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All around the Internet today

Posted on April 29th, 2014 by annakjarzab

Just dropping by for a quick post. I don’t talk too much online about what I do for a living (besides write), but I’m actually the Digital and Social Marketing Manager at Penguin Young Readers Group, where I’ve worked for about five years or so. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a pretty great job; it’s hard and I work long (sometimes strange) hours, but I feel very rewarded by the work I do on titles ranging from The Fault In Our Stars and books by Gayle Forman and Sarah Dessen to Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series and everything in between! Anyway, if you want to know a little more about the day-to-day of my job, head on over to Pub Crawl where I was interviewed today by Alex Bracken (author of the phenomenal Darkest Minds series). I’m happy to answer questions, so pop into the comments over there and ask away if you want!

Relatedly, my friends at Penguin USA just relaunched the Penguin.com site and it looks fantastic! They asked certain staff members for book recommendations and because there’s nothing I love more than gushing about books that I love, I took the bait and gave them a (very) short list of my in-house faves. Obviously there are a million zillion Penguin (and non-Penguin) books that I love, but I was told I could only pick a handful, which was hard for me but I ultimately succeeded. Check them out!

Updates and extras

Posted on January 14th, 2014 by annakjarzab

Happy 2014 everybody! Just dropping by to give a few updates on what’s been up with me, since I realize I have not posted here in a while. Let’s get started!

Thing 1: Books

tandem cvr quote

Last year, Tandem came out! Which is very exciting! Also, The Opposite of Hallelujah is in paperback now, if you like that sort of thing (by which I mean books that are cheaper than they were previously). I also managed to completely rewrite Tether (Many-Worlds Trilogy Book 2) and it just came back from copy editing, which means it’s like 95% done (she says, having not looked at the copy edits yet). It’s currently scheduled for the very vague Spring 2015, which for a Random House book can mean anywhere from January to June (here’s hoping it does not in fact mean June); as soon as I have a firm date, I will make sure to post it everywhere.

2013 was a hard year for me in many ways, but not in the sense of writing productivity. Not counting the two very different versions of Tether I wrote last year, I wrote two other full-length novels. One is adult contemporary fantasy (I don’t know why but I like that term better than “urban fantasy” even though this book, which we shall give the code name FM, is in fact set in New York, and partly in New Orleans) along the lines of, like, The Magicians. The other is contemporary YA in the vein of If I Stay, and I am OBSESSED with it. We shall call that book BYSA. I got the idea for it in very early November. I’m a weird half-insomniac; I usually wake up four hours after I’ve gone to bed and toss and turn for the next four or so hours, which is obviously very annoying since I have a day job to get up for.

Anyway, I was tossing and turning per usual that morning, and then I just got hit with this idea. I got up and went to my computer, jotted down a paragraph of notes, titled it “Might be something”, and went back to bed. First thing in the AM I started reading books for research, taking copious notes, and writing. I finished in early December. I don’t usually write that fast, but this was one of those situations (it happened with The Opposite of Hallelujah, too) where there was no writing friction to slow me down. I’ve revised it once since then, and am letting it sit and settle for a while before going back to it (plus I still have more research to do). But I’m really pumped about it!

Other than FM and BYSA (and Tether), I wrote a Many-Worlds Trilogy short story last year and half of another one (which I’m throwing out and rewriting because…reasons? Even I don’t actually know why), and about 200 pages of a novel called Red Dirt. Which leads me to Thing 2…

Thing 2: Wattpad

In my professional life, I am the digital and social media manager for Penguin Young Readers Group. So if you’ve ever interacted with Penguin Teen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., it was probably me. I don’t talk about this a lot in these parts because it feels like a weird conflict of interest of sorts? But actually lots of publishing professionals are secretly or not-so-secretly aspiring or published authors, so it’s not that big of a deal. Anyway, I was on a Digital Book World panel yesterday talking about teens and social media and I met a woman from Wattpad, Ashleigh, which reminded me I’ve been meaning to get on Wattpad for some time now. So I went home and started playing around with it. For some reason (insanity), I decided that I was going to post the first three chapters of an original, work in progress novel called Red DirtRed Dirt is unpublished and uncontracted and unfinished. I got the idea the first time I went to Oklahoma for Memorial Day, and started writing it when I got back from Oklahoma the second time I went there. So I assume that after I come back from Oklahoma this year, I will finish it. The WIP document on my computer is 200 pages, with probably about 50 or 100 pages left to go, and while I doubt I’ll be sharing all of it on Wattpad, I decided to put up the first three chapters for fun. This is sort of what it’s about (this is not great marketing copy, but it’s what I came up with yesterday):

