A Release Day Guest Post & Giveaway From Sarah J. Maas

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Sarah J. Maas — the author AND the person. She’s the author who made me fall in love with fantasy and opened this whole new world to me. I mean, Throne of Glass holds the spot for my current favorite series and, after reading A Court of Thorns and Roses earlier this year, I have a GOOD feeling it’s going to be competing with the Throne of Glass series. And as a person?  She is amazing. So kind and generous and genuine. So good to her fans. SO SO good to them. And if you’ve ever seen her in action (possibly with her bff Susan Dennard — oh the two of them!) she is so funny and a damn good time!


Bs6grBxCMAA5ijXSarah J. Maas Heir of Fire selfie


So, I can’t tell you how honored I am to have her on the blog on the release day of A Court of Thorns and Roses. She’s so deserving of the praise and love for her books and I hope you all fall in love with this latest series from her like I did (you can check out my thoughts here).
 So now I’m going to let Sarah take it away and I’m going to warn you…this post made some tears pay a visit to my face!

 ACOTAR blog tour banner


I’ve been thinking for some time now about what I’ll say today, what I’ll write about to properly convey my feelings now that A Court of Thorns and Roses is officially out in the world. I wrote the first draft of this book way back in 2009—before I ever sold Throne of Glass—and then let it collect proverbial dust on my computer for years. But during those years, I’d open up that word document—not to edit or tweak, but just to reread, to visit these characters that had somehow stolen a piece of my heart, and who wouldn’t let me forget it.

[Keep Reading]

World-building + An Ember In Ashes (Guest Post From Sabaa Tahir)

I’m so excited that I have the opportunity to host Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember In Ashes, here on the blog. When I was toying with potential topics for her to talk about here I was thinking about how much setting and world-building are important to me especially with fantasy novels. It really can make or break it for me when it comes to a good vs amazing book — no matter how much I love the plot and the characters. 

I was really fascinated by the setting of An Ember in Ashes (an Ancient Rome sort of fantasy world) and decided I’d love to know how she went about integrating Ancient Rome as inspiration for the world she built in An Ember in Ashes.


Sabaa Tahir worldbuilding


When I came up with the idea for Ember in 2007, I was very excited. And very nervous. I knew I had something that could be beautiful and wild and dark, if only I could get it right. I fell into my characters and plot with an obsession that hasn’t abated. I still think of them and their stories day and night.

Writing Ember took 6 years. The story revealed itself slowly to me, because I wasn’t just writing a book, I was building a world and it was very important to me that this world be authentic and true.

That meant research. One of the first things I researched were names. I wanted to imbue EMBER’s names with deeper meaning because I believe names have power. Across cultures, name meanings have such fascinating histories, so for EMBER, each race had its own naming conventions that were based on actual cultural naming conventions. I used Roman-inspired names for the Martial group, Hindi-inspired names for the Scholars, Arabic-inspired names for the Tribes and West-African inspired names for the Mariners. Every character’s name has deeper meaning. None of them is random.

Names were just a small part of the research I did for Ember. Though the book takes place in a fantasy world, that world still required consistent rules. I looked to history for inspiration. I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Rome of the Juleo-Claudian era. I researched architecture, clothing, weaponry and military conquests from that time. I based the Martial Empire’s system of social stratification on Ancient Rome’s.

When it came to Blackcliff, Ember’s brutal military school—I dug into Sparta.

When people think Sparta, I think they often think of the Battle of Thermopylae, or that movie where ripped guys yell a lot. But Sparta was more than that. Ancient Spartan boys entered the agoge—this brutal system of training—at the age of 7, and they were bound in it until adulthood. They were cast in to the wild to fend for themselves, starved, beaten, set against each other—they were killing before they were 10 years old. I used all this to inform the creation of Blackcliff, and the merciless training that two of my characters, Elias and Helene, must survive there.

Elias and Helene, are not, of course, the only ones that must undergo brutality. In EMBER, Laia is forced to become a slave and so I knew that I had to make her experience realistic. Not doing so would be a disservice to young readers, one that I knew they would sense because it would make the book inauthentic. I read about slavery in ancient Rome as well as here in the U.S.

