Rhombus – Five Years Later

I always call My Life as a Rhombus, “the little book that could.” When it was published, I had no idea what to expect. Would people like it? Would I be brave enough to talk about it? Would anyone even notice the book?

I’m happy to say that this is the five-year publication anniversary of the book. And it’s still in print (either the third or fourth printing…not sure). Even though I’m older – and more cynical when it comes to the publishing biz – my heart always warms a little when I get a message from a reader about Rhombus. I’ve gotten the gamut of responses about the book, from people telling me that the book is pro-choice or pro-life or great or horrible…or that they’re so glad to read about a character like Rhonda. A character like them. And that really means a lot.

Of course, the royalty checks are nice, too. Every six months, I get to supersize my Wendy’s combo meal.

Seriously, for all of you out there that have read Rhombus – or any of my books – thank you. I am honored that you would take the time to read what I have to write.

Last post of 2012

So while I haven’t been posting here, I have been blogging. I talked about planning a writing retreat at the Crowe’s Nest, and I talked about 2013 Goals at Quirk and Quill.

Concerning goals, I decided to get a jump start on my 2013 goal this week–which is to write 1500 words a week. So far, I’m written about 1000 words. Can I add 500 more before the Sunday night? I’m a bit skeptical, but we’ll see. I’m trying to cut myself a little slack–for me it’s always hardest to produce words at the beginning of a manuscript–but a goal is a goal.

I hope you all have a blessed and productive and awesome 2013!

Assembly on Literature for Adolescents

Even though my throat is a bit raw, and even though I may have to bring day-job work with me, I’m so looking forward to the ALAN conference. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s in Las Vegas.) Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

Sunday, Nov 18th: ALAN Reception.

Tuesday, Nov 20th, 2:40 – 3:40: Breakout Session: Issues on Social Justice (With Ann Angel, J.L. Powers, and Peter Marino).

Why I adore Rebecca Stead

As I prepare to dive into the next draft of my manuscript, I find myself thinking about this quote from author Rebecca Stead. When asked how to craft a believable voice, she replied:

“Read. Listen. Wait a little, if you want to. Let the voice gather force in your mind. But don’t wait forever.

And mostly, don’t be discouraged if it feels terrible for a while.”

(You can read the full interview at Novel Novice.)

I could go on and on about how much I adore Rebecca as a person and an author, about how I can’t wait to share When You Reach Me with my kid, about how I bought Liar and Spy on the first day it was available…but I’ve been reading and listening and waiting for long enough. Now it’s time to write.

Pick Me. Choose Me. Love Me.

Yeah, Meredith Grey might be a little crazy, but when I’m on submission, I get how she feels:

Up until a few months ago, the last time I went out on wide submission (to multiple editors) was back in April 2008 for Saving Maddie. For four months, my phone was my best friend. Where ever I went, it went. I even propped it outside of the shower a few times. No way was cleanliness getting between me and a book contract.

Going on submission for Jackson Greene was much, much worse. Instead of a flip phone, now I have a smart phone that remains connected to the internet. Instead of editors being these anonymous people in New York, they have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds and such. And probably the biggest change is that four years ago, I knew very few editors in the business. This time, we submitted to a lot of people I know. People I like. People that I even consider friends.

It was all very weird.

I wasn’t necessary worried about the ethics of it–I knew editors were judging the work, not me. If they passed on the manuscript, that didn’t mean they were passing on me. It just meant that the novel wasn’t the right fit.

But still…I wanted them to pick me. Choose me. Love me.

While I would have been lucky to work with any of the editors that we submitted to, after reading Cheryl Klein’s editorial letter, I’m so glad to be publishing this book with Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. I love her vision for the novel, and I’m looking forward to jumping into revisions.

Hopefully you all will love the story as much as Cheryl and I do.

Well, maybe not that much.

What I’ve been doing and where I’ll be next

I know I’ve been gone for a while….but I have a good reason!

