Monday, December 1, 2014

Kids + Books = Win!

I went to elementary school, middle school, and high school in Hazelwood, Missouri. In fact, "Hazelton" where THE ART OF LAINEY is set, is actually a fictionalized meld of Hazelwood and nearby Bridgeton. Just down the road is Ferguson, another suburb of St. Louis that's gotten a lot media attention lately. I played against the Ferguson high schools in soccer and tennis and had plenty of friends who lived there. The reality is not exactly what you're seeing in the news.

It's been hard for me to see a place so close to where I grew up repeatedly misrepresented and victimized, so I recently got in contact with prominent St. Louis indie, Left Bank Books, to see if there was anything bookish I could do for the community when I go back to St. Louis later this month. The YA coordinator told me they were doing an Angel Tree Book Drive for Airport Elementary, one of the Ferguson-Florissant schools.



For many of these kids, books are a luxury their families can't afford. Please consider donating a book to one of the students this holiday season. Each of the school's teachers has selected a story he or she feels would benefit the classroom and there are some amazing titles on the list--entertaining and meaningful stories that might turn a kid onto reading at a really young age. Left Bank has set up their book drive page so that all you have to do is select a classroom and add that book to your shopping cart. Once you check out, the book will automatically be pulled from stock and added to the fundraiser. Click here to go the the Left Bank Books Angel Tree Book Drive donation page.




If you'd like to help out but can't purchase a book, the Left Bank Books Foundation accepts donations of any amount and works to spread and celebrate the love of books all around the St. Louis area. Tweets and posts about the book drive are also greatly appreciated :)

 Thanks for spreading the bookish love this holiday season <3


Monday, November 17, 2014

Eight great websites for writers

First of all, mad props to anyone who is cranking out 50,000 words this month. I don't ever officially do NaNoWriMo (which I inexplicably pronounced na-no-wree-mo for several years #fail) because I'm more productive if I revise every few chapters. I've definitely churned out 50,000 words in a month before, and although doing so makes me feel like an all-powerful writer goddess, the idea of 50,000 crappy hastily written words to revise makes me want to crawl in a hole and die. So if NaNo is not for you, rest-assured you're in good company...assuming you consider me good company :D

But in the spirit of NaNo (and to give you an excuse to slack off rest your weary fingers), I thought I would share with you some of my favorite writing-related websites. There are a bajillion great blogs and pages for writers, but the following are the ones I frequent heavily for kitten videos advice on craft, motivation, business stuff, and industry news.


1. terribleminds
If you're not comfortable with swear words or occasional frequent gross/graphic metaphors, you should probably stay away from Chuck Wendig's blog. Everyone else should drop by on the regs for hilarious, insightful, and motivational writing advice. Like this, from his NaNo tips post:

Give less of a shit. Relax. Ease off the stress stick, cowpoke. You’re not Superman saving a busload of precious orphans. You’re writing a novel. You can still give a shit — but set aside the baggage and expectations. You’re not Humanity’s Last Chance.

Word. Not only does Chuck provide encouragement in a way that will make you laugh at yourself and then go back to your manuscript energized and hopeful, he also provides such material at an alarming almost-every-day frequency. You scare me a little, Chuck, but I liked to be scared.


If you're a writer and you only read one blog post a week, I recommend reading YA Highway's Field Trip Friday. Each Friday, YAH staff (usually the phenomenal Kate Hart) rounds up all of the crucial publishing news, broken down into categories like "Big news", "Writing", "Reading", "Publishing", and "Other stuff." Let's say you spent all week on a deserted island or in a revision cave or even in a freaking coma. FTF will catch you up completely. YA Highway is helmed by an impressive crew of YA writers and also features other great craft and industry-related posts throughout the week.


I might be biased since Jennifer Laughran is my fabulous agent-tiger, but her helpful blog makes my list for a couple of reasons. She has a wide knowledge of publishing from multiple angles--she's an agent with an impressive sales record (she sold 4 books this year just for me) and she's also a part-time bookseller. But more importantly, Jenn addresses what she sees are gaps in people's knowledge and she gives it to you straight, often sharing the insider info she's gleaned from years of publishing experience. You might not always like what she's got to say, but you don't have to wonder if she's spinning a nicer version of the truth or just telling you what you want to hear. Jenn = real.


Agent Jenn's former colleague Mary Kole left agenting to be an author and freelance manuscript consultant. Whereas Jennifer generally focuses on the publishing industry, Mary focuses more on writing craft. She's written a fabulous book about writing irresistible kidlit, and her blog is a collection of tips and helpful pointers for writers at all stages of their careers.