The goal of all of this research was to bring the world of EMBER to life. When I closed my eyes and slipped into this world, I had to see it and smell it, taste it and feel it and hear it. That, to me, was the best way of making sure that my readers could experience the same.




Fantasy readers, check this one out for sure!

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.

LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.


Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Her website: http://www.sabaatahir.com

Twitter: sabaatahir


Let me know what you guys thought! I’d also LOVE to know what authors that you love that do worldbuilding so well! How important IS world-building to you??

A Little Chat About Writer Inspiration With Aisha Saeed + Giveaway

One of the things I love most is finding out what writers have inspired authors I love! It personally makes me happy when I see authors I love fangirling (or fanboying) about other authors I love. I just LOVE knowing what they love and which writers have inspired them and why.

I’m so happy to have debut author Aisha Saeed on the blog today to talk about 5 writers who inspire her and why. I just finished Aisha’s novel, Written in the Stars, over the Easter weekend and I cannot WAIT to talk about it (look out for a post about it in the next few days). It was a wonderful novel that I so appreciated because it allowed me a glimpse into a cultural practice (arranged marriage) that is not my own. I found myself reading so tensely as the Naila’s story played out. If you want more information on the book, I’ll provide the summary at the end of this post!

Now that I’ve blathered on I’ll let Aisha do the talking. I hope you’ll welcome her to the blog with me!!




The Five Writers Who Inspire Aisha Saeed


1. Jhumpa Lahiri: From The Namesake to Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri’s work is beautiful and evocative. She inspires me not just with her skilled storytelling and character-building, but because she was the South Asian female author I saw make it big in the writing world. Seeing the interest in the type of stories she told motivated me to tell my own stories too.

2. Ha Jin: Jin’s writing is spare but the emotions his characters experience and consequently make you feel are powerful. His work inspires me to write with the goal to make a scene come alive by honing in on emotion.

3. Zadie Smith: Smith writes characters who will stay with you forever. She inspires me to truly consider my characters’ inner lives.

4. J.K. Rowling: I admire Rowling not just for how wonderfully she writes but because she worked so hard and believed in her writing. So many publishers rejected her but she never gave up. Even when she was struggling as a single mother and battling depression and on the brink of poverty, she honed her craft and kept on going.

5. Stephen King: Horror isn’t exactly my favorite genre but I make an exception for Stephen King. His storytelling is taut and suspenseful and has kept me up well past any reasonable hour, reading away. There is much to be learned from his writing even if it’s outside of my genre. His book, On Writing, served as the motivation for me to actually put pen to paper and write my novel.


Thank you for sharing, Aisha! I’ve heard amazing things about Jhumpa Lahiri and Zadie Smith and own some of their novels but have yet to read them. STORY OF MY LIFE.

Readers, I’d LOVE to know if you’ve read any of these authors (I’m assuming JK Rowling is an all around yes for most of you) and if you are a writer…what authors inspire you??



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Other tour stops ( I highly recommend checking them out, some good stuff!):

YA Highway – 3/24
IceyBooks – 3/25
Jessabella Reads – 3/26
Alice Marvels – 3/27
Pandora’s Books – 3/31
Pop! Goes the Reader – 4/2
The Young Folks – 4/6
Forever Young Adult – 4/7
Cuddlebuggery – 4/8
HERE – 4/9
The YA Bookworm – 4/13


More about the book and author:

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

At 21, Aisha Saeed agreed to an arranged marriage. Having only met the groom in person once, it was a leap of faith, and a lucky one, because she ended up happily married to someone who turned out to be the love of her life.

Her debut novel, WRITTEN IN THE STARS, tells a different story: the story of a Pakistani-American girl named Naila, who, at odds with her family, finds herself caught in a situation beyond her control: trapped in a foreign country, being forced to marry someone she doesn’t love. Naila must find a way to hold on to her hope, her dreams, and her freedom.

Naila’s story, unfortunately, is more common than you might think. There are young women, even within the United States, who are or will be the victims of forced marriage. Unlike arranged marriages like Aisha’s, these women have no say. Aisha grew up with many such girls—girls who were engaged by the time they were fourteen. WRITTEN IN THE STARS is a gripping, emotionally-charged, page-turner of a read, but it’s also a nuanced look at an important cultural issue. All sides of the situation are examined—under different circumstances, Naila may have even liked and willingly married the man her family chose for her.

