Ways to Engage with the Writing Community

WAYS TO ENGAGE WITH THE WRITING COMMUNITY

Contests like PitchWars

While winning contests like these are great, especially because it will set you up with a mentor involved in the writing community, you don’t have to win to make connections. Through Twitter (especially by following hashtags) you can interact with and meet other writers going through the same process. This is a great way to meet CPs (critique partners) and author friends. In order to do so, comment on tweets, follow other writers, reach out on individual DMs, and write your own tweets about the process (and include the hashtag).

https://pitchwars.org/

Social media

Going off of #1, Twitter and Facebook and the like (your “platform”) isn’t about getting thousands of faceless followers, its about making individual connections so that you can build a support system and, ultimately, have more leverage for your books. (Would you rather buy a book from someone you’ve never talked to, or one with whom you exchange advice and comments, with whom you respect and admire? Other readers feel the same way).

Additionally, there are events such as PitMad where you can post a short pitch of your book and agents who are interested will like your tweet, allowing you to submit your query to those who are excited about your work (and make it so you can find additional agents without doing too much more research). Look out for other events like this you can take advantage of (such as DivPit, which is the same but for diverse authors).

Writing conferences

I am attending my first conferences this fall. It’s a great thing to do, especially if you are in the query phase (ie you have your manuscript done and polished and are looking for agents and/or publishers) or if you just want to meet other people in the field. Usually they consist of panels or information sessions as well as time to mingle with other attendees and opportunities to sit down with agents one-on-one. A quick google search can find conferences in your area, although often these events do cost money.

Writing workshops

Like conferences, this is a great way to meet writers and is usually run by published authors who can be great sources of information on publishing. I would say these are for authors at any stage, from starting out to having a complete manuscript because connections are always crucial, as is growing as a writer. Like conferences, however, they often cost money, but can be a great investment in your writing career.

Attend local events

Bookstores and literary centers (like The Loft in Minnesota) often have book signings or readings, book releases, open mics, or other literary events. It’s a great chance to meet authors, learn how to do events like this when your book comes out, and explore literary centers in your neighborhood. The bonus is they’re usually free, and sometimes have food.

Reach out to a writer you admire

Authors, like everyone else, love getting fan mail. Most they have links on their author page for ways to contact them (the URL of which you can find with a quick google search, or in the back of their book). I know many authors who have found mentors that way, or at least made lasting connections through reaching out. This can be extended to podcasts about writing where you reach out to the writer who runs it, or bloggers who write, or the random writer on Twitter who always makes you laugh with their tweets. Worst case they don’t reply to you. Best case, you have another connection in the writing community for support and advice, who you can also support and cheer on.

 

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Why You Should Consider Doing NaNoWriMo, On Your Own Terms

World Press Freedom Day

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and occurs in November. During the month, many authors set out to start and finish a 50,000 word draft of a novel. You can set up an account to compete to win prizes, or just use it as a motivator to write more than you normally do. There is lots of support and discussion on social media while it is going on. Thus, participating can be advantageous in a lot of ways, as long as it is meeting the goals you want to meet.

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Just because November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), doesn’t mean November is suddenly free from all other responsibilities.

(Although that would be great- anyone know who to talk to in order to make this happen?)

Even though some people may be able to carve out hours into their day to write (or write fast enough to spit out a novel in a month), that doesn’t mean you can (or have to).

Frankly, one of the main constraints most writers talk about is having enough time. If you don’t have the time or whatnot to write a book in a month (as many people don’t), you don’t have to set yourself up to fail by making that your goal. Instead, pick a word/page/chapter count that is more realistic and make that your goal.

You may be in the middle of another project.

I know many writers who wanted to do NaNo but are currently editing their WIP (work in progress). That doesn’t mean you have to ditch the editing for a month (unless you want to- it can be great to set your work aside for a month and come back to it with fresh eyes). Instead, pick a goal that is editing related, or publishing related, or related to whatever stage you are at.

 

 

The “new day” or “new year” effect.

One positive aspect about NaNo, and why it works so well for many people is the psych principle of the “new year” effect. In essence, the reason we do New Year’s resolutions is because it gives us a clear boundary between our “old” self and “new” self- allowing for self-reflection and the perception of a clean slate. Although many don’t endure long-term, some do, and it is a great impetus for change for many people as it gives them the idea of a fresh start and the opportunity to change their day-to-day (or at least reflect on it). (Also, bonus, you can use this any time- just tell yourself today is a new day and use it to spark something new).

Writing quickly to finish can be a great motivator, but it doesn’t have to be your style or goal.