Sammy Lester’s had about enough of her life in back of beyond Oklahoma, but family loyalties and uncertainty about the future are holding her hostage. She’s got her ex-con, ex-addict father take care of, and her five-year-old sister, Decca, to think about. And then there’s Brayton Foster, a rich boy just arrived for the summer; for some reason, Sammy can’t resist his charms, no matter how hard she tries.

Then the unthinkable happens–Sammy’s father disappears. She believes he’s been murdered; the police and her older brother, Denver, aren’t so sure. As the summer marches on, and there’s no sign of Billy Ray Lester, Sammy is forced to question everything she thinks she knows about the people she loves, and to wonder whether it’s even possible to get justice in a place where the very ground is red as blood.

You can read the prologue and the first three chapters of Red Dirt on Wattpad. If people like it (and I’m comfortable) I might post more! But I did make sure to post enough so that you meet the boy. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Speaking of Wattpad! I also posted the prologue and first three chapters of Tandem up there, plus a little bonus essay called “A Brief History of the United Commonwealth of Columbia”, which is probably only of interest if you’ve read Tandem. I have a bunch of extra stuff like this for the series, I just need to find it and make sure it still makes sense since these books have changed a lot over the years. But I will post more when I can.

I also have a The Opposite of Hallelujah short story about Hannah that takes place before the events of The Opposite of Hallelujah called “The Girl in the Well” that I’m going to post, but I need to re-read it for continuity. TBD on that!

I think that’s it. Oh:

Thing 3: I turned 30 yesterday.

I think that’s self-explanatory.

I should probably blog here again someday

Posted on December 20th, 2013 by annakjarzab

But that day is not today! Suffice it to say, busy 2013, lots of words written, lots of backstage shenanigans, lots to look forward to in 2014. Keep a weather eye. Happy holidays!

An interview with the Tandem cover designer!

Posted on September 30th, 2013 by annakjarzab

tandem cvr quoteI don’t know about you guys, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the cover for Tandem, my third YA novel that comes out next Tuesday (!!!!). If you haven’t seen the interiors of the book, they are also super beautiful. I’m totally fascinated by the process of creating packages for books–it’s a lengthy, and often much-debated process that people outside the industry don’t always get a glimpse into. So I asked Sarah Pierson, the designer of both the cover and the interior design of Tandem, a few questions about this mysterious but very, very important part of making a book.

You are a book designer at Random House–does this mean you design all aspects of the book: cover and interiors? Do you work on all imprints and age groups, or do you focus on YA/novels?
I currently work on all aspects; jacket, interior, and the hardbound case cover. I work on middle grade and YA for the Knopf and Delacorte imprints. I also do paperbacks for the Ember and Yearling paperback imprints.

Once you have a title assigned to you, what steps do you take? Does the editor usually have very specific ideas of what they want, or do you read the book and come up with a proposal of what you’d like to do?

This process varies book to book! I read the most recent draft of the manuscript. It helps me come up with ideas, from big concepts and motifs to small details. Having a strong sense of themes and mood is important to be able to approach the design. After reading the manuscript, I’ll sit down with the editor and talk about how they envision the cover. They tell me what they want the cover to convey and they may ask for specific imagery. Then I start making cover comps based on a few different concepts, either my own ideas, the editors’ or something we arrived at together.
 
How did you become a book designer? Did you go to art school? What made you want to design books for a living?
I went to Drexel for graphic design and I worked at the library throughout college. I’m embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I’ve never been a huge fiction reader! But I loved working at the library because I love books…jackets, paper, ink, bindings, headbands…I love them. I spent way too much time shelving art, design and photography books, stopping to leaf through them. I came across unusual old engineering and science books, and popular fiction was always circulating. I studied everything from a design perspective. Junior year I got an internship at a super cool independent publisher called Quirk Books. A few months after graduating in 2005, I got a job in the picture books group at HarperCollins and have been designing books ever since.
 
