Pouring a little out for my homies

I have been on the road way too much for the past few weeks. I just got back in town from attending an engineering conference in Dallas, TX. Upon checking into the hotel, I realized that I was without internet, and I was actually relieved. It was nice to sit in a room and not be tempted by the allure of a high-speed internet connection. But I’m back home now, and as you can see, I’m once again a willing captive of the super-information highway.

After getting back online, I moseyed over to Devas T’s blog and was saddened to see that he was essentially “going underground”, making his currently blog less…spirited, and starting a new blog under a pseudonym.

From a business point of view, I total understand where he’s coming from. He writes and illustrates books for young children, and there are some things on his site that aren’t for the kids. He needs to have a site that both children and parents are comfortable viewing, and that probably means he needs to separate the personal from the professional.

I’ve never met Don (although he must be a rather striking fellow, being that I was mistaken for him twice at an event last week), but I do know that he’s had more than a few headaches concerning censorship and where to draw the line on his blog. And as much as I hate to admit it, he’s probably making the right choice in cleaning up his professional blog.

For all of you that don’t know, I write for the 14 and up crowd (I’m 28, but I still include myself in this category). We curse. We say what’s on our mind. We can be crude and funny one minute and be pissed off and infuriated the next. (And don’t tell anyone…but some of us even have sex.) Technically, Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid is being published as an adult novel, due to it’s crossover appeal with older and younger readers (similar to Megan McCafferty’s novels).

Just like Don feels that his professional blog needs to be a reflection of what he writes, my blog needs to do the same thing. So for all of you that have graciously linked to my site over the past few weeks, I won’t be offended if you want to remove your links. Really. This is a business, and if you write for eight-year-olds, you may not want them wandering over to my site. Not that this blog is going to be filled with gratuitous sex and mindless violence (I’ll save that for Cinemax’s late night movies), but I can’t promise that it’ll be G rated. If anything, I can promise that it WON’T be G rated.

I know that if my agents and editors are reading this, they’re probably cringing, but I know I’m right…at least for the moment. I’m sure I’ll change my mind by tomorrow.

There much more to report on (including a listing in Publishers Weekly’s Fall 2005 Preview for Trade Paperback First Novels), but that will have to wait until this weekend.

I’m disabling the commenting ability on this post, but feel free to email me at vcj@varianjohnson.com. I’d love to hear what you think.

Running in a Square Circle

Posts have been sparse as of late, due to all the running around I’ve been doing over the past few weeks. I presented materials about the new book to Austin Independent School District librarians this past Thursday with other Austin SCBWI authors. It was a great event, and it gave me a chance to talk to some of the other authors from the chapter. A lot of the librarians were in the elementary and middle schools, so my novel wasn’t right for them. But I did meet a few librarians that seemed interested. Honestly, I think a lot of the educators were more interested in the fact that I was a structural engineer rather than an author, but that necessarily isn’t a bad thing, is it? (For any educator in the Austin area reading this, I am ALWAYS happy to come to schools to speak about engineering – for free, of course.)

In other news, Mrs. V finally made it back into town. For those of you that don’t know, Mrs. V was in Minneapolis the entire summer, participating in a marketing internship. I just spend a frenzied 15 hours trying to get the place cleaned up for her arrival. To put my level of uncleanliness into perspective, I’ve been washing the same cup for the past two weeks, just because everything else is dirty. I know, I could have washed all of the dishes, but why? I only need one cup at a time.

I’ll be out of town for a few days participating in a conference in Dallas (this is for the job that pays the bills). And hopefully, I’ll get a chance to get some writing done this week. Plus, Frances Hill suggested that I do a book kickoff party here in Austin, so I guess I’d better get on the ball and try to set that up as well.

Too much to do. Always to much to do. Hope everyone has a good week.

Back from the Left Coast

I got in late last night from the SCBWI conference in LA, and I’m still recuperating. I feel like I did a good job of networking with other conference attendees. And I had a great manuscript consultation. I’ll add more about the conference over the next few days, but here are a few points that are still fresh in my head:

10) My all time favorite SCBWI group (other that Austin, of course) is the Illinois SCBWI chapter. They were easy to spot – all of them wore pennies in their name badges. I like Lincoln just as much as the next brotha (you know, with the whole Emancipation Proclamation thing), and I really, really liked the Illinois people. I hope to post pictures in a few days.

