Road Trip Wednesday: The Best Books of May

What's the best book you read this month? 

Leave us a comment or tweet your answer with the hashtag #RoadTripWednesday, then check out the responses to add to your TBR list!

#ScaryYAH: Two Sentence Horror Story #4

Happy Saturday, Spookies!!

Welcome to the fourth round of Two Sentence Horror Story. This feature was inspired by a fun flurry of posts last year all across the internet that displayed brilliant (and very creepy) stories that were only two sentences in length, total. Check here to see the prize schedule and more details about the game!

How To Play:

Every month, Kaitlin or I will post a photo prompt to inspire your two sentence horror story. Once you have yours ready to go, you can either:

a) Post it in the comments below
b) Tweet your two sentence horror story (if it fits!) with the hashtag #ScaryYAH
c) Post the story on Tumblr and tag it with #ScaryYAH

Every month, we will post our favorite entry from the previous round. Winners will get an additional entry for a prize on top of their participant entry. Pretty straight forward, right? We are so excited to read, retweet, and reblog your entries!

Our favorite entry from March came from Mia (@superspecs) on Twitter. Great job!


This Week's Prompt:

photo via Pinterest

Kaitlin's entry: She thought she was just watching a movie. And then something touched her hair

Amy's entry: She didn't think she'd like it very much, but she did. Watching a monster attack in person was much more entertaining than any movie could ever be.  

Field Trip Friday: May 22, 2015


As usual, Courtney Summers has some insightful things to say about female characters.

- A really touching post by Adam Silvera on not selling out your heart.


- Disability in Kidlit has a great discussion on the stigmatization of treatment of mental illness in YA, as well as many other great posts on mental illness this week.

- This post on Bookriot by Justina Ireland on how to review male characters is now one of my favorite things.

- Jodi Picoult talks about her new YA novel and more.


- Janice Hardy has some great advice on preparing for a book launch. Even before you have the book deal!

- Nathan Bransford's annual poll on how authors plan to publish their next WIP.

- This post by T.S. Ferguson about the phrase "just happens to be gay", what he means when he's said it in the past, and why he won't be using the phrase in the future, is absolutely amazing.

- Chelsea Clinton will soon be publishing her first book, aimed at a middle school audience.


- This article refers to people my age as the 'Oregon Trail Generation' so obviously I'm into it.

- The latest episode of Game of Thrones had a scene that sparked outrage by many (myself included). There are a lot of great things about that show, but always room for improvement. 

- On our beloved Kate Hart's Badass Ladies You Should Know blog series this week, she features Kaye M, who is certainly worthy of the title 'badass lady'.

- The Huffington Post has an article featuring images from a photo series on what it feels like to have an anxiety disorder.

- Hollywood is being Hollywood again, and apparently 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal is too elderly to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man.

- The Scrabble Dictionary has added some new...'words.'


- JK Rowling and Neville Longbottom (aka Matthew Lewis) have an adorably awkward twitter exchange. Just about 

Author Interview: Sabaa Tahir and AN EMBER IN THE ASHES

I recently got the chance to sit down with Sabaa Tahir, author of the newly released An Ember in the Ashes, to chat inspiration, masks, dragons and movie news. Thanks to Penguin for arranging this meeting!

You’ve talked about story inspiration before in interviews--thoughts about what you would do if your older brother was taken from you--but I was also drawn to your unique setting. What inspired this desert-like Ancient Rome?

I grew up in the desert and so it’s the setting I know the best. I also find the desert both inspiring and frightening. It’s a place that can be very, very beautiful and also really deadly. Growing up, I both loved and hated it. As far as ancient Rome, I think it’s such an interesting period of time. All the politicians are trying to kill each other and steal each other's wives, and the women are so conniving. It was such a den of nastiness, and yet there were people who stood out, like Cladius, who was this example of a good person. It’s rich with possibility of betrayal and politics, terrible decision making, people taking advantage of each other. I thought it was a perfect time period to set this book. It’s intense.

There is a lot of intensity and violence in this book. Did you ever feel like there was a line that you had to stay behind?

No. And it took me a couple years to let myself write the story fully, to tell myself I’ve been holding back and pulling punches. You know, I was inspired by real world stories and in some places, the type of violence is very specific. For example, in the Sudan genocide, women and children were constantly at threat of violent rape. Even in the refugee camps ... people would go outside the camp for water and be assaulted by militias on horseback, who could ride away after creating so damage. All this happening, right in the shadow of these UN protected camps. I didn’t want to go there, originally, but when you write for teenagers, you must be honest. Can’t lie to them. The're very astute readers. Can’t give them a fairy tale version of reality. The Empire is not a friendly, happy place.

And even the villains, you can see how they were shaped by this society, this violence.

Yeah, they’re hard because of what they’ve had to live through. They've been made that way. And there are places in the word where that's a reality.

Probably my favorite scene in the book comes early on. It’s when the first Mask shows up at Laia's house. I liked this scene because I thought the Mask character and concept was really intriguing. There’s something so creepy and beguiling about the unknown behind a wall. What was your inspiration for the Mask?

