Beyond the Buzz: Guest Post by Mackenzi Lee


Today I have more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’m asking YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Read on to see which title blogger and children’s literature MFA student Mackenzi Lee wants to share… 

Guest post by Mackenzi Lee

MillionsI don’t know if you can count a book that has been made into a movie1 as being “Beyond the Buzz,” but Millions has been one of my standard recommendations for years, and I’ve never encountered anyone who has met my enthusiastic adoration with a similarly vigorous “I love that book!”

So here we go. One more step in my life-long quest to make the world appreciate the genius of this quiet little novel.

Millions is the story of two brothers—worldly, real-estate-savvy Anthony and pious Damian, the narrator, who, at ten years old, strives to emulate the lives of the saints. In the wake of their mother’s death, the two boys and their dad are trying to start over—new city, new school, new house. And one September morning, in the backyard of that new house, the two boys find a bag containing one million pounds2.

With only seventeen days before Europe switches to the Euro and the money becomes worthless, the brothers can’t agree on how to spend it. Anthony wants to buy what our narrator deems “worldly goods,” while Damian wants to give the money to the poor in order to become more saint-like himself. However, the boys quickly discover that there are dangerous men looking for the lost money, and they will stop at nothing to get it back—even if it means taking out Anthony and Damian in the process.

There is no way for me to make a concise list detailing what I love about this book. I love Britishness of it. I love Damian’s voice. I love that I now have a vast and almost useless3 knowledge of the lives of saints because of this book. I love that I laugh every time I read it4. I love that I cry every time I read it. But mostly, I love that what is on the surface a heist story about two kids irresponsibly spending a lot of money, is really about how people move on in the wake of a tragedy. I love that this is not a novel about grief, and yet the theme is subtly and deftly implanted on every page of the novel.

I have read this book dozens of times—growing up, it was my family’s go-to audio book for road trips5. I have since reread it on my own, and even done papers for school on it. I am amazed by how each time I read this book, I feel like I get another layer of it. What I at first thought was simply a feel-good novel has become a feel-everything novel. This is a book for anyone who has ever lost someone they loved. For anyone who has ever wanted to be better. For anyone who has ever been bullied because they were being themselves. For anyone who has been misunderstood. For anyone who has lived without excellence and known they could be better.

But mostly, Millions is for anyone who loves that magical, transportive power of magnificent books. It is a quirky and delightful novel that I will keep reading again and again. Before I die, I will probably read it a million times6.

  1. Albeit only a mildly successfully one.
  2. As in British money, because that is where this book takes place. Not as in “one million pounds of…” and then I forgot to include the last word, leaving you in suspense.
  3. Though I did once dominate the “saints” category of play-at-home Jeopardy. So not totally useless, I guess.
  4. In what other novel do you find a fourth-grade boy who receives visitations from chain-smoking saints?
  5. Side note—the audio book is extraordinary. Highly recommended.
  6. Ahhhh!! Bad pun, bad pun! Sorry guys, last lines are hard!

Have you read and loved this book? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 

Mackenzi Lee author photoMackenzi Lee is currently earning an MFA in writing for children and young adults at Simmons College, meaning that someday she hopes to pay back her student loans on the lucrative salary of a young adult author. She loves sweater weather, diet coke, and Shakespeare. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She blogs at, sometimes about books, sometimes about Boston, and sometimes about Benedict Cumberbatch.


Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
  • YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum 
  • Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
  • Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends UltravioletA Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
  • Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin
  • Librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose recommends New York City novels Kiki Strike, Better Nate Than Ever, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, The Night Tourist, Suite Scarlett, and Undertown

Beyond the Buzz: New York City Reading Recommendations from Laura Lutz


Welcome to the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series, where I’m asking YA & kidlit librarians as well as book bloggers to share books they think deserve more attention. Since today happens to be Valentine’s Day, and I love New York City like wow, I thought this would be the perfect day to feature this particular guest post. Read on to see which titles librarian and children’s literature professor Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose wants to share with us about the city she loves… 

Guest post by Laura Lutz

There are a number of subjects about which I’m passionate: children’s and YA books (naturally), food, wine, travel, and New York. When I examined my short list of books to talk about here, I found that, unintentionally, many of the books featured New York as a setting. So I’m going with that as the theme that ties my guest blog post together.

