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Tag Archives: Contemporary YA

My Favorite Indie in Flagstaff, AZ

With the official day of giving thanks just around the corner, it makes sense that we’re focusing on our favorite indie bookstores this month here at the Class of 2K13 blog. And my choice of indies to highlight also makes sense, considering the fact that I was in the store just today doing one of the things I love to do there (more about that later).

The bookstore I’m talking about is Bookman’s (aka Bookman’s Entertainment Exchange). It’s well-known to Arizonans, as there are several locations throughout our fair state, but the Flagstaff location is, hands down, my favorite. This is the store where R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe walked up to me in the nineties (stop me if you’ve heard this one before – most people who know me have) and asked if I thought they had any of Robert Graves’ poetry. As I recall, I led this friendly stranger over to the poetry section (which I knew well) and showed him where to look. He thanked me, life went on, and it wasn’t until later that night that I was like, “Wait a minute. Was that…?” Sure enough, over the next few days, our little mountain town was abuzz with news of our celebrity visitor.

That's me, chillin' in the Bookman's cafe

That’s me, chillin’ in the Bookman’s cafe

Several winters ago, during an incredibly intense blizzard, the roof of Bookman’s caved in, which meant we all had to do without the store for way too long while they rebuilt. It eventually came back better than ever, though, this time with a full café and an even more awesome collection of stuff than they’d had before. Which brings me to today, when I was in Bookman’s trading some of that stuff. One of the neatest things about my favorite indie is that it’s an exchange – sort of like a trading post, really. In other words, you can bring in your “stuff” (in my case, everything ranging from books to some nice quality costume jewelry to a kid’s microscope) and they will give you cash or trade credit. The credit is always a better deal, in my opinion, which is how I came away with some nice pre-holiday loot to spend on whatever coolness I find there in my upcoming visits. They also host readings, signings and, this month, NaNoWriMo write-ins for the local community.

Bottom line: If you’re ever in Northern Arizona visiting the Grand Canyon or whatever, be sure to make a stop at Bookman’s Entertainment Exchange on Milton. You won’t be disappointed!

Stuff I’ve learned from a debut year

I loved reading Tara Sullivan’s post earlier this week about the top three things she’s learned in 2K13. Now that my book has been out in the world for a few months, I’ve had some time to reflect on debut authorhood and offer my own list:

I’ve learned to be part of a writing tribe: I’ve said it before on this blog and on my own, and I’ll say it again. Hands down, one of the most important decisions I made shortly after BRIANNA ON THE BRINK sold was to become part of a group of debut authors. For about a year now, the members of The Class of 2K13 have supported each other, shared our experiences and worked with each other to put together an awesome panel at this year’s ALA Convention in Chicago. Even for those of us who love our alone time, writing is a solitary enough pursuit without the added burden of traveling the path of publication alone. Wherever you might find yourself on that path, the encouragement, comradery and information you can gain from other writers who are skipping/trudging/sprinting/plodding along with you is invaluable.

I’ve learned to set the words free: Letting go of a book you’ve worked on for a significant chunk of time can be tough. What if nobody likes it? What if the world discovers you were a hack all along? I recently spoke on a panel in Las Vegas, where I likened the publication of a book to the birth of a baby. At some point, you realize not everyone is going to think your darling is as adorably perfect as you do. Whether it’s a draft you need to send to your beta readers or a debut novel on release day, a great way to salvage your sanity is to detach from the work as much as possible. After all, the whole point of being a published writer is to have other people read your work. It’s a great feeling when they do, but accepting the fact that different readers are going to have different opinions is part of the package.

I’ve learned to explore space: I recently signed the lease on a downtown office, and it was one of the best things I’ve done for my writing so far this year. BRIANNA ON THE BRINK and my newest manuscript were both written from my rural home, but having a dedicated space where I can write without domestic distractions (kids, animals, floors in need of scrubbing, refrigerator contents in need of being stared at, etc.) is a boon to my creativity and productivity. If money is an issue (and, really, when is it not?), get creative. Maybe you can go in on a space with another writer or artist. I found some great potential situations on Craigslist, through word of mouth and just by wandering around downtown and checking out “for lease” signs in various windows.

So, that’s my list now that 2K13 is more than half over. What are some of the things you’ve learned as a writer (published or not yet) this year?

