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.


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.



3. Won first writing award.



4. First lead role in a musical.



5. Graduated from college and grad school.



6. First play produced.


7. Married J-Hole.


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


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


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


11. Long story long...



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.

photo 1-2

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)



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!"


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.


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!



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.



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.”

black doctor

“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.

indian photo 2

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.

Indies Introduce New Voices...Six Feet Over It!

At the Reps Picks Lunch on Monday, April 7th at the ABC Children’s Institute, booksellers were introduced to the 10 titles to be featured in the Summer/Fall Indies Introduce New Voices program. Indies Introduce Icon

A panel of 10 children’s booksellers selected, from over forty titles, the three middle grade and seven young adult titles as the best debuts of the upcoming season. Amazingly, Six Feet Over It was included in this list, and the booksellers had some wonderful reactions to the story. Thank you so much to the booksellers who read all of the debut books this season, thank you American Booksellers Association, and Indies Introduce! It is a list of books I can't wait to get my hands on...including Six Feet Over It! August 26th can't come soon enough. Check out these kind words:

The blurb says darkly funny and it is that and more. Leigh's father buys a cemetery where she is expected to help families make choices. Leigh has suffered great heartache in her fifteen years – parents who don't seem to care or understand, almost losing her sister to cancer, and worst, losing a good friend with no chance to say goodbye. Leigh's acerbic wit gets all of us through this story and we cheer when she finally finds another friend to lean on. Valerie Koehler, Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX)

Sad, sweet and funny, this is the coming-of-age story of Leigh, a teenage girl who lives and works in a cemetery, selling grave sites to those who are planning ahead for their own deaths ("Pre-Needs") and those grieving their deceased loved ones ("At-Needs"). Leigh's life is steeped in death, grief and abandonment, and she is convinced that anyone she loves will be doomed by association. However, with the efforts of an immigrant groundskeeper and a persistent, home-schooled Tolkien fan, Leigh gradually learns that she can embrace joy, friendship and love, even while understanding the inevitability of death. I devoured this book in one ecstatic gulp, and it left me breathless. Count me as a Jennifer Longo fan for life. Emily Ring, Inklings Bookshop, (Yakima, WA)

At 17 years old, Leigh has already had more than a passing acquaintance with death and near death experiences with those she loves. So when her father decides to buy a graveyard, it somehow seems only fitting to Leigh that she’s the one who will be the primary representative in the family to sell grave sites. Although she is smart and funny, she shies away from making friends, even with a quirky homeschooler who does everything she can to befriend Leigh and the handsome, gentle, just a little too old for her, gravedigger who is loved by everyone. This is a sweet, clever, witty coming of age story that will steal your heart. Kris Vreeland, Once Upon A Time (Montrose, CA)

My cover! Brought to you by Random House, edited by Chelsea Eberly, agented by Melissa Sarver White.

More to come! Happy Spring!

The Most Beautiful Word In The World

You know that Kevin Henkes book Owen? Owen is a kid starting school and he wants to take his blanket with him, which is not cool or allowed, so his parents run around exhausting themselves trying to beg and bribe and trick the kid into leaving the blanket home until finally the nosey next door neighbor looks over the back yard fence to ask: "Haven't you heard of saying No?"

Owen’s parents hadn’t.

My daughter’s fifth grade class has been reading R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, which has sparked a bunch of Right vs. Kind chats at bed time. (Do you lie to be kind? Do you keep your kid from experiencing pain to be kind?) And we’ve come to the conclusion that the thing is, Right is Kind. Helping a kid learn how to behave by Saying No is Right. It is Kind. It is Right. Doing the Right and Kind thing may not make a person popular. But it is the truth. The only thing to do.

Whether it’s about bringing a blanket to school, or being a disrespectful, unkind self-absorbed bully, people need boundaries and guidance, sometimes we all need to be told No. The word No, when used in a consistent and fair way, is a Kind word. It is Right.

