Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Holiday Reviewer Appreciation Giveaway

Hi guys! Happy December :)

I've talked a lot about why reviews are important. For example here and here. I even wrote specifically about negative reviews here. Tl;dr is that reviews matter for a lot of reasons, but one of the most crucial is they function as free publicity and help sell books. I realize it takes time and effort to leave reviews, which is why I try to do a couple of these contests each year to thank the people who are willing to go that extra step.

For this international giveaway, the winner will have a choice of a $25 B&N gift card, or a signed copy of any of the books you see in this post. (For Ferocious and TIHIH, you'll receive a signed ARC.) You can earn points for reviewing any of my last four novels--Vicarious, Girl Against the Universe, Liars Inc., and The Art of Lainey. You can also earn points just by tweeting or by leaving a comment about how to encourage readers to write reviews.

The dangers of running a giveaway likes this include that people will plagiarize/write fake reviews to qualify or that people will think I am bribing readers for positive reviews. It's important to me that neither of these things happen. So:

1. If I think your review is fake or plagiarized (meaning that you copied someone else's review, not that you used quotes from the book--that's totally fine), I will disqualify you from consideration without notification.

2. Any honest review qualifies you to win. 5 stars. 1 star. A GR review with no rating if that's how you roll. I probably won't even read your reviews unless you're the contest winner.


1. You must have read a book in order to review it.
2. Your review must be at least 50 words long. (Reviews that you have already posted also count. No need to edit or update, unless you need more words.)
3. Reviews can be written in any language.
4. You can copy/paste the same review to different sites for multiple entries.
5. You must fill out the Raffecopter below.


I know some readers aren't comfortable writing reviews, which is why I kept the length requirement short and included other options to enter the contest. But if you want more entry points, here are some things you could incorporate into reviews that might be more fun for you than just writing them in "book report" formula.

1. Pretend you are an author writing an official blurb for the book jacket. What would you say to the world about this book if you had to condense all your thoughts into one or two sentences?

2. Make your review two lists--the things you liked the best and the things you liked the least about the story.

3. Make your review a mini "editor letter" by commenting separately on the prose, voice, setting, plot, and characters.

4. Pretend you are the book's publicist and it's your job to come up with good comparison titles. End your review by saying "Fans of [these books] and [these movies] will enjoy [book] because [reasons.]"

5. Choose your favorite quotes from the book. Tell how each
affected you and how it connects to the overall story.

Do you have other ideas for "reluctant reviewers"? Share them in the comments :) The Rafflecopter comment question is about how authors can encourage readers to leave more reviews. It's generally unethical to pay reviewers (exceptions being things like Kirkus Indie, etc.), so authors and publishers frequently trade free books in exchange for reviews. That sometimes works well at the publisher level, but the expense of sending books is often too much for individual authors and doesn't always pan out in the form of reviews. I would love to hear any suggestions you guys have on how to score more honest reviews, especially on book-buying websites.

Thanks and happy holidays :) See you in January when I'll be giving away a signed copy of Kristen Simmons's Metaltown!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Questions about the giveaway? Put 'em in the comments :)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Discussion guide for VICARIOUS

Hi guys! I've updated my discussion guide page to include non-spoilery questions for Vicarious. These are great for anyone reading the book for a book club or online read-along.

I know I haven't been online too much, but I'll be back on Twitter and FB regularly in January or February. In the meantime, be sure to stop back by the blog because later this month I'll be running another Reviewer Appreciation Giveaway where you can score entry points for reviewing any of my books online. Then, in January, I'll be doing a giveaway for a signed copy of Kristen Simmons's Metaltown. Plus there will be exclusive holiday giveaways for my awesome newsletter subscribers. Join the mailing list here.


Pre-reading questions:

1. Vicarious takes place in a world where futuristic technology makes it possible for people to record their sensory experiences and share them with others. Maybe you’ve always wanted to go shark diving or bungee jumping, but you’re too scared or you can’t afford it. Maybe you want to snowboard but you don’t have time to take lessons. With Vicarious Sensory Experiences (ViSEs), people can experience not just the first-person visual of what these activities are like, but also the sounds, smells, and tactile sensations. It’s like Virtual Reality on steroids.

Name one or two things you might like to experience via a ViSE recording. It doesn’t need to be an adventure sport. It could be something like walk along the Great Wall of China or go on a date with a celebrity.

2. Name one or two things you’ve done in the past that you might want to share with friends or strangers by making a ViSE. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything expensive or overly glamorous. Maybe you went sledding over Winter Break or saw one of your favorite bands perform live.

3. Who is the person you are closest to in the whole world? Why did you pick that person?

4. Do you think it’s okay to lie to people “for their own good?” Does it depend on the circumstances? Discuss why you feel the way you do.

5. What is your definition of family?

Questions while reading:

6. Winter exercises, perhaps obsessively, to calm her nerves. Is there anything that you do in order to calm yourself before a big test or a potentially scary task?

7. The author intended for the book’s setting to be an alternate present day, but a lot of readers assume the book takes place in the future. Can you find two examples that make the book feel futuristic? What about two examples that make the book feel like it’s taking place in the present?

8. Describe the phenomenon of overlay. Why does it affect some people more than others?

9. At one point Winter plays a ViSE of Rose winning a large amount of money in a casino and muses that her sister might have been making recordings that function like high-tech commercials. Do you think that would work? That is, do you think having a positive virtual experience would make people more likely to try to replicate the experience in real life? Why or why not?

10. What does Winter think is happening in the bathroom at Zoo before she and Jesse enter? What is actually happening? Why do you think Winter had preconceived notions about what goes on at Zoo?

11. There are definite privacy concerns when it comes to recording ViSEs, especially some of the ones that Rose records. Given that ViSEs are essentially recorded personal memories, do you think it should be okay to sell them or share them without the consent of other people who are part of the recording? Why or why not?

12. Do you see Winter as a strong character, weak character, or somewhere in between? Why do you feel the way you do?

13. Do you see Jesse as a strong character, weak character, or somewhere in between? Why do you feel the way you do?

14. Which characters in the book were the easiest for you to relate to? Which did you find to be the most likable? Explain why you feel the way you do.

15. How would you describe Jesse’s feelings for Winter? Gideon’s feelings? Sebastian’s feelings? Give examples from the text to back up your answers.

Post-reading questions:

16. Almost all of the characters in Vicarious seem suspicious at one point or another in the book. Did you figure out who killed Rose before the answer was revealed? Discuss who your major suspects were and at which point in the novel you started to put the pieces together.

