REVIEW: HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME

History Is All You Left Me – Adam Silvera

Available: January 17, 2017 from Soho Teen

Follow Adam on Twitter.

Add History Is All You Left Me on Goodreads.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Adam at BEA this year. He was by far my favorite signing. He’s personable, humble, and so SO kind. If you ever have a chance to meet him or go to a signing, DO IT. He’s SO GREAT.

I should note that out of the 140 ARCs I picked up from BEA, History Is All You Left Me is the one I chose to read first. Because, it’s Adam Silvera guys. And his writing is gold.

History Is All You Left Me follows Griffin, a seventeen-year-old boy from NYC who has just lost the love of his life. Twice. Theo was Griffin’s first. First love, first sexual encounter, first everything. The early stages of their relationship is remarkably sweet and will leave the reader full of butterfly feelings.

You know from line one that this book will rip your heart out in the best possible Adam-Silvera-imagined way. The writing is raw, gritty, and impossibly real. The characters are written so beautifully flawed that they could be anyone. I’ll admit it, I wanted to cry from page 13 on.

Take Griffin, for example, our OCD narrator. He suffers from compulsions that force him to count things (in even numbers) and always walk or sit to the left of someone. What I like about him is that he’s imperfect, but through the other characters, we see how loveable he is. This seems to be a direct representation of life that anyone (especially those with low self-esteem) can appreciate. Though we are flawed, we still deserve to be loved. Throughout the book Griffin struggles to overcome his compulsions which leads to tons of anxiety. I loved the patience and concern the other characters displayed for him, even though sometimes their well-intentioned actions were not at all what he needed.

The characters make mistakes. Many, MANY mistakes. Sometimes I found myself hoping they’d make more, just because I knew I’d do the same thing in the same situation. Adam Silvera is remarkable in that way. He can boil down every human emotion and infuse it in the tiniest details until it’s powerful…almost a character in its own right. It will leave the reader with a profound sensation of being understood, something I’ve never really experienced in books until Adam Silvera took my reader heart by storm.

History Is All You Left Me is not a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. Silvera doesn’t shy away from anything—not sex, not mental health, not socioeconomic issues. He writes dangerously, which is perhaps why we love him and exactly what the contemporary YA genre has needed all along.

5 GIANT stars for History Is All You Left Me.

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AT LAST, THE SERIES IS COMPLETE

Torch Rock Teaser - Copy

I sit before my computer in a confusing state of satisfaction and sadness. The earliest files in my hard drive for Reflection Pond date back to early 2012, though I think the actual writing started in 2011. There are dozens and dozens of files, if not hundreds. In the grand scheme of writing, four or five years for three books is not a long time, I realize that, but those years defined who I am as a writer. I began the series scared, uncertain of my own capabilities, and I’ve emerged from the other side more confident, more sure of myself and the risks I’m willing to take in my stories.

Today is the release day for Torch Rock, Book 3 in the Reflection Pond Series, the final installment of Callie and Rowan’s story. Much like me, the characters have gone on a journey to find their strength, to heal, and I’m deeply satisfied with this ending. I hope you, my readers, find it just as enjoyable as I do. I’ve already been asked if I’ll ever return to Callie and Rowan’s world, to expand on the secondary characters in the story, to follow the seeds of possibility I left strewn throughout the final novel. The truth is, I don’t know. I do have some bonus content, deleted scenes and such that may become available at some point. But right now, the end is justified, and I like the idea of readers creating their own possible futures for Rowan and Callie. The characters we love live on inside of us, and I hope some parts of Callie and Rowan live on in each of you.

To celebrate the release, I’ve made Reflection Pond free for today! On May 7th, the series will tour with Brook Cottage Books. You can still sign up for the promo day HERE.

I want to thank everyone who has stood beside me as I completed these books, especially those who encouraged me and listened to my issues (over and over again for weeks, months, and years). You know who you are. Thank you to the bloggers, reviewers, and every fan who has contacted me. Your support and enthusiasm always puts a smile on my face. Huge thank yous to my early readers, ARC reviewers, and everyone who has been cheering on Callie from the beginning. A big thanks to my designer Julia at Bioblossom Creative, who always, always exceeds my expectations with her beautiful covers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The entire series is available on Amazon. If you want some music to read to, check out the playlists I’ve created for Reflection Pond and Torch Rock. And when you’re done reading, please leave a review, even if it’s just an I liked it!

