Book Review: CAM GIRL by Elliot Finley Wake (w/a Leah Reader)

Photo credit: Goodreads
So while anything Elliot Wake (Raeder) writes is pretty much on my insta-buy list (and has been since both Unteachable and Black Iris blew me away), when I heard Cam Girl features a nonbinary major character, needless to say I knew I had to buy it ASAP.

So I did. And I'm so glad I did because this book felt really important to me. 

Before I go on, here's the Goodreads summary, as per usual: 

"Vada Bergen is broke, the black sheep of her family, and moving a thousand miles away from home for grad school, but she’s got the two things she loves most: her art and her best friend—and sometimes more—Ellis Carraway. Ellis and Vada have a friendship so consuming it’s hard to tell where one girl ends and the other begins. It’s intense. It’s a little codependent. And nothing can tear them apart. 
Until an accident on an icy winter road changes everything. 
Vada is left deeply scarred, both emotionally and physically. Her once-promising art career is cut short. And Ellis pulls away, unwilling to talk about that night. Everything Vada loved is gone. 
She’s got nothing left to lose. 
So when she meets some smooth-talking entrepreneurs who offer to set her up as a cam girl, she can’t say no. All Vada has to do is spend a couple hours each night stripping on webcam, and the “tips” come pouring in. 
It’s just a kinky escape from reality until a client gets serious. “Blue” is mysterious, alluring, and more interested in Vada’s life than her body. Online, they chat intimately. Blue helps her heal. And he pays well, but he wants her all to himself. No more cam shows. It’s an easy decision: she’s starting to fall for him. But the steamier it gets, the more she craves the real man behind the keyboard. So Vada pops the question: 
Can we meet IRL? 
Blue agrees, on one condition. A condition that brings back a ghost from her past. Now Vada must confront the devastating secrets she's been running from—those of others, and those she's been keeping from herself..."

There are three things you can pretty much expect whenever you pick up one of Raeder's books:
  1. Incredibly gorgeous writing.
  2. Very sexy scenes throughout. 
  3. TWISTS LIKE WHOA.
Cam Girl indisputably delivered on all three points. 

While I found some of the pre-Blue cam girling stuff a bit much for me at the beginning (not a flaw of the book, just a personal taste thing), I'm so glad I kept reading because the story and characters more than made up for it. 

Vada, an artist, deals with chronic pain specifically in her hand and arm from the accident at the beginning of the book. I've read a few books now with characters who struggle with chronic pain, but this depiction resonated the most with me—and the further connection of not being able to do art because of the pain, something I deal with IRL, is something that echoed unexpectedly deeply with me. 

Then there's Vada's relationship with her best friend, Ellis, which I absolutely loved reading. Vada and Ellis have a blurry best friends/more than best friends relationship, but though Vada has accepted that she's bisexual, the thought of having a serious long-term relationship with a girl freaks her out, which is an experience with bisexuality that I haven't seen deeply explored in a book before. It worked really well here in terms of tension and adding a complicated dynamic to Vada and Ellis's relationship, and it felt like a real experience that was important to tackle. 

All of these character elements and more weave incredibly well into the plot, which is messy and complicated and finished off with an ending I totally didn't see coming. I loved the frank discussions about gender and sexuality, and seeing a major nonbinary character figure themselves out and explore their identity is something I really appreciated. 

I loved reading this, will probably re-read in the future, and now I'm even more excited for Raeder's next book, Bad Boy, which features a trans guy major character. If you haven't picked up Raeder's books before and you like (very) steamy, complicated, and dark New Adult books, I honestly can't recommend his writing more.

Diversity note: Vada, the protagonist, is Latina, bisexual, and deals with chronic pain, and another major character is nonbinary (genderfluid). The author is openly bisexual and nonbinary, so it's #ownvoices, too.

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 5 stars to CAM GIRL by Elliot Wake (w/a Leah Raeder). Is this twisty, diverse NA on your TBR? (Click to tweet)

Looking for a NA w/ major nonbinary, disabled, & bi characters? Check out CAM GIRL by Elliot Wake (w/a Leah Raeder). (Click to tweet)

Discussion: What Do You Want to See More of in YA?

Photo credit: studieforbund_vofo on Flickr
I've been thinking lately about what I'd like to see more of in YA, which is a thing I tend to do whenever I'm in the figuring out what to write next stage, because oftentimes, asking this question helps me story ideas I really want to write. But more than that, I like discussing this in general, because it often brings up book recommendations for books I'm really looking for.

So! Here we go. Some elements I'd really love to see more of in YA include...

