Monday, October 5, 2015

Cover Love, Part I: VICARIOUS

Last month, the fabulous people over at YA Books Central revealed the cover for VICARIOUS, my August 2016 release. VICARIOUS is the first book in an action-thriller duology, and my first book with Tor Teen. This is a hard book to encapsulate in a single image so I was curious to see what the design team would come up with but I never in a million years expected to fall in love with their finished product the way that I did.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this cover. I want it on canvas wall-hangings and tote bags. I want it on a T-shirt and a wrap-around dress. I kind of want someone to come paint it on my wall :) Seriously. I love it so much that I got permission to share some behind the scenes snippets of how it came to be. (Thanks to Melissa, Seth, David, and Craig for that!)

Before the design team got started, my editor Melissa asked me if I had any ideas for the cover and I sent her a whole document full of published covers I gravitated toward. Some were futuristic and minimalist. Others were more Asian or manga-inspired. I loved the idea of having my main character, Winter, on the cover because she's Korean there aren't a ton of Asian cover models in YA. I also loved the idea of possibly incorporating in the St. Louis skyline. I grew up in St. Louis and was still living there when I wrote this book. Ferguson was in the news a lot when we began talking cover design in early 2015, and it hurt to see my hometown being negatively portrayed by so many people.

My editor emailed back with a suggestion: I keep thinking about the scene with Winter on the bridge from the beginning of the book. How do you feel about something like the Catwoman movie poster?

Source: IMDB publicity poster

My initial thoughts were: Oh crap, now I'm going to envision Winter in that awkward-looking headpiece. And then, Well, I do feel like the book has kind of an action-hero/comic book vibe to it, and that would be a good way to incorporate in both Winter and the city skyline...

So I was initially a bit nervous about this idea but I have always loved the cover art from Tor and I decided to just trust in my editor and the process and see what happened. "Catwoman movie poster! Yeah, let's do it!" I said.

I didn't even know we were using images from a photo shoot until I got thirty-five proofs in my inbox and a note asking if any of them stood out to me. Going through them was so fun :D I remember emailing Melissa back like: I LIKE ALL OF THEM!!

Eventually I picked out five or six, a couple profiles, a couple front view, a couple of the model standing. Melissa and I liked most of the same shots and she sent a variety of possibilities to the design team so they would have a lot of flexibility in creating the bridge and cityscape around the model.

Here's the photo that made the cover, along with a couple other ones we liked. It's amazing to me how this model can look different in every shot. Both she and the photographer are brilliant!

Photo: David Wager

Photo: David Wager

Photo: David Wager

And then one day I got this lovely composition in my inbox:

Artist: Craig White

Both Melissa and I were like: OMG! IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL. But we both also felt like it was a little serene for the story as written, and it was hard to tell Winter was on a bridge. Plus I'm one of those super-literal types, and based on where Winter is located with respect to the city and river, that would make this sunset, which isn't exactly how it goes down in the book.

So Melissa and I suggested things like making more of a bridge if possible, and making it darker or more snowy or roughing up the river a bit. Additionally, I mentioned that when Winter jumps from the bridge there are police cars surrounding the area so maybe instead of the setting sun the artist could incorporate in red and blue lighting. [Note: As you can probably tell by my sad little Blogger website, I know nothing, NOTHING about graphic design or creating cover images. Those were just my clueless layperson suggestions.]

So those suggestions resulted in a couple other comps:

Artist: Craig White
Artist: Craig White

There are things I love about both of these comps. I love the roughed up water in the first picture but didn't like the beam across the Arch. I loved the molding in the second picture but didn't like losing the river. Most importantly, by asking for darker and snowier images, we lost a lot of the beauty and balance of the first picture. Both my editor and I quickly realized we wanted to go back to the initial composition, and the only change that was made to it was to rough up the river.

So then all that was left was figuring out the font. I'm not going to lie--my brain could not conceptualize a title going smack across Winter's body. I was really expecting a vertical title on the far right. Once again, I was wrong. Here are a couple of fonts that were ultimately not used:

Artist: Craig White

Artist: Craig White

Artist: Craig White

Holy crap! What a difference a font makes, right? Obviously the first picture is one of the alternate cover images, but just look at how different the feel of these three fonts are. My favorite of these is number three, but it was sent to me for review along with the final cover font, which both my editor and I strongly preferred over the others.

The final font is not only gritty and futuristic, it's also designed in a way that makes it striking even as a thumbnail. The finished cover feels like a movie poster to me, which is perfect given the cinematic structure and prose of this book.

