Why Writing Is Hard & Why J.K. Rowling Is A Gift To Literature

"The road to Hell is paved with adverbs" says Stephen King, and just about every other truly great writer in the world. I agree. Adverbs are flabby and lazy. And hell yeah, I over-use them in every draft of all my manuscripts. Why, God, why?!? My poor editor and agent spend half their lives sighing and crossing them out. Just find an effective verb and there's no need to qualify! Come on, People! We must simplify! Say what we mean, tell the story and don't try to show off, because that makes for boring crap no reader has patience to still still long enough to wade through. So why do I keep adverb-ing it up? SLATE's Stephen Metcalfe explained his personal wrestling with adverbs on the CULTURE GABFEST so perfectly it made me sit in my car and cry. This is why I do the thing I know is lazy and icky: Writers, all artists I think, tend to have the fun problem of possessing a super healthy ego combined with crippling insecurity. "I made a thing I think people might love! Oh my God who do I think I am trying to write, I'm a ridiculous hack!" So we sit and write these stories all the while thinking how dumb we sound, which makes us try to tart our words up to sound smarter, which means right on cue here come the adverbs sneaking in to storm the beach at IMustNotBoreTheReaderWithMyStupidWordsville USA. Working against our inherent insecurity makes a mess our editors have to clean up. Well. Mine do, anyway. Here is how Metcalfe so perfectly expressed this problem and in a nutshell, why writing is so GD difficult:

“I think the great struggle of writing is you are placing your own stupidity on the page and maybe there are some people for whom writing is easy, but I doubt very many of them are good writers. And this mirror to your glaring stupidity sits in front of you in the form of your own prose. And you’re fighting against it in the other direction, and that often then creates false inflation and self-importance which rides most easily upon semi-colons and adjectives and adverbs. And it’s this attempt to alleviate yourself from your own intellectual ugliness that results in the pomposity of language that characterizes most bad writing by people who are otherwise capable of being good writers. So I understand the virtue of policing yourself in the other direction, placing yourself in this sort of murderous vice between banality, right? Writingthings that no one will want to read because they’reso self-evident, and inflated diction to cover up for the fear of banality. And somewhere in between you have to also try to make it sound like a normal human being conversing intelligently. And that’s why writing is fucking hard." 

Yeah. It's fucking hard. It's so fun, and I'm compelled to write these stories down and nothing worth trying to do well is easy, and that's why. I feel good right now - I feel like it's true, that identifying an enemy is the first step to abolishing it. It's a good thing to remember - there are a million perfectly wonderful active, simple verbs just waiting to be used and not modified, qualified or anything-fied. 

On another note, can I just say how, specifically speaking as a playwright, I feel that J.K. Rowling is a beautiful gift to the world? This week in bookshops all over the world, kids sat right down on the floor and starting reading a play script. A play script! For most of them, this would be the first time they'd done this, and I have a wonderful prediction: She's helping begin a new generation of playwrights. How many kids had no idea this was story-telling from of such beauty, all dialogue, all character-driven, humanity-driven storytelling? They have seen it, they're experiencing it, now they will become it. Theater, look the hell out. You're about to be fortune-full in approximately ten years and I cannot wait. J.K. Rowling, I could kiss you. I love you more than I can ever properly express. (People, you know she legit reads this blog day and night. Hey Jo! What's up, Girl?) 

That's all for now. enjoy your summer, love each other well, and remember to tell adverbs to shut the hell up. Those jerks are not invited to our party anymore. Oh, here's the New York Magazine story Metcalfe was responding to. Jenny out. 

http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2016/06/02/abolish_the_adverb_you_seriously_must_be_joking.html

UP TO THIS POINTE nominated for the 2017 YALSA BEST FICTION YOUNG ADULT list!

The YOUNG ADULT LIBRARY SERVICES is part of the AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, and is a crucial resource for Librarians across the nation for curating literature for Young Adults. Clearly, these are two invaluable organizations and I'm so grateful for the amazing work they do, promoting and providing education in literacy for us all. Each year one of the the lists they curate is the Best Fiction Young Adult, and I'm thrilled and honored that UP TO tHIS POINTE has been nominated for inclusion in this incredible list of beautiful books. I have no idea who nominated UTTP but to you, mystery reader, Thank You. So much. And to all readers, and the ALA and YALSA - to all librarians and teachers - you are doing the best, most important work of all. Thank you. 

Why I Dedicated UP TO THIS POINTE to my Agent and my Editor. *Spoiler* They Are Rad.

I dedicated UP TO THIS POINTE to my agent and my editor. Because I believe making a book - the truest, best book, telling the best story I can tell, is not something I could ever do alone. These two women, younger and way smarter than I will ever be, made UP TO THIS POINTE possible first, by saying yes to the story. "A ballerina in Antarctica? Why the hell not, let's go!" They helped me find the actual story I meant to tell, among hundreds of thousands of words that nearly derailed the truth of it. I love agents. I love editors. I'm still so new to publishing that the amount of work I witness these two women do for all of their authors is still kind of staggering to me.

I know the following is well worn and repeated a lot and maybe you disagree but one of the best ways I can explain how I feel about publishing in general is from what I like to think of as John Green’s Ode To Publishing wherein he explains why the concept of Author As Island feels completely false:

“Bezos repeatedly peddled the lie that a book is created by one person, and that therefore a book’s author should be the sole entity to profit from the sale of the book. (Aside, of course, from Amazon itself.)

Bezos and Amazon are consistent in their promotion of this lie, because it encourages the idea that the publishing landscape today is bloated and inefficient and that there is a better, cheaper way to do it–a way where all books can cost $1.99 with most of that $1.99 going to the author. Readers and writers both win then, right?