Reflection Pond

Amazon Goodreads Playlist

Poison Tree

Amazon Goodreads

Torch Rock

Amazon Goodreads Playlist

STRENGTH IN UNLIKELY PLACES

I think as children we look at the world with an innocent wonder. The people surrounding us are meant to be trusted, not suspected. As we grow into adulthood, that wonder and trust is challenged by experience. We get hurt. We have our emotions taunted, our decisions questioned, and we learn that the world is not a safe place. It’s not even a welcoming place.

When I wrote Reflection Pond, Callie’s childhood shaped her character into someone I consider unwaveringly strong. She’s not flawless, but a road map of scars from every experience that nearly broke her. Nearly being the imperative word. She’s a survivor, she’s cautious, and though she’s suffered terrible abuse, she still holds that childlike wonder that the world, in general, isn’t a despicable place.

Throughout the series, Callie’s fragile trust is challenged. She learns that family is not synonymous with love and sometimes friendship come from the most unlikely of places. Most importantly, she realizes that trusting others is nowhere near as important as trusting yourself. I won’t give away the ending of Torch Rock (which releases April 26th! Preorder here.), but I will say that Callie in the final installment is miles away from the scared girl who fell through the Reflection Pond.

Callie’s character is based in part on my own experiences. I’ve seen betrayal firsthand. I’ve breathed it and lived it. It took time and no small amount of tears, but I found a way to drag myself off my bathroom floor and overcome devastation. There isn’t a recipe for climbing out of an emotional hole like that, you only have to have the determination to know that this isn’t the end. After all, if you’re reading this you’ve already survived every bad day you’ve had. Look at you! 100% success rate.

A lot of people have said they can’t relate to Callie or connect with her. Perhaps this has something to do with her horrific past. Violence and abuse leave marks on you. Though hidden, these marks admit you to a private survivors club.  Maybe relating to her comes with a price. Maybe I’d rather you couldn’t relate.

I’m proud of Callie. I know that readers love a strong female character, someone who takes no shit and kicks ass. But Callie isn’t that character. Sure, she can fight. Sure, she has cool faerie powers. But Callie’s real strength comes from her unwavering belief that she will find her place in this world, no matter how many times she has to pull herself to her feet.

I think, at the end of the day, regardless of our differing pasts, that’s all any of us hope for.

TORCH ROCK COVER REVEAL (& EXCITING NEWS!)

Today I come to you with exciting news! Not only do I have a cover for the final Reflection Pond book, TORCH ROCK, I also have an amazing STEPPING STONES update.  

First things first. TORCH ROCK will release April 26, 2016. It’s bittersweet. I’m so happy that I told Callie and Rowan’s story, but it feels like I’m leaving old friends behind to focus on new projects. But! The end isn’t here quite yet. Take a look at that gorgeous cover and dangerous blurb!  

Torch-RockebookWar is coming, and she takes no prisoners.

Faced with an impending battle Eirensae cannot win alone, Rowan journeys to Macántacht to seek allegiance from its leader. The City of Honor is beautiful, still untouched by conflict, and full of surprises that bring Callie’s darkest experiences to the surface.

With her friends’ lives at stake, Callie must confront her past, and accept help from a faerie whose face torments her memories. Reconciling the power beneath her skin has never been more painful.

Amid persistent threats from Fraeburdh, an old enemy reemerges with deadly force. Even with Macántacht fighting beside her and Rowan at her back, the odds are insurmountable. Callie’s biggest trial will come not on a blood-soaked battlefield, but in the quiet moments when she must choose.

 You can PREORDER a digital copy from Amazon now or ADD IT on Goodreads.

 Stepping Stones - FinalToday I learned that STEPPING STONES is a finalist in the Chanticleer Awards for Paranormal. I’m still screaming and jumping up and down. You can check out the contest HERE or order a copy HERE 

Lastly, I’m working on revamping my blog and it comes with AWESOME READER PERKS. Click on About the Author to find out what I mean. (Here’s a hint…it has the word FREE in it.) 