My generation (Ye Olde Gen X) is parenting, for the most part, in one really specifically crappy way: Gen X parents have not heard of Saying No. This is not me being old and cranky about Kids These Days and You Brats Get Off My Lawn, it isn’t the kids. Kids are born the same way they’ve always been – it’s the parents. So many Gen X parents refuse to Say No. It’s embarrassing and depressing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as my kid and I read Wonder together, and as she is being thrashed by the girls at her new ballet school for the crime of…you guessed it. Saying No. The ballet mean girl kingpin was shoving my kid backstage at a rehearsal. My kid said, “Please stop pushing me.”

No one has ever told this shoving kid No. Cue the vengeance.

There are a bunch of moms back stage watching this group of 11 year old girls gang up on one shy new kid, and their response is: "Oh, it's the age....middle school girls can be just awful!" Then their eyes and attention go right back to their iPhones. Facebook is super important, after all.

You know what? That is bullshit. It is unKind, it is not Right, it is lazy. Seriously? That is your excuse, you’re going to shrug and claim crappy behavior is inevitable and dictated by a person’s age? That is the stupid crap people say who have no interest in making kindness and empathetic humanity a high priority on the list of traits to focus on when modeling behavior for children. Not one of the parents even entertained the thought, while watching their daughters be purposefully cruel to another human being, of simply saying, “No. That is not acceptable behavior. No.”

Long story long, all this parental refusal to Say No, all this confusion about Right and Kind is just making me more glad I accidentally wrote a Young Adult book. If so many parents clearly haven’t heard of saying No, at least there are books to deliver the message. Owen and Wonder and Blubber and Jake and Lilly and Chrysanthemum provide a more accurate and simple depiction of unkind behavior: No, it is Not Right, it is Not Kind.



Clearly my 2014 resolution is to blog more, which I had assumed would be so easy to do at least weekly since in life it is hard to shut me up. I am a Talker. I think the problem is, after writing a few hours a day (if I'm lucky)I feel sort of tapped out. But that is dumb, there are a ton of things to chit chat about as far as writing goes, and also this book will publish at last on August 26th 2014, so many nutty things will happen before then. So there it is: 2014, year of blogging. And now, here is the beautiful cover of my very first novel, Six Feet Over It. Happy, happy new year and see you all soon! My cover! Brought to you by Random House, edited by Chelsea Eberly, agented by Melissa Sarver White.

Please Welcome Sangu Mandanna!

I am always amazed, after reading a really good book, to find it was written by a parent who is the primary caretaker of one or a whole mess o’ babies. How do these people do it? Are their kids, like mine, sometimes left waiting in front of the school because their writer parent was too busy line editing to remember they exist? Eh. Probably not. Welcome to the first of a series of interviews with writers who also do the bulk of daily parenting around their houses. Learn how they are able to publish award winning books, keep small people alive and everyone nattily dressed as we present:

Sangu Photo

Writing While Parenting Kids Full Time 


 Holy Crap My Kid Has The Flu And I Haven’t Slept Or Showered In Four Days And My Edits Are Due Tomorrow Whose Idea Was This? 

I’m thrilled to welcome my first guest, a novelist whose absolutely gorgeous debut (I’m serious, it is really, really good) The Lost Girl, made me super jealous (If I blatantly steal her prose style, is that like - illegal? Attorneys out there let me know, thanks.) and also made me so happy because this woman is a mom, so clearly she must have figured this writing/parenting thing out and I can grill her for some tips.

You’re a writer! And a Mom! Elaborate!

Lost Girl Cover Sangu

My debut novel was out last year (The Lost Girl, Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins) and I'm currently working on a darkish fantasy that I hope will be my second novel and brainstorming ideas for other books. I have (at the moment, anyway) one son. He's 14 months old and won't stay still for a minute! (Don't even get me started on trying to change nappies...) BUT I do have a very awesome husband who does more than his fair share of hands-on parenting, so I'm pretty lucky there!

