Monday, March 17, 2014

The Fan Art of Lainey!!

A few weeks ago, I ran a contest with my awesome street team and challenged them to make some fan art. Here are the fun responses I got, along with a couple additional fan art moments thrown in from last year when the cover first released.

Inky from Book Haven Extraordinaire did her best cover pose. It's eerie how much she looks like the cover model!

Nikki  from Fiction Freak gave the cover a fun Halloween makeover!

Kayla from The Bibliophilic Nerds redoes the cover with her fave Pokemon!

Lorena from Brasilian Book Lover went with a Pokemon theme too!

Nikki from Fiction Freak redid the cover Nikki-style!

Kim from Divergent Gryffindor created a cool cover-themed outfit!

Sara from Forever 17 Books had her son draw this pic of the cover!

Eli and Frances turned Lainey into an anime girl!

Got fan art? Anyone, anywhere, who emails me some LAINEY-related art will automatically win an extended swag pack to include bookmarks, postcards, magnets, and buttons. I'm also going to put all of my fan art in my blog sidebar because I appreciate your efforts so much :) Happy reading and art-making!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Happy Birthday Nikki: Thoughts on Serendipity

When I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with a series of books by Stephen Cosgrove. One of them was called Serendipity.

Isn't she the cutest? I don't honestly remember the storyline, but I remember this was my introduction to the word serendipity. Even as a seven-year-old, I loved the idea of stumbling across something awesome purely by chance.

This happened to me in June of 2012, at a book event called Teen Author Carnival that took place in NYC. I got invited as Fiona Paul because I was going to be at Book Expo America with the 2012 debut group, the Apocalypsies. I remember being overwhelmed by BEA, being exhausted as I hurried from the conference to the library with a group of other authors. I remember feeling outclassed and outperformed by many of the other writers doing panels with me. They were all so polished, so professional. Me, I was sweaty and shy and scared.

After the panels were over, the authors hung out to sign books. My first book wasn't out yet so I was signing ARCs and bookmarks. One of my editors came up to me and gave me an ARC of Venom that someone had won as part of a box of books but forgotten at the library. "I figured you might want this," she said. My first thought was: Yikes. One more thing to fit in my already overstuffed luggage. But I put it away and kept talking to readers. I was sitting next to Lauren Morrill, another 2012 debut (she's awesome, buy her books!), when a tiny sprite of a girl bounced up to me. "Do you know if they'll be giving away more ARCs of Venom at BEA tomorrow?" she asked.

"I'm not sure." (Authors are usually the last to know anything). I paused. "How old are you?"

"Thirteen," the girl replied.

"Hmm. Venom is technically age 14 and up." I looked at Lauren Morrill. She looked at me. This girl looked younger than thirteen. But she was so cute and enthusiastic and it wasn't like the people at BEA were carding book readers to make sure they were old enough to get the free ARCs. I made one of those split-second decisions. "Here." I pulled out the copy of Venom my editor had just given me. "I just happen to have an ARC with me. You can have it, but if any of the material makes you uncomfortable, just skip over it, okay?"

The girl nodded happily. I signed the ARC for her and she bounded off. That girl was blogger Nikki Wang from the blog Fiction Freak. I didn't think too much about the interaction, aside from praying that I wouldn't get an angry email from Nikki's mom if she found the ARC and deemed it too adult for her daughter.

After I got home from the conference, Nikki emailed me about doing a feature on her blog. I said yes. We got to talking. We got to talking some more. Slowly, via the magic of the interwebz, Nikki and I became friends.

Since then, Nikki has been a such huge motivational and promotional force in my writing career that I wanted to write this happy birthday blog post just to thank her. THANK YOU, NIKKI! Many other bloggers have inspired and promoted and motivated me too, and I am grateful to all of them. But Nikki truly has gone above and beyond, in so many ways. Here's just a smattering of things she is to me:

1. One-girl focus group if I have a question about teenspeak or whether teens do or don't like something.

2. Reviewer extraordinaire. The PenguinTeen catalog even blurbed her:

3a. Epic supporter. She sponsored a readalong with blogger Annabelle from Sparkles and Lightning:

3b. She also made my first fan art for both the Eternal Rose series and The Art of Lainey:

3c. She also personally encouraged her friends to read my books.

