We’re officially half-way through NaNoWriMo which, depending on your progress so far, can either be a relief or a nightmare. I’m definitely in the latter camp, which is why I thought it’d be a good time to check in and talk about realistic goals. For context, here’s my word count so far:

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As you can see, I did not get off to the strongest start. But! I am not discouraged. Even though I’ll have to hit it double time to make the 50k goal, I still think I can do it. And you know what? If I can’t and I only get 10,000 words, that’s still 10,000 more words than I had on October 31st. Either way, I consider myself a winner.

If you, like so many others I know doing NaNo this year, are having a hard time hitting your daily word count, let me be the first to give you permission to change your goals if you need to. It’s completely fine to lower your word count, switch between projects, or simply use this dedicated writing time to improve upon something you’ve already written. To be clear, I am not encouraging you to give up on NaNoWriMo. I’m saying if there’s one takeaway from NaNo, it should be: you write you.

So let’s take a look at some goals, and talk about how to reach them.

50,000 Words
This is, of course, the traditional goal of NaNoWriMo, and purists will decry anything less than that magic number. Julie, a member of the Riveted editorial board, says: “I’m still shooting for the 50,000, but only because I’m using this challenge as the time to play with part 2 of a story that I’ve been working on for a while (NaNo rebel status). I didn’t go in with an outline, so I’ve been spending this month generating ideas and learning more about the characters and meeting new ones as I go along. It’s all over the place, so the neat ending I thought I’d have by the end of NaNoWriMo probably won’t happen, but at least I’ll have a much better sense of what’s in store for these characters.”

Julie is using the word count to explore more about her characters without necessarily writing a cohesive story, and that’s a tactic many use for their long-term novel-writing goals. But I’m here to say if the 50,000 word goal working for you, you do not need to add more pressure to your life. Take a step back, get some perspective and realize you are doing an incredible thing. Writing a novel, or even part of a novel, is an incredible thing. If you’re on track to finish 50,000 words by the end of the month, I’m SO proud of you. If you aren’t, keep up the hard work but don’t you dare feel disappointed in yourself. No matter how many words you end up writing, you should end the month like:
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Any Other Word Count Goal
Last year, I met up with a writing partner who right off the bat was attempting to write 35,000 words. She knew she had a busy month coming up, and wanted to participate in the NaNo community, but knew there was no way she was going to hit 50,000 words. So she started working on a TV pilot (I know, I know, it’s not even a novel, and the word NOVEL is in the name of the competition! What is this blasphemy?). But by the end of the month, she had a draft of a TV show she’d been trying to write for months and she was really, really happy with it. She made NaNo work for her.
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Work Out a Framework
Finding the arc of your novel is absolutely a worthwhile goal and can often take longer than 30 days. The planner in me feels like I should have done a better job of outlining my novel, but at a certain point I couldn’t do any more research and just had to start writing. This isn’t always the most effective plan, though, because I came to a point in my writing where I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in, and I also ended up needing to go back and significantly revise. If you have the core idea of a story but aren’t quite ready to go for 50k, think about using your NaNo time to really think through your story’s plot.
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Figure Out That Ending

I’m in a pretty comfortable place with my story and my word count (NaNo aside), so this is my new goal for November. Realistically, I’m not going to have enough time in the next two weeks to write 45,000 words. But one thing I can do, one thing I really NEED to do, is figure out the ending to the novel I’ve been working on since June. I love these characters so much and I’ve already invested a lot of time into the novel, so I owe it to my characters and to myself to end this thing right. The next two weeks I’ll be sitting at my keyboard figuring out how to resolve my novel, and I will absolutely consider myself a winner.
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Write Out Your Characters’ Backstories
If you’re having trouble figuring out your story’s arc, think about at your characters. Why are they the way they are? What is their mission and why do they care enough about it to try to do it? What was their home like as a child? What are they trying to prove, and who are they trying to prove it to? In essence, your story is about what the person doing the thing is trying to do, and why they’re trying to do it. Spend some time really giving their objective and their motivation for achieving that objective a lot of thought. It’ll make everything so much easier when you do have time to sit down and write.
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Tara has decided she’d rather spend her time reworking the novel she started five years ago. She’s added and removed a lot of words to it, so her new word count for the month is a little murky. But her novel is something she’s been wanting to revise and finish for years, and it wasn’t until this NaNoWriMo that she made herself sit down and work on it. Sounds like a winner to me.
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Give Yourself an Extension
Sarah Jane realized she wasn’t going to be able to meet her initial goal, but instead of altering her word count, she decided to give herself an extension. What a brilliant editor move! “I am pretty behind in NaNo,” she said. “But I’ve decided to give myself a NaNo extension and aim for 50,000 words by 12/9. Because a finished novel is a finished novel, even if it’s a week late.”
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Hey everyone! Happy NaNo week two! How are we all feeling after the first seven days? Excited? Exhausted? Well, don’t worry. No matter what your situation, you’re in luck. Week 2 is notorious for giving Wrimos everywhere a hard time, but it doesn’t have to. I guarantee you’re in a better position than me (oh, hello, 1,200 total word count seven days in!) but even if you’re still at zero, the awesome thing about week 2 is you still have SO. MUCH. TIME. to make up for any snags you’ve hit so far.