Did you Write/Publish before your son was born? If so, how did your writing schedule change after his birth? I've been writing most of my life, but I signed with my agent and then my publisher about five months before I got pregnant. Which means I was working as a writer for over a year before my son was born and OH MY GOD did my schedule ever change! Pre-baby, I would write as little as five minutes a day or as much as 12 hours. I would sleep at the most bizarre times and sometimes not much at all for a week before crashing for, like, two days. I indulged my muse, so to speak, and let it take me wherever it wanted to go. Sometimes my husband would go up to bed and wake up in the morning and come down and head off to work and I wouldn't have moved from my desk. I'd probably then collapse into bed at about 10am. Post-baby, none of these shenanigans have been possible. I have to write when I can, which is often in snatches of half an hour here and there. I have to be quite disciplined about it because a) if I don't write when the opportunity arises, I may not have another chance for ages, b) on the flip side, I can't just write for hours and ignore my son, and c) I used to quite happily sacrifice sleep for writing, knowing I could just catch up when the inspiration had died down, but I can't do that anymore because WHO KNOWS WHEN I MIGHT BE ABLE TO SLEEP AGAIN? There are time, of course, when I'm on a deadline or trying to finish something in a timely manner and so I will stay up after everyone else is asleep and work. But I don't do this as a matter of course anymore. Post-baby, sleep is a luxury I try to get as much of as I can. Otherwise I'm miserable and make everyone around me miserable.

Well, that’s it; we need to get the science community on board to invent some kind of sleep replacement... thing-y. Where do you find the most help with all the multi-tasking?

My husband is great and is always happy to take over when he's home so that I can write, but he works too so sometimes when there's a baby-related crisis it does become a battle of who is going to get to work and who will have to look after the baby. But I think that's inevitable! Our son also goes to a lovely nursery two days a week, which is two full days of working and writing time for me, so that's been a huge help too (but it's also kind of stressful to have to balance the cost of childcare vs. what you may or may not be earning). If my family lived close by I think they'd probably be only too happy to help (and by 'help', I mean 'steal my son and I'd never see him again'), but unfortunately they live about 5000 miles away. We do have a babysitter, but we tend to ask her over when we want to go out together (date night!!! YAY!) and not so that I can write.

Date Night - well done! Good reminder that giving time and care to a marriage/partnership is so important to the health and happiness of the entire family. Okay - Nuttiest thing you’ve done to keep your son occupied while writing?

Oooh, that's a hard one. There have been so many things! But it would probably be the time I put 'Gangnam Style' on the iPad and let him watch it on loop for about half an hour. While I tried frantically to finish a chapter on the laptop. That song is a magic song, I'm telling you. He loves it.

Is your Son impressed - or aware yet - that you’re a writer? 

You know, I was going to say that my son is still only a year old so he probably doesn't have any idea what I do... but then I remembered that the other day, my husband left the laptop open on a low footstool and the baby made a beeline for it. He walked over, sat down in front of it, and started banging at the keys. So, I kind of think he knows EXACTLY what it is Mummy does all day! How does he feel about it? Er, he probably resents the heck out of it. He is not a fan of anything that steals attention away from him :-) 

That is hilarious - and adorable! (See proof of adorableness below) Does he inspire specifics in your writing? (Names, characters, incidents)

Sangu Baby Photo

There is a character in the book I'm working on right now who is named after my son. He's a toddler, so I suppose you could say he's based on him too but I wasn't intentionally going for that. I would say, though, that having a baby has inspired a whole new kind of love in my writing. A lot of The Lost Girl is about a parent's love for their child, some of which was enhanced during revisions after my son was born, and one of the key relationships in my current project is one between the main character and her baby brother.

I totally agree on the new kind of love - crazy! To sum up, what’s the best overall advice you can pass on to other parent/writers?