Before Hilary sold WILD AWAKE, she worked as an editorial intern in NYC. Currently she posts more about her own writing journey, but see those 200 or so archived posts over in the right sidebar? Those are all gold for aspiring authors who want tips for writing and querying or just a bit of inside information on how editors think and do business. I still re-read some of Hilary's craft-related posts like "How Books Work: The Hunger Games" and "The Electric Kool-Aid Conflict Test" when I'm struggling with a revision.


I am only going to say this once--EVERYTHING you need to write a solid query can be found on this website. In fact, IMO this is a lot more info than you need. But if you read agent Janet Reid's guidelines and deal-breakers and then read 100 or so queries and her feedback, you will be able to write a decent query. Please keep in mind that the quality of your first 5-10 pages of your manuscript matters more than crafting the world's most perfect query letter. I do query critiques for Manuscript Critique Services and I routinely run across people who think that what is essentially a cover letter for your manuscript matters more than your actual story. No, just no.


I honestly just stumbled across Writer Unboxed the other day and what a delightful and informational rabbit hole it is. Sometimes I feel guilty when I get sidetracked while working and sometimes my inability to focus feels like serendipity. Finding WU was one of those latter times. WU includes posts on industry, craft, and inspiration by everyone from pre-published writers to bestsellers.


Pub crawl, despite being alcohol-free, is one of my favorite writerly sites because its contributors are a mix of writers, editors, agents, and sales/marketing people. As you might imagine, people in different corners of the publishing industry have different knowledge and see things a little differently. With Pub Crawl you get the best of all the worlds!


Had enough? If not, here are few more epic writing websites:



What are your go-to places for writing information and motivation? Share them in the comments :)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Contemporary Scavenger Hunt: Interview and Giveaway with Rachael Allen



Paula: Hi everybody. This post is part of the 2014 Contemporary Scavenger Hunt sponsored by Katie's Book Blog and The Book Belles. As far as I know, there's no math required for this hunt :) It's all about fun interviews and winning stuff!

Before we start, I just wanted to say that I hope everyone is feeling safe, and maybe a little happier than they were last week. I miss all your smiles on twitter. Okay, I got the super-fun job of interviewing my publisher-sister Rachael Allen, author of 17 FIRST KISSES. Here's a little more about her book:


Sometimes a girl has to kiss a lot of frogs…
No matter how many boys Claire kisses, she can’t seem to find a decent boyfriend. Someone who wouldn’t rather date her gorgeous best friend, Megan. Someone who won’t freak out when he learns about the tragedy her family still hasn’t recovered from. Someone whose kisses can carry her away from her backwoods town for one fleeting moment.

Until Claire meets Luke.

Luke’s adorable and he’s lived all over the world. But Megan is falling for Luke, too, and if there’s one thing Claire knows for sure, it’s that Megan’s pretty much irresistible.

With true love and best friendship on the line, Claire suddenly has everything to lose. And what she learns—about her crush, her friends, and most of all herself—makes the choices even harder.

In her moving debut, Rachael Allen brilliantly captures the complexities of friendship, the struggles of self-discovery, and the difficulties of trying to find love in high school. Fans of Sarah Ockler, Susane Colasanti, and Stephanie Perkins will fall head over heels for this addictive, heartfelt, and often hilarious modern love story.



Paula: Aaaaaaand, now for the interview!

1. I am sure fifty million people have asked you "So what's the book about?" and then there's also that helpful flap copy available everywhere online. So I'm not going to ask you that, exactly, but let's say you're at an event and you are asked by an evil moderator to describe your book in a single tweet. What do you say?


Kissing & complicated friendships & kissing & making mistakes & a family dealing with loss & breaking out of your small town & KISSING.

*cough* You may be sensing a theme. *cough*


2. Now that same evil moderator (we'll find her later and take turns giving her swirlies) makes you describe yourself in a tweet. Who are you, Rachael Allen?


I'm a YA writer, a mad scientist, a rabid Falcons fan, a wannabe explorer & a hugger. I love my two kiddos, my husband, my dogs & reading.

Whew. That one was REALLY hard.



3. I love your cover and I'm sure that you do too, but what if the whole Harper art department had gone on strike and you were solely responsible for designing it? You can hire someone to actually help you make it, but you have to decide what it looks like. So...what does it look like?

Thank you! I love it too! And the cover model looks like my little sister (unexpected bonus!).

