THE CHAPEL WARS. The cover. The creation. The everything

November 6, 2013

*blows dust off of ye ol’ blog*

This last weekend at the Vegas Valley Book Festival, I had a conversation with some authors about blogs as a platform, on their relevancy, on how often we blog (cough, cough), etc. etc. And valid points were made all around, but I still like having my blog HERE, even if I only post a couple times a year, even if google reader no longer exists and I know this isn’t read very often. As a writer, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name… CUE THEME SONG FROM CHEERS

and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

Yes, I know that has no relevancy to my topic, but that song’s been stuck in my head and I wanted to share. You’re welcome, those alive in the eighties.
Anyway, quick catch up…

Vegas Valley book festival was awesome! We had 60+ YA authors, dozens of panels, and an adorably awkward YA Prom through the ages. Here are a couple of pics…

PROM THROUGH THE AGES!!!! Yes. It was as amazing as it looks. No, I can’t name everyone. Well, I can, but it takes SOO long to type.

 

I’m in there somewhere. Doing something.

 

And I’ve done other things lately, like began writing a book for National Novel Writing Month, which might be the worse thing I’ve ever done. Or the best. We’ll see.

But that’s not why you’re here, right? You’re really here because you want to see my new book cover. Maybe even hear about this mysterious book. Chapel? Is this book religious? Wars? Is it violent?

No and no. You’re getting another Lindsey Leavitt book with my trademark Lindsey Leavittness-which according to my publisher is humor and heart. Although I must say, this one starts with someone dead, so The Funny is a little more respectful of such circumstances. And The Angst is perhaps more amped up. But The Awesome? It’s all in there. Or as in there as I am able.

This was a brutal writing and personal year for me, which is why I haven’t been online as much as usual. I’m glad to come out of it with a book of which I am very proud. I imagine this book is the closest I will ever come to understanding natural childbirth. But, you know, in a good way.

This is what the book is about....
Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there’s Grandpa’s letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family’s mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and… Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there’s a wedding chapel to save.

And this is one of my favorite publishing peeps said about it….
“You’ll want to place your bets on Lindsey Leavitt’s hilarious and heartfelt novel filled with family rivalry, forbidden love, life-changing secrets, and a hot boy dressed up like Cupid. Just like Vegas, The Chapel Wars kept me up all night.” —Elizabeth Eulberg, author of Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality
(isn’t she the very best? Thank you Elizabeth Eulberg! *throws confetti*)

AND THIS IS WHAT THE BOOK WILL (PROBABLY) LOOK LIKE!* 
*unless they change the cover. This is the cover for the ARC. Things could change. Things always change. But I hope not because OHMIGOSH I am hearting this cover so hard. Get it? HEART

The Blog Post I Wrote On the Morning My Book Officially Released

March 26, 2013

So today my book, GOING VINTAGE, releases. RELEASES is a glamorous word for Books Get Stocked On Shelves, which for booksellers is often called TUESDAY, but for the author, it’s kinda a big deal. Writing a book takes roughly as long as a pregnancy, an elephant pregnancy, so kissing our babies on the top of the head and nudging them out into the world is always a little scary and sweet.
Mommy loves you GOING VINTAGE! Now go make me some money proud.
 And maybe you want to buy my book, maybe you want to check it out from your library (after making sure your library orders it), maybe it’s not your thing but you want to do something just for support. Maybe you are sick of hearing about it, in which case, last post, promise! (Note: I break a lot of promises).
Anyway, my friend Lisa Schroeder wrote a post a few years ago explaining how best to support an author, and I hope you will check it out. 
Whether it’s a shout out on facebook, a review, or just a good word, it all adds up. 
Also, if you are reading this, you know likely are aware I/my books exist, and for that I am grateful, more the book than me, because I don’t need to get existential about my existence too often. Anyway, thank you for reading. Always always. Thank you.