A Roundup of YA Novels That Inspired Eric Smith While Writing INKED, Plus a Giveaway!

Hey guys! I’m super excited to have my pal Eric Smith, author & publishing rockstar at Quirk Books, here on the blog to celebrate his debut YA fantasy — which was out this past Tuesday and we’ll be celebrating TONIGHT here in Philly at Tattooed Mom!

I love hearing what books inspired authors so I’m excited that Eric is going to be dishing on what books inspired HIM while writing Inked!!


Like most kids, I grew up reading Young Adult novels. My parents regularly took me to the library to pick up whatever I wanted. However, most of my reading was focused on classic science fiction, adventure, and fantasy novels, and I’m lucky enough to have grown up with a family that really encouraged my ravenous reading habits. I read a ton of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert Louis Stevenson as a kid. It wasn’t until a few years ago, that I revisited YA for the first time.

Why’d I come back? Well, here are the five books that made that happen, and inspired me to attempt writing in that genre.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (Ransom Riggs): By day, I work at Quirk Books, an awesome indie publisher in Philadelphia. And in the Fall of 2012, we published Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Now, as the marketing and social media guy, it’s important for me to be familiar with the communities I’m sending books to. So while Ransom’s debut was in the works, I started picking up other YA novels I saw bloggers talking about.
I read. And I read. And I read some more.

Suddenly, I found myself devouring two or more YA novels a week, taking advantage of Kindle deals, picking up novels I spotted on blogs, and catching up on a genre I hadn’t been a part of in years. It also introduced me to some of my now-favorite YA authors (some of whom I’ll list below), including Suzanne Collins, Beth Revis, and Kat Zhang.

Working on the marketing for Ransom’s book, gave me the kick-in-the-pants to start reading the genre again, and immediately made me want to start writing in it. I wanted to tell stories of magic and adventure, much like the books I’d read as a kid and the novels I was now reading as an adult.
I’m thrilled to see Ransom where he is now, and really glad I got to promote those books of his. He inadvertently gave me a big push in the right direction.


SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY (Susan Dennard): Ah, this series. I talk about Susan Dennard’s amazing steampunk-zombie-fantasy series whenever I can, to the point that it likely annoys my friends and followers. But oh well. Deal With It Dot Gif. It’s a favorite of mine, and one of the books I picked up when I started doing some more “I wonder if I can write in this genre” research. I immediately devoured her awesome first book, and followed the series right after.

She also has a really great blog, where she dishes out advice and tips to writers. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re writing.


BLACK HOLE SUN (David Macinnis Gill): Ah, this sci-fi series. It’s like a Young Adult version of Firefly on Mars, with pop culture references to World of Warcraft smattered in. Gill’s snarky characters and quick dialogue showed me that you could have that the sarcastic, snippy characters I wanted to write could totally work in an imagined world.

I also think his series is incredible underrated. If you haven’t checked these books out, please do. They are so hilarious and exciting. One of my favorite pieces of YA science fiction.


HERO (Perry Moore): Originally, I was really interested in writing some kind of superhero story, and the choices in YA superhero tales were far and in between. Perry Moore’s amazing novel, Hero, broke my heart and caused plenty of ugly crying, but showed me the real power of what YA fiction could do. Stuff that, probably as a kid, I didn’t recognize right away. It could teach you the importance of being true to yourself, accepting others, etc.

It’s still one of my favorite Young Adult novels, and probably one of my favorite books ever, period.


OF POSEIDON (Anna Banks): Anna’s YA romance series about mermaids was another one of the early YA books that I picked up. It was an eBook deal, and I read through it pretty quickly, and actually learned about a lot of authors thanks to her on Twitter.

She’s great at blending elements of fantasy and romance, something I really wanted to do in my own writing. Seriously check out her series, and keep an eye out for Joyride, her next book due out this year. As of this post, I’m about halfway through it, and it is just fantastic.
Thanks Jamie, for having me! And readers, go ahead and enter the lil’ giveaway below for a chance to win a bundle of the books I just mentioned! One lucky winner will get a copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Something Strange and Deadly, Black Hole Sun, Hero, Of Poseidon, and of course, an eBook of INKED. Good luck!