It's hard for me to choose what I like best about this image--the ideal model for my main character, the fonts, the tilted horizon, the dark and light sky, the snow, the sun as a metaphor for a bit of hope in a very dark story--all of it works so well to me. I am very grateful to everyone involved in the creation of this cover.

Next month I'll be blogging about the GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE cover, which is also amazing and a great fit for the story. In the meantime, what do you think of the VICARIOUS cover? What are some other covers that you think fit perfectly with their books?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Giveaway: GET DIRTY (or any Gretchen McNeil book!)

Hi guys! Man, last week was pretty brutal. It should have been some straightforward copy-edits for Vicarious [See pretty cover in sidebar! Click pretty cover for chance to win an ARC!] but somehow I got sucked into this writer vortex of complex revisions and re-verifying technical stuff and second-guessing everything and biting my nails down to the nubs. And then there were doctor appointments and vet appointments and I don't even know what. And all that stuff made me anxious, which made everything worse. So my apologies because this giveaway is going up late. But hey, it's still officially summer and I'm going to leave this contest going until the first day of fall.

I love Gretchen McNeil :-) I "met" her as part of the Apocalypsies group when I was writing as Fiona Paul. I met her in real life at BEA 2012 and she is every bit as cool as her books. What I like best about Gretchen's books is their compulsive readability--for me her stories are full of high-stakes tension and her prose is thoughtful and descriptive without slowing down the narrative or leading me into a dense metaphor jungle and leaving me there to die. (Have I mentioned I'm not much for flowery prose? ;D)

Next year Gretchen is going to be branching out into other genres, but she'll always be one of my favorite YA mystery writers. For this giveaway you can choose the featured book, GET DIRTY, or any of her other mystery books.

“If you’re a Pretty Little Liars fan, it’s safe to say you’ll love Get Even.” –

Here's the official GET DIRTY flap copy. [NOTE: It's a bit spoilery for GET EVEN.]

The members of Don’t Get Mad aren’t just mad anymore . . . they’re afraid. And with Margot in a coma and Bree stuck in juvie, it’s up to Olivia and Kitty to try to catch their deadly tormentor. But just as the girls are about to go on the offensive, Ed the Head reveals a shocking secret that turns all their theories upside down. The killer could be anyone, and this time he—or she—is out for more than just revenge.

The girls desperately try to discover the killer’s identity as their personal lives are falling apart: Donté is pulling away from Kitty and seems to be hiding a secret of his own, Bree is under house arrest, and Olivia’s mother is on an emotional downward spiral. The killer is closing in, the threats are becoming more personal, and when the police refuse to listen, the girls have no choice but to confront their anonymous friend . . . or die trying.

Here's more about Gretchen:

Gretchen McNeil is the author of the standalone YA
horror novels POSSESS, TEN (2013 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, a Romantic Times Top Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth, a finalist for Washington state’s 2015 Evergreen Young Adult Book Award and Vermont’s 2014-2015 Green Mountain Book Award, and was nominated for “Best Young Adult Contemporary Novel of 2012″ by Romantic Times) and 3:59, as well as GET EVEN and GET DIRTY, part of her mystery/suspense series Don't Get Mad, all with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. In 2016, Gretchen will publish two novels: RELIC, a YA horror novel, with HarperCollins/EpicReads Impulse on March 8, 2016, and in the fall, I’M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL, her first YA contemporary, with Balzer + Bray. Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me anthology from Zest Books.

Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4's Code Monkeys and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Here's Gretchen sharing more info about GET DIRTY:

1. Describe your book in ten words or less. 
"The Breakfast Club with a body count."

2. What is/are your favorite thing/s about the story? 
I love the idea of four very different girls who support each other instead of tearing each other down, and who come together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. (That sounds so cheesy...)

3. What was the most difficult part of the writing or publication process? 
 GET DIRTY was my fifth book but my first ever sequel and I found the process of writing it incredibly difficult! Apparently, I'm a stand alone novel writer at heart.

4. If this book became a movie, what song would play during the credits? 
Going along with my answer to #1, "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds

(I'll just leave this here in case anyone doesn't already have 
that song stuck in their heads. You're welcome.)

5. Free play: ask and answer any question you wish people would ask you but they never do. 
 I actually rarely get asked who my favorite character is! Favorite book, yes. Favorite character, no. And that's an easy one to answer because, hands down, it is Ed the Head from this series. He is...amazing.