A secret: I suck at that stuff. Thank GOODNESS I'm not solely responsible for designing my covers. I'd probably give the designer some examples of covers in my genre that I really love: 20 BOY SUMMER, KISSING KATE, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. I'd tell them I’d love for the rural feel to come across in the cover, and I'd love some pretty font, and also if it could not be a kissing cover, that would be great, kthanks. <--- Can you believe Harper came up with my cover without me telling them any of that?! *realigns aluminum foil hat mind reading blocking device*

Another secret: I’ve gotten a sneak peek at the cover for my second book, and I love that one even more! It’s about four girls banding together to beat the football team at their yearly scavenger hunt, so I’m pretty psyched to be part of a YA scavenger hunt today.



4. I also bet you've been asked plenty about kissing, so I'm going to ask about that too. Why? Because kissing is awesome...except when it's not. Tell me about your WORST kissing experience.

My boyfriend and I had just broken up. I was at a party. And there was this guy.
He had the most gorgeous, powerful brown eyes. Electric eyes. They reeled me over. We talked for a while, and then the rushing sensation in my stomach told me we were going to kiss. My first kiss in three years that wasn’t with my boyfriend. My lips went warm with anticipation.
And then, he kissed me.

I waited for fireworks, but instead felt ... his tongue. And it was huge. No, seriously, it was mammoth. It took up almost my entire mouth, until it was practically gagging me.

And I’m thinking, Who has a tongue this big? It's like a cow tongue. And how could some one have a tongue this big without being told, 'Hey, you kind of have a ginormous tongue. How about you only use the first 1/16th of it when you kiss a person.' 

Well, are you going to tell him?

Oh, that's how. 

I pulled away and tried to wipe my mouth on my sleeve without being too obvious. His monster tongue had taken up all the room in my mouth, leaving no room for my saliva. Or his. He moved to kiss me again, and I instinctively jerked my head away, but even as I did, couldn't help gazing into his chocolate eyes. They were the kind of eyes a girl could get lost in, the kind that could almost make you forget a pulsating cow tongue. Almost.

It is really too bad when you kiss me I get a mental image of an alien trying to implant its spawn in the back of my throat, I thought.

And then I tore myself away from his beautiful eyes with a heavy heart and a wet face.


[Paula: *is kind of sorry she asked, but not really*]

5. Do you have drawer novels? Either finished or mostly finished manuscripts that didn't sell and will probably never see the light of day? If so, tell me about one of them and why you think it didn't work out. If you don't have drawer novels, hold for my steely glare. Just kidding, glaring makes wrinkles :)



Okay, I almost spit orange juice on my computer screen over the wrinkles thing. I have three manuscripts that I wrote before 17FK that I think of as my learning curve. I would never, ever show them to my agent or editor or really any human ever. (I never even queried them – 17FK was the first thing I sent out into the world because I self-rejected the other three.)

One of them was called Swimming in Fountains, [Paula: Wait. I am not the only person who swims in fountains?] and it was a New Adult book set in a sorority. Why it didn’t work: It was New Adult before New Adult was cool, and also it didn’t have a plot (apparently you need those). I don’t think I’ll ever try to rework any of those drawer books, but I might steal a scene or character here and there.



6. Name one book you keep on your bookshelf at home because the writing is your idea of YA perfection.


DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor


7. Name one book you are eagerly looking forward to reading.

I can't name just one, so here's a few that just came out/are about to come out that I'm dying to read:

THE FALL by Bethany Griffin
SWEET UNREST by Lisa Maxwell
BEWARE THE WILD by Natalie C Parker


8. And finally, from the choose-your-own-self-pimping category, what's one question you wish people would ask you more in interviews, and what's the answer to that question?

I wish people would ask me how alike Claire and I are because I think sometimes people assume books are autobiographical, and they so aren’t! So…what do Claire and I have in common?

-      Soccer (I played one year and totally sat the bench – not my sport.)
-      Science (We both love it. I always want to make my MC’s like science because I want to send a message that science isn’t just for boys.)
-      I was a tomboy growing up too.
-      I grew up in a small town and wanted to do big things someday.

And that may seem like a lot of things, but I could do the same thing with Megan (who most people would say, isn’t at all like Claire):

-      Cheerleading (I can, in fact, do a herkie.)
-      I’m also super competitive and a perfectionist.
-      Cupcakes (She loves baking them, and I love eating them.)
-      Again with the growing up in a small town and wanting to do big things some day.

So, yeah. Just because you read something in a book, don’t assume the author has kissed all five members of a band or ordered crabs online or used a tampon to stop a crush’s nosebleed. I have, however, eaten one of the Marie Antoinette cupcakes mentioned in the book, and they are every bit as good as you are imagining right now. 