What are some other books you designed, besides TANDEM?
Mister Max by Cynthia Voigt, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Posses by Gretchen McNeil, Wildwood by Colin Meloy. Check out my website.
 
What was your thought process behind designing the TANDEM cover? Was your first idea much like the finished product, or did it go through a lot of revisions? How did you go about bringing together all of the visual elements (the girl, the bird, the colors, the amazing title treatment, etc.) into the beautiful cover we have now? 
I read TANDEM very closely. It was so good! The story felt intricate and intimate and epic at the same time. As I was reading, I made note of different things could work as imagery for the cover. I had several ideas at first, and one of those eventually became the final cover. I searched for and used stock photography to use to build the image, combining elements in photoshop in a similar manner from the beginning. After initial comps were promising, I was directed through rounds of revisions adjusting the composition and scale, typography, color, and different models and poses for Sasha.
 
tandem cvr comp1a
tandem cvr comp1b
tandem cvr comp1c

These are some of the comps from the first round. The basic concept and all the elements are here, but it took time to get to the end result.

tandem cvr comp2a
tandem cvr comp2b
tandem cvr comp2c

Trying out different girls, sizes of the girl, typefaces, colors, ways of blending the sparrow and girl. I had the basic composition and down. This is just a few of the variations.

tandem cvr comp2d
 

This is when we felt like we had hit it.

 
tandem cvr comp3

Livened it up with some color. I tried several different background color variations at this stage.

 
tandem cvr quote

More color to Sasha’s face, more depth in the background, and some fine tuning. Series title is in place and quote at the top.

Knowing that TANDEM was the first book in a series, did that affect how you designed the cover? Did you design it with how you would create the covers for the other books in mind?

I kept in mind how I would change the various elements. I tried working on the second book along with the first once it was more developed to see how they would look together. The sort of soft glamourous starkness is what I hope will carry over through the series.
 
Okay, let’s talk about the interiors! What was your thought process behind how you did the interior design (which is really quite complex and thought out!)? Do you usually create such design-heavy interiors, or was this out of the ordinary? 
I do not usually design such complex interiors but with its 3 parts, different points of view, and day countdown TANDEM presented a unique chance to do something interesting. At first I was totally stumped about all this! I think I spent a whole week just getting my head around it. I chipped away at it starting with the parts (Earth/Aurora) and then more ideas came out of that. I eventually mapped out the whole structure because it was helpful for me to see it that way.
 
What is your favorite part of the TANDEM interiors (or the cover!)? 
I like the lines of little dots on the flaps, back jacket, under the page numbers…other places too. It’s a small detail but I think they’re elegant and have a little meaning. They represent ‘many worlds.’
 
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the TANDEM cover or interiors? Any designs that didn’t make the cut? 
A part of the interior design was inspired by a music video from 2011! I am pretty sure music videos have less cultural impact these days but I find them to be a really nice source of visual inspiration!

Thanks so much to Sarah for giving us a little insight into how a cover gets made! You should absolutely check out her website, which showcases many of the beautiful book covers she’s worked on in her career, including many I know you’ll recognize.

Book 2 title!

Posted on May 16th, 2013 by annakjarzab

Since BEA is almost upon us (if you’re going, here is a list of where I will be–come chat with me!), and the title of Many-Worlds Book 2 is in the back of the Tandem BEA galley (it’s in the back of the regular galley, too, which I know some people have already gotten, but the release date has been changed so that back ad is slightly incorrect, as you will see below), I thought I might just go ahead and tell you what the title is! Drumroll?

IMG_1512 copy

So yeah, TETHER! It is my intention that every book is named after the thing that causes all the trouble in that book; when you read TANDEM, I think this will make more sense.

I’ve had a book 3 title for ages, but until the book is actually finished, there’s no way to tell with certainty what it will be called. I’ve written a draft of TETHER and my editor has it, so as soon as it goes to copy edits, I can work on book 3 in earnest. I decided that there was really no point in starting a draft of the third book until I knew what was going to stay and what was going to change from my draft of TETHER, but I have been working on some Many-Worlds short stories that we’re going to release digitally.

