{radio stella —> stella speaks}

My agent, bless him, didn’t want to get my hopes up.

A novel which he’d loved, and which we both thought would get good traction in the market was floundering – as had the two YA novels before it. This latest novel, written quickly over the summer, was rejected by first one, then another editor, and the numbers were piling up.

Normally, within the first five rejections, I would have figured out a pattern of what was wrong with the piece – that many disconnected editors are usually not a monolith, but normally there’s a kind of consensus which arises from the editorial letters… the main character is X, the setting is Y, something specifically isn’t working and five out of six editors agree. Not this time. The replies were mostly, “it’s written beautifully, just not what we’re looking for.” “Stella is a hoot, but we already have x, y, or z, this season.” So, my agent persisted, and I moved on to something else, as one does. It’s part of the job of the writer – to write, and not worry about what is going on with the selling – that’s the sole reason for an agent, so the writer can set aside THAT particular anxiety in favor of the other hundred thousand.

Honestly, I’d already started revising Stella, in my head. I had done SOMETHING wrong, I couldn’t know for sure what, but I was positive it was me. That’s what we all believe – it’s US. It’s always US. It’s not the market nor the editors, nor is it the time of year, it’s US, and we are foolish and ignorant and WRONG.

Which is why last month’s phone call was such a shocker. My agent emailed me the day before my uncle’s memorial service with CALL ME in all caps in his subject line. (Amusingly, somehow in my last move he’d lost my cell number – or else I never gave it to him. This tells you how much we speak to each other across an open line. Introverts use EMAIL and we LIKE IT.) When I phoned him, he said, “Well, I didn’t mention this before, because sometimes, these things fall apart…” He’d had a conversation with an editor in passing, heard she was heading back to middle grade, after losing two of her big YA names to adult fiction. He asked what she was seeking, sent her my work midweek, and received a response… by the week following. She’d read my book over the weekend, taken it to an acquisitions meeting the following week, and messaged him with her interest a day later.

So, I’ve sold a pair of novels, one of which is definitely middle grade! I’m still blinking. Normally, NOTHING moves that fast in publishing. That Katherine Tegen (henceforth KT) offered the opportunity to work with her for TWO books was even more surprising – I’d never gotten that sort of offer, even after four books with EditorE. Suddenly, it feels like anything can happen – and I’m not completely sure what will. It’s a good – if unusual – feeling.

One of my earlier rejections for RADIO STELLA which is now being renamed STELLA SPEAKS is that the novel was “too commercial” for their house. This …was a surprise to me, as the idea is normally that if you win an ALA nod, you’re considered by most people to be a literary success, if not not necessarily a commercial success, as one normally has to do with reader popularity and the other with literary merit as judged by teachers and librarians… I’m reading Katherine Tegen publications like mad just now, catching up with what they’re about – their tagline is “high-quality commercial fiction,” so apparently now I’m commercial? Okay, I’ll take it.

Writers write. So, I’ll just get back to that and leave the perplexing question of what kind of book Stella will be to others more qualified to decide.

{thirty steps to meltdown or, what happens when I am stuck on a manuscript, in no particular order}

  • wander aimlessly through my house
  • stress clean the kitchen
  • read a lot. And queue up reviews for weeks in advance
  • trim my hair
  • Tell myself not to panic
  • trim tech boy’s hair
  • tweeze my eyebrows
  • tweeze my leg hair
  • look up trichotillomania on WebMD
  • rearrange the fridge
  • rearrange the spices by height
  • rearrange the spices by alphabetical order
  • stress bake cookies with no recipe
  • ask God WHYYYYYYYYY multiple times
  • wonder where that one figure skater is doing now
  • sigh a lot
  • dust mop beneath the couch
  • analyze the dirt in the Roomba
  • discover where earring backs have gone
  • rearrange my earrings
  • stress clean my desk
  • write notes to myself
  • find a spider. usher him or her out
  • ponder the pile of laundry in the laundry room
  • consider doing one load. consider doing ALLL the loads
  • lie on couch, staring, dry-eyed
  • Panic. Just a little
  • imagine names for pets
  • argue with self if pets are cats or fish or turtles
  • write faux jacket copy and abandon it
  • try outlining, then laugh wildly at how bad it is
  • full on panic. Wheeze
  • organize notes to myself by writing – neatest to scribbliest
  • read novel notes from 6 months ago, laugh wildly, edge into hysterical sobbing
  • make a serious stab at a novel synopsis
  • begin novel-as-movie paragraph, “In a world where…”
  • wail. Loudly.
  • find a spider. Usher it from this life
  • promise the muse nonexistent firstborn
  • take back promise, because kids would make this even harder
  • close my eyes and imagine the character
  • remember whatever the character wants needs to not happen
  • rediscover the concept of CONFLICT
  • write a letter, telling story of novel so far to mother
  • whisper, “Ohhhh…!” as light breaks
  • is that a spider? Huh.
  • mutter prayer of thanks and GET BACK TO WORK

