Thursday, June 7, 2018

Introducing HIDDEN PIECES + a giveaway!

Hi lovelies :) I try to do focused promotion for all of my titles from three months before release to three months after release, so I'm about two weeks behind on HIDDEN PIECES. I figured I'd get the party started with a blog post about the book and an international giveaway :D

Here's the lowdown on the story if you haven't already seen it:

"A classic whodunit, masterfully played."
-ALA Booklist, starred review

Embry Woods has secrets. Small ones about her past. Bigger ones about her relationship with town hero Luke and her feelings for someone new. But the biggest secret she carries with her is about what happened that night at the Sea Cliff Inn. The fire. The homeless guy. Everyone thinks Embry is a hero, too, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Embry thinks she’ll have to take the secret to her grave, until she receives an anonymous note—someone else knows the truth. Next comes a series of threatening messages, asking Embry to make impossible choices, forcing her to put her loved ones at risk. Someone is playing a high stakes game where no one in Embry’s life is safe. And their last move ... is murder.

Readers of the ARC might want to check out my (non)review of the book on Goodreads for more information about what has changed from ARC to finished novel.

What I like best about HIDDEN PIECES:

One thing I like about all of my mysteries is that I work hard to create multiple plausible suspects and embed enough clues so that the eventual reveal feels authentic without making it easy to guess the culprit early on. I tweaked the ARC text just slightly to remove a couple of clues, so if you guessed whodunit from the ARC, know that things are a little more obscure in the final book. It's a hard balance to hit and there's no way to get it right for everyone. People read on such different levels that you can skim the reviews for any thriller title and see both "OMG I had no idea MIND = BLOWN!" and "Ugh. The killer was painfully obvious from page 5..." kind of reviews. But I did my best and I'm happy with the end result.

I also really like how developed the characters and subplots are in this book. School Library Journal called this "a character-driven mystery perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen" and at first I was like "Huh?" but the more I think about that description, the more I love it. If you keep reading below about the issues with infidelity, you might think the book focuses heavily on romance, but it doesn't. Still, romantic issues are present, as are issues with financial need, health problems, family dynamics, etc. Because honestly, most of us won't ever be embroiled in a murder or blackmail mystery, but if we are, it's not like all the rest of the stuff going on in our lives is just going to magically shut off so we can investigate a crime. Embry's main concerns are figuring out who's blackmailing her and protecting the people she loves, but she doesn't just ignore her dog, her after-school job, her worries about the future, her thoughts about her absentee father, etc.

Finally, I set this book in a fictional town called Three Rocks, which is based heavily on the real life town of Oceanside, Oregon. Oceanside is near and dear to me because it's beautiful and mysterious, but also because it happens to be where I met my agent (before she was my agent) and where I attended a writing workshop that really changed my life.

You can see these three rocks from almost anywhere in town.

Here's the road Embry is walking along at the start of the book.

I imagine the Sea Cliff Inn atop a cliff much like this one.

Mental health issues in the book:

I thought a lot about whether I needed to directly address Embry's mental health in this story. Early on there's a passage that states this:

I let Betsy tug me through the frozen grass and around to the back of the hotel. There’s a small clearing with a gardening shed off to the side. Beyond it there’s a sheer drop-off of about five hundred feet. I look out at the dark ocean for a few seconds, resisting its siren call.
I’ve thought about jumping from this cliff once or twice. The idea of the ocean swallowing me up is strangely comforting. Maybe a little too comforting.

As a mental healthcare professional, I would find that concerning, but I don't think Embry is actively suicidal or clinically depressed in this story. I used to throw around the words "I'm depressed" a lot when I was feeling down, but I try not to use that phrase anymore because I don't want to demean the struggles of people with actual clinical depression. A diagnosis of clinical depression requires symptoms that markedly affect a person's life (e.g. being unable to get out of bed, being unable to go to work, etc.), and that doesn't apply to Embry or me. 

I would describe Embry's mental state at the start of this book as "profoundly unhappy." Do I think she would benefit from talking to someone? Absolutely. Does Embry think she needs to talk to someone? Nope. She's one of the millions of people who think that because they're not actively planning to harm themselves or someone else that they don't need or deserve help. Also, because her family is low-income and her mom is already swamped with medical bills, I don't think Embry would ever ask to talk to a therapist, which is why I didn't write one into the novel. But if you're profoundly unhappy, don't be like Embry, okay? Reach out to a friend, family member, teacher, minister, doctor, etc. If you can't afford a therapist, one of these people will be able to help you find low cost/free services. You don't have to be teetering on the edge in order to benefit from talking to someone. All problems are easier to address at the mild to moderate stage. If you need a referral, try

Okay, let's talk cheating. Yes, this book has infidelity:

One of my biggest worries for this title is that YA readers won't want to read it after they find out there is cheating in the (backstory for this) book. I have been emotionally, financially, and professionally devastated by boyfriends (and one fiance) who cheated on me and I think cheating is always wrong. However, I don't think everyone who cheats is a terrible person. If you have a black/white view of human morality, consider reflecting on what it would feel like to be at your breaking point, where you literally don't know if you can keep going. Yes, some people cheat because they're selfish, cowardly, or cruel, but other people make bad decisions in the heat of the moment because they're struggling. For me, what determines the integrity of a person isn't that they never mess up, but the manner in which they conduct themselves afterward. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone takes responsibility and tries to make amends and actually learns from those mistakes. I pride myself on writing flawed characters who become better (but not perfect) people throughout their stories.

In HIDDEN PIECES, main character Embry Woods has abandonment issues. She's the product of an affair between a young working-class barista and a wealthy older man, and she learns early on that her father never wanted her and tried to bribe her mother into getting an abortion. When her mother refused to terminate her pregnancy, her father gave up the rights to her and moved out of town with his wife and two sons. She didn't hear from him for the first seventeen years of her life, but he's recently started sending her cards and letters, which she refuses to read.

Prior to the start of the novel (and seen in a flashback), Embry hooks up with her best friend's boyfriend, Holden. At this point, she is in an incredibly dark place--her ex-boyfriend has deployed to Afghanistan, her best friend is out of town for the summer, and her mom is in the hospital being treated for breast cancer. Embry is afraid her mom is going to die and leave her all alone. None of these things are excuses for what she does, but they are reasons. Holden admits to cheating and ends things with Julia immediately and encourages Embry to tell Julia that she's the girl he was with, but because Embry is afraid of losing both her mom and her best friend, it takes her a while to come clean. She knows that lying is wrong, even though Julia isn't upset about the breakup with Holden, and she beats herself up for being weak and a coward for the first half of the book. But eventually, while dealing with the mystery of who's blackmailing her and threatening the lives of the people she loves, Embry finds the strength to tell the truth and to accept the repercussions that come from hurting her best friend.

For me, as both reader and author, what I care about in a book with infidelity (or any act I don't want to encourage among my readers) is whether it's necessary for the storyline, how its portrayed, and how the aftermath is handled. Embry's choices not only feel true to her character, they also create a second angle for her to be blackmailed about and give additional motive to some of the book's suspects. Throughout the story, both Holden and Embry admit that what they did was wrong, and cheating is never glorified. Both characters eventually take responsibility for their actions and suffer consequences because of them.

 Golden Retriever Betsy is probably my fave character in the book ;)

Here's some background information about the writing process that I shared on Goodreads:

This story was hard for me to write because originally it was a very slick and streamlined plot-centered "OMG what if this happened??" idea, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that the driving force behind the mystery was more complex than I originally envisioned. Also, as much as I love to read a fast-paced, plot-driven thriller, when I write I feel compelled to dig deep into my characters, exploring how their histories, worldviews, social statuses, etc. affect the choices they make. So, HIDDEN PIECES isn't just a thriller about a girl with a secret who's being blackmailed by a stranger. It's also a book about friendship and family dynamics, an exploration of how socioeconomic status can weigh on almost every aspect of a person's life, and a story of self discovery. There's no doubt that Embry is flawed, but she grows and changes throughout the story. I enjoyed writing her journey. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Content Information:

I like to let people know upfront about the possible objectionable content in my books, because my mysteries tend to be a lot edgier than my contemporary novels. HIDDEN PIECES  has underage drinking (again, that isn't glorified and has consequences), sexual situations, about 20 F-bombs, and non-graphic violence. There is also mention of smoking marijuana, which is legal for people 21 or older in Oregon, but no active drug use on the page. The publisher is listing the novel for ages 12 and up, but if your school district or community is more conservative, you might want to recommend it for ages 14+.

Wanna win an ARC?

As usual, the Rafflecopter is chock-a-block with both easy, breezy entries and more labor intensive options to score more points. U.S. winner wins signed ARC. Int'l winner wins pre-order plus signed bookplate. You must be 13+ or have your parent/guardian's permission to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Never win anything? Might as well pre-order a signed, personalized copy today ;)

I'll be signing these gorgeous hardcover books with a sexy red pen. If you want to get one signed (and/or personalized to you or someone you really like), you can order via Vintage Books in Vancouver, WA. U.S. only. Shipping charges will apply. Please note in special instructions that you would like the book signed, including telling me whether you would like personalization.

I will be doing a pre-order incentive as usual, so if you pre-order, hang onto your receipt so you can score awesome signed swag later this summer :)

Check out the first three chapters of the book here.