Well, no. Because the truth is, most good books are NOT created solely by one person: Editors and publishers play a tremendously important role not just in the distribution of books, but in the creation of them. Without copyeditors and proofreaders, my books would be riddled with factual and grammatical errors that would pull you out of the story and give you a less immersive reading experience. This is true not only for traditional/legacy publishing but also for self-published books. Authors are not islands. But I do believe that without publishers, the overall quality and diversity of books will suffer.”

To my agent Melissa Sarver White, my editor Chelsea Eberly, and to all the agents and editors who love books more than anything and have dedicated their lives to bringing new books to readers every year, for seeking authors whose books challenge and strive to depict and celebrate diversity of humanity, books that save us and make us laugh and become part of who we are, and make us better, funnier, kinder - less lonely - to you, publishing angels, THANK YOU. I thank you as a writer, for the chance to contribute, and I thank you even more from the bottom of my heart, as a reader. Thank you. Books are the best things in the world. And so are you. Love, Jenny.

UP TO THIS POINTE 2016 TOUR DATES!

I am so thrilled UP TO THIS POINTE publishes January 19th, 2016 * Please join me for readings, signing, cupcakes, and general merriment at some wonderful book shops in Washington and Oregon, and stay tuned for more dates in California and New York.

January 24th 2016 (Sunday) 5pm LAUNCH PARTY! Island Books, Mercer Island Washington. 

January 30th 2016 (Saturday) 6pm Reading/Signing! University Books, Seattle Washington. 

January 31st 2016 (Sunday) 12 Noon Reading/Signing Eagle Harbor Book Co., Bainbridge Island, Washington.

February 6th 2016 (Saturday) 2pm Reading/Signing Village Books, Bellingham, Washington. 

February 19th 2016 (Friday) 7pm Reading/Signing Powell's Books Cedar Hills Crossing, Beaverton, Oregon. 

I can't wait to meet readers, see friends and family and eat too many cupcakes with you. Also, there will be champagne, so there's that. If you're into it. See you soon! 

UP TO THIS POINTE and SIX FEET OVER IT events. It's been a busy autumn so far.

January 19th is UP TO THIS POINTE's pub date, and it seems like forever away - except for when  my impending deadline for the first draft of my third novel makes January feel like it's showing up tomorrow. In the meantime, it has been a whirlwind autumn stirring up buzz and sharing the galleys of UP TO THIS POINTE with librarians, book sellers and reviewers. And SIX FEET OVER IT was named a finalist for the WASHINGTON STATE BOOK AWARD - such an amazing surprise, and a wonderful evening was spent celebrating with all the finalists and winners in the beautiful Seattle central library. I was honored to be a featured speaker at the annual WASHINGTON LIBRARY MEDIA ASSOCIATION conference,  where I giddily mingled with the greatest people in the world - school librarians! I signed a ton of galleys of UP TO THIS POINTE for a crowd of hilarious, smart book sellers at the PACIFIC NORTHWEST BOOKSELLERS TRADE SHOW. More events are on the horizon, but here are some moments captured at these conferences and ceremonies where authors are lucky to meet people who share our love of yammering on and on about our favorite topic - books! 

With Washington State Book Award Finalists Mary Cronk Farrel, Maureen McQuerry and Winner, Jennifer K. Mann at University Books, Seattle. 

With Washington State Book Award Finalists Mary Cronk Farrel, Maureen McQuerry and Winner, Jennifer K. Mann at University Books, Seattle. 

SIX FEET OVER IT is a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, YA Category!

What an honor to be recognized by The Washington Center For The Book, particularly considering the amazing company SIX FEET OVER IT is in. Congratulations to all the nominees, so many of them my friends. I can't wait to see everyone and eat cake and dress up and have fun together. Because, as always, it's all about Hooray For Books! See you there, and Thank you so much, WCFTB! http://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/books/finalists-announced-for-the-washington-state-book-awards/

An ode to my agent on SIX FEET OVER IT's 1st birthday!

In May 2010, after over a year of querying agents and many near misses, I realized my mistake in working backwards up my Dream List. I had spent the previous year sending my book to wonderful-but-not-top-ten-but-still-great-agents who I hoped would give me feedback if they didn't offer, and that turned out to be true. I got a ton of feedback, I did a lot of spec revisions that did not ultimately garner offers. These were smart agents who know what's up and what would sell. But in my eagerness to please and get a contract, I wound up with a Frankenstein-ed version of what used to be a first draft of a first novel, and not a single offer. In a year's time I had burned my list up to my top ten agents, then my top five. In April 2010, instead of implementing my plan of using all that great feedback to make sure my most yearned-for agents got a super-polished, expertly revised manuscript, I took my poor book back down to the studs, to what it was before all the spec revisions, and sent it, finally, to my top five dream agents. A risky and terrifying maneuver. And I am in no way saying don't revise, I'm saying revise with a purpose, to serve the story, don't take every single suggestion from a million different people. Makes no sense to the narrative. But anyhoo, by the grace of...something, I don't know what...by May I had an offer. From the agent I wanted most. And then two more agents knew I had an offer and then they offered. And then I passed out. Because that's a super weird position to be in - to go from begging for anyone to read this thing, to figuring out how to graciously turn down someone's offer. So I wrote a bunch of stupid rambling emails to the Dream Agent about "Other agents are saying this book won't sell without a complete tear down to the studs but you seem to think it's got more potential than that, please tell me why?" My confidence was shattered after a year - no, it was more like a year a half - of negative criticism and about thirty long, drawn-out rejections. Maybe this book just needed to go take a long nap in a desk drawer. The other agents all thought I could write, they just didn't like this book. Why did this one agent, the one I wanted more than anyone else to represent me, why did she think this book would find readers? In her first display of monumental patience and kindness, which all her writers are so lucky to receive, she sent me an email I want to have plated in gold one day. An email she didn't have to write, but she did anyway. Because she's a freaking rock star. And she's a honey badger with a heart, who actually does give a shit - about everything that matters. Just not nonsense. 