{six word stories: winners!}

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PEAS AND CARROTS had a great book birthday. Thank you so much for the love and good wishes sent all day yesterday! It was nice to hear from so many of you. It was also excellent to see the effort that went into the six word stories you sent. Sometimes big stories lurk in little words. Some of the stories are sweet:

“Autism teaches patience, love, and truth.” – C

And others, not so much…

“Hell is other people. Or parents.” – D

These little stories definitely made me want to hear more. I liked that they were little novels enclosed in a tight space. Six words can give you a lot to go on — more than you might think:

“Product of Tiger Mom and DEFCON1.” – AC

“Mixed nuts, emotionally adrift; imperfect strangers.” – d

And I was amused by how many stories included… dogs. What is it with six word stories and dogs? The basic gist of all of the dog stories is wrapped up in this plaintive sigh:

“Nobody understands me but the dog.” – L

The stories have gone into the hat:

Congratulations to:

ABBY C

& “A QUIET GIRL SPEAKS”!

[email protected] Reads

Winners, once again using the contact form (Don’t leave personal information in the comments, of course) send your mailing address and you’ll receive a signed copy of PEAS AND CARROTS and some other tiny goodies.

Thanks to everyone who played along, and thank you again for being part of a great book birthday. I hope you keep writing the stories of your families, and of your lives.

{book birthday giveaway: six word family stories}

Dess knows that nothing good lasts. Disappointment is never far away, and that’s a truth that Dess has learned to live with.

Dess’s mother’s most recent arrest is just the latest in a long line of disappointments, but this one lands her with her baby brother’s foster family. Dess doesn’t exactly fit in with the Carters. They’re so happy, so comfortable, so normal, and Hope, their teenage daughter, is so hopelessly naïve. Dess and Hope couldn’t be more unlike each other, but Austin loves them both like sisters. Over time their differences, insurmountable at first, fall away to reveal two girls who want the same thing: to belong.

Tanita S. Davis, a Coretta Scott King Honor winner, weaves a tale of two modern teenagers defying stereotypes and deciding for themselves what it means to be a family.

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In honor of PEAS AND CARROTS’ book birthday February 9th, I’m out and about in the blogosphere, talking about hiding (@B&N’s OPEN MIC Project – do check out the other pieces), writing about divine (every) bodies (@STACKED BOOKS, and thanks to Kelly for inviting me), and tomorrow I’ll be at John Scalzi’s blog, sharing the BIG IDEA – or one of them – behind the book. At some point, I’ll also show up in The Horn Book blog. I have two copies of PEAS AND CARROTS left to share, and I thought I’d give someone a chance to win one… by sharing a six word family story.

Hemingway’s famous six-word tale, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” inspired the “six word story” meme, and has served as a writing prompt for decades, challenging writers’ ability to create an entire narrative arc in just six words. Having a topic may – or may not – make it easier… give it a shot and see!

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: Create an original six word story – funny, poignant, etc – describing your family, whether chosen family, foster family, or the one you were born with. Submit this story, between NOW and midnight February 9th (PST) via the site’s contact form, with the words “Six Word Story” in the subject line. I’ll be sharing some of these as I receive them, and will throw the very best of them in a hat and select two. Winners to be announced February 10th, and personal details, mailing information, etc., will be requested then.

