Today we're excited to chat with Liz Czukas, author
of Throwing My Life Away!
Below you'll find more about Liz,
her book, plus a first chapter reveal, and a giveaway!
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
LIZ CZUKAS: The title was floating through my head one day in the shower. It's a common enough phrase, but for the first time I thought, "Is is possible to literally throw your life away?" Which got me thinking about what exactly makes a life. From there, the ideas were coming so fast and furious that I took a red bath crayon from my son's stash and I jotted down notes on the wall of the shower. I took a picture of the wall after I was dry and I was off to the races!
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
LIZ CZUKAS: Probably Sun. I love a good best friend story, and Sun is exactly the kind of friend I love. She's up for anything, she's supportive to the end, but she still knows when to be the voice of reason. Plus, she wears gold Elvis sunglasses and sings in a rock band.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
LIZ CZUKAS: The title! Which almost never happens to me. I'm usually so bad at titling that I call all my projects on my computer "The One with..." like episodes of Friends. I sometimes send them to my agent that way.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
LIZ CZUKAS: The dark room scene. I had to learn a lot about photography development for it, but I think I balanced all my new knowledge with action and emotion from the characters so it didn't come across like Darkroom 101. I like the intimacy of it.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
LIZ CZUKAS: When I first started writing, I was great at coming up with ideas that are really nothing more than a spark of inspiration. A tiny What-if, or a setting, or even a single character's name. But now I know that none of that is enough. You need conflict and a Big Problem for your characters to face. You know, a plot.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
LIZ CZUKAS: Working with Sarah from Okay Creations was amazing. She really "got" the book and took all my rambling ideas and inspiration images to heart. When I saw the design, my eyes almost bugged out of my head. Because all the images that are in the snapshots on the cover are SO PERFECT for the story. I felt like Sarah had snuck into my head and downloaded the book straight from my brain.
YABC: What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2017?
LIZ CZUKAS: I am so excited for A Season of Daring Greatly by Ellen Emerson White! She is one of my favorite authors of all time, and the characters she creates stick with you FOREVER. So I know her take on a female pitcher in Major League Baseball is going to be amazing.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2015?
LIZ CZUKAS: Ugh, that's such a hard question! I know I was really really looking forward to Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, because I'm just mildly obsessed with the Illuminae Files. And it totally delivered which is even better!!
YABC: What’s up next for you?
LIZ CZUKAS: Hopefully a lot of good things! But none of them are at a stage where I can talk about it!
YABC: Is there anything that you would like to add?
LIZ CZUKAS: I just want to thank Laura Bradford for being an awesome agent.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
LIZ CZUKAS: The confrontations between Mariska and her mother were very emotional for me. I get along really well with my mom, so it was hard to dig into a place where Mariska could be so angry with her mom.
YABC: Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
LIZ CZUKAS: Caine was a tough one, because he's so serious all the time! I had to resist the urge to make him smile too often.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
LIZ CZUKAS: They both have their pros and cons, but I guess I prefer revising since I did all the hard work already!
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
LIZ CZUKAS: Memorizing song lyrics. It's only annoying when it's something like a cat food commercial from the 1980s that decides to come back and haunt me.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
LIZ CZUKAS: Planned Parenthood. I worked as a Teen Peer Counselor there when I was in high school, and I was so impressed with all the amazing educational work they were doing.
Liz Czukas is the author of Ask Again Later, and Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless. And as her not-at-all-secret pen name Ellie Cahill, she is the author of When Joss Met Matt, Call Me Maybe, and Just a Girl (June, 2016). Liz’s books are often compared to John Hughes movies, while Ellie usually gets compared to Nora Ephron. Either way, if you like a good 80s rom-com, you’ve found the right place. When they’re not writing fun, funny romances full of shenanigans and awkward kisses, Liz and Ellie are at home with her/their family and a golden retriever with different ideas about the definition of “dog bed.”
You’ll find Liz/Ellie in lots of social media places. On Sunday, you’ll find her parked in front of the TV getting her fill of Zombies, Westeros, The Doctor, or any other place where cute English guys fight evil.
Speed round: sweet tea, Hufflepuff, dark chocolate, cheese is the perfect food, Go Badgers, and Han shot first.
Meet Throwing My Life Away!
After her stepfather accidentally throws away her high school mementos, sentimental Mariska is pretty sure the world is over. That is, until she comes up with a plan. She’s going to recreate her past, with a little help from her friends. It’s not easy to rally everyone into helping, especially Caine, who couldn’t be less sentimental about anything if he were a park bench. But from a guerilla kite festival to convincing her ex-boyfriend to recreate her lost prom picture, Mariska is willing to do what it takes.
With a little nudging from Caine, Mariska starts to realize she can’t actually get her past back. And maybe that’s okay. Because while she’s so focused on the past, she’s missing out on the present, where her friends are busy having the summer of their lives. And where funny, quiet Caine might just be the future she never knew she wanted.
TWO WALLS DOWN, two to go. The blankness in front of me is jarring. I can’t remember the last time I saw this much of the paint color. I’d sort of forgotten what a nice blue my bedroom is. For years now, the color has been more of a picture frame around everything I had mounted on the walls.
