What’s Your Writing Process?

I’m not normally one for blog parties, where someone tags you on their blog or in your comments or on social media and commands you to write about a thing you have no real interest in writing about. (Or at least, that sums up most of the ones I’ve been invited to participate in, YMMV.)

But!

The illustrious Kim Green invited me to participate in a discussion on writing processes, which is a subject I find fascinating.

Not my own, obviously. I live with me, and therefore my own process (IF THAT EVEN IS ITS REAL NAME) has lost all glamour and intrigue for me. But I love reading about the processes of other writers, and as you are not me, that makes me other writers to you.

Wow. That sentence was…something. Buckle up, kids, as I am sure you now want to hear about my process so you can imitate it and enjoy coming up with gems like “as you are not me, that makes me other writers to you.” You’re welcome.

Okay, first off, a disclaimer. Talking about “my process” feels a little bit like a sham, as “process” seems to imply

a) planning

b) structure

c) consistency

and mine is not reliable on any of those fronts. It changes from book to book and from day to day, based on what I’m writing and what else is happening in my life and whether I’ve had coffee and what other forms of entertainment I’ve consumed lately.

Chaos, baby. It’s how I roll.

However, maybe some of you are getting discouraged when you read about how other writers schedule their days down to the minute and think, I can never be that organized! Alas and alack! I shall never write a book! 

If that’s you, I’m here to tell you, you can still write a book.

Disclaimer #2: I admire the ever-lovin’ heck out of writers who can stick to a daily schedule. My amazingly talented friend Victoria recently posted her schedule and I’ll be honest, I just stared at it in awe for a while. How does one make the minutes in their day behave like the Von Trapp children, all orderly and in a row, while my minutes insist on romping through the trees wearing nothing but some old drapes?

Oh wait. Those were also the Von Trapp children.

The Von Trapp children are not a metaphor I was planning on using when I started this post, but there you have it. Chaos Theory in action.

The point is, there is no one right way to write a book. Or a blog post, or a news article, or graffiti on a bathroom stall. No writer I know worth his or her salt claims there is. As long as you are getting words on paper, or on your computer screen, or etched onto a stone tablet, or scrawled onto a cocktail napkin, or spray painted on that bathroom stall*, you are moving in the right direction.

*I’m going to get in trouble for this. Don’t graffiti bathroom stalls, people. Unless it is your bathroom stall that you own, or you have received permission from the bathroom stall owners, in which case, have at it.

All roads can lead to books. All processes can be valid. All minutes are ultimately Von Trapp children.

So, with those disclaimers out of the way, let me get into the questions I’m actually supposed to be answering.

What am I working on?

Heh. Um, several things, and they’re all very different from one another. Front and center are my YA superhero thriller, which I’m in the process of revising with my agent, and a YA contemporary retelling of a Shakespeare play, which I am deep into drafting. But in the cracks and spaces between those two projects, I’m also pondering revisions of my YA epic fantasy, and plotting out my YA time travel historical mystery.

As I said. Quite different.

Chaos, baby.

This does play into the process question though, because I have to prioritize these projects somehow. All of my works-in-progress have my agent’s blessing, but that doesn’t mean she’s okay with me pinballing between them like a squirrel on speed. If I tried to do that, I’d never turn anything in, ever. I am not one of those writers who can simultaneously write four books, much as I might want to. About the most I can handle at once is drafting one book and revising another (and even that is tricky, as pulling my brain out of one genre and plopping it into another is easier said than done). So what happens when I get ideas for the books I’m not actively drafting or revising?

Notes!

I use Scrivener, which I love  as much as a human can love a computer program without getting creepy about it. More “breakfast tacos” levels of love, less “Her.” Scrivener lets me jump into that book’s file, jot a few notes, and flit back out of the program without the back-burner book’s pages so much as rustling in my wake. It’s perfect for me, because I don’t have to keep ideas in my head (which is a terrible place to keep them, as I lose things in there all the time), but I don’t have to actively work on developing them either.

And with those other ideas safe in Scrivener and out of my brain, I can better focus on my main projects. For me, it’s really good to have a pipeline, because each stage of writing comes with different kinds and levels of excitement. I love starting a new draft (excitement! possibilities! infatuation!), but finishing can be difficult. So it’s good to be able to fine-tune something that’s nearly finished, or jot ideas on something that’s still brimming with potential, when I need to jump-start my enthusiasm.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a funny question, mostly because it’s not one I ask myself when I start a project. I write, first and foremost, the kind of stories I’d like to read. For that reason, I think what I write is different from what’s currently on shelves, simply because if it already existed, I’d probably rather read it than write it. No way I’m spending that much effort writing a (probably lesser, because let’s face it, copies are normally not nearly as sharp as the original) version of something that’s already out there.

It’s also hard to give a broad answer to this question because I write in multiple genres, so there’s no one thing that distinguishes my body of work from every other YA genre. However, I will say there are a few themes that keep popping up in all my stories, whether they’re about Reluctant Superheroes or Uppity Teens In Love or Illegal Powers And Dragons or Accidental Time Travel, that make them a bit different from a lot of what’s currently on the YA shelves of your local library.

The main one is probably my heavy emphasis on family. YA has a lot of orphans, only children, detached parents, and estranged parents. This is often by necessity – it can be hard to make a teenager a central player in a story where he or she has to submit to so many varied forms of authority. This doesn’t make those books inherently good or bad – there’s a lot of things that go into the making of a good story aside from whether the main character has family members present. But for me, I haven’t written anything yet that doesn’t have strong familial themes, and while I know to never say never, I’ll be surprised if that changes.

Whether it’s parents or grandparents or brothers or sisters or cousins, I am intrigued by families, how they interact, how they love, how they disappoint, how they surprise. Siblings are fascinating, because they share a lifelong bond, but may not have compatible personalities, and I like playing with that dichotomy. Then there’s the relationships between grandparents and parents and kids, and the ripple effect of one generation influencing the next influencing the next. Having two kids of my own, I spend a lot of time thinking of how most parenting decisions are made with the intent of doing what’s Best For Your Kids, but there’s often no way to know if you made the right call until much later. I like picking up the threads of those good intentions several years later, once everything has unraveled, and figuring out how to reconcile what the characters intended with what’s happened.

