Book Review: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli

Photo credit: Goodreads
So as is my MO, before I begin gushing about Becky Albertalli’s adorable Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, here is the Goodreads summary
“Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised. 
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.”
So first and foremost, if you’re a YA author looking for an example of really spot-on boy POV, I can’t recommend Simon Vs. more. I was really really impressed with just how real Simon sounded, both in his head and in the dialogue—and the dialogue from the other characters was written just as perfectly. But don’t take my word for it. Both Adam Silvera and John Hansen said basically the same thing, and they have way more experience being a teen boy than I do. 

So awesome voice aside, Simon Vs. was just a really freaking adorable book. I connected to Simon immediately, it starts in the absolute perfect spot in the plot (another note to YA writer: this is how you start a book), and there were moments that were just so darn cute I was actually giggling and “aww”ing out loud. 

I don’t often pre-order books from authors I haven’t read before, but I made an exception with Simon Vs. and I’m so glad I did. I whipped through the pages quickly because I needed to know if I was right about who Blue was and I was dying to see Simon and Blue’s happily-ever-after, and I loved that all of the characters, including the minor ones, were complex, layered and realistic. I really don’t have any complaints about this book except, I suppose, that it’s a shame I won’t be able to read it for the first time again. 

If you’re looking for a happy, fun m/m YA romance, I couldn’t recommend Simon Vs. more. 5/5 stars to this one for sure, and I can’t wait to see what Albertalli comes up with next. 

Have you read any diverse YA recently? I’m always looking for recs! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by @BeckyAlbertalli. Have you read this cute m/m YA? (Click to tweet)     
Looking for an adorable m/m read w/ a great boy POV? Check out SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: How Do You Decide Where to End a Chapter?

Photo credit: guzzphoto on Flickr
Ending a chapter in the right (or wrong) spot can be the difference between unputdownable and “I guess I’ll get back to this tomorrow.” Every chapter ending turns the tables on the readers who now have to decide whether to read one more chapter or take a break. 

These chapter endings are opportunities, but they can easily become lost opportunities if you don’t make the most of them.

While you’re first drafting, however, deciding where to end a chapter can sometimes be tricky. And when someone on Twitter recently asked me how I decide, it occurred to me I hadn’t really written about it. 

I’d kind of glazed over this part largely because the answer is hard to explain—because while I’m first drafting at least, where to end a chapter, for me, is part instinctual and part planning. But even that has changed as my writing process has changed. 

When I first drafting in Word, where to end a chapter, for me, was 100% instinctual. When I wrote a line that sounded like it’d be a good hook, I’d hit enter a couple times and start a new chapter. Sometimes this was in the middle of a scene, sometimes at the end—it was a case-by-case basis but what they had in common was that they ended on lines that I hoped would be intriguing enough that readers would want to read on. 

When I switched to first drafting to Scrivener, however, my process changed slightly. Before I start drafting at all, I plan out just about every scene and write a quick sentence or two or three summary of what will happen for each scene. While first drafting, I think less about where the chapter will end and more about ending the scene in a way that is interesting and will make readers want to read on. Granted, with the way I have Scrivener set up, the “chapters” are automatically split up by scene, and I further split them up while revising, but it’s often less present in my mind than it was when I wrote in Word. 


Sometimes, I’ll write a line near the end of a scene and stop earlier than I expected because I hit a point that would make a perfect chapter ending. Or I’ll break mid-scene while writing because I've reached a great hook. And that stuff is still very much instinctual. 

That said, after drafting in Scrivener I’ve done a lot more chapter splitting while revising than I did before—which, actually, I don’t mind because it really forces me to pay attention to my chapter endings and decide where would be the best place to break. 

Deciding on chapter endings while first drafting, however, can be a really fluid process, so I’m curious: how do you decide where to end a chapter? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you decide where to end a chapter? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Is Your Manuscript Query-Ready?

So you've worked with critique partners and revised your manuscript several times, but how do you know if your WIP is ready to query?