Agents and editors work non-stop, I'm pretty sure they don't ever get days off even when they're supposed to. Agents are also editors, and writers, they have to ferociously protect their books and authors without making anyone mad, they must maneuver the minefield of the publishing world with grace, all the while holding the hands of ridiculous authors, first-time spazzy writers like me. My agent has figured out knots and plot holes in both my books, she knows stories like a boss. She talks me down from ledges of self doubt, tells me when it's time to nut up or time to back off. My agent brings books into the world. She makes sure there are books for us all to fall into and love and learn from and devour. That is, to me, one of the most noble and selfless lives a person could live. I cannot believe I went up my list backward. But maybe it happened the way it was meant to. Who the hell knows. I'm just grateful every day. Here is a small part of the email my agent wrote to me, when all she really had to say was, "Oh my God! Stop being so precious about it, you're not Proust and it's just a book! Stop with the hand wringing, get off your ass and let's do this thing!" But she's a far better person than I am. Thank Goodness. 

Hi Jen,

I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must be to talk to so many people about your manuscript and hear a ton of criticism.  And I’m assuming a lot of this criticism is varied, so you start to wonder, what is working and what needs to be addressed.  Who’s right?  Maybe I should just go back to the drawing board…  You start to lose sight of what is there and the reason all these people have reached out to you.  I’d like to remind you of that:  The fact that so many agents have expressed interest in your manuscript is strong indication of its merit.  We are constantly reading – you can probably just imagine how many manuscripts we read each week (it’s kind of astounding sometimes!).  Of those, I would say most agents talk to very few of the authors and offer representation to even fewer.  You should be very confident in your work if this many people have reached out to you.  Keep that in mind when you’re feeling confused and overwhelmed and struggling through a revision.

It simply comes down to the writing, and that’s where this shines. If someone has a story that’s plotted out well but their voice doesn’t shine, there’s really nothing an agent or editor can do to fix that.  You can’t really teach someone how to create a voice and a style of writing. You have that.

Hang in there.

Seriously. Makes me cry every single time. To all my friends with books in the hands of agents, or editors, hoping someone will say Yes, I'm passing on the best part of this perfect message. Hang in there. Keep writing. The world is full of readers and a ton of them want your book. They do. For real, do not stop writing. Hold out for the agent who writes emails like this one. Hang in there

Cover Reveal! UP TO THIS POINTE & SIX FEET OVER IT paperback!

The amazing author and artist Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, cover art for Rainbow Rowell's FANGIRL) has created gorgeous new covers for UP TO THIS POINTE (Penguin Random January 2016) and for the paperback of SIX FEET OVER IT. Sometimes there are moments in publishing that make an author so happy she gets all weepy. Join me with a nice box of tissues, won't you? I mean come on! Look how beautiful! Thank you so much Random House, Noelle, and readers - I hope you love UP TO THIS POINTE as much as we do, and as much as we love these covers OMG YOU GUYS LOOK!


Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

         Recently I’ve been preparing my first conference and keynote presentations as an author, and holy cripes is it turning out to be so fun! Having been an audience member for tons of different kinds of keynotes, I’m working mostly around excluding talking points that have made me drowsy or led me to believe the speaker was drunk. Fellow writers have said book reader/seller/librarian audiences love personal history, snapshots of the author as an infant in a sudsy tub playing with a board book (“See? I’ve always loved reading!”) or maybe some photos of a dog at one’s desk pretending to type and Dude, I am so down! My dogs are adorable! Also, writers tell me that audiences love to ask and have addressed Ye Age Olde Question:

            “Where do you get your ideas?”

            Mostly, authors will offer the standard, “From life!” and to be honest? Yeah. That’s pretty much it. Seriously, just paying attention while walking through life and being present at family holiday functions, I’ve got story ideas scribbled in the pages of more notebooks than I have room to stack them. Ideas are not the problem. But there’s no way I’m standing up at a breakfast presentation with one PowerPoint slide that just says, “Life….aaand scene!” Because A. Poor audience! And B. It’s clearly more about connecting pedestrian moments or a book outline into a new story informed by the visceral things we’re living; bending anecdotal details to support or enhance a plot’s larger theme, if you will. Any decent author, man or woman, has in fact lived their pretend story in a literal, actual, or figurative way. They have. No matter the genre. I don’t care what they say, it’s how it’s done. What we live + make some stuff up = A Book. See? Easy! (ED NOTE It is not easy don’t listen to this B.S.)

            One of my favorite reader to author Where do you get your ideas? times happened to me recently via email. Actually, it was more a I know you don’t have any ideas and need to scavenge to find enough material for your little blog type deal. But same diff. And it’s kind of funny/sad. I’m going to nutshell this for you, you’ll love it!

            Nearly two years ago my daughter was the new kid at a ballet school, and (unbeknownst to my husband and I) was bullied so badly by her classmates that she finally broke down and asked for help from the teachers and parents. The teacher, intimidated by the parents, refused to make the bullies stop, the bullies’ parents refused to admit what everyone saw their kids doing, refused even to acknowledge the behavior at all, so nothing changed. The bullying began happening in class, was ignored by teachers, and so my kid had to leave. No one there asked where she went or said goodbye. Not a single adult cared. It was not good times. (She auditioned for and was admitted to a better school so that part’s good.)