My work has a few other quirks that I believe gives it its own unique flavor. But I think I’ll leave it there for now.

Why do I write what I do?

I feel like I pretty much already answered this question. I write stories I want to read. I write characters that interest me. At the end of the day, writing is a long, labor-intensive process where a huge amount of the work has to be completed before there is ever even the possibility of being compensated for it. For me, that means that I really need to love what I’m writing, because if I don’t, that is a whole lot of effort for no guaranteed payoff. It also means that even if these books never sell (even though I sincerely hope they do), I’ll still be glad I wrote them, because I love the stories and I loved the act of writing them.

How does my writing process work?

Oh hey! You were wondering if we’d ever get back here, weren’t you?

Okay, as I stated earlier, “my process” is a tricksy beast. It varies a lot, and is influenced by a myriad of exterior factors. But here are a few things I have learned about this crazy thing called writing, that will always be true no matter what I’m writing and what’s going on in my life.

  • I have to write on a computer. Lots of writers find writing longhand helps them get past their inhibitions because they don’t self-edit as much. This…is not a thing I can do. Everything I do must be typed. Give me a blank piece of paper and a pencil and I will blink at you like you just asked me to casually sketch the Mona Lisa. I type drafts. I type notes. I type synopses. I type outlines. SPEAKING OF WHICH!
  • I suck at outlining. I’ve tried it, and I very much believe there’s something to it (I will stand by Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT being a fabulous method, even if I can’t actually stick to a beat sheet to save my life), but I suck at it. I am very much a pantser, and have been known to plunge into books with absolutely no idea where they are going. Actually, the easiest book I’ve drafted so far had literally no plot whatsoever going in. I had a single sentence as an idea, and crafted the story as it came to me. The hardest book I’ve written was the one with the most intense outline going in. The more restrictions I place on myself in terms of a pre-determined plot, the harder it is for me to let my ideas flow.
    • HUGE DISCLAIMER: This is also why I have to re-write entire books. First drafts are guidelines for me. Once they’re written, only then can I truly see the story I want to tell.  Then I have to plunge back in and scrape away all the gunk clogging up my story, and there is always a lot of gunk.
    • But I’d rather have a lot of gunk than nothing. You can’t edit a blank page.
  •  I draft quickly in general, and fastest when I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. Some people write 500 words a day, but each of those words is carefully crafted and meticulous. I tend to vomit out multi-thousand word chunks, knowing full well that I may go back and delete most of them later once I figure out what I actually want to do. (That said, I firmly believe that no matter what your process, first drafts are meant to be rough, and that there is no bypassing this step.)
  • Chaos, baby.
  • I write best at night. Which is a little inconvenient, since my kids are in school during the day and while I work part-time from home, I typically have huge chunks of time to myself during daylight hours. I so very much want to devote a majority of that time to creating Brilliant!New!Words! But, most of the time, I can’t. Which means nighttime is for words, and daylight is best for:
    • Revision (drafting and creating are very different processes for me, and I can revise even if I’m not feeling particularly creative)
    • General Responsible Adulting, ie: errands, cleaning, taking the dog to the vet, paying bills. Bah.
    • Refilling the creative tank: For me, I get the most inspiration from television. I know this just sounds like I’m making excuses to sit on my couch and binge-watch Netflix (which, valid), but I try to watch with a critical eye. What’s working in these shows? What aspects are pleasing to me, and why did those choices evoke that response? What characters do I like, and why? How do they handle multiple plot arcs, multiple POVs? What is it about the writing that draws me in? What annoys me, and why? How do they balance kicking off a new storyline while resolving an old one to my satisfaction? Obviously, I also have much love for good storytelling in the form of books and movies, but for me, television is my main squeeze.
    • Reading cross-genre. I can’t read in the genre I’m writing, but I like to read books in other genres (for example, while drafting my Superhero Thriller, I read nothing but Contemporaries) and figure out what aspects from those I can work into my own story. This isn’t so much about refilling the creative tank (don’t worry, TV, you’re still the one for me) as it is craft. I like seeing what makes other books tick, and trying to learn something from it. Did a book pull off a killer twist? How? Why was it satisfying? When did they start setting it up? What sorts of clues did they drop? How did they throw me off the scent? I realize these are similar to my TV questions, but because of the medium, I find I am a lot more clinical about my approach to books than my approach to TV. TV is mostly for creative stimulation. Books are for craft. (Again, YMMV – I know tons of writers who are the opposite.)
    • Critiquing. I…have very passionate feelings about critiquing. So much so that I’ll save them for their own separate bullet point.
    • Meeting with other writers, either to write or just to discuss our projects. Sometimes I can’t just fritter away all of my day, because I need to be making forward progress or risk totally throwing off my groove and missing deadlines. I am extremely blessed to have a wonderful writing community here in Nashville, and I have several people I can meet with at Panera or a local coffee shop to share a table while we both pound out the words. A change of scenery is really helpful for getting myself out of a rut (plus Panera’s WiFi suuuuuuucks, which means fewer Twitter distractions), and it also gives writing a sense of accountability. If you’re sitting across from someone, they’re probably going to notice if you never crack open your laptop and just stare into space for three hours. PLUS I cannot overstate how helpful it is to have someone Right There for when I have to look up and ask a Super Important Question like “Okay, if I’m tied up like this and can’t afford to break my wrist, how do I escape?” (Even if your local writing community is nonexistent, I still highly recommend the Change Of Scenery to the Land of Sucky Wifi.)
  • CRITIQUING! Here is that separate bullet point I was talking about. (Honestly, I could do an entire blog post just on critiquing.) I adore critiquing, and it is utterly vital to my process. But here is the thing that a lot of people don’t seem to get about critiquing: it is about giving. I try to make it a point to always be doing more critiques than I’m receiving. Yes, it is important to get my own work critiqued. I have a critique group and critique partners that are worth more than their weight in gold. But to be the best writer I can be, it is essential that I am consistently offering solid critique. Doing a critique gets me in the mindset to be objective about my own work, and forces me to acknowledge the things that aren’t working. It can be tough. I’ve given critiques to friends that resulted in me having to toss a significant portion of my own story. But I have never done a critique where I came away feeling that I had learned nothing.  That said, here are a few things to keep in mind about critique:
    • Offer before asking, and give each critique your best. If you want an honest critique on your own work, put the time and effort into giving a good critique for that writer. I find that if I offer to critique for others and do the best, most thorough job I can, they more often than not will offer to read for me, and no one has to be put in the awkward situation of asking someone who may or may not have that sort of time to give.
    • That said, don’t just chase writers around Twitter asking them if you can read their work. If you don’t have a local writing community, or are not part of an online writing community, I suggest either joining an organization like SCBWI or RWA and connecting with other writers that way, or finding critique partners on a site like Absolute Write or HowAboutWeCP.
    • Be honest without being harsh. Critique is not cheerleading. If all you do is point out the things you love, that writer is never going to get better. But critique is also not just exploding your own subjective opinions all over their manuscript. If you are overly harsh, you risk sending the author into defensive mode, and also poisoning your critique relationship. So if you hate your critique partner’s main character, maybe don’t say “I hate your main character,” but instead say “I found the way your main character stole candy from babies and kicked puppies troubling, and as such had a hard time connecting with her.” You’ll also notice that the second example is constructive (“I can totally cut back on the candy-stealing and puppy-kicking!”) and the first is not (“Well…I’m sorry?”). Always remember that you are trying to help an author make their work better, not penning a book review.
    • Don’t dish out what you can’t take. If your critique partners are telling you something isn’t working, don’t be too proud to examine it and see if there’s a way to make it better. This doesn’t mean you have to take every bit of critique you ever receive (because that would be impossible, as critique partners often disagree), but if there’s a common thread, don’t be afraid to tug on it.
  • Scrivener! Seriously. It is my best friend. I want to braid its hair and bake it cookies.
  • Community! Whether it be my friends I see every week or my friends on Twitter or my friends who live in my phone (ie: much texting without ever really seeing each other in person), my writing community is so, so important to me. Don’t have a community? Go to local book events, attend writing conferences, interact on Twitter, join a forum. There are so many ways to connect with other writers, especially with the Magic of the Internet.
  • Celebration. A wise friend of mine once said that if she had to choose between seeing her name in acknowledgements and seeing her name on spines, she’d choose acknowledgements. I think that’s such a wonderful philosophy to have. Sure, I have my goals and my hopes and my dreams. But my life is full of so much more joy if I can celebrate my friends’ accomplishments with sincerity. Also, publishing is slow, but the time passes a lot quicker when you can be excited for every finished draft, every agent signing, every book contract, every release. (And who doesn’t want an excuse to break out the cake every couple months?)
  • Last but not least, coffee. Oh sweet caffeine, where would I be without you?

