New Project: Podcast!

by sarahenni on July 1, 2014

Hello friends! It’s been quiet around these parts, but not behind the scenes. I have a new project in the works that I am so excited about!

Over the last year, I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of listening to podcasts. Nothing makes a long walk to the coffee shop fly by more quickly than listening to interviews by Marc Maron or Pete Holmes, and while trekking around Iceland on a recent vacation I almost ran the campervan off the road laughing at How Did This Get Made. And, of course, the amazing Sara Zarr’s This Creative Life !

Somewhere in the alien Icelandic landscape I got a major, North Pole-frequency brainwave: I could start a podcast! I’ve listened to at least 10,000 hours of NPR, and the very, very little I’ve learned about osmosis leads me to believe I am therefore qualified to jump right into the deep end of audio reporting.

photoThe podcast idea percolated as I drove in and around Iceland, and it got me thinking about the role place plays in our imagination, and how where writers live impacts their worldview and creative life. So the idea of taking a road trip bloomed in my mind. A podcast structure began to form: I’d set out on the road to interview authors I admire, mixing in audio reporting from where they live and work with a more long-form interview on writing, life, and any old thing that comes up.

So I got to invest in a fun new toy (the Zoom H2N recorder, for any of you tech-heads), watched about a hundred YouTube videos on how to work GarageBand, and convinced the saintly Sumayyah to be my guinea pig interview.

And it was a blast!

I reached out to some of my closest YA author friends, and a bunch of amazing writers I admire, to see if this effort was destined to pan out. And the response was so incredible — but then, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The YA community is bursting at the seams with generous, earnest, and fascinating people.

And lo, the First Draft podcast was born!1

Sarah_logo_r2Well, it will be born! I’m planning on launching the first episode (or two!) on Monday, July 7.

But the road trip starts today! If you’re interested, you can start following my journey, and get updates about First Draft once it gets rolling, here:

The First Draft Podcast website, www.firstdraftpod.com

Follow FirstDraftPod on Twitter!

And of course, Instagram.

  1. Logo by the incredibly talented SF designer, Collin Keith!

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How I Met Your Sad, Incongruous Ending

by sarahenni on April 2, 2014

Spoilers be here, for both How I Met Your Mother and the SHATTER ME series by Tahereh Mafi (there’s a connection there, I swear).

So, like a lot of the internet, I spent yesterday, and today, being a bit wound up about the finale of How I Met Your Mother, a show I never could quit, even though it became a sad parody of itself for the last two to three seasons. What’s upsetting is that the very reason I stayed – the characters – is exactly what was undermined in the series finale. Ultimately, the show betrayed the characters it worked seasons to build into dynamic, real-feeling people, forcing together in the end two people that had simply grown apart.

What HIMYM got exactly wrong in its final hour is exactly what Tahereh Mafi’s SHATTER ME series got right in its final iteration, IGNITE ME.

In SHATTER ME, Juliette struggles to come to terms with her own destructive power, and is presented with two men she has romantic chemistry with – ‘good guy’ Adam and the villainous Warner. Through the first two books, the interplay between Juliette and Warner made him a dark-horse candidate to actually end up with her – certainly he was a favorite of tons of fangirls. In those books, Tahereh explored other facets of Warner’s character, showing us a depth and complexity that wasn’t immediately apparent, and showing how Warner fundamentally changed as a character. Adam grew a lot, too – we saw that there was a lot of bad to go with the good. Tahereh adapted to her characters’ organic changes as they endured gun fights, explosions, breakups – things that change a person.

photoAnd in the end, Tahereh pairs Juliette and Warner — something that a few friends of mine were shocked to hear when I related it to them recently. But by the end of IGNITE ME, it was the only choice that made sense for those two characters. At that point, shoving Adam and Juliette together would have been nonsensical, and whatever narrative hoops Tahereh would’ve had to jump through to make that palatable for the reader would have completely broken our suspension of disblief.

