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

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

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

And now, the review!

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

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

Booklist Reviews SIX FEET OVER IT

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

School Library Journal reviews SIX FEET OVER IT

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

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

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

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

Here is the review for SIX FEET OVER IT:

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

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

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

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

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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

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

Superb. (Fiction. 12-16)

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

The Beauty Of Uh-Oh Pages

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, maybe I skipped a few things there.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” I say. “I know.”

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

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“Yeah,” I say. “Right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Simple.

Cover!

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.

News From Lake Washington! Also: NaNoWriMo!

It's been months of unpacking boxes and re-writing the WIP I've been working on for two years and had to start over after realizing I'd taken it into too many nutty directions. So I've re-grouped, drafted a new outline and am so thrilled for NaNoWriMo. Moving is so lame, it is hard and a giant time suck so NaNo is the perfect way to force myself to let the boxes stay half packed or un-packed or whatever and tell everyone in my house they can do their own dishes for the next month because I AM DRAFTING A NEW NOVEL SO LEAVE ME ALONE. I love it. My Twitter account got screwed up two months ago after it got hacked and I tried to re-set my password. There was some new code verification thing that went nowhere and long story long, I can't get into my stupid account so I've got to start a new one. I bring this up only because I feel like I need to be meeting more writers and both online and in person, as my first book is publishing in less than a year and I love asking for advice and commiserating with other writers and Twitter was a good way of meeting said writers. Getting a new account and trying to follow and get followers back is one more dumb distraction from writing and Twitter pisses me off but rather then spending another two months sending pointless emails to the help center that never get answered, I'll just start a new account. With a name like @jen87463829 because all iterations of Jen are taken. So follow me! I renewed my SCBWI membership and changed my region, which was nuts. I miss San Francisco so much, but Seattle is definitely growing on me.

There are NaNoWriMo meet-ups, and conferences, and school is in session so I've got writing time again. Autumn in Washington is beautiful. Here's hoping it inspires a wildly amazing new draft of my poor forsaken book.

Happy Autumn!

HGTV and Book Selling. Twinsies!

Three months ago the San Francisco company my husband worked for was dissolved, and now we live in Seattle. In that insanely brief amount of time we had to sell our house in California and buy a new one in Seattle, which we did, but we’ve all narrowly escaped nervous breakdowns in the process. During that time I was also deep in revisions on my book to get it ready for copy editing, which I finished the day the movers came. They were boxing stuff up around me as I sat on the floor with my laptop. Ridiculous. But holy moly did it make me see how very much selling real estate and selling a book have in common. We are all emotionally attached to our books and homes. A book is a house for your heart! Hooray for books and having a place to live! But we’re trying to sell these things. It is scary. Observe:

1. Finding an agent to sell your book/house means finding someone who sees the same potential and beauty in it that you, the author/homeowner, does. The agent must obviously be one you trust, because potential is the key word. An agent will agree to represent the author/homeowner often on the basis of the great potential they see in the book/house. They will help whip that book/house into shape so editors/homebuyers will also see the beauty. This means revisions great and small (Get rid of that character! Clean up the cussing! What’s up with all the descriptions of current weather conditions?) and like our house, improvements great and small. (Move that rug! Take all your family photos down! Repair the dry rot and for God’s sake, renovate that kitchen!) These revisions/renovations may take months. They may feel all janky and get you all whiny and ‘I thought you liked it the way it was!’ But unless the agent is telling you to turn your romance into a sci-fi mystery and your cottage into a three-story McMansion, it is time to get over the precious emotional grip the book/house has on your heart. I mean, never be afraid to speak up when alarm bells ring (This book is NOT set in 1940’s Antigua, what the hell?!?) but remember you signed with said agent because you trust them. A good agent is not interested in destroying yours or your book’s artistic integrity or bankrupting your down-payment savings. A good agent wants to sell your book, your house, and let’s remember YOU do too, that’s why you hired the agent in the first place. Be a good writer. Listen. Stick to what essentially, truly matters and then trust and be brave with revisions/renovations. When they’re done, if you’ve listened to your heart and gut and your agent, you will have an even better book/house than you could have imagined. And now your agent will put that book/house on the market.