17. Who does Winter trust at the beginning of the book? Who does she trust at the end of the book? What things happened throughout the story that caused her to switch her allegiances?

18. Would you like a job recording ViSEs? Why or why not?

19. The author has mentioned that this book was inspired by her love of gritty, high-tech movies, including Inception and The Matrix. In The Matrix, main character Neo is offered a choice of two pills—the blue pill that will put him back into the false reality of the matrix, or the red pill that will allow him to see the world as it really is. He chooses the red pill, but is horrified by the truth. Winter isn’t given a choice, but like Neo she experiences a series of revelations and is also horrified by the truth. If you were her, would you want to know everything that she discovers in the last several chapters of the novel? Or would you prefer to be protected from the truth? Are there any scenarios in real life you can think of where you would definitely want to “take the blue pill” and be protected from reality? Explain your answer.

20. What do you think is going to happen in the second (and final) book of the Vicarious series? What questions do you have at the end of Book #1 that you still need to be answered?

ICYMI, check out the official Vicarious trailer:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

VICARIOUS: Reviewer Appreciation Giveaway

Hi guys :D In case you missed it, I revealed the cover for FEROCIOUS as part of the YA Scavenger Hunt. I love love love love it, maybe even more than the cover for VICARIOUS. I honestly can't decide. Check it out in extra-large size:

We're not releasing the official description for the book yet, because it will be hard to do so without spoiling any of the twists in Vicarious, but I'm going to give away a signed ARC to one lucky reader (INT) who has read and reviewed Vicarious online.

Wondering why I'm running a reviewer appreciation giveaway? Here are some reasons why reviews are important to authors:

1. There's the obvious way, where if a book has a lot of positive reviews, then a prospective reader might be more willing to take a chance on it. Positive reviews have the power to influence readers who are "on the fence."

2. There's the inverse (converse?) where a negative review might prevent someone who wouldn't like the book from picking it up, which is also a good thing. Sometimes I’ll read a negative review that says “This book had too much swearing and underage drinking” or “I hated that this book had a love triangle.” Readers are totally justified in not liking those things. However, those things don’t bother me, so those reviews they don’t affect whether I’ll buy a book. Other reviews says stuff like “This book was really slow-paced and took 250 pages to get to the inciting incident” or “I hated that the heroine’s pet kitten died a brutal death.” When I read that, I’m less likely to pick up a book, and that’s actually a good thing for everyone involved. Maybe it means that I don’t buy a book I was thinking of buying, but I am much more likely to buy the author’s future books if I haven’t labeled her or him in my brain as slow-paced or “Violent Kitten Killer Author.” 

3. So-so reviews can also sell books. One of the three-star reviews I've seen for GATU was extremely well-written and complimentary--the reviewer mostly felt that book was kind of long. (It is.) If a reader sees that and likes long books, that might be even more persuasive than a 5-star review. Also, everyone knows that not all 3-star reviews are the same. Some reviewers have their reader-meter set to LOVE and three stars means the book let them down. Other reviewers have a "no five star" policy since no books are perfect, and three stars might be a really good review from them.

4. Even one-star reviews can sell books. I will openly admit that when I see a book being obliterated with one-star reviews, my curiosity is piqued and my sympathy-response is activated. I am more likely to read that book. Also, some one-star reviews are more "it's not for me" than "no one should ever read this." One of my Liars, Inc. one-star reviews says this: No matter how I didn't like the plot/decisions of the characters, I will say the writing was exceptional, and the book is a fast read. I love flawed characters and fast reads. That's basically a blurbable quote from someone who "borderline-hated" the book.

5. Most book-buying websites also have algorithms that cause the more "popular" books to come up more frequently in site "If you like [Book] you might be interested in [Other Book]" features and targeted emails, etc. This placement can be tremendously helpful in getting the word out about a new book to targeted audiences--almost like free advertising. One way a book's "popularity" is measured is by number of reviews.

6. Sometimes just the sheer numbers of reviews (say 60 on Amazon vs. 10) is enough to cause a potential buyer to click for more info. The only reason I ever clicked on Susan Ee'sAngelfall is because it had a massive number of reviews, and I really enjoyed that book. Volume of reviews can influence casual browsers who might click on "People who bought [Book] also bought [Other Book]" links.


1. You must have read Vicarious in order to enter.
2. Your review must be at least 50 words long. (Reviews that you have already posted also count. No need to edit or update, unless you need more words.)
3. You can copy/paste the same review to different sites for multiple entries.
4. You must fill out the Raffecopter below, providing links/identifying info to your reviews.
5. There are more points for Amz/B&N than GR/your blog because right now those are the places where more reviews will really benefit the book, and also because I'm hoping this giveaway might encourage people who reviewed on their blog/GR to cross-post those reviews to Amz/B&N.

If you want to enter but you don't generally leave reviews because you're not sure what to say or not comfortable sharing your prose publicly, consider leaving a list of things you liked and/or didn't like about the book. That adds up to 50 words pretty quickly :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


The dangers of running a giveaway likes this include that people will plagiarize/write fake reviews to qualify or that people will think I am bribing readers for positive reviews. It's important to me that neither of these things happen. So:

1. If I think your review is fake or plagiarized (meaning that you copied someone else's review, not that you used quotes from the book--that's totally fine), I will disqualify you from consideration without notification.

2. Any honest review qualifies you to win the ARC. 5 stars. 1 star. A GR review with no rating if that's how you roll. I probably won't even read your review unless you're the contest winner. And if you didn't like the book and would prefer a $10 gift card to Amazon or Book Depository instead of an ARC, that's fine too.

Got questions about the giveaway or about reviews? Put 'em in the comments.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Vicarious Gratitude Giveaway

It's time for another gratitude giveaway! I'm very thankful to Lindsay Cummings, Victoria Scott, and Kristi Helvig for providing blurbs for VICARIOUS. Scoring blurbs for a book's jacket is something that is highly stressful to most authors, and extremely so for me, because I have been rejected a lot--way more than I ever got rejected by agents. (Stuff like this is part of what I mean when I tell people the rejection part of writing increases dramatically after you land an agent.)

All three of these fabulous authors have written books that I think are good comparison titles for Vicarious, and I am grateful they found the time to fit reading my ARC into their busy schedules. If you have enjoyed their novels, chances are you'll enjoy the action-packed sci-fi storyline and tough but vulnerable heroine of my latest novel too :)

Lindsay also hosted the book's trailer reveal! Vicarious features Korean sisters as main characters. ICYMI: You can read more about why I made Winter and Rose Korean in my blog tour posts.