All the best,

Kacey

 

 

WHAT I LEARNED AT THE MICHIGAN WRITING WORKSHOP

Yesterday I attended an amazing conference hosted by Writer’s Digest featuring Chuck Sambuchino as the speaker. If you’re not familiar with Chuck’s work, YOU SHOULD BE. I’ve been using Writer’s Digest, and Chuck’s blog specifically for YEARS. You’ll find all kinds of good stuff over there about writing queries, querying agents, and even which agents are brand new and building their lists. I’ll wait while you explore.

While a lot of the conference discussed things I already knew, I did take some notes to bring back for you guys. Not only was Chuck Sambuchino awesome, I participated in “Writer’s Got Talent,” where a panel of agents read the first page of manuscripts and critiqued them. But we’ll get to that later.

Let’s talk about queries first. Everyone who’s ever queried knows how much writing a query SUCKS. As in, sucks the life out of your soul. It’s hard work choosing the right words. Agonizing, even. So while I won’t reiterate everything Chuck said (he has books for that kind of thing), I will hit on a few important points that I wrote down regarding query writing.

  1. Intro – Get in and get out quickly.
    1. Use the first sentence to give the technical details of your work. Genre, word count, title. Giving the genre first tells the agent how to feel about the query. (Don’t use a hook. Usually a hook is confusing and not explained until later anyway. Using an intro is the safest, most harmless method.)
    2. The second sentence is the reason you are contacting the agent. (Saw them at a conference, you read that they like super-secret spy thrillers on their blog, etc.) Side note—don’t say you’re contacting them because they rep BIGGEST BEST SELLING BOOK. Chuck suggests that you look farther down in their list and choose a book that wasn’t a best seller, but that the agent likely loves anyway. This will make you stand out because everyone else is using the best seller.
  2. Pitch –
    1. 3-10 sentences (Think back cover of a book.)
    2. DO NOT reveal the ending.
    3. Use specifics. Do not use language that has more than one meaning. (Don’t be vague or use cliché “suspense” tropes.)
    4. Read the back of debuts at the bookstore and see what language draws you in. Apply this to your query.
    5. Use evocative language that will “paint a picture” and help the agent know the tone of your work.
    6. Beware of subplots, extra characters, and proper names. Try to limit the number of names you use in the query, especially if they’re hard to understand (unusual, foreign, made up for sci-fi). Mention ONLY the main characters.
    7. Don’t say “My novel is…(funny, heartfelt, terrifying).” Show it within the query by using the right words to evoke a response.
    8. Some random things I wrote down –
      1. What does the character desire?
      2. What things go wrong?
      3. Layers of conflict.
      4. What happens if the character fails?
  3. Bio –
    1. Mention any serious and well-known writing groups. (SCBWI, for example.)
    2. Notable and relevant awards you’ve received. (Nothing from high school, please.)
    3. Any job where you’ve been paid to write, even if it was a long time ago. You don’t have to say it happened twenty years ago, just that you were a columnist at such and such a place.

Some DON’TS

  1. Don’t say it’s your first novel.
  2. Only pitch ONE THING at a time.
  3. Don’t mention how long it took you to write. Four weeks sounds bad. So does 10 years.
  4. Don’t use rhetorical questions. They sound silly and so do you.

The agent panel was immensely interesting and informative. Chuck read the first pages aloud and had the agents raise their hands when they would’ve stopped reading if this first page were a submission. Holy massacre! Sometimes we made it a few sentences, sometimes a few paragraphs. Very few authors had their first page read all the way to the end. This showed me that even though many of us think we’re ready to query, we’re nowhere near that final perfect submission. It also proved that agents read subjectively. Where one agent would raise their hand, another wouldn’t. Where one agent would love a particular turn of phrase, another found it cliché. (Want to know how my first page did? Ask in a comment and I’ll fess up!)

The biggest DON’TS the agents mentioned regarding the opening scene of a novel –

  1. Don’t use a phone call.
  2. Don’t have the main character waking up in the morning.
  3. Don’t use a description of the weather.
  4. Don’t use a dream.
  5. Don’t use a prologue. Some agents say ABSOLUTELY NOT to prologues. Better to be safe than sorry.

So what do you do? Put your character in the MIDDLE of an event or situation. Start with ACTION.

Later, Chuck told us not to fall victim to the TWO BIGGEST mistakes that get authors rejected. (And yes, I wrote them down for you.)

  1. The book starts too slow and is boring. (Start in the middle of something.)
  2. Too much info dump.
    1. Telling not showing.
    2. Description.
    3. Back story.
    4. Explaining the character motivation.