If you’re picturing boy band posters or kittens hanging on clotheslines, you’re way off. I wouldn’t sacrifice that kind of wall space to cute stuff—feline or British. Nope, I preferred to look at my room as a gallery. It was like a puzzle, fitting photographs between postcards and leaving just the right amount of space for my academic decathlon medals to hang without covering up the photo of the team. The collection of hand-drawn birthday cards from my artsy cousin mounted in a square with a frame of flower leis from the luau themed party I’d had for my sixteenth. Every photograph I had in my high school paper, carefully clipped and hung in a column beside the door. A blank piece of sheet music with lyrics written across it in my best friend’s distinctive handwriting.
My personal museum. And now I’m dismantling it. Against my will.
A rap at my door startles me and my mom pokes her head in. “How’s it going, Mariska — oh my gosh, look at that!” She steps the rest of the way into the room and gives the empty wall a smile. “Wow. What do you think?”
I think it sucks. I like my room the way it was—is? It was like living inside a collage of my life. “It’s weird,” I say instead, because my mother and I do not see eye-to-eye on my walls. My mother is the poster child for letting go of the past. She's like a permanent After on one of those home organization shows. The anti-hoarder. Totally devoid of sentiment. Anti-mental? That should be a word.
“It’s kind of soothing, don’t you think?” She approaches the wall with a squint. “Hmm. These walls are going to be fifty percent spackle by the time I finish filling all these holes.”
I fight the urge to press my back to the wall and spread my arms out protectively. “You’re not doing anything until I’m gone!”
She laughs. “I know, I know. We had a deal. You really can leave all this stuff here. I promise I’ll be careful taking it down.”
“No. I want to do it myself.” Because I don’t trust her not to throw away the things she doesn’t realize are important — which is all of it. Also, because I want to take as much of it as I can with me to Loyola University in two weeks.
Two weeks. My stomach rolls. How can the summer be nearly over?
“Well, keep up the good work.” My mom waves over her shoulder as she goes back to her own purging in the living room. I would never be doing this if she wasn’t already on one of her redecorating benders in the rest of the house. She can’t stand to leave the walls the same color, the furniture in the same places for too long. She says it’s like an itch in the middle of her brain, crying out to be scratched with new color and change.
The only change I’ve ever really liked is the kind you drop into a piggy bank.
I would like nothing better than to put everything back on the walls in the places I found
them. And maybe panic for a few glorious hours. But I know that’s not really an option. So the only thing I can do is try to keep as many of my treasures safe as possible. My mother has taught me the method well enough. Sort everything into categories — keep, toss, donate. So far, I’m really only good at keep. I could win an Olympic medal for keeping things.
Down on the floor, I’ve got boxes, theoretically one for each category. But I’m in serious danger of overflowing the Keep box. And that’s before I tackle the last two walls. Not to mention the rest of the room.
Maybe if I mention that Olympic medal idea to my mom, she’ll be more receptive to me keeping most of my stuff. Or, you know, everything.
From behind me, my laptop chirps. I hurry to the desk chair as messages from Sun pop up. She sends me a rapid-fire series of messages. In order, they make a live-action comic strip of sorts. The first is a shot of the door to the restaurant where she works. The second is her giving the door the finger. In the third, she's holding her name tag with a lighter underneath it, as if to burn it. The last is a picture of her tan forehead and a giant towel turban. The attached message is: Drumroll, please!
Her last day as a waitress was yesterday, and she's celebrating the end of the employee dress-code by dyeing her black hair some wild color again.
Color? I type.
I get another picture in return. One of her old stand-bys. A shot of Sun holding one finger up
in admonition. I take it to mean I’m going to have to wait and see.
I use my phone to take a picture of one of the blank walls in my room and send that to her. I get back a gif in return, some celebrity I can’t immediately name doing an exaggerated
WTF take on the set of one of the late night talk shows.
I type, I know, right? It’s hideous.
Did you call the police? You’ve obvious been robbed.
Smiling for the first time in a while, I reply, I suspect aliens.
A terrible drawing of a UFO with a smiling alien in it is the only reply. What’s up tonight? I need to get out of here.
You pick. This is obviously a traumatic day for you.
This is why I love my best friend. She may not be the wall collage artist I am, but at least she knows how much I am hating this. We make plans for her to pick me up later and I leave her to her elaborate hairstyling regimen.
Footsteps on the stairs send me flying out of my chair again. If my mother pops her head back in, I cannot look like I need help. I absolutely do not want her in here for this. She will try to talk me into getting rid of way too much. Which is anything, in my humble opinion.
She does tap on the door again, this time holding paint samples. “I’m going to Home Depot to get a few test colors. What color do you want in here?”
“What’s wrong with the color it is right now?”
She sighs, looking utterly dejected. “It’s the same color you’ve had since you were twelve years old.”
And that in itself is something of a miracle. Before the current, calming blue color, my mom repainted my room as part of her regular redecorating rotation. My room has been pink, yellow, gray, pale green, a weird color that was called adobe, but was an exact match for that disgusting circus peanut candy....
