Book Review: LAST SEEN LEAVING by Caleb Roehrig

Photo credit: Goodreads
I love Thrillers. Back in the day when I read mostly Adult novels, probably 80% of the books I picked up were Thrillers, so while I don't read them as often as I used to anymore, they hold a special place in my heart. So when I heard about Caleb Roehrig's Last Seen Leaving and discovered it was not only a Thriller but a Thriller with queer representation, to say that I was psyched was an understatement.

I'm glad to report that now that I've read the book, it did not disappoint.

But before I go on! Here's the Goodreads summary:

"Flynn's girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own? 
Flynn's girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can't answer, and her friends are telling stories that don't add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January's boyfriend, he must know something. 
But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January's disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself."

So the way Last Seen Leaving is set up, it reminded me a bit of Far From You by Tess Sharpe—another YA with major queer rep in which the protagonist is trying to solve the murder of her best friend. In Last Seen Leaving, however, what happened to January isn't immediately apparent. When the book starts, Flynn learns his girlfriend has disappeared—but did she run away? Did someone take her? Is she still alive? There are immediately a lot of questions, and worse, Flynn can't tell the whole story of the last time he saw her to the police and what they argued about without admitting his huge secret: he's gay.

As the story goes on, the questions build. January's unhappy (but luxurious) home life, the lies she told people about Flynn—and the lies she told Flynn about others—the connections to who she knew and when they last saw her, and through it all Flynn isn't sure who he can trust.

This book had me ripping through the pages to answer all those questions and more—I actually read the second half of the book in a day because I couldn't put it down. I also loved how much this book played with my expectations—even when I was specifically looking for red herrings I still didn't guess what or who was behind January's disappearance. My only super-minor gripe was there were words and phrases throughout that occasionally threw me out of the narrative because it didn't really sound teenager-y to me—but it certainly wasn't distracting enough to take away from the incredible plot and characters that had me exclaiming out loud as I read.

All in all, I definitely recommend this one, especially if you like YA Thrillers and/or enjoyed Far From You. This book and its twists and characters are going to stay with me for a long time.

Diversity note: The protagonist, Flynn, is gay (which is #ownvoices rep!). There's also a minor Japanese character, and the love interest is a gay, Muslim, POC boy.

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 4.5/5 stars to LAST SEEN LEAVING by Caleb Roehrig. Is this FAR FROM YOU-esque YA on your TBR? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for a YA Thriller w/ twists, queer rep, and an addictive mystery? Try LAST SEEN LEAVING. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Challenges Writing BEYOND THE RED

You asked, I answered. Today I'm talking about some challenges I faced while writing BEYOND THE RED—and how I overcame them.


What challenges have you faced with previous manuscripts?

Twitter-sized bite:
Curious about an author's challenges writing their debut? @Ava_Jae vlogs re: difficulties writing BEYOND THE RED. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #29

Photo credit: Javier Vieras on Flickr
We're now in the final days of November, the holidays are upon us, and the end of the year is nearing. I love the holiday season—it's my favorite time of year, so I, for one, am looking forward to the next (expensive) month. Which means it's time for this month's Fixing the First Page Feature!

As usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!


Genre/Category: Adult Contemporary Romance

First 250 words:
"Three days into June and she was still wearing long sleeves and jeans.

Addy sighed, eying the rain-dampened pavement outside with blatant disdain. Summer was always slow to hit Canada, but this year even spring was taking its sweet time. 'It’s a cruel joke,' she told the little unicorn bobble-head stuck to the dashboard of her beat-up gold Intrepid. He nodded in agreement as she reached up to pull the car’s sun visor down. She had always been a summer girl, through and through, and this weather was crushing her soul. 
Oh well. She’d have enough time to complain about it once she was properly made-up and inside the station. 
The visor’s mirror only proved that she looked just as exhausted as she felt; not even the extra large coffee she’d purchased was going to save her. It would definitely have been wiser to make the four-hour drive home from the cottage the night before. 
Missing sleep was among her least favourite things in the world, but it was worth it. She could live with one day of caffeine jitters and sleep-deprived misery if it meant she got to spend even a few extra hours with Dad and her big sister Alexis. She loved her family more than anything, and living across the border from them was the only genuine complaint she had about her life. 
After applying a quick coat of lipstick and mascara, Addy took a moment to evaluate her quickie makeup job. 'Nope,' she sighed. 'Still look like a corpse.'"

