Author to Author + Book Review: HOW WE FALL by Kate Brauning

One of the best things about being a debut author has been getting to know some of the other amazing young adult authors. I had the privilege of meeting Kate Brauning at a conference where we instantly connected. We discussed writing, her publishing journey, and some of the things that inspired her to write her debut, HOW WE FALL.



When Jackie’s best friend leaves town and is feared murdered, Jackie throws herself into a relationship with her cousin that neither of them can control. Neither Jackie nor Marcus can separate love from obsession.
As the long, hot summer lengthens, they grow closer, despite their best efforts to stay apart, despite knowing that their secret love could tear their families apart.

Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus.

When Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else’s lies, the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

How We Fall is available through:
Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound | |Books-A-Million |Book
Depository| Powell’s |Walmart |Target|

Find HOW WE FALL on Goodreads

My Review:

HOW WE FALL is a captivating read—a thrilling page-turner with an achingly powerful love story.

It’s hard to believe this is Brauning’s debut because she is such a masterful writer—particularly in terms of character and dialogue. I knew I was in good hands from the first page. The main character, Jackie, is a strong character with a bit of an ‘old soul’, a witty voice, and moments of raw, teenage vulnerability.

Brauning peels back a curtain on a social dynamic I have never experienced, and she does it with authenticity that rings from every page. Rarely have characters felt so real to me as they did in this story. I enjoyed the banter between Jackie and Marcus so much, that I re-read entire scenes!

I enjoy stories about conflicted love and romance, and this book approaches this in a construct I’d never read before. HOW WE FALL explores the relationship of best friends and cousins, Jackie and Marcus, whose families happen to live together. This aspect of the book is fascinating. Brauning’s portrayal of the sort of ‘hippy’ parents and their unusual community style of parenting is an utterly unique setting, and the catalyst for much of the tension between Jackie and Marcus. The two are thrown together in roles of caring for their families, (they practically raise the younger siblings, as well as contribute toward the family’s income!) The bond they share is close and genuine . . . and yet inherently wrong in a social sense.

Brauning is not afraid to explore this—and push readers to really consider ideas of love and what is acceptable and true and right. The sexual tension explodes off the page at times, counterbalanced with such honest emotion, at times I was left cheering or cringing.

Though the relationship between Marcus and Jackie is the foundation of the story, it’s also a thriller that explores the mysterious disappearance of Jackie’s best friend. Both plot lines will keep readers turning pages long into the night.

In turns heartbreaking and hopeful, HOW WE FALL takes readers on a one-of-a-kind journey of poignant friendship, passion, mystery and danger. This is one of the books where I’ve dog-eared pages with dialogue that made me laugh out loud, and poignant moments—even sentences—written by a talented author. You know a book is good when you want to go back and re-live a moment with them. Brauning’s characters did more than entertain me—they leaped off the page and made me see love in a whole new light.

My review on Goodreads


Author to Author

(I throw a few questions at an author, and they throw one back at me.)

Jenny asked Kate:

What are you working on now?

A brand-new YA thriller! Without saying too much, it’s a survival story about 10 teenagers stranded in the Ozarks. It’s also a sister story, told from the points of view of two sisters, Tara, who was seriously bullied in middle school, and Laurel, who was involved in bullying Tara.

What has been your favorite part of the publishing process (so far)?

Discovering myself. Finding out the ways in which I’m social, and the things that make me passionate and the things I want to advocate for. Finding friends who are going through the same things and working for similar things. Discovering that I love writing enough that I’d be doing it whether or not everything works out. Finding an industry that makes me a better writer, through being supported by great author friends, working with wonderful critique partners and editors. And finally, connecting with readers– it never stops being amazing and fulfilling when someone loves a story that I put such time, sweat, sometimes years, and always passion into writing.

Describe HOW WE FALL in 5 words:

An extreme best friends romance.

What advice do you have for writers?

Read two books a week, one in the genre you want to write, and one outside the genre. Write fearlessly, without worrying about what mistakes you might be making. Learn constantly, by reading great books on craft, listening to the writers you love speak on writing, and by getting good feedback from other writers who can challenge you.


Kate asked Jenny:

What inspired you to write your book?

I wanted to write something that would engage readers—even teenage boys like my ‘reluctant reader’ son. I paid attention to the books (like LEGEND, GONE, and MAZE RUNNER) that held his interest. I had written other books, but none with the pacing and stakes of FLASHFALL.

Also, I was at a place in my publishing attempts where doors just kept closing. I’d get several full requests from agents, but still no offers of representation. I’m talking about years of rejection. Writing—and trying to get published—requires you to face your fears over and over again. So I wrote about that in FLASHFALL—a girl who pushes past her fears because she believes there is something better beyond what she can see in the moment.