That is where HIMYM went wrong. Its writers were so wed to the idea of Robin and Ted as end-game, they ignored the last 4-5 years in which the show made a convincing case for Ted and Robin as two people who were compatible as close friends but horrible for one another romantically. It also totally submarined Barney and Robin, a relationship so stilted and ungainly that the showrunners spent literally the entire last season focusing JUST on their wedding to make us finally, eventually, begrudgingly accept that they were a couple that could work. 23 episodes of that, and then they announce their divorce halfway through the finale and we’re still expected to be cheering for Ted and Robin when they get together?

HIMYM was a great show for a lot of things, especially early on: tracking the Chosen Family relationships many make in the post-college, pre-full-on adulthood time frame; treating real and difficult subjects with poignancy and unblinking realism (losing a father, finding a father, infertility). In the end, though, the show’s creators ignored the characters’ organic growth over 9 seasons, instead expecting the audience to be pleased that they got the finale we all wanted at the end of Season 1.

It’s silly, short-sighted, and frustrating as all hell. It can be difficult to step back and see your characters with clear eyes, but creators ignore the shifting nature of their work at their own peril.

In the process of writing a book – and most especially, a series – there can be unpleasant realizations. Some characters end up being different than you thought, the plot has to shift away from what you originally planned to accommodate revisions. Maybe two characters you wanted to get together (characters whose romance kept you writing through the hard times! The ones you were desperate to see live Happily Ever After) simply can’t wind up together – because at the end of the book/series, they aren’t the same characters anymore. Be true to the people actually on the page. Do right by them, and your audience will respect and appreciate it, even if it isn’t the story they would choose.

As for HIMYM, I have already accepted this altered ending, by YouTuber Ricardo Dylan, as headcanon.

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I Get By With A Little Help

by sarahenni on March 31, 2014

It’s been a bit of a stressful time lately, with life and with writing. I’ve been trying to get some momentum behind drafting a new book (well… a new version of an old book, if you want to get particular), and the best way to do that is to spend some time with fellow writers. Thankfully a few confluent events brought a bunch of YA Highway ladies together in SoCal.

Our lovely San Diego host Kirsten Hubbard, and the delightfully pale Kate Hart

First thing? The Divergent movie, of course!

Debra Driza, Amy Lukavics, Stephanie Kuehn, Kate Hart, Yours Truly, Kirsten Hubbard, Sumayyah Daud at the movie theater’s bar avoiding actual teenagers until showtime.

I think it’s okay to admit now that I was super nervous for the movie. There was a lot of (well-deserved) hype! But I can honestly say the movie did right by my girl Veronica — and Insurgent already got the green light!

The settings were amazing, and Shailene rocked (the scene with her mom at the end? Tears). And, Theo James? Mmmm Hmmm. There was just a *teensy* bit of pressure on the guy (realizing a fandom’s perfect Four? Good luck!), but he completely nailed it. Also, his face.

Bye bye Pamuk, hellooooo Four.

Did you catch Veronica’s cameo in the movie? Neck tats! In a theater full of girls gasping and sighing over Theo (I managed to keep my fangirling [mostly] internal on that count), our row screamed in unison when she burst onto the screen. Such a badass!! So freaking proud of Veronica this weekend it hurts.

After loving the movie and toasting to Divergent’s success, we navigated north to L.A. to see the always gorgeous Tahereh Mafi, who was celebrating her recent marriage to fellow YA all-star Ransom Riggs!

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Me, Kate, beautiful bride Tahereh, and Sumayyah!

I don’t think anyone needs me to tell them that Tahereh sweats style and breathes grace, so of course an event planned by she and Ransom was completely gorgeous, with personal touches that made the night totally unforgettable. And okay, I totally embarrassed myself with how hard I was crying, but all I have to say is: Two NYT best-selling writers crafting their own wedding vows? If you didn’t cry, you were basically the Terminator. I stand by my creys of joy. By the end of the night, everyone in the place was ready to marry either or both of those crazy cute kids.

Wedding Gif 4

Also, there was cake.

We stuck around the city of angels for another night to see The National perform at the Shrine Auditorium — an incredible venue to see a band that is ever-present in my writing playlists. Added bonus: they were debuting a documentary about the band, “Mistaken for Strangers,”  which was totally fantastic. The band managed to make a 5,000+ capacity theater feel intimate, and also, lasers.

