Thursday, August 2, 2018

Friday Feedback: Endings and Beginnings . . . and Perspective.

Me, slightly filtered, last month
on my 54th birthday


Dearest Teachers Write campers,

< - - -  This is me. Here I am. The two -- or more -- of us together once again.

As I noted on my Friday Feedback facebook page, this will be the last Friday Feedback that is part of the #TeachersWrite program.

This was not my decision. In fact, I'm a rather loyal sort, and have loved every minute of Teachers Write, and so this particular ending has left me a tad bit heartbroken.

In my original draft of this post, I shared my version of what happened, but on second thought decided real life is the only proper place for these conversations.

Suffice it to say, that Friday Feedback existed before Teachers Write, and if I choose -- and you all beg accordingly ;) -- I could always continue it.

Meanwhile, I move forward with deep gratitude for the last six summers with Teachers Write. Being part of this endeavor that grew and grew, and meeting all of you, many IRL through the years, has been one of the greatest highlights of my published life.

And, now -- hooray!! -- on with FRIDAY FEEDBACK. If you haven't participated before, please make sure you read the RULES.

So, since today is sort of an ending, I thought, "Hmmm, what if I went back to the beginning. . ." So I went to the archives of my blog searching for my first Friday Feedback post from 2010 (!!!)


What I wrote back then about why I decided to start such a feature on my blog, still holds true for me today:

"Why am I so excited about this? Writers often write in a vacuum. As such, you’ll often hear us commenting that we have no idea if something we’ve written is great, or if it’s crap. I mean, you’d think we’d know, but sometimes, honestly, we just don’t. Sometimes, the chasm of doubt we stare down is that gaping and wide. 

If you don’t believe me, here’s a quote I love from an interview with one of my all-time favorite authors William Goldman . . . 

“One of the things I love to do when I work with young writers is to disabuse them of the notion that I know what I'm doing. I don't know what I'm doing. . . as we are speaking, I am looking at my computer, tearing out my hair, thinking, well, is this horrible, or is this going to work? I don't know. Storytelling is always tricky."

And guess what, folks, nearly eight years and three more books -- almost four -- later, and, yeah, I still don't know what I'm doing. I mean there's a gut thing, sure, and some skill honed, but in the end, for me, it's mostly the knowledge I can write, the understanding that I will have to dig down and revise over and over again, and one giant leap of faith.

Now for those who follow me on twitter or facebook, you may know I've been steeped in a pretty rough round of revisions for my next book JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME (St. Martins/Wednesday Books 2020).


So imagine my humor and delight when I opened that 8-year-old post to see that the very excerpt I had shared for feedback was none other than the then-opening of a manuscript I stated, "bears the working title, Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me."

And imagine my fading humor and delight as I read my old words and suddenly wondered if I liked them way better than the opening I've been working with for years now.**

Hilarious, right?

via GIPHY

Here was that opening. YOU may be the judge when I share today's opening below:

"The butterflies arrived on a Saturday, but I waited till Sunday to open them since I needed Max’s help with the greenhouse. It was late April, and I had been dating Max Gordon a few weeks by then, but that particular day stuck with me because of how he built the greenhouse, and also because of what Aubrey had said. "

Here's the thing, the reasons I started Friday Feedback back then, still hold relevant today. We write in a vacuum. We overwrite. We over-revise. We get too close. We have no idea.

It helps to have someone chime in.



My beautiful, kind, talented friend, Nora
who I'd be lost without. . . 
When all of this unfolded, I did what we do. We look outside of the vacuum, and so I called Nora. I told her the story, then whimpered for help.

"I have no perspective anymore," I whined to her.

"It's this business," she said. "A writer friend once told me early on, 'Once you've been published, you never write the same again.' This always stuck with me. The trick is to write like you're never going to be published."

We both sighed. Of course we're both so grateful to be published, but for better or worse, it's a freedom neither of us has anymore. At least not without working hard to find our way back there. . .

But you do, friends. And so often it's viewed only as a hurdle, but not a freedom -- to write without constraints, perceived notions. To write within fear of the boxes you feel you must fit into. 


To simply explore your own voice.