Phew. That was long.

How about you, friends? What is your process? What gets the blood pumping and the creative juices flowing? What are your silver bullets, your black arrows, your Elder Wands? Do such things even exist?

And if so, where does one find one? Asking for a friend.

 

Everything is Cool When You’re Part of a Team

Guys.

Guys.

I’ve got NEWS.

THE BIG KIND.

The kind that requires an excessive number of gifs.

I am over-the-moon excited to announce that I am now represented by the lovely, brilliant, and utterly fabulous…

[drumroll please]

Holly Root of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency!

I’ve been pinching myself all weekend, and I still can’t quite believe it’s true. Holly is far and away my dream agent, and I cannot begin to express how blessed I am to be working with her, or how stupid-giddy-excited I am as we embark on the author-agent journey together.

If you are not entrenched in the publishing world (bless you, and your sanity) and aren’t sure what an agent is, or the role they play in the publication process, or why this is a Big Freaking Deal, check out Part 1 of Susan Dennard’s post on How to Get Traditionally Published. (Then read Parts 2 and 3, because they are Quite Informative and one of the clearest descriptions I’ve read on how this whole crazy looooooong process works.)

If you want to hear the nitty-gritty of how I came to sign with Holly, stay tuned. I predict I shall be long-winded. Both because I am long-winded, and because it was a long, windy road to get here.

This story actually starts a few years ago, back when I first started this blog. One day, through a series of random events, I happened to discover that a girl I went to college with was now a literary agent who represented a lot of YA. This may not seem that big a deal except for one thing: I went to a tiny little private university in Arkansas that no one’s ever heard of. The odds of someone from my school becoming A Somebody in publishing are…well, I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess they’re not very high.

Now, this girl wasn’t someone I was close to in college. I knew her more by reputation (ie: she was Wicked Smart and Good At Many Things), and because she married a guy in my class who sang with me in chorus. I think we might have smiled and nodded and possibly exchanged a couple pleasant “heys” during our years attending the same school. That was it. So I didn’t really think of this information about her being a literary agent as anything more than a bit of interesting trivia.

Then a couple days later, I finished the book I was reading and read the acknowledgements. Whaddya know, Lit Agent Girl From College — whom you’ve probably figured out was Holly — was that author’s agent. That was two interesting coincidences in a row. I looked up some other books I was reading and about to readHolly represented all of them. Holly was, apparently, a brilliant agent who represented exactly what I love to read. Hm.

I decided this anecdote was amusing enough for a first-contact Facebook message, despite our total barely-acquaintances-in-college status (Oh Facebook, you make it so easy to blur the lines of appropriateness). I proceeded to construct the awkwardest “Hey, you probably don’t remember me, but funny story…” message in the history of awkward Facebook messages. Holly responded almost immediately, with an “Of course I remember you! And yay for blogging, let me know if there are any books I can send you” message. Then I was even more awkward by requesting FAR TOO MANY books and saying embarrassing things and why am I bringing this up when I really hope she has forgotten all about it for all eternity? (Also, I have since come to learn that authors initiating contact with agents through FB is a BIG NO-NO. I’m guessing bloggers doing it is even worse. But I won’t ask, because we’re never going to mention that ever again.)

She was lovely and gracious and did not file a restraining order. Obvious proof that she is a Class Act.

A couple months later, I got the idea to write a book. A fantasy.

It was weird. I’d never had a book idea before. But I decided to try, because why not? It could be fun.

I did everything wrong. I didn’t plot at all. I flew by the seat of my pants. I wrote myself into corners. I blathered on forever with ridiculous subplots that could never, ever work. And I wrote a YA book that clocked in with a first draft of 133,000 words, which is far, far too long.