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Bloodbuzz Ohio

Live music is one of those things that never fails to energize me. Musicians get to connect to their audience in a one-on-one way that authors can only dream of, but being swept up in a 5,000-person singalong to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” is the kind of transcendent moment that keeps me writing.

In fact, it’s a good thing I’m not a musician, because I’d just cry my way through that, too. Turns out I’m a big softie.

Anyway, the point is: There is just nothing that recharges the creative batteries like seeing fellow writers and kindred spirits, and remembering collectively what human experiences keep us plugging away at our laptops. It was a kind of alternative writing retreat; not a single word was written, but progress was made nonetheless.

What about you?? Have you been hanging with other writers lately? Seen or done something that reminds you why you keep writing? I wanna know!

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Give Up A Little, Gain A Lot

by sarahenni on March 5, 2014

Today is the first day of Lent, a Christian remembrance of sacrifice, where they give something up for a 40-day period. It happens to come along just as I was hoping to recommit myself to my New Year’s resolution 1: words, words, words! So I’ve decided that for Lent I’m giving up excuses.

Take that, lethargy!

It’s been a weird time over the last few weeks, and I’ve had a crazy hard time committing myself to put in just a little bit of time every day. Of course the worst thing about that is how it makes you look back regretfully, instead of forward, with hope. And that’s pretty dumb, since I can’t change my past lazy self. In fact it’s quite possible I just needed that time – a fallow period.

Either way, the brief glimpses of sun we’ve had lately – fleeting promises of a spring that is basically never going to happen, making daylight savings this weekend nothing but a cruel joke – have got me feeling more optimistic. Sun! Rebirth! Growth! Words!

And it just so happens this recommitment decision comes with a perk: a trip to the Paper Source! Total coincidence. Swears. Anyway, I bought a 2014 calendar for 50% off (as I’d intended to do before January but got too lazy … oh well! Discount!) and some heart stickers, and I’m going to try the method Jessica Spotswood has been raving about for a long time.
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On each day I get a sticker for every 1,000 words I write. (And, per my resolution, words for this here blog post count. Woohoo!)
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How about you? How are you doing on your resolutions? Have you tried the sticker method? Do you know anywhere I can get amazing stickers??

  1. Oh god how ridiculous to link to two posts ago. Oy. Post more, Sarah!

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February Reads

by sarahenni on March 3, 2014

It’s March! And, though it’s hard for me to believe it as I watch the snow drifts build outside my window, that means spring is on the horizon. But I want to look back in this post to the great reads I had in February!
NKJesmin

  • N.K. JemisinThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Broken Kingdoms

Highly recommended by my friend Sumayyah, this is the most engaging adult epic fantasy I’ve read since Game of Thrones, and it’s got much more subtle beauty and relevant social commentary weaved throughout. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are real – and as many of my YA friends have been calling for lately, complicated – and the world is rich, problematic, challenging. I tore through the first book (one of those, awake-at-3-a.m.-and-read-till-the-sun-comes-up situations) and downloaded the second to my Kindle the minute I was done.

This series also proved to me that my vow to read better this year can only have great results. N.K. Jemisin is a female POC writer with diverse characters who are black, white, gods, humans, and everything in between.

A huge benefit of going to Canada was checking out different covers for my favorite books, and finding this copy of my agent-mate’s book, which won’t be released in the U.S. until January 2015, as Vivian Apple at the End of the World.

It’s a cult book, it’s an apocalypse book, it’s a road trip book, it’s a romance, it’s a friendship and coming-of-age story… This book was everything, and at its center a timid main character I found myself relating to implicitly. Her struggle for a sense of safety and structure as the world around her goes horribly, oh-so-believably insane is something many a young adult (and me… like, now) can relate to. What Vivian discovers on her trip for the truth, and the ending!!, have me on edge for 2015 and the sequel beyond!