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Good luck! Remember you have between now and midnight (PST) December 9th.

{a tiny PR note}

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I’m told the candy does NOT, in fact, taste like peas or carrots. Bummer.

People expecting copies of PEAS AND CARROTS, those are going out this week. People who want a chance to win a copy, along with a lunch bag and a little magnet — please stay tuned to the February 9 release date —

February is not just when the groundhog emerges (albeit with a LOT of help from people pulling it) from its hole to find its shadow – it’s apparently the month when introverts Make An Effort (also with a LOT of help from people… pulling). I’ll be booktalking, and being visible this February here and there – first, I’m presenting a webinar February 2nd for The National WWII Museum on Mare’s War as part of their WWII emphasis this year. Teachers and families who do homeschooling, you’ll want to jump on this! The week following, I’ll be on the blog STACKED and then the tumblr Size Acceptance in YA; at BN Teen Blog’s Open Mic project sometime next month, and on John Scalzi’s WHATEVER blog’s Big Idea project on February 9th, which is the same day that PEAS AND CARROTS has its book birthday.

I’m grateful to everyone who asked me to show up and hang out next month, and given me the opportunity to talk about what I do and how I do it.

Skyway Drive 336

{cover & swag}

Have I shown you this cover yet?

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[CLICK TO LET IT EAT YOUR SCREEN]

Is it not stunning? So ORANGE it is. SO orange. I immediately want one of those Outshine Tangerine Carrot ice lollys, as the Scots call them. I want to roll around in that sizzling hue. I love, love, love the vibrant colors. *happy sigh*

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This final cover is the result of a lengthy negotiation between my understanding of the book’s characters, and the designers’ understanding of the job before them. I’ve been asked not to share design “dud” rejected for the official cover – and really, it wasn’t a dud, per se, it just wasn’t right for this book – but the original concept introduced to me was a broad lawn on which two girls lay – separated by a lot of space. Unfortunately, they were separated from the reader as well – we looked down on them from far, far away, and to me, they looked tired, or hung over, or …something passive. This was brought back to me cropped in various ways, lightened, darkened — but it was variations on a theme, and for me, it didn’t work no matter how we angled our gaze. For one thing, there was a glut of books a few years ago that looked like lawn-care manuals with all of that grass. For another, a quick check through internet images will net romantic YA novels like STEALING PARKER by Miranda Kennally and the paperback of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by that one guy — both with people lying on lawns. And there are more. MANY more. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong a lawn, one of the characters in the novel is not a product of suburbia, and would probably never be found just lying down on nature — not public nature, anyway. You don’t know where that’s been. We take so much for granted, culturally, and we can be quite tone-deaf sometimes about projecting our perceptions. So, it was a “no” from me, over and over.

It is hard enough differentiating a book from the herd; it’s easier when your book doesn’t look like another book that just came out. Hopefully I didn’t frustrate too many people as I quietly lobbied for a whole new design. And asked my agent to help me lobby for a new design – and we got one! And it just pops with that brilliant color.

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The designs you see accompanying this book are MY design duds. Now, I don’t always do as much public PR stuff as I *cough* should with regard to books (still vainly hoping that merely writing them is enough) but as soon as I knew I’d have a book out in February (a discovery brought home to me by the ARCs arriving two months ago – previously I understood there was an Autumn release date, not early-early Spring) I started checking into costs and considerations on creating swag for giveaways.

Aside: There is a wildly misunderstood notions by those outside the industry and some authors who are independently published or published through a small press, that only THEY have to worry with doing their own PR. Haha, no, I am published by one of the BIGGEST of the “Big Six” (which is now Big 5, since two morphed into one RandomPenguin) and this is still something I need to do, and it is my money that goes into it. (While we’re on the topic, did you read that the Author’s Guild reported most writers earn below the poverty line? Unless your name is Joanne and you wrote about wizards whilst living in Scotland, you’re usually not rich. Thanks to Tech Boy, I worry a bit less about this, but…) It’s a choice we all make, how much of our advance we plow back into PR stuff, how helpful and fun it is for readers, etc. Wise writers have advised it’s a better use of time/funds than social media.