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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 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS): Focus on Craft

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This month we’re talking about what smart things we did to sell our manuscripts. For me, the best thing I ever did for my writing career was to focus on the writing more than the career. I started out going to SCBWI conferences. While there is a wealth of information there, I found myself submitting to editors and agents way before I should have, and that caused a lot of stress. The advice is to send your very best work. I did that! At the time, it was my best work.

However, my best wasn’t good enough.

After I accumulated a pile of rejections, I gave up. Not on writing, though—I couldn’t do that—but on submitting. Instead I focused on becoming a better writer. While there are lots of ways to do that, I started attending Highlights Foundation workshops, about two per year for about four years. They were low-commitment—between two days to a week—and very affordable for the quality. The faculty is accomplished and smart and extremely supportive. The setting is idyllic and inspirational. I learned so much and met lots of wonderful people.

Some of those wonderful people were affiliated with another great place to immerse in craft: Vermont College of Fine Arts, which offers several low-residency master’s programs. This was a much higher commitment, of both time and money, and even though I was in my late thirties, I decided to go for it. I have not regretted it for a minute. For two years, I fully immersed myself in writing, reading, and critically analyzing works for children and teens, and I did it among top industry professionals. I didn’t pay attention to trends or who was accepting queries or who wasn’t. I loved the freedom to let go of the submission stress. As a result, the quality of my work significantly improved, as did my confidence.

I still get rejected sometimes—it’s an unavoidable part of the publishing process—but now if I get stumped and need to regroup, I have a vast toolbox at my disposal. I love knowing that I can always go to a Highlights or a VCFA workshop, or even an SCBWI conference, and brush up on some skills, get some valuable feedback, or simply jumpstart the creative juices. Learning to write isn’t something I did; it’s something I will always do.

 

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Thinking Outside the Box: One Smart Thing I Did To Sell GOLDEN BOY

One smart thing I did to sell GOLDEN BOY was to dance just a little bit around the edges of the traditional lock-step route to publishing… and it’s what got me my agent!

uuw3btb1m6deb9dm3xs6A few years ago, a member of my writer’s group had the fantastic idea of submitting for a writers group development from our local New England chapter of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). For a while we debated what to do with it, but we finally agreed: the agent query process terrified and mystified us. We were a group of six, all with YA & MG manuscripts at different stages. So, I went to work researching agents that listed all of our genres. When I found one, I approached her and asked if she would be willing to accept the grant money to do an informational Skype interview about the agenting process. She agreed and offered, in addition, to critique each of our query letters. A few weeks later we had the session and learned a lot… and she ended up extending an offer to two of us (one third of the group!) to formally query her when we finished our manuscripts. Two years later, we’re both represented by her.

So, as you try to shop your baby out in the big bad world, try to think outside the traditional lock-step for ways to actively develop yourself and gain the skills you need for whatever step of the process you’re on… you never know what unintended awesomeness might come of it!

(Disclaimer: My story in this post is intended to be illustrative only. Please do not use it as a launching-off point to bother my agent. I like her. I like that she likes me. Please don’t make her dislike me. It might make me dislike you.)

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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BRIANNA ON THE BRINK Release Day!

Today is release day for my debut contemporary young adult novel BRIANNA ON THE BRINK! I am so grateful to my agent, Stacey Glick, editor Sylvie Frank and all the folks at my wonderful publisher, Holiday House, who have made this day a reality. Fly little bookbaby, fly!

BriannaBrink correct

It’s been a week of celebration around these parts, starting with the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend, where signing my first book for a reader made me feel more like a Real Live Author than just about anything on the journey so far. Here I am with the lovely lady who bought that first signed copy (because I had to get a picture, right?). Mari is also an author, as it turns out, and I hope to hear great news about her book someday soon:

TFOB

Today I’m planning to continue the release-day festivities by heading to the Grand Canyon with a bunch of family members (because that’s how we celebrate big stuff here in Arizona—by visiting big holes in the ground). Cupcakes and Prosecco will also be involved.

Copies of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK have been popping up in the wild already this week, so you can likely find it at your local bookstore. If not, please consider ordering the book from them. Here are some links for purchasing your copy online, too!

Barnes & Noble (It’s also available as a Nook book!)

Indiebound

Powell’s

Amazon (It’s also available in Kindle edition!)

Also, don’t forget about the Class of 2K13 March Giveaway, which includes BRIANNA ON THE BRINK, GONE FISHING and MILA 2.0!

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