I revised and revised and revised, cutting out huge chunks and bringing it down to a more manageable length. I sent it to beta readers. They thought it was…okay. They had lots of nice things to say, but also lots of questions. Big questions.

I revised again. And again. Tried to answer their questions and fix what was broken. I eventually got it down to a 100K word revised draft that I was happy with.

When I was finishing what I thought was the final revision, I was asked by one of Holly’s clients — the lovely and brilliant Myra McEntire, whom I had met I believe a whopping three times at various book events — if I’d be interested in taking a look at her most recent manuscript and offering feedback. To this day, I still really have no idea why she asked me, since we knew each other only slightly better than Holly and I knew each other in college. (Hey, Myra, why did you ask me? Was it a dare? You can tell me if it was a dare.)

But I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth (or, like, something that’s not a terrible cliché. Man, I am so good at this writing thing.) So obviously I said yes. In exchange, Myra promised to read my book, just as soon as she passed her deadline.

As it turned out, Myra read my entire book one Saturday in early February 2013, shortly after turning her book in. Before she finished, she emailed me to say she’d already recommended it to Holly, and that I should plan to start querying on Monday, because it was Ready.

Um. Hello.

I did as I was told. I queried Holly, along with a few others, that Monday. Holly responded later that day requesting the full manuscript and congratulating me on finishing my book. No mention of my crippling awkwardness. Again, Class Act, people. I was ecstatic. I sent my story off and set about biting my nails and refreshing my email and starting a new story.

Then the rejections started rolling in from the other agents I’d queried. One after another after another. Form rejections — not even a hint of personalization.

I doubted. I convinced myself that Holly had only requested because we went to college together and because one of her authors liked me and because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. (Hint: This is not a Real Thing Agents Do. They don’t have time for it.)

I shook it off, reminding myself that Real Authors pile up enough rejections to wallpaper a room! I didn’t have nearly enough yet! So I retooled my query and kept sending it out, one little feeler at a time, as I waited to hear from Holly. I got several requests, but no offers. After Holly had my manuscript for a month, I was utterly positive that she was just trying to come up with the words to let me down easy. My book was stupid. It wasn’t new or interesting. The other requesting agents were bound to be disappointed, and had probably requested by accident, and were probably going to reject me any day in a not-so-nice fashion, because they had no reason to care about hurting my feelings.

Here’s the thing about querying, guys. Or letting anyone see your work. You swear you’re going to be cool, you’re not going to obsess, you’re not going to let it get to you. You read all the stories of people freaking out, and vow, that will not be me. But once in the query trenches, remembering that is hard. Even if you are Facebook friends with your top choice agent and have a referral from one of her clients. Once someone is reading the story you poured your soul into, waiting to hear what they think is painful. And the doubt and fear can be crippling. Even when you know it is you psyching yourself out. You become your own worst enemy. Or at least I did.

Then, five weeks after sending her the manuscript, I got an email. It was from Holly and it was long. I was simultaneously excited and disappointed. Long meant she cared. But long also meant it did not just say, “Can I call?”

Turned out, she liked the fantasy. Very much. But she didn’t think it was quite to a place where she could sell it. She had a lot of suggestions for how to make it better, all of which I absolutely agreed with. They were the kind of suggestions that seemed so obvious in retrospect, like why had I ever considered writing my story any other way? That was the moment I became absolutely certain that she Got Me. She’d seen the story I had wanted to write underneath the story that I’d actually written.

So I contacted the other requesting agents, let them know I was revising and asked if they’d like to see it when I was done. They did. Then I plunged into the revision cave to tackle her notes.

It was a ton of work, but the story came out so much better for it. I sent it to critique partners. They gave me feedback, and I revised to their notes, sending them revised scenes pasted into emails with subjects like, “I AM SO SORRY” and “I AM TRYING A NEW THING, PLEASE TELL ME IF IT SUCKS” and “I’M NOT SO GOOD AT THIS.”

I’m not really sure why any of them are still talking to me.

Finally, after many weeks of intense revision, it was finished. I sent it back to her and the other requesting agents at the beginning of June. A week before she went on maternity leave.

Disclaimer: I totally knew she was going on maternity leave. It was in no way a secret. I actually knew she was going on maternity leave before I queried her the first time. But still, it wasn’t easy to send off my revision knowing she was about to step away for three months and then return to work three months behind. That was a lot of waiting. And I suck at waiting.

The other agents with my full wound up passing, for a variety of reasons. I hadn’t queried many agents, and I could always query wider, but I wanted her. I actually felt relieved by a couple of the other agents’ passes, because I’d come to realize that Holly was my top, and only pick. Her authors love her. She does amazing things for their careers. Her sales record is spectacular. Her list includes many of my favorite books. And I knew, from talking to her authors and keeping up with her on social media, that she would get me. She would be My People.

So I didn’t send any more queries. I waited it out. I got really good at waiting. I got so good, in fact, that I started to dread what would happen when she finally returned to work and I did hear back. I liked limbo. Limbo was comfy. Limbo wasn’t rejection.

But at the same time, I didn’t want to be waiting forever. I did, after all, want to get published someday. So I kept writing a different project that was 180-degrees different from the fantasy — a thriller about a teenage superhero. One of the biggest assets to being unpublished and unagented is freedom. I could write whatever I wanted. Why not something different? So I played with my superhero thriller, which was oodles of fun plus it kept me sane.

One million years Three months later, Holly returned to work from maternity leave. About six weeks after that, in October of 2013, I got an email from her about my fantasy revision.

It was a no.

It was a kind no. An encouraging no. But still a no. “You’re terrific and there is something really special to this story,” she said, but she didn’t think she could sell it. She then said a lot of lovely things about me and my skills as a writer, and closed her email with a heartfelt request to see whatever I did next.

Then I did Another Wrong Thing. Another Thing That Querying Writers Should Not Do.

I responded to her rejection.

(Don’t respond to rejections, people.)