When you're writing, write. Whole-heartedly. When you're with your kids, be totally with them. Try not to let the two things cross over. But sometimes they will and don't feel guilty about that. Don't beat yourself up about not paying enough attention to your kids or not devoting enough time to your writing. Just enjoy what you do, when you do it, and don't worry about the rest. It's easier said than done and sometimes it's downright impossible, I know, but the stress and the guilt really, really isn't necessary. You're probably doing much better than you think you are!

Sangu, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us - honestly, your work and your devotion to your family’s well-being are both inspiring. And your next book sounds beautiful. I love sibling relationships, especially where babies are involved! Continued best of luck in all your current and future writing and parenting adventures.  

Sangu's Debut Novel, The Lost Girl, is available here

Sangu's blog is here

Kirkus Review:  A compelling novel of a girl created to "replace" another in the event of her death...Both an interrogation of bioethics and a mesmerizing quest for identity, this debut succeeds through its careful development of the oh-so-human Eva and those around her...A provocative and page-turning thriller/romance that gets at the heart of what it means to be human.

A Monologue About Dialogue.

“Words don’t deserve that kind of malarkey. They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good anymore...I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”  

I am currently rehearsing a role in a play by Tom Stoppard, and this monologue makes me so happy I could cry. I don't get to act it, these are Henry’s words from The Real Thing, he is responding to his wife’s accusation that he’s a writing snob. The dude’s a snob for sure, about lots of crap, but about words, about the respect they’re due? No. He is spot on. This is beautiful dialogue, Henry would absolutely say all of this. He’s got this diatribe running in his head constantly, just waiting for the right moment to bust it out, and here it is - it is glorious and real and I love it so, so much.

The first time I knew amazing choices of words delighted me and crappy ones made me want to rip my own arm off and eat it, I was like twelve? Thirteen? I begged my mom to drive me to the Placerville Cinema 4 again and again so I could pay to see Terms Of Endearment a dozen times. I could not get enough of that thing. Oh God, Debra Winger grabbing her errant son’s face from her death bed to tell him, “Tommy be sweet. Be sweet.” Ahrghgh! All the times they didn’t speak, right when they shouldn’t. Perfect.

And then there was this show on T.V. called first, I think, Valerie. It was about Valerie Harper and her family, her oldest son was played by Jason Bateman. Somewhere in the second season there were contract negotiation problems and Valerie was killed off, Sandy Duncan and her glass eye came in to be the Aunt and take over the family, and the show was re-named Valerie’s Family. Snap. So, the first episode without Valerie, Jason Bateman is walking among the crumbling ruins of the family house which has burned down, and he finds a photograph of Valerie (ooh, double snap!) and he says, “Remember when mom died in that car crash?” and then he huddles over the frame and starts sobbing. My twelve year old sensibilities were rattled to the core, absolutely stunned that such a stupid, clunky line could make it’s way onto a show as intelligent and socially relevant as Valerie’s Family. Which later was called, simply, The Hogans, and then it got cancelled. Probably for having such horrible dialogue.

Dialogue. I tell you what, and my husband accuses me of being a writing snob when I say this, but to this day, like a ton of other people, the biggest deal breaker for me in movies and books is always, always bad dialogue. I can forgive a dumb plot, probably because I’m no plot master myself - it is difficult work for me to give up my meandering scenes featuring flying geese and descriptions of rain storms and just get the hell on with the story - but you give people stupid things to say and I’m out. I can’t sit through it and besides it pisses me off because People, it’s not that hard! Here’s the test: If you are writing something realistic in a natural setting, would anyone in life ever say what you just made your character say? No? There’s your answer. Bad. If it’s a stylized thing, does what you’ve made your character say make any sense in the context of the vocabulary and world they’re in? No? Bad.