In the mean time, I’ve finished my adult novel and started work on a new YA that began kicking around in my head at the end of last year. It’s contemporary, but it was partially inspired by the research I did for book 3 in the Many-Worlds series, in kind of the same way that TANDEM was inspired by research I did for THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH. What’s interesting about the new project is that, while it’s in no way a crime novel or mystery, it is more like ALL UNQUIET THINGS than anything I’ve worked on in a long time (other than the fake AUT sequel, which I play with occasionally but will probably never finish). It also contains vestigial elements of a book I worked on right after ALL UNQUIET THINGS that ended up getting shoved in a way-back, deep, dark drawer (little things like names, and a dog). It just goes to show, no work is ever truly wasted.

BEA + blurbs + events!

Posted on May 11th, 2013 by annakjarzab

Woof, long time, no blog, right? Well, I’m always keeping it real on Tumblr and Twitter, but there’s something about having to compose longer posts that makes me feel so tired. (Really. I could bore you to tears with tales of how I’m trying to improve my sleeping patterns, but, well, they would bore you to tears.) Whatever–I have news!

Item #1: Book Expo America!

I’m very, very excited about this: Tandem is going to be a YA Buzz Book at this year’s Book Expo America! There’s going to be a panel on Thursday (10:00-10:50 AM at the Javits Center, Room 1E14/1E15) in which the editors of the five Buzz Books (you can find a full list here) chat up the books, and then there’s an author panel on Friday, May 31 (10:00-10:30 AM, Javits, Uptown Stage) where we get to talk about them ourselves.

I will also be signing at the Random House booth (#3940) from 2:30 – 3:30 PM on Friday, May 31. Come meet me and pick up a galley of Tandem!

Item #2: Blurbs!

I was incredibly lucky enough to get two amazing blurbs from two of my most favorite YA authors (authors in general, really), and I wanted to share them with you! Many thanks to Ally Condie and Marie Lu, who are awesome and wonderful and lovely and I adore their books so much, so as you can imagine, I’m pretty chuffed to have their kind words on my little novel.

“Clever and exhilarating–each page is a pleasure. I loved the romance and adventure of Sasha’s story, and I can’t wait for the sequel.” – Ally Condie, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the MATCHED Trilogy

“A fascinating world of parallel universes, sexy doppelgangers, and breathtaking action. Such a fun and addictive read!” – Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of the LEGEND Trilogy

Item #3: Events!

May is going to be a very busy month for me–besides BEA, I have three events, all on the same weekend. I’ll be guest starring on Lurlene McDaniels’ LIFE ACTUALLY book tour, which she’s doing to promote her new book, A Year of Luminous Love (I just got a copy–can’t wait to read it!). More info below (and also on my Facebook page–have I mentioned I have a Facebook page?):

Friday, May 17
Union Square Barnes & Noble
33 E 17th St
New York, NY 10003
With Lurlene McDaniel, Shawn Goodman, Elizabeth LaBan, and Alyssa Sheinmel

Saturday, May 18
Brooklyn Public Library – Kensington Branch
4207 18th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11218
With Lurlene McDaniel, Beth Bauman, Mariah Fredericks, and Shawn Goodman

Sunday, May 19
Oblong Books & Music
6422 Montgomery St #6
Rhinebeck, NY 12572
With Lurlene McDaniel, Shawn Goodman, and Deborah Helligman

I think that’s it! In writing news, I’m still plugging away on my adult novel while I wait for editorial notes on book 2 of the Many-Worlds Trilogy. I’m also working on some digital only short stories for the Many-Worlds Trilogy, so I will keep you posted on that when I have more to say about it.

A peek inside TANDEM + ARC giveaway winner

Posted on March 1st, 2013 by annakjarzab

A little while ago, I gave everyone a little run-down on the Tandem cover, what the thought process was behind it, and showed y’all the full jacket. But I’ll tell you, if you think the cover is cool, just wait till you see the interiors. They’re my favorite part of the book, because they are so thought-out and clever and pretty and, best of all, actually helpful.

Tandem has a bit of a complicated narrative, so the function of the interiors, besides just looking cool (which they do), is to help orient the reader in the story. If I’ve done my job, you won’t need these little flourishes, because you’ll be able to tell pretty easily who is who when you’re reading, but it can’t hurt to be extra thorough.