What signs do you look for when deciding if your MS is query-ready? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you know if your WIP is query-ready? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses her process in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)

There Isn't One Way to Be a Girl

So I came across this tumblr post yesterday, and after chatting with one of my CPs about it, it got me thinking.

On one hand, I agree with the quote and the article it came from. I think oftentimes, in books and TV shows and movies, the women who are praised for being strong often do tend to be more masculine than the traditional “norm.” From Katniss to Arya, Mulan to Daenerys, Tris to Black Widow, the image of strong female characters almost always feature girls who (literally) kick ass, and hide their emotions, and rebel against gender conformity. Girls who, conversely, are more feminine tend to come under fire for being too passive, too “girly,” too emotional, too implicitly weak. 

But being feminine and being strong are not mutually exclusive, and I definitely agree with everything said about Sansa in that post. 

On the other hand, I don’t want to come down on gender nonconforming girls either, because they stand as a societal reminder that there’s no one way to be a girl. And that’s something that even now in my twenty-somethings, I’m still re-teaching myself.

Photo credit: Jemimus on Flickr
As a not-traditionally-feminine girl who grew up in a household with a very feminine mother and two very feminine sisters, it was, and still is, refreshing to me to see girls embracing themselves, even when that person doesn't necessarily conform to gender norms. I didn't until just recently ask myself why, for example, Mulan was hands-down my favorite Disney princess and the only one I ever identified with and I suspect it was because she was a strong princess who didn’t look or act like what you'd expect from a princess. She hated dresses (as a kid, so did I!), and rolled her eyes at her mother’s attempts to make her appear more girly (*cough*), and she did everything the guys did and no one could stop her (it will be a surprise to no one, I think, that my favorite sport has always been martial arts). 

It wasn’t until recently that I really began to embrace myself, even when that person wasn’t as girly as years of dresses, skirts, and frilly blouses insinuated I should be. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I realized I could like makeup, and nail polish, and earrings and yes, even dresses, but also like (very) short hair, and hoodies, and jeans, and blazers, and graphic tees, and beanies. For years I had this idea in my head that being a girl meant liking all the girly, frilly things and because the clothes I often wanted to wear were decidedly less feminine, there must be something wrong with my taste and style. 

There isn’t one way to be a girl, and there isn’t a wrong way to be a girl, either. Girls can be feminine and masculine simultaneously. Girls can be emotional black belts, stoic fashionistas and make-up wearing sword-wielders. Girls can show strength in different ways—whether it’s through Sansa’s controlled political-savviness or Arya’s daring courage. Feminine, masculine and strong can all be used to describe girls—or even the same girl, and I want to see representation of them all. 

There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine. We are complicated, and layered, and contradictory, and we are raw, and real, and here. 

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites:
"There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine." (Click to tweet)  
.@Ava_Jae says there isn't one way to be a girl, or one way to be strong. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

My Favorite (Upcoming) Book Covers

As a bookish person who also loves artsy things, it’s probably no surprise that I love cover reveals. Book covers, to me, are totally fascinating, and lately the book covers just seem to be getting better and better.

I’ve been drooling on so many covers lately, that I wanted to share them with you guys. Specifically, covers for books that haven’t been released yet because there are so many gorgeous ones, I can’t even. 

So without further ado, here we go. 

  • Focus On Me by Megan Erickson:

  • Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The (literally) steamy, out of focus cover, the way the title itself is slightly out of focus, the rich colors, oh and those pecs and abs...
    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The gorgeous colors, beautiful typography, shiny gold, stunning sunrise backdrop contrasting on the deep green foreground...what's not to love?

  • Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The simple, but eye-catching design, the hand-painted typography, the clothes around the bed that tells me I'm probably going to like this book... ;)

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: This illustrated cover fits beautifully with the previous Grisha books, but is definitely it's own thing. I love the cool tones, the swirly typography, and the fact that the elongated feathers makes six towers is pretty awesome and probably important.

  • A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The eerie moodiness, the movement in the cover model (and her hair!), the creepy hand grabbing her foot at the bottom of the cover, and the delicate and refined typography all work together to make this one stunning cover.

  • Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: This cover is just so unique—I love the contrast of all the colors with the negative white space, the layers with tons of textures are gorgeous, and the more I look at it, the more I see.

  • Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: The atmospheric, Inception-like imagery with the city in the sky, the clouds with the sun poking through and creating the title, the darkness creeping in around the edges and the creepy shack and dirt road setting down below makes this one of my favorite covers this year.

  • Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: Hello, you're adorable. I mean, c'mon, how cute is this? I love the doodles, the light colors and the fact that they actually used a PoC model for a PoC character (as they always should, but unfortunately don't always) is a nice added bonus.

  • More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera:

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: This cover is so perfectly creepy and awesome. I love the texture of the cracked, flaking smiley face and the bold overlaid text and the fact that it's a closeup showing only have a smile just makes it even creepier to me.

  • We Are the Ants by Shaun Hutchinson

    Photo credit: Goodreads
    Why: This is a simple, but lovely design that I really appreciate. I love how the title is centered down the middle and brings your eye back down to the tree at the bottom, which leads you back up into the cover again, and then the swirl of the stars and yeah. It's a deceptively clever design and I like it. 

What are some of your favorite upcoming book covers?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares her top ten favorite upcoming book covers. What would you add to the list? (Click to tweet

Classes I Never Thought Would Apply to My Writing Career (But Do)

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360
With finals two weeks away and projects and presentations and essays piling up like Mount Kilimanjaro in the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking, kind of understandably, about school.

Specifically, about those silly classes I thought totally didn’t apply to me and my writerly career goals until, um, they did.

So for fun, I thought I’d share with you some of those classes I totally thought were irrelevant and was totally wrong.

  • Those two HTML classes. I took an HTML class my senior year of high school just to fill an elective space, and my third year of college. By the latter class, I kind of knew it’d be good to pay attention, but in high school, I didn’t think learning html would matter to me at all.

    And boy, was I wrong.

    Between the blog here and tumblr, I open up HTML to fix formatting issues that are rage-inducing to try to fix in the WYSIWYG editor and save myself a ton of time. I know how to read it relatively well, and while I’m definitely not an expert, the little bit I do know has been completely invaluable through many years of blogging. The more you know. 

  • Those two dreaded public speaking classes. I took a public speaking class my senior year of high school and over the summer after my second year of college. I hated them both with a burning passion and I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I was when I walked out of there and thought thank god I’ll never have to do that again.

    Except, you know, I’ll have to do that plenty because authors it turns out don’t just write books. (And my first real life application will be over the summer at a conference in Chicago for those who are interested.) 

  • Every math class ever. This will never apply to my life, groaned high school Ava in every math class. And to be fair, most of that stuff really never will. But I mean, I guess math is helpful sometimes, like with budgeting writer stuff and figuring out statistics for a post and fine math, you win. 

  • All those video editing classes. Fun fact: before I switched my major to English, I went to school for three years for video-related fields. I have an Associates in Digital Media/Film, and I went to a fancy art school where I learned about Visual Effects. It was pretty cool.

    When I switched majors, though, I never really thought the film stuff I’d learned would come into play again. And then I started vlogging and I realized just how useful it was to know how to set up a camera and scene and edit stuff. Who knew?

  • Every design/color theory/art class ever. Unsurprisingly, another thing I did at Fancy Art School was take art classes! And I totally loved them and thought they were a blast, but again, I didn't really think much about how those classes would apply to my writing career.

    But they totally do apply! Because I've designed my own business cards, and this blog, and I'll probably be designing future promo materials and it's all very helpful to have those basics I learned in my head. 

What non-writing skills have you unexpectedly used in your writing career?

Twitter-sized bite:
What non-writing skills have you unexpectedly used in your writing career? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Get Traditionally Published

In which I give the super quick version of how to get traditionally published in under four minutes.



Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you get traditionally published? @Ava_Jae breaks down the process in under 4 minutes in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)
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