It gets better. It really does.

So Dan Savage, a columnist, has begun the It Gets Better project-- a series of YouTube videos where GLBTQ adults recount their high school experiences and also share how their lives are now, post-high school. It's an effort to show GLBTQ teens that life does, in fact, get much better outside of high school.

This project is in response to the high number of suicides among GLBTQ teens. This month alone, three suicides made headlines-- Billy Lucas and Justin Aaberg, both fifteen, hanged themselves after facing ridicule and bullying for their sexualities; just today I read about a Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate put a hidden camera in their dorm room and streamed footage of Tyler being initimate with another boy online (and tweeted about it inviting everyone to check it out-- classy, dude).

These are definitely not isolated events. Check out the statistics from this Time article about the It Gets Better project:

Almost 85% of LGBTQ teenagers are harassed in high school because of their sexual orientation, with 61% of gay youth reporting that they felt unsafe in school and 30% staying home to avoid bullying, according to a 2009 survey by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.

I'm straight (if we're putting a label on it-- I wouldn't say I'm a total 0 on the Kinsey scale, if you know what I mean), and so I've never been bullied for my sexuality, unless you count the time I held hands with a female friend in eighth grade as we walked and some kids called us lesbians. But I was bullied very badly in middle school.

I'm not exactly sure what made me such a target-- I had glasses and braces and was kind of awkward and definitely shy, but I was average overall. I was also desperate to fit in. Everyone who was cool wore Abercrombie & Fitch, so I bought one shirt from there (with Abercrombie stitched across the front, of course, so everyone would know, because otherwise what was the point?) and wore it all the time.

Weirdly, I also was mocked for writing all the time. I wrote and read constantly. During class. At lunch. Whenever. One popular boy once tried to snatch my notebook from me and interrogated me on what I was writing about on a dare from his friends. My group of "friends" in seventh grade once tried to get me to sit elsewhere at lunch because I'd always be writing in my notebook or reading Steinbeck instead of talking to them about Sailor Moon or whatever (none of this ever deterred me, haha).

During those years, I tried really hard to wear the right clothes and listen to the right music in an effort to be accepted. It didn't work, and I had almost no friends until eighth grade (and these efforts did nothing to improve my self-esteem). One day four kids (two boys, two girls) in my sixth grade class told me I should just kill myself because no one would miss me. I had the courage to actually report them for it; the boys apologized, the girls accused me of making it up. One of them confronted me in gym class really aggressively and drove me out of the gym in tears. The whole experience was pretty traumatic.

When I was fourteen, I moved to a new town for the start of high school. I didn't reinvent myself, but I was actually myself for once, and I made a lot of friends, and I never had to deal with bullies again, thank god.

I'll never be able to fully understand what it's like to be gay or transgender as a teen. I can only imagine how difficult it is. But I do know that even with my own experiences, I would have given anything for someone objective to sit me down and explain how much better things would get. I've done so many things in the past few years alone I never imagined would happen. If I'd known at thirteen what I know now-- that I would sell my first book a week after my 22nd birthday, have friends who are like family, visit places like New York City and Boston and California and the Bahamas, swim with dolphins, kiss boys who thought I was pretty and cool and smart, go to Lollapalooza, get a tattoo, embark on epic road trips, meet some celebrities, learn to play guitar, and be not only accepted but appreciated for who I am, I probably wouldn't have believed you.

But maybe I would have. Maybe surviving those years would've been easier. Either way, it would've been nice to hear.

Does it count as photobombing if you're the picture's subject?

Yesterday I went to take my official author photo. I'd been putting it off because, uh... I really dislike having my picture taken. But it needed to be done and my guitar teacher's wife, Tiffany, is a professional photographer, so I went to her studio in downtown Fowlerville.

The studio is gorgeous-- it has wooden floors and exposed brick walls. Tiffany had me sit on a black stool and do some poses, sit on a chair backwards and do some poses, lean against the brick wall and do poses, etc etc. Eventually we went to do some outdoor shots-- sitting on a bench, leaning against more brick walls, standing in front of a church with stained glass windows, sitting on some steps, etc etc. After awhile we moved back inside to do a few more indoor shots, and by then she'd been photographing me for over an hour.