For this contest, I'm giving one lucky reader their choice of one currently available book by Lindsay, Victoria, or Kristi. This giveaway is INT and I will be ordering from The Book Depository or Wordery. Here's some information on each author's latest book or series.

An action-packed, blood-soaked, futuristic debut thriller set in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birthrate. For fans of Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, La Femme Nikita, and the movie Hanna.

Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision.

The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?

Do you already own a copy of The Murder Complex? Check out Lindsay's other books here.

Ever since the Titans first appeared in her Detroit 
neighborhood, Astrid Sullivan’s world has revolved around the mechanical horses. She and her best friend have spent countless hours watching them and their jockeys practice on the track. It’s not just the thrill of the race. It’s the engineering of the horses and the way they’re programmed to seem so lifelike. The Titans are everything that fascinates Astrid, and nothing she’ll ever touch.

She hates them a little, too. Her dad lost everything betting on the Titans. And the races are a reminder of the gap between the rich jockeys who can afford the expensive machines to ride, and the working class friends and neighbors of Astrid’s who wager on them.

But when Astrid’s offered a chance to enter an early model Titan in this year’s derby, well, she decides to risk it all. Because for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, it’s more than a chance at fame or money. Betting on herself is the only way she can see to hang on to everyone in the world she cares about.

Victoria's got two fantastic series in addition to Titans. See her whole collection here.

Most people want to save the world; seventeen-year-old Tora Reynolds just wants to get the hell off of it. One of the last survivors in Earth's final years, Tora yearns to escape the wasteland her planet has become after the sun turns "red giant," but discovers her fellow survivors are even deadlier than the hostile environment.

Holed up in an underground shelter, Tora is alone--her brilliant scientist father murdered, her mother and sister burned to death. She dreams of living on a planet with oceans, plants, and animals. Unfortunately, the oceans dried out ages ago, the only plants are giant cacti with deadly spines, and her pet, Trigger, is a gun--one of the bio-energetic weapons her father created for the government before his conscience kicked in.

When family friend, Markus, arrives with mercenaries to take the weapons by force, Tora's fury turns to fear when government ships descend in an attempt to kill them all. She forges an unlikely alliance with Markus and his rag-tag group of raiders, including a smart but quiet soldier named James. Tora must quickly figure out who she can trust, as she must choose between saving herself by giving up the guns or honoring her father's request to save humanity from the most lethal weapons in existence.

Have you already read Burn Out? Here's more information about Kristi's other books!

Enter in the Rafflecopter below. Don't forget to comment on the post and tell me one bookish thing or person you are grateful for :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Welcome to the YA Dash

What is the YA Dash, you ask? It's a blog hop where you can win a slew of awesome  YA suspense novels. Participating authors were asked to put their posts up early so the organizer can make sure everyone's links are working, but the YA Dash officially starts at 8 a.m. Eastern Time on August 25th and ends at 11:59 p.m. on August 29th. If you have shown up early, some of the links might not be functioning yet. For more info, check the official site here.

The DASH rules:
Participants in the DASH need to visit all fourteen authors and tally the answers to the featured question. Count how many authors chose A, B, C, D, E or F as their answer. The most popular answer will unlock the Rafflecopter and enter participants into the prize pack draw. Please note, only those participants indicating the correct answer will be eligible for the prize draw. Participants can find the Rafflecopter for the YA DASH prize pack draw at

Here are all the books you can win! Pretty sweet, huh?

I'm giving away a hardcover of my new thriller VICARIOUS. Vicarious features sisters, high-tech stunts, murder, car chases, knife fights, shark diving, shocking revelations, and a diverse cast of characters.

My first ever mood board. How did I do? :)

Here's the official info:

Winter Kim and her sister, Rose, have always been inseparable. Together, the two of them survived growing up in a Korean orphanage and being trafficked into the United States. But they’ve escaped the past and started over in a new place where no one knows who they used to be.

Now they work as digital stunt girls for Rose’s ex-boyfriend, Gideon, engaging in dangerous and enticing activities while recording their neural impulses for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Whether it’s bungee jumping, shark diving, or grinding up against celebrities at the city’s hottest dance clubs, Gideon can make it happen for you, for a price.

When Rose disappears and a ViSE recording of her murder is delivered to Gideon, Winter is devastated. She won’t rest until she finds her sister’s killer. But when the clues she uncovers conflict with the digital recordings her sister made, Winter isn’t sure what to believe. To find out what happened to Rose, she’ll have to untangle what’s real from what only seems real, risking her life in the process.

Check out the super-cool book trailer:

Now back to business. Here's my answer to the YA Dash question:
What’s your favorite way to kill a character?
A. Gun
B. Poison
C. Buried Alive
D. Drowned
E. Strangled
F. Fire
Winter carries throwing knives and I like myself a good old-fashioned fictional stabbing, but since that is not an option, I'll go with my second choice, which is F for Fire. 

I've got a secondary contest for a second signed Vicarious hardcover giveaway for people with a US address. INT people, you're welcome to enter this Rafflecopter too, but I'm limiting my INT postal allowance until I have ARCs of FEROCIOUS to give away, so the INT prize for this RC is signed Vicarious swag.

However, I do have an international social media graphics contest for a finished copy of VICARIOUS going until Sept 1st. All entrants score signed bookmarks. One winner gets a finished hardcover. I only have about five entrants right now and the contest ends soon, so if you're feeling artsy, your odds are pretty good :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ready to keep dashing? Author Y.S. Lee has the next stop!

Friday, August 19, 2016

VICARIOUS: Guess the title to the sequel!

Sometimes I know the title to a book before I even start writing it (like with Liars, Inc.), but more often, the title reveals itself during the writing process (like with Vicarious.) Occasionally the title to the book is decided after all of the writing and revision is completed (like with Girl Against the Universe.

The title to the Vicarious sequel was one of those third ones. I kept a running list of title ideas on the document file, and then crossed them off when I decided they didn't quite work. There was one I liked a lot, but it happened to be a single word that had been used in multiple other book titles over the past few years. I try really hard to come up with unique titles when I can, because this makes them easier for readers to find online by searching. The title my editor and I settled on isn't 100% unique, but it's close :)

I thought it would be fun to post clues to the title and let people try to guess. The first person to guess the right title wins their choice of a finished copy of Vicarious or an ARC of the sequel. I'll make this contest international so everyone can guess, but after this I'll be cutting back on INT contests because I've spent over $600 on postage this year already 0_0 If you live outside the US and want access to regular contests, I run them several times a year in my newsletter, and most of those are INT. Subscribe by clicking the "Mailing List" tab and filling out the form.