Rachael Allen lives in Atlanta, GA where she's working furiously on her PhD in neuroscience. When she's not doing science or writing YA, you can find her chasing after her toddler and her two sled dogs. Her debut YA novel 17 FIRST KISSES, is forthcoming from Harper Teen. Rachael may or may not have had 17 first kisses...luckily she doesn't kiss and tell.

Find Rachael online:
Twitter: @rachael_allen
Blog: http://rachaelallenwrites.blogspot.com
Tumblr: http://rachaelallenwrites.tumblr.com


Aaaaaand now for the giveaway! Rachael is kindly providing a free copy of 17 First Kisses, plus swag--US only. All you have to do is answer the Rafflecopter question in the comments--Tell us your favorite fictional scene involving kisses, cupcakes, or both!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 20, 2014

How to engage your critics (if you must) in a safe and productive way

Here's a thing about me--I hate hurting people's feelings. I hate it even worse than having my own feelings hurt. This isn't because I'm a super speshul snowflake or anything. It's just how I'm wired--overactive conscience, conflict-avoidant, poor ability to deal with guilt. Because of all that, I'll admit it--I struggle to understand people who write mean-spirited book reviews. What I don't struggle to understand, is that they have the right to do so.

If you have a twitter account, you've seen at least fifty tweets from authors and bloggers in the past couple of days saying that the correct response to a negative review is to just keep rolling, brush it off, write more books. They're right, and this is what I do most of the time. However, I have responded to critics on multiple occasions--four that I can remember--and all of those interactions produced positive outcomes where both parties walked away with a greater respect and understanding for each other. So a friend asked me to blog about how I do it, and I thought I'd give a few tips. NOTE: I still believe the best response is usually to shut the review window and write more books, so please do not take this blog post as a recommendation to engage your critics.

Also, I am paraphrasing review quotes and actual correspondence with reviewers out of respect for privacy, but the people I'm talking about are more than free to elaborate in the comments section and share their links.

Tip #1: Utilize a cooling off period.
I recommend at least three days. You might need longer. You need to wait long enough that you've stopped physically shaking. You need to be able to fall asleep at night without obsessing for hours. A writer-friend once pointed out a blog post about book packagers and work-for-hire writing. This blogger had only just discovered the concept and to her it was kind of suspect. "Why would anyone want to develop someone else's ideas?" she wondered. "Don't these writers have their own ideas?" [paraphrased] This article went on to mention my work-for-hire pseudonym by name, like "How does Fiona Paul feel about [this] or [that?]" My immediate response was rage, because all I could see was someone calling me out in a blog post without bothering to try to contact me, and then presuming that I was a lesser writer because I opted to write for a book development company. After I calmed down a little (okay, a lot) I realized the article wasn't accusing me of anything--it was asking questions. I didn't like what it was asking, but they were legitimate questions from someone who wanted to know. And if she wanted to know then other people wanted to know. And people think all kinds of bad things about book packaging, but a lot of them aren't true. So with the blessings of Paper Lantern Lit, I contacted her and offered an interview. I ended up writing a three-part series about WFH in general and my experiences in particular. And even though my books are probably never going to make this blogger's favorites list, she has made my favorites list as an unflinchingly honest voice in a sometimes all-too-fake world. I like to think she feels similarly about me.

Tip #2: Recognize it's not all about you.
Even if a review calls you racist, sexist, homophobic, intolerant, unintelligent, etc., it's not a review of you because this person does not know you. They are often incorrectly attributing your character's words and actions to you. Even if your villain says something reprehensible and ten characters call him/her out on it, some people will still take offense to particular words or actions, and that's their prerogative. I tend to agree with what Stephen King says in On Writing, [paraphrased] that my characters do and say offensive things because that's who they are and I'm merely transcribing their words and thoughts. But many reviewers have "hot button issues" so if you included violence against women, violence against animals, two much swearing, a love triangle, etc., they are going to hate your book on principle. I am not saying you are "right" or that reviewers who hate your book are "wrong." There is no right and wrong. You can write about anything you want, but unless you write about a glass of water sitting on a table, chances are your work is going to offend some people.

Tip #3: Recognize it might not even be about your book.
It might be 100% about your particular writing and story. Or it might be about the ten love triangle books someone read before yours, and yours just happened to be the one that made them snap. It might be because they're sick or currently suffering and your character is being a whiny baby about problems that pale in comparison. It might be because your main character reminds them of a girl who tormented them in high school. It could be a whole lot of things that they may or may not even realize. We don't read books in vacuums.