It got me thinking: what it is about New York that catches the imagination of so many? I once read—I believe Adam Gopnik said it—that there’s something about New York that kids and teens tap into: they get it. As a native Californian, I never thought in a million years I would ever live here but, serendipitously, I ended up moving here when I turned 30…and I’ve never looked back. Sure, there’s the hustle and bustle, the cabs, the trains, the excitement and action. But there’s also these lovely quiet places: the riverfront, the little alleys, the hidden cemeteries, the variety of parks. There’s the promise of endless possibility, of magic, of fear, of adventure. Like any large city, New York is an ideal (just like Paris, or London) and an icon.

So let’s talk about some of my favorite NYC-based stories:

Better Nate Than EverFresh on the scene—it went on sale in February—is Better Nate Than Ever (S&S, 2013) by Tim Federle. Eighth grader Nate dreams about nothing else but escaping Jankburg, Pennsylvania, and getting to NYC for the auditions of the upcoming Broadway play, E.T.: The Musical. He gets to New York, of course, where his eyes are opened to a whole new world: everything moves so fast! Everyone has an iPhone! Everyone stays up all night! Everyone has a shrink! And two men can really openly kiss in NYC?! I so hope the world will fall in love with Nate as much as I have!

Night TouristNext up is The Night Tourist (Hyperion, 2007) by Katherine Marsh. I’m not sure why this series didn’t take off as much as Percy Jackson, but it’s a shame because it’s every bit as good, if not better. Ninth grader Jack meets a mysterious girl, Euri, in Grand Central Terminal…and, with her, discovers an underworld below New York. Jack thinks this could be his chance to see his deceased mother again but, as he learns more about Euri and the underworld, he realizes that he may be there for another purpose. This is so suspenseful, so well thought-out, so action-packed. Marsh followed it up (just as well) with The Twilight Prisoner (Hyperion, 2009).

(US edition)
(US edition)
(UK edition)
(UK edition)

It’s questionable whether this is considered an overlooked book because, I daresay, most school and library folks are familiar with it. But Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (Bloomsbury, 2006) by Kirsten Miller is a particular favorite. Bad-ass teen girls who’ve been booted from Girl Scouts for being too edgy and smart? Yeah, that’s my kind of story. The third book in the series was published in January 2013. (Note on the cover: I think the British version is so much cooler than the American—what do you think?)

Suite ScarlettAnother personal favorite of mine is Suite Scarlett (Scholastic, 2008) about a smart, spunky girl, Scarlett, whose family owns the Hopewell, an art deco hotel in Manhattan. No one does realistic fiction quite like Maureen Johnson; her teenager voice is dead-on and she’s wickedly funny. The publisher’s own description does this book justice: “Before the summer is over, Scarlett will have to survive a whirlwind of thievery and romantic missteps. But in the city where anything can happen, she just might be able to pull it off.” Oh, New York, New York. The sequel is Scarlett Fever (Scholastic, 2010).

Nick and NorahBefore I sign off, there are two more books I can’t resist mentioning. The first isn’t in danger of being buzz-free: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Random House, 2006) by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. It’s the ultimate Teens Run Wild for One Night in Manhattan and the World Is Their Oyster tale. It’s witty, provocative, and touching—if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?!

UndertownThe second book is upcoming and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet: Undertown (Amulet, March 2013) by Melvin Jules Bukiet. Two middle schoolers end up on a boat, falling through a hole in a construction site in Manhattan. Of course, they explore the underworld of New York in a rollicking adventure. Looking forward to reading this one (and isn’t that cover fantastic?).

Thanks, everyone, for letting me share my fave NYC books for kids and teens! Feel free to share your favorites in the comments—there were too many for me to mention them all!

Have you read and loved these books? Chime in and tell us what you think in the comments! 

Laura Lutz author photoLaura Lutz is a librarian, children’s literature professor, and consultant. She’s also a home cook, wine enthusiast, mix-CD-maker, and living room dancer. She blogs about food at Pinot and Prose, tweets at foodandbooks, and spends way too much time on Pinterest and Instagram.



Want more in the Beyond the (Latest) Buzz series?

