Laurie Elizabeth Flynn shares her inspiration for FIRSTS

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

I love hearing about how writers come up with their ideas. Learning about other people’s creative processes is endlessly fascinating to me. I wish I had a cooler story about how I came up with the idea for FIRSTS, but the truth is, it just kind of hit me one day out of the blue and kept me in its clutches until I agreed to write it. I swirled it around in my head, thinking, what if there was a book about a girl who wanted to give guys the perfect first time? What would that even look like?

I was about to find out.

At the time, I had just finished writing my second New Adult contemporary. I figured I’d take some time away from writing to polish it and start querying. My first attempt at querying (with a different New Adult project) hadn’t resulted in representation, so I was feeling a bit discouraged with writing. Honestly, I felt like I had nothing left to lose, so I decided to write that story that had been taking up residence in my brain.

Writing FAST GIRL (the original title for FIRSTS) was completely different than writing either of the New Adult contemporaries. It was a total fast and furious pantsing experience. The only things I knew before writing down a single word were the hook (a girl who wants to give guys the perfect first time), and the main character’s name, Mercedes. The plot and other characters and details just kind of happened, which was both surprising and awesome. I was shocked at how well I knew Mercedes when I hadn’t spent that much time with her. In my other writing attempts, it took me considerably longer to know my main characters. But Mercedes clung on like a barnacle and I couldn’t shake her loose.

It took me three weeks to write the book. I think the reason I was able to write quickly was because I felt no pressure from myself. The novel that became FIRSTS was my, well, first attempt at Young Adult, and I figured if it was crap, I could use it as a learning experience and write the next one. And the other reason? Because I was having fun. I wasn’t letting my inner editor run the show. In fact, I basically gave her the middle finger and told her to take a hike.

Because I had nothing to lose and wanted to see the kind of reaction my book would get (would people like it, or think it’s crazy?), I decided to enter FAST GIRL into a contest called Pitch Wars, run by the inimitable Brenda Drake. (Seriously, Brenda is such a positive fixture in the writing community. She’s amazing.) I almost didn’t hit “Send” on those applications to the mentors I had carefully selected because, well, self-doubt is a real thing. But eventually, I told myself, what’s the worst that could happen? So I hit “Send” and ran away from my computer. (Literally, it was a mad dash.) Later, I was blown away when I was chosen by two mentors, Lori Goldstein (whose fabulous debut, BECOMING JINN, is out now!) and Evelyn Skye (fellow Sweet Sixteen author of THE CROWN’S GAME).

Before Pitch Wars, I had never had another writer read my manuscript. I had no critique partners and basically, no clue how to revise a manuscript besides fixing spelling errors. (Shameful, I know.) But working with Lori and Evelyn taught me so much. Under their guidance, FAST GIRL took shape and turned into FIRSTS, a book that led me to my wonderful agent, Kathleen Rushall, and publication with Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press in January 2016.

That’s the very condensed version of how FIRSTS came to be. In any publication journey, there are countless headaches and revision stress and gaping plot holes and fear and doubt and cups of coffee and bottles of wine (hey, don’t judge). Mine was no different. But when I look back at how mine came together, I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Find out more about Laurie by visiting here website or following her on Twitter.

Jennifer DiGiovanni Reads The Freshman Fifteens

Jennifer DiGiovanni

written by Jennifer DiGiovanni

The Sixteen To Read authors love discovering new books! While we’re waiting on our own book releases next year, we’re paging through the debuts of our sister group, The Freshman Fifteens, and we’d love for you to join us. Can you handle the sheer awesomeness of fifteen binge-worthy YA novels by new authors? I think my heart just skipped a few beats.

Last month, I set off on my Freshman Fifteens debut author challenge by reading My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga and Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. Here are some of my thoughts on these truly great books.

Under a Painted Sky

Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky , set along the Oregon Trail in 1849, begins with a series of tragic events forcing Samantha and Annamae on the run for their lives. Disguised as boys, the girls quickly become friends and learn to rely on each other’s strengths to survive. Together, they travel toward the promise of fortune, freedom, and escape from their troubles out West.

To hide their identities from authorities, Samantha and Annamae become Sam and Andy. As their journey begins, they meet up with three cowboys, West, Cay, and Peety. As the narrator, Sam uses folklore and legends passed down from her Chinese grandparents and father to describe the personality traits of her fellow travelers and she’s usually dead on with her first impressions. Quiet West is an artist at heart. Cay is a ladies’ man who often goes after the wrong girl, which causes the group to make a quick escape more than once. And Peety just made me laugh.

As the story progresses, it becomes quite obvious that Sam and Andy aren’t hiding their secrets as well as they think they are. Well-paced action scenes and some laugh-out-loud awkward situations the girls run into while posing as boys kept me highly entertained. Under a Painted Sky  was a fun book and so different from anything I’ve read in YA lately. Lee truly “paints” a beautiful setting and brings the Wild West to life through her characters.

My Heart and Other Black Holes

Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes tackles a tough teenage issue, one that’s truly deserving of an authentic voice. Aysel suffers from depression and has resolved to take her own life – but she doesn’t want to take this last step alone. She meets Roman, a boy with his own set of personal demons, through an online website. As the two spend time together, an emotional bond develops between them and they connect through their ability to understand each other’s personal struggles.

In a Goodreads Q&A, Warga commented on how difficult writing can be, especially balancing “the sad with the funny, the uplifting with the dark.” I’ll admit that at times as a reader I needed to step away from this book. Not because of the writing – the prose is hauntingly beautiful and Warga is very skilled at pulling back and lightening up a scene before she takes us too far down a path of sadness. For me, parts of this this book were hard to read simply because Aysel’s depression was portrayed so realistically. Warga makes you feel the pain caused by the “black slug” of depression nestled in Aysel’s chest. The character development is superb and as a reader you wish you could help Aysel. You want to shake everyone around her and ask why they can’t see how sad and isolated she feels. You realize how easy it can be to miss the signs of major depression.

Despite the pain portrayed in this story, Warga infuses a sense of hope into her characters. Although Aysel and Roman’s struggles won’t be easily overcome, nor will their problems be solved overnight, we want them to prevail.

Final Thoughts?

The characters in both Warga and Lee’s books are truly memorable and the quality of writing is superb. Each author has such as distinctive, fresh new voice. I’m looking forward to reading more by both Warga and Lee, as well as the rest of the Freshman Fifteeners’ debut novels this year.


Jennifer DiGiovanni is a freelance writer and small business owner. Her debut YA novel, MY SENIOR YEAR OF AWESOME will be published by Georiga McBride Media Group’s Swoon Romance imprint in 2016. When she’s not reading or writing, you can find her working on home design or home improvement projects, exercising, or cheering loudly at her kids’ soccer, basketball, or little league games. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter or Facebook.