Here are the rules for this contest:
  • All entrants must be at least 13 years old.
  • You can only guess here on the blog. I might post clues on Twitter or Instagram, depending on how long it takes people to guess, but all guesses have to be in the comments here.
  • You can only guess once per comment.
  • You can only comment once per hour.
  • I turned off comment moderation temporarily, so you can see that your guess went through, but if you violate the one guess per hour rule, all of your guesses will be invalidated and deleted.
  • In order to win, you have to have the right title and spell it correctly.
  • I'll add clues to this post sporadically throughout the day (and weekend if no one guesses today.)

Here are a couple of clues to get you started:

Clue #1: The title is one word.

Clue #2: The title ends in US.

Clue #3: The title is a word that can be used to describe at least one of the book's major characters.

Start guessing, or stay tuned for more clues. In the meantime, have you checked out the official VICARIOUS book trailer?

UPDATE: This contest has been won! Add FEROCIOUS to your Goodreads TBR list :)

Monday, August 15, 2016

VICARIOUS Blog Tour: Introduction + Schedule

I decided to kick off the VICARIOUS blog tour on my own site so that I could share some thoughts on #OwnVoices and writing outside my perspective, as well as introduce the rest of the tour.

I think the #OwnVoices movement is extremely important, and I fully believe that the literary community benefits by increasing the diversity of both authors and stories across races, cultures, sexual orientations, mental health statuses, socioeconomic classes, and more. For me it’s a no brainer that the exact same story written by someone inside of a group is going to feel more authentic than the one written by an outsider.

However, I feel like it’s rare that two authors want to tell the exact same story. If publishers are using a formal or informal quota system, where buying an excellent contemporary romance with a main character from a marginalized group means they have to pass on an excellent murder mystery with a main character from the same marginalized group, or even another contemporary romance with a completely different plot, that’s a problem—one that needs to be addressed at the publisher level. A good story is a good story, and assuming the representation is accurate and respectful, we should not be limiting the number of diverse books published, especially after straight, white, privileged main characters have dominated the literature for so long.

Therefore, while I believe we need more #OwnVoices books, I also think all authors should have the right to work on any story they strongly need to tell, as long as they’re willing to do the research needed and be receptive to criticism during and after the publication process. I fully believe that the best book a person can write is the story they love and desperately want to read, but once you become a published author, there are multiple entities limiting what you can submit/sell. Agents advise against projects they feel aren’t right for the market. Editors reject ideas they aren’t passionate about. Acquisitions teams do not offer deals to books they don’t think will make the company money. One of the reasons I started writing was to escape the confines and limits of my own experiences, to explore other realities and learn about other worlds. Accepting the premise that authors shouldn’t write about a country where we’ve never lived, or a culture we’re not part of, or a character with a disability we don’t personally have, would be further limiting ourselves and forcing us to censor our characters before they even get a chance to speak.

Because yeah, I don’t know how it works for other writers, but when my characters appear in my head for the first time, they usually show up with a lot of characteristics already in place. So many people asked me why I chose to write about a clueless, shallow, popular girl in The Art of Lainey. Um, that’s just who she was. It didn't occur to me to change her because I found her interesting and engaging, and I think less-than-perfect characters also deserve to have their stories told. Sure, I polished her throughout the drafting and revision process, and like most of my characters she undergoes a lot of character development, but I didn’t completely overhaul her identity. If I had, she would have no longer felt real to me. Same goes for Max in Liars, Inc. Same goes for Vicarious. From the moment Winter Kim first whispered in my ear, she was a Korean girl with a tragic past who was overcompensating for her emotional problems by building up her physical strength. If you want to know why I think she was that girl, check out my post on Ivy Book Bindings tomorrow, as I’ll go into much more detail.

Later in the blog tour I’ll also discuss my research strategies, my feelings about authenticity and respect, how I attempted to balance sharing cultural information with story pacing, my experiences using multiple cultural beta-readers, and finally some specific challenges I faced throughout writing and revision. Note that these posts are not meant to be “how-to” posts about writing outside one’s experiences. I don’t believe there’s one right way to do it, and I am in no way an authority on any of the strategies I used. I’m simply writing about how and why I did what I did, because several people have asked me about it.

Here’s the tour schedule:

Mon. 8/15      Introduction + tour schedule

Tues. 8/16      Writing outside my perspective: Part 1
                      Why I wrote Korean main characters and what I hoped to accomplish

Wed. 8/17       Review + interview with Paula          

Thurs. 8/18     Writing outside my perspective: Part 2
                       A summary of my research strategies

Fri. 8/19          Review + five facts about Winter

Mon. 8/22       Writing outside my perspective: Part 3

                      Maintaining authenticity and respect; balancing info and pacing

Tues. 8/23       Review + five facts about Jesse

Wed. 8/24       Writing outside my perspective: Part 4

                      Thoughts on using cultural beta-readers

Thurs. 8/25     Review + five facts about Rose

Fri. 8/26         Writing outside my perspective: Part 5
                     Specific issues/problems I encountered while writing Vicarious


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Five fast facts about Vicarious + a giveaway!

Happy National Book Lover's Day!! My seventh novel, Vicarious, releases one week from today and I still have a couple of ARCs I've been keeping in case of emergency. You know what that means...last minute giveaway :D

This is my first ever print review, in Justine Magazine. I was so honored
that they chose Vicarious as one of the August/September Buzz Books!

Check out these facts about the story and the writing process, and enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a signed ARC. This contest is international.

Fact #1: I wrote Vicarious as a light sci-fi mystery taking place in an alternate present.
I've seen the book shelved as futuristic, fantasy, dystopian, etc., and if that's the reading experience you have, that's totally fine. We all come to books with a different set of experiences and ideas. Who we are affects how we interpret stories.

Fact #2: This story was inspired by a lot of different things.

First and foremost, the story was inspired by my time teaching English in Seoul. I'll be writing extensively for my blog tour about why I chose to make my main characters Korean, so if you're interested in that, check back here on Monday Aug 15th for the whole schedule. This book was also inspired by a lot of dark or high-tech movies that I love, including The Crow, Strange Days, The Matrix, and Inception. Nineties music like NIN and System of a Down played a big part in creating the book's setting and ambiance.

Bright lights, big city! This pic is from my trip to Seoul in
January 2016, when I went back to do research  for the sequel.