Okay! So, first thoughts: I think this is a nice start—I enjoyed the imagery and the line at the end was fun—but it's missing any hint of conflict. As I've said in previous critiques, you definitely don't need The Problem on page one, but it can help to infuse a little foreshadowed conflict or hint of whatever is wrong to come early on, because it establishes tension right away which can pull readers in. Without it, you have an opening that's nice, but it might not grab readers or be particularly memorable.

So overall, this isn't a bad start—I just think it could use some tweaking to make it grab a little more.

Now for the in-line notes:

"Three days into June and she was still wearing long sleeves and jeans.

Addy sighed, eying glaring at the rain-dampened pavement outside with blatant disdain. You don't have to use that phrasing exactly, of course, but I tweaked the sentence to show her disdain with an action (glaring) rather than saying she's looking with disdain. Summer was always slow to hit Canada, but this year even spring was taking its sweet time. 'It’s a cruel joke,' she told the little unicorn bobble-head stuck to the dashboard of her beat-up gold Intrepid. He nodded in agreement as she reached up to pulled the car’s sun visor down. Condensed that sentence some. She'd had always been a summer girl, through and through, and this weather was crushing her soul. 
Oh well. She’d have enough time to complain about it once she was properly made-up and inside the station. 
The visor’s mirror only proved that she looked just as exhausted as she felt; not even the her extra large coffee she’d purchased was going to save her. It would definitely have been wiser to make the four-hour drive home from the cottage the night before. 
Missing sleep was among her least favourite things in the world, but it was worth it. She could live with one day of caffeine jitters and sleep-deprived misery if it meant she got to spend even a few extra hours with Dad and her big sister Alexis. She loved her family more than anything, and living across the border from them was the her only genuine life complaint she had about her life
After applying a quick coat of lipstick and mascara, Addy took a moment to evaluate her quickie makeup job. Took out quick because the speed is implied with "quickie makeup job" and you don't need to say quick twice. 'Nope,' she sighed. 'Still look like a corpse.'" I like that last line. :) 

All right, so, main adjustments here are to cut out unnecessary wordiness, but overall there wasn't that much that needed fixing, as you can see. The main thing I think needs tweaking is what I mentioned above—some conflict—but other than that I think this is a well-written start. If I saw this in the slush, I'd keep reading...but if some conflict or tension didn't come up quickly, I'd probably stop reading.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Andrea!

Would you like to be featured in the next Fixing the First Page critique? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway in December!

Twitter-sized bite:

.@Ava_Jae talks wordiness, adding early tension, and more in the 29th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

On the Endless Temptation to Compare

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The closer we get to December, the more I've been preparing myself for list season. You know, those end-of-year lists that talk about the "best" or "most underrated" or "most memorable" etc. etc. books across various categories. The YA world has a ton of them.

Every year up until now, I've seen authors remind themselves and others not to pay much attention to list season. There are often tweets about how not getting picked for a list doesn't mean your book is bad, or unmemorable, or doomed to failure or whatever—the truth is, a lot of really great books get left off lists every year.

Of course, this is the first year where that advice actually will apply to me.

