The Great Big “My Book Is Out Today” Post

“You Look Different in Real Life” is out. In the world. That’s cool. (I’m masking how utterly verklempt and grateful I am.)

People I made, with the book I made.

On Release Day you’re supposed to, you know, talk up your book in a whole lot of different places in a professionally sanctioned me-a-thon. I’ve done some of that. It feels unterrible. I’ll do just a bit more with this list of “story behind the story” notions I would like to share with you.

1) There’s much of me in Justine, and vice versa. While I gave Laurel from “The Beginning of After” my good-girl-itis and the instinct to keep emotions pressure-cooking inside, Justine got my snark, my body image struggles, and my love of sneakers. I adore her. I adore that she’s not perfect, and that readers may not fall for her right away. Because I believe a character has got to earn that, dammit.

2) I watched a lot of documentaries for research, especially ones about teens. Here are five which had particular impact and still stay with me:

“7 Up,” “14 Up,” and “21 Up.” Michael Apted’s brilliant series, now clocking in at “56 Up,” obviously inspired this book’s premise. These first three movies are plain stinkin’ fascinating, and they include the cutest accents and haircuts.

“The Education of Shelby Knox.” Shot over the span of several years, Texas teenager Shelby Knox evolves from a conservative Southern Baptist to discovering her voice and calling as a liberal women’s activist. I was riveted.

“Billy the Kid.” Filmed “character” portraits don’t get much better than this. I watched this long after Rory was alive and breathing on the page, but you might notice a resemblance of quirk.

3) The character of filmmaker Lance is named for Lance Loud, from the 1971 PBS documentary series “An American Family.” You can’t see this series anywhere but in a few bootleg YouTube videos (although you can enjoy “Cinema Verite,” the HBO dramatic film version), but I did a lot of research on it as I was developing the story. If you’re unfamiliar, “An American Family” is widely considered a precursor to reality TV in America, documenting several months in the lives of an upperclass Santa Barbara family called the Louds. It was pretty epic. Bill and Pat Loud broke up on camera. Their oldest son Lance was one of the first openly gay people to appear on U.S. national television (and went on to be a magazine columnist and musician). Thinking about the Loud kids, who were mostly teens when the series was shot, and how this experience might have shaped their lives, drove a great deal of my early brainstorming. I also learned some intriguing stuff about the filmmaker-subject relationship and you see some of that with Lance, Leslie, and the gang in the book.

4) I love that because of the book’s premise — that these teens were chosen by documentary filmmakers when they were six years old — I could hand-pick certain character “stereotypes,” because that’s what the filmmakers would have done in order to maximize their range of subjects. The fun part was shaking those stereotypes up, then breaking them open to see what was really inside.

5) When I was writing this, I didn’t expect to later be writing a companion short story from Keira’s point-of-view. But Holy Character Development, am I glad to have been given this opportunity. Read “Playing Keira” before you read YLDIRL and you’ll have inside information that Justine does not; read it after, and I think it’ll close a nice circle. Either way, it’s only 99 cents and you’ll never look at a pineapple the same way again.

6) And finally. Documentary film premise or not, for me this book is about two things: self-identity and friendship. Probably because they’re two things I thought I’d have all figured out by now, but…well, sh*t. So what can I take, for myself, from the experience of writing this book? I’ve learned that the insecurities and drama of friendship don’t go away when you “grow up.” They get even more complex, actually, and that sucks. But I think, with experience, you just get better at recognizing which relationships are worth fighting for. And also, every person you get close to, no matter how long she or he stays in your life, has something to give. Sometimes we have to dig a little for that, but it’s always worth the dirty fingernails.

When it comes to identity, I look at this book and my journey with it, and am reminded that (fortunately) the way we see ourselves is not the whole picture of who we are. We’re slightly different to each person we share the world with, whether it’s intimately or casually or randomly online. Put all those versions together, and it’s still not anything absolute. It’s just information. I guess the trick is to stay curious about who we are, to never stop trying to figure it all out. In the end, that’s what keeps us spiritually alive.

Justine, Felix, Rory, Nate, and Keira belong to you now. Go forth and read! But first, enjoy the brand new “You Look Different in Real Life” trailer. It makes me smile and tap my toes, and I hope it does the same for you.