If you thought you’d be at a certain point by now and you aren’t, you may need to reassess your pace for the rest of the month.

But say you really are stuck and have no idea what to write about next. Here are a couple things you can do if you should happen to find yourself at a loss for words. Have any other suggestions for what gets you through a mental block? Let us know in the comments! 

Make it Awkward.
See how your character would react if they were forced into a situation completely outside their comfort zone. What would your main character do if he lost his sight for a few days? What would she do if she had to do a presentation in front of a large crowd completely on the spot? What if he got lost in a foreign city where he didn’t speak the language? Put your characters in uncomfortable situations to get to know them better, see how they would react, and, of course, to add to your word count.
giphy (43)Use Music.

Listen to your favorite (or least favorite) song, and use the lyrics as plot points. Okay, so maybe your urban fantasy novel doesn’t need a scene about getting down on Fridays. But you know what? You don’t have to keep it. Just write it, stick it in a separate folder (totally counts towards your overall word count) and then continue on. It’ll get you out of your rut, and help you get closer to 50k.
giphy (39)Dialogue first, exposition later.

You can progress your story quickly through dialogue while also adding a ton of words. You might start heading down an unexpected road if your characters start talking a lot, and who knows where that could lead. Once you’re happy with the direction, go back and add all those little things happening to and around d your characters while they’re talking. If you aren’t happy with the direction, stick it in a folder and move on to something else.
giphy (41)Skip ahead.

If there’s a scene part-way through your novel that you’re particularly excited about, skip ahead to write it. It’ll get your creative juices flowing, amp up your excitement, and you can go back later once you’re in the groove to fill in any gaps.
giphy (42)Describe your world.

I find if I’m stuck and I’m not sure what to do, describing the environment around my character helps a lot. It adds a ton of words to my word count (which will probably get cut later, but who cares right now) and I might notice something in the room that I didn’t know was there. Maybe there’s and urn on the mantle. Maybe that old guy in the corner of the bar knows something my character really needs to discover. Maybe the spoon on the table is a family heirloom my main character will take on his journey. Think about how many words it took J.K. Rowling used just to describe Hogwarts Castle. Start adding those sensory details and you’ll be well on your way to your word goal.
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Something incredible happens when we let our brains work out problems while we aren’t consciously trying to. If you’re stuck, give yourself permission to abandon your laptop without feeling guilty. Get in a quick cardio sesh and see if it helps. If nothing else, it’ll help shake out your body, which has probably been sitting at a desk too long anyway.
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Step away.
I was recently talking to an author and she told me she struggled to find the perfect opening line to one of her recent(ish) novels. Until, that is, she stepped away from her project and went to a museum. The art, the lighting, and the people around her all worked together and the perfect opener just fell into her head (if only we could all be so lucky). Get away from your laptop every now and then and just go take in some art, visit a museum, see a standup show (even if it’s terrible, it’ll be great fodder). And if you’re legally able to, definitely give yourself permission to take time away from your novel to GO VOTE TODAY. Bring a notebook with you if you want to keep writing, and take in the people and scene around you while you wait on line.
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We’re officially Two days away from the start of NaNoWriMo! How in the world did that happen?? It’s time to get serious, so we’re bringing you some seriously helpful tools this week.


If you haven’t seen the rest of our NaNo Prep, you can find tons of tools, tips, and tricks in these posts–everything from what type of software fits you best, to where you should sit down to hit your daily word count.