In a way it's interesting—we writers have to remind ourselves not to compare ourselves to others all the time even before we get published or agented. We have to remember that one person's writing speed isn't our own, that just because someone got published at sixteen doesn't mean you suck because you didn't, that not being able to "win" NaNoWriMo doesn't make you lesser than those who do, that not making that pitch contest, or getting a pitch request or, or, or, or—

You get the idea. Now that I am published, however, there's a whole new list of things where I have to remind myself not to compare. Advances, number of contracted books, bestseller lists, review averages on Goodreads and Amazon and Barnes & Noble, sales ranks on the latter two, royalties, marketing budgets, shelf and endcap and table placement, presence in stores, features on big websites, starred and professional reviews, tours and conference appearances, marketing budgets, publishers—the temptation to compare and avenues to do so are truly endless.

But sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves of what we have accomplished. Of where we have gotten recognition. Because while it's super easy to forget, when you sit down and make a list or at least give yourself time to consider it, it really can be all the encouragement you need to tell the side of you that wants to compare to be quiet and feel awesome about things you should feel proud about.

So here's my quick book and writing-related list for 2016:

  • Saw my debut face-out at B&N
  • Did a mini-tour and spoke at an SCBWI conference like a pro
  • Was featured as a local author at two B&Ns during B-Fest where I sat at a table with a stack of my books and hand sold my debut
  • Sold my debut's two sequels, which will be published in Fall 2017 and 2018
  • Wrote two new manuscripts and am nearly done with my third
  • And, most recently: Beyond the Red made Buzzfeed's "Ultimate YA Book Gift Guide for 2016" (!!!!)

For my writing and book stuff, at least, 2016's been a good year so far—something I'll be reminding myself of every time the temptation to compare arises. 

Now I want to hear from you: what writing-related things have you accomplished this year? What are you proud of?

Twitter-sized bites:

Feeling tempted to compare yourself to other writers? Author @Ava_Jae blogs on the endless temptation to compare. (Click to tweet
What writing things have you accomplished this year? What are you proud of? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #29!

Photo credit: Sugar Daze on Flickr
Quick Thanksgiving post to announce the winner of the twenty-ninth fixing the first page feature giveaway!


And the twenty-ninth winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Andrea!

Thanks again to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in December (December!!), so keep an eye out! And Happy Thanksgiving, US friends!

Book Review: GEMINA by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Photo credit: Goodreads
Ho-lee shit. This book. Where do I even start with how incredibly, mind-blowing-ly amazing Gemina was?

I guess I'll start where I always do—the Goodreads summary:

"Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed. 
The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault. 
Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy's most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion. 
When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station's wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands. 
But relax. They've totally got this. They hope. 
Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless."

Much of Illuminae was about trying to survive so that the passengers could make it to the space station/wormhole guardian Heimdall. Gemina picks up where Illuminae left off—except from the perspective of some of the people at Heimdall. Our main protagonists are Hanna and Nik; Hanna is the rich daughter of Heimdall's commander and Nik is part of a gang known as the House of Knives. Two very different people with very different social circles, though that doesn't stop Nik from flirting mercilessly with Hanna, and neither does the fact she has a boyfriend.

Of course, those everyday details become pretty irrelevant when everything goes to hell.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Gemina when I picked it up—mostly because I pre-ordered it after reading Illuminae and didn't read anything about what it was about (since, you know, I knew I was reading it no matter what). What I did expect was what I'd gotten from Illuminae: loads of action and twists, a very high body count, and edge-of-your-seat type pacing. Also probably something about Heimdall.

Gemina is all of that and more.

There are very few books that make me exclaim out loud, and Gemina can take the crown on "book I swore out loud the most while reading." It's hard for me to say too much without spoiling, so what I'll say is this: I ripped through the pages like nothing else (except Illuminae), the sequel absolutely lived up to the incredible first book, and I need the final book of the trilogy yesterday. Basically, I intend to continue to tell people to read it or else.

Diversity note: Of the main cast of characters there isn't a ton—both Hanna and Nik (our protagonists) are white, cishet, able-bodied, etc. One of the major non-protagonist characters, however is disabled (uses a wheelchair and needs an oxygen mask 24/7), which was good to see. If there's anything I have to request out of book three it's that we see more diversity rep with the protagonists, please!