I responded and laid my cards out on the table. I told her she was my first choice, and whatever I wrote next would be written with the goal of nabbing her. (I may not have actually used the word “nab.” At least, I hope I didn’t.) And then I did another thing you shouldn’t do, and pitched my totally-not-even-drafted WIP with a query I wrote on the fly in five minutes, asking not if she wanted to see the manuscript, but if the project itself sounded like something she might like if I could make it good. Because if she didn’t want to read what I was writing, I was actually prepared to start a totally new project that would be more to her taste.

Yes. This is how sure I was.

(Don’t pitch books you haven’t finished writing, people.)

Somehow, yet again, she did not respond to me like I was suffering from The Crazy, but instead emailed right away saying that my new story sounded awesome and that she’d love to read it when it was ready.

CUE FRANTIC DRAFTING.

This is the point where two things happened.

1) I started doing things right.

2) My book broke.

This time, I actually plotted my book. I made beat sheets. (Like, a thousand of them. And followed none of them. But that’s a post for another day.) I had made some excellent friends in my local writing community, and I brainstormed with them and had them read for me and attended a writing conference and writing retreats. I started seriously critiquing for friends and having them seriously critique for me, and I learned how to apply the critiques I was giving others to my own manuscript. I immersed myself in the publishing world. I did my research. I attended as many book events as I possibly could. I was serious, yo.

I also couldn’t finish this book for the life of me. I had to toss it out completely and start over. Several times. And it still wasn’t right. I finished it through gritted teeth, knowing something was wrong, but unsure what it was. I gave it to some trusted beta readers. Their feedback helped me realize I needed to yank out an entire subplot, and after doing that, I discovered a bunch of other stuff that didn’t work and had to be rewritten. When all was said and done, nearly ten months had passed since Holly passed on my fantasy, and I’d thrown out over 150K words. But I finally had a book that I thought might – might – be Good Enough.

Which was…terrifying. The voices in my head never stopped whispering that if I didn’t knock this book out of the park, I’d probably reached the end of my chances with Holly. (I’m not sure why I just decided this, but once the thought was in my head, there was no dislodging it.)

But I sent it to a new wave of readers, and all of them agreed, this book was ready to query.

I carefully crafted my query, this time (thankfully) spending more than five minutes on it. This time, I only planned to send it to one person. Two of my critiquers for this book were Holly clients (Myra again, along with the incomparable MG Buehrlen), and they both sent her heads-up emails telling her they’d read for me and thought this book was The One.

In mid-July of 2014, I pressed send. I included a note in my query that she was getting an exclusive, which is another thing you’re Not Supposed To Do, but I think we’ve established by now that I am terrible at Doing Things Correctly. Then I immediately texted a handful of friends something along the lines of “I JUST HIT SEND WHAT IS THIS MADNESS WHAT IF SHE HATES IT WHAT IF I FAIL.”

Forty-five minutes later, Holly requested the full manuscript. Always a good sign.

MG and Myra freaked out. My critique partners freaked out. My writer friends freaked out.

But then six weeks passed without a peep. I twitter stalked like a champ (can one be a champ at Twitter stalking? should one be a champ at Twitter stalking?), even though Holly basically never tweets about individual submissions, because what if she did for meeeeeeeeee? I texted Myra and MG and asked them to please use their telepathic powers to read her mind and tell me where she was in my book. (Spoiler alert: They don’t have telepathic powers and I was, once again, The Crazy.)

The Crazy came in waves. Some days would be just normal days. Other days I’d wake up at 4 a.m., certain that today’s the day, even though I had no reason to believe that. Sometimes friends would ask me how I was doing, and I’d say fine. Other times, they got ALL CAPS RANTS ABOUT MY OBVIOUS SHORTCOMINGS AS BOTH A WRITER AND A HUMAN.

Querying is so weird, guys. Even (maybe especially?) when you’re only querying one person.

Then, on my birthday, I went to C.J. Redwine‘s launch party for Deliverance. And a few minutes after I got there, guess who sat a few seats down and waved to me?

Oh yeah. Holly, who lives in California, was in Nashville visiting her family. And C.J. is her client. So of course she’d be at her launch. Duh.

I even knew she was going to be in town, because we are Facebook Friends after all, but somehow I had not connected those dots. A+ detective work, Lauren.

After C.J.’s launch (which was lovely, and if you haven’t read her Defiance trilogy yet, you should), several of us, including Holly, stayed and chatted a while about a variety of things. For once, I decided, I was going to do things the right way and not bring up that she still had my manuscript. Because imagine with me, if you will, the Epic Awkwardness of bringing up my book if she was trying to think of a nice way to reject it? Or a not-so-nice way? And then had to do it to my face?

No thank you.

But. BUT. When I was getting to ready to leave, Holly turned to me, fresh off of recommending a book to someone else. “Speaking of fantastic books,” she said, “I just started yours on the plane here and I am LOVING IT.”

And then I fainted while somehow remaining upright and conscious and engaged in conversation. I think she said more nice things about my book. I think it involved scaring other passengers. I don’t know. I was having an out-of-body experience. But I said something coherent-ish (I think?) and then I really did have to go because it was my birthday and I’d been promised cake.

I might have freaked out a little. Or a lot. I don’t know.

AND THEN – two more weeks passed. And I didn’t know what to think. If an agent’s started reading your book and told you they’re loving it, you’re supposed to hear back RIGHT AWAY, right? That’s what the success stories say in all the “How I Got My Agent” posts I’d been reading (you ever notice how most success stories are like, “AND THEN I HEARD BACK THE NEXT DAY,” and even though they say that’s not the norm, it seems like it kind of is? Well I am here to tell you: I did not hear back the next day).

I began to dread her response, the same way I’d dreaded her coming back from maternity leave. If she hadn’t gobbled up my story, that meant it was boring, right? A story you love shouldn’t take two weeks to finish. It sucked. sucked. Any day she was going to email me to tell me that maybe I should consider pottery, or window cleaning, as a better career option. I became convinced that she was merely attempting to craft the gentlest rejection letter she could, and that really not knowing was good, because I didn’t want to read another gentle rejection.

I should mention that all my friends told me I was crazy, and Myra and MG continually stressed how busy Holly was and reminded me that submissions have to come after client work, and did I mention Holly has a lot of clients and some of them are NYT bestselling authors and it’s not like she has a shortage of work? But even though, logically, I knew they were right, there’s a weird dichotomy when you’re waiting for someone to pass judgment on your work. I knew that if it was a no, she’d just tell me no. She wouldn’t sit on it forever. That didn’t make sense.