I know many people like to just “get the first draft done” and that you “can’t edit a blank page” but I also know that having to rewrite the entire book because the first draft was so bad is not a fun situation (I’ve done that for both of my books). If that isn’t your style, don’t feel like you have to write that way. (You can also do heavy outlining beforehand to minimize some of this, if you are a “plotter”).

There are many ways of measuring progress, including for editing, and other stages of novel writing.

As I mentioned above, pick a goal that is helpful and relevant to where you are now and where you want to be. Pick what aspects of editing you want done by the end of the month or to where in the book do you want to be through with edits or what draft round you’d like to be on.

If this is your first book, it likely will take longer than you expect (and that’s okay). It’s great to have lofty goals but also to keep realistic expectations (or more manageable secondary goals).

Some people write the first draft of their first book during NaNo (which is great!) but many do not. Use it to give you that push if you are stuck, but be kind to yourself as to how much you can really expect to do in a month (and if you surpass it, great!).

 

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What Not To Do in YA- A Teen Writer’s Guide

What not to do in YA

I recently read a YA (young adult) book (which I will not mention) that made me both laugh and cringe at the same time. Mostly because the dialogue was so stilted and cliche, where every other word was lol or omg. Teens. Do. Not. Talk. Like. This.

Many adults i know use more texting abbreviations than I do. And now with smart phones there is no longer as much a need for these things. And even when there is, people do not spout them every other word. Omg they just don’t, like lol. (I hope that made you as uncomfy as it made me). *rant over*

Here are things to not include excessively in your YA novel/novella/etc.

  1. Lol/omg (see above).
  2. Kids acting dumb for no reason. Sure, youth do a lot of stupid things, but there is always a reason behind it, no matter how hidden. Try popularity, security, attention, affirmation, friends, wealth, success, etc. The bully isn’t bullying *just* because he’s a douchy guy, he’s also trying to assert dominance so no one messes with him, or gain respect from other guys, or get lunch money so he doesn’t have to reveal to everyone he’s poor. (Not condoning bullying, just condoning having round, complex characters).
  3. Emotionally unstable boy who makes for a questionable relationship, but all doubts are cast aside because of Love. Please stop making this a thing. Stalking is not romantic. Hot/cold emotions are not cute. Readers deserve better romantic role models so they know they deserve more than this.
  4. The girl who doesn’t know/realize she is beautiful until she gets male attention. Like the point above, the goal should not be to be oblivious of one’s attributes. Love should not fix everything, it should complicate things, like in the real world.
  5. Football and cheerleaders or other tropes without a spin. Been there, done that.

 

In terms of other cliches, I have to admit I love some of them (strong female character, apocalypse/dystopian, etc) AS LONG AS THEY HAVE A TWIST.

Should I say that again?

No one is going to make a completely unique story unrelated to any before it, and that’s okay. As long as it’s your story told your way, with new elements. For example: another kids-trying-to-survive story is meh but kids running to survive from acid blood rain on their way to solve a puzzle to get a lifetime supply of chocolate is a lot cooler. (weird, yes, and probably not something you should write a story about, but my point is still made, I think.)

Look up the cliches/tropes for your genre and make sure you haven’t included all of them in your book. Make sure the ones you did include have your own twist. Purposely include one or two but turn them on their head so the cliche is broken. Do whatever you want, just please do not include lol and like as every other word in the dialogue. Please.

 

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New Short Story

A short story of mine, The Art of Happiness, just got published in The Blue Nib Literary Magazine (Issue 35).

I wrote it as part of my creative writing class for my English minor, including cats, art, and depression into a second person narrative.

Click here to view it!

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How to fit in exercise and writing (when you don’t have time for either)

One thing I’ve noticed this summer is I either workout in a day or write, but usually not the two together. Part of it is because I tend to use the same time (after work, before dinner) for both. This means I have to get creative to fit in as much of each as possible.

Here are some ideas I’ve come up with (and have worked for me).