2. Buyers may come around. Editors may take a look. Some will turn down the book/house for subjective reasons reflecting personal taste. (That paint is ridiculous. I don’t read books set in graveyards.) Whatev. Other editors/homebuyers will pass for objective reasons. Structural reasons. (Um, there is a ginormous crack in your foundation. Your book has No Plot.) Maybe you don’t mind the crack in the foundation, maybe you and your agent enjoy a plot-les book. But if weeks and months go by and these same issues keep coming up as reasons there are no buyers for your book/house, if you are in fact interested in selling said book/house, it may be time to listen to these objective objections. Maybe editors/homebuyers do see the great potential in your book/house, but for these very serious foundation and plot misgivings are unwilling to pull the trigger. Now you must decide, where do you bend? Will you try making a plot for your characters to live in? Will you get bids on repairing the crack in the foundation, adorable as you may think it is? I’m not saying surrender every artistic/homeownership scruple you may lay claim to, I’m saying listen. Try some stuff out.

I was lucky enough to have agents for both my book and my house whose desire to sell said book and house were tempered with firm love of what the book/house were at their cores: A 750 square foot beach cottage. A book about a kid in a graveyard.

Yes, said my real estate agent, we will fix the crack in the foundation, however we will NOT add a second bathroom and hire a stager for three thousand dollars who will bring in crap from Home Goods when the stuff already in here is lovely and people need to get over it and look past their personal taste in paint color, my God! The end result? We sold the house for nearly asking in two weeks without spending $20,000 we don’t even have (Hello, that’s why we’re selling the G.D. thing!) on pointless renovations. Thank GOD.

My book agent listened to the editors who wanted my book on the condition that a laundry list of revisions were tended to first – she stuck to my guns and gave it to me straight up – No, we will not change this graveyard book into a romance set in a dystopian landscape wherein the undead walk the graveyard every other page. However – I needed to attempt a plot. * The end result? We kept the heart and soul of the book intact and it turned out even heart-ier and soul-ier with a plot. Who knew? Well. The editor who bought it knew. My agent knew. Thank GOD.

The take-away? Any time commerce and art or commerce and homes combine, things get dicey fast. Finding a smart agent you trust, who loves the book/house for itself and it’s potential, may be the only thing standing between you and never selling your house and never selling your book. Which again, if keeping the crack in the foundation and not having a plot means everything in the world to you, by all means, do not surrender. If a plot-less narrative was your entire point in the first place, do not give in. Selling be damned, you will not sleep if you give up the thing that means anything to you, there are plenty of things my agent and I refused to move an inch on, things I’d rather the book live in a drawer than contain, and we were right. The right editor came along and mine and the book’s soul remain intact.

If, on the other hand, you maybe just sort of got lost in the story and …forgot…to write a plot* and are willing to take a look-see at how your characters may grow if they’re allowed to live in a series of events with rising action and conflict and a climactic event so awesome and funny even you are surprised and tickled pink by it, and if you never thought about the foundation crack much at all so what the hell let’s get some bids to fix it ? Then be brave. Sign wisely then trust your agents - don’t just say you do. Do it. Trust. Listen. Be honest, express your concerns. A good agent will listen, give you the straight dope and not make you feel stupid, even if the revisions make you cry really loud in Peet’s coffee and you make a scene with lots of paper napkins and nose-blowing and due to the resulting humiliation you can never write there again but it doesn’t matter anyway because you’ve moved to Seattle so whatever, Peet’s.*

The copy edits on my book come back next week. I will be furiously tending to them for two weeks or so. We are in escrow on this house in Seattle and the next two weeks are all about getting bids on replacing carpet, painting walls, doing something about the asbestos-filled popcorn ceilings. And every second I do this stuff I am driven nearly to distraction by gratitude. For being employed, having a home to live in, for being able to make repairs so it is safe and comfortable. I am still amazed my agent signed me, let alone how she made the book so much better and sold it to an editor who made even better. Fortune full, I tell you. Oh. And how we got the house? We were out-bid in the competitive, ridonkulous Seattle housing market. But the sellers so kindheartedly went with our lower bid, because they liked the letter I wrote them. Because they love this house, and in the letter I promised we would love it as much as they do. They stuck to their guns. They didn’t give in what mattered most to them just to sell. They wanted a caring family to pass their home on to, but they needed to sell. They got both.

See you after copy edits!

*Okay, it’s not like my book had no plot at all. It just…okay. It didn’t have one. But it does now and it is awesome. **Only one time did this happen and the revisions were really, really hard but I did them so shut up.

Please Welcome Jen Nadol!