To trust your instincts, and write forward.

And right now, you do.

So, enjoy the process and write forward.

Keep going.

All of those glorious things.

And now, my excerpt. The current opening of JACK KEROUAC:


Dearest Aubrey,

I’ve started this letter three times now, but each place I begin feels wrong. I get lost in the memories and my thoughts lose their way, and I have to start over again.

As hard as it is to find my way in, I know I need to try. I have to figure out why things happened the way they did between us, how we ended up hating each other so much. How we hurt each other the way we did.

Sometimes, I miss you so badly I can’t breathe, then I break down in tears, or get so mad at you I wonder why I even care if you hear me out, or understand. But, in my heart, I know why. It’s this simple: I need you to understand because you were the one person who always did.

So, maybe I’ll start a few months ago, in early spring, when the tropical butterflies arrived. That’s when everything changed, when things really went downhill.

I promise you this, Aubrey, everything I write is the truth, to the best of my ability to recount things. Both the good and the bad that led up to me leaving in the middle of the night. There’s so much you don’t know -- both the best parts, and the ugliest parts of what happened.

The last brutal part that nobody can ever know, except you, now, here.

Ugh, I was about to rip this up again and start over, or maybe scrap it altogether, but a butterfly just landed on the railing in front of me: Pontia Protodice, Common Checkered White, subtropical. We don’t get them there in New York.

It’s not that it’s such a special butterfly, rather just a small white thing with two black squares on the back of its wings. “False eyes,” they call them. They’re there to trick predators away. But, that’s the thing, Aubrey: think what you want, I don’t have false eyes. I did the best I could with Max, with Mom, with everything.

People think butterflies are solitary creatures by nature, because we see them so often on their own, flitting over a meadow, stopping to steal nectar from the throat of a flower, before moving on. Even this one, here, now, on this railing, is all alone.

But the truth is different. Butterflies are social by nature. They cluster when they are able to because they know there is safety in numbers.

You were always my best friend, Aubrey. My safety.


I hope you will understand.

***



With much love,

Gae


** p.s. In a panic, I wrote Nora with the blog post and the two beginnings. . . and I'll reveal what she wrote -- her "Friday Feedback" -- on Sunday in the comments. ;) 

***p.p.s. I have two different giveaways going on on my facebook author page for IN SIGHT OF STARS. Check them out HERE!

***p.p.p.s And on 8/12 Nora, Tom Rogers and I will be hosting a facebook event, called Teaching 9/11: Bringing Our Shared History to Young(er) Readers. Join us! There will be "Lit Circle" giveaways there, too! 


Friday, July 27, 2018

Friday Feedback: Josh Funk & The DOs and DON’Ts of Rhyming Picture Books - with a *BONUS* Announcement!


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Happy Friday, all you glorious writers!!

It's time for Friday Feedback again, and we have the awesome Josh Funk returning with another stellar share on writing picture books and the "Dos and Don'ts of Rhyming." 

As if that's not enough, he has a bonus announcement, so I'll shut up and let him get going! 



Look for another giveaway of a
"lit circle set" coming soon on my
facebook author page!
***Please remember before you participate to read the RULES, and if you're not working on a picture book, that's okay, you may still participate and we will give you feedback in the comments! And if you like what we do here, please buy our books (my newest is IN SIGHT OF STARS (but you want all of them ;) ) and Josh's newest is How To Code a Sandcastle (but you want all of them!) ) and share our titles with your friends. 

If you can't buy ALL the books, ask your local library to order them in. ***

And now, without further ado, here's Josh with his picture book magic and a special announcement saved for all of us here!!!

Hey, friends! I’m psyched that Gae invited me back to Teachers Write Friday Feedback for a second year!

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books -
such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series,
How to Code a Sandcastle (and the upcoming sequel 
How to Code a Rollercoaster), It's Not Jack and the BeanstalkDear DragonAlbie NewtonPirasaurs! and more!!!

You may remember that last summer I discussed the importance of considering the read aloud-ability of the picture book. I also shared a portion of a manuscript called It’s Not Hansel and Gretel (a follow-up to my 2017 book It’sNot Jack and the Beanstalk)

More on that in a bit. *wink* 

This year, I’d like to discuss Rhyming Picture Books.