9) Calling all Texas SCBWIers – we need something cool to put on our badges as well. Don’t we have any Texas-born presidents with their face on money? You’d think with all the Bushes that have been in office, one of them would have found a way to stick their mug on a coin by now.

8) SCBWI really needs to think about having a rotating Summer Conference. I don’t even want to think about how much money I spent this weekend, between the flight and the hotel and the conference itself.

7) Alexus Rhone – keep doing your thing. And congrads on the SCBWIdol contest.

6) For all of you Austin SCBWI conference attendees that have Mark McVeigh for a manuscript consultation, you’ve really lucked up. I was fortunate enough to have him for a critique, and he did a great job of giving constructive comments. He also gave me a lot of good industry advice.

5) Not that you should follow trends, but teen fiction is hot right now.

4) According to most of the editors at the conference, there is no such thing as too edgy in teen fiction. Nothing is taboo (maybe I should call up some of the erotica writers from my old writing group).

3) Megan McCafferty really has me thinking about trying to publish “teen” novels as adult fiction.

2) Carolyn Mackler is just as nice as I expected her to be. I must admit, I am a big fan of her books. Of course, I have to remove the jacket from them before I can read them. A brotha can’t go walking around with a pink book.

1) Christopher Paul Curtis is DA MAN!!! Hearing his speak reminded me why I wanted to become a writer in the first place. I only hope I can convince Mrs. V to let me have a year off to write, like he did. And I dare all of you to read Bucking the Sarge and not laugh.

I’ll Always Love My Mama

I was in a grumpy mood all day. I was stuck in traffic this morning. Some of my promotional materials for the conference weren’t ready, like they were supposed to be. And I shelled out $30 for a new Writer’s Market, only to realize that three of the main magazines I wanted to send something to no longer accepted fiction.

Then I got home to find a package from my mother (she sent me two wedding pictures of Mrs. V). Isn’t it always like mothers to know when their sons need a little pick-me-up?

Thanks, Mom.

And yes, I’m eating my vegetables.

For the grown and sexy

One of the things I really liked about by writing group in Dallas was that it just wasn’t a children’s lit writing group. We were comprised of all different types of writers – poets, journalists, stage play writers, screenwriters, romance writers, and even…gulp…Erotica writers.

One of my pals from my writing group in Dallas just started a blog. In addition to being a stage and screenwriter, Paula also writes erotica.

Now, I’m gonna do my best to keep this blog PG 13, but I’ve got to at least mention Paula’s blog. But before you check it out, be sure to put the kids to bed. Of course, with the amount of sex and violence on TV nowadays, maybe erotica isn’t so shocking to kids anymore. And truthfully, Paula is pretty tame when it comes to the racy stuff (I’ve read about more shocking stuff in some YA novels…has anyone heard about Rainbow Party)? One story I critiqued once had people putting things in places where only a doctor should travel. And then there was this other story –

Gotta remember, PG 13. Gotta keep it clean for the kids.

The history of my life, blog-style

20 years ago – I was about to start 3rd grade. I spent most of my time running around with a towel on my back pretending I was Zorro (I was really into the old Disney TV show with Guy Williams). I had a younger sister that I usually terrorized and a twin brother that was my partner-in crime. Life was good.

10 years ago – I was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, majoring in civil engineering. I went from a high school that was 80% black to a school in the middle of Oklahoma. Talk about a culture shock. I joined a great organization called the National Society of Black Engineers. At my first conference in St. Louis, most white guests at our hotel mistake us for the basketball team, and look surprised when we say we’re there for an engineering conference. Over the next 5 years, I meet the future Mrs. V, join a fraternity, and do a plethora of things that my mother must never, ever find out about. I also begin 2 novels – one that is still safely hidden in my file cabinet, and A Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid.

5 years ago – I began work as a lowly structural engineer in Dallas, TX. I join my first writing group. I attend my first regional SCBWI conference, and become tongue-tied when I try to speak to an editor at Harper Collins. Over the next few years, I break up with my girlfriend, make up with my girlfriend, find an agent (my agent called while I was engagement ring shopping), sell my first novel, and get married.

1 year ago – Mrs. V and I moved from Dallas to Austin so she could attend UT. I transferred with my job, and became a Licensed Professional Engineer. A Red Polka Dot was supposed to be published this year, but was pushed back due to reorganization at the publishing house. I also got Theo, aka Straight, No Chaser, aka Thelonius, our cocker spaniel.