Ed the Head is definitely...memorable ;-) And now for the GIVEAWAY!

Thanks for participating in my #SizzlingSummerMysteries incentive. Have a great autumn (or spring!)

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Hi guys! This week's #SizzlingSummerMysteries giveaway is an island mystery! *cue hula dancers* *bonus points if Thad is one of them* The winner of the Rafflecopter below can choose from NIL (highly recommended if you haven't read it) or NIL UNLOCKED.

Truth time. I have not read NIL Unlocked yet and normally I do not pimp books I haven't read. But, I've read NIL and loved Thad it, and all accounts say this book is even better. A 4.29 rating on Goodreads? You'd have to add the ratings for all my books together to get that, and we all know how awesome they are ;) Plus it's Lynne Matson who is pretty much the most epic person ever. So I feel completely comfortable pushing this book in your face like MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. WILD ANIMALS. ROMANCE. DEATH. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT, PEOPLE? And maybe whoever wins it can buddy read it with me, because it's sitting across the room in a box with all the other Southeast Summer Book Bash books that I bought in June. We will just not talk about the box of unread books I bought in March. Or December. #IHaveAProblem.

Instead, let's talk more about NIL UNLOCKED!

Here's the official flap copy:

"This is a fast-paced, tension-filled story with engaging characters and a strong romantic plot." -VOYA

On the island of Nil, the rules are set. You have exactly 365 days to escape—or you die. Rives is now the undisputed Leader of Nil City, but keeping the City united is tougher than ever.

Raiders have grown bolder, supplies are dwindling, and non-human inhabitants have taken a turn toward the deadly. New arrivals cause rifts within the City, putting the Search system at risk, and calling everything Rives knows into question. Desperate for answers, he teams up with the only other person searching for them: Skye, a new arrival with a mysterious past of her own. Soon the duo find themselves locked in a desperate race to save all the residents of Nil—and possibly destroy the island forever. But at what cost? And who will pay the price?

Here's more about Lynne:

I love books--both reading and writing them. When I'm not reading or writing, you can find me hanging out with my husband and four sons. At any given time, at least one of the 6 of us is up to no good.:)

My books: NIL and NIL UNLOCKED are out now; NIL ON FIRE ends the trilogy in May of 2016. Join the #NILtribe...we have cool snacks :)

Paula: IDK...I went to one NIL Night and the snacks were kinda healthy ;)

Lynne was too busy battling angry pandas writing NIL ON FIRE to answer my questions, so instead I will bring you: FIVE THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT NIL/LYNNE MATSON

1. One of the early titles for NIL was DAYWATCH, but for some people that conjured up uncomfortable images of David Hasselhoff in swim trunks.

2. Lynne Matson is one of the nicest people EVER. If you read NIL and were wondering if anyone could possibly be as nice as Charley, yes they can. Lynne is just as lovely and kind as her MC. [NOTE: This does not mean that Charley = Lynne now or Charley = Lynne in high school. Authors are not their characters and it makes us a little crazy when you assume we have all the same thoughts and feelings as our fictional creations.]

3. Lynne is also a total speed demon with a major lead-foot. Do not get into a cross-country race with her, because she will beat you easily (unless she runs out of gas--apparently she hates to stop for it.)

4. Lynne has a possessed cell phone that auto-corrects randomly and has bestowed nicknames upon half of the YA Valentines. Lynne is Princess Zloty. I am Panda. Kristen Lippert-Martin is K-Snap. 

5. Lynne is a huge supporter of YA literature. I've done a fair number of events and I've never seen anyone buy more books than Lynne. She buys they for herself, for her family, for giveaways, for Christmas presents. If you ever go into a bookstore and the YA shelves are mostly bare, that's probably because Lynne Matson was in the neighborhood. LOVE YOU LYNNE!

I borrowed this picture of Lindsay Cummings, me, and Lynne
from Lynne's blog. Yay Southeast Summer Book Bash 2015!

And now, let the winning begin. I changed up the blog comment question to match this week's island theme :D

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I've got one more of my favorite #SizzlingSummerMysteries to give away. See you next week!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Giveaway: IMPOSTER

It's time for another #SizzlingSummerMysteries giveaway! This week I'm proud to feature one of my very first published author pals, Antony John, and his Hollywood mystery, Imposter. Antony is kind of a mysterious guy so you won't find him hanging out online much. (Rumor has it he's actually the ninth doctor, but I don't watch Doctor Who so I don't know if that's something that could be keeping him busy ;D)

So there have been a scad of YA books set on Hollywood sets lately, but all the ones I can think of have been romantic contemporaries. This is a great Veronica Mars type mystery featuring a guy's guy (you know how I like those) as the main character. I was lucky enough to read early and later drafts of Imposter, and I'm pleased to say it is a clever mystery that will keep you guessing, with romantic and family subplots that add to the story without overshadowing the narrative. And the prose here is absolutely stunning. I think I must have marked a passage on almost every page that I wanted to scrawl down in a notebook because it was so carefully crafted and insightful.