But what if she did?

Anyway. I actually wound up pushing the waiting to the back of my mind, because I had something else to focus on. The SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference. I love this event, it takes place ten minutes from my house, it’s organized by some of my dearest friends, and it is one of the most edifying parts of my year. This year the conference was September 12-14, and the whole week before was basically one big countdown to the conference. I even stopped worrying about my manuscript. That’s how excited I was.

On Friday afternoon, I checked into the conference hotel with my critique partner, Sarah (who has read everything I’ve ever written, even the super-crappy first drafts that aren’t fit to line a hamster cage, a feat for which she deserves knighthood or possibly even sainthood), and her mother. We dropped our suitcases in our room and prepared to go downstairs and mingle.

Before we left the room, my phone rang. I don’t know anyone in L.A., I thought as I picked up.

“Hi, Lauren, this is Holly Root. Do you have a minute?”

I might have hit Sarah in the back so hard it scared her. And then I realized I couldn’t actually say anything so I mouthed IT’S HOLLY like I was trying to communicate with a lip reader in Djibouti while responding in my calmest tone, “Of course I have a minute.”

“Do you have a minute for me to tell you that I loved your book and think I can sell it?”

I definitely had that minute.

After talking briefly about my superhero book, she said, “So this is the part where I woo you. How should I go about the wooing?”

“It’s going to be really easy,” I said. And it was. We talked about revisions, and once again, I agreed with her on every point. We talked about how she does business. We talked about my other WIPs. We talked about the fact that I unpack in hotels, because I am weird. I’m sure we talked about other things too, but I was on a cloud somewhere and can’t tell you what they were. At the end of the call, she offered to give me a few days to consider, but I told her I didn’t need them. I’d had a lot of days and months to consider. I was good on the considering front. We got off the phone, she sent me the agreement, and bam. Agented.

One of the best parts of this entire year-and-a-half long process was that she called at the exact right time for me to be able to walk downstairs and tell nearly all of my best writing friends the news in person. And let me tell you, my husband was overjoyed, my mother screamed, but no one understands this particular thrill like writer friends. There were many hugs and much screaming that night.

So basically, if you are querying and can get your dream agent to call and offer to represent you ten minutes before you’re about to go spend a weekend with most of your closest friends at a writing conference, DO THAT. It’s pretty great.

My favorite reaction was my friend David, who congratulated me, gave me a hug, then promptly threw his wadded-up napkin in my half-full wine glass.

“WHY DID YOU DO THAT?”

“It’s a momentous occasion! I wanted to do something you’d always remember.”

Oh I’ll remember, all right.

I honestly think my friends were more excited than I was, because while I’d been holding my emotions back from the process (I’d been plenty neurotic, but I’d never allowed myself to be more than cautiously hopeful, because if you don’t hope, you can’t be crushed), they’d always believed in me. This is why it’s so important to have community. Writing can be lonely and full of self-doubt. I cannot stress enough how valuable it’s been to me to be surrounded by people who know the process and the struggles, but never falter in their faith that I can do this. I expect my emotions to crank up to eleven eventually. It’ll sink in soon. But until then, they’ll carry the giddy for me.

Also, I was asked at least a dozen times if I remembered to tell my husband. I told my husband first, people. We are not savages.

Signing the Agency Agreement. Husband is behind camera, being TOTALLY PRESENT AND INFORMED.

The conference was amazing (of course), and while I wasn’t ready to officially “announce” publicly yet (my overloaded brain simply could not handle telling the world my news and doing a writing conference on the same weekend), I had the rather surreal experience of being able to answer “yes” on the few occasions when one of the faculty asked me if I was agented yet.

How weird is that?

So there you have it, folks. The long, meandering tale of how I got my dream agent. If you made it through the whole thing, congrats. May your admirable perseverance serve you well in life.

Thanks for celebrating with me, friends. I’m so beyond thrilled to be an official part of Team Root, and can’t wait to see what adventures the future holds.

 

Review: DELIVERANCE by C.J. Redwine

Received an ARC from the author

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, if you’ve spent any time perusing this blog, I’m a fan of adventure stories. Hero journeys, epic battles, sprawling quests, monster slayage – in the Encyclopedia of Me, under the heading of “Favorites,” these are the things you’d find at the very top.

Which is why I’ve so enjoyed C.J. Redwine’s Defiance trilogy.  C.J. is a friend of mine, but before I was a friend I was a fan. I read Defiance in one sitting, and found the murder mystery plot of Deception riveting, so when she handed me an ARC of Deliverance, the conclusion to the trilogy, I may have hugged it to my heart like a world-saving prophecy baby and scampered away before she could change her mind and take it back.

I’m not saying that happened. But it may have.

If you’ve been swept up in the first two books of the series and can’t wait to see how it all concludes – buckle up. Here there be dragons.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Everything hangs in the balance, and nothing is certain: Rachel has been kidnapped by enemy forces and is being taken to Rowansmark while Logan, imprisoned and awaiting trial, is unable to leave Lankenshire. Separated from each other and their Baalboden comrades, each must find a way to achieve what they desperately want: to rid their world once and for all of the Commander and the tech that controls the deadly Cursed One.

Fighting through her pain and embracing the warrior she’s become, Rachel will do whatever it takes to escape her enemies’ clutches and join Logan in his fight. But when she learns a secret that changes everything, she realizes that escaping Ian and his tracker friends is no longer an option if she wants to save the people she loves. Instead, she’ll have to destroy Rowansmark from the inside out—if she can survive the journey through the Wasteland.

Logan needs allies if he wants to thwart Rowansmark’s power grab and rescue Rachel. But securing allies will mean betraying his beliefs and enlisting the help of the man he hates more than anyone: Commander Jason Chase. Driven by his fierce love for Rachel and his determination to make their world safe, Logan may be just the weapon the city-states need to defeat the Cursed One.

But as Rowansmark bears down and uneasy alliances are tested, will Rachel and Logan’s love for each other be enough to surmount the unbelievable odds against them?