            Right as this crap was happening, Jay Asher, author of the beautiful 13 Reasons Why began a fifty state Anti-Bullying tour, and I related this ballet story (using no names or identifying locations) in a blog post about how wonderful I think Jay Asher is, and how important it is for writers to address bullying and for parents and teachers not to ignore it, yadda yadda. Okay. So, a year later one of the bullies at the ballet school is stalking me on the interwebs, finds this year old blog entry and shows it to her mom, who immediately recognizes herself in my heavily veiled, anonymous description of a parent who let her kid mercilessly bully another child and then pretend it never happened. That’s when this mom suddenly cared about….her rad street cred? God, I don't know. Some random selfish thing….and she sends me the screwy Ideas email containing this gem:

          “I appreciate that you are a writer and are generating content for your blog, but I am concerned that you have spent so many hours reflecting and writing on this situation.”

          You guys. Pure. Gold. Concern for a bullied child chased from a school, or perhaps some concern about her own daughter’s cruelty? No way! Priorities, please! This woman is deeply concerned about me! About a year old blog entry, about my content generation, about my reflection habits, about how I organized my writing time last year. I am flattered and touched! Because people like her are curious about the writing process! And okay, maybe this particular person’s distinct curiosity demonstrates a need for psychotropic medication, but since I am not a licensed physician and can only help with one of those issues, here goes:

        Oh, Sweet Lady. Rest assured, this shit does not take hours to write – we’re not dealing with Proust here; its just Jenny and it’s only a blog. Ten, fifteen minutes soup to nuts and as you have clearly demonstrated, there’s no ‘generating material’ going on - this stuff falls from the sky, through your anxious little typing fingers, and straight into my lap. Magic!

       I’m pretty sure I’ll keep reflecting for, as T Swift would say, like, ever. I’ll reflect on how my brave daughter withstood being thrashed all year and tried to solve things by herself, for the rest of my life. I’ll reflect on how my kind, resilient girl asked grown-ups she trusted for help, and how every one of those self-absorbed adults failed her and rewarded cruelty. I’ll reflect on the sad bullies who still are being given no guidance, and how when our family was so heartbroken about the situation an amazing writer, Jay Asher, had the spine to stand up and make a difference in the world by fighting for kids like my strong, brave daughter, and his bravery gave me hope and inspired me to write about him. But above all else, I will reflect on the gift of such an awesome, ‘concern’-filled email, and on this beautiful, singular, loaded question:

       "Where do you get your ideas?"

        Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to direct your attention to this typing-dog-Jenny-as-a-baby-photo-filled PowerPoint presentation. Because have I got a story to tell you. 

      

SIX FEET OVER IT is a VOYA Perfect Ten 2014

VOYA Magazine has selected SIX FEET OVER IT as a 2014 PERFECT TEN title! From VOYA:

With over 1,082 reviews in VOYA in print in 2014, our reviewers awarded only thirty-eight titles (3.5 percent) the Perfect Ten: A 5Q for quality (hard to imagine it better written) and a 5P for popularity (every young adult who reads was dying to read it yesterday). This list is relied upon by librarians and educators around the country (and the world) in their selection of titles to add to library and classroom collections. It is an invaluable tool to our readership, and a lofty honor to those authors and publishers whose titles are selected. The full reviews of all of the Perfect Ten honorees are included in ordering databases/systems of some of the largest book wholesalers and library jobbers in the country, for both public and school libraries. VOYA’s reviewers considered these titles to be the best of the best in 2014. Excerpts from their reviews tell us why.

What an honor from such an amazing organization. Thank you VOYA, for being champions of literature for young readers, for all readers. 

UP TO THIS POINTE (Or) The Most Insanely Amazing News Ever

Publisher's Weekly Rights Report: Week of October 13, 2014 "Chelsea Eberly at Random House has bought Six Feet Over It author Jennifer Longo's UP TO THIS POINTE, in a two-book deal. In the novel, a girl who is the descendent of an explorer who died in a race to the South Pole knows that big dreams come with big risks. When her dream of becoming a star ballerina dies, she's willing to go to the ends of the earth (literally to the South Pole) to chart a new path. Publication is slated for spring 2016; Melissa Sarver White at Folio Literary Management did the deal for world rights."

People, can I just say that as a writer, sometimes we spend years turning a story into a novel. And the writer may think to themselves, "If I can just publish this book - just one book - I'll feel like maybe I know what I'm doing, that all these words I love so much may be loved by readers. Maybe a publisher may agree, they may love this story, too." And then sometimes that novel is published. And the writer thinks..."Okay, maybe that book was the only, the last best idea I'll ever have." Sophomore Slump, all that. But sometimes it turns out - not true.

I am so overwhelmed with joy and love for this story I have been all weepy for weeks.

Frozen_3-1
Frozen_3-1

As was the case with SIX FEET OVER IT, my second novel, UP TO THIS POINTE began as a full-length play called FROZEN, part of my graduate school thesis. The story has become new, but was sprung from my deep and passionate love of studying Antarctica, and the stories of the early explorers of that beautiful continent. And embedded in my love for The Ice is my love of the agonizing perfection and impossible beauty of Ballet. The Ice, The Great Age Of Antarctic Exploration, Ballet...these terrible beauties, along with my devoted affection for the city of San Francisco, make up the heart of the story of my second novel. MY SECOND NOVEL. That's just ridiculous to say. Even more nuts is that this is a two book deal. So in a while I'll be yakking about MY THIRD NOVEL. 

Hopefully. I mean it is the publishing world, one never knows what will happen. But for now there is this contract,  I'm writing, revising, sitting with a computer and a dog on my lap, in a state of delighted gratitude and disbelief. Oh my gosh. I've got an unbelievably amazing agent (Melissa Sarver-White), a dream of an editor (Chelsea Eberly) and I love this story so much. That always seems to be a good place to start when working to write a book readers will love. It's a good place to be.