Fact #3: I wrote Vicarious years before I wrote Girl Against the Universe.
I wrote Vicarious from mid 2012 to early 2013, at the same time as I was writing Starling (now called Dangerous Heart.) I was struggling to complete the work-for-hire trilogy (trilogies are hard!) and juggling writing for two publishers, part-time nursing, and full-time grad school back then. Vicarious was the project I worked on for ME. It was a total love project--I didn't even tell my agent about it until I had finished and revised the first draft.

Fact #4: What I originally planned as one book turned into a duology.
My high-tech mystery idea became something a lot more complex while I was outlining. That led to splitting the story into two parts, where the first part involves Winter finding her sister's killer and the second part is about what she does with that information. That means that even though this book was partially inspired by my time in Seoul, none of the characters travel there until the second book.

Fact #5: I did a great deal of in-depth and varied research for this duology.
From reading the memoirs of trafficking victims to researching Korean culture to furiously Googling to find out how exactly Winter and Jesse could jump off a bridge and survive unscathed, I easily spent more time doing research for this book than I did writing it. Luckily, Vicarious contains a lot of topics that I love and/or find fascinating, so the research hardly ever felt like work.

Click here to read the beginning of Vicarious on my blog. Click here to read the first 100 pages on Net Galley. (Free access to everyone with an account.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want a second chance to win a copy of Vicarious? So far I have only a couple of entries in my Vicarious graphics contest, and one person is going to score a finished hardcover :)

Got questions about the contest or the book? Put 'em in the comments :) And tell me a recent sci-fi book that you enjoyed and what you liked best about it for 4 points in the Rafflecopter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

VICARIOUS Graphics Contest!!

ETA: I have extended the deadline of this through the end of August, because the majority of my graphics contest entrants are usually international readers, and someone brought to my attention that Vicarious does not release internationally until mid-September.

It's time for another great graphics contest!! VICARIOUS releases in two weeks and I'm looking for cool fan art or quote/image pairings to share on social media. These images should include the title of the book somewhere and can include quotes from the novel, suggested taglines, your own taglines, etc. You do not have to read the book to enter.

Here are some examples from my last contest for Girl Against the Universe!

By Aila from One Way or an Author

By Marian X

By Eli from The Silver Words

By Irene from Boghunden

My favorite entry (or a random selection from my top three faves if I can't pick) will win a finished copy of Vicarious + signed swag. Everyone, US and INT, who enters this contest is eligible to receive 2 signed bookmarks and a sticker, just for taking the time to help me promote my latest novel.

Possible text for your graphic:
Your graphic does not need to have text (aside from the book's title), but it can. If you've read the book, you can use anything that stood out to you. If you have a Net Galley account, you can check the first 100 pages of the story for inspiration. You can also use part or all of one of the quotes that are listed on Goodreads.  You can make up your own tagline or phrase. Or consider this list of possible taglines:
  • Live through this.
  • What is real?
  • Perception is reality.
  • How far would you go to protect someone you love?

  • This contest is international and open to everyone ages 13 or older.
  • You must share your graphic on Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr at least once between now and Sept 1. Caption/tag the image similar to: Like thrillers? Check out #Vicarious by @pstokesbooks! Published by @torteen.
  • Aside from the Vicarious cover, which can be freely used, any photography or imagery must belong to you. Polyvore, Wikipedia, etc. images cannot be used unless they are completely open source without even requiring crediting of the source. When in doubt, don't use it.
  • You can enter up to three graphics, but each one must be shared on social media.
  • Copyright of your design belongs to you, but I reserve the right to post/repost your designs on my own social media to promote the book and/or sequel, with credit given to you.

To be officially entered and to qualify for your signed swag, your designs need to be emailed to me as a .JPG for easy sharing at pstokesbooks [at] gmail [dot] com by Sept 1, 2016, subject: VICARIOUS graphics contest. In your email, also include a link or enough information so I can find your shared image on social media and your mailing address, including zip or postal code

General questions? Put them in the comments.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

VICARIOUS Pre-order Incentive!!

Are you planning to buy Vicarious? If so, you might want to order early and take advantage of this awesome pre-order incentive :D Everyone who orders a new hardcover or e-book, from any store or website, by Aug 14th (so yes, if you ordered last week or 6 months ago it counts) is eligible to receive 2 signed bookmarks, a signed bookplate, a magnet, and 2 Vicarious-themed stickers. Bookmarks by Julie Heidbreder. Stickers designed by Ri from Hiver et Cafe :)

This incentive is international. In order to get your free goodies, you need to email your mailing address to pstokesbooks [at] gmail [dot] com subject: VICARIOUS pre-order, and include a photo, scan, or screenshot of your order confirmation or receipt. Lovely international peeps: It helps me a ton if you type out your address on multiple lines like my super-clueless self should address the envelope. Also, don't forget to include your postal code if that's something you're not used to using. Please allow four to six weeks for arrival.

BONUS: Enter to win a painted tote + ARC of the sequel!

Once again the lovely Becca Fowler from Pivot Book Totes has created an awesome giveaway tote for me. Sorry. The lighting does not do it justice here, but rest assured it is a thing of immense beauty and fine detail work :D I mean, look at that water! One lucky pre-orderer will be chosen at random to receive this painted tote plus one of the very first ARCs of the sequel (available this fall.)

Wanna try before you buy? Click here to read the book description and first three chapters of Vicarious or if you have a Net Galley account you can read the first 109 pages here. Dying to read the rest? Buy links are available on the countdown widget in my sidebar :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Girl Against the Universe: School/Library Giveaway

A huge thank you to everyone who entered this contest, spread the word, 
and shared their tips for me to connect with librarians and educational professionals. 
I really appreciate your thoughts. All winners should receive their books by Aug 31.

(Please forgive me for not typing out all of your titles)

Becky Greer
Jenefer Rosado
Susan Light

Amy Willard
Ellice Yager
Michelle Reid
Julie Clay
Hallie Fields
Jenny Yamamoto
Abigail Orozco
Julie Davis
Caron Ervin
Margie Rohrbach

I've been talking to my HarperTeen editor and to library personnel I know for the last few weeks about ways to introduce more teachers and librarians to GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE. Not only is the book receiving great reviews for being entertaining and avoiding/subverting overused YA tropes, it's also inspiring and empowering some of its early readers, especially those with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or those dealing with grief or loss. And multiple reviews have pointed out that the portrayal of therapy in the book might encourage kids who are struggling to ask for help.

"As I’m still going through my own healing process, I had a resounding thought while reading Maguire’s story: This is it. This is what I want my own healing to look like." 