Trite, stupid stuff coming out of people’s mouths is so infuriating to me - in movies too - because some jackasses put millions of dollars into that crap, you're telling me someone can't throw a couple bucks at the writers or editors to keep dialogue like this out of life: “Hold me, Like you did by the lake on Naboo..” For God’s sake. “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy...” Come on. Not to confuse bad acting with bad dialogue (“Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.” KILL ME NOW.) and yes there are people who can make bad stuff sound great, and actors who can ruin amazing words. But when I am reading a book, I am the actor, and I need good dialogue. And maybe I get even crankier with books than movies because authors have time, we’ve got total control over every word chosen, why choose the wrong ones?

To be fair to the writers of The Hogans, the biggest challenge, I think, always comes with tackling exposition. But don’t exclusively burden the dialogue with it, jeez! I personally find it effective to go back and take all my exposition, highlight it, and figure out if I can show all that somewhere instead. Is there any place to fit this action in, in real time, like show a quick funeral or lion attack so Aunt Paula doesn’t have to be all, “Hey guys, remember that time mom died?”

Now, right here is the perfect spot to point out that obviously I am a novice novel writer, and I’m sure the negative revues of my forthcoming novel will all point to the crappy dialogue, so how lame of me to get all janky and snippy about it here. But I will say this: I am, at least, trying. Putting thought into it. A ton of thought, and agonizing over every word. In grad school I studied playwriting, which is all about Dialogue and Setting, both of which I love to indulge in, as I’ve mentioned, often to the detriment of plot. But in my books I am doing my level best to make certain that when people aren’t doing anything, they’re at least saying really good stuff in interesting ways that won’t bore a person or make one throw the book out a window. I hope.

Go forth, Writers! Be brave, let other people read your stuff and listen to their comments, sift out the useful ones and don’t let your characters say dumb things. Writing is so hard. And also it is simple. And complicated. And easy. And impossible. And fun. And agonizing. It is Work. Like anything else worth doing. And like words themselves, like the reader who will spend hours and hours with your story, the work deserves respect.

Hey. Remember that time you read a really long blog post instead of working on your book?

Romance Required But Not Really.

Lots of times, first-time novelists, i.e. me, will write a book thinking it will be consumed by one group of readers, i.e. adult ladies, but an agent, i.e. all of those I queried including the one I landed, will tell you that in fact you have written a book for Young Adults. Then the first-time novelist will have to admit the last time she read definitively shelved YA books was some time in the 80's, and they were written by Judy Blume. And Cynthia Voigt. And Lois Lowry and Katherine Patterson and...that's pretty much it. I was more a Stephen King gal. Johan Saul. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Like that. Because I wrote this book without the YA genre in mind, I missed the apparent now-a-days required inclusion of a ton of YA tropes. Which, aside from the protagonist's age, left me baffled about why everyone kept insisting my book was YA, what with it's lack of those key elements; such as an externally action-filled plot. Or scenes at school with friends. Or, the big one, capital R Romance.

I was a late bloomer. As a teenaged reader I was all into introspection, tragedy, overcoming adversity, murder, scariness, ghosts, bonneted girls on the American Prairie, blah dee blah dee blah. When I wrote this book my main character and the plot were based on what I knew and would like to read myself, and it really made me frustrated to hear from vying editors that the story held no potential interest or validity for Young Adults without a (heterosexual, of course) romance in it, as 'Every Teenager Deals With It!' which, sure, I guess...except me and all my friends but maybe we didn't count.... but I kept thinking, Ugh! Sticking a romance in my book would have nothing at all to do with the narrative, why must that be the focus, why is that the only thing that draws readers?

