At last! I am overjoyed to announce my third novel, WHAT I CARRY (Penguin Random House) will publish January 21, 2020 and it has an absolutely gorgeous cover. (Yes I know authors always say that but People, I’m telling you. It is so beautiful I can barely stand it) The designers at Penguin Random House are geniuses and this piece of art will be revealed, with accompanying pre-order links, next Tuesday, June 25th! More details to follow but for now let me grace you with my incredible PicCollage work that my daughter taught me how to do. I think you’ll agree it is as intricate and sophisticated as anything you’ll see on Antiques Roadshow that someone found in their Aunt Kathy’s garage and they’re trying to get it appraised so they can sell it. I put this up as a placeholer cover on Goodreads. (More on that later. Yikes.) This stunning hand-crafted cover is an ode to John Muir, who figures prominently in WHAT I CARRY. His lifelong fight to save the natural world from destruction and his need for constant movement & quiet solitude to feel freedom guide Muiriel, the protagonist, as she navigates rescuing her own life from potential destruction as she ages out of a life lived in foster care. Like her namesake John Muir, she feels trapped by being in one place, in one house, and needs solitude and nature to breathe. But can she find freedom in the stillness of one place, if involves a life not so alone, steeped in love? WHAT I CARRY publishes January 21st, 2020. I will not sleep till then. Also, Sidebar Nation: Authors, do NOT put placeholder cover images up on Goodreads before your real cover is issued. It took a week and two Goodreads SuperLibrarians to take that shit down in preparation for the actual cover and pre-order links. Nobody has time for those kinds of hijinx, especially the hard-working badass Librarians of Goodreads. I owe them my life! See you June 25th!
That’s what a forty-six-year-old white man said to my sixteen-year-old daughter when she told him recently that no, she didn’t him to hug her. “No thanks,” she said. “I don’t feel like a hug right now.” Any fully functioning adult human would have said to my daughter’s clear response, “Okay sounds great have a good one!” and gone about his day. To a fully functioning adult human old enough to understand, ‘No’ would mean No. But not to this creep. “Oh, come on.” he said. “Be Nice.”
My daughter’s heart sped up. She said “I have to go,” and she turned and walked away fast to find me in another room. This was a small, invisible interaction lost in a crowded party, but it is an enormous piece of the larger clusterfuck of the reality known as Rape Culture; a million little stabs that make up, and are indicative of, the slashing knife wound of the absolute bullshit women all over the world endure every minute of our lives. We are supposed to stay quiet, Be Nice and keep men happy at the expense of our own humanity. And sanity.
Translation: I want to put my arms around your body and I am a man so I am entitled to do this, you are a girl and you need to Be Nice and let me.
Earlier, I watched this same man reach over the back of a sofa to put his hands on a seventy-year-old woman and grab fistfuls of her skin though her clothes to tickle her. She said, Stop. He kept grabbing her. She said No. He kept on. She said Stop again. He still would not. Finally, she spoke his name sharply, said Stop a fourth time, and jerked her body out of his reach. Only then did he drop his hands and laugh. Like the nonsense with my daughter, this crap happened in a busy group of people and conversation, a small, insular moment that took maybe thirty seconds. The woman got up to walk away and so did I, my insides twisted, but I said nothing so to not disrupt the party by daring to speak up for this adult woman who had chosen to keep this man close in her life despite the fact his veins run bright with the color of a thousand Red Flags. I wish I had said something along the lines of Fuck off, you creepy creep! But it is ingrained in me, decades of being taught to Be Nice.
This demeaning, entitled language and behavior will always be justified, forever protected by fellow creepy men and the women taught to Be Nice and contribute to our own dehumanization and that of our sisters. Boys Will Be Boys. Why Can’t You Take A Joke. He’s Just Awkward. Every excuse for men to do what they want, when they want, to our bodies (girls, boys, women’s, men’s bodies, the creeps go after us all) to our lives, and the apologists will always rush in to make certain the creeps feel comfortable doing it. Our kids who are young teenagers, my daughter, had grown up only ever knowing a black, femenist president and real hope that a woman would lead us next. In just two years since a Hilary Clinton won four millon votes more than her white male primary opponent, and three million more voted than her white male general election opponent but was still robbed of the her right to lead this nation, my daughter has, along with all of us, been bombarded with the very loud voices of entitled toxic mysoginist old white men.
If it’s not 45’s non-stop sexual assualt and racism, it’s the grating shouts of that elderly white presidential-hopeful senator from Vermont calling teachers “Old bitches” and defending his essays about women getting cancer from not enough orgasms, and how women all have gang rape fantasies, or it’s frat culture personified with the disgusting ramblings of the life-time appointed drunk white male rapist on the Supreme court, ready to take away women’s human rights the second he gets the chance, or it’s creepy old white pretend nice guy Joe who can’t keep his hands or his rape-culture comments (“How old are you, thriteen? Well aren’t you beautiful!”) to himself.
