The Book of My Heart: Imaginary Girls

thebookofyourheart-eThank you for reading the Book of Your Heart series this week, and special thanks to the authors who let me share their beautiful posts about their heart books. Today, on the three-year anniversary of Imaginary Girls, I wanted to tell you why I consider this book the “book of my heart” apart from all books I’ve written or will one day write.


In December of 2006, I was working as the senior production editor at Grosset & Dunlap / Price Stern Sloan, managing the copyediting of a great many mass-market children’s books and movie tie-ins and every known version of Mad Libs, and I was also quietly, in my downtime, a writer. I would get up early before work and write at a coffee shop near the office until it was time to go in. That December, I started writing a short story called “Werewolf.” (I may or may not have been listening to this song on repeat, from an album and artist my little sister introduced me to.) The story was about two sisters, the older one who lives with a violent, rageful man and the little sister who lives with her because she can’t live with their parents. The sisters dream of escaping to Paris. Instead they rarely leave the house. There wasn’t actually a werewolf in the story, but just go with it.

I wrote this short story on the side, cheating on the adult novel I was telling myself I should revise, again, and try to query agents with, again. The story started off as a diversion, a simple piece of writing that was entirely separate from the disappointment and hope and years of work that had gone into the novel. Untainted. Fun.

The original sketchy, unfinished file of “Werewolf” from December 2006 contained this paragraph from the POV of the little sister, Chloe, about her older sister, Ruby:

“I knew her another way. She did have a tongue, and she used it to lick peanut butter off a spoon, her most favorite snack. She was beautiful, truly, what I wouldn’t give for the way our collective features arranged themselves on her face, for the greener eyes, for the silkier hair, for the five distinct freckles that cast themselves over the bridge of her straighter, smaller nose. But he hadn’t seen her when we hennaed our hair, the mud we’d mixed for the most copper color dripping down her face and turning her ears orange. he hadn’t seen her after a crying fit, hadn’t seen her throw the rocks at our parents minivan when they picked up and drove it away. No one else had seen her that way, only me.”

I wrote that and sat up straight in my chair—or let’s say I remember I did. Let’s say I knew something important had happened. Let’s pretend.

In truth, I worked on that short story—changed its name from “Werewolf” to “Mythical Creatures,” but never changed the heart of the story between the two sisters, Ruby and Chloe, never ever let go of that—from the end of 2006 through 2008. I brought it to a short-story workshop with the full intention of polishing it up and sending it to a literary journal. That was its fate, if I were lucky, I figured.

I didn’t know it would become a novel.

I didn’t know it would become a YA novel, and that I’d become a YA author.

I didn’t know it would become the novel of my heart, the most true piece of writing I’ve ever set down on the page. The novel about my hometown. The novel about two very close sisters. The novel that became a love letter to my own sister—and though my sister is really the little sister, and I’m the big sister, pieces of us are tangled up in both Ruby and Chloe.

The novel that was wishful thinking. The novel that would become very important to me, in a whole other way.

Imaginary Girls hardcover coverImaginary Girls was published on June 14, 2011, three years ago today. Though Imaginary Girls wasn’t my first published novel (haha, you think that I’m talking about Dani Noir, don’t you? My first published novel was actually a paperback series novel written under a pseudonym, on assignment), and though Imaginary Girls wasn’t the first original novel I wrote (that was a novel called Bardo, which got me my MFA, but not much else), Imaginary Girls was my first true novel. The first novel that was really me and felt worthy at the same time. If I die tomorrow, the creative part of my life will have been complete because I wrote this book. I would have no regrets.

It’s the book of my heart for this reason, yes, and another. I’m going to tell you about the other.

I always knew that it was a book dedicated to my little sister, but something happened during the writing of this book. Something that feels so connected to everything the book is that I can’t now separate it.

While I was writing Imaginary Girls, she was going through some health problems and having difficulty getting a diagnosis. She was having trouble with her eyes. She kept getting tests. I was aware of this, and concerned, but it didn’t truly hit me until she called me one day with the news. I was under deadline, frazzled, a mess, doing revisions and unable to focus on anything else. But I remember stopping everything and sitting on my bed while she told me over the phone from where she lives in Philadelphia.

She told me that the test results had come back. She had been diagnosed with MS.

It was the summer of 2010. She was just about to turn twenty-six years old.