3d. She also had me on her blog multiple times to promote my writing.

3e. She's also heading up THE ART OF LAINEY blog tour via the company she started with her friends, Merp Squad.

3f. She's also done a lot of other little things to promote me, like being first to sign up for my street team and tweeting and FB likings and sharing my bookmarks, etc.

4. Graphic designer. She made the banner and button I'll be using as part of a multi-author tour this July. More info on that coming soon.

5. Last, but never least, friend :) Maybe it's weird for a "grownup" to have teens as friends, but I like to think of it as one of the best things about the internet. Cyberspace breaks down barriers that might keep people apart in real life.

I am so glad I made that random serendipitous decision to give my extra copy of Venom to Nikki almost 2 years ago. Whether you're Team Fate or a big believer in free will, I encourage you to remain open to the idea of serendipity. Life hands you amazing things sometimes when you're not even looking for them. You never know--the next person you meet might become your Nikki Wang :)


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Agony and Ecstasy of Vacation (and Life)

If you know me, then you know I feel things strongly. I live a life of ups and downs, of manic joyful periods and crushing lows. I guess it's only fitting that my vacation followed this pattern.

I had the highest of hopes. Four days kayaking Espirito Santo Island in the Sea of Cortez, hiking and snorkeling, camping under starry skies. Then a day of snorkeling in the open ocean with sea lions and two days of whale watching in Magdalena Bay. What could be more perfect?

Perfect sea. Perfect sky.

But things started on a tragic note. On the shuttle bus ride from San Jose del Cabo airport to La Paz our driver hit a dog. I will never forget that moment--the look in the dog's eyes as it doubled back into the road directly in front of us, the sound of the impact, the lurch of the shuttle bus. I will never forget all the thoughts that raced through my head. No. Tell me that didn't happen. What if it's dead? What if it's not dead? Why aren't we slowing down? Surely, we're going to stop. OMG, the driver isn't going to stop. I should demand that he stop. We can't just leave an animal in the middle of the road to be hit by other drivers. I should say something. But no one else is saying anything. What can we even do? If I don't say something it's like I'm okay with him not stopping. I am not okay with that.

At that point I asked the driver if there was anything we could do, or if anyone would help the dog. He didn't answer. A local man riding with him said someone else would probably help the dog and that it was an unavoidable accident. And it was. I didn't blame the driver for hitting the dog, but I blamed him for not stopping. I understand that Mexican culture views animals differently than I do, but if he had hit someone's car he would have been legally required to stop. I accept that most people view hitting a dog different than hitting a human, but surely hitting a dog is not less of a thing then hitting another car. If you injure a living creature, I think it's your responsibility to deal with it, however that may be. My heart still feels heavy at the idea we might have left a terrified, injured dog in the street.

At the hotel, things got better. I met our guides and the rest of our group--a lovely bunch from the US and Canada. We talked about our trip, and the next day we got our snorkeling equipment and took a boat ride to out put-in beach. Before we were allowed to get in a kayak we had to demonstrate the ability to do a wet exit. This involved being strapped into my kayak via a spray skirt, flipping my kayak, and releasing the skirt and exiting the kayak underwater. I have a fear of drowning and I'm not good at opening my eyes underwater so I was pretty terrified. But I survived. So I got to paddle one of these babies.

Sea kayaks

And it was awesome. There's nothing quite like being out in the waves, working the rudder to stay on course, hearing the slap-slap of manta rays jumping in the distance. The ocean is...magic.

Espirito Santo Island

But I still thought about that dog. I thought about it when I was eating, when I was hiking, when I was sleeping.

Deluxe accommodations for one.

On the fourth day of vacation, we finished with the kayaks and took a panga ride to Los Islotes to snorkel with the sea lions. I've snorkeled with stingrays and it was cool, but there were way more people than rays and it was kind of crowded and touristy so I wasn't expecting much.

Los Islotes. Pretty sweet digs.

Sea lion kiss!

It was AMAZING. The geography of the island was otherworldly, like something out of a high fantasy movie. We were the only boat there when we arrived. And there looked to be over 100 sea lions. But still, I kept my expectations in check. The animals were mostly on the rocks and no one knew if they'd get in the water with us or not.