I'm kind of sick of YA readers (girls particularly) being offered, almost exclusively, what seems lately (based on the jacket flap copy I read) an avalanche of books and resulting films pounding in the notion that if said readers do not have a boyfriend, if they are not preoccupied with sexual desire, romantic entanglements, that there is something wrong with them. If, as a teenaged girl, every book you read aimed for your demographic is all about I must get a boyfriend I have no value unless I am defined by some dude it could seriously mess you up. That is ridiculous! There are already a million books for Young Adults that prominently feature romance, romantic triangles, blossoming sexual desire - couldn't there possibly be any room in the entire canon of YA Literature for a story focused on the OTHER areas of brain/physical/emotional development that YA humans go through? As long as, of course, it's a decently written book kids would give a crap about reading. But that was the thing, editors kept saying how much they loved the prose, the basic plot - it just needed romance. Really? I thought. It Needs it? I asked one editor if the narrative clarity be improved with some sexy times, or was all this romance insistence simply about selling books and she answered, "No, the clarity is fine -it's about about selling books. Of course it is. But isn't that the point?"


And yes, of course, the YA authors I loved included plenty of making out and Business Time in their books (Hey there, Forever), but it often wasn't the entire focus of the plot. I loved Tiger Eyes so much, Davey sure made out with her boyfriend in flash backs and had a crush on Wolf but really, she was more trying to not die of the agonizing sadness and confusion wrought by watching her dad die in her arms. Kind of makes the romance seem beside the point - but an interesting thing to be dealing with, right there swimming in the grief.

So how this all went down with my book is that my agent loved that my plot didn't go down that well-worn path - but she also gently reminded me that digging my heels in and petulantly refusing to acknowledge the very existence of romantic/sexual inklings in a fifteen-year-old protagonist was just as dumb as insisting it is the ONLY thing that matters. "It doesn't have to define her," Agent Of The World explained, "But if it's there, it complicates things. Which creates conflict. Which is a good thing in a story. Right?"


So I got off my 'No Romance!' high horse, took a good look at my plot and figured out it really did seem odd none of those notions ever entered my protagonist's existence. At all. I understood there was a way to make it part of, while not defining, the story. And once I figured out (with pitch-perfect agent-suggested ideas) the way to do that, an editor fell in love with it, and I in turn fell in love with her when she spoke the following words:

"What I really love is that she's not boy crazy - it never goes down that road and that is a relief. Makes it more true."

Lesson Learned: If every single editor and agent are giving you the same advice again and again, it may be a clue that you might want to take an objective look-see at what they're suggesting. Not to abandon your principal beliefs about what your book is or isn't, or what is totally horrible for female YA readers to get barraged with just to sell books, of course not - No, it is about not being an immovable dumbass who misses an opportunity to make your story better. To, in fact, make the point that not being boy-obsessed and instead having other important revelations and growth as a young human being is just as normal, as valid and true as the alternative, maybe more so - and to make this clear in the narrative by including elements of normal human developing sexuality and the ensuing conflict without having them take over the whole plot - That is the magical dream land of remembering that Hey, I Am A First-Time Novelist. I Want To Write Good Stories For People That They Will Feel Comforted/Challenged By. And also, I Need To Remember I Am Not Hemingway. Get Over It. Listen To Smart People.



Children's Book Editors Are Lovely, Especially Cheryl Klein.

Cheryl Klein, I learned first hand when she spent hours brilliantly* editing my manuscript, is not only an amazing editor (Hey there, Harry Potter) but a huge-hearted person as well. She and Arthur Levine have made a courageous young writer's dream come true. If you are in the Western Washington area, please consider attending a truly beautiful book signing: * I typically hate the horribly over-used B-word, but nothing else really fit as well there. They were incredible edits, no joke. She's insanely smart. 

From Cheryl Klein's blog (http://chavelaque.blogspot.com/):

"Over a year ago, Arthur and I were contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation regarding a young Seattle-area writer named Stephanie Trimberger (who was 13 at the time; she’s 15 now). Stephanie has brain cancer, and her dream was to have her novel edited by “the Harry Potter editors.” Arthur and I read it and wrote her an editorial letter, and she began working on revisions. A year went by, and we didn’t hear anything more. Then last week, we heard that she had finished her book and wanted us to take one last look.