In the past few weeks, I’ve learned that writing a novel and training for a marathon are pretty similar processes (more on that later). One of the first things you need to decide after committing to a race is what your goal pace is. After you’ve set your goal, you need to find a pacing guide that will help you get there. For running, there are TONS of training plans and pacing guides. Not so many for writing novels. Pacing is the name of the game for NaNo, though, so we thought we’d create a few guides for you!

Pacing Guides

Even Steven:
Use this guide if you want to write the same number of words every day: 1,667.

Weekend Warrior:
This guide is perfect if you don’t want to have to write any words during weekdays.

Weekday 500:
If you want to write every day, but know you won’t have a lot of time during the week then this guide is for you. You can probably write 500 words in a half hour or so, but you’ll need to really buckle down on the weekends to stay on track for 50k.

Weekday 750:
Another guide for those of us who don’t want to have to write a lot during the work/school week, but may be able to commit more than a half hour a day. This guide is also heavier on the weekends, but not as bad as the 500-a-day plan.

Weekday 1,000:
This guide is good for those of us who want to write the same amount every day but know we probably won’t be able to. This plan allows you to stay fairly steady but catch up a bit on the weekends.

Leave Me Alone, It’s Thanksgiving Weekend:
Use this guide if you can’t or don’t want to write over Thanksgiving weekend. If you’re hosting people, driving, or required to spend a lot of time with your friends or family, this plan will allow you to keep on track even if you can’t write a single word over Thanksgiving weekend.

You Do You:
None of these plans work for you? That’s okay! Here’s a blank pace guide that you can tailor to your needs. Even if you’re planning to stick with one of the other guides, hang on to this one incase something derails your progress and you need to create a new guide to see you through to the end of the month.

Character and Setting Sketches

I don’t know about you, but looking at pacing guides is amping me up. The hardest struggle for me this week is to not start writing. If that goes for you, too, here’s an exercise you can do to start fleshing out your story without adding to your word count.

If you’re a planner, odds are by now you have at least a little bit of an idea what you’ll be writing about come November 1. Fill out a character sketch for each of your characters now so that when you start writing you already have a clear picture of who they are, what they look like, a sense of their backstory and an idea of motivates them.

Similarly, if you know your characters are going to be spending a lot of time in certain places, start describing them now using a setting sketch. Having a clear picture in your mind will allow you to describe the scene more fully, and you won’t waste any time imagining the space since you’ve already thought it out.

With these character and setting sketches, you should feel free to get as detailed or as general as you’d like. Adding physical descriptions of people and places is an easy way to immerse readers in your story while adding tons of words to your word count.

Our next post will be on November 1st! If you have any last minute questions or concerns about NaNoWriMo, drop them in the comments and we’ll be sure to answer all your questions so you can start the month ready to roll. See you November 1!
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There are few things I enjoy more than a good ghost tour. I love the combination of historical fact and creep-factor. But it’s not always easy to find a good ghost tour (and the bad ones…are REALLY bad), which is why I’ve started exploring some of the creepiest literary places from of my favorite stories on my own. I haven’t personally experienced anything paranormal, but that doesn’t stop me from looking. Here are a few of my favorites! Have I missed any? Let me know which ones you’ve explored in the comments.


Edgar Allan Poe’s House

203 N Amity Street, Baltimore MD [Image Source]

One of a few of Poe’s former residences that are now open to the public, the Edgar Allan Poe Baltimore house is the seminal collection of literary artifacts from his life. The home is largely unfurnished, but exhibits include his writing desk, telescope, china, and glassware that the writer used throughout his life. Still, walking down the same set of stairs and across the same floors as Poe is pretty cool. According to internet sources (very reliable, I’m sure), guests to the house have heard noises, seen shadows, and taken pictures inside the museum with unexplainable shadows. Can’t make it in person? Take a virtual tour here.

For the creepiest Edgar Allan Poe tales, check out Complete Tales & Poems.

Mark Twain’s House

14 West 10th Street NY, NY [Image Source]

This house is a staple on many a New York City ghost tour. Nicknamed the House of Death, some claim this location hosts up to twenty-two ghosts, including Mark Twain himself. Though Twain only lived in the building for about a year, more than a few visitors to the building claim to have seen him standing at the top of the stairs in a white suit. Others have reported seeing the ghosts of a woman, a little girl, and a gray cat. The house’s dark history progressed past Twain, though, after it was converted into apartment buildings. Many residents have said they’ve felt an eerie presence and “monstrous moving shadow” in the apartment that was formerly the servants quarters. But it was in the late 1980s that the building finally earned its macabre nickname when criminal defense attorney Joel Steinberg murdered his six-year-old step-daughter in their apartment inside the historic building.

