Thursday, October 30, 2014

After the Book Launch: Now What?

Hi, lovelies,

It's so great to be back to The Secret Life after our blog hiatus and my own self-imposed shut down. I can't wait to catch up with you guys!

While The Secret Life was re-launching, I was off launching my first book baby, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, into the world. It officially came out on October 8th, although not everything went as planned, and some people got their books early.

Now launch month is winding down, and I've been feeling a whole mix of anxiety and, well, flat-out fear that I hadn't expected. And since this blog is all about authenticity, I want to share with you what it's really like post-debut. For me, anyway.

In the past few weeks, I've felt pretty good. I think that's because launch kept me busy with a party, two panels with some other super awesome YA authors, a writing workshop, and signings. But that, too, is dwindling down and I'm finding myself standing here with…nothing.

I don't mean nothing, like, I have no other projects going on. I do. I have plenty of things in various stages of planning/drafting/revision to work on. What I don't have is this book to work on. I thought I'd be happy about that, relieved even. And sometimes I am, when I remind myself that this is a huge accomplishment, that I'm so lucky the book of my heart got published. But mostly, I feel a little empty.

I've been thinking/praying/dreaming about this book for three years. And up until this past summer, I had been researching/planning/drafting/revising/editing/somehow working on this book for almost as long. While I'm happy and proud, I'm also grieving a little because this book is no longer mine. It's yours.

Which is every aspiring author wants all along, right? To be read. To have a book belong to someone other than me. I just didn't expect how mixed up I'd feel about that.

What has been helping, and what always helps, is the Next Thing. For creative people, there is always a Next Thing because making stuff is in our DNA. We can't not make stuff. So I'm working on the Next Thing(s) and truly lettings SCARS do its own thing in the world. No checking ratings or reviews or sales. No googling it (or me). I've done the best I can with it, and now I have to trust that it will get into the hands of the people who need to read it, for whatever reason.

The more I think of it like that, the less consuming the emptiness feels. My job is to write the book. That's it. I've done my job with SCARS, and I'm doing it again (and again, and again) with the next books. Your job is to read them, and I'm forever grateful for that opportunity. Thank you for making this transition from writer to author, empty to full again, that much easier.


Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is out now. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
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Monday, October 27, 2014

Can we talk about stuff and things?

Hello!!! It's been so long! And I'm so happy we're back! If I could, I'd hug you all!

So, unlike the other ladies who've all been out and about and making awesomeness happen, I have been doing, um let's see, NOTHING! I mean, I've been writing and stuff, but mostly I've just been watching A LOT of TV. But that doesn't mean I haven't been honing my story-telling abilities.

Someone once said that I seem to have really studied my craft. But I never finished college, not even close. How did I respond to this awesome individual? I said, "Actually, I've just always watched a lot of movies and TV and stuff." Just like we're supposed to read a butt load if we want to be good writers, I think there's something to be said about studying all forms of story-telling, as well. So, please allow me to fangirl over, I mean, analyze my favorite thing at the moment.


It's no secret that I'm a character person. You could set an entire story inside an infinite, white void and if the characters had multiple layers, great dialogue, and maybe a romance thing happening, I'd be all over it. And that's the thing about TWD. Sure, there are zombies and they sometimes make stuff and things happen, but mostly, this is a character driven show. Everyone has goals. Everyone has a personality, opinions, and fears. And they're not afraid to introduce new characters. It's fun to watch those new characters go from distrusted and untested to beloved or hated.

TWD also has a reputation of having those jaw-dropping scenes. Those reveals that make your eyes pop out of your head and your hands go to your mouth in surprise. They don't pull any punches and because of that, when the good things happen like reunions or escapes, the watchers are tearing up and punching the air in triumph.

So what can we as writers learn from TWD? Make complex characters! Know who they are, what they want, and how far they're willing to go to get it. Know their history, their opinions, and their morals. Also, don't pull any punches! They say to think of the worst thing that can happen to your characters and do that. That's what this show totally does. Yes, I know these are things we always hear as writers but it doesn't hurt to be reminded every once in a while.

And don't feel guilty about a good ol' TV marathon. Just put on your writer hat and call it research!

I wish I had more to talk about, but I wasn't kidding when I said I haven't been up to much at all.