Embracing the cute

January 30, 2013
In high school, the identifier often used to describe me was cute. I say this not to brag, because I didn’t find this something to brag about. Cute means smiles, silliness and brainlessness. Puppies, cheerleaders, and baby rolls are cute. Not a 5’10” highschooler trying to take herself SERIOUSLY already. I wanted to be an actress, an athlete, I wanted to change the world and better mankind. I didn’t get pretty, I never had brilliant, and I sure as heck wasn’t labeled as mysterious. I wanted to be all these things that I wasn’t. Cute. Bah.
I’ve learned, however, that cute has a longer shelf life than beautiful. Cute isn’t an insult. Grandma’s are cute. Some of my favorite movies are also. And in my present day, I write CUTE.
I just checked goodreads to see how early reader reviews are looking for GOING VINTAGE (yes, I check goodreads, but only in spurts. I will try not to check again for a few months now. Or weeks). These are some complimentary phrases:
ADORABLE! 
HILARIOUS!
FUN!
LIGHT!
SWEET!
QUIRKY!
(exclamation points are my own)
Other reviews are less positive. Some find my writing to be meaningless, fluffy, trite, predictable, vague, stupid, boring, and one kind reader once wrote to tell me she wanted to cut me. Keep those positive opinions coming, kids!
If I let it, these words become as much a part of my writing process as my writing pants or character charts. I start to ask the most toxic questions, like, Who cares? What does this matter? Why try? Is seven diet cokes too many?
Writing isn’t only something I do, it’s something that I am. Take it or leave it, I write and live in an optimistic, rose-colored world or splendor and delight. For this, I will probably never win a major award or write a book that speaks to the core of my generation. I don’t do gritty or profound or twisted or raw. I still love to read these kinds of stories, still love to understand other world views and backgrounds. But when I spend a year with a book, I prefer it to be something that makes me giddy and satisfied, an escape for me and for you. There are days where I question this, days that I wish I was more of something else, but that’s like wishing I was shorter or had thicker hair.
After I started to write this blog entry, I found that I wrote almost exactly the same post 5 years ago. Isn’t it funny how the same themes come up in our lives, just like in our stories? I vaguely remember writing this as I revised Princess For Hire for my newly-signed agent (and went on to sell it at auction two months later). Although I want to edit this mother, I leave it here for you in all my pre-published glory.
Written on April 3, 2008