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️to GEMINA by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman. Is this action-packed, twisty sequel on your TBR? (Click to tweet
Looking for a twisted, mind-blowing YA Sci-Fi? Check out GEMINA by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 5 Common Unnecessary Words

After revising your plot, characters, pacing, setting and other major issues, the time will come to dive into line edits. So here are some frequently overused words to look out for at the end of your revisions.


What common unnecessary words or phrases do you struggle with?

Twitter-sized bite:
Gearing up for line edits? @Ava_Jae shares 5 unnecessary words & phrases to look out for while revising. #vlog (Click to tweet)

How to Write Convincing Unreliable Narrators

Photo credit: erichhh
I really enjoy unreliable narrators, something I've mentioned on the blog here before. There's something especially memorable and impactful about discovering partway through a book that the one character you've trusted implicitly—the character telling the story—has in fact been lying to you, or not telling the whole truth.

Of course, pulling off a convincing unreliable narrator who keeps secrets convincingly isn't as easy as it sounds (and it doesn't sound easy to begin with). It can be tough to toe the line between keeping whatever secrets your narrator is keeping and doing it in a way that both makes sense to the story, especially in hindsight, and fits the character without being overly convenient.

So how do you do that? The main keys that I've found revolve both around character and realism.

  • Character. In order to pull off an unreliable narrator, why they're unreliable has to make sense for their character. A character who values honesty above all else isn't going to skew the facts of the story on their favor, for example. Unreliable narrators, especially those that are being purposefully unreliable, are often smart, strategic characters with quite a bit of charisma—which is necessary for the character to convincingly deceive the readers until the time comes for the reveal.

  • Realism. This is an issue I see in published books even, from time to time, and it tends to cause a lot of griping from readers, and understandably so. Sometimes, when a POV character is keeping a secret, they mention the secret all the time. They remind readers that they have a secret but don't say what the secret is. I'm filing this under realism because, quite frankly, this isn't realistic. The whole point of having a secret is not talking about it—that's what a secret is. So to reference a secret and not say what it is becomes a tease that makes little sense in context—and it tends to turn readers against the narrator. 

With both of those elements tackled, you'll be well on your way to creating a stronger unreliable narrator.

What tips do you have for writing convincing secrets and unreliable narrators?

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you write a convincing unreliable narrator? @Ava_Jae shares a couple tips. (Click to tweet)

Mid-NaNo Check In!

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So we are now more than halfway through NaNoWriMo (and, you know, November) which is equal parts amazing and whoa. This NaNoWriMo has usual one, to say the least. With the whole election disaster thrown in the middle, I know a lot of writers were thrown off-pace, myself included, sometimes for days or a full week. Plus the whole online climate has changed as we try to grapple with the whole thing, which has lessened NaNo talk, at least in my feed.

Which, yeah, fair enough. After what happened, I wouldn't expect anything else.

People are indeed still NaNoing, however, and I'm doing my best to keep up with it too. Originally, my plan was the write my full #MagicMurderMayhem WIP, which I estimated would be around 80,000 words. Since writing, however, and seeing how quickly I've been getting through my planned scenes, I've lowered my completed word count estimation to 65,000 words (although I actually suspect it'll be closer to the 60,000-word range).

This has actually been a saving grace because it allowed me to lower my daily word count goal from 3,600 words/day to 2,200 or so and dropping (because I've been writing extra when I can) and still take off Sundays. And the pace has been working well so far, as of Thursday I'm at 42,005 (including the 300 words I wrote pre-NaNo) despite being literally the busiest I've ever been, so yay.

As for the manuscript! It's going well, although I'm already noticing plot holes and major things I'll have to fix, but so goes first drafting. My goal is still to finish the manuscript by the end of November. Then I'll take December off except for any deadline things which I may very well have to do (we'll see!) and...well, after that, we're on to 2017. Wow.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's focus on the rest of NaNo. How are you guys doing with your NaNo projects at the (little over) midpoint? 