Please share your TV obsessions in the comments. I'm willing to bet we'll have some in common!

Born and raised in northern Louisiana, Leah Rae Miller still lives there on a windy hill with her husband and kids. She loves comic books, lava lamps, fuzzy socks, and Cherry Coke. She spends most of her days reading things she likes and writing things she hopes other people will like. Her YA novel, THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD, released Summer 2013 from Entangled Teen. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can also find her on Twitter @:
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Friday, October 24, 2014

Setting is a Ghost

So I've been trying to think up things that fall under the categories of "secrets," "Halloween-y," and "cool, hopefully useful writing knowledge" but most of what I've got is: well, I traveled a bit this summer. 

You got me-- it's not really a secret and not useful writing advice. It's not even Halloween-themed.

But I can talk about setting. 

BALCONIES maaaan I love balconies
Over the summer, I went to New Orleans and it was kickass. I had a scene in my last manuscript set there, and I really wanted to capture as many details of the city as I could. I'd never been that far south before, and while I'd done a ridiculous amount of research on the city and the culture before visiting, it was still really interesting seeing what stood out about a place versus what I was writing about it. 

Setting, in many ways, is like a ghost. It follows you through the pages of a book. It never contacts you explicitly or anything, but you see traces of its presence as the characters go about their business-- balconies housing dangling plants, strings of lights, and deck chairs, and the rank oyster smell loitering outside some of the bars and restaurants. 

As a reader, I love seeing the ways that a book's setting influences the plot. As a writer, I subscribe to the idea that the setting has to be integral enough to the book that the story can't be set any other place and still be the same thing

I visited the French Quarter during nights when it wasn't even Mardi Gras (aka the middle of May) and the streets still get closed to through traffic during the late evenings because the foot traffic is just that intense. It's crazy! And it's those weirdo, super-specific details that draw people in and make your setting a compelling one. 

Characters that are from certain regions of the country (or from different countries!) may also behave differently, or even if they don't adhere to their native region/homeland's mores, they'll still see a certain set of behaviors as normal/acceptable and others as rude. 

And it all comes from setting. 

fun fact: tiny birds will perch on your table here and try to eat your grits (not cool, bro)
The setting can also collude with you in making characters' lives harder. Protag need to go somewhere immediately? Have the cab get snarled up in traffic around a tourist trap or monument. Two characters gearing up for a fight? Find either the worst or most interesting place for them to do it-- what cool environment can they use in battle? 

In last ms, I had one character chase after another. Simple enough, yeah? Then I set that scene on Bourbon Street at night, and suddenly, tons of conflict: one character is breaking curfew, he can't see where he's going because there's too many people, his own personal phobias start kicking in, he gets cheap drinks spilled on him-- it kickstarts a whole mess of details and tensions. 

And you don't have to campy with it-- while I believe that details do help ground us in a setting, most of what a setting is is the feeling it invokes in us. A ghost's goal is to make you feel something. 

another fun fact: over half the pictures I took are balconies 
The specifics matter less. It's less important that there are foreboding knocks on the bedroom wall and more that the person sleeping there feels threatened (though obvs to do this, you'll want to include some specifics to show it). Ultimately, it's up to you to choose the details that stand out to you as touchstones of a location-- short, sweet punches that capture the essence of wherever your story is set. 

Especially in contemp, I think it's important to let the setting shine. Places, like ghosts, have their own histories. Nowhere stays the same forever.  

Same deal for fantasy--setting can add a unique spin and flavor to old tropes. What about your particular fishing village makes it an interesting/terrible place for the protag to grow up in? I adore Jodi Meadows' INCARNATE books for a ton of reasons, but one is that her world and setting are so interesting and constantly affect the characters. 

My current WIP is an urban fantasy and I'm researching geology, mine disasters, and all sorts of esoteric facts and beliefs about rocks for its monsters and magic system. I want the history of coal mining and those specific details associated with it to haunt my readers-- not beat them over the head with HEY COAL HELLO but to give that story a specific flavor.

And yeah, I had an awesome time in New Orleans and I promise I was not thinking about setting 100% of the time, though I did occasionally split off to wander Bourbon Street or prowl the WWII Museum. Moment of drooling for the memory of the beignets we consumed.

