The Saving Maddie Blog Tour

In just a few days, my third novel, SAVING MADDIE hits stores. To celebrate, I’ll be at five great blogs next week:

Monday: I’ll be discussing religion, stereotypes and cover art with Melodye Shore in The Author’s Tent.

Tuesday: I’ll be debuting the Saving Maddie Playlist at Reading in Color with Ari. (This is also Release Day. And my birthday.)

Wednesday: I’ll be at Gwenda Bond’s Shaken and Stirred, where I’ll be talking about my writing process for Saving Maddie. (FYI–Gwenda is also a graduate of Vermont College, and is AWESOME.)

Thursday: I’ll be at Book Nut with Melissa, where I’ll be answering questions like, “What’s my favorite scene?”

Friday: I’ll be talking to a student interviewer at Crazy Quilts.

I’ll be updating my blog with direct links throughout the week. Be sure to check out all the stops! There may even be some giveaways involved.

Kirkus, Covers, and Giveaways

So last Saturday, I saw that Saving Maddie had been reviewed by Kirkus. I waited patiently–waited for my editor to send me a copy, waited for the review to be posted on B&N (PW and SLJ are already there), waited for the issue to be available via the online journal database at my university.

On the third day, I caved and bought a one-month subscription.

But I’m so glad I did. This is arguably the best journal review I’ve ever received–and here’s a snippet:

“Johnson avoids heavy-handed messages with nuanced characters and a realistic treatment of Joshua and Maddie’s complex relationship.”

In fact, here’s the only “negative” thing the reviewer says:

“Unfortunately, the cover condemns this book to Girls Only.”

I’d actually been thinking about this before seeing this review, after recent online discussions with Collen Mondor about After the Moment and after seeing the comments in Edi’s wonderful review. I realized that during the cover design process, I was so preoccupied with the skin/lip-tone of the cover model, I didn’t think about if the cover was “anti-boy”. And I’m NOT saying that the cover is or isn’t boy-friendly–but I am admitting that I didn’t put as much thought into this as I should have, and will hopefully do better in the future.

(Although I think it was due to unusual circumstances–i.e. the Liar Controversy–that I was even consulted on this cover. And yes, for those that are interested, I have seen all the comments about “is she or isn’t she black” and will respond at some point…probably after I see the final cover.)

All that being said, this is still a great review. And how am I celebrating? Well, by giving away my last ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of Saving Maddie.

Looking at my office floor–I mean, bookshelf, I realized that I don’t own ARCs of any of my previous books, which in a way is fitting. The ARC isn’t for me. It’s for librarians and reviewers and booklovers and people like YOU.

So if you want an advanced reader’s copy of the book before the real thing hits stores on March 9th, just make a comment on this post before 12:00 Midnight CST on Tuesday, Feb 23rd (if you’re reading this on Facebook, Livejournal, MySpace, etc–you’ll need to go to my webpage blog to officially enter). Don’t put your email or snail mail address in the comments–just your name–and check back on Wednesday evening to see if you won.

Good luck!

Playing Catch-up

It’s been a busy month.

In addition to the usual (including, among other things, writing a new book) I’m also teaching a course on children’s literature at a small liberal arts university here in Austin. So far, the class has been great—I love my students, I love talking about books, I love it all, period (well, except for grading papers).

(I’m like Dumbledore. Except I’m black. And I’m not a wizard. And I’m not gay. And I’m not dead. But otherwise, we’re just alike.)

I was also at ALA a few weeks ago, where I signed copied of My Life as a Rhombus and participated in the ALA Kid / YA Lit Tweetup (organized by the sensational Mitali Perkins and Deborah Sloan). I had the chance to see a lot of old friends on both the author and editorial side, plus I had lunch with my agent.

This is my favorite picture from ALA, taken by author Jeannine Atkins. I’m signing copies of Rhombus while author and friend Ellen Wittlinger looks on. Those that have read the blog enough times know how much Ellen’s work has affected my career, so it’s always great to see her.