The other night, I asked hubby if he’d get the girls down so I could get a few more writing things done. Hubby obediently grabbed the kiddos and smiled. “Come on. Mommy has to write The Next Great American Novel.” 
For some reason, the comment made me twitch. I sat, paralyzed, staring at my computer screen for the next fifteen minutes. 
Let’s just get this out in the open now: 
I have not written, nor shall I ever write, the Next Great American Novel. 
I’m rereading To Kill a Mockingbird for the bazillionth time. Blows me away how at different times in my life, I pick up on different themes in this book. How the emotions are still raw and fresh, how I put it down and want to be better. To do better. And, whoa, I wish I could write like that! 
And then there’s my magical tweeny romp (Yeah, I said romp. Big fan of romps). I’m sure it’s destined for a pink cover–which would be poetic since the sweats I wear whilst writing say PINK on the bum. 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of it’s glittery princess pinkiness. I hope readers love reading it half as much as I loved writing it. But I’ll tell you a secret–I started this book two years ago and I quit for awhile because I thought I wasn’t, I don’t know, delving into the human experience. When I idealized writers in high school, I pictured them hacking at a type writer with a stern expression and a black beret. That, or barrels of hard liquor and drowning in their own angst (Maybe that was all the punk music I listened to?)
I believed POWERFUL writing equaled SERIOUS writing. Which is a very limited view, and I could give you a million reasons and a million books why, but I’m in the middle of an epiphany here.
This silly struggle reminds me of a small identity crisis I suffered when moving from the West to PA. I decided when we moved, I would use my maiden name, Taylor, as my first name. Ditch Lindsey and the negative connotations that went with it. Start fresh. Because the thing that bugged me about being ME was everyone viewed me one way, and I wanted to be something–someONE– else. I was, on occasion, described as funny by my fans, snarky by my critics. And this was all well and fine, but what I really wanted to be was 
SWEET 
No one EVER labeled me as sweet. If you looked up sweet in the dictionary, you’d have to scroll down to the antonym section, and THEN there’d be my face. So I figured I’d change my name and become the sweet girl that bakes her neighbors cookies and intuitively knows how to fix everyone’s emotional breakdowns and talks in a sing song voice uh… other sweet things (see, it’s not natural for me). 
Well, Taylor didn’t last long. Because I was not, AM not, Taylor. I’m Lindsey-eye-rolling-one-liner-but-still-can-occasionally-bust-out-heavier-stuff-Leavitt. And I finally came to terms with this: 
That’s Just as Great. Just as Necessary. Just as Important. 
(except for moments of extreme emotional distress. You don’t want the funny girl around joking about Grandpa Frank’s gambling habit during his funeral. You want sweetness. So I try to fake it then. Or just avoid talking.) 
In the same way, it’s ok–nay, better than ok!– to write something that makes people smile and laugh and take a break from the so-called human experience. My writer friend, Lisa, wrote this to me when I was having one of my Who-am-I-as-a-writer? moments. (Lisa, I hope you don’t mind me quoting your excellence) 
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that it takes awhile 
to find our strengths. But once we figure it out, we need to go with 
it. The market is too competitive to try and be good where others are 
great. So, my strength seems to be novels in verse. Yours is 
definitely humor. And so, you are going to have to find stories where 
you can really make it shine, and it may be that you aren’t going to 
be a literary writer, but more of a commercial one. I think sometimes 
we look at other books and long to do THAT (I know I do) instead of 
embracing the kind of book we do well.” 
This really hit home for me. Because Harper Lee really rocked my world in high school, but you know what? So did Meg Cabot (ok, read her right AFTER high school. Was going to let you assume I was that young, but I’m going with the honesty theme for this post). Or PG Wodehouse, who said about his own writing…
“I go in for what is known in the trade as ‘light writing’ and those who do that – humorists they are sometimes called – are looked down upon by the intelligentsia and sneered at.” 
What a relief to hear P.G. recognize my fear for me–that my lightness would be considered lesser. Even though I never thought this about Sir Wodehouse. Bow down to you, Jeeves!
I think it’s key for writers go through these moments of self-assessment in order to become comfortable in their craft. Who am I? Where do I fit? Do I fit? Do I care if I fit? Do these sweats still fit?(Of course they fit. Even though the PINK looks a little bigger nowadays).
So, not the NGAN. But I’m happy with where my writing is going. I’m happy in my PINK sweatpants.

13 Going on Now

January 22, 2013
Wet N Wild by lindseyleavitt
Wet N Wild, a photo by lindseyleavitt on Flickr.

I’m going to delete my old LiveJournal blog in a few weeks/months/whenever I get to it, so first I’m combing through old entries and making a “best of” kind of book for myself. I started blogging in 2005, five years before my first book was published, and I love reading through my journey to publication. Mostly. There is a lot that I just don’t want on the world wide web anymore, so over the next couple of weeks I’m sharing a few throwback pieces with you. THEN DESTROYING THE REST. Get it while you can.
This is a post I wrote on March 9, 2007. 
I’ve spent a good chunk of the day packing, an activity I do not recommend because it leads to backaches and heavy bouts of nostalgia. I mooned over pics of hubby and I in high school, back when we were chubby-cheeked and tan. Then I read through some old journals and came across this picture taken at my seventh grade water park trip.
I used to rip up pictures of myself in junior high and hide them in the couch. I don’t know why I thought the couch was a good hiding place and not the, oh I don’t know, garbage can. Maybe it was a cry for help. Maybe I was just too lazy to get up. Somehow, this survived. I used to OBSESS about this picture–and it’s not because the neon green on my suit put Kelly Kapowski to shame. At the time, this picture was living proof to anyone that dared to argue that I was unquestionably hideous. If I ever started to believe for a moment this wasn’t true, one glimpse of this picture would prove me wrong.
I wasn’t an insecure kid. I was smart, did sports and other activities, and had friends. I enjoyed life. But this picture is part of what held me back from true confidence.
My thighs were huge. My chest was flat. I didn’t know how to get my bangs high enough. I didn’t know how to dress. My ears looked pokey, my nose too ski-jumpy and I could not figure out how to smile for a picture. In short, I believed I would never “get” a guy, unless he was visually impared or especially desperate.
I started to get over myself in high school when a guy friend of mine admitted he had a crush on me in junior high. He said he followed me around the day this picture was taken because he thought I looked so good in the suit. I wanted to pull it out and point out my obvious flaws, but I’d been taught you shouldn’t argue a compliment. Especially when it makes you look psycho.
I look at this girl now and wish she could have known how beautiful she was, not because of how she looks in a bathing suit, but because of who she is. I long to show her how lucky she is to have a fully functional and healthy body, and that boobs and butts aren’t ultimately what’s going to get the guy.
But I can’t go back. The closest thing I have to a time machine is my writing. When I write, I think of her. Of me. Of who I was then and who I am now. What will make my writing really worthwhile is if I can someday reach a girl like me and somehow help her to be stronger, smarter, and secure enough in herself to rip up her “ugly pic” and get on with her life.