My Thoughts:

A word of warning before you start: if you haven’t read the first two books in the DEFIANCE series, or if it’s been a while and you really don’t remember them, you’re going to want to catch up before cracking open DELIVERANCE. The final book in the trilogy hits the ground running, picking up shortly after DECEPTION left off and plunging the reader back into the action-heavy plot with Rachel, Logan, and a host of characters that could get overwhelming if you haven’t ventured into their post-apocalyptic world for a while.

Fortunately, C.J. Redwine handles her hefty cast with dexterity, and while the list of players is lengthy, she manages to imbue each one with his or her own distinctive personality that keeps the pages from turning into a confusing mishmash of names. There are several new characters in DELIVERANCE, but most of the story centers around familiar faces from the first two books. Rachel and Logan, along with old favorites such as Willow and Quinn, are plunged into galloping adventure at a breakneck pace as they rush to save innocent people and bring justice to the evil Commander, as well as James Rowan, the sadistic ruler of neighboring city-state Rowansmark.

For fans of the romance between Logan and Rachel, the two lovebirds really get to test whether absence really does make the heart grow fonder in DELIVERANCE, as they spend the bulk of the book separated. Don’t despair, though, shippers – though it may take a while for them to find each other, they remain as smitten as ever, with their thoughts continually drifting toward each other. I thought it was a nice way to incorporate the romantic plot without retreading old ground, and it kept the pages turning to see how they’d eventually work their way back together.

In the meantime, there is action and intrigue galore, as our intrepid heroes now have to face not just one, but TWO Big Bads in the form of Commander Chase and James Rowan. We’ve had three books now to build up our hatred of the commander, but James Rowan gives him a serious run for his money. I found myself torn between WHICH dastardly foe deserved the more wretched end, but by the time the dust settled, I thought the outcome was just.

In addition to the duo of evil masterminds, Logan and Rachel also have to face off against armies, assassins, and tanniyn (read: DRAGONS!) galore, in a twisting, action-packed plot that rarely stops for a breath. Old questions get answered, long-overdue debts are settled, and while the resolution of the conflicts that have been building for three books now is not neat, it is fitting. Trilogy conclusions are tricky, but I believe this one wraps up most of the loose ends in a way that is both satisfying to the reader and appropriate to the characters.

If you have enjoyed the first two books in the Defiance series, I believe you will find DELIVERANCE a worthy send-off for C.J.’s fantastical, post-apocalyptic world, and for the characters you’ve grown to love. And if you haven’t yet plunged into the adventures of Rachel and Logan, now would be the perfect time to start.

 

Review: TEASE by Amanda Maciel

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

I can’t really put my finger on why I was so eager to read Amanda Maciel’s debut Tease. I read Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why last year, and remember feeling like it was a book that was important for high schoolers — and people of all ages, really — to read. Despite the difficult subject matter (teen suicide), I thought that book did an amazing job of showing how words and actions have consequences, and how many times people aren’t as strong as you think.

When I heard about Tease, written from the perspective of a bully following her 16-year-old classmate’s suicide, it seemed like it would be another challenging but eye-opening book that wouldn’t be easy to read, but would be important. So when I got the chance to read and review it, I snapped it up.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Emma Putnam is dead, and it’s all Sara Wharton’s fault. At least, that’s what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma’s shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who’s ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy. And she’ll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

With its powerful narrative, unconventional point of view, and strong anti-bullying theme, this coming-of-age story offers smart, insightful, and nuanced views on high school society, toxic friendships, and family relationships.

My Thoughts:

From the opening pages of TEASE, I knew I wasn’t going to like Sara — and that it was okay. It’s a rare YA book that has such a purposely unlikable narrator (the only other one I can think of off the top of my head is Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL) but when you’re reading about a girl that bullied her classmate to the point of suicide, you don’t really expect her to be all sweetness and light.

If you are looking for sweetness and light, a warning: there is none of that in these pages.

Sara is self-centered, whiny, and seems to lack even a trace of empathy for everyone around her. Her rolling eyes and her “like, whatever” attitude immediately set the tone for the rest of the book. This wasn’t a girl I wanted to root for. This was a girl I wanted to take by the shoulders and shake every time she repeated her “But I didn’t do anything” mantra — which she does for almost the entire novel, which alternates chapters between the months leading up to Emma’s suicide and the months following.

In the flashbacks, we get to watch Sara and her BFF Brielle (think Regina George from ”Mean Girls,” except worse) be utterly, inexcusably horrible Emma. They’re vicious and cruel and infuriating. But what’s interesting is that we also get to see that Emma was no saint herself. She made mistakes. She did some underhanded stuff. In Sara and Brielle’s eyes, she earned every bit of vitriol they spit at her. From Sara’s perspective, she was the victim of Emma’s cruelty, since Emma “stole” her boyfriend. Sara and Brielle were certain that Emma’s tears were a stunt to grab attention, and that everything she did was intended to irritate them.

Now, does that excuse what they did to Emma? No. Not in the slightest. I thought Brielle was an absolutely horrible person (and totally undeserving of Sara’s devotion to her) and that despite Emma’s missteps, the punishments that Sara and Brielle doled out were far, far worse. They were toxic in every way. Watching them revel in their constant abuse of Emma was sickening and horrifying, especially since we kept flashing forward to the period after Emma had died and Sara still couldn’t see that she did anything wrong.

That was the most disturbing part for me. How even after Emma was dead, Sara still couldn’t understand the role she played. She still thought that Emma deserved what they’d done, and that the main problem was her lack of ability to take a joke.

It may sound like I’m trying to discourage you from reading this book, but here’s the thing — I thought TEASE was brilliant. I spent the majority of it furious with Sara and Brielle, but I thought it did an amazing job of showing how bullying happens without romanticizing either the perpetrators or the victims in the slightest. Sara is a terrible bully, but then we get to see her be a wonderful big sister to her two brothers (although let’s be clear – I never really liked her). Emma is absolutely a victim, but she also purposely provokes them on a few occasions. Brielle is…well, Brielle is awful. But her awfulness is still somehow raw and real. Every character in TEASE was fully-formed and utterly believable, which is one of the things that made it so challenging. It wasn’t like reading a story. It was like watching these events unfold in real life, and watching these kids self-destruct, and being unable to do anything about it.

