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2K13 at SCBWI OH

Whew, that’s a lot of acronyms…but The Class of 2K13 is going to be at an event in Ohio next week. Well, six of us are! Here’s the rundown!

 

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Reconnect – Recharge – Renew: N. Ohio SCBWI 11th Annual Conference

WHEN: Friday, September 20, 2013 2:00 PM –
Saturday, September 21, 2013 5:30 PM (Eastern Time)

WHERE: Cleveland Airport Sheraton
(216) 267-1500
5300 Riverside Drive
Cleveland, Ohio 44135

WHAT: Reconnect with old friends and make some new friends. You can never have enough acquaintances in this industry. The networking opportunities are AMAZING!!! Recharge and become motivated, educated and inspired with the presentations from experts in the field. Renew leaving the conference with new ideas or goals on making old ideas successful. Feel refreshed and ready to jump into your career of writing and/or illustrating for today’s youth.

WHO: 2K13 Members:

•Kelly Barson, Author of 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS)
•Geoffrey Girard, Author of PROJECT CAIN
•Demitria Lunetta, Author of IN THE AFTER
•Mindy McGinnis, Author of NOT A DROP TO DRINK
•Jennifer McGowan, Author of MAID OF SECRETS
•Kate Karyus Quinn, Author of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE

We will be doing a debut panel on Friday: From Finished Manuscript to First Book: A YA Debut-Author Tells All and a Query panel on Saturday.

There are a ton of other authors and panels, so come check it out! There’s still time to register so we hope to see you all there!

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Reading 45 POUNDS of Reviews

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The number one piece of advice that published authors have given me as I prepare for the release of 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS): Do not read your reviews. It’ll only make you crazy. It’s not that I didn’t believe them. It’s just so hard not to. Imagine someone is talking about you and you know it. How can you not eavesdrop, especially if you have anonymous access? And Google, Goodreads, and Amazon give us instant access.

OK, I admit it. The temptation has been too much for me. Just like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia yodeling from the freezer, Goodreads and Google Alerts call my name, too. I read them. And I eat the ice cream, too! I have no self-control. Here’s the thing: Just like ice cream, the first few reviews can be so sweet and soothing and wonderful. Five-star, glowing reviews feel good. They’re addictive. I keep telling myself I’ll stop. Tomorrow. Or after release. Or after one makes me cry. Or after I read just one more. Just one more.

Even though I haven’t listened, I have figured out why authors warn not to read them:

1. I cannot reply. Reviews are not conversations that include the author. They’re dialogue between readers. (Unless, of course, the author is invited.) My part of the conversation is writing the book. Now I need to shut up and let others read and react. (If you know me, you know shutting up is not my forte.) It’s hard not to chime in. In other words, at some point, authors need to exercise restraint—either by not reading the reviews or by not responding to them. Restraint is hard.

2. Not everyone is going to like the book. On a logical level, I’m fine with that. I don’t like all books either, sometimes even those that everyone loves. I know that I am not my book. I know that if someone doesn’t like my book, that doesn’t mean s/he doesn’t like me. S/he doesn’t know me. That is the logical level. The emotional reality is that if someone doesn’t like my book, it can feel like they told the world my newborn baby is butt-ugly. It’s as if s/he is proclaiming that I’m a hack who wasted years of my life writing a hack book and that I should not have quit my day job. Or learned to type.

3. Some people are going to love the book. How is this a problem, you ask? Well, overall, it’s not. But have you ever overindulged in Cherry Garcia and rode a roller coaster? (Oh, c’mon, hasn’t everyone?) Binging on good, bad, and mixed reviews is just a bumpy, nauseating emotional roller coaster. They love me! I rock! They hate me! I suck! They love me! I think I’m going to puke.

4. When I’m focused on reviews, I’m not focused where I need to be—on my next book. Look for it summer 2015, as long as I can pull myself together long enough to write it. (Just kidding, sort of.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I seriously appreciate every single person who takes the time to read my book and write a thoughtful review, even if it’s critical. Actually, while I’m here, I need to talk about the plus side to reading reviews. I’ve learned a lot from them about what readers like and dislike. Reviewers read A LOT and really understand what works and what doesn’t. Since the review “conversation” is between readers, they’re honest about it. On a logical day, that is very helpful. I’ve learned about phrases and words and ideas that are overdone and even offensive. I don’t want to repeat those things in my next book(s), so I’m grateful for that insight—info I’d miss if I hadn’t read the reviews.

I’ve also met a lot of wonderful reviewers. They’re smart and articulate, and they also really love books, just like I do. I want to be accessible to all readers—when invited, of course. For that reason, I will reply if someone Tweets directly to me or if a reader contacts me through my website. However, just so that I can keep the boundaries straight in my own head, I will not “like” a review, even a glowing one, or comment on them. Some authors do—and that’s great—but I’m afraid that if I allowed myself to, I’d be too tempted to comment where I shouldn’t. Or I’d “like” everything to be “fair” and end up looking like a creepy stalker.