Here's the official flap copy:

Perfect for fans of Veronica Mars, this Hollywood thriller explores the blurred lines between Hollywood glamour and reality. 

Seth Crane has hit rock bottom. His mom recently died, his dad had a stroke and is out of work, and he just lost out on a commercial role. So when a producer shows up at his community theater production and offers him the lead role in an Indie film with major Hollywood buzz, it seems like the answer to all Seth’s problems.

Seth gets swept up in the Hollywood glamour right away, staying in a fancy hotel, going to the best parties, doing press conferences, and falling for the beautiful starlet Sabrina Layton and then his costar Annaleigh. But things suddenly start popping up in the tabloids—things Sabrina and Annaleigh told him in confidence and that no one else could know—and the line between the film and reality starts to blur. Nothing in Hollywood is what it seems, and Seth has to decide just how far he’s willing to go for fame, money, and to protect the people he loves.

Here's more about Antony:

Antony John was born in England and raised on a balanced diet of fish and chips, obscure British comedies, and ABBA's Greatest Hits. In a fit of teenage rebellion, he decided to pursue a career in classical music, culminating in a BA from Oxford University and a PhD from Duke University. Along the way, he worked as an ice cream seller on a freezing English beach, a tour guide in the Netherlands, a chauffeur in Switzerland, a barista in Seattle, and a university professor. Writing by night, he spends his days as a stay-at-home dad—the only job that allows him to wear his favorite pair of sweatpants all the time. He lives in St. Louis with his family.

Here's Antony sharing some insights about his seventh novel:

1. Describe your book in ten words or less.

For a young actor in Hollywood, reality and fiction blur.

2. What is/are your favorite thing/s about the story?

I’m a total sucker for twisty thrillers (which is why I loved LIARS, INC.), and IMPOSTER has twists galore. I also love taking tropes — and when it comes to books and movies about Hollywood, there are so many to choose from — and subverting them. Basically, I like keeping readers perpetually unsure and unsettled, because I’m a terrible, evil person :) [Paula: It's true, he is. And the worst part is that he's evil in a British accent, so he kind of tricks you into thinking he's this charming fella!]

3. What was the most difficult part of the writing or publication process?

Halfway through the editing process, I switched to a new editor who had a different vision for the book. This required a lot of rewriting. On the bright side, this turned out to be the greatest part of the writing experience too, as her ideas were awesome. Now it’s impossible for me to imagine the book any other way.

4. If this book became a movie, what song would play during the credits?

Hmm, tricky one. If we were trying to play up the twisty thriller / noir vibe of the book, we could go classic with “Windmills of Your Mind” (preferably the moody Dusty Springfield version). Alternatively, we could focus on the blurring of fiction and reality in Hollywood, in which case I’d vote for “City of Delusion” by Muse.

5. Is this book your attempt to vicariously experience life as a Hollywood actor?

Uh, yeah. I came really close to stardom in my elementary school’s nativity play, but it’s tough to make that transition from child actor to Hollywood icon. Now that I’ve written all about it, I’m kind of glad I didn’t get to experience it in real life. Writing books seems much less stressful . . . and safer too!

I totally played a goose in my middle school's presentation of Charlotte's Web, so I'm right there with him. I almost got to be Charlotte but the girl who beat me out actually looked like a spider. But wait. There's something more stressful than writing books? *brain explodes*

Allons-y! Get click-a-lickin on the Rafflecopter so you can win this book. Antony has a signed ARC to give away if the winner has a US address, and because I don't want my foreign friends to miss out, we'll hook the winner up Book Depository style if you're outside the US. Apologies to those of you who live outside of the TBD shipping area. If we had lots of $$ we'd hook you up, I swear. <3

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Because Antony was kind enough to mention LIARS, INC., I'll leave this here for one more week :D  --> ICYMI: Check out an interview with Parvati from Liars, Inc. and enter to win a copy of my latest mystery over on In Love With Handmade. See you next week for another giveaway! :D

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Hi guys! This week's #SizzlingSummerMysteries giveaway is an espionage mystery! They Call Me Alexandra Gastone  is (to quote ALA Booklist)  "an intricate debut spy thriller." It was written by T.A. Maclagan, a lovely author I met on Twitter, and a girl whose last name I spell wrong about 75% of the time.