Thanks to Eric we have a nice giveaway bundle for you! One lucky winner will win a copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Something Strange and Deadly, Black Hole Sun, Hero, Of Poseidon, and of course, an eBook of INKED!

*US only

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Recommended Reading List For YA Books Dealing With Slut-Shaming & Sexuality

The Truth About Alice


I’m really excited to have Jennifer Mathieu (author of The Truth About Alice — just released this week and I cannot WAIT to pick up!) on the blog to talk a bit about her novel and give you some book recommendations! I’ve been interested in this one every since I heard about it!


Jennifer Mathieu 300dpi, credit George Hixson

When I first started writing my debut novel, The Truth About Alice, four years ago, I’d never heard of the term slut-shaming.  I just knew I wanted to write a book about a girl growing up in a small town who’s ostracized by her community.  And, sadly, I knew judging sexual behavior is one of the most common ways our society isolates and humiliates girls and women.  That’s why I knew the rumors that overwhelm the character of Alice would be related to what she may – or may not have done – with two boys at a party.

I’m thrilled that my book could become part of any conversation that our culture has about how we treat girls and women differently from boys and men when it comes to sexual behavior, but The Truth About Alice is certainly not the first book that’s tackled this complex issue.  I’ve collected a list of some of my favorite young adult novels that have taken on the topic of teen girl sexuality with authenticity and care.





Forever by Judy Blume – The one that started it all.  Even though this book was written back in the 70s, there still something revolutionary about it.  A nice teenage girl named Katherine chooses to have responsible, mutually-fulfilling sex with her nice teenage boyfriend, and nothing catastrophic happens to either of them.  One of the first books to address teenage sexuality, and in classic Blume style, it’s as real and honest as it gets – although it might be the reason the name Ralph fell out of favor.  Read the book and get the joke!


Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn Gingerbread’s main character Cyd Charisse is a snarky girl who’s been kicked out of boarding school and speaks frankly about being sexually active (her boyfriend is a “safety boy” who takes care of buying their condoms).  While Cyd is “a girl with a past” (semi-spoiler here – she had an abortion while with a previous boyfriend), Cohn never paints her as fallen angel.  She’s just a real girl trying to figure out who she is and what she wants.


E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver books (The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, Real Live Boyfriends) – When we first meet Ruby, she’s bluntly informs us that she’s “became a famous slut” and is now a social outcast who’s been dumped by all her friends and her boyfriend because of vicious rumors about what she may or may not have done with certain boys.  But Ruby – who lives with her eccentric parents on a houseboat and attends a prep school on scholarship – won’t be defeated, and it’s so rewarding to follow her through her high school years as she triumphs in life and love.


Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr – When 13-year-old Deanna Lambert is caught having sex with her older brother’s friend in the backseat of a car, she is branded the school slut.  When the story picks up a few years later, Deanna is still fighting her reputation and dealing with a complicated family situation.  This finalist for the National Book Award is a heartbreaking read that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.

Fault Line
Fault Line by Christa Desir – This book also tackles the important topic of sexual assault and is told from the point of view of a male protagonist named Ben.  When Ben’s girlfriend Ani attends a party without him, something terrible happens, and she is quickly labeled The Slut Who Asked For it.  What’s happened to Ani?  What can Ben do next?  A powerful book that will generate a lot of conversations.

Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian – Natalie Sterling wants to be student council president and she wants to be sexually active on her terms.  Why must every choice a girl makes put in her in one of two extreme camps – like slut versus good girl?  A frank and feminist novel that’s also a confident exploration of what it means to be a “good girl.”

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally – After her mother comes out and leaves her father, star softball player and future valedictorian Parker Shelton’s picture perfect life is turned upside down.  Her church and her friends turn on her, and she’s not sure who she can count on.  Then Parker begins to earn a not-so-good reputation, and she’s intrigued by the flirty new baseball coach in town. How can she figure out what – and who – is right for her?


Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!! I’ve read Fault Line, Forever and Not That Kind of Girl and I agree with you that they explore this very well.

