zone?

While I’ve never been a hotel concierge, I have been both a youth hostel manager and a publicist for some major Hollywood celebrities and both came with their fair share of weird requests, trust me. After that, there’s not all that much that’s out of my comfort zone, sadly, but I probably would have to do some major consulting before I could recommend a hopping nightspot these days. :)

You recently sold not one, not two, but FOUR additional books: a two-book MG series, co-authored with Gail Nall, called RSVP (Aladdin, Spring 2015 and Winter 2016), and a two-book deal for your YA debut WANDERLOST (HarperTeen Summer 2016) and a second YA novel. First, congratulations, and second, youve been busy! How does it feel to have the next couple of years planned out, at least in your writing life?

Well, now I’m blushing (in between sending balloons and chocolate to my ninja agent). A few months before I got offers on those books, I remember wailing to that ninja agent about how everyone else in the 2014 debut group was already in copyedits on their second book and I hadn’t sold anything and what if I never, ever did again (of course, her answer was to stop it, stop it, STOP IT with the comparisons!) Be careful what you wish for, right? (Wait, did I just reference wishes to the girl with the jinn book?) It feels great, of course, but also a little strange because until now I’ve had the freedom to work on whichever project I wanted and now I find myself tucking away shiny ideas versus jumping straight into them. Not complaining though, of course!

If you could give one piece of advice to upcoming 2014 and 2015 debuts, what would it be?

I can’t claim this for my own, but someone recently posted in the 2014 message boards and I found her advice to be brilliant amidst all the topsy-turviness of a debut year. I’ll paraphrase: Once a week or so, take out your book (or ARC), slap it on the desk next to you, admire it for a moment, and say, “Hot damn, I wrote a book. Hell yeah, I did!” I also keep reminding myself (though not necessary, so far!) to savor all these first and try hard to never get jaded about any of it.

Do you have a favorite book from your younger years?  

I really, really loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I wanted to be Claudia sooo badly.

What is your advice to young writers who have dreams of being published?

While publishing isn’t for the faint of heart, if it’s your dream, it’s your dream, and you should honor that. However, being published is not the only finish line and plenty of people are writers without getting published. You’re a writer the minute you call yourself a writer, so give yourself that respect. However, my advice would also be: for every hour you spend writing, spend at least two reading. There is no better way to learn both the craft and the market!

Enter to win a signed copy of AT YOUR SERVICE, releasing August 26, 2014!

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Jen Malone At Your ServiceJen Malone is a middle grade and young adult author. Her debut AT YOUR SERVICE published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in August 2014 and her new series, RSVP (Simon & Schuster), co-written with Gail Nall, launches with Book #1 in 2015. Her YA debut WANDERLOST is forthcoming with HarperCollins in 2016.

Jen lives north of Boston with her husband and three children, teaches at Boston University, loves school visits, and has a “thing” for cute hedgehog pictures.

You can find Jen online: Website | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook

Posted in 2014 Debut Author Yearbook Profile, Contests and Giveaways, Debut Authors, Middle Grade | Tagged , , , , , Comment