But that’s the beauty of a book. Because despite the fact that Emma, Sara, and Brielle don’t exist, there are kids just like them who do, and maybe after reading TEASE, they will think twice about pulling a prank or starting a rumor. I think it’s good that TEASE is infuriating, because maybe if a reader is furious with Sara, she will try harder to avoid being like Sara.

The prose is far from poetic, peppered with frequent, “like”s, “I don’t know”s, “whatever”s, and ”or something”s from Sara, who narrates exactly like the bored, insecure, self-centered teen she is. Her voice gives the whole book an authenticity that I don’t think could have been achieved with a more lyrical style. It’s a book where I thought the writing was perfection, even though it kind of made me want to rip my hair out.

Which is kind of the theme with every part of TEASE. Infuriating brilliance. Flawless abhorrence. Frustrating authenticity.

TEASE is not an easy book to read, but I found it impossible to put down. It’s beautiful and ugly and terrifying and real, and I think there should be a copy in every high school library. It’s not a book that made me cry, but it’s a book that made me think. I never really came to root for the characters, but I’m not sure that was the point of this book. I hope that in a strange way, this book about these kids who totally lacked empathy will be able to inspire empathy in the Saras and Brielles who are reading. Not toward these fictional characters, but to the real people they encounter every day. I hope they’ll be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and choose the higher road. The one that Sara and Brielle never took.

And to any Emmas out there, hang on. There is always hope.

 

Review: PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG by Anne Blankman

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

So a few months ago, I joined Young Adult Books Central (have you been there? You should visit. Fantastic site) as kind of a behind-the-scenes gear-greaser. I poke around in the parts of the site that you don’t see and help it all run smoothly. My role is mostly helping the site function, not reviewing, BUT when I signed on, the incomparable MG Buehrlen (site admin) also told me I could review books for the site if and when I felt like it.

For the most part, I haven’t requested any review books from YABC. Reviewers have to jump right on reading and getting reviews posted in a timely manner, and I knew I couldn’t commit to that if I didn’t feel SUPER excited about a book. Most of my time lately has been devoted to my own writing, critiquing works-in-progress for my friends, and OH YES, SUMMER VACATION. (Parents who homeschool, HOW DO YOU DO THIS? I am in awe. These children are going to be the death of me.) I haven’t done much pleasure reading, much less pleasure reading on a deadline.

But the last batch of review books that came in contained PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG, and I knew I had to request it. Not only was the concept intriguing (Hitler as a main character? A member of his inner circle as the protagonist? Veeeeery eeeenteresting. *strokes metaphorical beard*), but one of my critique partners is working on a WWII manuscript, and I wanted to brush up on the genre. So I requested. And I have no regrets.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

My Thoughts:

I’m no historian by any means, but I have a deep appreciation for a well researched piece of historical fiction. Even when I know very little about a time period, I think that when an author does her homework, it shows. This is especially essential when the subject matter is one about which many readers already have formed opinions — in this case, the Nazi (National Socialist) Party and Adolf Hitler. I was excited, but a little wary, to see how Anne Blankman would approach such a delicate topic. I knew the protagonist starts the book very close to Hitler, but surely she couldn’t actually like Hitler? Surely the author wouldn’t dare paint Hitler as a nice guy who’s been horribly misunderstood?

I needn’t have worried. While, yes, protagonist Gretchen Müller is very fond of Hitler when we meet her, referring to him as Uncle Dolf, I found PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG very thoughtful in its approach to her beliefs and her interactions with the infamous Führer. I could see how this young, intelligent girl would have been won over by Hitler’s charisma and propaganda. It was clear a lot of care had been put into Hitler’s portrayal, and Gretchen’s perception of him, and I found it extremely believable.

It was chilling to see characters that truly seemed like good people embrace Hitler’s horrifying ideals. Some of the Nazi characters in this book were, indeed, monsters, but many were otherwise decent folk who didn’t seem to see how wrong their beliefs and actions truly were. One by one, they all turn against Gretchen when they realize she’s pulling away from the Party, in a series of events that becomes more and more terrifying as Gretchen sees how deep Hitler’s poison has sunk into the hearts of her German friends and neighbors. Watching as Gretchen slowly has the wool pulled from her eyes was both compelling and heartbreaking, especially when I considered that this story takes place before World War II, which meant opposing Hitler would only become more difficult for Gretchen.

The murder plot is exciting, but I have to admit, it wasn’t much of a mystery. The reveals that shocked Gretchen I found somewhat predictable, but I didn’t mind, because I wasn’t really reading to learn who killed Gretchen’s father. The answer was interesting — and tied brilliantly into a real historical event — but the aspect of the story that gripped me the most wasn’t the ten-year-old crime, but how Gretchen would survive once she knew the truth.

Likewise, I loved watching Gretchen’s interaction with Jewish reporter Daniel. It was fascinating to watch Gretchen grow from someone who mindlessly accepted that Jews were subhuman into someone who understood the value and humanity in all people. The love story was sweet, but much like the murder mystery, it was secondary for me. I was mostly invested for Gretchen’s internal change and growth. It’s rare to read a book where the protagonist wholeheartedly buys into the rightness of society’s harmful ideals, and then is forced to change her mind and heart completely when she is faced with the truth. I thought PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG handled that transformation wonderfully.

As I mentioned before, the attention to historical detail in this story is commendable. While Gretchen, Daniel, and several other important characters are fictitious, many of the characters in this book were real people, in addition to Hitler himself. Similarly, many of the events and locations referenced also were based on true historical accounts. I thought Anne Blankman’s thorough research and her thoughtful portrayal of history helped the fictional events leap off the page, and gave her story a real air of believably. I don’t think anyone should pick up a historical fiction novel expecting a 100% educational experience, but I do think PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG helped shed a light on a period of history that isn’t often taught in schools, and did so with a lot of care and respect to the time period. The plot of the story may be fictitious, but the backdrop was real, and I thought the balance between the two was lovely.

Overall, I found PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG a fascinating read, full of compelling characters and challenging questions, set in one of the most intriguing and terrifying periods of history. If you enjoy well-written, thoughtfully researched historical fiction, or simply great characters making hard choices against overwhelming odds, I highly recommend you give it a try.