Twain wasn’t exactly known for writing paranormal or ghost stories, but he does have this one humorous short story that pokes fun at the typical ghost story tropes.


Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

23-29 Washington Place, NY, NY [image Source]

Moving on down the street from the House of Death, one would find the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. At the height of sweatshop labor in New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory experienced a devastating tragedy. In an effort to keep workers from leaving work or taking breaks, management locked all entrances and exits to the factory, which was located on the upper floors of the building. When fire broke out on March 25, 1911, many workers were trapped. Those who did manage to make it outside to the fire escape didn’t fare much better–the overcrowded and poorly secured structure collapsed. The fire resulted in 146 deaths but lead to a movement for workers’ rights and modern safety standards. The original building, now an historical landmark, still remains and is now owned by New York University. Students have reported seeing dark figures and hearing whispers, footsteps, cries for help, and women’s voices on the eight, ninth, and tenth floors of the building, which is where the fire took place.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix tells the story of three women involved in the fire told from alternating points of view.


The Edinburgh Vaults

South Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland [Image Source]

According to the United Nations, Edinburgh is the “City of Literature,” and for good reason. JK Rowling sat in the Elephant House cafe while writing Harry Potter, Robert Burns has a monument in the center of the city, and Writer’s Close is a popular destination to learn about Scotland’s literary tradition. But if you’re looking for a different kind of tour, under the city one can (and absolutely should) visit a series of vaults built in the 1700s. The vaults were used for many things over the years–first beginning as spaces for legitimate businesses but quickly transitioning into the city’s red light district. Eventually it became a space to store bodies and victims of the plague. The ghost tours through these vaults are outstanding, creepy, and utterly fascinating. Many have experienced creepy things on these tours such as people appearing on the tour part-way through then disappearing before going back up to the street. Others have said they felt like they were being followed for days after they’d taken the tour. On the tour I attended the guide very seriously warned people to power off their cell phones because they had experienced cell phone data being completely erased while on the tour. (Definitely not because he wanted to give his tour without people texting, which I only realize now five years later. Still, it was creepy.)

The Edinburgh Dead is a seriously creepy tale of murder in the Edinburgh slums. Part historical fiction, part paranormal thriller, this one is a must-read.


The Stanley Hotel

333 E Wonderview Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517 [Image Source]

Some allegedly haunted places try to distance themselves from tales crafted around their property. Not so for the Stanley Hotel, the real-life location on which Stephen King based his fictional Overlook hotel in The Shining. The Stanley Hotel goes so far as to offer a Ghost Adventure Package, which guarantees a room on the fourth floor (though in the book, the haunted room in question was on the second floor), a K2 Meter per reservation, glow-in-the-dark squishy ghost, and a REDRUM mug. You can also reserve a ghost tour of the hotel, and “upgrades to a haunted room may be available at check-in.”

The book was better.


Sleepy Hollow

Mount Pleasant, NY [Image Source]

Just north of New York City lies the picturesque town of Mount Pleasant, in which the village of Sleepy Hollow can be found. It is here that Washington Irving set his famous story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Visitors to the town can tour the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which houses the grave of Washington Irving himself, as well as many famous New Yorkers including Brooke Astor, Walter Chrysler, and William Rockefeller as well as many Revolutionary War veterans. Visitors can take a lantern-lit tour of the cemetery at night, listen to a dramatic performance of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or attend the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze.

Best read out loud with friends around a campfire.


The Amityville Horror House

112 Ocean Ave. Amityville, NY [Image Source]

True events inspired a book and later a movie based on the tragedy that occurred in this Long Island home. On November 13, 1974 Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents, two brothers and two sisters inside the residence. A little over a year after he was arrested and convicted of second-degree murder, the Lutz family moved into the home. Twenty-eight days was all they could take, though, and they moved out less than a month later claiming to have witnessed paranormal activities. An account of their brief stay at 112 Ocean Ave is detailed in The Amityville Horror, which was later made into the movie Amityville Horror House. Skeptical? You can buy the house and decide if it’s haunted for yourself.

This book tells the “true” (there has been some controversy of the accuracy of the book) story of what happened when the Lutz family moved into the house.