  • More nonbinary major characters. So far, I've read three novels with nonbinary major characters—two of which weren't YA (*waves to Cam Girl and George*), and one of which was released yesterday *waves to Symptoms of Being Human.* I've got some others on my list that I definitely want to read, including some new releases this year, but this is something I'd really love to see more of in general. 

  • Chronic illness representation. I wrote an entire post on the lack of chronic illness representation in YA, so I won't go into super detail about this, but things haven't gotten any better since I wrote it, so this is still I think I really want to see. Specifically, new releases and double bonus if the representation isn't epilepsy or diabetes, as that seems to be, like, 70% of the representation out there.

  • More LBTQIAP major characters. There are a lot of great books out there that cover the G, and I will still very happily read more, but I'd very much love to see more of the other letters in the spectrum covered. This is something I have seen a bit of an improvement with recently, but there's definitely room for more. Bring on the LBTQIAP major characters! 

  • Marginalized characters in stories not *about* their marginalization. Contemporary books are awesome, and issue books are absolutely 100% important, so I don't want to ignore that. But up until recently, the majority of books featuring marginalized characters were about the marginalization, and while this is also a thing that is slowly changing, I'd definitely love to see more books with marginalized characters having adventures totally unrelated to their marginalization. Like Six of Crows, and The Girl from Everywhere, and The Abyss Surrounds Us. More, please!

  • More disabled characters kicking ass. This is related to the last point, but I specifically want to hone in on disabled characters because this is something that is still extra rare to find. Six of Crows and Far From You did a really fantastic job with this, and I absolutely want to see more of it. 

So those are five things I'd really love to see more of in YA—now I want to hear from you. What do you want to see more of in YA?

Twitter-sized bite:
What do you want to see more of in YA? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Writing & Income

There are a ton of misconceptions regarding a writer's income, and not a whole lot of information to help manage expectations. So today I'm covering general (realistic) income expectations for writers who want to be traditionally published.



RELATED LINKS: 


Twitter-sized bites:
Curious about how authors get paid? @Ava_Jae vlogs about income expectations w/ traditional publishing. (Click to tweet
Not sure how a writer's income works? @Ava_Jae breaks it down in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)

On Bending (and Breaking) Writing Rules

Photo credit: Hernán Piñera on Flickr
So given that I've been running this writing blog for close to five years now (whoa), I've written rather frequently about various writing rules. Where to start a story, for example, or things you should/shouldn't do while first drafting, or when and how to tackle revisions. I try to remember to mention from time to time that writing strategies and tips only work when they work for you, and that writing rules aren't completely set in stone, and that writing is subjective, etc., etc., etc.

So when I saw this tweet from Pantomime author Laura Lam, recently, it occurred to me I hadn't really talked about rule breaking in regards to writing, recently.
So fun fact, Beyond the Red also starts with one of my MCs waking up. Granted, he wakes with a knife to his throat and a phaser pressed to his head, so it's not a typical this is my morning routine wake up, but it starts with waking up nevertheless. I didn't make that decision because I didn't know about the rule of not starting a book with a protagonist waking up—I knew about it and went ahead with this opening anyway because that is, legitimately, where the story starts, and it's just before the inciting incident.

In fact, I don't think I would've been able to pull off that opening if I hadn't known the don't start with waking up rule and why it was a rule to begin with. Because if I hadn't understood why it was in place, I wouldn't have known how to work around it.

And that, right there, is the key. Bending or breaking writing rules successfully depends entirely on understanding the rule and why it's there to begin with.

This is why, even if you plan to break or bend the writing rules, it's still important to learn about them. This is why throwing the rules out entirely without understanding them first rarely works.

All writing rules are in place for a reason and your job, as a writer, is to learn and think about them seriously before deciding whether or not you'll apply them to your own work.

Have you ever (purposefully) bent or broken any writing rules?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Breaking writing rules successfully depends entirely on understanding the rule and why it's there." (Click to tweet)  
Is it okay to bend or break writing rules? @Ava_Jae weighs in with her thoughts. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Book Review: THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig

Photo credit: Goodreads
So when I initially first heard about The Girl from Everywhere back last year, I was insta-sold at "time-traveling pirates." Combine this with the beautiful cover and the fact that Heidi Heilig is a ridiculously wonderful person, and I knew I needed to read it ASAP.

Lucky for me, I temporarily got my hands on an ARC. And it was everything I'd hoped for and more.