ALA was the first of many Spring events that I have scheduled (see the full list here). Check back often, as I hope to fit in a few more events between March and July.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the unsung books of 2009 (started by Kelly at YAnnabe). I didn’t read a whole lot of books in 2009, but many of the ones I really, really, really, really loved and wanted to win awards (Once Was Lost, Liar, Going Bovine, How To Say Goodbye in Robot, Jumped, and Marcelo in the Real World) are books that I wouldn’t exactly call unsung. But there is one novel that I wish had received a little more attention: After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this novel since I finished it last summer. I also have a postcard for this book, which has the tagline “…about a boy who discovers what happens when love fails us–or we fail love,” which I think is a perfect way to describe the novel. Sometimes, as much as you want to do the right thing, you just…can’t. Sometimes, despite wanting to be a good, upstanding, honorable person, you fail the ones you love; the ones that need you most. And, it’s just so damn hard to save someone when you have no idea HOW to save one.

Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy this novel so much is because of how similar some of the themes are to Saving Maddie…which I plan to talk about…eventually. But for now, you can check out this review by Melissa at Book Nut.

A few quick things about Maddie

I always said I was going to do a Wordle for SAVING MADDIE, and as I’ve been too lazy to generate an actual post, I figured now was as good of a time as any.

Wordle: Saving Maddie
Click to see a bigger picture

And while it’s still a little too early to share a “full” excerpt, I can share the passage we’re using on the dust jacket:

“Some things about her were still the same: freckled cheeks; round brown eyes; fully, pouty lips. But her hair, which had once reached past her shoulders, was now short and wavy. And those pouty lips were lined in purple lipstick. Not a neon purple, but more like a dark, blue-black mix. Like the color of blackberries.”

I should be posting my Spring speaking schedule sometime at the beginning of the year (psst–I’ll be at both ALA Midwinter and TLA, among other places). I hope everyone has a happy and safe holidays.

Upcoming Author Events

For the rest of the month, I’ll be all over the place. Hope to see some of you at one or more of these events!

Oct 15, 2009 at 7:30 PM:
Writer’s League of Texas Monthly Program
A Writer’s Guide to PR and Marketing
Writers’ League of Texas Office
611 S. Congress Ave, Suite 130
Austin, TX 78704

Oct 17, 2009:
3rd Annual KidLitosphere Conference
Washington, DC
(Click here for a list of participants.)

Oct 24, 2009:
Austin Teen Book Festival
Westlake High School, Austin, TX

Nov 1, 2009:
Texas Book Festival
Austin, TX
(moderating YA panel featuring Jessica Lee Anderson, Libba Bray, and Sara Zarr)

Now All I Need Is A Title

So it seems that I’ve sold another novel:

Children’s Young Adult: Varian Johnson’s UNTITLED companion novel to the forthcoming SAVING MADDIE, again to Stephanie Elliott at Delacorte, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, NA

As you can see from the Publisher’s Marketplace blurb, we decided to go with the “less-is-more” option. For right now, all I can say is that the book will be written from Madeline’s POV, and…well, that’s about it. More details to come later, probably after Saving Maddie is released (March 9th, 2010).

Sorry for all the vagueness…but to make up for it, I’m thinking about giving away my last, lone, final ARC of Saving Maddie. Stay tuned to the blog, Facebook, or Twitter for details….

I’m supposed to be writing…

…but instead I’m watching Youtube videos from my college years. This stepshow is a parody of the old Kung Fu movies we grew up watching. And yes, I’m in there…

Alpha Phi Alpha, Zeta Zeta Chapter, Stompdown, 2000 (Part 1).

Alpha Phi Alpha, Zeta Zeta Chapter, Stompdown, 2000 (Part 2).

Alpha Phi Alpha, Zeta Zeta Chapter, Stompdown, 2000 (Part 3).

That’s how I roll…old school

I’m a little late on this, but here are a few pics from the 2009 SCBWI Conference Blue Moon Gala:

Recognize this guy? It’s not Austin Powers…it’s Jay Asher. Groovy, baby!

I’m not even gonna try to list everyone I met, because I know I’ll leave someone out. All I’ll say is that I had a great time, and I can’t wait for next year!