The Iroquois Theater

24 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL [Image Source]

There are many supposedly haunted places in Chicago, but one of the better-known ones is The Iroquois Theater. On the afternoon of December 30, 1903 an electrical malfunction led to a massive fire, killing an estimated 600 people, many of whom were children. Similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, many fatalities occurred because the doors had been barred– in this case, to keep those without tickets from sneaking in. More than a hundred bodies were piled up in the alley outside the theatre (now referred to as Death Alley), which is where many still feel a sense of foreboding and unease. Inside the theatre, many have reported taking photos inside the theatre with inexplicable shadows or figures as well as smells of smoke and sounds of screaming.

Just Kill Me is actually ABOUT ghost tours in Chicago. It’s amazing, and if you like creepy places IRL, you should definitely check it out.


I just need to take a minute to make sure we’re all on the same page about something. Younger is the #1 guilty pleasure show on TV, right? Season 3 just came out, and I’ll admit that I’m a little behind. But I’m on the bandwagon now and that’s what counts!

If you aren’t already aware of this glorious show, let me go ahead and give you the best news you’ll receive in 2017: Hilary Duff is back on TV in her best role since Lizzy McGuire (in my totally objective opinion).

Following her divorce, Sutton Foster (who co-stars with Duff) decides to re-enter the publishing industry. But she soon discovers breaking back into publishing could possibly be even more difficult than it was to break in in the first place.

What’s a 40-year-old divorcee to do? Pretend to be 26, apparently, and take a job as an editorial assistant at a fictionalized version of a Big Five publisher. Seems logical enough to me, and I am totally in.

The season four premiere aired this week on TV Land, and in honor of the long awaited fourth season, here are 40 thoughts I had while watching the pilot episode.

Have you watched it yet? Let us know what you think in the comments!

1. Oh, a show about publishing. I work in publishing! That’s pretty cool. I’ll check it out when I have time.


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3. I need this in my life immediately.


4. Where can I watch TV Land without cable? Searching, searching for a (definitely totally legal) way of watching and…got it.


5. Okay, so after our opening New York City skyline montage, we’ve got Sutton Foster in an interview.

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6. Wait, did she just say she started as a marketing assistant and “worked her way up” to junior editor? I mean, I guess that’s possible, but we’re not all pretending that’s the normal trajectory, right? Oh, we are? Well okay, then. (Side note: if you want to become an editor, don’t take a job as a marketing assistant. Be patient, and take a job as an editorial assistant. It’s SO HARD to switch between departments once you’re on a track. Not impossible, but hard.)


7. You were one of the youngest to make editor at 25? Didn’t you just say you were a junior editor? Well, we call that position assistant editor and twenty-five is a pretty normal age to be in that position, tbh. But I guess if you started off in marketing and then had to switch over to editorial…


8. Oh, okay, this other chick gets it. She knows twenty-five is a pretty normal age to be a junior/assistant editor.


9. What is “Bang with Friends?” If that’s a thing then, I’m more out of it than Liza.
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10. Wait, why is her daughter studying abroad in India wearing a bindi? Is she just SO CULTURED? Is it to remind us she’s far away? This feels weird.


11. We all moved to Brooklyn because we couldn’t afford Manhattan, Maggie. And none of us can afford Brooklyn anymore, either.


12. Oh, hello there, young adorable man with tattoos. You’re so young and adorable and tattooed. Of course your name is Josh.


13. Liza, you’re non-ironically saying “my bad?” Yikes. You’ve got a long way to go.

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14. So, the biggest fantasy of this show thus far is being able to go out to a crowded bar and actually be able to hear each other.


15. And the lies start pouring out, Liza.


16. Oh, Josh, there is no way you actually think Liza is twenty-six “give or take.” But you’re very pretty, so.


17. Quick question for Maggie: how many pieces of art do you need to sell to be able to afford that much space in Brooklyn?


18. OMG we’re only nine minutes into this show and we get a MAKEOVER MONTAGE? Hell yes. I am SO into this.


19. And, we’re at interview number two.


20. I’m sorry, but if anyone came into my office interviewing for a job and wore a pink fuzzy blazer, they’d have to really sell me. I’m not saying it’d be an automatic no, but let’s be honest.


21. Okay, we are definitely not all Ivy League English majors. I mean, a lot of us are English majors, and some of us went to Ivy League schools, but you can definitely get a job in publishing without either of those things.