Tip #4: Figure out why you want to contact them.
Wrong answers:
--To yell at them.
--To tell them they hurt your sensitive feelings.
--To tell them they have gotten a fact, or plot point, or theme wrong.
--To explain to them how they missed your point and clarify the awesomeness that is your book.

Possible right answers:
--To thank them for spending time reading and reviewing your book, IF you mean it.
--To clarify a point, IF they asked for clarification in their review.
--To apologize if they pointed out something that personally offended them, and after careful consideration you agree with them and wish you hadn't written it. I would tread carefully here though, because as I mentioned, it's really hard to write an authentic book without anything that could be construed as offensive. Books are usually about people. People say and think and do offensive things sometimes. Such is life.

Tip #5: Recognize and strive to reduce the perceived power differential.
This one is hard for me because I feel like I'm about as intimidating as Mary Poppins. I'm just one single chick holed up in a tiny apartment cranking out stories on a kitchen table that is actually patio furniture. But bloggers don't intuitively know who's a well-connected, high-powered NYC writer and who's not. Bloggers might not even know that some writers are paid $250 for their first book and others are paid $250,000, even though when you set the books side-by-side you can't necessarily tell the difference. But even though I'm not a super-successful Manhattan hotshot, I'm still an author with books on shelves and access to publicists/industry insiders. And that means seeing a Goodreads response or email from me in an inbox after a negative review could cause some anxiety. [NOTE: Never engage publicly on twitter or in a comment thread--that will always feel aggressive.] I personally strive to treat reviewers as equals. I'm not a better person because I'm an author. I'm not necessarily even a better writer. And in many cases, I'm less informed about the publishing industry. I'm not embarrassed to admit that and I'm grateful to bloggers and reviewers for what they've taught me.

Tip #6: Make sure both parties can potentially benefit from contact.
You don't know until you do it, but if your desire to reach out is all about you needing closure or answers, stop right there. Reviewers aren't spouses or bosses or family members. They don't owe you an explanation for anything. I reached out to a girl who wrote a somewhat scathing review of VENOM, my first work-for-hire book. Among other things, she detailed a lot of anachronisms, specifically with the dialogue and voice. Now some of this was what I was asked to do to make the book accessible (use contractions, etc.) but some of it was just fail on my part. Even though the book had several editors and a Renaissance expert, this reviewer brought up a lot of very solid points we all missed. My thought process went something like "Waaaaah. Poor me... Holy crap this girl is smart...I wonder if she'd be interested in reading the third book before it goes to the printer..." She was. I couldn't afford to pay her, but I sent her the very first ARC, thanked her for being a "delta-reader", and offered to write her a research reference if she ever needed. It turned out to be a win-win-win. A blogger felt heard and respected by an author. A book became better. And this girl is now my friend, supporter, and publishing colleague.

Tip #7: Recognize the potential for harm to your career.
You can do everything "right" in contacting someone and still manage to piss them off. Back when the internet was just a baby, I worked retail and restaurant work and remember my managers saying something like "A happy customer tells an average of 7 people about their experience. An unsatisfied customer tells approximately 23." Dude, I don't know what the updated figures are, but I can imagine. I still do not believe that a single person can "ruin a career" (except, perhaps, for an author ruining their own career) but there is always a risk in confronting someone, so be sure to weigh the potential costs and benefits before proceeding.

Tip #8: Err on the side of being overly polite and non-argumentative.
The first critic I ever contacted was when I was brand new to Goodreads. It was 2011. The sale of VENOM had recently been announced. And sure enough, someone gave me 2 stars before ARCs had even been printed. I didn't know back then GR permitted people to rate books based on how excited you were for their release. I didn't know anything. I had clicked "I accept the terms and conditions" without bothering to read them (we all need to stop doing this.) If I had it to do over this is one contact I would not have made, because frankly it was none of my business if she chose to rate my book without reading it. But back then my neurotic author brain was like "Who is this hater and why is she trying to sabotage my book?" and then "OMG, what if there are pirated copies of some crappy first or second draft floating around?" Either way, this 2-star rating had me panicked. (Naive, yeah, I know.) So I sent her a message like: "Hi. I'm brand new to GR and saw that you rated my debut novel. I was just wondering how you managed to read it so early. Basically I'm hoping there aren't copies of one of my old drafts floating around on the internet." She responded, very kindly, that she was a reader for a foreign publisher who had access to my latest draft. She went on to tell me her feelings about the book, including both positive and negative feedback. She ended by saying that perhaps it was wrong of her to post her rating almost a year in advance and offered to take it down until closer to publication date. I declined this offer and thanked her for responding. And I felt silly for doubting her. And then I got back to work. Can you imagine how differently that would have played out if I had been aggressive or accusatory? I could have burned a bridge with a major foreign publisher for all eternity. [ETA: a good rule of thumb is not to write anything you wouldn't be okay with the whole world reading.]