Sometimes it’s important to know your limits—with reviews and with Cherry Garcia. Both are tempting and deliciously wonderful, but both are also best in moderation.

My book 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) releases today!!! I’m beyond thrilled and thankful to everyone who’s created buzz about it. Even though I haven’t commented, I’ve noticed. You are awesome! If I could, I’d take you all out for ice cream.

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One Smart Thing I did to Sell My Manuscript: I Wrote for the Market… Sort of

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Should you, or shouldn’t you write for the market? This is one of those perennial questions which writers who long to be published often ask. My answer is simple. You absolutely need to be aware of market trends, but you also have to write the book of your heart.

I’m convinced that The Neptune Project sold because the market for science fiction was heating up at that time. I had been studying teen fiction trends. Vampires had been “hot” for a long time, but I knew I couldn’t possibly write a good vampire book because the basic vampire myth leaves me cold. Zombie stories were popular, too, but the idea of dead people lurching around eating brains doesn’t do much for me either (sorry, zombie fans!)

Then Suzanne Collins and other authors appeared on the scene and wrote some brilliant dystopian novels, which are basically sci/fi with an apocalyptic twist. I had a hunch I could write a good sci/fi story because I loved to read them when I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to write a story about young people fighting to survive in the sea. So, before the market became deluged with dystopian stories, I sent out a proposal for The Neptune Project, received some encouraging comments from agents, and promptly went to work on the novel itself.

It was a labor of love. I’ve always relished survival stories like the classic The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss about a young Swiss family struggling to survive on a deserted island, and Island of the Blue Dolphins about a Native American girl fighting to survive on her own by Scott O’Dell. I got caught up in the idea of a shy girl who is ignored by her classmates and family on land, but beneath the waves she becomes a hero. Genetically altered by her parents to live in the sea, Nere Hanson must learn how to survive in her dangerous new environment with the help of a pod of dolphins her family trained.

I dove in into the story, so to speak, and I loved my plot and my characters so much that the book almost wrote itself. The Neptune Project truly is the book of my heart. But I’m not sure it would have sold five years ago when vampire and zombie stories dominated the teen section of bookstores.

So, to sell your first book, I think you do indeed need to be aware of trends in the children’s fiction market, but you also need to write a book you would have loved to read when you were young.  

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What Some Readers Might Find Objectionable in 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS)

Even though 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) is sometimes classified as a romance, there is no sex in the book. There is also no violence, but readers might find themselves wanting to punch a character or two in the face now and then.

So what’s in it then?

Swearing. The book is from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl, and there is some language that might cost her a dollar in the “swears jar” in some people’s houses. Okay, maybe more than a dollar. And her grandmother calls people fat ass all the time. But good luck getting her to contribute to “the swears” jar. She’d just laugh, take a drag on her cigarette, and call you a fat ass, too. However, while there is a bit of language, it really isn’t superfluous. The target age range for this book is age 12 and up.

Smoking. Gram and a few minor characters smoke, but main character Ann doesn’t approve.

Non-traditional values. This may or may not be a problem for you, depending on your worldview and political beliefs. While this author is a devout Christian, my characters are not. In fact, Ann calls her step-mother Godzilla because of her fiery, Bible-breathing judgment and hypocrisy.

Most people who’ve heard of the book know that Ann wants to lose 45 pounds before her aunt’s wedding. However, Aunt Jackie is marrying Chris, as in Christine. While some people applaud the presence of a gay wedding without it being the central “issue” of the book, others may disagree.

Why would a Christian writer choose to write something that some readers might find objectionable or even offensive?

Simple. It’s not a Christian book. It feels didactic and trite and forced whenever I try to make my characters into something they aren’t. Yes, it would be easier to not have to defend myself to my conservative friends and readers. But it wouldn’t have been authentic. I, too, have struggled with hypocrisy in the Church. Some of my dearest friends are fighting for equal civil rights, and I support them. People swear. I swear—sometimes too much. These things are real to me, real in my world, and real in readers’ worlds. That’s the kind of book I want to write.

I hope the things listed above aren’t deal-breakers when it comes to reading 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) because when weighing the possible objections against the overall positive themes of self-worth and health and familial acceptance, the positives win—by far.

45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) releases from Viking (Penguin) on July 11, 2013, but is available now for pre-order wherever books are sold.

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Changing the World

The biggest thing I remember about being a kid was that I never really liked being thought of or referred to as a “kid” … because this usually meant being talked down to, being told to leave the room, or being told to wait.

Being told to wait was usually a hassle, but sometimes it really, really got to me. This happened mostly when I had just learned to care about something or I was upset by an injustice. When this happened I found I was almost always told to wait… usually accompanied by some sort of phrase about “when I was older.”