Here are the posts in the series so far:

  • YA/middle-school librarian Jennifer Hubert Swan recommends Better Than Running at Night and Every Time a Rainbow Dies
  • YA librarian Kelly Jensen recommends a whole host of books including Sorta Like a Rock StarFirst Day on EarthFrost, and more
  • Youth services librarian Liz Burns recommends The President’s Daughter, Flora Segunda, and All Unquiet Things
  • YA librarian Angie Manfredi recommends Rats Saw God
  • YA librarian Abby Johnson recommends the top five books she read this year: The Berlin Boxing Club; Blizzard of Glass; Dogtag Summer; Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have; and A Girl Named Faithful Plum 
  • Book blogger Kari Olson from A Good Addiction recommends books including Freefall, I Swear, Like Mandarin, and more
  • Book blogger Wendy Darling from The Midnight Garden recommends UltravioletA Certain Slant of Light, and The Reapers Are the Angels
  • Book blogger Nicole from WORD for Teens recommends The Lost Years of Merlin

Turning Points: Guest Post by Laura Lam


This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Laura Lam, debut author of Pantomime and one of my Anticipated Debuts for February 2013, sharing hers…

Guest post by Laura Lam

Pantomime Writing was always something I’d do seriously “someday.” Even when I studied creative writing at university, it was something to prepare me for “later on.” In some distant future when I was “ready.”

The turning point for me, the “someday,” was my first job after university, when I realized that writing was really what I wanted to do and so there was really no point in putting it off any longer out of fear.

At the time, I was an admin assistant, and that consisted of about 80% filing and photocopying and 20% covering reception. I was bored. I listened to audiobooks or music as I worked, which helped, but I kept dreaming of writing.

I had a character and a world and I’d started a book starring someone called Micah Grey, but I kept getting stuck on it. So I thought I would write a short story about my character as a teenager joining the circus. I thought it’d be a fun little thing that I wrote just for me and it’d help me write the other book.

I remember writing the first page of it during my lunch break at that job. And by the end of that chapter, I had found that character’s voice.

As I wrote, I thought maybe it’d be a long short story. And then I thought: maybe a novelette. And then: a novella? And then I stopped fighting it: yes, this story about a girl trapped in the eschelons of society and this boy joining R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic was going to be a novel.

I left that boring job after three months because it wasn’t for me. For months, I temped at other admin jobs, and then I worked at the library, and now I work in corporate librarianship, which suits me fine. But throughout these various day jobs, I kept writing. The fire that had started as I my fingers filed and my mind daydreamed was still there.

Sometimes I wrote the book with the adult Micah Grey, and sometimes the teen one. But the one with the younger Micah Grey was the one I finished, the one I submitted, the one that got me the agent, and the book deal, and the cover, and now it’s the one out on the shelves.

So thank you, boring admin assistant job. You got me started.

Laura’s debut novel, Pantomime, was just published this month by Strange Chemistry!

laura lam

Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.

She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

Visit her at to find out more. 

Follow @LR_Lam on Twitter and like her on Facebook.

There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Turning Points: “Me and Quitting” by Amy Spalding


This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Amy Spalding, debut author of The Reece Malcolm List and one of my Anticipated Debuts for February 2013, sharing hers…

Guest post by Amy Spalding

The Reece Malcolm ListI used to write for fun. I didn’t really want (or understand) real notes, and I had no idea how to actually edit. I had a blast creating stories and characters, and that was enough. I knew I wasn’t really ready to have these things published and I felt safe in that.

In the mid 2000s, I discovered Young Adult literature, and despite that I was really mainly interested in writing about people in high school, I’d never realized there was a whole genre for books like that. I fell for it, hard. I consumed books like it was my job. (Note: It was not my job.) I was excited about it. And I knew I wanted to do it, for real.

This wasn’t my turning point, though of course it sounds like it.

I buckled down. I tamed my ideas into real plots. I learned about word count and manuscript formatting. I exchanged my work in progress with a critique partner who scared the hell out of me with her talent, and discovered getting notes from someone you respect is the smartest gift you can bestow on your book.

People said getting an agent was a tough journey, but it just wasn’t for me. It was scary and the rejection stung, but within a few months I had a sleek and revised manuscript and the agent at the very top of my want list. Things were happening! Big shot editors wanted revisions! Things were really happening!

Aaaaand…then they weren’t. The book would get this far and then rejected. Again, again, again. This was when paranormal romance was at its hottest. I heard lots of, We already have our contemporary title. We can’t consider contemporary right now. We like it, but it’s quiet. We can’t buy a quiet book.

