Behind the Scenes of Somewhere Only We Know: Fun Facts

Here are some fun facts about the making of my debut novel, Somewhere Only We Know:

  • I usually refer to my books by their acronyms, both when taking notes and when talking about them with my husband. Somewhere Only We Know—which was a long title to begin with—became SOWK, which I pronounce “soak.”
  • The book was in the back of my mind for about five years before I ever tried to write it.
  • Once I actually started writing the book, I wrote it in only three months.
  • Because I have trouble remembering faces, I always have trouble creating what characters look like. I usually cast actors as my characters when I’m writing to help me picture them, but I never did that with SOWK. I never really saw the girls’ faces in my head.
  • I knew Somewhere Only We Know would be the title of the story as soon as I had the nightmare that prompted the idea back in high school. I had just discovered the song “Somewhere Only We Know” and my gut was telling me it was perfect, but I never realized just how well it would fit into the story until I started writing it five or so years later.
  • The notebook that contains all of my notes pertaining to Somewhere Only We Know has bright and colorful flowers on the cover. Even though it is a dark story, I wanted to focus on the hope. However, I made all of my section headings a dark, scratchy print.
  • I signed with my publisher when the book was only about a third complete at 20,000 words.
  • I got the email that GenZ Publishing wanted to sign with me while sitting in the food court at the mall on my lunch break. I was probably eating a Lunchable and was definitely crying.

Favorite Book Feature: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

It’s the last Friday of the August, which means it’s time for another Favorite Book Feature! This year I’ve been featuring one of my favorite books on the last Friday of every month, telling you why it’s one of my favorites. You can find the full list of my favorite books here. August’s featured book is Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis.

McGinnis’s debut novel is an eerie dystopia set in Ohio after a water shortage and contamination left many without water. Lynn was taught how to survive by her mother, and together they have protected their pond from every threat: drought, water contamination, coyotes, and people looking for a drink. Out of desperation, Lynn’s mother taught her to survive—how to shoot a rifle, purify water, hunt, and protect the house—but not much more than that. Not how to live.

But when her mother dies in an accident and when smoke on the horizon means a new threat, Lynn must reach out to others for the first time in her life. As she develops relationships with her neighbors and takes in a young girl who’s mother can’t care for her, Lynn slowly learns how to really live, not just survive in a dangerous world.

The main reason I love this book is because of the lean language McGinnis uses. The book has spare language, which reflects the barrenness of the environment. The book is easy to read, and does a beautiful job conveying all of the danger, emotions, and romance of the story.

I think McGinnis does a fantastic job creating her characters. Each of them is unique, from rough Mother and sensitive Stebbs to devastated Neva and hopeful Lucy. And I loved watching all of the relationships change and grow over the course of the book. My favorite of these relationships was that between Lynn and Lucy, whom Lynn takes in after her mother can’t care for her anymore. Lynn starts off treating Lucy the way her mother treated her—with a cold distance and a focus on survival. But Lucy’s youth brings so much life and hope to the house, and Lucy helps Lynn grow.

I also love this book because of how it’s a post-apocalyptic survival story. I’ve really been into reading survival stories like this lately, and Not a Drop to Drink does not disappoint. This book is definitely one of the more plausible dystopian stories out there, and it’s interesting to watch how someone survives in that world. It makes you really think about what you would do in the same situation. And I’m glad that Lynn moves beyond just surviving and learns how to really live.

I can’t wait to read the companion novel, In a Handful of Dust, set a decade after Not a Drop to Drink and told from now-teenage Lucy’s perspective.

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Iterating the Writing Process

I’ve been reading Gabriela Pereira’s wonderful book DIY MFA in which she outlines a do-it-yourself alternative to a traditional MFA program. I’ve chosen not to continue with my education with an MFA program. One reason is because of the cost, but I’ve greatly enjoyed pursuing continued education on my own through reading lots of books and would rather not go through the rigidity of another university program. DIY MFA has been a great alternative with being just a $20 book (which I got half off).