Find FLASHFALL on Goodreads


                          Kate and Jenny at the 2015 Midwest Writers Workshop


A Dreamer Becomes an Author

RejectionLetters 2015-09-02 at 5.44.57 PM

                                                Me and my rejection letters

Two days to deadline–I should be editing instead of blogging, but I wanted to share this.

Many of you know that my publishing journey has been filled with ups and downs, many rejections, and times I nearly quit believing in myself and the possibility of a dream I held in my heart for so many years.

This video makes me cry (in the good way) because Jacob captured so much of that in these images. *

I still recall the sting of rejection, and the way every failed opportunity bruised my heart a little–but MORE than that, I remember the people who cheered me past it–who believed in me even when I only felt doubt.

I’ve held on to my rejection letters (literally hundreds of them) for years. Even on days of discouragement, I imagined myself one day holding up that stack and saying, “This happened, BUT . . .”

Rejection doesn’t have to define us. The desire to create art or tell stories doesn’t end with the evaluation of other people. We do it because we love it. That’s really what got me to this point. I decided I was going to keep writing, whether I ever published or not.

It’s funny, but that’s when I wrote FLASHFALL. I had an agent interested in another manuscript, but I felt compelled to work on this new book. It was personal for me, and it poured out in cathartic ways–the story of a girl who got knocked down again and again, but didn’t give up because she believed there was a way past a terrifying, impassable wall.

“This happened, BUT . . .”

If that’s you–a dreamer coming up against barriers–try to see them instead as steps along the way, motivation to push creative boundaries and work harder. If you can carve out time to do what you love–what feeds your soul–than you are already winning. You’ve succeeded. And yes–we want an audience, people who will experience and feel moved by what we’ve created. So find that friend, or critique partner or writing group.

Give voice to the things your heart is saying.

*thank you to my amazing husband and the team at Luminary, for your creative talents, and for helping me share my publishing story in ways more powerful than words.



Do Pitch Contests Help or Hurt?

Today is the crazy Twitter pitching frenzy that is #PitMad.

I proudly claim veteran status of this writing contest, and many others like it. Now that I’m on the ‘other side’ of the query trenches–agent and book deals in hand–I’m asked by many writers if contests like this help or hurt.

Pitch contests can take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride with the hype, the excitement, the swelling hope…and the sometimes letdown.  I know writers who find this process harder than querying.  Don’t get me wrong–I think querying writers should use every opportunity to get their work in front of agents–but I’ve learned that you have to keep contests in perspective so you don’t emerge crushed (and convinced you should throw your book out the window.)

Contests can help writers if they keep a few key things in mind:

#1: Use the opportunity to HONE YOUR PITCH/HOOK/LOGLINE.  Ditto with the first 250 words.  Make them as strong and grabby as they can be and LEARN from the other writers doing the same thing…

#2 Check out the websites of any agents that request to see your manuscript. What authors do they represent? What books have they sold? Make sure they’re legit, and someone you’d want to represent you. The old adage ‘a bad agent is worse than no agent’ is entirely TRUE. On the positive side, I found contests to be a great way to discover and connect with agents.

#3 DON’T LET A PASS GET YOU DOWN (for long) It’s subjective–just like in the real query world. Find encouragement from all the other writers in your boat, then hone your pitch and let the experience springboard you back into querying. (and writing and revising!)

#4 MEET OTHER AWESOME WRITERS This is the REAL gem of contests. I’ve met some of the best critique partners this way–not to mention fellow writers who motivated and encouraged me in the query trenches. There is so much we can learn from each other and from our shared experiences.

#5 WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, WRITE THE NEXT BOOK  Is your MS drifting in an endless sea of rejection? Maybe it’s time to set it aside (for now) and dive in to that next book. Nearly every author I know has at least one “shelved” book. (It was my THIRD book that led to my agent and book deals.

So, to all the writers who bravely put themselves out on the proverbial rejection ledge, whether through contests or traditional querying–congratulations on taking risks and moving toward your goals!


For additional motivation:


Revision Fatigue and Battling the Doubt Monster

I’m going to be honest. I’m sick of reading my book.

That probably doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for FLASHFALL, but that’s just where I’m at this stage of the editing process, now that I’ve read it eighteen million-billion times.

People suggest taking a break, and coming back to your manuscript with ‘fresh eyes.’ I had a four-month break while waiting for my second round revision notes. Two weeks into editing, and my brain’s pretty much ‘what even are these words?’


Revision Fatigue has set in. So I break the edits down onto sticky notes, put them on my board beside my laptop, and tackle them a scene at a time. Between that, I take Emmy for walks and drink copious amounts of coffee. I wear my Gryffindor socks (because magic) and my t-shirt that says, I Can and I Will (because cozy encouragement t-shirts help, too.)


Still. As much as I whittle away my edits into a mountain of sticky-notes, another voice rises up, louder than my writer’s voice.