  1. Read while working out (biking on a stationary bike works really well for this). You can read new books, read through your work in progress and make notes for later editing, or read books about the craft of writing. The neuroscience-y bonus to this is you tend to remember more of what you read while exercising (hint: use this to your advantage if you have to study for a test).
  2. Do a circuit during writing breaks (especially if using the Pomodoro writing method). The Pomodoro method means working for a certain amount of time (usually 25 minutes) and then taking a break (5 or 10 minutes) and then writing for a set time again. Thus, writing can be your break from working out and visa versa.
  3. Do a couch workout while watching TV or a TV “drinking” workout game. (Alternatively you could just not watch TV and workout instead, but if you don’t want to do something so radical, do this). Many popular shows have workout games, like drinking games. For example, when Character A says X, do 5 pushups, when Character B is mentioned, do 10 burpees. If you can’t find one online, make your own. Check out an example of a couch workout and workout game at the bottom of this page.
  4. Switch off days between writing and working out. Ultimately, there may not be time for you to do both every day, which is okay. Just switch off if that’s what you need to do.
  5. But, make sure to take classes or schedule in your workouts and writing time. Part of why writing time and exercise time slip away is because it isn’t scheduled in and it gets replaced by other things that aren’t always as important.
  6. Take the stairs. Do calf raises at your desk and bicep curls when you bring the milk up from the car. Basically, fit in exercise when you can. Get creative with it. (For inspiration, look at this video of a workout while baking.)
  7. Do HIIT or Barre or something that combines cardio with strength to maximize your time. As a bonus, they tend to be more fun than regular strength training or mindless treadmill running.
  8. Write on lunch breaks so you have more time to workout after work. I know this isn’t always possible, but it can be great if you’re eating at your desk anyway. Also, going in slightly early to work (or staying slightly later) and having a quiet, designated space to write for a bit can be a productive use of time.
  9. Make sure your workout matches your goals (staying active vs gaining muscle) and that its fun! For example, if you want to gain muscle, don’t have your workout be only running, or you won’t be using your time effectively.
  10. Listen to a writing podcast/audiobook while you workout. Or think about your work in progress so you are in the head space to write after your workout (or at least won’t spend writing time not knowing what to write).
  11. Work on your social media platform while working out so you don’t have to later (and have no excuse to be on your phone later).
  12. Combine relaxation and working out. For example, do yoga/stretching or a hot tub workout. This is great as a recovery day, too. (Because, fun fact, you shouldn’t be using the same muscle groups every day. Getting stronger means not only breaking down the muscle fiber but also allowing it time to grow back stronger). I included an example of a workout you can do in the hot tub below if that’s something you want to pursue.

Ultimately, finding time to workout is hard. Finding time to workout is hard. So don’t be hard on yourself if it’s something you struggle with. Just do your best and try to have fun 🙂

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A couch workout:

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A workout “drinking game”:

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Hot tub workout:

Image result for hot tub workout exercise

Mental Health in YA Literature

I recently finished my latest book, Starvation, which is about a teenage wrestler with an eating disorder. There were multiple reasons for writing the book. For one, one of my high school friends struggled with an eating disorder and hearing how hard her recovery was made me start looking into the process. Additionally, I am studying neuroscience and clinical psychology to go into the field so what better than to create a book with my two loves, writing and mental health. This fall I will be co-president of my school’s mental health advocacy group which has made me realize the importance of making mental health information available in different forms, especially for younger readers who may not even know they have a mental illness until they read about someone going through something similar.

In my clinical psych class I was astounded to learn that boys make up 1:9 to 1:3 of anorexia patients. And still I have yet to find a YA book about a boy with anorexia. (I am, however, pleasantly surprised by the recent increase in mental health books, with both male and female protagonists, especially as it helps destigmatize disorders and start important conversations.)

On that note, here are some books that are consistently referenced as some of the best YA mental health books, that are said to accurately describe what it feels like to have the given disorder. I, personally had some issues with some of the books, but loved others. Wintergirls, for example, really helped me understand some of the thought processes behind anorexia. Also It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Will Grayson, Will Grayson are two of my favorites. (But check them out for yourself and comment your opinions below!)

Anxiety

Turtles All the Way Down

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Finding Audrey – social anxiety

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Every Last Word – OCD

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The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B – OCD

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Highly Illogical Behavior – agoraphobia

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Eating disorders

Wintergirls

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The Downside of Being Charlie

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Paperweight

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Trauma/PTSD

Speak

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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The Sea of Tranquility

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Depression

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

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The Memory of Light

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13 Reasons Why

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Will Grayson, Will Grayson

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All the Bright Places

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Fans of the Impossible Life

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Hold Still

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Bipolar

When We Collided

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Psychosis/delusions

Mosquitoland

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A World Without You

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Schizophrenia

Made You Up

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Schizo

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Guest Post: Tree District Books

Here’s a guest blog post written by Tree District Books about their company. Learn more about them at treedistrictbooks.com.

tree district books logo

Tree District Books was created out of a love for reading and writing. We wanted to share our enjoyment with these activities with the world. In order to do this, we decided to help folks become the best writers they could. That’s why we not only publish, but also offer self-publishing services. We want people to enjoy creating stories and sharing their experiences and ideas with the world.