What I love most about this book is that Pereira approaches the DIY MFA like it is a startup business. She uses many terms and concepts throughout the book that relate to a startup business, and focuses on iteration. Iteration, in relation to writing, is when you take your process and test and improve it over time in order to become a more productive and better writer. The key is to take a step back and look at how your process works, and then make small adjustments accordingly.

A while back I wrote about how I had been struggling to stay motivated and had come up with a sticker reward system that was working well. And it did work well for a while, but then it stopped working for me.

Then, when I started reading DIY MFA and learned about iteration, I realized how I needed to step back and look at my writing process and make small changes to figure out what would work for me. I’ve since gone through three other versions of my sticker system, each of them being a different way for me to lay out my work week. I’ve used iteration to find the right total number of work hours and the right balance of writing and marketing and craft and reading hours, and I think I’ve finally landed on a system that works for me. And if I find that it’s still not working, I’ll use the process Pereira outlines in order to keep honing in on the best method for me.

I love the DIY MFA mindset because it’s all about finding what works for you as an individual. I highly recommend this book to every writer. It is full of advice on everything from writing with focus to reading with purpose to building a community, which are the main principles of an actual MFA. This book has been a great alternative to going back to school for me, and I can’t wait to finish reading it.

DIY MFA my copy

What I’m Reading: When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

I hate poetry for the most part. Hate seems like a strong word to use as a fellow writer myself, but I just don’t get it. I like writing to be clear, to tell me a story and paint a clear picture in my head. Reading poetry always just leaves me scratching my head and wondering what the heck the author was trying to say. While there are countless books that have affected me throughout my life, I can count the number of poems I actually like on one hand.

So I don’t know exactly why I picked up When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost up at the library. Thanks to hating the hundreds of poems I had to read throughout high school and college, I’d never even thought about picking up a novel-in-verse before. But I’ve been trying to branch out a little bit of my genre when it comes to reading lately. And this book has a pretty cover and an interesting description. So I borrowed the book from my library and tore through it because of how much I liked it.

This book is a beautiful story about two sisters, Claire and Abigail, during the summer they are ten and thirteen. Claire’s family has been spending summers at their lake house her whole life. Claire’s mother died from a lightning strike on the lake when Claire was a baby, but the summers there have always been a special time she gets to spend with her sister and father. But this year everything is different. Her dad is about to have a baby with his new wife, Pam, and Abigail starts caring more about boys than Claire. Claire finds comfort in kayaking on the lake as she tries to figure out where she fits into this changing family.

Three points of view and four poetic forms make up this beautiful story about family. Claire’s poems make up most of the book, with the majority being rhyming quatrains. When she is kayaking on the lake, her poems take the shape of the kayak moving through the water and the last words of the lines are set in bold, creating a sentence that shows what’s truly going on in Claire’s mind. Abigail’s poems are free-verse and lightening-shaped, reflecting the lightning that killed their mother and left Abigail with a scar. The last point of view and form, and also my favorites, are the acrostic poems in the voice of the lake itself. Frost uses lines from some of her favorite poems as the armatures—or the first letter of each line that spells something out when read down the left side of the page—to represent the current of the lake.

This was my first experience reading a novel-in-verse, and I really enjoyed the beautiful language that Frost employs throughout the book. I think she makes her poems very accessible and easy to understand, yet they still have that beautiful language that seems unique to poetry. I love the different forms and points of view she uses. As I said, the lake’s poems were my favorites. I loved getting the chance to see into each sister’s head, but then getting to read the lake’s narrations of what was going on was fascinating. Claire and Abigail are very connected to the lake with everything that has happened there throughout their lives, so it was important for the lake to have a voice in this novel.

What I love most about this book though was that, at its heart, it was about growing up. Coming-of-age stories are my favorite, which is why I pretty much only read in the young adult genre. This story is about the changing relationship between sisters, the changing family dynamics of a new stepmom and half-brother, and simply about turning eleven. Claire’s story has a beautiful innocence to it, and I loved getting to watch her grow.

When My Sister Started Kissing

Our Second Wedding Anniversary

Tuesday, August 1st was my second wedding anniversary. I can’t believe my wonderful husband and I have already been married for two years. It feels like just two days ago that I met the cute boy next door and realized we worked together at our university’s writing center, and it feels like yesterday that I married him.