On Knowing When to Start Again

August 15, 2012
Summer, where did you go? We had a good time, didn’t we? Spontaneity, lake trips, quick weekend getaways, a book release, sleeping in, eating whatever and whenever we wanted. In short, this summer will go down in the books as one of the best the Leavitt family has seen perhaps since Mr. Leavitt and I fell in love in the glory days of ’97.
But this summer was also interesting for me as it was the first summer in quite a few years that I didn’t have an intense, end-of-summer deadline. I have a contemporary book due this fall, hopefully to be released in 2014. I have a mid-grade book I’ve been fiddling with that isn’t contracted. So I thought, writing-wise, this summer would be a breeze. In some ways, it was. I had a sitter for just a couple hours a week, a day or two to daydream, outline, get a couple of chapters in when I felt inspired. But the problem was, I didn’t feel very inspired, especially on this contemporary I was working on.
Oh, I certainly liked the story. There were some characters and dynamics that I could discuss for hours (and did with some poor, unfortunate writing friend). There were characters I wanted to meet, themes I wanted to explore, and a romantic dynamic that I’d been thinking about for years. Notice there is no mention of a plot. A hook. A POINT. And because of this, because there were no high stakes or drive in the story, I would often sit down and write these fun descriptions and back story without any idea why the scene mattered or where I was going next.
This isn’t my first rodeo. I knew I was doing something wrong. But I didn’t know how to fix it, how to suddenly infuse conflict into all these other elements. This was something that had never happened to me before, something I hope doesn’t happen again. Finally, I finished the first couple of chapters and sent it to my editor. We scheduled a phone call and she very nicely pointed out THERE WAS NO PLOT.
Sometimes you don’t know the plot when you start a story. Sometimes you follow a character along until you realize the rest. Plot is even a dirty word in some literary circles. But you still need conflict, an inciting incident. There has to be a reason to root for that character. At this point, this story was lacking in all those areas.
During this phone call, my editor made a comment about another story I’d sent her years ago set in Las Vegas with a paranormal twist. She mentioned how much she liked the Vegas setting in that story and I said, yeah, yeah, maybe I’ll dig that up after I finish this book I’ve been working on for three months. But once I got over those three months–three months paying a sitter, three months away from my kids–I realized the Las Vegas story I should have been working on all along. I went to LA for SCBWI conference and to sign with Lisa Schroeder, and Lisa said exactly what I’d been feeling, “Maybe you should shelf that hard novel and work on the one your editor mentioned.” Boom. I told her about the idea. She asked some questions, I got going, and within thirty minutes I’d ditched the paranormal element, made the story a straight contemporary, found my conflict, my character, my love interest, my story timeline.
Sometimes you have to flounder through the wrong book before you find the right one.
I’m not giving up on the first story, but that one still needs to marinate for awhile. Sometimes you can’t force it, deadline or not. A story doesn’t need to come fast for it to work, but I have found that once I get that A-HA moment where that one line hook happens, then I can move on with a story at a solid pace. So now, end of summer*, I start again, with a nice tan and fresh story idea. Bring it on, fall.
*Meanwhile, to celebrate the end of this crazy summer, I’m giving away a copy of GOING VINTAGE on goodreads. You can enter here!