I didn’t know what to do because I don’t have a paranormal romance in me. I don’t have a big book in me. I like exploring the inner lives of girls and their friends and their families and the people they fall in love or like or lust with. This is what I like reading too! These are the stories I remember most from my own childhood. All I recall from Narnia is, I think, Jesus is a lion? But I remember Mary Anne Spier finally undoing those damned braids. I remember when Meg Chalmers awoke to her sister Molly’s nosebleed. I still think the swooniest literary moment is when Joe Willard writes to Betsy Ray, “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re a good dancer?”

So, I kept writing. I’d tried, several times and very unsuccessfully, to work on a story I couldn’t get out of my head, but this time I made it work. I was so, so proud of it. But then it went just the same way. A lot of people liked it. Some editors even said they loved it. But, quiet, small, contemporary, not edgy, etc.

I kind of fell apart. These books were what I loved. These books were books I would have killed for as a kid. And no one wanted them. The people who liked them didn’t even want them.

I cried a lot. I watched as all my friends got book deals. I felt ashamed and terrible, sometimes on a daily basis. I went to therapy. I escaped into other types of media because books were too heartbreaking.

I wanted to quit.

It’s hard to overstate how much I wanted to quit. But that thought scared me. Could I keep my writer pals if I was no longer a writer? Would people only look at me and see my failed dreams? Would I ever be able to be happy for other people without feeling sick about wanting something that wasn’t for me?

I wasn’t sure, but I also knew life wasn’t for hating myself at every turn. If the literary world had no room for what I loved, then I knew not to overstay my welcome.

So I quit. I decided not to write anymore. I put it out of my head that my first two books would be read by another soul.

The really annoying thing was, though, that it didn’t stick. I kind of missed writing. I really missed my work in progress. I didn’t know if anyone would want to buy it, but my friends—my insanely supportive but brutally honest friends loved it.

So I’d write a little more. I’d quit again. I’d write even more. I’d quit again. For, you know, ten minutes while I was in a bad mood.

It’s hard to explain how much I wanted to quit. I imagined the world in which an email would never contain devastating news about my talent—or lack of—in the middle of my day. I thought about never feeling guilty for rewatching all of Parks & Recreation Season 3 for the twenty-seventh time instead of meeting my daily wordcount goal.

But I couldn’t actually quit.

It wasn’t a big exciting moment when I accepted that. I didn’t immediately buckle all the way down and finish the draft. I didn’t feel like all the years feeling rejected melted away when an editor offered to buy both of those books that I’d thought were forever shelved. In fact, honestly? I still quit all the time. Mean-spirited review, I quit! Work in progress going badly, I quit! Quitting, I wish I knew how to quit you.

Actually, I’ve come to accept my love of quitting. It feels satisfying to tell myself I can just quit when something isn’t going right, because the truth is I know I won’t. The truth is I know I’ll take the time I need to get it together, and once I’m there I’ll keep going.

You know. Until I quit again.

Amy’s debut novel, The Reece Malcolm List, was just published this month from Entangled Teen!


Amy Spalding grew up outside of St. Louis. She now lives in Los Angeles with two cats and a dog. She works in marketing and does a lot of improv. The Reece Malcolm List is her first novel, and Merrily We Roll Along is her favorite Stephen Sondheim musical.

Visit Amy online at

Follow @theames on Twitter and like her on Facebook.

There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

All About the Writing

motherfuckerLet me just start off by saying I hope this doesn’t sound morbid.

But I was reading up on a medical test I am having next week, and what the test is looking for, and realized there is a very slim chance it could be something serious, and of course being who I am my imagination ran off wild with the possibilities, and then I guess I found myself thinking of my life. Of what I’ve accomplished and what I still want to do. Mainly: what I still want to write.

I thought how I wish I could infuse my usual life with that sense of urgency. Because none of us know how much time we have left. And all these things I find myself distracted by worry over (book-and-career-related things; future-related things; debt-related things), I wish all of that could step aside so I could think only about the writing. And, really, why not shove it all aside? Why not make it so? (In pockets, where I can make time for it.)

Also, symbolically, my birthday is next week. This may or may not have something to do with these Big Thoughts I’ve been having.

So what am I waiting for?

If you’re holding back on something—saying you’ll write it later, you’ll do it later—what happens if later is right now?