"I think the shining star of this novel is how positively therapy is portrayed. Honestly I wish I had this book after my mom passed away because maybe I would have gotten the help that I needed to deal with my issues." 

But how to make it stand out in the eyes of teachers and librarians among a crowded spring/summer full of contemporary releases? This is an ongoing quest of mine, so if you have suggestions, please let me know! I can't really afford to buy advertising, and I've been told a postcard campaign might not be effective since it's so difficult to figure out which librarian buys books for which branch or department. But then yesterday one of the big book retailers marked down hardcovers to just $7.91. [Click here if you want to see if that price is still in effect.] That's cheaper than I can buy direct from my publishers, so I picked up a few extra copies and ...

I am giving away 10 hardcover copies of GATU to American schools and libraries :D

Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

"Readers will laugh, cry, and root for Maguire as she fights to reclaim her life with the help of a dynamic supporting cast. Girl Against the Universe is exactly the kind of book we need more of in YA."

"Stokes did a great job of fostering the friendships in this story. It could have been so easy to make one of these characters your typical mean girl, but it was entirely refreshing to see her not go that route."

To enter:
  • You must have a USA mailing address (Puerto Rico is included).
  • You must be a librarian, media specialist, library assistant, teacher, or someone else who works with groups of 12-24 year olds in an official capacity.
  • If you win a copy, it must kept in a way where it can be circulated to multiple readers, e.g. school/community library circulation, classroom library shelves, etc., and not donated or sold to a single person.
  • You must have a business address (I will be media mailing in early August) or be able to verify your position/affiliation if the book is to be sent to a private residence.
  • You must fill out this form by July 25th. Winners will be randomly selected by Aug 5th.

How do you know if you want a copy of GATU to share with your students? Here are a few facts about the book:

1. This is a book about mental illness. 
Main character Maguire is suffering from PTSD, specifically survivor's guilt. After being in multiple serious accidents where everyone but her was injured or killed, Maguire worries obsessively that she might be a "bad luck charm" to anyone who gets close. To help combat her anxiety, she has developed unhealthy coping mechanisms like isolating herself from people and obsessively checking her environment for hazards. The first four chapters of the book are Maguire beginning a course of cognitive behavioral therapy after yet another accident pushes her to her breaking point.

2. This is a funny and uplifting story. 
A lot of mental illness books are dark and gritty reads with depressing storylines and/or negative portrayals of therapy. Maguire's issues are treated seriously and respectfully, but the tone of the book remains hopeful throughout and Maguire receives a lot of support from her friends and family. The book's therapist is competent and helpful without doing all the work for her. There are places where she is suffering from panic attacks or engaging in compulsive behaviors that might feel all too real to readers with similar issues, but there are plenty of lighthearted funny moments to balance out the darker spots.

3. The romance does not magically cure the mental illness. 
Romantic love does not fix mental illness. Often, a new romantic relationship actually exacerbates a person's current struggles by adding additional stress and expectations. There is a romance in this book, but it begins as a friendship, and Maguire has no problem telling Jordy that she's not healthy enough to date anyone at first. Even after they later become involved, Jordy supports her as she works through her therapy challenges, but she is the one who drives her journey toward healing.

4. In fact, nothing magically cures the mental illness.
Maguire is told by her therapist early on that mental health is fluid, that no matter what they accomplish together, she's still going to have good days and bad days At the end of the book, she's still in therapy and has formed alliances with friends and family members that will continue to help her grow. However, she is still in charge of her healing process, and although she recognizes the progress she's made, she knows there's still a lot more work to be done.


Maybe you already got GATU, or maybe you're looking for something edgier and higher concept to entice your reluctant readers. I'm going to throw in three free paperbacks of my 2015 thriller LIARS, INC. This book received a starred review from Kirkus and has actually created new readers. Multiple teens have sent me emails to say they hated books but were forced to read one in school. When they picked up LIARS, they didn't want to put it down. All of these kids asked for recommendations for more books and I was happy to oblige. 

LIARS is great choice for older teens or at-risk youth who are tired of boys in books all being rich, smart, gorgeous, and successful. Protagonist Max Cantrell lives on the streets for a year before being adopted by a loving, lower-income family. He a regular guy--that kid in the hoodie who sometimes falls asleep in the back of class. But all that changes when a business selling lies and alibis leads to Max being implicated in his best friend's murder.

Oh, and since you're here, if you like giveaways, you might be interested in entering the Goodreads giveaway for my next release, VICARIOUS! I'll be doing some international giveaways for that book starting in my July newsletter, which you can subscribe to by clicking on the "mailing list" tab.

Friday, June 17, 2016

GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE: Read the original beginning

A lot of you know that I made massive revisions to GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE during the editing phase, including researching and writing the entire therapy arc and psychologist sessions, which are based on actual cognitive behavioral therapy. The submission draft of the book was lighter in tone. Maguire wasn't struggling quite as much at the beginning of the story, and although her journey to attempt to overcome her fear of being a bad luck charm went through largely the same task-oriented trajectory, it wasn't until the end of the book that she realized she needed the help of a professional therapist. You can read more about the specific revision strategies I incorporated over at Forever 17 Books.

Image by Rebecca from Australia

I thought it would be fun to share the original beginning to the story. If you were one of my #LoyalLiars street team members then you might have already read this. Either way, if you've read the novel you'll recognize about 40% of these paragraphs from the final book. This is pretty common for me--to cut entire chapters but excerpt out certain passages that I think are particularly meaningful and fit them in elsewhere. Check it out:


Chapter 1 (Deleted)