Horn Book Review of SIX FEET OVER IT

A beautiful review from The Horn Book Review has come in for SIX FEET OVER IT. I'm so grateful to Cynthia K. Ritter and Horn Book Review for reading, and for such kind praise.The Horn Book Review, founded in Boston in 1924, is a bimonthly periodical about literature for children and young adults and is the oldest magazine in the United States dedicated to reviewing children's literature. In each bi-monthly issue The Horn Book Magazine includes reviews of new books and paperback reprints for children. Articles are written by the staff and guest reviewers, including librarians, teachers, historians and booksellers. What a wonderful review from an amazing champion of young people's literature. Such an honor! Here's the review:

SIX FEET OVER ITHorn Book By Jennifer Longo Four months ago Leigh’s father unexpectedly bought a graveyard and moved his family from their California beach town to live on the graveyard’s grounds. While he loves his new business (maybe a little too much), Leigh’s not thrilled about having to manage the cemetery office when she’s not at her new school—a place where she remains a “friendless parasite in [an] unfamiliar labyrinth.” Leigh’s older sister is in remission from cancer and obsessed with running and with a new love interest; their artist mother escapes to the beach whenever she can. On top of all that, Leigh is secretly mourning the death of her only friend, Emily, from back home who, as it turns out, is buried in their cemetery. Leigh thinks that making new friends or having fun will be a betrayal of her friendship with Emily and believes that anyone who gets close to her will disappear, too, so she keeps people at bay. Fortunately the new young Mexican groundskeeper Dario and free-spirited flower-shop girl Elanor are persistent in their support and friendship, and they slowly help Leigh rediscover herself. Longo’s debut stands out for its unusual setting and also the sarcasm and caustic humor of its protagonist (“Creepy death/birth? Check. Living in a graveyard? Check…born on the Day of the Dead? The Day of the Freaking Dead?…Check!”). It is heartbreaking to see this likable character suffer, but all the more rewarding to see her transformation unfold. -Cynthia K. Ritter

Book Tour! Readings! Signings! Cupcakes!

You guys! I'm coming to all points West Coast for some Six Feet Over It readings and signings! If you've ever wanted to hear stories about my dad mowing a graveyard lawn while wearing Japanese flag running shorts, or eat cupcakes in a book store, or enjoy a quiz about death for prizes, or meet me in person to ask me intimate questions about my writing process (Hint: Many bowls of Rice Krispies and tons of frustration) then please do join me at one of these wonderful events. I would love to meet you and sign a book for you and chat it up! Seattle, Sacramento, San Francisco - I'll be all over the West Coast. Well. The Northern part. And a little inland. Everyone welcome, this book is for ages 12 & up, though it has elements of cussing and death in it so you know...know your kid I guess. But kids are nuts theses days, they can handle it! I can't wait to see you! photo-139

*Wednesday, October 8th @ 7pm Reading with Suzy Vitello (Celebrating the launch of her new book, The Empress Chronicles ) Powells’ Books Cedar Hills Crosssing, Portland, Oregon.

*Thursday, October 9th @ 6:30 pm with Suzy again for the YA Club at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington.

*Sunday, October 12th @ 5pm Book Shop West Portal in San Francisco, California (Reading, Signing, Prizes, Best Mexican Food In The World Next Door at El Toreador)Six Feet Over It

*Monday, October 13th @ 8pm I'm telling a story at Porchlight SF as part of Lit Quake San Francisco at the Verdi Club in San Francisco, California. (Tickets at the door, or at eventbrite.com) www.porchlightsf.com

*Thursday, October 23rd Reading as part of Seattle’s Lit Crawl (Exact location and time TBD)

I hope to see you there! There will be a ton of York Peppermint Patties tossed out at the audience like Mardi Gras! How could you even consider not joining the fun with the promise of chocolate, mint, and Kirkus Starred story telling? Oh, you'll be there. You will. See you soon!

 

 

Best Moments In Life In Photographs.

Most Memorable Life Events In Photographs. 1. Met this J-Hole in 3rd grade.

Yoda Ridiculous

 

2. Met best friend in 5th grade.

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3. Won first writing award.

award

 

4. First lead role in a musical.

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5. Graduated from college and grad school.

Grad

 

6. First play produced.

Frozen_3-1

7. Married J-Hole.

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8. Met and adopted most wonderful person in the world.

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9. Wrote first novel, people at NaNoWriMo loved it.

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10. Signed with Agent Of The World, Melissa Sarver-White.

mel

11. Long story long...

photo-139

 

Starred Review for SIX FEET OVER IT from The Center For Children's Books Bulletin!

books!!Less than a week to publication, and what a beautiful, thoughtful review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books! I am so grateful. If you're not familiar with the CCB, here's a brief introduction to this amazing organization: The Center for Children’s Books (CCB) at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) is a crossroads for critical inquiry, professional training, and educational outreach related to youth-focused resources, literature and librarianship. The Center’s mission is to facilitate the creation and dissemination of exemplary and progressive research and scholarship related to all aspects of children’s and young adult literature; media and resources for young (age 0-18) audiences; and youth services librarianship.

In partnership with The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books—an authoritative analytic review journal—the Center aims to inspire and inform adults who connect young people with resources in person, in print, and online. The Center sponsors activities and hosts interdisciplinary research projects involving both theory and practice. In its dual role as research collection and educational community, the Center has national impact on the future of reading and readers.

And now, the review!