2013 NYC Teen Author Festival

NYC Teen Author FestivalFor I guess a few years now one of my author fantasies has been to be a part of the NYC Teen Author Festival organized by David Levithan that happens here in the city every spring. But either I didn’t have a book out in time, or I was away, and I kept looking longingly at the week, wishing I could join all the amazing other authors in one of the events. Next year, maybe, I told myself. Next year…

Well, I am so psyched to say, I’ll be a part of the NYC Teen Author Festival THIS YEAR. And—in a cool coincidence of good timing—the 2013 festival is running March 18–24, which just so happens to be my launch week for 17 & Gone!

First, go “like” this page for the NYC Teen Author Festival on Facebook—you’ll be able to see the whole schedule posted there, and it’s pretty incredible. And do you want to know the amazing bookstore events I’ll be a part of? Well, read on…

Here’s where you’ll find me during the festival:

Friday March 22: Barnes & Noble Reader’s Theater/Signing (Union Square B&N, 33 E 17th St, 7-8:30)

Eireann Corrigan
Elizabeth Eulberg
Jeff Hirsch
David Levithan
Rainbow Rowell
Nova Ren Suma

Saturday March 23: Mutual Admiration Society reading at McNally Jackson (McNally Jackson, Prince Street, 7-8:30): 

Sharon Cameron
A.S. King
Michael Northrop
Diana Peterfreund
Victoria Schwab
Nova Ren Suma

hosted by David Levithan

Sunday March 24: Our No-Foolin’ Mega-Signing at Books of Wonder (Books of Wonder, 1-4):

Jessica Brody (Unremembered, Macmillan)
Marisa Calin (Between You and Me, Bloomsbury)
Jen Calonita (The Grass is Always Greener, LB)
Sharon Cameron (The Dark Unwinding, Scholastic)
Caela Carter (Me, Him, Them, and It, Bloomsbury)
Crissa Chappell (Narc, Flux)
Susane Colasanti (Keep Holding On, Penguin)
Zoraida Cordova (The Vicious Deep, Sourcebooks)
Gina Damico (Scorch, HMH)
Jocelyn Davies (A Fractured Light, HC)
Sarah Beth Durst (Vessel, S&S)
Gayle Forman (Just One Day, Penguin)
Elizabeth Scott (Miracle, S&S)

T. M. Goeglein (Cold Fury, Penguin)
Hilary Weisman Graham (Reunited, S&S)
Alissa Grosso (Ferocity Summer, Flux)
Aaron Hartzler (Rapture Practice, LB)
Deborah Heiligman (Intentions, RH)
Leanna Renee Hieber (The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart, Sourcebooks)
Jeff Hirsch (Magisterium, Scholastic)
J. J. Howard (That Time I Joined the Circus, Scholastic)
Alaya Johnson (The Summer Prince, Scholastic)
Beth Kephart (Small Damages, Penguin)
Kody Keplinger (A Midsummer’s Nightmare, LB)

A.S. King (Ask the Passengers, LB)
Emmy Laybourne (Monument 14, Macmillan)
David Levithan (Every Day, RH)
Barry Lyga (Yesterday Again, Scholastic)
Brian Meehl (Suck it Up and Die, RH)
Alexandra Monir (Timekeeper, RH)
Michael Northrop (Rotten, Scholastic)
Diana Peterfreund (For Darkness Shows the Stars, HC)
Lindsay Ribar (The Art of Wishing, Penguin)
Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park, St. Martin’s)
Kimberly Sabatini (Touching the Surface, S&S)
Tiffany Schmidt (Send Me a Sign, Bloomsbury)

Victoria Schwab (The Archived, Hyperion)
Jeri Smith-Ready (Shine, S&S)
Amy Spalding (The Reece Malcolm List, Entangled)
Stephanie Strohm (Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink, HMH)
Nova Ren Suma (17 & Gone, Penguin)
Greg Takoudes (When We Wuz Famous, Macmillan)
Mary Thompson (Wuftoom, HMH)
Jess Verdi (My Life After Now, Sourcebooks)
K.M. Walton (Empty, S&S)
Suzanne Weyn (Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters, Scholastic)
Kathryn Williams (Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous, Macmillan)

…So that’s three chances to come get a copy of 17 & Gone the week it comes out, hear me read, and get the book signed.

Check out the NYC Teen Author Festival page for the full schedule running all week—and featuring more than 90 authors!