 

A kind of YA Sliding Doors, this cute, funny contemp follows Heart on two different versions of her prom night. The dialogue is witty, Heart is  silly and thoughtful in equal measure, and the romance at the core of the story is really sweet. I love this kind of contemp – it was every bit as good as my warm blanket and a hot chocolate on our recent snow days.

I read an ARC that I got at ALA Midwinter, so be sure to check out Liz’s book when it comes out March 15!

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Goals For 2014

by sarahenni on January 6, 2014

photoMan, I love the New Year. I like being able to put the events of my life in context, even if it’s the somewhat arbitrary cycle of the Gregorian calendar. This year I was excited to reflect on my reading from 2013, which I tracked better than any year of reading before. The results weren’t great, but I have some fantastic goals to work toward in 2014: reading more diversely, with more purpose.

I’ve got a couple other forward-thinking goals or contexts for the year ahead. Firstly, I continue to keep my motto for 2012 in mind, always, because it has the perennially fashionable effect of keeping me calm.

And, following the lead of the lovely Erin Bowman, I’m boiling down my hope for 2014 into one word:

Create.

I’ve set a goal (inspired by Karen Kavett’s “Don’t Break The Chain” calendar) to write 1,000 words every day this year.

Yes, that’s crazy ambitious. That’s 365,000 words. That’s just 116,103 short of The Lord Of The Rings!

But the impetus for this goal is that for most of the last two years I’ve been revising one project. As a result that project is the best thing I’ve ever written, but dear god. After all that revising, when NaNoWriMo came around this year, it felt like an oasis in the desert of the same 60,000 words I’d been tweaking for 24 months. I wrote something brand new, and it was scary, daring, wonderful, fun. I realized that I didn’t ever want to feel so distant from the raw, make-it-from-scratch feeling of drafting ever again.

So, a thousand words a day. And those 1,000 words can come from anywhere, and go into any project. A hair-brained shiny new book idea, a short story I’m intrigued by, a blog post, writing in my personal journal. Anywhere.

Words. Words, words, words.

It’s already been difficult. On Jan. 1 the pressure of this new goal drove me to write a new scene in my WiP (the one I’ve been laboring over for two years), and it was glorious. Then, Jan. 2, I freaked out and watched Silver Linings Playbook instead. I’m 50/50 on my goal and January has barely started.

But that’s okay! I have a very good idea of what motivation works for me, I know that more often than not having that goal hang over my head will work. I’ll get it done.

And by the end of 2014, I’ll have so many words. All words I was capable of writing, but at a volume I’d never challenged myself to before.

I can’t wait.

Gratuitous picture of self credit: Megan

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2013: A (Disappointing) Reading Analysis

by sarahenni on January 1, 2014

I recently wrote a post for YA Highway encouraging every reader to do an examination of the books they read in 2013. Not just a cursory glance at the list – a real breakdown of subject matter, and gender, sexual orientation, and ethnic diversity (of authors and characters). The post was inspired by Science Fiction/Fantasy blogger Aidan Moher’s 2013 challenge to read an equal number of books by women and men, and by playwright Stephen Spotswood’s personal “self-dramaturg” (self-analysis) of representation in his own plays.

In my article I said the results would surprise people. Well, it isn’t really fair for me to throw that out and not come clean with my numbers, is it? So, here we go!

I read a total of 40 books in 2013. (Not all percentages add up perfectly. Some categories overlapped, some main characters did not have a gender or sexual orientation [Thanks, Book Thief], and other things. Plus, mathematician, I am not.)

Books:

Of the books I read this year, 36 (or 85%) were fiction, and 3 (7%) were non-fiction.

Books, Fiction and Non Fiction

I read 15 adults books – 38% of the total – and 24 young adult books – 60% of the total. I read just one middle grade book in the year.

Books, Age Group

Of those, there were: 16 contemporary books, 8 fantasy books, 4 paranormal, 3 science-fiction, 2 historical, 2 dystopian, 1 mystery, 1 short story, 1 biography/memoir, and 1 graphic novel.

Genre

Authors:

Exactly 75% of the books I read (30) were written by women, and 25% (10) by men. (This is actually my target stat. I have no problem with this balance.)