You want to give just enough that the reader isn’t confused because what you DON’T say is more interesting that what you DO. The unknown will keep the reader (or agent!) turning pages.

While I learned many more things from Chuck (he’s a FANTASTIC speaker), one last point really stuck out to me.

AS AN AUTHOR, SO MUCH IS OUTSIDE OF YOUR CONTROL.

This is true about So. Many. Things. Whether an agent will like your query or first pages. Whether they’ll pass or decide to give you a call. Whether you’ll actually sell your book even if you get an agent. Edits. The cover. The first run. Even if you self-publish, you don’t know if readers will like your story.

The most important thing you can do is WRITE THE BEST THING YOU CAN. (And be patient.)

All the best,

Kacey

STEPPING STONES IS HERE!

Stepping Stones - FinalIt’s finally release day for Stepping Stones. If you’ve been following along you know how excited I am to share this book. It’s my baby…I absolutely love this story, especially how it’s progressed over the years and grown into something I’m so proud of. This is only the beginning of Everett and Onna’s story, they still have a long way to go.

So, what are you waiting for? Go grab your copy and please, please, PLEASE leave a review when you finish. (And remember to share it with your friends!)

Amazon Paperback * Kindle * Nook – Coming soon * Goodreads

Stepping Stones by Kacey Vanderkarr

YA Contemporary Fantasy

Onnaleigh Moore is part of a plan—and it isn’t hers. When her brother dies in a car accident, Onna is desperate to preserve the tatters of her family. Any hope of finding normalcy vanishes when her mother runs off and her dad turns to booze to numb his pain. Onna’s grief is crippling, but the boy who showed up just when she needed him is helping her cope.

Everett’s presence is comforting, though he knows things—Onna’s name just before they met, where she lives, and sometimes he comments on thoughts she doesn’t say aloud. She pegs him for a stalker, or maybe psychic, but the truth is deadlier than she imagines. As their feelings for one another deepen, Everett confesses a horrifying secret: Onna’s brother is only the beginning of the plan, and some fates are worse than death.

Follow along next week when Stepping Stones goes on tour with YA Bound Book Tours.

August 31st

Adventures in Bookland http://adventuresinbooklandblog.wordpress.com  Review

Reader Girls   http://www.readergirlsblog.com   Review

Desert Rose Reviews   http://desertrosereviews.blogspot.com     Promo Post

Kats Reading Corner    www.katsreadingcorner.blogspot.com   Promo Post

Writing Pearls   http://www.writingpearls.com   Review

Geeky Chiquitas   http://geekychiquitas.blogspot.com    Review

Rambling Reads   http://rambling-reads.blogspot.ie/    Promo Post

Princessica of Books  http://princessicaofbooks.wordpress.com   Promo Post

September 1st

Behind Closed Covers   http://behindclosedcovers.blogspot.com   Review

Mythical Books   http://www.mythicalbooks.blogspot.ro/    Promo Post

Mom With A Kindle    http://momwithakindle.blogspot.com   Promo Post

Booky Thoughts and Me   http://www.bookythoughtsandme.com   Review

Part Time Book Nerd   www.parttimebooknerd.wordpress.com   Review

Here’s to Happy Endings   http://www.herestohappyendings.com   Review

Andrea Buginsky, Author   http://andreabuginskyauthor.blogspot.com/    Promo Post

Bibliobibuli YA    http://bibliobibuliya.com/   Promo Post

undercover book reviews – http://undercoverbookreviews.blogspot.com/ – Promo Post

3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! – http://3partnersinshopping.blogspot.com – Promo Post

Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books – http://archaeolibrarianologist.blogspot.de/ – Promo Post

September 2nd

Reading, Writing, and What Not   http://pixiescanread.blogspot.com/    Review

I’m Lost in Books  http://imlostinbooks.blogspot.com   Promo Post

The Moral Of Our Stories   www.themoralofourstories.com   Promo Post

Star-Crossed Book Blog    http://starcrossedbookblog.com/    Review

Literary Musings    http://literarymusing.weebly.com/  Promo Post

A Crave For Books    http://acraveforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/   Review