But they did :) And a couple of little ones took an instant liking to me. For the next hour or so, I snorkeled around the rock formations and played with sea lions--swimming back and forth, twirling around in circles, slapping the water. They swam so close to me that I could touch them, and when I looked into their wide cartoon eyes, it was bliss. And for that hour, I forgot all about the dog. I was in a state of pure happiness.

Oh hai.

The next day we went to Magdalena Bay, a protected area where hundreds of gray whales migrate yearly to bear their calves. It was another completely otherworldly animal encounter. We weren't allowed to kayak or swim in the bay, but our group of 12 went in search of whales in our motorized panga boat. The first hour was slow-going, but we made some cute non-whale friends.

Pelicans in Magdalena Bay

But then the tide went out and all the whales flocked to the deeper area at the mouth of the bay. Suddenly they were everywhere. By the end of the second hour, all of us had been able to reach over the side of the boat and stroke the head of a curious whale calf or momma whale. I had touched several and taken a lot of extreme close-up pix.

Extreme blowhole close-up

Giant whale mouth next to my pale, pasty arm.

We returned to the pier, elated--all of us so overcome by getting so close to these majestic creatures. The trip package included two days of whale-watching and I remember thinking: I should skip tomorrow. There's no way it can possibly top today.

Whale flipper

Whale "spying" or orienting itself above the water.

I ended up going back out, though. We were in a small fishing village and there wasn't really anything else to do. I decided to put my camera away and just enjoy the experience. But the next day was not the same. Either our boat pilot was less experienced or the whales were in shy mode. Or maybe it was just the time of day--the tide was high and the whales had more places to hide. Whatever it was, we didn't see much. No whales came to the side of our boat. We cruised by a mangrove area and took pictures of osprey and pelicans. And then we headed back to the pier, a little dejected after the previous day's epic adventure.

And then, just as I was finally starting to let go of the sadness of the dog we hit, tragedy struck again. Our boat slammed into something and several people were thrown from their seats. We hit a whale :( There was disagreement as to whether it was an adult or a calf. I saw an adult just after the impact, but calves travel next to their moms so it could have been either. None of my tour group was injured, but all of us were so horrified at the thought that we might have hurt one of these gorgeous creatures.

Gray whale calf

Our guides assured us that the boat hadn't been speeding. It was no one's fault. Once again, an unavoidable accident. But it left me with so many questions. The tour operations in Magdalena Bay are a huge source of income for the local people. Probably that income helps keep the area protected so the whales can mate and bear their young in the safety of the lagoon. I thought my vacation was eco-friendly. I was kayaking. I was camping. I was pouring money into operations that could only survive by taking good care of their animal populations. But hitting that whale made me wonder if we had done more harm than good. Were we exploiting these animals for recreation? I don't know. But what I do know is this: I would give back all of those amazing animal moments to know that the whale we hit was okay.

So my vacation ended on a sad note, but it gave me a lot to think about. I'm not sure how I feel about touching animals in the wild. In the past I have avoided this (though I have touched animals in captivity), but these whales really acted like they wanted to be touched. Would they be safer if tourists weren't luring them close to boats with splashing and petting? Probably. But what would happen to Magdalena Bay if the tourist dollars evaporated? Would it lose its protection? What's the right thing to do? I don't know. There's so much I don't know. But I probably need to do a better job of considering the possible consequences of my choices.

So there you have it--the agony and ecstasy of my week in Mexico. What was great was very great. I'll never forget the sea lions or the whales. There's nothing more empowering than the feeling of handling a technical kayak in the open water. Just pitching a tent every night and waking up to coffee brewed over a camp stove was its own sort of reward. But hurting wild animals is hard for me. And even though I wasn't driving the van or the boat, I feel somewhat responsible because my money helped make those accidents possible.

It's tempting to try to put this vacation behind me, to forget those feelings of guilt. But it all goes back to my life of epic joys and crushing lows. Sure, I wish the lows were a little less low, but I wouldn't trade the high points for anything, so it seems only fair to acknowledge the entire spectrum. Westerners have a tendency to embrace our happiness and try to let go of or medicate away our despair. Hold on to your moments! As much as race or religion or career choice, the things that move us to tears of joy or sadness make us who we are.