Tandem contains three POVs: Sasha, Thomas, and Juliana. Sasha’s POV is first person, and all of her chapters are numbered; Thomas’s POV is third-person, and all of his chapters have titles with his name in them and then most of the time his location (i.e. “Thomas in the Tattered City”); Juliana’s POV is in the third-person, in italics, with no numbers or headers of any kind. Instead, they have a fancy abstract design on the top.

sasha

Sasha – Chapter One

thomas

Thomas Through the Tandem (Thomas’s first chapter)

juli

Juliana’s first chapter

Cool, huh? But it doesn’t end there. Sarah chose a small symbol for each character and put them in the margins of the pages, so that no matter where you are in the book, you can always tell who’s speaking by glancing at the margin.

dots

Each page of Sasha’s POV has a circle in the margins, symbolizing that she is from Earth

star

Juliana’s pages have a star

chevron

Thomas’s pages have a chevron, symbolizing his military background

Clever, yes? BUT THAT IS NOT ALL. There are also a couple of interstitials that tell you when you’re switching universes:

earth

This is the Earth spread that occurs near the very beginning of the novel. That’s the Chicago skyline, upside down (the Earth parts of the book are set in Hyde Park, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, where not coincidentally I lived 6-7 years ago). There’s an Aurora spread as well:

IMG_1274

And THEN, when the narrative starts counting down by days until [redacted event], there are more interior pages indicating how many days we have left. It’s a number inside a circle, and the circle widens as the number dwindles.

IMG_1275

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Anyway, I’m basically in love with the interiors of Tandem, and feel so, so grateful that my editor and the designer put so much effort into making the book look this gorgeous, inside as well as out. Can’t wait for you all to read it it! With that in mind, it’s time to announce the winner of my Tandem galley giveaway! The winner is:

Heather Perkinson!

Heather, I have emailed you! I can’t wait to hear what you think of Tandem!

More about the TANDEM cover!

Posted on February 20th, 2013 by annakjarzab

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I’ve been so pleased with everybody’s reactions to the Tandem cover (first revealed here on USA Today’s Happily Ever After blog, along with a small excerpt!)–clearly, y’all love it as much as I do. Seriously, you guys, I’m obsessed. I have the cover taped to the wall above my writing desk (along with book 2’s cover, which I already have, and which is also GORGEOUS) and I stare at it any time I need inspiration. I’ve gotten a few questions about the cover, so I thought I’d do a little post about how we got to this look and What It All Means. But first, I feel like I should show you the full Tandem jacket! Click to enlarge.

Tandem-full-jacket

Okay, so! The journey to this cover began with my editor kindly asking (as she always does, bless her) how I imagined the cover looking. Usually, my answer to this is something like “Russian dolls!” (All Unquiet Things) or “I don’t know, but please don’t put a cross on it!” (The Opposite of Hallelujah) i.e. near-useless and not at all inspirational. This time, though, I had a vision. I didn’t know what I wanted the cover to look like, but I knew what I wanted it to say, if that makes any sense. We talk about this all the time at my job–what does this cover say to a reader? And what I wanted the cover to say was this: This book is not contemporary; it is romantic and mysterious and slightly sci-fi. 

I wanted it to be clean and simple and pretty, with a cool title treatment, and I thought it should have both an identifiable symbol and a person on it. I suggested (although I’m sure the designer and my editor were already thinking along these lines) including the birds in some way, and/or the ten-star equilateral triangle called a tetractys, which you can see is ghosted on the back of the jacket. I also suggested that each cover be a color that the aurora borealis can be (blue, green, red, or purple). I seriously wrote a whole email along these lines, far from my usual, “Whatever you think works!” (And, let’s be fair, I’ve really lucked out on covers with this strategy.)

So, if you’ve been keeping track, the cover that was sent to me (this is the only version I saw) ticks literally every single one of those boxes. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Clean and simple? Check. Pretty? UH, CHECK. Cool title treatment? Check! Symbol + person? Check check check! It’s even green/blue/purple, very aurora borealis (cover two is also a blend of aurora borealis colors, just different ones, and so will cover three be). I got my bird, and my tetractys, too! Sarah, the designer, is awesome and obviously very talented, and I so appreciate my editor’s willingness to go with me on this one.