22. I…I kind of think it’s okay for grownups to think they’re special. Just saying.


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24. Hil, you didn’t mean to…”shit in my cheerios”? What? Come on, you’re better than that.


25. I can’t tell if I’m supposed to trust my girl. Is Hilary a mean girl or my new BFF? Quoting Taylor Swift isn’t exactly helping me determine this.


26. “We’re releasing Pride and Prejudice as an e-book and we need to make some noise in the Twitterverse.” Lololololololololololol


27. Why…would you need to put Jane Austen on Match.com and Christian Mingle? Social media, sure, but what possible advantage could setting up dating profiles yield?


28. BING IT. Nothing says “I’m-not-in-my-twenties” more than using Bing.


29. There is a lot more talk about vaginas than I thought there’d be, tbh.


30. Love the implication that writers can only write for one house. So. Not. True.


31. Adding an intro to a classic is kinda just…standard practice. If that’s what you’re relying on as a “great marketing hook,” hate to say you guys might be in trouble.


32. You’re providing a “free interactive study guide” to EVERY high school?? Pray, tell me who you sold your soul to in order to make THAT happen.


33. Oh no she didn’t just steal Liza’s idea to add an intro, which would definitely, definitely, definitely have already been part of the plan anyway.


34. Hang on, Trout. Are those ACTUAL Christmas ornaments hanging from your necklace?


35. Also, if this publishing house is spending this much time and money talking about the marketing plan for a classic e-book, they need to re-evaluate their list. They do realize that classics are in the public domain, yes?


36. Oh, yay! Hilary does seem to be a BFF. She took Liza’s uninvited criticism of her boyfriend well, and still wants to help her do her makeup. I may just make it out of this episode a believer.

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37. Wait, so they just completely abandoned that staff meeting to go do Liza’s makeup? Oh…kay then.


38. Wow, Liza, you tell your kid to come home early from study abroad just because she’s having one crappy day? No trying to convince her to stick it out or that it’ll be worth it in the end? Nope, she’s abandoning study abroad faster than you abandoned that staff meeting.


39. Josh, I worry about your intelligence. Really, I do. If a girl is clearly walking away from the place you’re supposed to meet and you ask her where she’s going, maybe be a little suspicious of the response: “coming to meet you.”


40. OMG I need to binge the rest of this immediately.source (2)

Oh, and in case you can’t get enough Hilary Duff in your life (like me, obviously), she wrote a YA trilogy! Check it out here.

A few weeks ago, the internet exploded when the Unicorn Frappuccino became a thing. But as soon as they appeared, they were gone. If you weren’t lightning fast, you may have missed out on this pink, sweet, magical drink.

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But fear not! In true Starbucks fashion, a hoard of other fraps have come to take the unicorn’s place—both on and off the menu. There’s the new Midnight Mint Mocha Frap and the seasonal S’mores Frap, which are actually on the menu. But in the mysterious world of the Starbucks Secret Menu, there exist dragons, mermaids, pokemon, and, our favorite, narwhals! To fill the hole in our hearts left by the Unicorn Frap, Janine and I couldn’t resist ordering a Narwhal Frappuccino. Here’s what happened:

1. Our Barista Was Very Nice, But Very Confused.

giphy (70)We knew going into this that we were going to be very obnoxious customers, and we were right. They hadn’t heard of a Narwhal Frap yet, so we had to explain what we were looking for a few times. When they finally understood what we wanted, they told us it must be on the Secret Menu.

2. We Came Unprepared.

giphy (71)We had never ordered anything off the Secret Menu before, so we were unaware we had to tell the barista the recipe, step-by-step. We got out of line, googled a whole bunch, then went back—this time armed with instructions. (For those of you following along at home, order: blended strawberry lemonade, add vanilla bean powder and whipped cream. Blend it, top with more whipped cream, and sprinkle matcha powder to finish.)


3. We Had to Repeat the Order. A Lot.

giphy (72)Not only was the order complex, it defied logic. I don’t know who came up with the idea of mixing strawberry lemonade, vanilla, and matcha, but it made for a very confusing order. The barista asked “Are you sure?” at least four times.