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A rummage through Google brought a few helpful ideas to the fore, beginning with Sherri D. Ficklin’s tips on price and practicality, on through the magical Joyce Wan, and into the wilds of Etsy, a dangerous place to go with your wallet. I found quite a bit of fodder for swag, but the most helpful thing has been the niecelet currently living here rent-free being a newly minted graphic designer with an MFA in Advertising and Art Direction from Academy of Art University. I advise EVERYONE to find one of these if they can, trés helpful. (Oh, don’t look like that. I’m not using her, I’m a client. And, I’m going to pay her. Eventually.) We did a lot of brainstorming through the summer on what we could come up with, and… I said “No” to her a number of times, and felt increasingly embarrassed about it. However, as she reminded me repeatedly, at the end of the day, nobody is going to love my book project more than me, so I sat down and did some actual designing myself. Niecelet made it look like it wasn’t done by chimpanzees using broken crayons on a laptop screen, and the upshot is that bags and magnets containing my design should be arriving next month.

I feel professional! And excited! And a little horrified by how expensive it is to get things printed on bags! Never mind, though – it’s a great way to connect with librarians and bookstore owners, and some lucky person in a few months will get a finished copy of the book with a bag or a magnet or — heck, maybe both. Stay tuned, ALL SHALL BE REVEALED…

{well, it’s all fun and games ’til somebody gets their editorial notes dropped off}

totoro_fishing

It was a long and glorious summer.

Well, goodbye all, it’s been fun… but I’ve got to stop gadflying about and finish this thing called Novel.

Drat, I was so hoping I could finish my current Wreck In Progress before putting it on the back burner for the revising. I’ve been expecting this since September, so it’s been a nice long – unexpectedly long, thank-you, early arriving Editor’s Baby – break from the P&C manuscript, and I’m hopeful that this means I can approach it anew with fresh eyes.

Right now, all I’m feeling is OVERWHELMED eyes. The notes are so polite, and they’re only five pages long, but – oy. Is it really a snarled skein of crap like it sounds? Ugh. Why wasn’t I born good at subtle nuance in detail? Why do my characters suffer from persistent – and apparently unbelievable – innocence? How do I keep creating frustrating fake outs and muddled conclusions? And, why is writing such a BIG. HARD. STRUGGLE EVERY. SINGLE. TIME?

*sigh*

Seems like you and I have had this conversation before.

Welp, it seems I’ve inadvertently entered NaNoFiMo. I’m only eight days late. Yay, me.

Once more into the breach, dear friends,

See you in January.

{6888th: honoring Millie Dunn Veasey}

millie dunn veasey

I loved the”world”I made in MARE’S WAR, full of half-remembered relatives, masquerading as characters and old names and older times. Its fictional boundaries constantly urged me to track down real survivors of time and age. My own grandmother passed away when I was nineteen – quite prematurely – and when I’d tracked down the names of several members of the 6888th closer to me, I found that they, too, had all passed away. I was happy to discover this week that Millie Dunn Veasey is still with us, and still remembers the work she did for the War effort, the sounds and the scents and the whole experience – which informed the rest of her life, I’m sure. She’s honored this week in the Raleigh News Observer. Thank you, Ms. Veasey, for your service.

A hat tip to Liz Wein for sending me the article.

{we need diverse books, because…}

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We need diverse books, because…

…too often, our idea of attractiveness tends to be a straight, pale line: Eurocentric, able-bodied, waif-bodied, gendernormative, conformist. Diverse books remind us that our stories are varicolored, many shaped, multi-shaded and arc in bright leaps along a non-conformist spectrum. Beauty – Adventure – and best of all, Love – is where you find it. ♥


So, diversity. Suddenly everybody’s talking about it. What’s it for? Why do we need diverse books? That, friends, is the question the crew at #WeNeedDiverseBooks wants YOU to answer.

Make Noise: TODAY at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

For the visual part of the campaign:

♦ Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.

♦ The photo – family friendly, of course – can be of you, your buds, your stuffed animals, your Barbies, your local library or fave bookstore – and should say clearly WHY you support diversity in kids’ lit. Even a photo of the sign without you will work.