As we have grown in the past year, we have seen writers come to life. It has been a joy to see folks light up when talking about their work and get excited about perfecting their vision. When writers come to us with their stories, they have often been turned away from bigger publishing houses and sometimes feel discouraged. It’s wonderful to be able to see the potential in their work and have the ability to help them along their journey as an author. In our first year we have signed seven authors! It is an honor to be their publisher.

Our clients that use self-publishing services are just as important to us. While they aren’t using us to publish their work, they have still trusted us with their work, which as any writer knows, is like trusting someone with your child. To see the creativity our customers have and to assist them with our many services is incredibly fun. It’s a great creative outlet.

Our main goal is to keep the joy of the written word alive in a society where we all could use a little more connection. Writing is a wonderful expression and its connects us in so many ways. We provide professionalism and care, and we couldn’t be happier to do it!

For those looking for a publisher, please visit our website (www.treedistrictbooks.com) to submit your work. Please also visit our site to view our many other services including membership, website building (including SEO), editing, cover design, ISBN procurement, barcoding, copyright submission, translations, marketing, and more.

Keep writing out there!

Be sure to check out my guest blog about self-publishing as a teenager on their site at www.treedistrictbooks.com/blog.

Writing as a Full-Time College Student (And Athlete)

Writing as a Full-time college student (and athlete)

I just finished the first draft of my second novel! It is a completely different story line and genre (realistic fiction) than INSOMNUS (sci fi/fantasy/thriller) which I’m excited about. I also think it better captures my current writing style and abilities. (Sorry to those who were hoping for another angsty thriller).

While I have a lot of editing before the next stage, whatever that ends up being, I thought now would be a good time to discuss writing as a full-time college student (and athlete). (And why I had taken a break from blogging.)

Although going to school full time may take a similar amount of time as having a full time job, there’s nothing like writing essays and reading textbooks all day to squash your willpower to write and read and be Creative. So what can you do about it?

Here are 10 tips that worked for me while, especially this last year (as I went to college and played volleyball and managed to write a whole novel in 7 months).

1. Take advantage of breaks. And don’t be afraid to take one yourself.

Most of the work on my novel took place during winter, spring, and summer breaks. These are great times to cram in writing or reading you didn’t have a chance to do during classes- without the added mental energy drain of homework. On that note, however, the “write every day” philosophy likely won’t apply to you during the school year. And that’s okay. You might have to take days, or weeks, or months off, and that’s okay too.

2. Set writing goals, but have different expectations during the school year.

It’s important to have goals to make sure writing still gets done, but you may have to switch from daily to weekly or monthly goals. You might not be able to accomplish the 500/etc words per day you normally crank out (in part because you’re also doing 500/etc words on essays and homework).

For me, this meant that I was no longer blogging during the school year (sorry guys) although that may change this coming year. It also meant week-to-week my writing goal changed from 0 words to a few thousand depending on what else was going on.

3. Take advantage of creative writing classes.

Not only does it limit the workload of other classes and force you to have deadlines, you can get great feedback and learn more about the craft to grow as a writer. I got to explore writing short stories, which is something I hadn’t done before. I learned a lot about story structure and characterization, among other things, and even had one of my stories (Smile) published in the Widener Blue Route. (Plus if you’re a writer, I’m guessing this would be something you love doing. So do it!)

4. Use what you learn as background for your writing.

The great thing about going to college is you are learning all day, every day, about things you are (hopefully) passionate about. One of those things, for me, is neuroscience and psychology. So why not use what you learn as your inspiration and background research for your next piece? You can save time, it’ll be about something you love, you’ll have resources (professors, other students) to ask questions, and you can learn about the material from a different angle, thus cementing what you already know. (Win-win-win-win-win, amiright?

For example, for me, this is psychology and neuroscience which is why my next book is of a boy battling a mental illness (I won’t tell you which one yet, though).

5. Think about exploring other mediums (ie short stories)

This goes back to #3 a little. Part of what I loved about short stories the past 2 years was that I could carve out a few hours to write. In that time I could finish a piece, learning about endings, beginnings and everything in between- in waaayy less time than writing a whole book.  Plus shorter pieces can be published to increase your resume and credibility as an author (and its pretty motivating to see your name in print).

There are many writing journals exclusively for Undergrads (like the Blue Route) as well as other journals based on genre or other characteristics. Your school might have a publishing avenue as well, either a book or journal or website.

6. Take advantage of down-time (and yes, Netflix).

I’m sure you were bracing yourself for the part where I say you should give up your TV time and instead write. While that could be (really) beneficial, you can still gain a lot from watching your favorite Netflix series, as long as you watch as a writer.