I’ll never forget how wonderful our wedding was. Our parents threw us the best wedding I could have imagined. We decided to get married at Wright State, since that was where we met and fell in love, so we had our ceremony and reception at Wright State’s Nutter Center’s beautiful Berry Room.

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These past two years have been the best years of my life. We have been truly blessed by God with a wonderful life together, and I can’t wait to see what plans he has in store for us going forward.

This week we celebrated our anniversary by recreating part of our honeymoon, just like we did last year for our first anniversary. On Monday we went to the Ohio State Fair to see one of our favorite bands, For King and Country. And on Tuesday we took a river cruise on the Ohio River and had a wonderful meal while looking at Cincinnati’s beautiful skyline. I had so much fun on the cruise and at the fair that I hope we continue our tradition of doing this for each of our anniversaries.

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My husband is my rock. He supports me more than anyone and is always there for me. I love him so much, and am so grateful to have him by my side.

Favorite Book Feature: Legend by Marie Lu

July’s Favorite Book Feature is the debut novel by Marie Lu, Legend. Lu has gone on to become a big author in the YA world, but I fell in love with her writing back with this first book. I picked it up because the cover looked awesome. The book description sounded so cool that I bought the book to read it, but I knew that it was going to be amazing before I even started it when I read Lu’s bio and saw that the story was inspired by Les Misérables, which as you know is my favorite story ever.

Legend takes place in what used to be the United State’s west coast, a nation called the Republic who is in an unending war with the neighboring Colonies. The book follows June, a military prodigy from a wealthy family, on her quest to hunt down her brother’s murderer. Day, the country’s most infamous and most wanted criminal is the prime suspect. Day comes from a poor, plague-ridden sector and is trying his hardest to protect his family as June tries to avenge her brother’s death. But then they learn the truth of what brought them together, and they discover what their country is willing to do to protect its secrets.

Legend

I love that Legend has its roots in the story of Les Misérables. In Lu’s author bio on the book’s dust jacket she writes that she was inspired to write Legend after watching Les Misérables and wondering how it would translate into a modern story. With June and Day she creates a prodigious detective and famous criminal, much like their counterparts of Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean, and brings them into a modern story that’s thrilling and action-packed. Because I’m in love with Les Misérables, I loved getting to watch how this story played out in a dystopian world. Day does nothing more than try to save his family, like Valjean, and June is somewhat blinded by her need for revenge and justice, like Javert. But then Lu takes this story further than its inspiration and draws these two characters together in a beautiful way.

Legend is one of only a couple thriller/action books on my favorites shelf. Action stories, at least to me, tend to focus more on the action rather than the characters, and so I have trouble following along due to my lack of interest in the characters. Lu is an exception because she excels at making you care about the characters. June could have come across as cold and calculating with her being a genius who focuses on the details. But June’s first chapter opens with her breaking her school’s rules and being a little rebellious. We instantly get this peek into who her character really is. And June’s relationship with her brother, even in the flashbacks we get after he is murdered, bring such a great emotional element to the book. Day, even though we know he is a criminal, comes across as caring and kind. His crimes are small rebellions and he tries not to hurt anyone. This book is full of action, but because Lu gets you to care about the characters so deeply, it was really easy for me to follow along.

The Legend series is a set of three thrilling books. Lu draws you in to this dystopian world and doesn’t let you go. Legend is definitely one of my favorite books, and one that is hard to forget.

Legend Series

When I’m Not Writing: Coloring

I wrote last month that one of my favorite things to do when I’m not writing is make jewelry. One of my other favorite hobbies is to color.

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I mostly choose to color Christian coloring books, because when I’m coloring something with scripture it becomes a much more fulfilling experience. Reflecting on God’s word while doing the relaxing activity of coloring helps me draw closer to God.

Since my last post on coloring, I’ve gone even more coloring crazy. I now have 12 books. I also now have a big set of markers and an electric pencil sharpener for my colored pencils sitting on my coffee table next to my coloring basket.

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Coloring is one of the most relaxing activities I’ve found. I love creating anything, and I love getting to work with my hands, so coloring is the perfect thing for me to do.

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