From PW Children’s Bookshelf: “Cheryl Klein at Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books imprint has bought world rights, in a pre-empt, to author Varian Johnson’s middle-grade debut, Jackson Greene Steals the Election. Pitched as Ocean’s Eleven for middle-schoolers, the book stars an eighth-grade reformed con artist who has to get his old crew back together to stop the school bully from winning the all-powerful SGA Presidential election, while trying to win back his ex-best friend and first crush. Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger brokered the deal”

You all have no idea how excited I am to be working with Cheryl. Both Arthur and Cheryl are great editors and great people, and I am so glad that Jackson Greene found a home with them.

Of course, just because I’m dipping my toes into middle grade doesn’t mean I’m giving up on YA…but it’s good to shake things up a bit. To try something new. (And to be fair, I didn’t know this was a middle grade until Sara and Cheryl told me so.)

Aside from working on edits, I’ll be pretty busy this fall. I’ll be teaching a Highlights Whole Novel Writing Workshop for YA Fiction in October with Rita Williams-Garcia, Coe Booth, and Sara Crowe! Even though the deadline has passed, I know they’re open to taking a few more manuscripts–so if you’re interested, check it out.

I’ll also be speaking at a few other events, including the East Texas Book Festival in September and the NCTE-ALAN Workshop in November. I’ll post more info on those events soon.

Now, I’m off to get some work done. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you sell a book–you sit down and write another one.


Small Yays

Even though it’s been almost three years since I graduated from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, I still keep in touch with a lot of alums, especially my classmates. Every Friday on our private forum, we celebrate brags–big and small. There have been a lot of big brags this month (some yet to be announced), but there have also been many, many more small brags.

I think that’s so important–celebrating the small brags–because without these accomplishments there wouldn’t be any big brags. You can’t celebrate selling a novel if you don’t first find the courage to send out queries; you can’t send a query letter until you finish a draft of a manuscript (usually); you can’t finish a manuscript until you start a manuscript….and so on, and so on. Our career is made up of a lot of ‘small yays’, and we should celebrate them.

And, we should cheer on others when they have good news. So that being said, congratulations to:

1) VCFA Scholarship and Award Winners

2) Me: I made a blog post before the end of the month–thank goodness for leap year.

3) Greg Leitich Smith and Cynthia Levinson–both are celebrating book launches in March.

(Chronal Engine and We’ve Got a Job–both Junior Library Guild Selections)

4) The Brown Bookshelf for another successful 28 Days Later (because of other commitments, I couldn’t participate this year)

5) Austin SCBWI for hosting a great regional conference.

6) The Friends of Northside ISD Libraries (San Antonio, TX) for developing and hosting the inaugural LibraryPalooza Teen Book Festival.

(YA Author Terry Trueman and I at LibraryPalooza)

7) And congratulations to my kid for not inheriting my laugh (at least not yet).

Inspiration from The Natural

So I’m not in the business of making New Year’s Resolutions, but I am committing to doing better about blogging. Despite my lack of posts, I do miss the immediate (but not too immediate) release of thoughts transcribed into words. I love being able to connect with a handful of people through ways other than my traditionally-published works.

But I’m also super busy, with deadlines and speaking engagements and family and such. So I’m going to start slow. One post a month.

Anyway, I found myself thinking about one of my favorite movies today, The Natural, which is damn near perfect (except for the image of Robert Redford and Glenn Close frolicking around as eighteen-year-olds). There are a lot of lines and a lot of scenes from the movie that I love, but I especially love this scene in the hospital, when Iris (Close) is giving Roy (Redford) a pep-talk.

I think some manuscripts are the same way. There are some manuscripts that we learn by, and then there’s the manuscript we write afterwards. I was trying to explain this to my agent yesterday, as I gave her all the reasons why I was struggling with this ms that I’ve been working on (on and off) since the summer of 2007. I don’t know if it’ll sell, but I know I’m learning a lot from writing it. And even if it isn’t THE manuscript, it’ll make the next one that much better. It’ll make me that much better. And that’s got to count for something, right?