Be sure to check out Jennifer’s novel The Truth About Alice:


Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

Author’s Website | Twitter | Goodreads



Check out the rest of the blog tour schedule!

o    6/3 – Me, My Shelf and I @myshelfandi

o    6/4 – ExLibris Kate @ExLibris_Kate

o    6/5 – Forever Young Adult @4EverYA

o    6/6 – here!

o    6/7 – A Good Addiction @flamingo1325

o    6/8 – Girls in the Stacks @girlsinthestack

o    6/9 – Rebekah Faubion, Writer @rffaubion


Readers, I’d love to know if you have any recommendations to add to her list or let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you think!!

Robin Benway Tackles Writer’s Block

I am over-the-moon excited to have Robin Benway on my blog today! You know how much she made me laugh in the hilariously fun Audrey, Wait! and made me a grinning fool on the elliptical at the gym with spy-alicious Also Known As recently. Today she is tackling writer’s block and it’s definitely a must read!



As a writer, I get asked a lot of questions, but a few pop up quite regularly:

Can you send me a copy of your book?

What do you do all day?

What’s your next book about?

No, seriously, what do you do all day?

How do you deal with writer’s block?


Ah, that last question. Writer’s block. So ubiquitous in my life and I’m not even sure how to spell it. (Is it writer’s block? Do I put the burden on all writers with “writers’ block”? Is there even an apostrophe? Frustrating on so many levels!)

 Writer’s block is tricky because every writer is different. Some writers never deal with it. (HAHAHA SOB.) Others, like me, feel consistently mocked by that blank page and that teasing, blinking cursor. So here’s the plan I use to overcome my own personal writer’s block. Enter at your own risk.


1. Take a Hike

When all else fails, go outside. Take a walk. Stop trying to read everything single thing that was ever put on the internet. Get some fresh air already. Unplug your wireless internet and go offline for a few hours. (“But what if someone needs to get ahold of me?” you gasp. Don’t worry. If they need get ahold of you, they will. They’re doing amazing things with carrier pigeons these days.) Those adorable kitteh pictures will still be on Tumblr when you get back, trust me. After all, it’s hard to write about the world when you’re not part of it. If you can’t go outside, then open a window. (“But it’s winter!” you cry. Just open it for minute or two. You won’t freeze.) Breathe in some fresh air and clear your head. Meet a friend for coffee and don’t talk about writing.

 Okay! So you unplugged for a few hours! You went for a walk and now you’re ready to sit down in front of your computer and open that document and…hmm. Okay, the words aren’t quite there yet, but they will be! You’re going to write a paragraph so beautiful and brilliant that Kirkus will weep butterflies and your parents will declare you Their Favorite Child Ever. Any…second…now. Yep. Okay, maybe not.

 Plug the wireless internet back in, kids. It’s time for Phase 2.


2. Turn It Up

Sometimes after I take my head-clearing, fresh air-breathing walk, I realize that, well, that didn’t work. I’m still stuck. The words are being DIFFICULT. In fact, I’m starting to think that the words might actually hate me. And worse, I’m starting to hate the words right back.

Time to watch TV. More specifically, time to watch some music documentaries. There’s something so inspiring about watching other people word hard at being creative! It reminds me that writing is a constant process, that some days are cruel and some are perfect, and even the most artistic people struggle with their jobs sometimes.

I mean, Jack White talking about technology and creativity? Yes, please!



Katy Perry singing, dancing, and doing 82945207 costume changes in the time that it takes me to decide whether or not I should open my eyes in the morning? Sure!



Sigur Rós performing in the middle of Iceland without any electricity while still sounding amazing? Twist my arm!



Wasn’t that invigorating? I feel so ready to sit down and write 20 pages! Let’s do it! Right now! Get to work!


Oh. Oh, dear. It’s happened again.


3. Feel the Fear

By the time I get to Phase 3, I’m out of ideas. I’ve walked, I’ve talked, I’ve watched television, and I’m forced to realize what the problem is: it’s fear.

 Sure, I can blame the words, but the truth is that they’ve always been there. I know what I want to say, what I want my characters to do, and even if I’m not quite sure how to make that happen, I know which direction to go. I can always backspace, after all. I’m not committing to anything permanent, at least not yet. Such is the beauty of a first draft!