What can I say here to explain how I felt about my little sister so you can sense the impact? How much I love her? How when she was born, when I was nine and a half, it felt like she came into this world for me and only me? How can I explain how after that phone call it all came down on me and I didn’t know what to do and there was nothing I could do and my heart felt broken and I cried for two solid days? Why I had to suck it up and tell my agent what was going on, and ask him to please tell my editor, and that I wasn’t going to make the deadline because I couldn’t word an email to explain it myself? Because how could I work on a stupid book? How could I think anything I did was important when my sister, at not even 26, was facing this? How can I explain how I Googled “multiple sclerosis”—the symptoms, the treatments, the reality, the possible future—and how until that moment I didn’t realize what exactly this degenerative disease was, and that there is no cure? There is no cure. How can I even put to words how it felt to be so helpless, apart from my sister, knowing I couldn’t do a thing, realizing I had no true sense of what she was going through, and I didn’t know how to express to her how I would always be there for her, forever forward, until we were both old ladies, and how empty those words sounded? How much I loved her, how much I meant those words?

Oh, maybe you know. If you’ve read Imaginary Girls, it’s there. The way Ruby loves her little sister, Chloe? What Ruby does and would do for Chloe to keep her safe?

It’s there. It’s all right there. It’s in the book.

That’s why it’s the book of my heart. For that reason and all reasons beyond it. Because it felt like the first real piece of me I published and put out in the world, because it features my hometown in the way I sometimes remember it, but mostly because the beating heart at the center of the book is really my heart beating.

It’s what I didn’t know how to say to my sister—before I even knew I’d need to say it.

I’d written it down already. It was in the book all along.

To celebrate the three-year anniversary of the book of my heart, I gave away signed copies of the book to three readers. Congratulations, Jessi S., Alessa, and Penny! I’ve emailed you for your mailing address.

Imaginary Girls hardcover cover
Imaginary Girls paperback cover

If you would like to order a copy of Imaginary Girls, some buying links are below.


The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:




Post-Draft Delirium, Spring Previews, and the Two Sisters Reading My Book

I continue to put my all into revising 17 & Gone and I’m thrilled to say I finished my draft around midnight last night and then sent it in. My entire body ached. Every muscle. How this is even possible from sitting in various chairs (café chair, wheelie chair at writing space, wheelie chair at home) for hours on end is beyond me… It’s not like I’m writing and doing gymnastics at the same time… though it feels that way. EXHAUSTED. I felt like I was sinking into the mattress when I collapsed into bed last night, and I’m still in a daze a whole day after. But did you catch the good stuff?

I finished another draft of my book!

That means I’m that much closer to being done and on to copyediting and on to ARCs! (Which, if you are are blogger or librarian who reviews YA novels, you can still get on this list to request an ARC of 17 & Gone when they become available here.)

In my post-draft delirium I witnessed two exciting things happen today.

The first is that 17 & Gone was mentioned in Publishers Weekly‘s Spring 2013 Sneak Preview—scroll down and down until you come to Penguin/Dutton. (And just wait till I tell you about the book mentioned with mine—The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist—a manuscript I recommended to my editor because I fell in love with it after a train ride home from a writers colony! I’m so excited about Gordon’s book, you have no idea. I’ll save it for another post when the cover and summary are both out so I can tell you all about this amazing novel by my friend, but in the meantime add it to your Goodreads shelf. Thank me later.)

And the second thing that happened while I continued to be in a post-draft delirium this afternoon, was this odd piece of news someone told me about on Twitter: Malia and Sasha Obama went to the Strand Bookstore in New York City and bought some books to read. GUESS WHAT ONE OF THOSE BOOKS WAS. I am not kidding. I thought it was a joke at first, but here, it’s on!

I really hope Malia and Sasha like Imaginary Girls. It’s a book I wrote for my sister—and I love more than anything when sisters read it. My sister and I are both so exciting about this!

What a delirious day, no?

Come to think of it… I’m so tired… my eyes can’t focus… I am actually not sure if I even woke up today? Do you think I’m still asleep, still dreaming?

IMAGINARY GIRLS Out in Paperback Today!

The Imaginary Girls paperback is now in stores! If you see it in a store anywhere, send me a photo!

And the giveaway to win a signed copy is still open—it’s international!

If by any chance you are in the Hudson Valley, tomorrow, June 15 at 7pm, I will be at Inquiring Minds in New Paltz for a YA panel with Jennifer Castle (The Beginning of After) and Kim Purcell (Trafficked). You can RSVP here! There will be copies of the new paperback, ready to sign for you if you want one…

International Giveaway: IMAGINARY GIRLS Signed Paperback!

The new paperback edition of my debut YA novel Imaginary Girls is on sale in the US and Canada tomorrow, and to celebrate, I am giving away two signed and personalized copies. I’ll pick one winner in the US and one international winner (anywhere in the world!).

Giveaway closes Thursday, June 21, at 8pm EST. Good luck!


The US winner is… Ashlie Swainston

And the international winner is… Jade Walker

Congrats to both of the winners! I will email for your mailing addresses.

And thank you to everyone who entered—I was overwhelmed by the huge response. Thank you! 

New Face of IMAGINARY GIRLS in Stores This Week

In the beginning, there was this:

Which is so beautiful, I may have cried when I first laid eyes on it.