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Six Feet Over It Jennifer Longo *STARRED REVIEW* When Leigh’s father moves the family away from their beloved ocean home to run a cemetery in the hot California inland, high school freshman Leigh runs the business while her father generally flakes out and her mother retreats to her art studio. Leigh accepts it because she’ll do anything to keep her older sister, Kai, happy, now that Kai is newly in remission from leukemia; Leigh also has begun to believe that death is her own natural element, and that she is responsible for the unexpected death of her best friend, Emily, her anchor during Kai’s illness. Only Dario, the cemetery’s new wonder worker, is able to get past Leigh’s defenses. Leigh improves her Spanish as they dig graves together, relies on him to teach her to drive, and chokes down her crush on him when it turns out that the twenty-something Dario has a fiancée in Mexico hoping to join him in California. A vibrant voice keeps Leigh’s narration from becoming morose, but it also reveals the desperate loneliness and fear of the girl beneath the sass, the girl who believes “everyone good always leaves. Or dies.” Her work at the cemetery is suffused with her frustration toward her parents, but it’s also a perceptive and at times deeply moving view of people in loss, with insider insights like the difference between Pre-Need (those who purchased their plots in advance and are now merely using the service) and At Need (those arriving at the cemetery in fresh grief). Leigh’s an eloquent spokesperson for the pitfalls of being the kid whom worried about in a family in crisis; her raw deal will elicit indignant sympathy, and readers will rejoice at her triumphant reentry into the world. A delightfully robust author’s note describes Longo’s own cemetery experience. DS

Thank you so much, CBC Bulletin. It is an honor for SIX FEET OVER IT to be recognized by such champions of education and literary, and here's to us all; students, educators - readers - finding insight, comfort and the the straight-up joy of a good story. Happy reading!

Booklist Reviews SIX FEET OVER IT

Booklist has given Six Feet Over It an amazing review! And it contains a line that makes my YA writer heart sing: "What looks to be positioned as a romance between Leigh and Dario develops into a surprising—and quite refreshing—story about the sometimes painful give-and-take of friendship."photo-139

Here is the review, in all it's "Quite Refreshing" glory:

Six Feet Over It. Longo, Jennifer (Author) Aug 26, 2014. 352 p. Random, hardcover, $17.99 The one thing 14-year-old Leigh didn’t need after the death of her friend Emily was for her dad to move the whole family, including her cancer-recovering sister, inland to work at the cemetery he suddenly decided to purchase. Now Leigh’s days are filled with dealing with the “Pre-Need” (those buying plots for the future) and the “At Need” (those who need graves right now). Death, it seems, surrounds her, though the 19-year-old Mexican gravedigger, Dario, suggests that being “the patron saint of death” is rather beautiful. What looks to be positioned as a romance between Leigh and Dario develops into a surprising—and quite refreshing—story about the sometimes painful give-and-take of friendship, as Dario, over two years, helps Leigh to realize that accepting new relationships does not equal forgetting Emily. It may sound morose, but Longo gives it quite a bounce, with Leigh’s wry sense of humor wreaking havoc on the day-to-day cemetery operations and her boisterous father bringing the laughs with his every sputtering shout of disbelief. A unique book for unique teens.

Booklist reviewer, please join me in my home for I shall make you tacos for dinner and we'll have frozen yogurt for dessert with York mints and I can tell you in person how much I appreciate, and yes, love you. Yesterday also saw the arrival of the first hardcover copy of Six Feet Over It, which the Fed Ex guy totally flung out onto the driveway and I stood and shook my fists at the sky and cried, "How dare you, sir? That is my baby!" But the baby is perfectly intact, publishing date August 26th is just around the river bend, and I am so grateful to Booklist, Chelsea Eberly, Melissa Sarver White, and sure, even the Fed Ex guy. Because it's hot out and who wants to climb stairs. I feel you, man. Have a wonderful weekend readers, writers, reviewers and delivery people!

 

 

Fellow Writers, published or almost: SCBWI & Mockingbird Books show us the fun part!

One month today until Six Feet Over It publishes! August 26th 2014 People! In celebration, let's harken back to Ye Olde Month Of April at the beautiful Mockingbird Books in Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood. photo 1      Mockingbird hosts SCBWI's annual Inside Story event wherein authors of recently published and forthcoming books share a little about how the book came to be, followed by a bunch of really amazing brownies and lemonade and there was some great hummus, too I think...oh, and a book signing! I only had an ARC, just one - so I signed it for my new friend Mel who works at University Books and directs the great Novels Notes News Northwest where PNW authors promote their books and jazz.

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I met some wonderful Seattle area authors who were so kind and supportive and gave great advice about signing (always bring water and a crap ton of Sharpies)

 

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I got all jittery when I spoke and it was awesome! Mockingbird Books has this beautiful performance space above the store where the event was held, then we went downstairs for the signing where I scored a whole mess of fabulous books for myself and got them signed by those wonderful authors! This is the fun part, Writers. This is the part, after months and years of so much work to make your book good enough for readers, this is when people come up and say things like, "Your book sounds perfect for my daughter/son/niece!" or "I loved this story so much...I LOVED it!" and you think, "Ohhhhh right....this is why I wrote this thing."

On Sunday, September 14th Island Books on Mercer Island, Washington will host the launch party for my debut novel Six Feet Over It. I'll have a bunch of sharpies and my water bottle at the ready and I'll be super nervous and I'll wish it could last forever. So listen, feel free to join me next time I'm hunkered down doing line edits and I haven't showered in days and my kid is all, "You don't love me, you only love your book!"

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OR...join me instead on Sunday September 14th for five dozen cupcakes in gorgeous Island Books and hear a delightful brief reading and get your book signed and enjoy a plastic flute of sparkly champagne! Come for the fun part! And get ready for your fun part. Because it will be here soon, the harder you write. The more you read and write and write and edit and revise and write submit and revise and write and write, it will happen. Readers will love your story, it will make the world more beautiful and you'll need your water and sharpies. I'm so excited for you. I can't wait to read your book and have you sign my copy which I will buy at the Indie bookshop hosting your launch. Order your cupcakes and write on, Authors.

