Coming to a Book Store or Book Festival Near You

For those of you that don’t know, I’ve got a new book out, and it seems to be doing pretty well. I also have quite a few author appearances scheduled, with more coming in every day. So while all of this makes for a very tired Mr. V, it also makes for a very happy Mr. V, as I love talking to both teens and adults about books and writing.

I was all set to write a little about my SCBWI talk yesterday, but Cynthia Leitich Smith at SpookyCyn seems to have already beaten me to the punch (Thanks, Cyn). For those of you that didn’t get a copy of the handout, email me and I’ll send you a copy. Books referenced in the talk include Millicent Min, Girl Genius (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003) by Lisa Yee, An Abundance of Katherines (Dutton, 2006) by John Green, Hard Love (Simon and Schuster, 1999) by Ellen Wittlinger, and Tantalize (Candlewick, 2006) by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

In other news, things are still rolling at The Brown Bookshelf. We’ve had some great interviews so far—and we’re only 10 days into February. Be sure to stop by and check us out there!

Speaking of the Brown Bookshelf, team member Don Tate has some really good news: he just signed with a literary agent (um…my literary agent), and he just got his contract in for first book as a writer. Yay Don!

Also, I was pleasantly surprised to see Brown Bookshelf co-founder Paula Chase-Hyman’s books So Not The Drama (Dafina, 2007) and Don’t Get it Twisted (Dafina, 2007) FACE OUT in not one, but two local B&N’s.

I’ve got a bunch of books building up in the queue to be read, including Sweethearts (Little, Brown, 2008) by Sara Zarr and Good Enough (HarperTeen, 2008) by Paula Yoo. Paula actually sent me a great picture of her doing the “Rhombus” pose. (Note to self, maybe this is a contest in the making…)

I would post of picture of me doing the same for her book, but as you can see, that might be a little difficult. : ) Both Sweethearts and Good Enough have been getting great buzz and reviews, and I genuinely like both authors, so I’m really looking forward to reading both books.

Like I said before, I’ll be all over the place this month (see the website or see below), with more events coming in April and May. I plan to post a page on my website in a few months with more information concerning school, conference, and festival visits, but for now, just email me if you’re interested in booking me and have questions concerning fees or schedule.

And please note, the book signing on Feb 16th is at 2:00 PM, not 11:00 AM as originally indicated on my website.

Feb 16, 2008 at 2:00 (please note time correction):
Book Signing

Barnes & Noble – Round Rock, TX
La Frontera Village
2701 Parker Road Bldg A Suite 700
Round Rock, TX 78681

Feb 21, 2008 at 7:00:
Book Signing and Discussion
Barnes & Noble – Florence, SC Magnolia Mall
2701 David Mcleod Blvd #1200
Florence, SC 29501

Feb 22-24, 2008:
South Carolina Book Festival
Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center
1101 Lincoln Street
Columbia, SC 29201

Feb 29, 2008:
Book Discussion
Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center

Apr 26, 2008:
Austin SCBWI Conference

The University of Texas Club
2108 Robert Dedman Drive
Austin, Texas 78712

More Reviews

I’m knee-deep in finishing up my work for The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later campaign (be sure to check us out starting Feb 1st), so I’ll have to make this quick.

First of all, I just got back from my 10 day winter residency for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program for Writing for Children and Young Adults, and I’m happy to say, all of the workshops and discussions and reading were great. The best thing about this residency was that, except for the cold, I knew exactly what I was getting into this time. And, I’m really excited to be working with award-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia this semester.

While I was up in Vermont, we got a few new reviews for My Life as a Rhombus. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books gave Rhombus a Recommended review–I’ll post a blurb from the review next month, after the print edition of the journal is out. In addition, the good folks at gave the book a Five Star, Gold Award for Excellence! Be sure to check out their review at their website, or on

While those reviews are nice, my favorite review comes from a teen reader that emailed me to say, “…I really want to thank you for writing such a great book…You Rock!”