Thanks to the terrific coordination of a lot of people at Scholastic, we not only managed to edit it quickly, but our designers typeset the manuscript and created a gorgeous cover for it. And with the help of an extraordinarily generous donation from the printer, Command Web, three hundred copies of Stephanie’s THE RUBY HEART have now been printed.
Your Mission, Seattle Area People!:  Next Tuesday, September 25, at 6 p.m., Stephanie will be doing a reading and signing of her book at the Pacific Place Barnes & Noble. Will you please, please attend? It would be so very awesome to have a big audience there to applaud her accomplishment and make it a great day for her. Stephanie is a huge reader of YA and fantasy fiction; she lost her mom to brain cancer nine years ago, and it sounds like she’s been writing about that long. I’m sure ALL writers can sympathize with her dream of publishing a book, and it should be an amazing evening in seeing that dream fulfilled.
The details in full:
Tuesday, September 25
6 p.m. (it was scheduled for 5:30 earlier; the time has been moved back)

Barnes & Noble Pacific Place 600 Pine Street, Suite 107 Seattle, WA 98101 (206) 265-0156

You can RSVP or leave a message for Stephanie at the Facebook page for the event. Thank you!


Revision Rule Number One: Never "And then..."

This is the advice Matt Stone and Trey Parker (The Book Of Mormon, South Park) gave in their Ted Talk: Never, ever be able to describe your plot with an "And then..." A story trimmed of fat will follow a path of two words, and two words only: Therefore or But. Beautiful. Simple. Occam's razor. So, like this: "There's this girl in a cemetery, and then she meets this other lady, and then they go to the river, and then there's this other guy, and then he says ohmyGodIamsoboredkillmenow....."

See how boring? Yeah. That was my first try at novel writing, 100,000 words of "And then...." I sent this thing out. Seriously. To AGENTS. One incredibly kind one received this mess and took pity on me, he actually called me up and said he loved my prose but couldn't find the story in all the mess, he asked me to just tell him what the plot was - essentially, he wanted the central conflict, he wanted the nutshell, he wanted the Therefore and But.

But all I could give him was a bunch more "And then...." Ugh. Daniel Lazar, I salute you and thank you eternally for trying. He wanted to love it, he tried so hard to justify his love of it. But if I, the flipping writer, could not glean a compelling story from all those words, how was he supposed to?

Now compare that to:

"There's this girl who is scared of death but she now lives in a cemetery therefore when she meets this other girl she tries to escape but there's a secret keeping her trapped in the graves therefore when the gravedigger offers a way out she's psyched but...."

I think this sounds way more compelling, no matter the plot which by the way, that's not the plot of At Need, that was an example, however - all I'm saying is, it keeps me on my toes when revising and the questions of "Keep, throw out, or save for another book" come up. Which, sure, the Therefore and But rule is just another way of articulating Ye Olde Chestnut of "Does this scene advance the plot and/or character development in conjunction with said plot and if not, cut it. Now." But it is more concise, and I dearly love concise. Also I dearly love any rule I can hear in my head spoken in the voice of Cartman. "God**mnit! Cut that sh*t, right now! Therefore! But!"

It was only after I implemented this Therefore and But rule that I landed an amazing agent who continues to encourage this behavior, making At Need better with each pass. Revision is not for the weak-hearted, I tell you.

As I revise I've got this mantra running a loop in my head but then sometimes I'm all, "But this part is so pretty and look at my awesome vocab gymnastics!" and the smart part of my brain says, "Shut the hell up! Therefore or But! Only!" Which is not to say there cannot be beauty in the execution, not at all; I mean for God's sake nothing is more boring than stale, pedestrian words and a bunch of similes when a good metaphor will do - but I need to remember, let the beauty be always in the execution, and at the service of, Therefore or But. Only.