Tip #9: No answer is an answer.
If you reach out and get no response, let it go. Again, this isn't your spouse--it's a stranger. It's the equivalent of someone who viewed your profile on a dating site and clicked no thanks. You asked for a conversation and they politely declined. Who cares if that's not how you do things. The reviewer doesn't have to play by your rules. Move on, already. Don't you have a dog to walk or some laundry to catch up on or a hobby or maybe another book to write? Live your life, or seek help from a confidante or mental health professional if you can't.

Tip #10: Know when to say no.
There are some people it does not make sense to ever engage. Some reviewers are building a brand, and their review is more about their internet platform than it is about your book. People who DNF'd your book are not going to pick it back up because you tell them to (though they might pick it back up if a friend tells them to, as long as you don't act like a total psychopath first.) Most of your 1-star reviews will come from readers who either hated your plot (too late to tweak that), hated your writing style (I don't recommend changing that for 1 or 10 or even 200 people), or just deemed your book "not for them." Liking or not liking a book has an emotional component to it and even the most logical or impassioned argument in your book's favor isn't going to change someone's mind. When's the last time Fox News or the liberal media, depending on your leanings, changed your mind about something? I rest my case. Save your breath. Save your time and energy for your next book. Or better yet, why not engage with some of the people who wrote good reviews? You know, your FANS. In the end, aren't they the ones who really matter?


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

THE ART OF LAINEY--Cut Final Chapter



NOTE: If you haven't read THE ART OF LAINEY, this blog post will be spoilery.


Most readers have liked the way the novel ended, so I feel like my agent, editor, and I made the right decisions when we cut three chapters from the end of the book. The submission draft had the the first half of the last chapter with Micah and Lainey in Micah's car as written, but then continued for three more chapters--one at the coffee shop, one at soccer tryouts, and one when Lainey returned to school in the fall. The coffee shop chapter could have been the end of the book, and the other two chapters both felt like epilogues, which I eventually decided the story didn't need. 

I'm waiting for publisher approval to post these chapters on wattpad, but while I wait I thought I would share one of them with you. What follows is the chapter in the coffee shop that would have taken place after Chapter 41 in the book. The original draft had Lainey losing her cell phone at the airport, and then Chapter 41 ending on page 373, after Micah says "I might show you. Someday." (So before they discuss their relationship at all). The main reason it was cut was because the book was running long and the surprise element that happens in the coffee shop felt repetitive. I do really like some of the Denali interactions here, though. Let me know what you think!