Every. Goddamned. Day. I could lay down and never stop crying.
Except that’s not how this is going to play out. We are done with this garbage. And by we I mean you and me. Our daughters and sons. Let’s Stop. Being. Nice. (To the creeps, I mean.) I am teaching my daughter to ignore the filthy drunk rapist at the confirmation hearings and instead focus on the brave, glorious strong and true testimony of heroine Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford. I am teaching her to listen to her instincts and take care herself and not the feelings of a medicore forty-six year old man. My daughter will not feel powerless. She will not be nice to spare some creep’s fragile ego. She will know she has the right, the obligation, to tell that man, “You are not welcome in my home. You are not owed my proximity, my time, you are not entitled to me in any way, ever.” And I will cheer her honesty and back up her boundaries with the ferocity only a mother can wield - physically if I must. Verbally with joy. Starting with a well-intended Fuck. You. But only if she needs me. She is a tiny yet towering pillar of her own ferocious bravery. Her words are magic.
Words matter. They can be used to by mediocre men to make disgusting language to try and intimidate and threaten so to keep their perceived entitled power. But words are also, and more so, powerful weapons of education and empathy in this war that we are, in this Year of Our Beyoncé 2019 for fuck’s sake, still fighting. Here are a few of my favorite books and authors whose words are shining a blinding light, Agent Scully style, into the face of Creepy-ass Rape Culture. Give these books to the creep in your life who could use some book learnin’. Give them to your friends, your family, to yourself, share them and celebrate women and the men who truly advocate for us. I love you all so much. Now be nice and let me hug you! (Too soon? Fuck that, let’s take Nice back! As in, We are going to Be Nice and give you these books instead of kicking you in the balls if you ever say shit like that to me or my daughter ever again K thnx Byeee!)
Tarana Burke WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS: THE FOUNDING OF THE MET TOO MOVEMENT (Simon & Shuster 2019 Publishing soon)
Co-authored by Asha Bandele, the book aims to "help readers understand the often overlooked historical connections of the role sexual violence plays in communities of color, specifically black communities, even today while exploring ways the same communities have been both complicit and resilient," according to a statement released by Burke. “More than anything," the statement continued, "this memoir will provide survivors across the spectrum of sexual abuse a roadmap for healing that helps them understand that the ‘me too’ movement is more about triumph than trauma and that our wounds, though they may never fully heal, can also be the key to our survival.”
Tarana Burke was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in the area. She grew up in a low-income, working-class family in a housing project and was raped and sexually assaulted both as a child and a teenager. Her mother supported her recovery from these violent acts and encouraged her to be involved in the community. In her biography she states that these experiences inspired her to work to improve the lives of girls who undergo extreme hardships.In 2006, Burke began using the phrase “Me Too” to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society, and the phrase developed into a broader movement, following the 2017 use of #MeToo as a hashtag following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. Time magazine named Burke, among a group of other prominent activists dubbed "the silence breakers" as the Person of the Year 2017.
Amber J Keyser NO MORE EXCUSES (Twenty First Century Books 2019)
This important text on rape culture explores gender norms, the intersection of race and gender, and how the transgender population is disproportionately affected by rape. Keyser also offers a timely discussion of how restorative justice can address the needs of all affected in cases of sexual harassment or violence. The design makes this volume highly readable, with highlighted quotes by teens, politicians, activists, and feminists, as well as color and captioned photographs and bold-faced inserts. Vignettes of societal responses to rape and its long-term effects on victims are varied and include interviews with teens and stories about the origins of activist organizations. Also featured is up-to-date information on legislation such as Title IX and age-of-consent laws. The author dismantles myths around rape, such as the prevalence of false reports, which in fact account for less than 10 percent of all reported cases. The back matter includes extensive source notes, a glossary, further reading lists - both fiction and nonfiction - films, and hashtags. While a global perspective is lacking, this excellent volume can be paired with recent YA fiction titles and Rupi Kaur’s poetry that also call into question the deep-rooted gender norms of rape culture. VERDICT Highly recommended for every library that serves teens. – School Library Journal, Starred
Laurie Halse Anderson SHOUT (Viking 2019)
Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before. Searing and soul-searching, this important memoir is a denouncement of our society’s failures and a love letter to all the people with the courage to say #metoo and #timesup, whether aloud, online, or only in their own hearts. Shout speaks truth to power in a loud, clear voice– and once you hear it, it is impossible to ignore.