Re: the bird, that’s a starling. It’d be far too in-depth and spoiler-y to say why here, but suffice it to say that you will find out about 50% of the way through Tandem. About that point, you can probably figure out what bird/character will be on book 2’s cover, and as for book 3, well…as Gossip Girl says, I’ll never tell. XOXO

You want to know something super creepy? The day before I saw this cover for the first time (so, the cover was done already), I sent my editor this image. My editor put on her best poker face and was like, “Yeah, neat!” And then the next day I got the Tandem cover in my inbox, looking EXTREMELY SIMILAR. Great minds, you guys. Or fate. Hard to tell.

Don’t forget, you can still enter to win a galley of Tandem, and if you think the book sounds good, I would be grateful if you’d mark it “to-read” on Goodreads. As I mentioned, there is an excerpt from Tandem on USA Today’s cover reveal post, and I’ve posted an additional excerpt on my Tumblr, with this image of Thomas I made because I have, like, too much time on my hands. It’s really worth checking out the #tandem tag on my Tumblr anyway, because as I was doing my first pass pages I posted some blurry pictures (sorry! blame the iPhone) of the very cool interiors. I also posted a little bit about why I wrote Tandem and the Many-Worlds Trilogy in the first place here.

TANDEM cover and excerpt reveal!!!

Posted on February 8th, 2013 by annakjarzab

At long last, I can finally show you the cover for TANDEM, which I’ve been talking a lot about but could not prove actually existed. Don’t lie, I know you had your doubts. 🙂 But now I (or, rather, USA Today’s Happily Ever After blog) can show you the cover AND give you a little excerpt to tide you over until you can read the whole thing on October 8, 2013.

Behold, my darling book!

AND, that’s not all–in celebration of this truly awesome Friday, I’m going to give away a signed galley of TANDEM from my personal stock to one lucky winner! All you HAVE to do is follow me on Twitter (@ajarzab), but you can get extra points for liking my Facebook page as well. Details in the Rafflecopter widget below (this is my first time using Rafflecopter, so I hope I didn’t mess it up). Go forth and enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thinking about 2012

Posted on December 29th, 2012 by annakjarzab

My old roommate, Eesha, and I used to do this thing at the end of every year where we’d tell each other, “Next year, banner year!” Meaning that next year would be better than the one we just finished, that we were going to look back on the upcoming year with fondness in our old age and think, “Now,2011, that was a great year!”

2012 was not a banner year for me. Like most years (all years?), it was kind of a mixed bag. At the end of 2011, my boss went on maternity leave, and two other people in our very small department quit, leaving my work twin, Emilie, and I to carry the entire burden of the work that was previously being done by 4.5 people (we shared an assistant with another department). I had some enormous projects delegated to me at the end of 2011 and ended up working 8 hour days throughout the Christmas holiday, which was, frankly, exhausting. I learned a lot, and accomplished some really cool stuff, and earned, I hope, some respect for making the best out of a tough situation (I also got promoted, which is no small thing). But I never quite got back on track after my boss returned and we got a new person on our team (our intern-turned-temp during the Bad Months, now our indispensable assistant–do internships in college, kids!); my work load didn’t really diminish, and I spend most of the year tossing and turning at night wondering just how I was going to get everything done. I think I did a pretty good job, but as someone who is always striving to do the most and do it the best, I do wonder sometimes.

As far as my personal life, my roommate (and one of my best friends) moved away from New York in May, which meant I had to break our lease and find a new apartment in, like, three weeks. I did it, though! And now I have a nice little studio to call my own, which I returned to last night after a week in California with a surprising amount of relief and happiness. I realized this Christmas that while I love California, love seeing my family, and have the pretty good fortune to have my best friends from high school live in New York (which means that we see each other all the time in NY and in CA), this little apartment in Harlem is my home now. It belongs to me, it’s all mine, it’s got all of my things in it…California is where my parents live. New York, for all its flaws and my reticence about it, is my home. It only took five years, but we got there.

Other than that, I took the best vacation of my adult life in 2012, spending five days on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller with my best friend Cambria, our very good friend Nikki, Cambria’s parents, and Cambria’s parents friends, Karen and Wayne, who are the best hosts EVER. I’ve never been so relaxed and happy on vacation as I was in OK and can’t wait to go back this year. My friends Eric and Jenny, who I introduced back in 2008, got married in San Diego in September and I performed the ceremony! I met and surpassed my 100-book reading goal for 2012, including Outlander and its six sequels, which are LONG but highly recommended. I spent two separate weeks at a vacation house on Fire Island that I rented with my friends. Lots of great stuff.