Welcome back for our second installment of “You are devoted to your  fabulous kids and still you manage to write really beautiful novels? Holy Cats! Tell us how you do it!” Today we welcome a shining star in the Paranormal Literature World, Jen Nadol! Jen, please do tell us about yourself as a writer/parent. Nadol

 

I’ve written six novels. Three have sold (The Mark and The Vision, both available now from Bloomsbury and How It Ends, coming from Simon Pulse in late 2014/early 2015), two are in drawers (one forever, the other for the time being) and one is with my agent (I think its finished - she’ll tell me if I’m right). And I have three kids, all boys, who are almost-nine, seven and five – they’re in third grade, first grade and preschool respectively.

Ah, the drawer novels…if yours are anywhere near as intriguing and sharply written as The Mark and The Vision, here’s hoping they both see the light of day! So, did you write/publish before you had kids? If so, how did your writing schedule change once children were on the scene?

I wrote in a journal-y, when-I-feel-like-it kind of way before kids, but I never had a schedule because I never had any real plans for my writing. When I left work to stay home with my first son, I had this idea there’d be hours of free writing time while baby napped or played happily and so I should become a novelist like I’d always meant to. And then he was born and I realized those hours were filled with feeding and changing and soothing and feeding again and I’d have to squeeze writing into whatever spare minutes I could find. But by then, I’d already decided I was going to write a book so, damnit, that’s what I was going to do. I got really disciplined, really fast.

Do you get help from spouses/family members/babysitters?

When my first son was around four months old, I found a sitter who’d come twice a week for two and a half hours each time and that became my dedicated writing time. When sons two and three arrived and I had actual book contracts, I ramped up to as much as fifteen hours a week. Now that all but one of them are in school, I’m back down to five hours a week.

Do you have another paying gig in addition to writing and parenting?

Nope, this is it and I have immense admiration for those who juggle parenting, working and writing. They are superhuman.

Absolute truth. Now, what is the nuttiest thing you’ve done to occupy your kids so you could get some writing/revising done?

Extra game time. Which isn’t that nutty, except in the context that I’m kind of nutty about videogames to start with (my kids would say “crazy/totally unfair/mean”). House rule is that they’re each allowed fifteen minutes of game time on my iPhone per day.  In a jam, I’ve let them have more. Needless to say, they LOVE when I’m under deadline...

mark

Ha! Can you describe your current daily schedule, on an average day, involving juggling writing with your kids’ schedules?

Most days I get a solid two hours of work in while my youngest is in preschool. I sit down at the computer as soon as I’m back from drop-off and work up until pick up. Usually right up until pick-up (the teachers are going to be SO GLAD when I’m gone). Then, I squeeze in extra time at lessons/games/appointments (I almost always have my netbook or a printout of my current WIP with me) and the nights my husband’s away on work travel.

Do your kids’ teachers know you are a writer, and do you get involved with schooling via your writing/books somehow? (Presenting workshops, teaching a writing class, stuff like that?)

Yes, they do and no, I don’t...the teachers at my sons’ school are much better at teaching writing than I’d ever be!

What do your boys think about you being a writer? Are they annoyed all you do is type, are they at all impressed, is it just old hat to them?

I think their feelings are a combination of all those things. My oldest will sometimes ask questions about what I’m working on or offer suggestions. And I know he’s looked up my books and read the reviews on Amazon. So that’s kind of cool, even though it means he’s read the sucky reviews too.

Ever take the boys to signings, on tours? Do they get excited seeing your books in stores?

I’ve never taken them to an event, but when my first book came out, we went hunting for it together, which was neat...probably more for me than them.

Do your kids inspire specifics in your books?

Maybe they will, but so far none of my books have had kids this young in them so, no.

vision

Do the boys know when you are revising, under deadline or other high-pressure situations - how do you not take the stress out on them (or a spouse) or does everyone just have to ride the storm?

My deadlines haven’t been a huge issue, but I’ve definitely felt good or bad book-related news affecting my mood and when I realize it, I try to explain so they get why I’m grumpy or happy. I think hearing about the bad news and reading downer reviews has actually helped my oldest understand that even grown-ups have less-than-stellar days and its not the end of the world (or, at least I tell myself this so I have a silver-lining...)

Best piece of advice you can give other parents who write, or are starting a writing career?

Be disciplined. Set aside writing time and write. Don’t waste your quiet/kid-free time on Facebook or twitter or blogs or the laundry/cleaning/errands. Write. And do all that other stuff later.