I love spy-girl books, but I'll admit I generally don't hold them to very high standards. I mean, come on, a teen girl juggling high school with working for a government agency--a girl who is usually skilled at disguises, languages, weapons, martial arts and yet can't manage to handle her love life? Yeah, to me a lot of YA spy thrillers are fun, but implausible. So imagine my surprise when this book turned out to be incredibly realistic from the very beginning. This is an intelligent, well-researched espionage book. The main character, Lex, is balanced and believable throughout the entire story. I felt like I was reading a YA written by Tom Clancy. It is the first book of a duology and does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, but not without resolving the major storyline. if you like spy thrillers, I highly recommend TCMAG.

Here's the official flap copy:

When your life is a lie, how do you know what’s real?

Alexandra Gastone has a simple plan: graduate high school, get into Princeton, work for the CIA, and serve her great nation.

She was told the plan back when her name was Milena Rokva, back before the real Alexandra and her family were killed in a car crash.

Milena was trained to be a sleeper agent by Perun, a clandestine organization from her true homeland of Olissa. There, Milena learned everything she needed to infiltrate the life of CIA analyst Albert Gastone, Alexandra’s grandfather, and the ranks of America’s top intelligence agency.

For seven years, “Alexandra” has been on standby and life’s been good. Grandpa Albert loves her, and her strategically chosen boyfriend, Grant, is amazing.
But things are about to change. Perun no longer needs her at the CIA in five years’ time. They need her active now.

Between her cover as a high school girl—juggling a homecoming dance, history reports, and an increasingly suspicious boyfriend—and her mission in this high-stakes spy game, the boundaries of her two lives are beginning to blur.

Will she stay true to the country she barely remembers, or has her loyalty shattered along with her identity?

Here's more about Tiff:

T.A. Maclagan is a Kansas girl by birth but now lives in the bush-clad hills of Wellington, New Zealand with her Kiwi husband, son and four pampered cats. With a bachelor’s degree in biology and a Ph.D. in anthropology, she’s studied poison dart frogs in the rainforests of Costa Rica, howler monkeys in Panama and the very exotic and always elusive American farmer. It was as she was writing her ‘just the facts’ dissertation that T.A. felt the call to pursue something more imaginative and discovered a passion for creative writing.They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is her first novel.

Here's Tiff telling us more about her debut novel:

1. Describe your book in ten words or less.

Espionage thriller. Twists and turns. Kick-butt heroine with depth.

2. What is/are your favorite thing/s about the story?

As a big fan of strong female characters like Buffy and Veronica Mars, I love that Lex is that type of female lead. She’s both physically strong and mentally resourceful while also being realistically vulnerable. She’s not a ‘can do no wrong’ badass. She can and does get hurt but she’s strong enough to make it to the other side of everything life keeps throwing at her.

3. What was the most difficult part of the writing or publication process?

Nailing the lead character of Lex was the hardest part. As a spy for the ‘other’ side, I had to walk a fine line in order to make her likeable as well as believable. In my early drafts she was coming across as distant and afraid to engage in her relationships, which made it hard for the reader to connect with her. With the help of my agent, we eventually found what I hope is the perfect balance.

4. If this book becomes a movie, what song would play during the credits?

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. It has an espionage feel to it and is all about a life coming apart at the seams.

5. Who are the authors/writers who have made you want to get in the writing game?

I’m a huge fan of Steve Hamilton, the author behind The Lock Artist. His characters have killer voices and he’s a masterful plotter. Joss Whedon and Rob Thomas—the minds behind Buffy and Veronica Mars—have also been big influences. I love their whip-smart dialogue and the way they develop their characters. I think shows like Buffy and Veronica Mars are very empowering to women, which I love.

Paula: OMG. Anyone who likes Buffy and Veronica, will probably also like Liv Moore from iZombie. I also feel compelled to point out that U.S. peeps can watch some iZombie and the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Hulu right now. Okay, enough jibber-jabbering by me. Get your Rafflecopter on already ;)

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BONUS GIVEAWAY--ICYMI: Check out an interview with Parvati from Liars, Inc. and enter to win a copy of my latest mystery over on In Love With Handmade.