I didn’t blame myself for the first accident, or even the second one. After the third one, I did what any rational twelve-year-old would do—I went to a fortuneteller.
            Her eyes got wide as she flipped over the tarot cards one at a time. I don’t remember exactly what she dealt, but there were a lot of swords and everything was upside-down.
            “Grave, very grave,” she muttered. She grasped my hand and examined my palm, shaking her head in dismay. “You are surrounded by darkness.”
            “I’ve been in a couple of accidents. People…got hurt,” I stammered.
            “But this reading…” She sighed dramatically and gestured to the five cards laid out in a cross formation. “It says the worst is yet to come.”
            After that, the bad dreams started. Four years later, they’re still haunting me.
            There are two in particular that I have on a regular basis. One is about the car wreck, about plunging through the guardrail and down the side of the mountain. It starts off just like I remember the moments before the accident: me and my brother fighting in the backseat, my dad and uncle laughing at us. But then instead of telling my brother to shut up, I tell him he’s going to die. I tell them they’re all going to die. And then I reach for the steering wheel. When the ambulance arrives, I’m covered with everyone else’s blood, just sitting cross-legged in the carnage. Smiling.
            The other recurring dream is of a cemetery and three coffins placed side-by-side. The pallbearers come back with a fourth coffin and everyone at the funeral turns and tries to stuff me in it. I’m screaming and kicking, but no one seems to notice or care. They just pin my body to the shiny satin interior until they can slam the cover shut.
            Tonight I have the first dream.
            I wake with a crushing sense of dread wrapped around my middle, the shrill cry of the ambulance siren fading away as light begins to filter through my rapidly blinking eyelashes. With trembling fingers, I slip a battered red notebook out of the top drawer of my nightstand and record what I remember. I call it my luck notebook, but it’s more a ledger of unfortunate happenings and bad dreams. Nightmares can be a hint of things to come, so on dream days I have to be extra careful.
            Setting the notebook aside, I lift a hand to my throat to make sure my mystic knot amulet is still in place. The mystic knot is a Buddhist symbol of luck that I bought online. It’s supposed to bring positive energy to every aspect of your life. Believe me, I need all the positive energy I can get. I wear my mystic knot 24-7—when I’m sleeping, when I’m showering, even in gym class.
            Especially in gym class—high school gym can be dangerous.
            As a bonus, the amulet is made of iron, which is said to repel evil faeries who cause bad luck. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as faeries, but bad luck has to come from somewhere, right? Better safe than sorry.
            I knock three times on my wooden nightstand and then dab a bit of jasmine perfume from a tiny heart-shaped vial on each of my wrists. The manufacturers of the perfume claim it’s made with water from a special Himalayan stream and has been blessed by Nepali monks.
            Just one more ritual to complete before I slide out of bed—my daily positive affirmation. I know it sounds cheesy, but a lot of people swear starting your day with a positive thought makes a difference and I’m in no position to ignore stuff that works just because I feel lame doing it. Most people say something like: “Today is going to be a great day.” I try to keep things a little more realistic, like: today isn’t going to be as bad as that day at Celia Bittendorf’s sleepover party when everyone but me started throwing up all over the place and Celia told her parents I poisoned the cake and then her mom called my mom and I got picked up at midnight and everyone at school avoided me for the rest of the year.
            Okay, maybe that’s a little long.
            “Today is not going to suck,” I mutter.
            Stretching both arms high in the air, I yawn mightily and finally get out of bed. Standing in front of my dresser mirror, I recite a Chinese good luck prayer eight times. (Eight is a lucky number in Chinese). Then I make a half-hearted attempt to finger-comb my hair and twist it back into a bun. That part’s not about luck; it’s just about keeping my hair from taking over my face. I’ve got one of those manes that everyone likes to ooh and ahh over, but no one really wants for their own. Thick black hair that hangs to the middle of my back in corkscrew curls and sticks out a couple of feet from my head if I don’t tame it down and tie it back. Kind of like that old school guitarist, Slash, only I’m a lot smaller than he is, so my hair looks even bigger.
            I tromp down the hall and into the kitchen in my pajamas. My mother is at the counter, cutting up a mango, the baby monitor tucked in her front pocket. I watch her for a moment, listening to the whisper of the knife blade as the slices pile up on the cutting board. If I had to describe Mom in one word, it would be control. Controlled knife. Controlled expression. Pressed pantsuit. Hair cut short enough to never be unruly. Everyone needs to feel in control; we just go about it in different ways. For Mom it’s clothes and hair, a second husband with a stable job, a battery of tests early in her pregnancy to make sure my new half-brother Jacob would be born healthy. For me it’s a notebook full of data, a series of good luck rituals, and a predictable routine that I can plan for.
            My stepdad, Tom, has his head buried in a newspaper. He’s an engineer of some sort. Chemical? Mechanical? Honestly, I don’t know, but then I’ve never made much of an effort to ask. Don’t get me wrong--he’s not a wicked stepfather or anything. He’s basically cool. It’s just even after five years of him being my stepfather, it still feels like betraying my real dad to get too close to him.
            I spoon some oatmeal into my favorite bowl with the painted white elephants around the rim and take my usual seat across from my half-sister Ellen. When my mom and Tom aren’t looking, I toss a little salt over my left shoulder. Ellen catches me and giggles. “Maguire,” she says in her high-pitched voice, mangling my name just slightly so it sounds like Mack Wire.
            “Shh.” I raise a finger to my lips. Her bright blue eyes sparkle. She’s only four. She’ll play along.
            Casually, I let my hand drop to my chair where I knock three times. My rituals probably seem excessive, and I guess they are. But you’d be excessive too if people’s lives were at stake. You know how some people are magnets for trouble? I take that to a whole new level—I not only attract bad luck, I somehow reflect it onto the people around me.
            Yep, I’m a bad luck charm.
            It sounds a lot cuter than it is.
            I was nine when the car accident happened. My dad, Uncle Kieran, my brother, and I were heading home from a day of hiking at a state park outside of San Luis Obispo, where I grew up. A scenic road. A hot summer day. The perfect setting for a Sunday drive.
             Or, as it turned out, a horror story.
            Connor and I were fighting about this boy who lived down the street when I saw the giant truck heading right at us. The driver must have lost control of his rig as he navigated the twisting mountain road, veering dangerously into our lane.
            Dad tried to swerve onto the shoulder at the last second, but we were driving along the side of a hill and there was just a few feet of concrete and a flimsy guardrail. The back of the truck clipped us and sent us straight through the guardrail and down the incline. We flipped end over end and landed in a rocky ravine. Dad, Uncle Kieran, and Connor were dead before the paramedics could get to us.
            I didn’t even get hurt.
            I was still in the ER when the newspaper people found me. They called me the miracle kid. I’ll never forget how they buzzed around me, asking prying questions about what I remembered and why I thought I got spared. I had just lost three members of my family, and these people wanted to talk about the luck of the Irish.