 

School Library Journal reviews SIX FEET OVER IT

And it is a fabulous review! Immeasurable gratitude to Ragan O'Malley @ Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, NY, and to School Library Journal. Not familiar with SLJ? Here's a bit about who they are and what they do: Library Journal Logo

The School Library Journal is a monthly magazine with articles and reviews for school librarians, media specialists, and public librarians who work with young people. Reviews are included for preschool to 4th grade, grades 5 and up, and teens. Both fiction and non-fiction titles are reviewed, as are graphic novels, multimedia, and digital resources. In 2006 School Library Journal had a circulation of 38,000 subscribers and over 100,000 readers.[

School Library Journal readers include library professionals from school and public libraries, as well as educators from preschool to high school, and publishers and vendors with an interest in serving children and young adults. They rely on our publications, events, and research to help navigate the challenges facing their respective institutions, and provide relevant materials and services their communities need.

Because libraries are The. Best. Places. On. Earth.

Here is the review for SIX FEET OVER IT:

Instead of returning home at the end of a summer spent with their grandparents, Leigh and her older sister Kai receive two one-way bus tickets to Hangtown, CA. Their father has bought a graveyard and the family is moving. For the past three years, Leigh has been a stalwart support system for Kia while she battled cancer, and although the cancer is now in remission, Kai’s health feels tenuous. And there’s Emily, Leigh’s best friend, who died over the summer. Her parents are neglectful and disengaged, and her father expects her to work after school in the graveyard office. Longo has crafted a complicated and multilayered narrative, the root of which is the story of a young girl who feels that death follows her. Leigh’s aggressive sarcasm is at first off-putting, but soon it becomes clear that it masks a lot of pain. She resists making friends because she feels that being friends with her is to invite the specter of death. Leigh’s worst fears are confirmed when Dario, the 20-year-old Mexican immigrant who works at the cemetery (and Leigh’s crush), tells her that her birthday, November 1st, is the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Dario says she is like La Caterina, patron saint of the dead. It is through Dario’s friendship, Kai’s love, and the intrepid perseverance of Elanor, a girl who desperately wants to be her friend, that Leigh emerges from her grief and solidly joins the world of the living. An impressive debut novel—simultaneously hilarious, clever, and poignant.–Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn, NY

Come on! That is awesome! So grateful for readers, and I am more hopeful each day that SFOI is a book many readers of all ages love and connect with. Okay. Off to write.

Kirkus Starred Review for SIX FEET OVER IT. For real.

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Six Feet Over It has a really beautiful starred review from Kirkus! What an amazing honor, what a joy to know that all the reasons I wanted to tell this story have somehow translated to so many readers. And yes, reviews are just one person's thoughts and are not the be-all-end-all of life or books whether good, bad or indifferent. But the thing is this: If even one person feels a little less lonely, or happier, or just falls away into a story for a few hours - that is the best thing in the world, the greatest and entire reward for a storyteller or illustrator, for an agent and editor who create the story with the writers and artists. That is magic. People, is there anything better than a great book to get lost in? Certainly not! And the kindness of readers who have shared how they've been happily lost in Six Feet Over It make me so grateful and thrilled as a writer - and  as a reader - that I could totally cry. Which I generally tend to do a lot anyway, but which I am especially doing a ton these days as August 26th comes nearer. So. Excited. Thank you all so much, Dear Readers, and thank you Dear Writers who write the amazing books I cannot stop reading. Even when I should be writing. Which is now. So I'll get back to it. But here's the unbelievably wonderful Kirkus (Starred! What the hell? Seriously?!) review for you to read. Which I read a few times a day while clutching a wad of Kleenex because it makes me weepy because I am so grateful and So Happy!

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A teenage girl must choose to live in a world filled with death.

Fourteen-year-old Leigh is anything but thrilled when her parents move the family from their coastal home in Mendocino to run a “memorial park” (aka graveyard) in the boring inland California community of Hangtown. While her older sister, Kai, relaxes into small-town living, finally a normal high school girl after a long battle with leukemia, Leigh hides herself in the cemetery’s office and tries to avoid forming relationships. Like her parents, Leigh sacrificed a lot for Kai’s recovery, but she isn’t bitter. She adores her sister. Instead, she has closed herself off from feeling, hoping to avoid hurting or losing anyone again. When the local florists’ daughter and the new groundskeeper enter her life, she struggles to keep them at arm’s length. As she begins to let her guard down, she realizes that loss is a part of life and must decide if she is ready to let go of some painful events in her past to start really living again. In her debut, Longo deftly combines Leigh’s wry wit with an exceptional cast of well-developed characters to create a novel that is equal parts poignant and humorous. Readers will find themselves rooting for Leigh as she returns to the world around her.

Superb. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 2014 ISBN: 978-0-449-81871-8 Page count: 352pp Publisher: Random House Review Posted Online: June 4th, 2014 Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2014

The Beauty Of Uh-Oh Pages

When my daughter was eight years old I read to her, every night at bed time, all nine Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books, marking my own probably hundred and twelfth reading of them. No joke. As a kid I was, and still am, kind of obsessed with them. I re-read them all every year, just because. So now my kid is eleven and we’re reading them all again, and it’s a completely different experience. She’s much more cognizant and sad about the financial repercussions of each failed crop. (Grasshopper plague! Blackbirds! Fire!) She’s super curious and sympathetic about Mary’s blindness and what it means for her future, like can she still get married or teach and all that, and how does fever ‘settle in Mary’s eyes’? She points out that sure, Almanzo risked his life outrunning a blizzard to get wheat for the starving townspeople during The Long Winter, but his main motivation wasn’t totally altruistic – really, he’s doing it to save his own seed wheat, hidden in the wall.