Twitter-sized bite:
It's mid-NaNo check in time! How are you progressing with #NaNoWriMo? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

My Favorite Multi-POV Novels

Writing multi-POV novels is a tough business. Between writing a fully-formed plot with multiple characters who are all (somewhat) equally involved and invested in the narrative (and thus deserving of their perspective), keeping all the voices distinct, making sure the multiple character arcs line up, and everything else involved, it can be a lot. I've already written posts on how to write multi-POV novels, dual-POV writing tips, choosing POV characters, etc., but one tip I give a lot is to read what you want to write. So if you want to write multi-POV novels, reading them can be really helpful.

I haven't, however, really talked much about multi-POV novels I've enjoyed, so I'm going to fix that now with a list. So if you're looking for multi-POV books, take a look at these:

Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo

What's extra great about this one (besides, you know, everything) is Bardugo mastered not only third-person multi-POV, but she did it while also honing each POV character's distinct voice. It is excellent.

Illuminae Files trilogy by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

This one's an interesting example, because there are SO many POV characters. In Illuminae, there's Kady, Ezra, AIDAN (the AI), people transcribing video files, and probably more than I'm forgetting. The trilogy is told in a found materials format, which is unusual, and awesome, and the way multiple POVs are balanced and played with makes for super interesting reading.

Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab

Another excellent multi-POV in third person trilogy. Also I just really love V.E. Schwab's third person voice like whoa.

Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis

This is the first dual-POV YA I read and wow, I loved it. It's an old example but remains the book that taught me how effective first person dual-POV can be, so I will continue recommending it forever.

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

This is a great one because not only is it dual-POV chock full of great representation, but the two POV characters literally live in different worlds. So that's pretty neat.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This book is really beautifully written and another great example of distinct YA third person dual-POV voices.

Others (both that I've read and haven't): The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, Carry On and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Faking It by Cora Carmack, Starbound trilogy by Amie Kaufman, Under the Never Sky trilogy by Veronica Rossi, Legend trilogy by Marie Lu, This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp, and Mind Games by Kiersten White.

What are some of your favorite multi-POV novels?

Twitter-sized bite:
What are some of your favorite multi-POV novels? @Ava_Jae shares some picks & kicks off the discussion on her blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Writing is Political

Some thoughts after last week's US election. Because whether you intend it or not, writing fiction is political.

Twitter-sized bites:
"Writing diverse worlds where love wins & equality is central is a political act." (Click to tweet
"Whether [your MS] reflects our reality or...pretend[s] much of our world doesn't's political." (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #29!

Photo credit: anniehs on Flickr
So it is indeed (almost) halfway through November. It's been a trying month for many of us, so here's a little bit of tiny good news: it's time for the twenty-ninth Fixing the First Page feature.

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a public (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Monday, November 21 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Aftermath

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Note: I wrote this November 9th. As I know many of us are still grieving, I'm sharing it today. Stay safe out there. <3

It's November 9 when I'm writing this, and today my heart hurts. My head hurts. My body hurts. When you're chronically ill, stress can cause flares, so I'm not surprised it's 9AM and I'm already thinking about painkillers.

And still, I have work to do. NaNo words to write. This post. Editing work for clients. An overflowing e-mail inbox that needs attention. A vlog to record—and hopefully record without it being obvious I was crying this morning. I'll get through it one step at a time, but right now moving forward feels like walking through molasses.

I'm scared for myself. For so many of my friends. For what this will mean tomorrow, and the day after, and every day for the next four years and two months.

I'm telling myself I have today to process emotionally but tomorrow I have to start fighting.

Among the grieving, I've seen a lot of inspirational threads online. About the importance of writing children's literature, especially now. About art. About supporting people who need it. About loving each other.

I'm going to share them here:

Sending love and hugs to all my scared friends. We'll get through this one day at a time.

The Quiet Joys of Re-Reading

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Even though I'm behind on my yearly reading goal at the moment, and have been over a month, I've been doing some re-reading lately.