Before I go on, here's the Goodreads summary:
"It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer. 
Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times - although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix's father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix's existence rather dangerously in question... 
Nix has grown used to her father's obsession, but only because she's convinced it can't work. But then a map falls into her father's lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it's that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever."
So 2016 seems to be a relatively big year for pirates in YA, which is lucky for us all because pirates are awesome, but this is the first time I've seen a story about pirates who travel through time and I loved it. 

Nix is Hapa (like the author) which was really cool to see, and she was also a really fun, spunky, and still sensitive protagonist. I connected with her quickly and really empathized with the way she tried to handle her complicated, messy situation. The dynamic she had with her dad, a drug addict obsessed with a single mission that could lead to Nix's not existing anymore, was real, raw and layered. 

Add Kash to the mix—the Persian, thief love interest—who very quickly jumped onto my favorite book boyfriends list, and an adorable dragon named Swag along with other quirky and memorable characters, and the cast alone made The Girl from Everywhere incredibly enjoyable. 

Then we get to the plot. While the timeline was a bit confusing at times (this is the kind of book, I suspect, you'll want to read more than once), the complicated magic and lush world building made it all worth it. I really enjoyed how the crew's travels wasn't limited to to just real places—they're able to travel to made up worlds as long as they have a map—and yet the rules to the magic system involved really made the whole system feel authentic and unique. As a bonus, the ARC I read had soooo many spots for maps to come—half of my excitement for the hard copy alone is just to see the gorgeous maps in all their splendor. 

All in all, The Girl from Everywhere hit it out of the park. If time travel stories and pirates are your thing, I really couldn't recommend this one enough. And even better—you won't have to wait very long because it releases February 16th.

Diversity note: The protagonist, Nix, is Hapa, one of the love interests, Kash, is Persian, one of the crew members is lesbian, another crew member is Chinese, and another is Sudanese. 

What have you been reading lately?

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae gives 5 stars to THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig. Is this time traveling pirate YA on your TBR? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for a clever pirate YA w/ a diverse cast? Check out THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig. (Click to tweet)

Yep, You're Still a Writer

Photo credit: Www.CourtneyCarmody.com/ on Flickr
So back in September 2011, I wrote a post in which I tackled the question "can you lose the ability to write?" It was a blog I was relieved to be able to post, both because it'd been a question I was struggling with for some time and because I finally had an answer.

While I occasionally get comments on old posts from time to time, that post seems to be the one that most consistently continues to get comments. And more times than not, those comments are from people who have never read my blog before—people scouring Google to answer that very same question. 

Because honestly? Writing is really friggin' hard. And when you combine that with the all-too-common syndrome prevalent amongst creative types, Imposter Syndrome, and you combine that with our tendency to compare ourselves to others, it leads to a ton of self-doubt. Especially when slogging through a stage where the writing isn't coming so easily. 

So I want to clarify some things. 

If you love writing but...

  • only just started writing
  • have never published a book
  • have never finished a manuscript 
  • have never queried
  • have only received rejections when querying
  • have come close, but still don't have an agent
  • have had to shelve one, three, ten, twenty manuscripts
  • don't have a writing-related degree
  • have never taken a Creative Writing class
  • don't write every day
  • haven't written a new project in [insert amount of time]
  • [insert qualifier here]

...you're still a writer. And nothing and no one can take that away from you. 

I know how tempting it is to think that we've lost "it" during hard writing stages. I know all too well how it feels logical to think I can't come up with a halfway decent story idea—how the hell can I still call myself a writer?

I know, because I've been there. I know, because some days I'm still there. 

Short of a traumatic brain injury, you can't lose the ability to write. You can't lose the right to call yourself a writer if writing is what you love.

We all go through phases where writing stuff comes easily, then not at all. We all go through cycles of doubt where we feel like a fraud every time the word "writer" passes our lips. But I promise you writing and being a writer are not things that just disappear. It's not something you can lose. It's a part of you, even when you're not writing, even when you haven't written far longer than you feel comfortable admitting, even to yourself. 

You are, and always will be, a writer. 

Have you dealt with this kind of self-doubt? What has helped you get through it? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Can you lose the "it" that makes you a writer? @Ava_Jae says no, and this is why. #writetip (Click to tweet
Afraid you aren't a writer because you haven't written in a while? @Ava_Jae explains why that doesn't matter. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 5 (More) Ways to Become a Better Writer

When you're a writer, there are always ways to continue to push yourself and further your skills. Today I'm breaking down five more ways to keep your writing skills sharp.



RELATED LINKS: 

What tips would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Want to become a better writer? @Ava_Jae vlogs five (more) tips for improving your writing skills. (Click to tweet)
"The best way to write something that rings true is to live sensitively." #writetip (Click to tweet)
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