Chapter 42
I pace back and forth in front of my dresser mirror. It’s the first day of going to work since Micah and I officially became a couple. At least I think we’re a couple. My lips pulse just thinking about yesterday. After I called my mom back on Micah’s phone and totally lied about having a dead battery, Micah and I stayed snuggled together in the Beast all day. I think we might have set some sort of kissing my record. My lips actually feel a little swollen.
I stare at my reflection. My blotch of freckles is finally fading. Otherwise, there’s no evidence that anything is different. But it is. Will everyone at work know the minute they see us together? What’s Micah going to say? What kind of smartass remarks is Ebony going to make?
The red numbers of my alarm clock creep upward. An hour. I’ll see him again in an hour. I trade my tank top for my Denali tee shirt. What if he pretends like nothing happened? Is that what I want? I definitely don’t want to make a big deal out of things. Sighing, I turn away from the mirror. I wish I could talk to him. I’m going crazy without a phone.
I debate calling in sick again. Good thing my parents own the place or I’d totally be fired. Now that I’m not getting paid to fake-date my best friend’s boyfriend, I might actually need to keep a job.
“Lainey.” My mom knocks on my bedroom door. There’s someone here to see you.”
I open the door a crack. “Who?” I ask suspiciously.
She smiles. “That nice mohawked boy from Denali. Didn’t you know he was stopping by?”
 “Oh, right.” I feign absentmindedness, something I’m pretty good at. “He’s giving me a ride to work.”
“Please tell me there’s nothing wrong with your brother’s car,” my mom says.
I shake my head. “No, we’re just carpooling. Saving the environment and stuff.”
Her lips twitch as I push past her down the hallway. “Well isn’t that socially responsible of you two.”
Micah’s standing inside the front door in baggy cook pants and his black Happy Cheetah tee shirt. His eyes light up when he sees me.
“Let’s go outside,” I say. I tug him through the kitchen to the back door. Behind me, I swear I hear my mom humming some cheesy love ballad. I’m totally going to strangle her later.
I sit at the picnic table, facing away from the house, but toward Mom’s creepy totem poles.
Micah sits next to me. “Sorry I didn’t call you. I didn’t know your house number. I just came by to make sure you weren’t freaking out.”
How does he read my mind like that? “I am not freaking out,” I insist.
He arches his pierced eyebrow. “No?”
“Okay, maybe a little bit.”
He twines his fingers through mine. Turning, he whispers in my ear. “Stop freaking out.”
My insides go all fuzzy. I wish we could just take the Beast somewhere and hide out again, kiss for hours, ignore the rest of the world. “How do we tell people?” I blurt out. “What do we tell them?”
“We could always let Ebony discover us making out in the walk-in cooler,” he suggests. “Let her tell people for us.”
“I’m being serious.”
“Me too.” He leans in to brush his lips across my jawbone and I almost slide right off the picnic table. He squeezes my hand. “How about this. We’ve been pretending to date for most of the summer. So I say we just keep doing our thing and let people think what they think. If they ask specific questions I’ll direct them to you and you can say whatever you want.”
“But what do you want me to say?” I protest. “What are we doing?”
“Label it however you want,” Micah says. “I just—”
The back door opens with all of the subtlety of a gunshot and I spin around to see my mom standing in the doorway, a teacup cradled between her hands. God I hope she’s not going to start going on about new love in front of Micah. That would be all kinds of awkward.
“Your dad just called,” she said. “Leo is going to be late. Can you guys head in a little early?”
“Sure,” Micah says.
We walk hand-in-hand to his car. My mom smiles but she doesn’t say anything.
**
Denali is packed. By the time we clock in, the line for the front register is almost out the door. Ebony is staying over to work the back with Micah while Bee and I work the front. I don’t have time to wonder what Micah has planned. Bianca rings up order after order and I run from the blender to the espresso machine, making drinks as fast as I can to keep up with the line that never seems to get less than six or seven deep.
In the middle of the afternoon, things finally slow down. A guy in a tracksuit with a cap pulled low over his eyes comes in carrying a small brown box. “Package for Lainey Mitchell,” he says, peeking out from underneath his hat.
I look back toward the prep area. Micah and Ebony are standing in the hallway outside the manager’s office, watching me. I shoot Micah a suspicious look. He shrugs his shoulders as if to say he doesn’t know anything about it. “That’s me,” I say, “Who’s it from?” I ask the delivery guy.
“You’ll have to check out the card.” There’s something weirdly familiar about his voice. I give him a long look but he’s got sunglasses on so all I see are a pair of dazzling white teeth and the beginnings of a blond beard. “Can I get an iced caramel latte with skim milk too?” he asks.
I set the box down by the register and start to ring the delivery guy up an iced latte. Just then, I see two big burly guys pacing back and forth in front of the large plate glass window. Oh crap. The security guys from yesterday—they found me!
I freeze, mid-order. “Bee, can you finish…” My voice dissolves in my throat as I try to decide if I can get away with sneaking out the back. I inch back from the register.
Bianca is busy opening the box. She pulls out a phone.
My cell phone.
            “Hey. Where did you…” My words stick in my throat. The delivery guy removes his hat. He’s got thick spiky blond hair, a lot like…
            “Ohmygod.” The jug of skim milk slips out of my hands and ends up on its side on the counter. Milk pours across the Formica and onto the floor, nearly missing the shoes of none other than Caleb Waters.