(I accosted the UPS man for this yesterday! It's an advance hardcover of the book... And it's beautiful. The "missing poster" text is laminated and catches the light... this picture doesn't capture how great this looks!)
(I accosted the UPS man for this yesterday! It’s an advance hardcover of the book… And it’s beautiful. The “missing poster” text is laminated and catches the light… this picture doesn’t capture how great this looks!)

And just a note: I won’t be having a launch event for 17 & Gone, so if you’re in New York City and want to hear me read and get a signed book, you should come to one of the Teen Author Festival events! That’s your only chance… unless you accost me in the street like I did to the poor UPS man yesterday.

My Next Big Thing: 17 & GONE

One of my wonderful writer friends, Cheryl Tan, author of the delicious A Tiger in the Kitchentagged me in this interview series, which will give you a peek at my next book or a work-in-progress. And I admit that what I originally wanted to do was answer these questions about the novel I’m writing now, but since it’s a secret and barely anyone even knows what it is and it’s not even under contract yet, I should keep my mouth shut about it. (Not because it’s some hot property or anything—simply because I am very, very superstitious.)

So! I shall answer these questions about my new book that comes out this March. Maybe these answers will entice you to go grab it when it’s out, maybe perhaps? Here goes… the Next Big Thing in my writing life is THIS:


What is your working title of your book?

17 & Gone. That was always the title—it was the working title before a word was written and it was the title when it landed as a proposal on my editor’s desk and it got to stay the title up through to today. We never discussed changing it, but I did go back and forth about the ampersand.

I like ampersands.

You might think I’m a titling genius. I’m not. The book got its name from E. He’s a genius and I think the world needs to see that, but he’s mine and I am not sharing him with other writers, sorry.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Before I started writing novels, I wrote short stories. I originally wanted to grow up to be a short-story writer. I don’t know why I thought I’d only write stories, to be honest, because I like to write very loooooong and it’s difficult to contain myself in a small amount of words. Anyway, so many of my stories were about disappearing girls. It’s been a lifelong obsession. So the original idea for this book was a collection of short stories about disappearing girls… and as I was writing, the narrative voice got stronger and stronger. Lauren, the narrator, made herself known to me—and as she did I realized this wasn’t a series of stories about girls who were gone, it was also about a girl at the center of the missing, the one who tied this all together. I remember emailing my agent and being like, “Michael, I think I’m writing a novel,” like he’d be disappointed or something. He seemed amused (or maybe he knew this would happen all along?).

What genre does your book fall under?

Can we throw out the idea of one genre and one box? This is part ghost story part mystery part coming-of-age story part psychological thriller.

One thing I can tell you is it’s not a romance. Or a Western. I don’t think there is one cowboy love interest in this story, I’m sorry.

This novel is YA, but I don’t think it’s just for YA readers.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Unknowns. Actresses you’ve never seen in anything before.

In truth, I never write with actors in mind. I see my characters. Not impersonators.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Seventeen-year-old Lauren is haunted by a host of missing girls—all she knows is they are all 17, and all gone without a trace—but does seeing them and knowing their stories mean she needs to help them, or that she must be next?

(See above about writing looooooong. I realize the above is a long sentence.)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Okay, let’s take a moment to agree that this is a ridiculous question. You can self-publish a book and still be represented by an agency. You can traditionally publish a book with a big publishing house and not have an agent (I did, for my first book). This question should be rephrased and I almost deleted it out of annoyance.

I am represented by an agent now, even though I wasn’t for my first book. His name is Michael. 17 & Gone is published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin. My editor’s name is Julie. All that is to say I am not alone in this. I like not being alone in this.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This interview is making me sound really cantankerous, I am so sorry! Listen, I despise this question. It’s usually asked at author Q&As and book events, and I wonder if aspiring writers ask this in the hopes of hearing a magic answer: 24.5 weeks and you can have a novel of your very own, too! Or maybe it’s a competition. Maybe we’re in a race and I’m the one shuffling on the sidelines, refusing to play.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes to write a first draft. Every novel is different. Every writer is different. We each write at our own pace, and that is okay. Beautiful, even. Just stop looking at everyone else and comparing yourself. Write how you write and take how long you take. You know what you’ll find at the end of all that? Your novel. The one you wrote, if it took you one week or a hundred and seven.