“The benefit of this book is undeniable - it’s a primer on writing and on living, and both Speak and Anderson’s effect on teens has never waned. But more than that, it is a captivating, powerful read about clawing your way out of trauma, reclaiming your body, and undoing lifetimes of lessons in order to use your voice as the weapon it is. Fervent and deafening.” – Booklist, Starred
Roxanne Gay HUNGER (Harper 2017)
It’s hard to imagine this electrifying book being more personal, candid, or confessional. . . In 88 short, lucid chapters, Gay powerfully takes readers through realities that pain her, vex her, guide her, and inform her work. The result is a generous and empathic consideration of what it’s like to be someone else: in itself something of a miracle. – Booklist, Starred
Joy McCullough BLOOD WATER PAINT (Dutton 2018)
“For lovers of writers like Laurie Halse Anderson and An Na, Blood Water Paint is feminist historical fiction written in verse, giving readers a glimpse into the teen’s most intimate thoughts while highlighting a centuries-old, yet startlingly familiar time and place where men took what they wanted from women with practically no consequences.” - Bustle
“An incandescent retelling both timeless and, alas, all too timely.” – Kirkus, Starred
Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark STAY SEXY & DON’T GET MURDERED: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE (Forge Books May 28, 2019)
A Dual Memoir by the hosts of the Podcast MY FAVORITE MURDER, this is an also an instructional manual about how we can learn to truly listen to our instincts and take care of ourselves, instead of the delicate feelings of would-be creeps and murderers who want us to be nice to them – cut to, you wake up duct taped to a water tank in his basement. Georgia and Karen are also sick to death of putting themselves in danger for the sake of Being Nice, and their motto to this end is beautiful and more to the point: Fuck Politeness. Don’t worry about hurting some dude’s feelings by keeping yourself safe any way you need to. You can always apologize later and if he’s a man living in America in this century and has even a modicum of common sense he will understand and be cool. As our girls say, “Pepper spray first. Apologize later.” SSDGM.
Friday, May 11th, 7pm at beautiful Secret Garden Books, Seattle! Join me and authors Heather Ezell, Rachel Lynn Solomon & Joy McCullough for a deep dive into what goes into creating complex girl characters - the ones we love to read, the ones we want to be - sometimes. These women are among my very favorite writers, and they are also straight-up spectacular people. I cannot wait for this event. Join us!
The first-ever Orcas Island Lit Festival was a celebration of books, readers, writers, librarians, teachers, bookshops, and our literary Pacific Northwest home. What an honor to be part of this inaugural event, destined to be a beloved annual tradition for gorgeous Orcas Island, whose kind families welcomed their visitors with open arms, and lots of coffee and pastries. Thank you to the festival organizers and the board of directors for three days of book love, and thank you to beautiful Darvill's Bookstore and the lovely Orcas Island Public Library. Holy moly, librarians and booksellers and readers are the best!
The gorgeous Seattle Public Library's Main Branch hosted the awards again this year (In October 2017, forgive me, I'm so late!) and once more it was a sparkly Seattle evening full of literary beauty, some of very best books of the year. I was honored to be nominated again for my second novel, UP TO THIS POINTE. But the best part of the night was cheering for my friend Dan Gemeinhart, whose SOME KIND OF COURAGE won for Middle Grade, and then my dear friend and writing partner M.J. Beaufrand's USELES BAY won the Young Adult honor! We all cavorted with cookies and drinks and we signed books with fellow authors, librarians, book sellers, readers, and family. I love the Seattle Public Library - especially librarian, author, and friend Linda Johns. The PNW literary community could not be more wonderous, and it is my great joy to be part of the family.
I am so grateful to say Up To This Pointe is a finalist for this beautiful award presented annually by The Oklahoma Library Association. The Sequoyah Book Award is given in honor of the Native American leader Sequoyah, for his unique achievement in creating the Cherokee syllabary. Sequoyah chose eighty-five symbols to represent all spoken sounds of the Cherokee language. In so doing, he created a way to preserve his people's language and culture.
The Sequoyah program, sponsored by the Oklahoma Library Association (OLA), is the third oldest youth-choice literary award in the nation and was developed to encourage young people to read books of literary quality. The award’s name honors the creator of the Cherokee syllabary that allows the tribe to write and read its language.
OLA has sponsored the award since 1959, when the now-classic Old Yeller by Fred Gipson was selected by children. Intermediate and High School award categories were added in 2010. Students from across the state—who read three or more titles on their Sequoyah list of age-appropriate books—are eligible to cast their votes. More than 14,000 young readers participated in the vote last year.
Thank you so much to Oklahoma Library Association, and to the readers, teachers and librarians who keep the magic of books and imagination alive. And congratulations to all the nominees!
I am beyond thrilled, and completely humbled, that UP TO THIS POINTE has a place among the nominees for the Washington State Book Awards. Seattle became my home four years ago, and I am grateful every day to be here in this beautiful place where so many passionate librarians, readers, teachers, book sellers and writers keep the Pacific Northwest the most literary, book-loving place I've ever lived. Thank you so much to the Seattle Public Library, the Washington Center for The Book, the Washington State Library, and my fellow readers and writers, teachers and librarians. See you all October 14th, 2017 at the Seattle Public Library for an evening of celebrating books, libraries, and of course, cake!
"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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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/
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 IT 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
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!
*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.
*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!