Authors Gender

 

Of those authors, 4 were people of color, and 5 publicly identify as LGBT. I’m pretty darn embarrassed about the graphs below.

Authors, Ethnicity

Authors, LGBT

Characters:

In the books I read this year, 19 had female main characters (48%), 11 had male main characters (25%), and 7 had multiple points of view (1%).

Main Characters Gender

There were black characters in 3 of the books (0.08%), Asian characters in 2 (0.05%), Latin@ characters in 1 (0.03%),  Middle Eastern characters in 2 (0.05%), and 7 books with LGBT characters (1%).

Main:Major Supporting Character Ethnicity

The love interests in 7 of the books were people of color (1%). I did not read a single book with a main or major supporting character that had a disability, or was Native American.

Needless to say, I was surprised – and disappointed – to see the statistics from my own reading in 2013. I’ve set out to do much better in the next year, even starting a GoodReads list with a more diverse representation that I hope to make a decent dent in.

Make Your Own List!

I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my reading throughout the year, and to follow representation among both authors and characters. If it sounds interesting to you, you are welcome to download it here and use it as a jumping-off point to track your own progress in 2014.

Happy New Year, and happy reading to everyone!

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

by sarahenni on August 20, 2013

I had an all-too-brief respite from the work force last week and … it was strange. I definitely feel better when I have a lot of things going on, so trying to focus on taking time off led to some odd behavior.
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What about you? How do you spend your time off?

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Finally, Change

by sarahenni on July 30, 2013

imageFinally, things are changing.

I’m really excited to be able to share that my day-job situation is being mixed up. I’m not going to talk about the day job, old or new, in any kind of detail (I’m not about crossing my journalism and creative writing lives, and it doesn’t really matter). But after a long time battling inertia, weighing professional aspirations, and of course money stuff, I have found a new gig that will allow me to work from home.

I’m so, so happy. And I feel like I’m being given a chance to reboot my creative life.

I really like the coworkers I’ve had for more than four years now. The office is nice, the job was just fine, for a while I was even challenged to do some great work. But that fell away a while ago—years, really. I thought I could handle some monotony as long as I had time to write my book (and I did – I wrote three of them while working here*).

image_5This blog fell away. Some of my efforts with YA Highway fell away. Slowly even Twitter fell away, my lifeline to friends who would best understand a creative malaise. It was all I could do to get myself out of bed and to the daily grind of my office job with just enough juice left over to query and revise my manuscript. “How did I do all of that, once?” I found myself asking. “I must be so much busier now than when I was posting three times a week, or organizing the NaNoWriMo e-mail campaign, or tweeting with any degree of engagement or humor.”

Of course that isn’t true. Over the last year I lost the intellectual spark of my day-to-day work, and with it motivation and happiness. New challenges, novelty of experience, is necessary for many to feel happy, and I know that is true of myself.

It happened slowly, but at some point this spring I found myself bleary-eyed at work, upset at the total cliche I was for crying at work about the blah of it all. That was the day I started hunting for a new opportunity. With vigor.

The next step is scary! A new job covering a field in which I’m not totally comfortable. The challenge of working from home without driving myself, my cat, or my husband insane. But oh I miss blogging. And tweeting. And getting hair-brained ideas on morning jogs that I then have the energy to get home and pursue.

I thank everyone who has stuck with me as I slowly disappeared over the last year, and look forward to meeting new people with renewed energy!

What about you? Have you changed a job to spice things up before? Do you have any tips for working at home??

*For the record, I never, ever wrote creative fiction at my day job! I drew that line early and stuck to it.

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BEA Madness!

by sarahenni on June 3, 2013

I can hardly believe that 1) it’s already June, and 2) this last weekend was the third time that I’ve attended the annual BookExpo America conference, held in the glass labyrinth that is New York City’s Javits convention center.

This year was the most thrilling, by far, because of all the remarkable women I know who were there supporting their brilliant books. Jessica and I decided that this was the weekend of celebrating excellent things happening to deserving people. My favorite thing!