The Moral Of Our Stories   www.themoralofourstories.com    Review

maliha reads   http://malihareads.wordpress.com   Review

September 3rd

Donnie Darko Girl   http://donniedarkogirl.blogspot.com   Review

Crystal’s Chaotic Confessions    https://crystalschaoticconfessions.wordpress.com/     Promo Post

Around the World in Books    http://www.aroundtheworldinbooks.ca/    Promo Post

The SMART Book Club   http://thesmartbookclub.blogspot.com/   Review

My Random Book Thoughts   http://myrandombookthoughts.blogspot.com/ Review

Readiculously Peachy http://readiculously-peachy.blogspot.com    Review

A girl and her books   Www.southernbooknerd.blogspot.com   Review

Flirting with Fiction http://flirtyfiction.net   Review

Reading Addict – http://readingadd.blogspot.ro/  Review

comfort Books   http://paigebradish1996.blogspot.com/  Promo Post

September 4th

Reading, Writing, and What Not  http://pixiescanread.blogspot.com/   Review

Feed Your Fiction Addiction http://feedyourfictionaddiction.com    Review

The Book Lovers’ Lounge    http://thebookloverslounge.com  Review

books are love   http://hello-booklover.tumblr.com Review

In Wonderland   http://www.stephwonderland.blogspot.com Review

Just Us Book Blog  http://justusbookblog.blogspot.com/   Promo Post

The Phantom Paragrapher   www.thephantomparagrapher.blogspot.com   Review

The Page Unbound    http://thepageunbound.com   Review

Desert Rose Reviews  http://desertrosereviews.blogspot.com  Promo Post

Mythical Books  http://www.mythicalbooks.blogspot.ro/  Promo Post

Stephanie Keyes, Author Www.atephaniekeyes.com/the-blog Promo Post

All the best,

Kacey

STEPPING STONES – A LOOK BACK (PART 3/3)

Stepping Stones - FinalIn anticipation of Stepping Stones’ release on August 25th, I’ve dug out my old manuscripts and compared them, one by one. It hasn’t been pretty, but it has been fun! I’ve had help from my trusty sidekicks, Stephanie Keyes (of The Star Child fame) and Hannah R. Goodman (Founder and Editor of Sucker Literary and All the Way YA). These ladies have read over my early drafts and marked then up with red pen. (Side note: Print out your manuscripts and use red pen. It’s SO satisfying!)

If you’re late to the party, you can catch up by checking out Version One HERE and Version Two HERE.

Now we’ve reached the moment you’ve been waiting for: THE FINAL FIRST SCENE REVEAL (with a few comments thrown in). I know I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it (at least!) a million more times, but I love this book. I’m so excited to share Onna and Everett’s story with you. You can preorder the digital version of Stepping Stones from Amazon, or add it on Goodreads.

Version Four – 2014

KACEY: I wrote SEVEN OTHER novels from Version One until Version Four. (There is an incomplete Version Three somewhere on my hard drive…I’ll post it if I can locate it.) That number is an estimate because my memory is hazy. I joined the Flint Area Writers. I branched out into short fiction. I read A LOT.

Things I learned between then and now:

*Writing is HARD. Writing WELL is harder.

*There are some words you shouldn’t use. A shortlist:

  1. Seems, in any form.
  2. Wonder, as in she wonders if…
  3. Was, Is, Had, Has, etc.

*A successful novel takes multiple drafts. Hours, days, week, months, years (EVEN DECADES) of struggling.

*You’re still a writer even if you suck. (HANNAH: YES! Because being a writer is not something one can judge without being prejudice. Meaning, being a writer is like having blue eyes…you are born this way.)

*You really should listen to those who are older/wiser/more experienced than you. They’re not critiquing you to be rude (usually), they’re critiquing you so you can learn and grow and become a better writer.

*If writing is something you’re passionate about, don’t give up. It’s always worth it in the long run if it makes you happy.

**In this version, Onna’s brother’s name is now Caleb. Name changes are often part of reaching a final draft.

**The point of view has changed from first person to third person.

This is the first scene of Stepping Stones, which will publish on August 25th. This book is my baby, my rambunctious problem child. I’m SO PROUD of how far it’s come (and how far I’ve come as a writer!). I took this excerpt straight from the digital version of the document, which is ready for publication. See? Just for sticking with me, you get a sneak peek!