Now see, I'll write this post and my book will come out and someone will read this and go, "Uh, you should have taken your own advice, Hooker." And I'll say right now, yeah - I'm sure I'll fail at points in the attempt. But today, in the midst of revision, it's all I think about and I'm doing my level best to make it happen and the more I pour my attention into it the more I'm making it happen. Sometimes maybe my Therefore is someone else's And Then, so maybe once in a while it comes down to perception. But I'll tell you one thing - it's a mantra that has clearcut hundreds of words from this book, and to my future readers I say, in all humility, You're Welcome for the approximately extra forty five minutes of your life you get to keep. Thanks, Matt and Trey!

Keep, Throw Out, Give Away

You know when your house is super janked and filthy and there's something in all that mess that you KNOW you've seen recently, it's in there somewhere so you've got to just put on some good music and start making piles? Yeah. Sometimes in the midst of the two years of revision of my book before it sold, I felt that way - my agent did, too. We could tell there was something in this ginormous word count that we felt, if we whittled away the crap, we could find. Every editor who wanted it but ultimately passed seemed to feel that way, too. They all had their own ideas about new plots, less cussing, more romance, less emotional growth, more action, on and on and on and on. It got super confusing.

But every editor left me with another string to pull, and the knot began to loosen, and my agent agreed and disagreed and steered the ship and now there's this story left that feels - true. Not some heinous compromise, and not a crappy book written by a petulant brat who digs her heels in and refuses to listen to anyone's advice but her own - but the real story that was trying so hard to get out, were it not buried for so long by my own eager, anxious dumbness.

Do your family and friends, when you are editing and taking the advice of many people, get all up in your grill about, "Why do you have to CHANGE it? It's YOUR book, your story, who are these people?!?" Well. These 'People' are editors and agents and other various and sundry publishing professionals who know their audiences, markets, what have you - they aren't just random dumbasses off the street, they know what they're doing. And yes, their goal is to sell books. Which, B.T. Dubs, is my goal as well, otherwise I wouldn't have been trying to, you know, sell mine.

The thing though, is figuring out how to let the advice of all these smart people fall through the sieve of what you know or feel or have a hunch about what the story really is. Meaning, what is the point of it, why are you writing it, what do you wish the reader will understand or know or question when they finish? And that, I realize, is the only thing I did know about this book, the only thing I was certain of, which was why I was able to take all the advice and suggestions and changes, and eventually let what was not helping the narrative fall away, and let the other stuff guide me toward making the point of the story clearer. Without dumping it over readers' heads. You know?

At least it FEELS like I was able to do that. At the end of the day, it's the story I think it was meant to be. Which, plot-wise, did NOT start out the way it is now at all. It was over 100,000 words of "Um. What?" with a bit of "I think there's something in there somewhere...." and it was only with the help of agents, then MY agent, then a string of really enthusiastic editors, then my agent again...who helped me find the poor thing in the dark, cluttered basement of my spazzy mind. If I'd not let them, this book would have lived forever in my desk drawer - worse, it would never have been written. And I think its a good thing it was. Written, I mean. Its a book I would have loved to read if someone had only written it. So I did. But definitely not on my own.

The point, Dear Writers? Only that I've learned the lesson millions of real writers have learned before me: Don't roll over and surrender the entire reason you're telling this story, but learn how to recognize real help in telling the true story the best way you can. There are some ridiculous bits of advice out there ("Can you make sure there's a super steamy hot sex scene? Cause kids LOVE that! Sure it's totally counterintuitive to the point of the book but come on!") but if you are very clear about the true reason this story matters, why you think it could matter to readers? Those ridiculous bits will fall away, and the real threads to lead you will fall into your hands. Threads like, "This character does nothing but complain for fifty-three pages, could she maybe do some investigating into the causes of her distress...or something?"

Be brave, Dear Writers! Clean out that closet! FIll those bags for the Humane Society donation bin and buy some new hangers, ones that match! Let the purpose of the closet - i.e. the storage and organization of clothing - be its true purpose!

And now I'm mixing metaphors or something. Enough for now. Soldier on, Writers!