In the coming months, my 8th (Lost in the Library on 8.28) and 9th (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast #3: Mission Defrostable on 9.25) picture books will be released (both available for pre-order now ...). Of those nine books, seven of them are written in rhyme.




You may have heard that rhyming picture books are frowned upon within the industry. However, as an educator, you’ve probably noticed that there are still lots of new picture books released every year that are written in rhyme. So what’s the deal?

The simple answer is that it’s hard to write in rhyme - or in other words, it’s easy to write bad rhyme. And agents and editors see lots and lots and LOTS of bad rhyme, which is what gives all rhyme the negative stigma.

But why is it so hard to write good rhyming picture books? My theory is that there are a LOT of mistakes you can make along the way - very few DOs and a plethora of DON’Ts: Here’s a short(ish) list of tips to get you thinking*:

DO remember that the most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is not the rhyme, or even the rhythm. The most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is that it has a good story.

DO know that rhythm is more difficult to master than rhyme. Any first grader can rhyme. But creating a rhythm that all readers will read correctly, regardless of accent, without having ever read or heard the words before - that is very difficult and can take years of practice.

DON’T expect your rhyming picture picture book to be translated into other languages. If it rhymes in English, it isn’t likely to rhyme in Spanish. Or Mandarin. Or Klingon.

DON’T say that your manuscript rhymes in your query letter to agents - it will only give them a reason to stop reading before they get to the actual story.

DON’T force yourself to study poetry. I love poetry, but the truth is, you don’t need to know anything about iambic septameter or how many metrical feet are in your manuscript. You just have to craft it so the reader can read (and perform) it well.

DON’T commit the following examples of Rhyme Crime:

  • Simple, Everyday, Cliche Rhyme: “My cat ate my hat, well look at that.”
  • Near Rhyme: “I see a staple, it’s right on the table.” 
  • Forced Rhyme: “I opened my giant umbrella. It’s raining, I said to that fella.”
  • Regional Rhyme/Rhythm: “In England, you see lots of rain. But I’m in the U.S. again.”
  • Seussian Rhyme: “Dr. Seuss was Dr. Seuss, and nobody else can do that shlamboose.”
  • Yoda Rhyme: “It’s raining and wet. In the car, I must get.”

DON’T give up. I believe that anyone can write in rhyme if they’re willing to put in the time and get the proper feedback.

* Of course, these are only my opinions. You’re welcome to disagree. And you’re likely to find many examples of published books that go against these DOs and DON’Ts, perhaps even examples from my own books.

And with that, this IS Friday Feedback, so for your feedback, I’d like to share a portion of an untitled future (hopefully) Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast rhyming picture book manuscript, in which, after several adventures and who knows how many days/weeks/years of sitting in a fridge, our main characters begin to start feeling their moldy old age... As Gae warned above, please READ THE RULES first if you've never participated before.

Also, since picture books have a minimum of words, sharing here for that format (vs a middle grade, YA or adult work in progress) means sharing a substantial part of your text which then puts it out in the world. . .  As such, at the end of the weekend, Gae will be redacting the comments with substantial picture books excerpts (leaving my feedback up for you to return to whenever you need).

Okay, so here we go!


[Page 8-9]

Baron Von Waffle said, “Yup. You look gruesome.
I’ve never seen such a hideous twosome.”
Inspector Croissant said, “But wait! There’s a cure!
Check out Professor Garbanzo’s brochure!”

[brochure]
Starting to mildew or curdle or crumble?
Don’t sit around and complain, pout, and grumble!
Try out my patented DE-spoiling ray!
Feel fresh again. Come and visit today!

[Page 10-11]

Off to Professor Garbanzo’s they strode.
Down to her lab on Falafel Ball Road.
“Greetings!” she said as she tightened a gear.
“Here for despoiling? Terrific! Sit here!”
Nervously, Pancake and Toast buckled in.
Garbanzo gave one tiny knob a quick spin.