Yesterday – I spend the day cruising the stores, looking for a pair of reading glasses. All those years of staring at a computer screen are finally starting to get to me.

Tomorrow – I go to work and find something to design. Maybe a bridge, maybe a retaining wall, maybe a radio tower. After work, I’ll take the dog for a quick walk and continue getting ready for the SCBWI summer conference.

5 snacks I enjoy – green gummy bears, red gummy bears, yellow gummy bears, white gummy bears, orange gummy bears.

5 bands I know the lyrics to most of their songs – Incognito (British Acid Jazz band), Sade, Tony Toni Tone, Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 (up to the Dangerous Album), Quincy Jones (okay, he’s not really a band, but he’s a band leader, so I figure he counts).

5 things I would do with 100,000,000 dollars – pay my tithe (God’s got to get his cut first), pay off debts, buy a house, buy my parents another house, and share with family (both blood and in-laws).

5 locations I’d like to run away to – Aruba, Jamaica, New York, South Africa, and Egypt.

5 bad habits – trying to always solve Mrs. V’s problems instead of just listening, neglecting the dog, chewing ice, oversleeping and missing church, skipping breakfast.

5 things I like to do – write (of course), spend time with Mrs. V, watch bad action movies on TBS and TNT, root for the Oklahoma Sooners, play the baritone.

5 TV shows I like – The Amazing Race, Justice League Unlimited (it’s not a cartoon, it’s an animated program), The Cosby Show (before all the new kids started showing up), The West Wing, Twenty-Four (in a previous life, I was Jack Bauer).

5 famous people I’d like to meet – Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Stan Lee (creator of some of Marvel’s greatest comic books, Paul Rusesabagina (the real man behind the movie Hotel Rwanda), Sean “P. Diddy” Combs (just to see what he really things about J. Lo).

5 biggest joys at the moment – Seeing my name and seal stamped on a set of plans, seeing the new cover of my novel, making Mrs. V smile, talking with my Dad, finishing my latest manuscript (of course, that all depends on what my agent has to say about it).

5 favorite toys – Umm, to be honest, I really don’t have any toys.

Drum roll please….

5 people to tag – Chris Barton, Kei Swanson (another Genesis Press author with a novel coming out in November), Alison Dellenbaugh (I don’t know how she was able to get her blog to look like her web page, but it is TOO COOL), and finally, two people that don’t have a blog, but should start one – del (yes, del is supposed to be all lowercase) and Paula from my Dallas writing group, Words of Wisdom Writers Society.

Happy writing, people.

Uh Oh…Homework

For better or worse, I got tagged by Don, aka Devas T. It looks like I’ve got weekend homework. Now all I have to do is find 5 saps – um, I mean 5 really nice people – to tag after I finish.

And be sure to check out DT’s review of Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas. I read the book a few years ago; Thomas definitely has a great voice.

Blame it on Chris

Welcome to my blog. I actually started it a few days ago, but upon registering for the service and setting up my files, I realized that I didn’t have anything of importance to say.

It’s not my fault. Really. I blame everything on Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Don Tate, and Chris Barton. Especially Chris Barton. Over lunch a few days ago, he mentioned that he started a blog. After reading through his, and subsequently reading through other blogs from local SCBWI members (What’s SCBWI? – More on that later), I was hooked.

So here I am a few days later with a brand new blog. And while I still don’t have anything of importance to say, I’m writing nevertheless.

I’ve been pretty busy gearing up for the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is just that – an organization of writers, illustrators, editors, agents and anyone else dedicated to writing or illustrating Children’s Lit. Anyway, this will be my third conference, and this year, I am determined to be more sociable. (I’m usually the quiet guy that sits waaaay in the back of the room). I am participating in the VIP Wine and Cheese Reception, and to be honest, I am terrified of speaking to people about my new novel.

Oh, yeah, and if I didn’t mention, my first book is coming out in November (I know, I know…I should have stated this at the beginning. I guess I’m not made for journalism). Anyway, I’ve been scrambling over the past few months updating my website, getting promotional materials, and finalizing the novel. These are definitely exciting times. Check out my website (www.varianjohnson.com) and let me know what you think.

Anyway, more about me, my novel, the writing process, and life in general will come later.

And remember, if you don’t like anything I have to say, blame it on Chris.


…As soon as I find something interesting to say.