♦ Make Art: There will be a Tumblr at We Need Diverse Books Dot Tumblr Dot Com that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to [email protected] with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on the Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.

♦ Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be our job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever we think will help get the word out. (Have you checked it yet? Some good discussion is already going.)

♦ From 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. It is hoped that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets. This could be big!

♦ The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long the discussion keeps going, so all are welcome to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.

On May 2nd, the second part of the campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of the campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!


Everybody’s talking about diversity… but is there anything we can really do about it? Let’s find out. Make some noise – so that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. Raise your voice – so that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important – and why. We hope you will help spread the word by being a part of this movement.

So, that brings us back to the question…

Why do you need diverse books?

{december (de)lights}

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The house down the street (and around the corner) has what appears to be aliens arriving on the lawn around the Holy Family. I suspect they meant to make trees, but somehow, the lines of lights on wire frames look like aliens landing – or taking off – in wedge-shaped streams of coruscating light. It is my yearly giggle, as I drive down the hill: Ecstasy to the Orb – it’s Aliens.

Clearly, it’s too early for me to be taking Christmas lights seriously.

With the exception of our wee creche, we don’t usually decorate for Christmas. In the last few years, it’s been because we’re in the process of moving, thinking about moving, preparing for moving — and now, for the first time, since we’re staying put for more than a single year, it’s …. a little… noticeable. Hey. We don’t have any Christmas decorations, having gotten rid of them, oh, maybe six moves ago. Time to go thrifting.

(What? You buy your ornaments new or make them by hand? And pass them down for years and years, and have MEMORIES attached to them? Yeah, yeah, it must be nice, in Normalsville.)

Nutcracker x4

The weather has finally started to think about what “normal” might be for December. I can no longer run errands in a T-shirt and jeans, as it is at present 29°F/-2°C. Bring on the scarves and gloves! There’s snow in the northern part of the state, and after this weekend’s weather system, we’ll be able to see it on our very own, nearby peaks. Somehow, that makes it Official: it’s the time of the season for joyful freezing and teeth-chattering songs.

I don’t actually blog much, normally, during December, but I’m trying to be better about just getting here and being present in my …churlishness and general cranky moodiness. This year, I’m going to try to be… I don’t know, pleasant through December. Big job, I know, since usually I’m overbooked and übercross and up to my oxters in Good Cheer and it’s usually a very thin veneer over generalized rage. This year, I’m morphing my Thanksgiving thoughts into December delightedness. Taking joy in a month that’s going to come anyway is the best way to chill out with the crazy and stay grounded.

To that end, I thought I’d share that there are Christmas giveaways going on all over. No – I don’t mean the ones hosted by talk show hosts; you won’t find the Mighty O or Ellen here. I mean, in the litosphere and foodie blogosphere — the places where you’re always browsing anyway.

Got Books? Want more? [email protected] in Kidlit are helpfully giving one a day away. If you’re in the UK, Book Bird Fiction Blog has your books. English indie publishers, Alison and Busby are also having a giveaway. If you’re good at book quotations, – hurry over, it’s already started. (Also, if you’re in the UK? DO NOT MISS Tinned Tomatoes’ annual 12 Days of Christmas giveaway. Some SERIOUS swag to be had there for foodies and cooks.)

More books? Suzanne Wardle, a book blogger and book review editor for the Roanoke Times is giving away six holiday-related books just because… reasons. Gotta love that. Drop a comment, and be part of the drawing. A few clicks away, Entangled Teen has 12 Days of Kickass, where twenty-four authors put out deleted scenes, villainous scenes, and give away the books in which they appear (or, you know, don’t). Book Hounds follows up with the 12 Days of New Adult Giveaway, which, if you’re not familiar with the sub-genre, is YA fiction for the post-high school crowd. I’m not yet sure how I feel about it… if you’re not either, this giveaway is for you – read, then make up your mind!

There are probably more giveaways out there, but I hope you check these out. And, hope you’re well on your way to finding the delights of the day today.

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If the sun is shining, it isn’t actually cold. Right?