“I like it.”
She frowns slightly. “How about if I just bring a few colors in the blue range?”
“How about you don’t paint it at all? I know I’m going to college, but it’s still my room.” “I’m going to have to paint it after I fill all these holes.”
A little ball of frustration tightens in my chest. I don’t want her to fill the holes. I certainly
don’t want her to paint it. I’m about to be unceremoniously dumped into a cinderblock dorm
room with a roommate I’ve never met before, who will probably want to murder me in my sleep. There will be no color on the walls in my future murder scene. I want to die knowing my room at home is at least the color I left it.
These are obviously totally rational fears. My mom is still looking at me expectantly. “Fine. Try to get the same color.”
She rolls her eyes. “I’ll do my best.”
When she’s gone, I set to work on the next wall, dragging my small army of boxes along with me. My stepfather, Ray, gave me a stack of flattened bankers’ boxes to sort my stuff into with a reminder to set aside anything with personal information on it to be taken to the commercial shredding plant where he takes all that kind of stuff. A few years ago, Ray had his identity stolen, so he’s a total nut about it now. So far, my shredding box is empty, but I still have my desk to tackle.
I pull the pins out of an 8x10 picture of the staff of the paper, The Arrow River Chronicle. This is one of my favorite pictures of all time. We’d all crowded into our faculty advisor’s convertible, much to his dismay, and he used my old camera to take a picture of all of us. You can’t even make out everyone’s faces with all of us crammed into the tiny car, but the ones you can see are all laughing. God, my abs hurt from laughing by the time we were done, and I’m not even sure what was so funny.
Which is really the best kind of laughter, if you think about it. I can almost feel it vibrating through me again now and, despite my mood, I’m smiling. Mr. O’Neill had refused to take more than one picture, even though everyone had done their best to dig camera phones out of their pockets. He’d declared my old 35mm SLR camera the most likely to take a decent picture. Plus, I’d left it carefully settled on the ground before attempting to climb into the car. My cameras were like my babies.
So this is the only shot.
Which reminds me—Sun demanded I print another copy for her before she leaves for Fordham in New York. I have to find the negative, and see if I can get back into Arrow River’s darkroom before she has to move. My file box of negatives is in the top drawer of my desk, and I retrieve it now to look for the right strip.
But I hesitate with my finger on the latch. I know if I start looking at pictures I’ll never
finish my room. So I set the entire file box inside the banker box I’d scribbled High School Memories on. I have to keep my negatives with me at Loyola. I don’t trust anyone else to keep them safe.
Although that will put them in reach of my probably-secretly-a-thief-in-addition-to-being- an-ax-murderer roommate.... See? Nothing but rational, normal fears.
The picture of the newspaper staff joins the negatives in the already partially full box, and I go back to pulling pins. Photographs, all my Academic Decathlon medals, quotes I’ve clipped from magazines or printed out in fancy fonts. Everything I’d surrounded myself with over the course of my life is being boxed up.
I hate this.
People keep saying that college is this great adventure. That it’s going to be the best days of my life. But what if they’re wrong? It could easily be awful. Nobody says it, but it’s just not statistically possible for everyone who goes to college to be happy, is it? I could be one of those people who hates it. Who never fits in and can’t even finish school. What if I flunk and I have to leave at semester? Would that be the worst thing? Not if I’m miserable and lonely and no one likes me. What if I don’t have friends as awesome as my friends are right now? What if I don’t have friends at all? What if there’s no vegetarian food in the cafeteria and I starve to death? Or like, get scurvy or some other old-timey disease and no one even remembers how to treat it? That could happen.
My laptop chimes again and I quickly abandon my task to check what came in. It’s email this time.
RE: Hey Roomie!
It’s from my future roommate. Her name is Briony and she enjoys football and exclamation points. We’ve emailed a few times as we figure out who’s bringing what to our room. She’s bringing a microwave, a speaker dock, and a DVD player. I’m bringing a refrigerator, a TV, and a strong sense of impending doom.
Today’s message says:
Two weeks! I’M SO EXCITED!! Can’t wait to meet you!
My mom wants to know if you’re allergic to nuts because she’ll leave them out of the brownies if you are! Let me know ASAP, k?
See you soon!! -B
The brownies? Is this some Loyola tradition I’m not aware of? She used the definite article, so I feel I’m supposed to know about these brownies. And how soon will she be making the brownies if I have to let her know ASAP. Do the brownies have to be two weeks old?
I hit reply.
No, I’m not allergic.
After a few minutes of contemplation, I add,
Thanks for checking. See you soon.
Three more minutes pass before I change the last period to an exclamation point. I can’t find a spot to put in any all-caps declarations. In the middle of dismantling my room, I’m about as unexcited as I’ve ever felt about college. Apparently, I’m the only eighteen-year-old in North America who isn’t.
I’m so nervous. I type. What if we hate each other? Then I delete all that and just hit send, realizing the instant it’s gone that I didn’t even sign it. Shoot.
Maybe I should go back to packing. It’s pretty clear I’m not meant to communicate with other humans right now.
Throwing My Life Away
By: Liz Czukas
Release Date: December 2016