Like I said, I don't really like being photographed. I mean, I'm not all Thomas Pynchon about it, but I'd rather be behind a camera than in front of it. Tiffany seemed to catch on pretty early that I'm not a big smiley person, which I apologized for by saying, "Sorry if I look like I'm dying on the inside." And when we were outside, she was trying to instruct me how to pose casually on the bench leaning forward with my elbows propped on my legs, which apparently is not a natural pose for me. I apologized for this by saying, "Sorry I'm such an awkward person in general."

I didn't really dress up-- I wore a black hoodie over a black v-neck, dark jeans, and the same pair of Chucks I've had since high school (which Tiffany loved and said had "so much character"-- aka, really beat up and dirty).

Despite my awkwardness, it was actually pretty fun! Tiffany was great and made it easy for me to relax, and she had some great ideas for different shots. I got to look at some of the pictures and I was really happy with them. Plus, she played music the whole time-- The Beatles, Elton John, and The Stones. Awesome!

I ended up getting more photographs of me taken within an hour than I've probably had taken of me over the past two years, total. I'll show you all the official author photo once I get it/select it from the bunch, and possibly some other shots, too.

The Name Game

I'll admit it: I'm incredibly fussy about naming characters. Maybe it's due to my OCD, or maybe it's something a lot of writers go through, but I tend to agonize far more over the naming process than I should. The character's name not only has to fit them, but it has to fit in with the characters surrounding it.

FOR EXAMPLE: Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite television shows of all time (of all time!!! /kanye), but there is one thing that bugs me a little. In the first three seasons, two of the female characters, one a cheerleader do-gooder type and the other a "bad girl," were named Lyla (left) and Tyra (right).

It always annoyed me a tiny bit that on a show dominated by male characters (though there are some female characters-- and they're all written so amazingly it makes up for the inbalance), the writers would name the two girls so similarly. Tyra and Lyla almost rhyme! It just seemed kind of... lazy. Of course, the fact that something so tiny is what I point out as a "flaw" speaks to how awesome the show is (seriously, if you haven't seen it, go out and marathon the first four seasons-- they're all amazing and some of the best television ever, and I say this as someone who doesn't care at all about football).

Anyway, in the early, early, early stages of SAVING JUNE, my idea was for the characters to be Melanie (Mel), Toby, and Laney. (June was always June.) And then I realized there was no way that would work. All those names end with long e-sounds. And then I realized "Toby" was just the wrong name altogether, so I threw it out and replaced it with Jacob (Jake), a name I've always loved, and I thought it sounded perfect with the last name Tolan, too. By that point I'd decided to nix Melanie in favor of Harper, something a little more unique and also more fitting for the character. I loved the name Laney and knew I didn't want to change it. I got all of the first name stuff worked out before I started my first draft.

In the first draft, Harper and June's last name was Green. I liked it well enough, but then someone critiquing my query letter pointed out that June Green as a full name was rather... flat. And they were right. I hadn't even thought about it. June Green is a terrible name (if your name happens to be June Green, I apologize-- it's not that bad, just bad for the character I was writing). So I tried a few variations, and knowing I wanted to keep a one syllable last name, threw Scott in there and it stuck.

For my second book, THE REDEMPTION OF CHELSEA KNOT, I started off with just a name. Chelsea Knot. I had it in my head for a long time and loved it. I could envision the character perfectly, I just had to figure out what to do with her. Some of the other characters in that book, however, had their names changed. A lot. And not just before/after, but as I was writing it. Only a few never went through any name changes, first and/or last.

It's not just about coming up with names I love, it's the mixing and matching within the story. I'm careful not to have character names in the same book sound too alike (honestly, I tend to avoid having two different character names start with the same letter, even). Like, I love the name Carter, but Jake couldn't have been Carter because you can't have Harper and Carter sharing scenes for the majority of the book. I also avoid names that end with the letter S, for no other reason than the possessive apostrophe rule bothering me. (Yes, I know what the rule is, but it still bugs, so I avoid.)