[Page 12-13]

With whooshes and whistles, a spark and a blast
The despoiling ray shot a laser at last!
“Where did they go?” Waffle asked through the smoke.
“Right over here!” a falsetto voice spoke.
Inspector Croissant asked, “Who said that? A ghost?”

[Page 14-15]

“I’m Mini Miss Pancake.” “I’m Squire French Toast!”

I appreciate any and all feedback you’ve got.

(Regarding the pagination, I’d plan for this book to be the same length (40 pages) as the previous books in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series with 16 full spreads. For more information on lengths of picture books, see Debbie Ohi’s post explaining how 40 page self-endedpicture books work)

Oh, and now for that *BONUS* Announcement:

In part due to all of the wonderful feedback you gave me last year (thank you very much, FF-ers!), It’s Not Hansel and Gretel is becoming a book. And here today, as part of Friday Feedback and #TeachersWrite, I’m pleased to reveal the cover:





Illustrated brilliantly once again by Edwardian Taylor, It’s Not Hansel and Gretel will be released on March 1st, 2019 - and is available for pre-order now!

Thanks again for having me and for reading! I look forward to reading your manuscript excerpts.

xox Josh -- and gae!



**For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday Feedback with Erin Hahn: Using the Five Sense to Make Your Scenes Come Alive




You know how you can instantly love a person your best friend loves? 
Well, it's the same with your agent or editor: if they love a writer, you love them, which is much how I feel about Erin Hahn who is here today, and whose debut YOU'D BE MINE is coming April 2019 from the fabulous Vicki Lame (MY editor! ;)) and Wednesday Books.
"Seventeen-year-old Annie Mathers is the folksy heiress to a country music dynasty that ended in her parents' tragic deaths five years ago. Since then, she's been hiding on her grandparents' farm where she intends to stay. Indefinitely. That is, until superstar Clay Coolidge shows up on her porch and convinces her to join his summer tour. . . " 
You can read the rest HERE. It sounds OH, SO Good! 
Erin is here today with a totally stellar post on using the five senses. To tell the truth, the most I've learned about writing, I've learned here on my own blog from guest authors who have taken the time over the past five summers to share gems like this one. I plan to steal this post verbatim -- with credit!!! -- when I teach!

If you, too, appreciate the work Erin has done here today, please preorder YOU'D BE MINE and help spread the word! And if you can't preorder, ask your local library to preorder it in! Oh, and if you want to follow Erin on twitter, you can do so 
@erinhahn_author .