            My mom tried to shield me from the reporters but eventually gave up and posed with me for a few pictures so they would go away. She said focusing on how I was alive would help everyone cope with losing my dad and uncle, two of the town’s most decorated firefighters. It didn’t help me cope. All I could think was that I should have been nicer to Connor. He was just teasing me. How is it something that feels so crucial one moment can seem completely trivial after the fact? If I had known, I would have spent my brother’s last few seconds on earth telling him how much I loved him instead of telling him I wished he would shut his mouth for good.
            The driver of the truck died too, so we never found out for sure why he had lost control.
            I never thought much about control before that day.
            Two years later, when I was eleven, a rollercoaster I was riding careened off the tracks and crashed to the ground at a nearby amusement park. That accident wasn’t quite as serious—at least no one died—but every single passenger in our car had broken bones, except for me. Again, I was completely unharmed. No one called me a miracle kid that time, but the crazy lady who begs for change in front of the AM/PM called me a witch.
            We moved after that.
            There were other things too, like the previously mentioned slumber party disaster. That’s what sent me off to the fortuneteller and caused me to start keeping track of everything in my luck notebook. But then three months ago, the house next door to us accidentally burned to the ground from a candle I left lit on my windowsill. You wouldn’t think a brick house could go up like a box of matches from one teensy dollar store votive, but it did. The firefighters said they’d never seen anything like it.
            We moved again.
            Mom said it was because Tom got transferred, but I’m pretty sure it was because of me.
            That’s how we ended up in Pacific Point, a suburb of San Diego where tan, blond people seem to outnumber everyone else three to one. It’s only my second day of junior year and already three people have asked me if I’m a foreign exchange student.
            “Maguire, don’t forget you have tennis tryouts after school,” my mom says with entirely too much enthusiasm. She fiddles with a piece of hair at the nape of her neck.
            “Got it,” I say through a mouthful of oatmeal. As if I could forget. The problem with tennis tryouts is that they’re outside of my normal safe routine: walk to school, sit through classes, walk home. How can I hope to control the situation if I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen?
            Tom takes his plate and mug to the sink and rinses them thoroughly. “I hope the new racquet works out for you.” He slides his now clean-enough-to-eat-off dishes into the dishwasher.
            “I’m sure it’ll be great.” I force a smile.
            He and my mom bought me this top of the line graphite-titanium-moon rock-bulletproof two-hundred dollar racquet. I appreciate the gesture, but unless it’s going to play for me there’s no guarantee I’ll make the team. And unless it’s magical, there’s no guarantee something bad won’t happen.
            The oatmeal begins to congeal in my stomach when I start brainstorming about possible accidents that could occur during something as seemingly benign as tennis tryouts.
            As you can imagine, once I accepted the fact I was bad luck, I tended to shy away from group activities. And groups. And activities. I traded dance lessons and the church soccer team for running—something I could do all alone. I also started spending a lot of time in my room, tucked under my covers reading books. There’s only so much damage a book can do, and I wasn’t worried about hurting myself. The worst is yet to come. Accidentally hurting yourself is way better than hurting other people.
            I also started researching ways to combat bad luck. Gran told me this story about evil faeries, about a man who wished for something bad to happen to his neighbor. Apparently he didn’t really mean it, but his words invited the faeries into his life and they never left. Sure, Gran’s tale was probably complete fiction, but what if it wasn’t?
            So I started out reading about primrose and iron and how to keep the faeries away. Gradually, I widened my search to cultures outside of my own, learning about herbs and chants and new age-y things like yoga and positive affirmations. I even spent one whole summer trying to de-curse myself with all-natural tonics and spells purchased on the internet. I tried whatever I could do without a lot of explanation to my mother. And anything I decided might have some positive benefit, I incorporated into a daily routine. I had plenty of time to knock on wood and repeat good luck chants since I’d quit doing much else besides going to school.
            Sure, I got lonely for a while. But getting invited to slumber parties just wasn’t worth the stress of wondering if I might accidentally burn down the house with my flat iron or be the only survivor of a freak sleepover massacre. And loneliness is just like everything else—if you endure it long enough, you get used to it.
            But when we moved to Pacific Point, my mom finally decided I was spending too much time with my head in a book and told me that this school needed to be different. I needed to get involved or she was going to choose an activity for me.
            Rule #1: Never let your mom choose for you.
            I imagine myself on the flag twirling squad like Mom in her high school. Someone would probably get impaled. At least tennis racquets are round, and presumably non-lethal.
            “I can’t wait to hear all about it,” my mom says. She fusses with Ellen’s hair while my sister drinks the leftover pink milk at the bottom of her cereal bowl one spoonful at a time. “I hope that practicing you’ve been doing pays off for you.”
            She’s talking about me going to the park and hitting the tennis ball against the wall of the racquetball courts. I used to hit around with my brother when we were kids, but I’ve never had any lessons or anything so I spent the last few days practicing as best I can. I have no idea how good everyone else will be and I don’t want to be completely humiliated at tryouts.
            “And you said if I make the team I can take your car to the away matches, right?” After the accident, I developed a huge phobia of riding in cars. It took months of sedatives just to be able to ride with Mom. There’s no way I’d survive being a passenger on a bus full of kids.
            My mom and Tom exchange a glance but he doesn’t say anything. “I don’t see why not,” my mom says. “I won’t be going back to work for a while.” She’s on maternity leave from her job as a physical therapy assistant.
            “If I don’t make the team, can I have points for effort and then go back to my usual routine?” I ask hopefully.
            “No,” Mom says firmly. “Trust me, honey. These are the best years of your life. You’ll thank me for this someday.”
            “If these are the best years then someone needs to just kill me now,” I mumble. She doesn’t know what high school is like these days—people obsessing about extracurriculars and AP classes and padding their college applications. It’s all about what you have and where you’re going. No one seems to notice who you actually are. And is it me, or is my mom the only mom in the history of ever who told her kid to spend less time reading and more time being social? Doesn’t she know the chances of me getting drunk, pregnant, and/or arrested are much lower if I never leave my room?
            A mix of wailing and static bursts from the baby monitor.
            “And that’s my cue,” Tom says jokingly, pretending like he’s racing for the door.
            My mom smiles. “I’ll get him. You go ahead.”
            “If you’re sure.” Tom kisses my mom, ruffles Ellen’s hair, and gives me a wave. “Knock ‘em dead, Champ,” he says. Grabbing his keys from the table, he heads off to work.

            I slide my chair back from the table and mutter something about finishing getting ready. “Dead” is not a word I want associated with today.

Graphic by Emilie from Canada

If you want to read more deleted scenes, you can check out Maguire and Jordy practicing tennis at the local tennis club, or Maguire and Jordy's sister trying to hide Maguire from Jordy's mom. I have over 100 pages of cut scenes from GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE and I will be sharing more of them in the future, both on this blog and over at my Wattpad account.

BONUS: Are you a fan of dark, action-packed stories? Click here to read the beginning of my twisty mystery VICARIOUS, releasing August 16, 2016 from Tor Teen.