Divorce. The word BURROWED deep in Onna’s chest, BARBED like the sharp quills of a porcupine. The sting RADIATED from her heart into her lungs, her head, her hands. She knew she should stick around and listen to her parents’ STUMBLING apologies and paper-thin explanations, but she couldn’t.

She BURST through the front door into DAZZLING sunshine. The sky hung endless above her from horizon to horizon—perfect, crisp blue. She glanced back at the windows, rooms hidden by curtains and blinds. Houses were facades, masks to cover pain and heartbreak. She could stare at the glass all day, where cheery vines and flowers SPILLED from window boxes, and never see past the guise. Even now, her parents were probably sitting in cruel silence, debating how to avoid each other until one of them moved out.

HANNAH: I could go on but I will stop and focus on this section to highlight that this is what makes writing have a sense of movement, a sense that SOMETHING IS HAPPENING even if it really isn’t. The language here allows us to get back story in a way that feels like we are moving through the events of the plot. Amen. (The words Hannah is referring to are BOLDED.)

 It made her sick.

Sliding into the driver seat of her Grand Am felt like stepping into a sauna. End-of-summer heat collected in the car and made the interior stifling. Onna CRANKS the windows and cursed her parents for not buying her a car with automatic anything, and the air conditioner was broken. Her dad promised to fix it four months ago. Guess he was too busy planning the divorce to get around to it.

Onna PRESSED her phone to her ear before she backed out of the driveway. Caleb answered on the first ring.

“Baby sister,” he said, a smile in his voice. The knot around Onna’s heart EASED. “What’s shakin’?”

She pictured him on the balcony of his apartment in Traverse City, feet propped on the banister, staring out over Lake Michigan. She stayed with him for two weeks in July, spending her days sprawled on the beach with a book in her hands while Caleb studied for medical boards. At night, they PROWLED the town and sampled swanky restaurants, and Cora, Caleb’s girlfriend, took Onna dancing at a beachside club.

“Caleb—” Onna said, wondering how to break the news.

“They finally told you.”

Onna nearly dropped the phone. An angry honk sounded from behind her, and she realized she’d stopped at a green light. Muttering, she passed through the intersection and pulled into a parking lot. The convenience store was dead, the lot deserted. The relentless heat drove everyone indoors where there was air conditioning and iced-tea and Saturday afternoon movie marathons. Neon signs advertising beer and cigarettes flickered in the window. The attendant inside LEANED over the counter, watching her.

Returning to her conversation with Caleb, she hissed, “You knew?” The pause was long enough to serve as Caleb’s confession.

“Don’t be upset, Leelee.” He fell back on her childhood nickname, even though she’d asked him to stop. Onnie, Leelee, Leigha—her name, Onnaleigh Evelyn Moore, was too easily shortened. “They fell out of love,” Caleb continued. “We can’t expect them to stay together if they’re unhappy.”

“Easy for you to say, you don’t live with them. You didn’t see how Dad looked at Mom. You didn’t see him cry.” Onna closed her eyes. Tears burned behind her lids. She wished she were with Caleb now. He’d tell her a dirty joke or let her drink half his six-pack. He’d make it bearable.

Her parents always laughed about Onna’s devotion to her older brother. Whenever she hurt herself as a child, she ran to Caleb. From the time she could walk, Caleb was the one who kissed her scrapes and chased the boogeyman from beneath her bed. Even now, she called him with breakups and bad grades and for advice about everything. He was the only twenty-five-year-old male Onna knew who would listen to her ramble about boys, makeup, and what color dress she wanted for prom.

During Caleb’s drawn out silence, a vintage, kelly green Mustang pulled into the convenience store lot, all sleek lines and muscle. Onna GROANED as the driver, instead of choosing a space near the entrance, pulled in next to her at the far corner. She wiped her eyes and debated rolling up the windows. There was nothing worse than crying in public, except having a witness. In the end, she settled for glowering at the driver as he emerged.

Much like his car, which was a sex-machine with four wheels, the guy was hard lines and hotness. He wore board shorts and a blue t-shirt over dark, olive skin. A longish crop of unruly brown hair hung to his eyebrows. Black aviators perched on a straight nose.

HANNAH: Enter the Hot Dude. What an entrance. It is short and teasing, just how it should be. I particularly love hard lines and hotness, as it evokes voice. I like the varied sentence structure of the three lines after it. This is sophisticated writing. This is good.