For one, focus on dialogue. What works and what doesn’t and why? How can you incorporate this? Look at character development. What do you know about the characters and how was that revealed? How do they change across an episode or season? And even something as simple as, what names do you like that you could borrow for your own pieces?

Similarly, I highly recommend keeping a note on your phone and/or having your writing in Google Docs or something similar so you can write down ideas when they come to you or write for the extra minutes you have before class or meals or meetings.

7. Schedule in writing time and give yourself deadlines.

I just found this awesome, but simple, website Prolifiko. It allows you to set big goals (ie write a book) and then smaller goals (ie write a chapter) with a deadline. You then get emails that cheer for you when you complete a goal. One problem with school is that since schoolwork has obvious deadlines it seems (and can be, granted,) more urgent. This can help shift the focus back to writing, allowing you to accomplish little goals and feel good about them rather than feeling overwhelmed by abstract, long-term goals.

8. Reach out to other student writers to get feedback. And make writer friends 🙂

If you take a writing class or join a writing group, don’t be afraid to approach other writers to create a critique group or to have them beta-read a piece of yours. Otherwise, if you aren’t in a class or group, reach out to the president of a group or an English professor to see if they can connect you with other student writers.

I sent my in-progress manuscript to two of my friends to help me edit the first draft and to help me motivate myself to actually finish it. I knew they were waiting for additional chapters so it kept me writing. The fact that I knew they would edit it for me kept me from focusing on making it perfect (and thus not writing at all).

9. Know that writing may take a back seat, especially during finals or other busy times, but that doesn’t make you less of a writer.

I know I touched on this earlier, but it’s worth repeating.

10. On the other hand, if you have a week with less work, think about writing instead of catching up on Netflix. (Or at least instead of only watching Netflix).

As great as finishing up Black Mirror or Grey’s would be, imagine how great it will feel to finish a novel or short story or whatever it is you’re working on.

It’s pretty great.

 

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I wrote previously on Challenges (and Solutions) For a Writer in College  so check that out if you haven’t already. 

Feel free to leave your thoughts/suggestions/comments below or contact me!

Review of Tess Wakefield’s Purple Hearts

purple-hearts

I picked up Tess Wakefield’s debut novel Purple Hearts in a bookstore in Wisconsin, in part because she was a Minnesota author, just like I am, and in part because I loved the cover with the converse shoes and work boots underneath a teal background with a white title (as much as it is frowned upon to judge books by covers as a metaphor, I firmly believe there’s a reason the metaphor exists, especially when there’s not much else that can be considered when choosing a book).

The other reason I bought Purple Hearts was because I was intrigued by the blurb. I spend a long time picking up book after book, carefully setting it back because the backs promised a Girl who meets A Boy who is Not Like Any Other Boy or stories that seemed similarly cliché. Purple Hearts, on the other hand, is about a girl, Cassie, who marries a soldier for his health insurance and they must “set aside their differences to make it look like a real marriage… unless, somewhere along the way, it becomes one…”

Although it’s easy to see where the story might go, the way in which the story unfolds and the choices the characters make are not cut-and-dry, creating a book that is hard to put down. The dilemmas are realistic, as are the solutions, and the plot is character-driven, as it should be.

One of the first things that pulled me into this book was the writing style. Part of me kept reading because the plot was compelling for sure, but an equally large part of me kept reading because I wanted to keep experiencing the wonder that is Tess Wakefield’s writing. The dialogue is realistic. The characters are complex. The figurative language is beautiful. If her writing contained nutritional value, I would happily eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week.

This was also a book with one of the most successful uses of multiple points of view, where the narrator switches each chapter. Part of this is due to Wakefield having created strong characters that are not too much alike and both have similar, although maybe not exactly equal, narrating power. The chapters are short, keeping the pace of the book fast, and the switch between the points of view is amazingly effortless for the reader.

(Spoilers): In terms of what I would have changed in the book, I had a little trouble believing Luke wouldn’t have any more problems with his drug dealer just having beaten him up, especially since I’m sure Johnno has other people he could recruit to help get back at Luke. I’m okay with it, especially since I can’t think of a better solution except maybe calling the cops, but it made me have less faith in his decision-making abilities.

Also, I loved the ending, but I also think it could’ve been longer, at least so I (selfishly) could’ve experienced just a little more of Wakefield’s writing. It did feel make the story feel complete and cohesive, which I loved. Also, the ending was realistic and fitting without being too predictable, a feat for which I thoroughly commend Wakefield.

All in all, I think adults and young adults alike would love this book, especially those who like romance that isn’t too cliché or cheesy and who like rounded characters, great writing, and a unique premise. I can’t wait to read what Wakefield writes next.

If you liked this post, check out my book, INSOMNUS, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.