Perfectly put. Sounds easier than it is most days, and I agree completely. That discipline must be exercised. Jen Nadol, thank you so much for being here! I feel free to speak for myself and all your fans when I say we cannot wait to read How It Ends - and all your future work. You’ve got some lucky little boys. Happy parenting, and happy writing!

About The Mark:

Cassandra Renfield has always seen the mark—a glow around certain people reminiscent of candlelight. But the one time she mentioned it, it was dismissed as a trick of the light. Until the day she watches a man awash in the mark die. After searching her memories, Cassie realizes she can see a person’s imminent death. Not how or where, only when: today.

Armed with a vague understanding of the light, Cassie begins to explore her “gift,” seeking those marked for death and probing the line between decision and destiny. Though she’s careful to hide her secret—even from her new philosophy-obsessed boyfriend—with each impending death comes the temptation to test fate. But so many questions remain. How does the mark work? Why is she the only one who sees it? And finally, the most important of all: If you know today is someone’s last, should you tell them?

About The Vision:

Cassie Renfield knows the mark tells her when someone is going to die and that she can intervene and attempt to change fate.  But she still doesn't understand the consequences, especially whether saving one life dooms another.  With no family left to offer guidance, Cassie goes in search of others like her.  But when she meets Demetria, a troubled girl who seems to have the power of the Fates, Cassie finds the truth isn't at all what she expected.  And then there's her heady new romance with bad boy Zander.  Dating him has much graver repercussions than Cassie could ever have imagined, forcing her to make choices that cut to the essence of who she is and what she believes.

Jen Nadol grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, the hometown of John Updike, Taylor Swift, and the now-defunct Monopoly railroad. She has a BA in literature from American University and has lived in Washington DC, Boston, and New York City. She currently resides in a 150-year-old farmhouse in Westchester County, New York, with her husband and three young sons and is at work on her next two related novels. She has no paranormal abilities - and she's pretty happy about that. Visit her on the web at www.jennadolbooks.com. 

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 

-Or-

 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?

Critique Groups - who needs them? Apparently, Me.

It took me two years to write (and another two to spec edit) the book my agent sold last year, and I’m coming up on a similar timeline with my second one. Which is driving me insane. It shouldn’t take this long! But I do this thing where I write maybe twenty or fifty pages, then I can’t continue until I go over and over and over those pages, hating them and revising and changing until I feel like they’re right before I can move on. Weeks, months go by. Ridiculous. I’ve been wondering if I should even bother finishing this one. So I tried to find a critique group on Craigslist which did NOT work out (So. Much. EROTICA! Not in my wheelhouse. Also? Come on, people...no one reading erotica is super concerned about the syntax or narrative clarity.) Eventually I figured out I could find critique groups via SCWBI, which I did, and I attended two of them, and Hoo Mama! People had amazing things to say, suggestions as simple as “Maybe you should think about moving this here, or that there, and maybe not use the same adjective four times in one paragraph...just sayin.” Saved me months. Months! And I am in LOVE with my current book once again, I wake up impatient to write every day knowing people other than me are going to be reading the pages and probably steering me away from dumb cliffs I may have otherwise dropped off. It IS a good book, worth finishing so I can run it up the pole and see who salutes. So far, critique groups win! I only hope I’ve contributed anything useful to them in return. Aside from banana oatmeal muffins.

Bridges Of What The F Is Going On County: A 2012 Wrap Up

This week has been nothing but disbelief and unfathomable heartache. How the families of Newtown will hold each other together and stay alive is a mystery, but one steeped in the only thing that matters, what their children have become  - pure love. I don't know what else to say and like most people wasn't planning on saying anything, but I started typing and apparently here it is. I've been answering my ten year old's millions of questions about what happens when we die, when a child dies, will I go with her if she dies. Which, to that last one I've told her - honestly? Yes. She is my only and I think I would. I would be right behind her. The only thing I can think each day since Friday is please, please let those families find a way to live for each other and the siblings of the babies - the young and the grown-up, they are all someone's babies - not with them anymore. There is so much love there, you can tell from the words and images coming from that beautiful town and its brave families, and I believe they will. They'll make it. My book, centered around the paralyzing grief wrought by the death of a child, begins with the words of Thorton Wilder:  

"There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

Nothing beyond that makes any sense lately, so that's the last I'll say about it.