Onna swore she felt his gaze on her face. She sank lower into the seat and her cheeks heated. The guy nodded in her direction before crossing the lot and disappearing into the store. The doorbell’s jangle reached her ears, followed by Caleb’s worried voice.

“Onna? Hello?”

She swallowed, heart thudding against her ribs in a frantic dash to be free. The Grand Am’s vents blew hot against damp cheeks. She propped her door open and gulped fresh air. Who is that guy?

“I’m here,” she said, peeking over the seat back. She lost sight of the guy between the shelves.

“Cora and I are coming home next weekend. Can you survive until then? I have some time off saved for a special occasion, but I wouldn’t mind spending it on you.” In the background, the excited tone of Cora’s voice rose, and Caleb mumbled, “It’s Onna.”

There was a moment of deafening static, and then Cora was on the line. “We’re engaged!” she yelled.

Onna squealed. “You’vegottabekiddingme!”

“Not kidding. He got me a rock. I can hardly hold my hand up.”

“Lies,” Caleb said, voice far away. Another rumble of static and Caleb spoke again. “She was supposed to wait until next weekend.” His voice distorted as if he covered the mouthpiece with his palm. “You were supposed to wait… You know, wait. Should I spell it for you?”

Cora giggled and Caleb’s voice lifted to full strength. “Keep it to yourself. With everything going on…” he trailed off and suddenly Onna was back in the living room, seeing her mom glare at her dad while tension churned around them.

“Right,” she said, forcing brightness into her words. “Congratulations, Caleb.”

“Thanks. Hang in there. At least school starts soon. Senior year.” He faked a sob. “My baby sister’s growing up. Anyways, call me if you want to talk. Cora and I are headed out to tell her parents. She thinks her dad will chase me with a shovel.”

Onna was horrified. “He wouldn’t.”

“That’s what I said,” Caleb agreed, laughing.

“He’s got a shotgun,” Cora yelled.

She’d just hung up when the guy came out of the store carrying two jumbo blue slushes. Prickles crawled up Onna’s neck. She tossed her phone onto the passenger seat and closed her driver door. When she looked up, he was outside her window, dripping plastic cup held through the opening. A red swirly straw sat atop the melting blue drink.

“You looked like you could use this,” he said, leaning down so his face filled her open window. His mouth curled in a sexy smile that made Onna lose conscious thought. She wished she could see his eyes, but the lenses of his glasses were so opaque she couldn’t guess the color behind them.

“Uh—thanks?” she said, hoping he’d go away.

He pushed the drink closer. The sharp sting of cold condensation falling onto her bare legs jolted her from the stupor. She took the slippery cup, burning fingers brushing his freezing ones. Her stomach tickled.

“See you around, Onna,” he said, standing.

She watched him climb into his car. He rolled down the windows—also manual—giving her a view of an all leather interior and shiny four-speed shifter on the floor. The guy put the straw of his slush—also red swirly—to his lips and drank deeply. Onna thought she would die before that sip ended. Then he smiled, backed neatly around her car, and tore out of the parking lot.

HANNAH: Steamy awesomeness. What’s awesome is that this is actually a sex scene and yet, no sex has been had.

STEPH: LOVE, LOVE! So much stronger than the earlier version. You know the expression. There are no good writers, only good re-writers. The only thing I’d like to see is more of a transition in the first paragraph when she runs out. A glimpse of what her parents look like. A line from them and then, boom, she runs.

HANNAH: A huge improvement that really showcases your skills and hard work. I love that now I know how you grew as a writer. Bravo! (KACEY: I just love her…)

KACEY: You can see how the scene progressed from version to version. A lot of the same things still happen, we learn about the divorce, Onna’s devotion to her brother, and we get to meet (YAY!) the male main character and introduce his mystery to the story. The backstory remains, but it’s woven in between action scenes that move the story along. Onna doesn’t spend much time sitting around thinking. Information is learned from her dialogue with Caleb and Cora, along with a glimpse into her personality and values.

Now, I’ll never say that a draft is perfect. Perfection is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve, but feeling satisfied over a journey is allowed. I hope you’re intrigued enough to pick up a copy of Stepping Stones when it releases August 25th, especially now that you’ve seen the process it underwent from inception to final draft.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or horror stories over your first drafts. Comment below!