4. We Were Judged. A Lot.

giphy (69)I get it, lots of people are waiting for their coffee and the last thing they want to wait for is someone with a complex order. And this is the height of complexity. So with furtive, apologetic looks, we tried to speed the process along as quickly as possible, while being overly nice and offering a good sense of humor about the whole thing. We also went during the off-hours so there wouldn’t be very many people delayed by our order. Still, those who were waiting for their drinks beside were pretty much looking at us like “you’ve got to be joking.”


5. We Were Given A Final Advisory.

Narwhal frap“I’m not sure how this is going to taste,” our barista said, reluctant to hand over the drink. “It’s okay! We just want to try it!” At this point, we were seriously invested. “Okay,” he said. “But don’t blame me if it doesn’t taste very good.”


6. We Took a Lot of Pictures (With Books!)

Narwhal frap
Of course, prior to tasting, we had to take pictures. Armed with our Narwhal Frappuccino, as well as what our barista described as “the closest you can get to a Unicorn Frappuccino at this point,” we headed back to the office and took pictures with our favorite narwhal and unicorn picture book, Not Quite Narhwal! Added bonus: glitter stickers.

7. We Tried It!

IMG_2820 2The moment of truth! After all that, we finally tried it. It was…sweet. Very, very, very sweet. The Unicorn Frap reportedly had nearly 60 grams of sugar. Our guess is the Narwhal Frap has just as much, if not more. We wouldn’t get it again, but we’re glad we tried!


If you are unfamiliar with Tim Federle, pause for a second and follow him on Twitter. If you don’t have a Twitter, make one just so you can follow him. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Tim is the author of several books, including The Great American Whatever (a FANTASTIC young adult book we just so happen to be featuring an extended excerpt of from now through May 8), the Better Nate Than Ever series (middle grade), and Tequila Mockingbird and Gone with the Gin (both cocktail recipe books). But writing books isn’t Tim’s only claim to fame. He been on Broadway as a dancer and choreographer and also wrote the book for Tuck Everlasting the musical.

In the few brief moments he has throughout his day when he isn’t writing or dancing, Tim is often Tweeting. And we’re so, so lucky he is. With his signature wit and relatability, Tim is the hero we need but don’t deserve. Here’s the proof:

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And even when he’s too busy to Tweet, he thinks of us first.

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Want even more of Tim’s thoughts? His debut YA novel, The Great American Whatever, comes out this week in paperback. Check it out and read our free extended excerpt!

If you’re unfamiliar with Blackhearts and Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman, it’s time to drop what you’re doing and pick up your two next great adventure books. In Blackhearts, Castroman reimagines the origins of the notorious Blackbeard, complete with romance, fight scenes, and of course, pirates.

Now, while I’m a big fan of the typical pirate archetype, I have to admit I grew up watching Cutthroat Island pretty much weekly. There was something about a badass piratical Gina Davis that I couldn’t get enough of. So when I realized there was a kickass female protagonist named Anne in Blackhearts, I was hooked.

Anne finds herself traveling (of her own choice or is she forced? We’ll give no spoilers) from Europe to Curacao, an island I believe is one of the most incredible places in the world. As if pirates, romance, and sword-wielding ladies weren’t enough to get you to pick up this book, here are five reasons why Curacao is the ultimate destination for, well, everyone…and why I spent the past few days hooked in this book, relentlessly rooting for Anne Barrett to get back to the land where her mother was born.

1. It’s Beautiful


Okay, this is by far the low-hanging fruit of why Curacao is amazing. It’s kind of the perfect island. Off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean ocean, Curacao is one of three islands known as the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao). It’s a tropical island, to be sure, but because of the nearly constant trade winds, it never feels too hot. Talk about paradise. Visit the floating market, the national parks, and the stunning beaches before snorkeling in some of the clearest water in the world.

2. The Culture

marketBecause so many different people came to this island at different times, its history is rich and diverse. It was settled first by the Arawaks, who found the island hundreds of years before Europeans. Later, came Spanish explorers and missionaries, the Dutch, who brought with them commerce and slavery, and finally pirates and other Europeans. It’s for that reason the national language of Curacao, Papiamentu, is a creole language that has elements of Spanish, Dutch, Native languages, and even English, all coming together with unique elements to form its own language. Similarly, the food and architecture have distinctive elements of each group that came to the island throughout its history, while still having its own unique flair.