Through some lucky happenstance, I was able to room with some of my favorite ladies for free during the conference, in exchange for cat-sitting some cute, if ornery, kitties (Max, at left, was particularly… vocal). It was great to have a homey place to retreat to after very, very long days pacing the convention center.

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When you walked into the mass of steel and glass that is the Javits, the first thing you noticed was the MASSIVE poster for Veronica Roth‘s Allegiant! It was thrilling to see the Divergent series getting the attention it deserves, as the movie continues filming and the rest of us salivate for the final book!

And even better was that Veronica was giving the keynote for this year’s Children’s Author Breakfast. Hot damn, guys, she really tore the roof off. I’ve always known Veronica to be poised, thoughtful, and genuine. She was all of those things, magnified, during her speech, which was about approaching books, and life, with an open heart. I’ve got to share some quotes, because it was so dang good:

School taught me, whether I knew it or not, to approach books with [the attitude of] I am here to learn. But when I got older, something changed. In my Advanced English program, surrounded by peers I was sure were much smarter than me, my own insecurity started to creep in, telling me it was risky to be enthusiastic about anything, lest I be deemed not good enough for the people around me. It was comparatively safer to turn my nose up to everything because I felt like only a loser enjoys something wholeheartedly and I didn’t want to be a loser. …

And the thing is, when you adopt that attitude, ‘I’m here to learn,’ the world becomes a fascinating, beautiful place. I’m the author of the ‘Divergent’ series, and that means I am here to learn, specifically about knock-out mice and genetic engineering, gunshot wounds, exposure therapy, Chicago architecture, zip-lining, aquaponics and post-traumatic stress disorder — all things I researched while writing my series.

Every writer I know is also here to learn — about spaceships and fall-out shelters and international abduction and horitculture and language and everything. Everything else, everything that makes this world strange and rich and mysterious and ugly and beautiful. Humility in reading and in writing really means freedom, freedom to love things with unbridled enthusiasm. Freedom to critique things thoughtfully, freedom to write about topics you aren’t that familiar with, freedom to admit to your mistakes and learn from them. Humility is freedom.

Veronica Roth in her keynote speech at BEA 2013 (transcript here)

Oh man. It was amazing. Video is here as well, if you’re into a more immersive experience.

After I wiped away a few tears from being SO. DAMNED. PROUD. of Veronica, it was off to being proud of OTHER amazing people!

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The BEA Buzz Panel this year was packed with fantastic authors, including fellow D.C.-area author and super rad friend Cristin Terrill (second from left), whose forthcoming debut All Our Yesterdays is going to melt your face off. She rocked the YA Buzz Panel Author session like a boss.

And the familiar faces, each with something to celebrate, kept coming!

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From top left: Jessica BS and Sasha with Rainbow Rowell‘s Fangirl; Me with the adorable Amy Tintera, who signed her debut Reboot and ran out of books; Rainbow Rowell being fabulous, signing my treasured copy of Fangirl; Gorgeous Erin Bowman was just kicking off her 2.5-week tour and signed her badass thriller Taken; Lindsey Roth Culli, as usual, made me smile and kept me sane through the madness!

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From top left: Cristin Terrill reads the opening of All Our Yesterdays, which is so good that Sumayyah was about to storm onstage and grab the ARC to keep reading; The super-rad agent (and fellow unashamed Dashboard Confessional fan) Logan Garrison was a blast to hang out with; and having some down time with Veronica Roth, Kody Keplinger, Phoebe North, and Sumayyah Daud was just the thing to re-energize the writerly batteries. Love those girls. I also FINALLY got to hang with the peerless wonder Michelle Schusterman, who is debuting the cover for her MG I Heart Band this week, and we got into some pretty deep conspiracy theories about Doctor Who. As one does.

And though I was too nervous to snap a picture, I also got to meet my amazing agent, Sarah Burnes, for lunch! It was great to meet her in person, catch up with everything YA, and talk about books, books, books!

It was a helluva weekend, all around. Oh, right, and I snagged some excellent early reads too:

image_8How about you?! Did any of you go to BEA? Did I see you there?? What books are you looking forward to?

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