Sometimes when I'm looking for name ideas, I look to songs/movies/literary/pop culture references I like for inspiration. (Without going overboard-- I once read a book set in the 70's where the protagonist was named Elizabeth Bennet. She talked about how her parents had named her after the Jane Austen character. The name didn't have any relevance to the story or serve any function, so I guess the author just thought it was cutesy or something? IDK, it came across as lame to me. No one is going to be remembered as Elizabeth Bennet aside from THE Elizabeth Bennet, so doesn't it set your character up for a letdown from the start?) (Or I could just be crazy.)

Other times I'll Google for baby name websites and go from there. I do have a file of names (both first and last) I love that once in awhile I'll add to or pull from. I personally gravitate toward J names (too much so) and last names as first names (Harper, Carter, Jackson, Addison, Mason, etc).

So in conclusion... I'm really neurotic when it comes to naming characters? Haha. I am curious though to know what other people's naming processes are, and whether other people put this much thought into them. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Review: THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Today is the official release of Kody Keplinger's debut novel, THE DUFF.

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of this a few months ago. It's not a short novel-- almost 300 pages-- but I devoured it in one day. Here's the summary:

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

There's a lot to love about THE DUFF, and without spoiling too much of the book, here are a few things I particularly enjoyed:

  • Bianca, the protagonist, is tough as nails, abrasive, and not afraid to speak her mind. Some might find her bluntness a turn-off, but I appreciated her unapologetic nature. Not to say she isn't flawed and aware of her flaws, but I feel like this is a character trait more often "acceptable" for men to exhibit, and I like how Bianca never backs down from who she is at her core.
  • Bianca and Wesley's relationship-- not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for antagonistic, love/hate relationships. Couples who fight and bicker and think they hate each other at the start but realize somewhere along the way how alike they truly are, and that animosity evolves (or explodes) into passion.
  • The love triangle actually had me questioning which way things would go. I wouldn't have blamed her for either choice she made, and no one was villainized in the process. Yay!
  • This book-- if the title isn't obvious-- is all about labels. The labels other people give us, and the labels we give ourselves. Bianca is labeled a DUFF and takes offense, but she's not above labeling others herself. I thought her realization of this was honest and realistic when in the hands of another author it could've smacked of After School Special.
  • Keplinger's portrayal of sex is neither sanitized nor condemned. It happens, and while a lot of it is an unhealthy coping mechanism, there are no dire consequences. No one dies (like all the non-virgin females in your typical horror flick) or winds up pregnant or anything. Bianca understands the level of dysfunction in her actions, but she isn't apologetic about her choices, either. (She also practices safe sex-- yay responsibility!)
  • Female friendships! Bianca's two best friends, Casey and Jessica, have strong roles throughout the novel and offer her her most important support system (even if Bianca doesn't always utilize it). I love reading about strong girl friendships. I've been in "trio" friendships before, and I thought Keplinger presented the dynamics between the three girls well.
Check it out if you get the chance! You can purchase it on Amazon here. And congrats Kody on a fantastic debut. :)

Will you walk with me out on the wire?

So in the past, I haven't been so great at this blogging thing. And every so often I come back and say, "Hey, I'm totally committing myself to this now!" and set a goal which I almost immediately break.

But really. I'm going to blog more. I MEAN IT THIS TIME.

Today's topic: Copy edits.

Copy edits, for me, were about the third round of revisions I've gone through for SAVING JUNE (since it was sold, anyway). My first round of edits came from the editorial letter and had to do with general story elements. That round led to a 20,000 word increase on the novel. The second round was line edits, which entailed my editor going through and pointing out continuity issues within the text. And then the copy edits! For this, I was mailed with a marked-up hard copy of the manuscript.

I consider myself to be pretty good at grammar, but there were a fair amount of mark-ups throughout the manuscript. Some pages had none, some had a lot, and some of the symbols used to indicate corrections took some deciphering before I could tell what they meant (but I managed!). I went through page by page to make sure I agreed with all of the proposed changes, and kept a list of the ones I wasn't sure about (spoiler alert: it was all but unnecessary since my copy editor was right about everything!), and at the end emailed my editor my approval/questions rather than mail the whole manuscript back. Quick and easy!

So I'm almost finished with SAVING JUNE entirely-- I will be looking at it again for a final proofread soon, but after that, I should be done! Yay! In the words of Kanye West: #itsaprocess