When I think about where I am, writing-wise, at the end of 2012, I’m not as thrilled as I would like, but there are some good things that came out of this year. First, obviously, I had a book come out–The Opposite of Hallelujah–which has been quiet but did earn me my first starred review, from Booklist, and another really great review from Kirkus. The Opposite of Hallelujah was also one of Booklist‘s Top 10 Religion & Spirituality Books for Youth, which is a lovely and appreciated honor. In terms of actual writing, I finally, after a long, arduous fight throughout 2011, wrestled Tandem, the first book in my Many-Worlds Trilogy, which comes out October 8, 2013, into the shape I wanted it to be. I also wrote a solid first draft of Many-Worlds 2 (the sequel to Tandem), which I very much love and am proud of. Since the Tandem I turned in to my editor was a complete rewrite, this means I wrote two full-length novels this year (and they’re long, 115,000-120,000 words each), which is not bad! I also wrote about 150 pages of an adult novel this year while working on another, messily incomplete YA; this was probably one of my most productive years, if I look at it in terms of words on paper.

But, of course, I don’t look at it that way very often. For me, it’s always about how I feel about my writing, regardless of word count or pages written or novels completed. The question, “Was it a good year or a bad year?” always comes down to whether or not the juice was worth the squeeze*, despite how proud I am to have finished something or made progress on projects. And on that level, I just don’t know yet how I feel about 2012. 2010 was a bad year. 2011 was a so-so year–on one hand, a full 12 months of toil on draft after draft of Tandem, but on the other hand the magnificent triumph of finishing and turning in The Opposite of Hallelujah, which I felt sort of redeemed the epic awfulness of 2010.

I’m hoping it was worth it. I worked very hard in 2012 to balance my vision for Tandem with other people’s feedback and expectations, but at the end of the year I find myself wondering if I’m still on a different planet than everyone else. I’ve never felt more alone in my writing than I did this year (and that includes awful, no good, very bad 2010), than I still do today. This year above all others–and this book (Tandem) in particular–reminded me just what a solitary pursuit this writing business is. No one else can be there inside your head, and, inevitably, no one else will care even a tenth as much as you do about your work. Or maybe that’s just my experience.

I think my 2012 takeaway is that I have to stop caring what other people think, what they say and don’t say, entirely and unequivocally. This doesn’t mean that when people give me feedback I won’t respond or take it into account or do what is asked of me, but I do have to stop thinking, “Well, this person or that person doesn’t seem excited/doesn’t seem to get it/isn’t convinced/doesn’t think it’s worth very much, so therefore they must be right, I must have failed, I’m worthless” (which is the shame spiral I’ve been caught in for the last two and a half years). I have to believe, without faltering in that belief, to the point of ridiculousness if necessary, that what I’m doing is the right thing, that what I’m creating has value, and to behave that way going forward. I can’t dismiss my own faith in myself, or allow myself to be talked out of it or ridiculed into a more modest view of my talent/achievements, because fortune favors the bold, and if I don’t believe in myself, nobody else is going to, either.

There’s an old piece of writing advice: Protect the work. Do that which you need to do to make sure your work (and the part of yourself that is a writer) doesn’t suffer. For some, this might mean having a part-time job instead of trying to build a career outside of writing (really, I should be doing this, but I’m far too practical and vain). For others, it might mean, I don’t know, not reading within the genre you’re writing in so as not to be influenced with other people’s ideas. For me, it’s probably going to mean a couple of things, none of which I feel are necessary to detail here, as they are specific to me and the people in my life and are probably not, at this stage, universally applicable as advice. But “protect the work” is pretty solid, so I offer it to you as a belated holiday gift. If you’ve already heard it, well, I forgot to get a gift receipt so you can’t return it, but it’s one of those things where it doesn’t hurt to have two.

I think I’ve blathered on long enough. 2013: banner year!

*I was really hoping to find the clip where Kelly says this to Matthew, but it wasn’t on YouTube. Anyway, you should watch The Girl Next Door, it’s a really great movie.