~*they were so good*~

And I got to meet Leah!! (You guys, she is every bit as amaze in real life as she is online.)

Leah's phone is also nine zillion times cooler than mine
So what do you guys think? What are some of the best examples of setting that you've come across in books? I also really adore ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and (duh of course) THE SCORPIO RACES and THE RAVEN BOYS for this as well. Share your favorites and we'll tweet recs through the day! :)

Alex Yuschik writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

14 Things I Learned at My First SCBWI Conference

View from Kathy and Corrie's hotel room at SCBWI

About two months ago, I attended SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) in LA. Although I knew of people and authors I'd conversed with on the internet who were going, I was essentially going by myself. I didn't have any expectations other than wanting to learn as much as possible. 

I'm not new at doing things on my own, but I was nervous as I tried to figure out parking and where exactly this thing was being held at (the hotel was ginormous). But once I was into the swing of things, it turned out to be a lot of fun. 

If you're considering attending a SCBWI event in the future and want to know what to expect, here's a quick list of everything I learned!

Dani (met her at the newbie orientation),
Jenny, and me at the Italy dinner.
1. If you're new, go to the newbie orientation. Everyone there is also new and probably has no idea what's going on or what to expect, so you're not alone. I also ended up meeting a friend after the orientation. 

2. Look at the workshop schedule beforehand so you have an idea of where you'll want to go. Chances are you'll want to be in two places at once because everything will sound so good.

3. Bring a pen and notebook. Lots of good information being shared.

4. Talk to people! Introduce yourself, especially if you've heard of their book/enjoyed the workshop they presented/have seen people on social media and want to say hi in person. Chances are you'll become good friends! :)

Stephen Chbosky and Jay Asher workshop
5. Don't be rude. I thought this was common sense, but there were some grown adults who raised their hands only to be rude instead of seeking clarification from workshop presenters. And if you're walking out (in a non-emergency/non-bathroom break way) don't be dramatic about it. 

6. People you meet will ask if you're a writer/illustrator, what genre, what you're working on, etc. It's best to have at least a two sentence pitch memorized in your head. Or, what I really preferred from pre-pub'd or pub'd authors, was a small hand out that had the book's info on it. 

7. Layer up. SCBWI took place a few flights of stairs under the hotel, and it was cold. Bring a sweater. 

Sunset evening post-conference 
8. I live about 30 minutes away from the hotel, so I didn't think twice about staying there. But man, SCBWI days are LONG. 6 AM (from when I woke up to get ready) to around 11-midnight (depending on if I went out with friends). If I could go back and split a hotel with friends, I totally would. I was a zombie on the drive home. 

9. If you're trying to save money, bring your lunch and snacks. There is a mall outside of the hotel as well as places to eat in the hotel, but it can add up after a few days. 

10. Take advantage and go to as many workshops, keynotes, and presentations as you can. You paid a lot of money to be here, and I promise you'll gain something from each one. 

I love these ladies dearly! 
11. The free coffee doesn't last any longer than the morning, so caffeine up while you can. (You'll want to)

12. Keep your handouts. I loved those who provided them in workshops. I didn't retain every single thing because my brain was completely overwhelmed, but it gave me something to look over afterwards. 

13. Speaking over being overwhelmed, chances are you will be. From listening to dozens of presenters, mingling with friends, and stuffing your brain with all this good information--I could barely string a coherent sentence together at the end of the day. But it was all well worth it. 

14. To end this on a positive note, Kathy Kottaras and Jenny Moyer both sold their YA debuts shortly after this conference! Dreams do come true :) 

Farrah Penn enjoys staying up way too late and making up for it in large quantities of coffee. On top of her love for reading books with memorable characters, she also enjoys internet memes, yoga, and her adorably bratty dog. When she’s not rushing to complete marketing projects at work, she’s writing and daydreaming about traveling the world. Farrah writes YA and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.

You can also find her on Twitter @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her blog at:
Thursday, October 16, 2014

That One Time Stefanie Made a Fool of Herself in Front of a Bunch of People but Still Lived to Tell the Tale and It Was All Okay in the End

Hi Secret Lifers! *waves furiously* It's been waaaay too long! How are you? You look great. I love what you've done with your hair.

Right, so, in case you missed it--I'm a published author now!