One of the earliest compliments I received from an industry professional about my writing was that my style was “evocative.” I’ll be honest. I had to double check the definition and definitely did one of those “Who ME?” after reading it, but it’s stuck with me because it’s certainly something I’ve always strived for. I want to transport a reader. I want them to see something in my book exactly as I see it in my mind. Obviously, that’s a fraught expectation. I mean, everyone gets something different when they read a passage. But every now and again I’ll hit home with a reader and it’s so satisfying.
Believe it or not I have a process for this. Not intentionally, mind you, but one day I happened to be guest teaching fifth grade and the teacher left me with a very shallow creative writing lesson. Little did he know, creative writing was my full time job! So I ran with it, figuring I could always apologize later if he hated the outcome (spoiler: he did not, in fact, hate the outcome).
Here’s what it comes down to: Whenever you are taking a reader some place new, take an inventory of what it feels like, smells like, looks like, tastes like and sounds like. It’s the fastest way to get them to that place and while you’re at it, it has the added benefit of bringing you there as well. And the deeper you are in your own scene, the better.
In my current YA, I’m writing about teens who work in radio and they go all over the place, as teens tend to do. At the moment, I’m crafting a scene where my main character, Vada, is on a “date” with an older coworker at a small music venue. Think dive bar. My audience is YA, so I can assume most of them haven’t spent a whole lot of time in dive bars, so my work is cut out for me.
Here is the initial introduction to the scene:
“The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around, but there’s only one I’m concerned about- the one I shouldn’t have said yes to.”
Okay, so this is a typical first draft intro for me. I’m more concerned with plot and character development at this point, so I often will put in a “place holder.” Get it? PLACE holder? Sorry. Essentially, remind myself where I’m at, set the tone just enough to give me some realistic character motivation, and move on.
So let’s pretend, though, that my draft is done (oh how I wish). Now it’s time for me to read back through and start fluffing out the settings. I’ll go scene by scene, making sure each one is giving the reader a clear picture of where the characters are. Almost like if they just walked into the scene with you. What do they see? Only two people talking in a blank white space? Or in my case, one person musing in “a dark and dismal” kind of place? No good. Let’s go back.
First, what do they feel? Not emotionally, although that could come too, depending on how you draft. Right now, though, I’m concerned with purely physical feeling. Here’s what I’m feeling in my mind: Overly air-conditioned because of the show, so goosebumps. My shoes are sticking to the disgusting floor. I might be feeling sort of clammy at all the nasty germs around, since I’m like that. Maybe my character sort of is, too. Maybe I feel the rush of air as strangers push past me. Maybe I feel them shove and press against me. Maybe my face prickles hot with discomfort since I feel out of my element with this date I didn’t want.
Feeling. Got it. Let’s go back to my original line and layer some feels in.
“The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around, closing in and crushing against me as they wrestle for a better view, but there’s only one I’m concerned about- the one I shouldn’t have said yes to. I rub my arms, cursing my thin hoodie. It’s doing nothing against the overly air-conditioned chill. I shift and my cheeks prickle as a man in front of me gives me a look of annoyance. “Sorry,” I mutter, sidestepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe.”
Okay. Feels. Got them. Is this done? No way. Let’s hit up taste next. What does Vada taste? Again, my Vada is barely 18. YA all the way. So if I’m 18 and I just came from a dinner to a bar for a concert, there’s a good chance I’m chewing gum. Or drinking Sprite. Or an ice water. I might taste the garlic from my dinner. Maybe I’m so anxious, I taste bile in the back of my throat. Unless your character is actively eating, taste might be tricky to define but it doesn’t hurt to ask. So how does taste fit in my excerpt? Let’s look:
“The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around, closing in and crushing against me as they wrestle for a better view, but there’s only one I’m concerned about- the one I shouldn’t have said yes to. The garlic pesto I had for dinner churns and swallowing hard, I can taste it in the back of my throat. I rub my arms, cursing my thin hoodie. It’s doing nothing against the overly air-conditioned chill. I shift and my cheeks prickle as a man in front of me gives me a look of annoyance. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe.”
Okay, Erin, you might be thinking, panicking slightly at the sheer number of words I’m adding. Chill. We will still edit, friends. Trust the process. Breathe. Moving on to sound.
Sound is easy on this one. We’re at a concert. It’s loud, blaring, in fact. People are singing and shouting over the singing. Whistling, screaming, clapping. But here is where I think we can step back. It’s not necessary to list all of those. My reader knows they are at a rock concert. I don’t need to list every individual sound. In fact, it’s way better that you don’t because I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard each individual sound. I hear ALL the sounds at once. It’s a ruckus. Its more a feeling than a sound, isn’t it? Thrumming in your ears, pounding in your chest. So how do we incorporate that?

Alright, sound. Done. I should add that sound can sometimes be hard to pin down. Like I mentioned before, we don’t always separate individual sounds when we’re someplace, taking it in. It’s more natural to drown out sounds to hear what we need. I’ve been known to check out Sound Clouds on YouTube in the past. Or even Atmospheric stations on Pandora Radio. They work great with things like “Forrest at night” or “Busy city street” or whatnot. Give them a try!
 The last two are probably the easiest. Smell and sight. Let’s start with smell. At a concert, I’m smelling body odor and the sour scent of spilled alcohol and the skunky smell of pot… maybe too much cologne or perfume. Now that I think of it, concerts are pretty gross. But I digress.
Usually, I crave the pounding of the bass in my chest and the thrumming of the screaming music in my eardrums, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s too much to compute, my ears aching with the effort to hear the vocals over the racket of the crowd all around me. I stumble forward and my cheeks prickle as a man in front of me gives me a look of annoyance. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe.”