The first was Six of Crows, mostly because I wanted to dive into Crooked Kingdom without worrying about not remembering details or minor characters. This turned out to be a smart decision, because while I remembered the overall plot, I'd forgotten a lot of the details. As a bonus, Six of Crows is one of my favorite books ever, so it deserved a re-read anyway.

Right now, I'm finishing up my re-read of Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman, once again because I have the sequel (Gemina) and want to go in with the previous book fresh in my mind. This is also proving to be a good decision, not only because I'd forgotten details (which I had, even though I technically finished reading it for the first time this year), but also because it's been really interesting to go through it already knowing the twists. Plus there was one major twist I'd forgotten about, and then remembered before it was revealed, so it's been pretty fascinating to look for the clues and foreshadowing going in. Also, I don't really remember how it ended, so there's that minor tidbit.

Earlier in the year I also re-read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for the fifth time, for two of my classes. That was also fascinating, because my last read had been years prior, so it was really cool to re-experience everything I loved about it the first (five) times and read it a little more analytically.

So even though my yearly reading challenge has been yelling at me, it's been a nice change of pace to sit and re-read some of my favorite books before diving into the sequel. And I do think it's productive—examining what it was, exactly, that you liked so much the first time can be a great way to learn. Every time to read a book, you can walk away with something a little different—and to me, that journey never gets old.

Do you enjoy re-reading books? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Do you enjoy re-reading books? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 3 Common Protagonist Problems

Writing a compelling protagonist is essential to every book—so today I'm sharing three common protagonist problems so hopefully you can avoid these mistakes.


Have you made these mistakes with your protagonists before?

Twitter-sized bites:
Working on a novel? Make sure your MC doesn't have these 3 common protagonist problems. #vlog (Click to tweet
Writing a compelling protagonist is key—but does your MC have these 3 common protagonist problems? (Click to tweet)

Writing First vs. Third Person

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My NaNo novel this year is in third person. This is a pretty unusual shift for me—I haven't written a book in third person since literally my first novel ever, over a decade ago. But somewhere along the way, as I've read more third person that has become perma-favorites, as I decided to write a book with three POV characters, I decided it was time to experiment with third person again.

I like it.

In a way, writing first person helped me learn how to write third person better. With my very first book, I saw narration as a sort of separate thing, something tacked on to explain what was happening. But as I began writing first person, I learned how to meld narration with character, how every word mattered. I learned to think about whether this POV character would use this specific word, and whether they'd notice that detail, or how the way they saw a room or character would be different if it were narrated by someone else.

Now I'm bringing all of those lessons back into limited third person, and I'm pretty delighted with how seamless it's been to switch over. Because when making the switch from first person to limited third, the truth is while it does have a very different feel to it, the mechanics are basically the same. You filter the narrative through a single character's perspective and consider how that character experiences the events around them.

Ultimately, the difference between, "I stared at him; what was he talking about?" and "She stared at him; what was he talking about?" isn't all that large. But when a manuscript calls for one over the other, you'll know because it'll fit the tone the story in a way the other tense couldn't.

Have you played with first and third person? What has your experience been like? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Author @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts on switching from first to third person. (Click to tweet

On Diving Into a New Story

Photo credit: tableatny
As of this writing, I'm about 9,000 words into the NaNo novel I'm calling #MagicMurderMayhem. There's something really special about starting a new manuscript; there's that thrill of diving into a new world, getting to know new characters, and immersing yourself in a completely new story. It's also a little scary—there's the uncertainty of whether or not you'll reach The End, the niggling whispers of knowing what you're going to have to fix even as you write, the possibility that you'll finish the draft and never look at it again.

All of that is real, and valid, and seems to never actually go away, no matter how many manuscripts you write. #MagicMurderMayhem is my sixteenth manuscript (which kind of blows my mind, to be honest), and while there are definitely differences with this experience than, say, my first (more confidence, trusting myself and my process, solid organization, etc.), there's still a lot of the same, emotionally.