Pretty wild stuff. I'm still waiting for someone to jump out and yell "just kidding!" and then for all of my books and all traces of their existence to poof because seriously is this real life? And I was going to ramble on about that feeling for this first post back, but then something else happened this week that I wanted to talk about instead. And what was that, you ask? Well, it was the absolute most terrifying part (for me) about this whole published-author thing: my first public presentation (dun dun dun).

Hey look! It's me!

As part of teen read week, I partnered with my local library and ran a creative writing workshop and presentation about publishing for area teens a few days ago. And it was awesome! And, as I said before, it was terrifying!

When one of the librarians reached out to me a month or so ago about doing this, my introverted, extreme social anxiety knee-jerk reaction was basically this:

But then I remembered how, earlier this year, I made a promise to myself that I would do a better job of getting out of my comfort zone and actually interacting with people. And, to cut myself some slack for once, I will say that I've done a pretty good job of sticking to that goal. This year I've gone on a writing retreat (with people I'd never met before!), I've stopped shying away from random conversations in coffeeshops, I met my agent in person, and I've finally learned how to answer the question "what do you do for a living" by telling people I write and then going on to explain my career and aspirations in an intelligent way instead of melting into a pile of mumbles and awkwardly shuffling away. It's been a year of big steps, for sure. And so after contemplating it for a bit, I wrote back to the librarian and told her yes! I'd love to!

The love part was a total lie but that's okay. I'm a writer. I sort of make stuff up for a living.

So the day of the presentation arrives. My husband and I are on the way to the library, and to give you an idea of how crazy my social anxiety can be, I actually said to my husband: what I wouldn't give to go into labor right now so I would have a valid excuse to not have to go to this thing.

Yes, that's right: I'm less freaked out by birthing another human being than I am by the thought of giving a presentation to a few teenagers.

I am a ridiculous person and I know it.

Anyway, my daughter remains snug in my stomach as I type this, so you can probably guess that I did, in fact, have to go through with what I'd committed to do. And, *spoiler alert*, I survived it. Not the way I'd planned on, though; see, I had this really detailed outline all typed up, and I was going to follow it to make my presentation easier. To make it fantastically detailed and informing and...yeah, somehow I still had really high expectations for this thing, even though I was almost certain I was going to bomb.

And I sort of did bomb. I guess because the best laid schemes of mice and men are often going awry and all that. I ended up abandoning my outline within five minutes of starting, because I am so not a public speaker, and I could tell my audience was very painfully aware of that, and they were checking out. So I ended up improvising. No more plans, no more expectations about how it would go--I just turned the session into an impromptu Q and A and then we all just sat around and talked. About writing, about publishing, about anything they wanted to know.

And they asked awesome questions, and answering those questions would lead to more questions, and at some point I even stopped watching the clock and silently begging the minutes of my hour-long session slot to go by faster. I actually relaxed and had fun. The teens did too, I think; even after we broke the formal session and everyone was mingling and eating desserts the library provided, they were still coming up to me and asking questions. It was actually really cool. And in the end, I think I would have been much more disappointed in myself if I hadn't shown up at all, than I was about getting off to a rocky start.

So I guess the secret I want to share with this post is this: you don't have to be an awesome public speaker, or even an extrovert, to get out there and personally connect with readers. And it's okay to still be scared of things, even once you reach that "officially published author" stage. Even if you totally bomb, it's still going to be okay in the end. Promise. :)

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut YA sci-fi novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is available NOW from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @:

Thursday, October 9, 2014


(Psst, our Instagram event is still going on here!)

Congratulations to Andee on becoming an ~*officially published author*~ as of yesterday! Kirkus calls OF SCARS AND STARDUST "an intriguing puzzle of a book" and it is for reals all kind of amaze, you guys. Curious? Read on!

After her little sister mysteriously vanishes, seventeen-year-old Claire Graham has a choice to make: stay snug in her little corner of Manhattan with her dropout boyfriend, or go back to Ohio to face the hometown tragedy she's been dying to leave behind. 

But the memories of that night still haunt her in the city, and as hard as she tries to forget what her psychiatrist calls her "delusions," Claire can't seem to escape the wolf's eyes or the blood-speckled snow. Delusion or reality, Claire knows she has to hold true to the most important promise she's ever made: to keep Ella safe. She must return to her sleepy hometown in order to find Ella and keep her hallucinations at bay before they strike again. But time is quickly running out, and as Ella's trail grows fainter, the wolves are becoming startlingly real.