This is crap. This plot has too many holes. That doesn’t make sense. That’s cliché.

The voice of the Doubt Monster.

If you’ve ever written a book, or undertaken a creative endeavor, you’ve probably encountered your own.

So what can we do to battle the doubt? Here are a few things that help me:

  1. Get outside your own head. Sometimes, we are too close to the story to see when a character’s motivations are unclear or a plot development doesn’t make sense. Beta readers and critique partners are essential. Open yourself up to other people’s feedback. If you’re re-working a scene, and feel like it’s not working—run it by a couple (trusted) people. They can help re-assure you or re-direct you. By the time you’ve revised your manuscript that many times, it can be hard to see it objectively.
  2. Trust the process. It’s normal to weary of reading your book. That doesn’t mean it’s bad—it just means you’ve grown numb to all the discoveries that make books interesting. Also, by the time we get to multiple rounds of edits, we’re viewing our writing through hyper-critical lenses, focusing on the ‘problems’. Reading from that place is never fun.
  3. Commiserate with other writers. The authors in my debut group (The Sweet Sixteens) have gone through similar feelings, and just reading about their experiences makes me feel better. I love connecting with other writers on Twitter, too, and being able to share the challenges of writing and editing. So many times, they have great insights and perspectives to share. It’s reassuring, therapeutic, and usually enough to squash the doubt monster.
  4. Trick your brain. There have been studies that show how our brains ‘see’ printed and computer text differently. If your words are starting to blur together, print out your manuscript and work from the hard copy for bit. This helps me enormously—especially when I’m working through any big revisions. The other thing that helps me is a change of scenery. Try writing outside, or go to a coffee shop. Sometimes we just need to shake up our routine to get our focus back.
  5. Trust yourself. This is vital, because the best writing happens when we write from a place of confidence. Something inspired you to begin this journey—and the heart of that story is still there. Don’t get so caught up in the ‘problems’ you are fixing, that you lose sight of what the story’s about.
  6. Take a moment. Take a day. On a fresh page, write something entirely new. Or, approach a scene you’re revising from a new angle. Throw off all constraints and allow yourself to exercise and re-charge the artist part of your writer self. This is what I do when I stall out in my writing, (staring at blank walls, anyone?) or if my writing becomes stale and the characters or dialogue flat. It seems counter-productive to ‘getting the revisions done’—especially when you’re on deadline, but these moments have actually led to some of my strongest scenes in FLASHFALL.
  7. Don’t be afraid to break it. Embrace the act of revision as an opportunity to re-envision a scene, character, or plot point. Sometimes we hold on so tightly to what we’ve written, that we don’t allow for the possibility of what something can be. For more about this, check out my post on Publishing Hub.

Believe that you are capable of writing and re-writing your book to its fullest potential. It’s normal for the Doubt Monster to visit from time to time. Just don’t let it stay.

Keep writing. Keep revising. You’ve got this!

If you have any suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments! (Or tweet them at me: ) How do you overcome doubt? What helps you avoid ‘zombie brain’ when you’re revising? Please share!

For more, here’s a peek at my revision process:

Author to Author + ARC Review: SHALLOW GRAVES by Kali Wallace

One of the best things about being a debut author has been getting to know some of the other amazing young adult authors publishing their books in 2016. I had the privilege of reading the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Kali Wallace’s SHALLOW GRAVES, and she agreed to answer a few questions about her publishing experience.

ShallowGraves_cover reveal


Breezy remembers leaving the party, the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to the face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain the necklace of bruises around her neck. She also can’t explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch.

Returning home seems impossible. Her parents and sisters have clearly grieved and struggled to move on, and Breezy can’t begin to answer their inevitable questions. Her heartbeat comes and goes, she doesn’t need to eat or drink, she can see the inky memories of murderers, and she can somehow pull on this dark guilt to kill them. Haunted by the happy memories from her life and disgusted by the half-dead creature she’s become, Breezy embarks on a reckless quest to find answers and a dangerous healing magic…but the cure is as dark and terrible as the disease.

Set in a gorgeous, terrifying world, Shallow Graves is a stunning novel about the heartbreaking trauma of a girl’s life cut short and her struggle to reconcile her humanity with the creature she’s become.

Find SHALLOW GRAVES on Goodreads

Pre-order now or find it on shelves Jan. 26, 2016

My Review:

I could not put this book down! It was entertaining from the first page to the last. The premise is so intriguing. From the first sentence, I was hooked by the story questions—and they emerged into more and more interesting questions as the story unfolded. I was immediately drawn in by the fantastic writing. Kali Wallace is an artful storyteller, and the queen of metaphors! But that is just icing on the cake of this enthralling tale.