 No, the problem is the fear of putting the words down onto the page. What will my friends and family think of them? What if my editor reads them and thinks they’re terrible and decides to cancel my contract? What if everyone on Goodreads reads my book and gives it one star? What if that one blogger hates it and uses a lot of gifs in their review to make his/her point? By the time my fingers hit the keyboard, I’ve psyched myself out so badly that it’s no surprise I can’t type any words. The brick wall I’ve built is so high that my hands can’t even reach the keyboard.

 So to quote that famous saying, feel the fear and do it anyway. I do whatever I have to do to turn off all the voices except my characters’: I’ll use noise-canceling headphones without listening to music (surprisingly effective); I’ll read my WIP out loud; I’ll even make up a scene that’s just two characters talking, no plot allowed, just enough to remind me what they sound like.

 The first hundred words are always the hardest, but then they just start to come naturally, and pretty soon, the only voices I’m hearing are the only ones that matter. It might take a few tries at first, but I tell myself that the words that land on the page are the ones that are meant to be there. I can move them around later, maybe even delete a few of them. (Sorry, words! It’s not you, it’s me!) It’s okay if they were a little late in arriving.

 They’re there now.


How do YOU tackle writer’s block?? Is there anything Robin said that resonated with you? I know that, for me, getting OUT and walking does really help me. If it’s a blogging slump you are in, I wrote a post talking about ways to help get yourself out of that! ALSO, hell yeah Sigur Ros — I talked down the aisle to them! 🙂

Before And After: First Kiss – A Guest Post With Jennifer Castle

Today Jennifer Castle, author of The Beginning of After, is here on the blog to talk about her first kiss and that definitive “before and after” moment. I so related to this one as I was one who was among the last of my group of friends to have my first kiss. I finally thought I had “arrived”….although Jennifer’s  first kiss was much more interesting than mine!

In middle school, my friends and I watched “General Hospital” and scored the kisses, grossed out yet totally captivated. A few years later, most of the girls I knew had gone to first base, or at least claimed to, and us virgin-lips were left to watch the end of “Sixteen Candles” 400 times and simply imagine.

By 11th grade, it still hadn’t happened for me. My never-been-kissed status burned like a scarlet NK on my chest and I was sure it showed. The worst part was the wondering: Why couldn’t I have what everyone else does? Could guys see what I’ve always feared…that there was something kind of just a little bit wrong with me?

That year, my high school did a bi-annual exchange trip with a school outside of Paris. Thirty of us went over for three weeks, and on one of our last nights in France, there was a big farewell party. I hoped, like I always did, that something exciting might happen, so I put on my best something-could-happen outfit: neon turquoise top, black-and-turquoise pinstriped Sassoon jeans, and turquoise legwarmers. I mean, with a rig like that, how could something not?

And, actually, miraculously, something did.

Out of nowhere, one of the French guys — I knew who he was, but had dismissed him as way too hot for me — pulled me off the dance floor. We chatted haltingly in two languages and after a few minutes, a slow song came on and he led me back to the dance floor and…well, let’s just say that I found out quickly why a certain kind of kissing is named after a whole nation of people. When the song was done, he asked if we could go somewhere alone together. In my Day-Glo awesomeness, I ran for my life.

I wish I could spin this into the stuff of swoonable YA novels. But alas…my school group left France two days later and when the French kids came to visit us in New York, I was too consumed with embarrassment/excitement/fear to ever talk to him again. (Alexi, if by some bizarre chance you’re reading this, I’m sorry for being a freak. That could have been a fun few weeks.)

Still, my world had shifted. Of course, the rumors flew and I became known for a while as the Girl Who Hooked Up With A Smokin’ French Dude, and that looked much better on me than turquoise legwarmers. But the real change was this: Before that night, life just seemed like a movie starring everyone I knew — a movie I could only sit back and watch. Before that boy grabbed my hand so unexpectedly, I didn’t know what I had to offer and if anyone would ever in a million years want it.

After, I had my very own proof that random moments of magic do happen in life. That fantasy and fiction can indeed become reality. That my hand was worth taking somewhere. And once I knew that, it all started for me. Anything became possible, simply because I knew it was.

About The Beginning Of After:

The Beginning of AfterLaurel’s world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. Now, Laurel must navigate a new world in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all, there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel’s life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss, a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.

So guys, now that Jennifer has dished….tell me your first kiss stories!! 

Check out Book Labyrinth on August 31 for the next stop on the tour.

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