So our one line has turned into two paragraphs so far. Which is amazing. A reader entering into this scene is going to really feel like they are ENTERING into our scene and experiencing what Vada is experiencing. One last sense… sight. What do we see? I’m seeing couples kissing, frats guys pumping their fists and stage lights blaring and blinding. Of course, I want to see what VADA is seeing and she’s overwhelmed and feeling regret at showing up, so what she is seeing is tainted with that. She might not care about the couples kissing or the frat guys. She’s more likely getting a headache from the lights. Let’s try that.
Usually, I crave the pounding of the bass in my chest and the thrumming of the screaming music in my eardrums, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s too much to compute, my ears aching with the effort to hear the vocals over the racket of the crowd all around me. The neon stage lights flash and blind in an uncomfortable rhythm, confusing me. I stumble forward and my cheeks prickle as a man in front of me gives me a look of annoyance. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe.”

And that’s it. All our five senses. If you read carefully, you might have noticed that I changed her “I shift,” to “I stumble forward” somewhere in all of that. When I noticed that Vada was becoming distracted and disoriented, it made sense. I’m the author. I get to change it. 😊
So I’m going to edit real quick, reading my paragraphs aloud and seeing if I can cut anything or smooth it out.
“The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around the small, raised stage, closing in and crushing against me as they wrestle for a better view. There’s only one I’m concerned about, however—the one I should’ve turned down—and he’s somewhere behind me at the bar, getting another drink. The garlic pesto I had for dinner churns and swallowing hard, I taste it in the back of my throat. My thin green hoodie is doing squat against the stale bar-air and I wrinkle my nose at the unsavory combination of sweat and skunk, despite knowing full well on a typical night, I would be loving this.
Usually, I crave the bass pounding in my chest and the thrum of screaming vocals, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s disorienting, my ears aching with the effort to decipher the lyrics over the racket of the crowd. The neon stage lights flash and blind in an uncomfortable rhythm and I stumble forward, my cheeks prickling hot, as a man in front of me glares. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe. Worst maybe-date ever.
There. I’m in a bar. Listening to a band. With Vada. Who isn’t having a good time, unfortunately. In my own writing, I would do something just like this with every NEW location I spend quantifiable time in. Obviously, if she came back to this venue later, I wouldn’t go through the entire list, but I might throw in a hint like, “only this time, the beer-and-skunk smell is gone” or whatever. You get the idea.
I should also note that I don’t always list details in two paragraphs right at the start (though, I might). Sometimes they get peppered through if I’m in a single location for a bit. As the author, you need to decide what is natural observation for your character. If it’s YA, they might not organically speak to the architecture of a place. If it’s adult, they might not snark about the smell. If it’s a picture book, they would be far more basic, sticking to familiar colors and textures.


Alright, so here we go! For my Friday Feedback submission, I offer you the above, now more polished, paragraph to give feedback on. Then, it’s your turn. Maybe take a section of a work in progress and run it through the five senses overhaul. Or write something new and explore how the scenes feel, sound, and smell!

And remember, Gae says if you are new to Friday Feedback, please read THE RULES (at the end of that post). And don't forget the only thing we ask for the time we put in here is that you order -- or preorder -- our books!!

Look forward to seeing you all in the comments!!

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            The venue is a dark and dismal kind of place. Lots of people milling around the small, raised stage, closing in and crushing against me as they wrestle for a better view. There’s only one I’m concerned about, however—the one I should’ve turned down—and he’s somewhere behind me at the bar, getting another drink. 
            The garlic pesto I had for dinner churns and swallowing hard, I taste it in the back of my throat. My thin green hoodie is doing squat against the stale bar-air and I wrinkle my nose at the unsavory combination of sweat and skunk, despite knowing full well on a typical night, I would be loving this.

            Usually, I crave the bass pounding in my chest and the thrum of screaming vocals, but not tonight. Tonight, it’s disorienting, my ears aching with the effort to decipher the lyrics over the racket of the crowd. The neon stage lights flash and blind in an uncomfortable rhythm and I stumble forward, my cheeks prickling hot, as a man in front of me glares. “Sorry,” I mutter, side-stepping and encountering something sticky under my shoe. Worst maybe-date ever.

xox Erin and gae