Two months to pub date is a great excuse for a giveaway

When you’re in the throes of finishing a book and your publisher have given you a release date that feels about ten lifetimes away, it’s hard to imagine that yes, at some point, this thing you have written will be a shiny bound thing that sits on a bookstore shelf. I’ve said and typed the date “June 4, 2013″ so often that it has stopped feeling actual. But time has a way of zooming and hey, now. Look. That iconic-to-me calendar day, when YOU LOOK DIFFERENT IN REAL LIFE is officially published, is TWO MONTHS AWAY. That’s like, a mere 8 episodes of “Smash.”

As such, I’m in a generous, celebratory mood, and have put together this fabulous prize pack of a signed (and dedicated if requested) ARC of YOU LOOK DIFFERENT IN REAL LIFE, a signed (and dedicated if requested) paperback of THE BEGINNING OF AFTER — the lighter, floppier version of my first novel that comes out on April 16 — plus a handful of bookmarks for both books, because why the hell not.

Beginning of After and You Look Different in Real Life giveaway prize pack

*waves spokesmodel arms*

To enter, leave a comment on this blog post about your favorite documentary or reality TV show. Extra entries for following me on Twitter and tweeting about this giveaway. I will make this giveaway open internationally, and it will run until midnight on April 16.


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“Playing Keira,” a long story short

The first thing I ever had published was a short story I wrote for my 10th grade English class called “Goodbye, Annabel,” which won a local contest and got printed in the newspaper. It was a portrait of a ten-year-old girl saying goodbye to her ragdoll before being sent to boarding school, and unless you were immune to symbolism hitting you on the forehead with a hammer, you got that she was really saying goodbye to childhood. (Nobody questioned why a ten-year-old girl would be sent to boarding school in this day and age, and they gave me fifty bucks in prize money, which I promptly blew on Duran Duran cassette tapes and Swedish fish at the White Plains Galleria.)

I wrote many more short stories throughout high school and then at college, in the undergraduate Creative Writing program at Brown. Some were pretty good. Many were pretentious and inauthentic and I cringe to even think about them now. It wasn’t until my last story in my last college fiction writing class with the renowned writer John Hawkes that I finally found something that felt like my voice.

Which is, of course, when I stopped writing them and turned instead to screenplays, and then, eventually, novels.

Recently, however, I was invited to write a short story for the new HarperTeen Impulse digital imprint, and I jumped at it. Here was an incredible opportunity to get back to the format I came from, and in a way that would let me further develop one of the supporting characters from “You Look Different in Real Life.” The problem was, I was so rusty at writing in short form, I could almost hear the joints creak as I typed. To further slow those joints and make them periodically freeze up, I had to write the story for two types of readers: those who had not yet read YLDIRL, and those who had. Yikes.

But I forged on, and it was one of the best writing experiences I’ve ever had. You know when you think something’s going to be a breeze and then you realize it’s totally not, and it’s actually a challenge, and you can’t back out now so you just take on the challenge and guess what, you rock it and feel like you got that much better at something? THAT. I’m so thrilled to announce that “Playing Keira” will be available for download from HarperTeen Impulse on May 7, 2013 (and will include a teaser for “You Look Different in Real Life”). Here, now, the deets:

Playing KeiraThe premise was simple: Five kids living their real lives, with a new movie about them every five years. But that was before Keira’s mother walked out and the cameras captured every heartbreaking detail for the world to see. Now Keira doesn’t even know what “real life” means—she only knows how to pretend to be herself. Then she meets Garrett on a bus to New York City. At first, Keira creates a fictional identity and enjoys the freedom of being someone totally different. But as their brief connection turns into something more, Keira starts to see what life could be like if she just stopped pretending and accepted the person she really is.

Learn more about HarperTeen Impulse.

I think this imprint will be a great opportunity for authors to not only explore their stories in fresh ways, but also create new ones that may not fit into the novel format. And really, anything that encourages YA readers to check out short stories and novellas is a win for literature in general.

Actually, one of the beautiful things about my experience here was that it forced me to read short stories again, and YA short stories in particular, in an effort to loosen up those old joints. I have to give a shout out to two fantastic anthologies that to me, represent the best of this under-recognized genre:

“Sixteen: Stories About That Sweet and Bitter Birthday,” edited by Megan McCafferty. This one includes standout stories by Sarah Dessen, Julianna Baggott, M.T. Anderson, and Ned Vizzini.

“Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd,” edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. So. much. great. writing. In small bites so you can really appreciate it. My favorites here were from Cassandra Clare, David Levithan, Kelly Link, and Sara Zarr…although they are all terrific reads.

I hope YA fans will continue to mix up their reading by picking up an anthology or checking out the new crop of “digital original” short form YA fiction out there from HarperTeen and other publishers.

Go Keira!