But now you’re glaring at me because you want to know the math. Fine. I keep track of what I write in my iCal, like a little diary of sorts.

The idea for 17 & Gone came on February 5, 2010. I showed my agent a pitch on February 9.

Then I basically didn’t work on it for months.

I started writing the first draft of 17 & Gone in mid-April of 2010 while I was at Yaddo. (There is a note in my calendar that I had a miraculous day on April 16 in which I wrote 16 pages!)

I had about 50 pages and stopped writing the draft on May 6, 2010.

(Long pause while I was revising Imaginary Girls.)

I didn’t return again to the first draft of 17 & Gone until I was away at another colony—MacDowell this time—in January 2011.

About eight months later, I have a note in my calendar that says “FINALLY WROTE TO THE END!” on September 7, 2011. I officially turned in the first draft to my editor on September 9, 2011. I could have, maybe should have, taken another month or two to make the draft better than it was.

So basically, it took about nine months, in fits and starts, with the final four weeks full of near desperation, panic, and speed-demon crashes. Does it change anything that you know that?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t think of one. Can anyone else? Help me out here? …I’m not saying this to tell you I’m so original. I am just drawing a blank.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

In a way, if you pick through the caverns of my imagination, I’ve been writing this book for almost twenty years. That’s not even an exaggeration. I was inspired by the lost and the missing. Ghostly shadows. Dark roads. Abandoned houses. Disembodied voices. And the vivid memory of being 17 years old, when I wasn’t always sure where I—or so many of my friends—would end up and if we’d all make it to eighteen.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

How about an excerpt?

Girls go missing every day. They slip out bedroom windows and into strange cars. They leave good-bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone. They cross borders. They hitch rides, squeezing themselves into overcrowded backseats, sitting on willing laps. They curl up and crouch down, or they shove their bodies out of sunroofs and give off victory shouts. Girls make plans to go, but they also vanish without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the other. Some girls go kicking and screaming and clawing out the eyes of whoever won’t let them stay. And then there are the girls who never reach where they’re going. Who disappear. Their ends are endless, their stories unknown. These girls are lost, and I’m the only one who’s seen them.

I know their names. I know where they end up—a place seeming as formless and boundless as the old well on the abandoned property off Hollow Mill Road that swallows the town’s dogs.

I want to tell everyone about these girls, about what’s happening, I want to give warning, I want to give chase. I’d do it, too, if I thought someone would believe me.

There are girls like Abby, who rode off into the night. And girls like Shyann, who ran, literally, from her tormentors and kept running. Girls like Madison, who took the bus down to the city with a phone number snug in her pocket and stars in her eyes. Girls like Isabeth, who got into the car even when everything in her was warning her to walk away. And there are girls like Trina, who no one bothered looking for; girls the police will never hear about because no one cared enough to report them missing.

Another girl could go today. She could be pulling her scarf tight around her face to protect it from the cold, searching through her coat pockets for her car keys so they’re out and ready when she reaches her car in the dark lot. She could glance in through the bright, blazing windows of the nearest restaurant as she hurries past. And then when she’s out of sight the shadowy hands could grab her, the sidewalk could gulp her up. The only trace of the girl would be the striped wool scarf she dropped on the patch of black ice, and when a car comes and runs it over, dragging it away on its snow tires, there isn’t even that.

I could be wrong.

Say I’m wrong.

Say there aren’t any hands.

Because what I sometimes believe is that I could be staring right at one of the girls—like that girl in my section of study hall, the one muddling through her trigonometry and drawing doodles of agony in the margins because she hates math. I look away for a second, and when I turn back, the girl’s chair is empty, her trig problem abandoned. And that’s it: I will never see that girl again. She’s gone.

I think it’s as simple as that. Without struggle, without any way to stop it, there one moment, not there the next. That’s how it happened with Abby—and with Shyann and Madison and Isabeth and Trina, and the others. And I’m pretty sure that’s how it will happen to me.

There! I hope this makes you want to read the book. It’s on sale on March 21, and you can pre-order from your favorite independent bookstore through Indiebound, on, or on Amazon.

Now, I’m tagging five writers to take on these “Next Big Thing” questions themselves…

Christa Desir

Christine Lee Zilka

Heather Marie

Kristina Perez

Merrie Haskell

Christa, Christine, Heather, Kristina, and Merrie, you’re up! Can’t wait to read your answers to these questions!