Thank you. That was one of the hardest scenes to write, because of what happens to the characters. But while I was writing EMBER, I was reading a news report about riots in a former Soviet republic. There was a photo of riot police with their shields over their faces, and protesters around them. The protesters had all these raw emotions on their faces: fear and anger. And then you have this wall of police and you can’t see their faces. You can’t see their emotions, if they’re afraid, anything. There’s something scary and intimidating about that. It’s meant to be intimidating, of course. That image stuck in my head and I transformed it into a mask, into something that takes over you and becomes part of you, because your actions are something that can’t ever be taken away. Maybe you can be forgiven for them, but your past can’t ever be taken away, so that’s why these masks become part of the person.

You have two POV characters: Laia and Elias. Do you favor one or the other?

Not really. It’s like kids. You can’t favor any of them. I think of them kind of as my big children. There are some I’m afraid of, kind of, like the Commandant, but I don’t favor them.

What is your ideal writing set up?

Does it have to actually exist?

No. Can be total fantasy!

It would have to be a turret, with lots of windows to let in the light . . . that would be closed because I like to write in the darkness. There would be a roaring fire and a fake sheepskin rug. A dragon would live on top of the turret and I could discuss plot ideas with her. She’d be totally smart. And would fly me to see my friends when I wasn’t writing. I would have an unending supply of Coke and chocolate and Pellegrino. It would be in northern California, because that's such a beautiful place with really cool people.

Congratulations on your film deal!

Thank you!

Do you have, or hope to have, any involvement in the process? I know there usually is limited or no involvement for the author in film proceedings. Is that the case for you?

I’ve been lucky with this. The film rights were bought by a friend of my brother’s. I didn’t know him before all this happened, he just knew my brother, but they’re really cool about letting me know what’s going on. Checking in to see if things are okay, but I’m still not very involved, and I’m fine with that. I don’t know scriptwriting, which is this whole different skill from writing novels. But I trust them to do a good job. It feels pretty good to have people who know my book backwards and forwards working on the film. But writing is my art, my home, and I think if I started getting involved in film I might compromise my writing and I don’t want to do that.

This book was sold as a stand-alone, but it sounds like there might be a sequel…

Maybe? (laughs) As soon as I find out I’ll shout and scream. But Penguin makes the decision there and…who knows!

Sabaa, we wish you all the best and, in fact, heard some exciting news just today about a sequelAn Ember in the Ashes is Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel. Learn more about it on Goodreads, and more about Sahaa on her website or twitter.

Field Trip Friday: May 15, 2015

Hello Highwayers! Due to epic international travels, Sarah Enni could not make it to FTF this week - so I am covering for her! I hope I handle FTF with all the grace and hilarity that she would if she were here. :)


Erin Stein christens her McMillan imprint...Imprint.


Epic Reads reveals the actual age of the models on the covers of popular YA novels. (Spoiler: they're not teenagers.)

Jay Asher has been touring the U.S.!  Ten points if you can spot our own Kate Hart in his photos.

Hilarious letters between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.


A Native student is told to hide her eagle feather during graduation.

A mom, writer, and certified adult shares why she loves One Direction.

Misogynists are unintentionally hilarious in their boycott of the Mad Max movie.


Please treat yourself to this video of baby elephants splashing in a mud puddle.

Stephanie Kuehn Awarded 2015 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship!

We are thrilled to report that YA Highway's Stephanie Kuehn, author of Charm and Strange, Complicit, and the forthcoming Delicate Monsters and The Pragmatist, has been awarded the 2015 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship!

From the PEN website: 
The PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, established in 2001, provides a writer with a measure of financial sustenance in order to make possible an extended period of time to complete a book-length work-in-progress. The fellowship is supported by an endowment fund established by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and confers a prize of $5,000 on the honoree.

Former winners include Graham McNamee, Lori Aurelia Williams, Franny Billingsley, Deborah Wiles, Amanda Jenkins, Barbara Shoup, Diane Les Becquets, Theresa Nelson, Carol Lynch Williams, Pat Schmatz, Lucy Frank, Sarah Dooley, Amy Goldman Koss, and Linda Oatman High.

CONGRATULATIONS, STEPH! We are so excited for you, and so proud!

Confessions of a Pantser-turned-Outliner

I used to hate outlining. Like, I would rather revise a novel nine times to avoid drafting a three-page synopsis. In my mind, the act of planning a book ruined the act of actually writing a book.

This was before I realized what kind of books I tend to write. In a word, they're complicated. I like complicated characters, complicated plots, complicated worlds. I like science fiction and fantasy and magical realism and mysteries. I like surprise twists and unexpected endings. 

And after a handful of finished (*cough*half-finished*cough*) manuscripts, I realized that pantsing each of my twisty crazy books just gave me a headache and a plot that looked like tangled ball of yarn. 

This is how I became an outliner.

I still firmly believe there's no "right" way to go about writing a book. I "pantsed" my way through a couple books, and I loved it. It was fun and thrilling to let the story lead me. But with other books - those twisty, crazy ones - I needed to take a step back. I needed to spread out the story's bones to see them from all angles. 

How about you? Are you a pantser-turned-outliner? What works best for you?