3. The History

KuraThis little island has such a fascinating and complex history, I could spend all day talking about it. It was originally settled by Arawaks, who made their way to the island from South America. When Spanish colonists started taking over much of the Americas, they made outposts on the island, but didn’t spend much time developing it because they couldn’t find any gold. The island later became a major player in the trans-atlantic slave trade. Its capital, Willemstad, was established by the Dutch West India Company, and it quickly became a the center of both slave trading and piracy in the Caribbean. In 1863, two years before the United States, Curacao abolished slavery, ending access to this major port in the slave trade.

That’s why one of the most important places for every visitor to the island is the Museum Kura Hulanda, the world’s largest museum dedicated to slavery. Known colloquially as the “slavery museum,” it details the history of the slavery around the world, focusing mostly, but not exclusively, on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. I’ll be honest, it’s a difficult experience, but that’s what it should be. The founder of the museum spent much of his life buying historical objects that were used during the time, as well as the largest collection of African art in the Caribbean. By putting these objects on display, the museum seeks to educate visitors about the island’s difficult history, as well as to pay tribute to all those who were, and continue to be, enslaved. The final section of the museum discusses modern day slavery, with calls to action, hoping to inspire visitors to take a stand against today’s atrocities.

4. It’s One of the Newest Countries in the World

WillemstadIn 2006, Curacao petitioned the Netherlands for autonomy, which was rejected. Not a country to give up easily, they petitioned again in 2007 and their request was accepted. In 2011 the Netherlands Antilles were dissolved, and Curacao is now a fully autonomous constituent country of the Netherlands. This means the country is now able to govern itself, while keeping a formal relationship with (and passports of) the Netherlands.

5. The National Pride is REAL

flag-1208848_1920In case you couldn’t tell by the other reasons, Curacaoans are very proud of their history, culture, language, and home. This country continued to fight for its independence long after most countries already had theirs. They continue to teach and print books in Papiamentu, though it’s expensive and most people speak other European languages as well. Curacao refuses to give up its identity, and it couldn’t be more clear to visitors of the island. Fiercely proud of their history and origins, it’s no doubt Anna wants to go to Curacao, to the land of her mother’s birth.

Want to know more about Anne, Blackbeard, and Curacao? The full book is available here until April 24!

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Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman
In this stunningly creative debut, Nicole Castroman reimagines the origins of history’s most infamous pirate—Blackbeard—and tells the story of the girl who captured his heart and then broke it, setting him on a path to destruction.

I’m such a huge fan of Pacific Northwest Stories, but I have to admit I’m getting pretty impatient for Season 3 of The Black Tapes.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pacific Northwest Radio, it’s a “news source” that’s actually completely fictional, and models itself after NPR. They currently have two horror podcasts, though they only work on one at a time. The original podcast, The Black Tapes, follows Dr. Richard Strand, a skeptic who’s so sure nothing outside of this world exists (nothing paranormal, no ghosts, God or aliens) that he’s offered a million dollar reward to anyone who can provide indisputable proof. Interested by this proposition, Pacific Northwest Radio reporter Alex Regan contacts Dr. Strand, and begins looking into the stories he hasn’t been able to expose as hoaxes.

After two excellent and really, really scary seasons of The Black Tapes, PNR decided to launch a second podcast called Tanis. It’s very similar, but hosted by Nic Silver. It seeks to expose the myth of Tanis, using everything from hacking to Blair Witch Project style explorations. It’s creepy, super interesting, and the mystery is compelling.

But as much as I’m loving Tanis, I don’t love the podcasters’ decision to do two seasons of The Black Tapes, and then abandon ship and switch to Tanis. They keep promising new seasons of The Black Tapes, so let me get back to Alex Regan and Dr. Strand!

While I’m very much impatiently waiting for The Black Tapes to (hopefully, maybe, one day) return, here are some books that have helped fill the void. Do you have any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

They have no redeeming qualities, really.

First of all, they aren’t the least bit attractive.

And they definitely can’t do amazing, super-hero-like things.

They’re not uplifting, encouraging, or inspiring. At. All.
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And they’re not top-notch athletes either.

They aren’t insanely talented.

They might as well just go home.

Because they aren’t some of the most accepting and encouraging people in the world.

They’re definitely not responsible for major social movements.

Or welcoming to everyone.

And not a single one of them is funny. Ever.
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So, if you were considering becoming a theater person,

you definitely shouldn’t read this book.

Because it’s not about how finding your people can change your life.

Or about how incredible the theater community is.

And we definitely don’t have anything for it available to read here until March 20th.

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