For example, I remember vividly once having just read a book where the protagonist was struggling to survive in a country where a genocide was going on. I was really upset about it and wanted to know what I could do about it. I was told, “Well, honey, when you grow up you can join the UN or some other organization and really make a difference.”

And that bothered me. Not the idea that I would grow up and join the United Nations… but the idea that there was nothing I could do now made me feel useless. My favorite nonfiction book at the time quickly became “100 things you can do to save the planet.” I would read it compulsively, finding ways I could make a difference in the world. Even now, I still cut my 6-pack-soda rings into tiny pieces so I don’t choke the sea turtles.

So, when I finally did grow up (and didn’t join the UN after all), it mattered to me to write fiction for kids like me: kids that wanted to know about injustices, but that wanted to do something about them too. That’s why, if you head over to my website, or read the author’s note at the end of GOLDEN BOY, you’ll see a whole bunch of things kids can do to change the world around them.

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What I’ve Learned from Teens

While there are exceptions to every rule, my experience with teens has taught me about:

  • Honesty
    Teens tell it like it is. My kids and students have no problem pointing out my fashion faux pas and rolling their eyes if they think my vocabulary is out of date. On the other hand, some of the most amazing insights about human behavior have come from a teen’s off-handed observation. So when I’m writing, I don’t try to be a wannabe teen. And I don’t try to channel my 1980s teen self. That’s not honest. I try to create a real person dealing with big issues that everyone experiences because the feelings that young people have aren’t immature feelings that will grow up and gain understanding someday. Kids of all ages understand unfairness and justice and acceptance and rejection and love and rudeness and everything else. They deserve honest stories that don’t talk down to them.
  • Advice
    Unless they ask, don’t give it. One way to annoy my kids the fastest is to start giving advice when they start ranting about their bad days. They don’t want to hear about how I had bad days way back when I was a teen—before cell phones and the Internet. And they certainly don’t want to hear about my experience with those bitchy girls from high school and how everything works out okay in the future. They’re not looking for solutions. They just want to vent. They don’t need me to fix anything; my fixes feel trite anyway because I’m not in the throes of it all. So, when I’m writing I try to let the characters simply exist, not create false situations to teach kids anything. I want my characters to make real and honest choices and experience the triumphs or consequences that come with them.
  • Assumptions

Nobody fits perfectly into jock or nerd or any other stereotypes. High school is much more nuanced than the characters from the movie The Breakfast Club. When I write I try to envision people beyond labels. In my novel 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS), my main character Ann is overweight, but she’s into fashion and has friends. How she sees herself is not necessarily how others see her. In fact, she’s cute—so cute that a hot guy notices.

No matter how old I get, I can still learn new stuff—even if it does accompany an eye roll or two.

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How GOLDEN BOY is Decidedly Different

 

I wrote a post back in November telling you how GOLDEN BOY is similar to some other books out there. Well, the follow-up question, naturally, is: How is GOLDEN BOY different from other books out there? Turns out that’s an easy question to answer. I know this because I tried my darndest to find this story out in the world before I wrote GOLDEN BOY, and failed.

When I first came across the report of the killing of people with albinism in East Africa I was distraught, and immediately looked for three things:

  1. objective news sources to learn more about the tragedy;
  2. novels written about the topic to help me process the emotions, and;
  3. humanitarian organizations working in the field to help do something about it.

I found the last immediately and, with some digging through international presses, found the first. But for the life of me I couldn’t find the second.

P1100607I found moving books of the difficulties of being a child in Africa, such as Ishmael Beah’s memoir, Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a boy soldier. These books told the story of normal kids fighting extraordinary circumstances, but didn’t address the unique challenges of people with albinism. I had no better luck searching in the other direction, finding only two novels published for middle grade readers that had a person with albinism as the main character. Here, I found stories of  exceptional children fighting to claim ordinary circumstances, but the approach of these books bothered me: in both novels, the crux of the plot centered around the albino character joining a circus. I was aghast.

Two years later, when I was interviewing the staff at Under the Same Sun, a non-profit organization working to help those with albinism in Tanzania, I found I was not alone in this feeling. The people I interviewed there pointed out that “every single time an albino is in the media, they are the freak or the bad guy.”

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So there you have it: GOLDEN BOY tells the story of Habo, an albino who is neither a freak nor a bad guy, but rather someone decidedly different struggling to claim his humanity in an inhuman world. It tells the story of a current human rights tragedy of which the world is largely unaware and on which there are no other books (and woefully few news articles) written.

To be honest, had there been any similar stories out there I don’t know that I would have been able to finish this book. The untold tragedy of people with albinism in Africa pulled me through the rough patches of writing and gave me the courage to travel to Tanzania to fact-check. The unsung heroism of the people currently working in the field drove me though the long, intense season of revision. There were times that I thought I wouldn’t be able to write this book, but the story had to be told.

And I hope it’s not too big of a spoiler to tell you that, at no point in the entire book, does Habo ever consider joining a circus.

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GOLDEN BOY debuts June 27th, 2013. 
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