Wallace builds a whole world of re-imagined creatures, with their own characteristics and mythos—all woven together with the over-arching mystery of the main character, Breezy. She is a well-drawn, witty and sympathetic character that I liked immediately—and loved by the end. The author writes such fantastic dialogue! I looked forward to the exchanges Breezy shared with a most interesting cast of characters.

I recommend this book—especially to fans of shows like Supernatural, Grimm, and anyone who enjoys suspense, mystery, and a bit of horror.

My review on Goodreads

Author to Author

(I throw a few questions at an author, and they throw one back at me.)

Jenny asked Kali:


What has been your favorite part of the publishing process (so far)?

I have two answers, one about writing and one about people.

The answer about writing is: edits and revisions! Is that a strange answer? Writers complain about edits and revisions all the time, because they are, indeed, a terrifying amount of work. But there is also something wonderful about having my story be picked apart and pieced back together into something stronger and better with the guidance of fantastic editors.

I love that even after I’ve pushed a story as far as I know how to push it, my agent and my editor can come along and say, “Oh, my sweet summer child, we are not done yet,” and open up ways to make it even better. It’s a fantastic feeling to look at the book in ARC form and compare it to the appallingly terrible first draft I finished way back when and see how much it has evolved and improved over time.

My second answer is a lot more squishy with feelings, because it’s all about the people I’ve met as I’ve been going through this process. Other writers are my favorite people in the world, and being a debut author means I get to connect with tons of them to commiserate and laugh and encourage, and I love it. It’s so much fun it ought to be illegal.


What advice do you have for writers?

Stop worrying about what you think other people want to read. Seriously. Just stop. STOP. Don’t do it. If you are trying to please an audience by reverse-engineering what’s popular or beloved in other books, readers are going to be able to tell, and they will not be impressed.

I see so many writers say things like, “I have this idea, but I don’t think anybody wants it,” or “I would write this, but that’s not what readers want,” or, worst of all, “I bet I could get published, if I wrote something like those other things,” and I just want to shake every single one of them. Write what you want to write instead. If you don’t, it shows and it’s never pretty. Readers are not idiots; they can tell when you’re trying to be something you’re not.

But they can also tell when you are being sincere, when a story really matters to you. So write the story that’s under your skin and in your guts and haunting the corners of your house and whispering in the back of your mind. If you don’t have that story yet, write until you find it. You will eventually.


Describe your book in five words:

Being undead is so overrated.


What inspired you to write your book?

This book is what happens when somebody who watched too much Supernatural back in the day, back when it was new and more importantly when it still had a kickin’ soundtrack, starts to think, “But what if all those monsters getting hunted don’t want to be monsters? What if they’re just people living in the best way they know how? What if they’ve got friends and family waiting for them to come home, always worrying that some crazy-ass humans with more weaponry than good sense are going to hunt them down?”

And of course once I started to think like that, I started feeling really bad for all those monsters who just wanted to be left alone in their monstrous lives, and the whole thing just kind of… grew from there, gathering up a whole bunch of other ideas about life and grief and trauma and being a teenage girl in the world. But it started with the monsters. Story ideas are like mushrooms. You don’t even know they’re waiting there in the dark for the right conditions, then suddenly your entire life is covered with suspicious squishy colonies that appeared overnight.


What was the biggest challenge you faced getting published?

Like many authors (most authors?), the first book I sold was definitely not the first book I tried to sell. My first novel was on submission for something like 10 months, with something like 30 editors saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” or, “Wow, no, this is way too gross,” or not saying anything at all. It is very discouraging! There’s no sense in pretending that it’s not discouraging. Even if the editors are saying encouraging things and asking to see more, it still sucks.

But, well, there’s also no sense in doing anything with all that time but working harder, so when my agent and I realized this first book probably wasn’t going to get any traction, we started working on getting the second one into shape, and I was also working on writing a whole new manuscript.

I think it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of thinking, “They have to want THIS STORY or else nothing matters,” but loving your story and wanted to see it published is one thing, and being so precious about it you hang all of your hopes on it is another. It wasn’t easy, to get over that initial disappointment, but I think it became easier once I realized the only thing I could really do, because it was the only thing that was 100% within my control, was to keep writing more. And more and more and more.


Kali asked Jenny:

Without spoilers—what is your favorite scene in your book? Why?

One of my favorite scenes in FLASHFALL is actually a kissing scene, LOL! But I don’t love this scene simply for the romance—it’s a moment following an attack in a prison camp, when Dram sort of “talks” Orion down from an emotional cliff. Their world is utterly shaken, but they help remind each other what is constant.

It’s a scene with kissing, but it’s really about finding the light in dark times, and holding on to what is true—even when the rest of your world implodes.

The line at the end is my favorite. It would be spoiler-y for me to describe it, so I’ll just say that Orion realizes how strong she is. I think this is true in life—the tough things we go through can shatter us or strengthen us. Sometimes a bit of both.

Find FLASHFALL on Goodreads