This year has been, on the writing adventure tip, amazing - and continues to be nuts. To write the book one has kept in one's head for years is joyful, to find a agent to edit and represent it, then for that agent to sell it? That is a dream. But publishing, I continue to learn, is loopy! Months have passed since the sale and I'm working every day to finish a second book, and in that time my agent has moved to a fabulous new Agency and my book given to a new editor. Which is scary, as the original editor chose the book on purpose, because she wanted it - I worried the new editor was being given my book and the poor woman would have had no choice. Which, you know - yikes. But lo and behold, what an amazing, smart, totally enthusiastic editor she is! She loves the story, has a ton of ideas to make is amazing...I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with this person, and how lucky my book is to be in such good hands.

 

I hope 2012 has been vivid for you as well, heartbreak tempered with the balm of love, and humanity - bright and dark - explored and learned from. Which yes, is cornball but what the hell else can we cling to in moments like these? We're lucky to be here, every minute, every person we love and who loves us is a gift. I wish you all a warm, sparkly New Year and let's send ourselves off to write stories for us all. There is nothing better in the world than a good book, the best of which are comfort and love themselves. We know that much is true.

Why I Love NaNoWriMo

“This is the true joy in life. . .being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” George Bernard Shaw said it and it is true.

I majored in Acting at San Francisco State University and one semester I played Barbara in Major Barbara, written by Shaw, which I rehearsed in the mornings. At the same time I was rehearsing in the evenings and on weekends for the role of Martirio in Garcia Lorca's The House Of Bernarda Alba, another beautiful play by another amazing writer. The plays opened two weeks apart, and I was taking eighteen units and working part time. My boyfriend (now my husband) was also at SFSU majoring in directing, also acting in Major Barbara, carrying the same class load and working part time. I did the same thing in grad school right after; powered through 24 units per semester, played a bunch of lead roles simultaneously, finished my acting MA and switched to Playwriting, completed my Writing MFA in two years and during all this we were exhausted all the time and we never had more fun. Because how lucky to be able to have our health, get student loans and be able to attend college at all, majoring in what we loved and hoped to use to make the world somehow better, have jobs that let us limp along in our tiny apartment and eat ramen noodles now and then, be cast in amazing roles in amazing plays, sleep every once in a while - the best.

What I love most about my husband is this very thing in him; this refusal to complain, to just shut up and do what needs to be done and have fun doing it and if it doesn't work out clam your yapper and pick yourself up and move the hell on, because it is true: The world owes no one anything. Life owes no one anything. We are so lucky to be here at all, the odds of any of us being born - when you consider the math involved in the billions of zygotes that could have formed and yet we won that lottery - anything less than eternal gratitude and grabbing life by the hoo ha and being brave and doing everything you can to help people who need a hand every single day seems blasphemous. My husband's favorite thing to say is, "Oh, brother! Shut the hell up and get it done!" He knows what's up. Shaw knew what's up.

What does this have to do with NaNoWriMo? Everything! They schedule it in November for crying out loud! The start of the busiest time of the year for lots of people, all kinds of winter festivities are coming up which involve cooking and cleaning and shopping and school plays and soccer tournaments and also some people really, really need extra help just to live as the weather gets colder and oh my God it never ends and then somewhere in there you're supposed to indulge in the extravagance of finding time to write nearly 2000 words per day?

Yes! Yes, you are!

I cram a lot of stuff into each day, and it's really easy as the months go by to lose sight of the gratitude I have every single second for being alive, having a home and food and being able to care for my child and be able to help people who need it and also for criminey's sake I SOLD A BOOK the luckiest thing of all - NaNoWrimo reminds me how lucky I am, makes me get down to business, get to work. No matter what else is happening, that word count must get done, and NOT at the expense of my kid's mental or physical well being so I better figure it the hell out. It is a reminder of upping my work ethic, the daily putting words on a page, the not being a feverish little clod complaining, "I was going to write, but then..." No! There is no room, no time, no excuse for that crap. Life is precious and short, no complaining, no excuses, just write! Be brave, be brilliant or awful but get it done - and be grateful for the opportunity. Some of the words will end up deleted, some may be worth saving, some of them could become a book, and maybe that book will be part of people's lives, part of how they see the world, maybe it will be a reason someone feels less lonely or inspired to be brave about something in their own life - books matter. Gratitude matters. NaNoWriMo is a beautiful thing I treasure, it is how my first book was born, and where the first draft of my next one will be completed.

Thanks, NaNo. Thank you, G.B. Shaw. Onward!

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?"

Well.

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?"

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.