Now Claire must deal with her attraction to Grant, the soft-spoken boy from her past that may hold the secret to solving her sister's disappearance, while following the clues that Ella left for only her to find. Through a series of cryptic diary entries, Claire must unlock the keys to Ella's past—and her own—in order to stop another tragedy in the making, while realizing that not all things that are lost are meant to be found.


Remember back when SCARS first debuted on our blog in Andrea's query letter? Or when we all freaked the crap out when it sold? It's so amazing to be a part of this group and not only get to watch our friends be kickass with their careers, but also to share all this good stuff with you guys, too.

Congrats, Andee! <3 *drowns everything in pug-shaped balloons with occasional narwhals*
Monday, October 6, 2014

Secret Life: Resurrection and Contest! :D

Hey Secret Lifers! How have you guys been? It's been a long summer and we're super pleased to be coming back to you in the fall!

Some quick stuff before we get into the meat of this: we're now going to be posting on Mondays and Thursdays! You'll get all our secret writer happenings, what we're reading, tips and tricks from the publishing world, or just cool literary stuff we think you'll enjoy coming at you twice weekly. We've also got a super cool Instagram contest waiting for you at the end of this post! :D

So what've we been up to this summer (and kind of early fall)? Kick back, put on some music, and let us bring you up to speed on our shenanigans and oh man, SO MANY BOOKS:

Farrah has been enjoying her summer while working on a contemporary YA. She was able to attend her first SCBWI in LA and is excited to share more fun writing secrets with you. Her favorite reads this summer were Silver Linings Playbook, 13 Reasons Why, and Isla and the Happily Ever After.

Stefanie's spent most of the hiatus trying to make herself believe that she actually had a real live book hitting shelves this year (FALLS THE SHADOW is available now!), but she still doesn't quite believe it. She's also been hard at work preparing new manuscripts for submission, and-- oh yeah! Also with growing a tiny human life :) Baby Gaither will be making her debut in early December, and both Stef and her husband are thrilled (and terrified) to welcome their new baby overlord.

Leah went to the Romantic Times conference this summer in New Orleans, where she met up with fellow Secret Lifer Alex! She also signed with awesome agent Jenny Bent earlier this year. Leah's next book is ROMANCING THE NERD, the companion novel to THE SUMMER I BECAME A NERD, coming at you soon from Entangled Teen!

Andrea's debut OF SCARS AND STARDUST hits shelves soon (this week!) and we're super pumped to get to celebrate her release week with her. She's hard at work on her next manuscript (ladypower! magical realism! how awesome does this sound??), and if you're in Michigan you be might able to catch her at a signing.

Alex spent her summer studying to pass her PhD preliminary exams, which sounds lame but worked out pretty okay because now she's an official PhD candidate at her grad school! She's in queryland, working as a freelance editor, wrote a manuscript about magical girls in milky pen, and is currently writing the book of her heart (which is surprisingly even more terrifying than 60k in gel pen).

Heather's debut THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME released earlier this August! Sadly, Heather won't be returning to the Secret Life this fall, but we're wishing her all the best as GATEWAY and its sequel take off!

Secret Life Instagram Contest! 

To celebrate our comeback and how much we appreciate you guys for sticking with us, we're having an instagram contest. :D The Secret Life has always been about sharing our writing journeys with you guys and we're thrilled to have the chance to keep doing that. It's also been a blast getting to connect with each other and cheer as our friends' books are published.

So, for this contest, take a picture of any Secret Lifer's (past or present) book in the wild! Bonus points if it's more than one of our books chilling together! (Because book friends are best friends.) Follow and tag our instagram account @secretlifeofwriters in your photo and use #secretlifeofwriters to show off your pics!

Prizes will include a copy of each of our fall 2014 releases (GATEWAY, FALLS THE SHADOW, and OF SCARS AND STARDUST) or a full manuscript critique from Alex-- winner's choice!

The contest ends Oct. 23, so get out there!

And thanks again for sticking with us. We're excited to be back and we can't wait to share more of our secrets with you. <3