And now, exactly a year later, coming this Thursday, June 14, a new side to Imaginary Girls is being shown in paperback, and it’s darker, and fits the story just as much as the first cover did, and you will find it on sale this week! It looks especially gorgeous in person:

Check out the book’s newly redesigned website, too:

Let me tell you: Imaginary Girls is unabashedly the book of my heart. It’s also the book that got me an agent and the chance to work with my dream editor. It’s my first YA novel, and the outcome of my big writing Turning Point. But most of all, it’s written for a very important person in my life, my baby sister.

If you haven’t read the book yet—or if you have and want the new look—I hope you’ll consider picking it up in paperback. And come back tomorrow for a chance to win a signed and personalized copy of the paperback. Tomorrow’s giveaway will be international!

The Isolating Writer

When I have a ton of work to do—like, for example, right now with freelance copyediting deadlines, teaching responsibilities for my writing class (which I think is going really well! I love my students), and novel revisions and a nice, solid book deadline I have noted in beautiful panic red in my calendar, among other things, because there are always other things—I do tend to regress and do this thing that helps me focus and get calm and breathe: I isolate.

Here I am writing in bed in my writing sweater, which I love wearing during isolation. Photo by Laura Amador, taken at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

It’s comforting to be in a cocoon of my own making, where my mind can find some quiet, and where my panic can slither away and leave me alone so I can get shit done. It’s comforting to avoid all social interactions and let my roots grow out because who cares what I look like. It’s comforting to sit on the floor of my dark apartment eating a tub of blueberries and thinking about the climax of my novel until the “aha!” moment comes. But this kind of behavior doesn’t help me keep friends. Truly, I don’t know if anyone understands when I do this. Sometimes it’s all I can do, you know?

The good thing about isolating in the face of deadlines is I feel like my mind gets sharper, which is a necessary thing for solving plot issues in a novel, and also for getting through freelance jobs. I’m just a usual introvert who needs some Alone Time, as we call it in my house, to recharge. And sometimes this Alone Time spreads out over weeks.

I hope no one takes it personally.

How do I explain this to people so they understand? Fellow introverts, let me know what helps you and how you keep your friends and families intact during and after times you need that comforting, and necessary, bout of isolation to keep your head on straight.

p.s. Change of subject. Do you want to win a signed paperback of Imaginary Girls? The paperback comes out next month and you’ll have chances to win a signed one here on this blog, but in the meantime here’s the first giveaway as a part of Laura Pauling’s Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon (oh, how I wanted to add a serial comma!). I wrote about mysterious girls from books who catch my imagination… Comment and tell me the “mysterious girl” characters you love, and you could win a beautiful paperback of my book.

Enter the giveaway right here.

The new cover look is gorgeous. This picture doesn’t even show how glossy and delicious this paperback is in person. Wanna see?

(Pre-order links can be found on my website!)

Now back to isolating…

Walking for My Sister

Surely by now you’ve heard me talk about my baby sister. If you’ve read Imaginary Girls, you may have noticed her name on the dedication page, and maybe you read this interview I did with her on release day. Maybe you were in the audience during one of my readings weeks before the book came out, when she sat on a chair before the stage, and in the darkness surrounding the spotlight it felt like I read only to her.

I adore my little sister, Laurel Rose. If you know me, you are well aware of that, because I can talk about her a lot.

What I haven’t talked about here before is that while I was revising the very last of the editorial rounds of Imaginary Girls—when the story was what it was, and Ruby and Chloe already chose to do what they did… I learned that my own baby sister, the one I would do anything for, was diagnosed with MS. I don’t want to talk about how devastated and helpless I felt, wishing I could take the disease away from her and take it on myself. I want to tell you that my little sister, Rose, is strong and brave and someone I admire to the ends of the earth, even when this disease is hard on her. She is truly amazing, and she will fight this—as will the many of us who love her want to fight by her side.

This May 5, for the first time, I am taking part in Walk MS in Philadelphia—my sister’s city. I am on her team, and all of us are going to do the walk to help fund-raise for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, to help those living with MS today—and to find a cure. This cause is very personal to me, as you can imagine, and that’s why I’m posting about it on my writing blog.

I posted the link to my Walk MS page on Twitter and Facebook last night, where you can donate to support me, and donate to support my sister and her team—and already, within one night, I met my fund-raising goal, thanks to two very, very generous donors! (Thank you so much, Lauren and Christine!!) But Walk MS is over a month away and now I’d love to exceed my goal: for my sister, and for others living with MS. You can donate any amount, nothing is too small, and be a part of my walk beside my sister on May 5. Or you can donate to sponsor my sister’s walk—or her whole team. Up to you!

If you decide to, you can donate here:

Here is more information about my sister’s local chapter of Walk MS and the organization your donation would support.