In many ways, for me, first drafting is the (second) hardest part of the writing process. Creating something out of nothing is hard, and I think it's important to acknowledge that. (The first hardest, for me, is plotting, where you're really creating something out of absolutely nothing.) Every time you look at a blank page and turn it into a combination of letters that tell a story, you're doing something a little like magic. You're creating a reality where the things your characters do, think, say, and feel will matter to a reader. You're weaving words until they create pictures, until readers form attachments and feel very real emotions.

Writing a book is a really special thing, so I hope those of you who are first drafting take a moment to pat yourself on the back and smile. Because no, writing isn't easy, but it certainly is amazing and worth celebrating.

Are you working on a first draft right now? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Working on a first draft? Author @Ava_Jae has some encouraging words for you. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo

Photo credit: Goodreads
So Crooked Kingdom! Where do I even start? I've been psyched about this book since I read and loved Six of Crows last year and I'm happy to report the duology is going on my hall of fame perma-favorites list because wow, did this sequel deliver. Before I tell you how so, however, here is the Goodreads summary:
"Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world."
So here's what I was expecting from Crooked Kingdom after reading Six of Crows:

  • Respectful portrayal of disability (Kaz's bad leg and PTSD)
  • Really clever con/thief-like plots
  • A look at addiction
  • All the twists
  • Action
  • Tons of wit and snark
  • More detailed and layered world building
  • A realistic and satisfying end to an awesome duology

With Crooked Kingdom, I got all of that and more. 

There are so many things I loved about this book. You learn a whole lot more about each of the main characters (Kaz, Inej, Matthias, Nina, Jesper, and Wylan), you get an even better sense of not just Ketterdam but how the Grisha world fits together, and there are soooooo many twists throughout the book. And of course the humor and wit I loved in Six of Crows was back in Crooked Kingdom, plus the relationships from the first book were really fleshed out in the sequel. My only nitpick was sometimes it felt like we had a little too much background for some of the characters? But I honestly didn't mind because I loved the book so much I didn't want it to end, so really it was an added bonus.

Plus! One thing I really admired was over clever the plot was in Six of Crows and I didn't think it was possible to one-up that but wow, Crooked Kingdom's plot was like three clever plots in one and it was so incredibly gratifying to read. I loved watching Kaz and his crew go from plan to plan and build on both their successes and failures to create one truly epic conclusion to the duology. 

It's also good to note Bardugo delved more into racial dynamics, which was really great to see. Multiple characters dealt with racial microaggressions throughout the novel and it was clear those elements were more well thought out in this sequel. Then of course, there was one scene that really made me pause and nod. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say Kaz is offered a "miracle cure" for his disability and not only did he not take it, he was appropriately pissed about it. I was really glad to see this handled so aptly and it made me respect and love the series even more. 

The Six of Crows duology is a masterpiece. From its diverse cast to perfect dialogue to incredibly clever plots, I'll be passionately recommending this duology for-freaking-ever. If you're even remotely interested in fantasy, make sure you pick this one up for sure. 

Diversity note: Kaz, one of the main protagonists, has chronic pain and a limp from an old injury and uses a cane to help him get around. He also deals with sometimes-debilitating PTSD. Another POV character, Jesper, is black and bisexual and Wylan also likes boys. A minor character is queer, too.

Twitter-sized bites:

.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo. Is this stunning sequel on your TBR? (Click to tweet)

Looking for a clever YA Fantasy w/ a very diverse cast? Check out CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Make the Most of Writing Sprints

What are writing sprints and how can you make the most of them? Today I'm sharing tips for sprints to get those words down during NaNoWriMo and any other time of year.


Do you use writing sprints? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Want to get some words down quickly for #NaNoWriMo? @Ava_Jae vlogs on making the most of writing sprints. (Click to tweet)  
Need to focus while writing? Check out @Ava_Jae's writing sprint tips. #vlog (Click to tweet)
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