But most of all, my kid is now, more than when she was younger, super horrified by the oft-depicted blatant racism.

“Oh, my God!” she cringes, every time Ma wearily expresses the notion that "The only good Indian is a dead Indian". These are books written about the late nineteenth century white expansion into the American west, from the narrative point of view of a white girl and her family, so sure – those unsettling (to put it mildly) details are in there. And while I can confidently say I would not have enjoyed these books were I an American Indian or if I were black, and my enjoyment makes me feel super creepy and guilty a lot of times, I can also say that these awful parts of the books are historically accurate and for my kid they are at once confusing, infuriating, and effectively thought provoking.

Wendy McClure (an amazing editor and author who wrote one of my very favorite books, a memoir called The Wilder Life) summed up one of the most ick-tastic chapters (and one of the grossest Garth Williams illustrations in the series) in this re-cap of chapter 21 of Little Town On The Prairie. This is from the website Beyond Little House:

“Ma buys her half a yard of beautiful brown velvet, and so on Saturdays Laura and Mary Power work their hats, and Mary’s hat is blue, and Laura’s hat is silky and soft and tawny and THEN OMG EVERYONE IS IN BLACKFACE.

Okay, maybe I skipped a few things there.

It’s just that nothing quite prepares you for page 258, otherwise known as The Uh-Oh Page, which has the Garth Williams illustration of the surprise minstrel show performance (which includes Pa!) at the final town Literary. But hey, there it is. I think there’s a tendency to forget that The Uh-Oh Page and its corresponding scene even exists, especially if you had no idea what minstrel shows were when you first read the Little House books. I’m pretty sure that as a kid I stared at The Uh-Oh Page and thought something like, “So Pa’s a… black clown?” and shrugged, because I just didn’t get it. But it’s that adult knowledge —understanding what the painted-face “darky ” represents in our culture—that really puts the uh-oh in The Uh-Oh Page.

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But after that initial jolt, the book does a pretty good job of negotiating that sticky territory between the way modern readers view these blackfaced folks and how the people of De Smet would have seen them. Minstrel shows, after all, were one of the most popular forms of theatrical entertainment in the 19th century, and the book manages to convey the excitement—a big-city-style spectacle appearing suddenly in a Dakota schoolhouse!—while wisely omitting some of the particulars. “When the dancing stopped, the jokes began,” reads the narrative. Uh, do you really want to hear those jokes? Noooo, and the book doesn’t go there, either, thank goodness. At the same time, the Garth Williams illustration allows us to see what minstrel shows were all about and reminds us that the Little House books took place in American history and not some pristine and politically correct prairie.

Still, I don’t envy anyone who has to explain The Uh-Oh Page to their kid: “Sometimes people dressed as, um… ‘black clowns.’ But they don’t anymore! So don’t ever dress like that!” Parents, how do you cope?”

Seriously. How does a parent cope? Here’s how it went with my kid; when she was eight, the words and pictures creeped her out and made her mad - it’s harder for a third grader to grasp time passage and cultural morays and all that. She just knew how jacked that crap was, being the only asian kid in her class at school and often subjected to racism herself. But now that she’s eleven and has studied the California Missions (Read: Genocide) and the Civil War and slavery and the trail of tears and comes home from school depressed all the time, what the Uh-Oh Chapter now makes her feel is totally confused.

“They talk about what a great president Lincoln was,” my kid says, “Pa brings it up like three times. Lincoln said black people were humans, just like white people. That was his whole thing.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I know.”

“And when they were alone in Indian Territory and everyone was passed out and hallucinating with the Fever ‘N’ Ague a black doctor saved them – he saved their lives, all of them.”

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“Yeah,” I say. “Right.”

“So then why….how can they understand black people are doctors who save their lives but then they do the blackface thing?”

Dude. I don’t know. I tell her it’s easier to abuse people when you convince yourself they aren’t actually people. Blackface does that real well. (Like how people call dead cows ‘beef’ and ‘leather’ so they can eat and wear them without the inconvenience of guilt.) We talk about how racist crap continues today all over the world, and definitely in this country. My own great grandfather lived in the Ozarks and was some kind of low-ish ranking Klan Wizard. When classmates pull their eyes down and ask her if she loves chow mien my daughter knows what stupidity is. (And p.s. she’s not even Chinese.)

Obviously what the Little House books have given us is a perfect opportunity to talk about this mess, how things were, how they are still, how things change or don’t and why, and most of all how we, each of us on this planet, can live our lives with intelligence and bravery and grace, how we can conduct ourselves in a way that pulls the tide away from ignorance, and toward a world where a David Duke could never possibly be elected governor of any state ever again - not even Louisiana. In Laura’s time in America, we know women were pretty much screwed, LGBT people would not have been treated as human beings, let alone be slowly gaining their entitled basic civil rights. Barack Obama could not ever have been elected president. Of course, there’s still a ton of white supremacists in America (And don’t get kidnapped here if you’re not a cute white girl or no one will care), Mexican Americans are being asked for their papers and holy crap are you kidding me NFL, Washington Redskins? D.C. is still the nation’s capitol, right? Gah.

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I understand I’ve got a privileged lens through which to view these books as a whole without losing my nut in rage – even though, as a decent person, I probably should.

Except the books were written honestly, not as a meditation on how the world should be, but how it was. So truthfully, I’m glad it’s there in Laura’s books. All of it. My daughter knows were she to live in Laura’s time on the prairie in America she would have most likely been a servant on the railroad or down in a coal mine. But she’s here now. And now she can wear a bonnet, and pretend to churn butter and work sums on a slate and pretend to be travelling west by wagon when we camp. Because now is different. And for all the horrible things in the world, some things are better. Because people were brave and made them better. And we must be the people who keep making them better now. As much as we can. Every day.