            “Whoa.” Caleb jumps out of the way, his trademark dazzling smile still glued to his tan face.
            “Oh. My. God,” I say again, unable to come up with any other words.
            Ebony slides between me and Caleb with a dry towel. She begins to mop up the milk, apologizing profusely. “You’ll have to excuse her.” She points at me. I’m pretty sure my mouth is still hanging open. “She’s got some kind of medical disorder. Your drink is on the house, of course.”
            “No problem. It’s nice to meet all of you,” Caleb says.
            Bianca is still standing next to me holding my phone. “It’s nice to meet you too,” she says.
            “Right,” I squeak. “Nice to meet you.”
            Caleb shakes everyone’s hand while Ebony finishes making his drink. “Sorry about what happened with the security guys. Unfortunately the studio insisted on deleting the pictures you took, but hey, we can take one together now if you like.”
            “That’d be great.” I slide out from behind the counter, almost like I’m in a trance.
            “Excellent idea,” Bianca says. She’s already got my phone ready to go.
            I come around to the front of the counter and Caleb Waters puts his arm around me. “Your boyfriend tells me you’re one hell of a soccer player.”
            “I play striker for my high school team,” I say. “I’m hoping to play in college.”
            “That’s fantastic,” he says, grinning for the camera.
             “Wait,” I say. “Get in here too, Bee. Micah, you take the picture.” I turn to Caleb. “She plays halfback for the team.”
            “Excellent. I was a halfback in high school.” Caleb slides his other arm around Bianca. She giggles. Micah snaps two pictures.
            Caleb looks movie star handsome in both photos and Bee looks radiant. My grin is so big it’s almost demonic. I crack a joke about how Bee should cut me out and hang my picture with the scary tribal masks.
            “Thank you so much,” I say. “We’re really big fans of yours.”
             “I’m a big fan of yours too,” he says. “The crew really enjoyed the barbecued chicken pizzas you guys delivered last night. Very thoughtful.”
            I turn around to give Micah another look. I wonder how he managed to pull that off. Then my dad appears from the back, an impish grin on his face. The two of them look borderline ridiculous standing next to each other. Micah and his mohawk. Dad and his spectacles. They must have worked together on this one.
            Caleb poses for a few more pix with both Bianca and me. We’re both red-faced with shock by the time he slips on his shades and disappears back out into the heat. Through the glass, I see No Neck One and Two hovering right outside the door. I hope they liked the pizza.
            “I can’t believe you guys did this,” I say. I am dangerously close to tears.
            Micah holds his hand out toward my dad and Dad gives him an awkward high-five. “Never underestimate the power of good food and drink,” Dad says.
            Ebony raises one painted on eyebrow. “Wait a second. I just realized something. Did that guy call Micah your boyfriend?” she asks. “Does that mean you two are finally official?” Smirking, she looks back and forth between Micah and me while we both stand there like speechless blushing idiots. “Thank God. I like foreplay as much as the next girl, but eventually you’ve got to just get it on.”
            My dad chokes on his coffee. My blush goes from pink to red to purple to whatever color comes after that.
            “Metaphorically speaking, of course.” Ebony cackles with glee. She points through the side window at a sky-blue Taurus backing into a spot. “Look. It’s Leo. I’m out of here.”
            “Me too,” I say. “If anyone needs me I’ll be in back, dying of embarrassment.”
            “Yeah,” Micah says, shooting Ebony a death glare. “I just remembered something I need to put in the oven. My head, maybe.”
            Ebony laughs again. She gathers her purse and a copy of the Riverfront Times and heads for the front door.
            Micah slings his arm around me and together we head to the back. “I think that went well,” he says, once the door is safely closed behind us. “Except for the part where your dad now wants to kill me.”
             We pass the manager’s office and turn into the hallway where the lockers and bathrooms are located. “Don’t worry. He’s afraid of you.” I wrap my arms around Micah’s neck and pull him close, drinking in every tiny detail--the scar on his temple, the bend of his nose, his beautiful hazel eyes. “But I’m not.” I touch my lips to his. Just a quick kiss to last me until later. “You’re amazing, you know it?”
            “Mainly I wanted to get your phone back for you.” He taps his foot on the floor. “And my boot. Coming by the shop was all Caleb’s idea. Turns out your celebrity crush isn’t nearly as much of a douche as I imagined.” Now Micah’s smiling almost big enough to qualify for the tribal mask wall.
            I look down at my phone, at the picture of Caleb Waters, Bianca, and me. One major life goal complete. Time to come up with some new stuff.
            Bee shuts her locker and slides up to me. She sighs in amazement as she looks down at the screen.  “I swear, Lainey. Being your friend is a nonstop adventure.”
            “Primetime drama, you mean.” Micah winks.
            Leo rounds the corner. “Mr. Mitchell says Lainey and Bee need to get up front.” He looks back and forth between the three of us. “What did I miss?”
            “Lainey lost her phone and Caleb Waters returned it to her,” Bianca says.
            “The soccer star? That’s pretty impressive, even for you, Lainey.” Leo whistles. “Did you get his number? Talk about the mother of all ways to make your ex jealous.”
             “I’m actually done with that whole plan,” I say, slipping an arm around Micah’s waist. I glance around at my friends. “War is overrated. Besides, I’ve got all the numbers I need.”