Good stuff, right?

And now’s probably a good time to say how much I love librarians…

My Life as a Rhombus isn’t officially supposed to be out until Jan, but we’ve already gotten love from a bunch of libraries and librarians, including The Cincinnati Public Library, Readerlady, and Teen Bookity. And, as Andrew noted on the Flux Blog, Booklist (the American Library Association’s journal) also included Rhombus on its Core Collection: Math in Fiction list (also including Andrew’s man crush, John Green, and my new MySpace friend, Paula Yoo).

Being that my hometown didn’t get its first real bookstore until I was in high school, I spent an insane amount of time at the Florence Public Library. Librarians are not only directly responsible for me becoming an author, they’re also responsible for coming up with my name.

Yes, that’s right. A librarian helped to come up with my name.

As some of you know, I’m a twin, but Momma Johnson didn’t realize that she was having twins until THE DAY BEFORE WE WERE BORN. I mean, we were small little suckers, but come on, how could a doctor constantly see a pregnant woman for seven months and not figure out that there were two little people in there.

Anyway, so she found out that she was carrying two of us one day, and then before you know it, she was in labor. My brother did his whole “birth thing” first, and in the process of making his way to the outer world, he twisted me around, so I was facing feet first. And that’s how I was born.

Yes, that’s right. Feet First. According to those in the delivery room, it sucked for me and for Momma Johnson.

Eventually I was born safe and sound, but now my parents had a new problem—they didn’t have names. We were originally going to be named after my father, but unless they were going to name us Larry 1 and Larry 2, that wasn’t going to work anymore. So we went unnamed for three days. And then a Librarian intervened.

My Aunt Annette worked as a librarian at one of the middle schools in the neighboring county, and decided to hold a baby naming contest to come up with Larry 1 and Larry 2’s middle name.

Yes, that’s right. I was named by bunch of middle school kids.

But, it didn’t work out so bad. They came up with Bradwick and Chadwick, which, I must admit, I really like (FYI–most of my family and friends call me Chad). For a long time, I considered using Chad Johnson as my “author” name, until I realized that Varian looks a hell of a lot better on a book cover.

Now, as for our first names, Momma Johnson came up with those after watching some TV show supposedly involving aliens.

Yes, that’s right. I was named after an alien. But what can I say…it was the Seventies. Perhaps there where other “extra-sensory agents” at play while Momma Johnson was picking out names.

All this is just to say that I love librarians, and I love libraries, and I love Momma Johnson, and I thank everyone for their support.

Because I Almost Always Keep My Promises

A few weeks ago, famed author and Tootsie Fruit Roll enthusiast Sara Zarr tagged me with the Seven Songs Meme. The rules are pretty simple: List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether or not they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now. Post these instructions in your livejournal/blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to. If you want.

So, in no particular order:

1) Tanto Tempo by Bebel Giberto

2) Mais Feliz by Bebel Giberto

I’ve always been a fan of the fathers of Bossa Nova–João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim–but it wasn’t until this summer that I got hip to João’s daughter, Brazilian singer Bebel Giberto. Her music is more Bossa Nova as seen through Pop-stained sunglasses, but it’s still good music. These two songs are from her Tanto Tempo album; I’d also suggest checking out Momento, her latest album.

3) Cold December Nights by Boyz II Men

I’m sorry, but at least for me, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without some mellow R&B floating through the house. And yes, I’ll admit, this isn’t really a true Christmas song, but it’s Boyz II Men (before they got wack). I’ll take it.

4) Step in the Name of Love by R. Kelly

And speaking of soul music, what is R&B without the R? R. Kelly, that is. Whether you call him the Pied Piper of R&B or the Urinator, you have to admit, he knows how to crank out a good R&B song. The song above is the original song, you can find the remix here.

5) Death Around the Corner by Tupac

I spent part of my semester as Vermont College studying poetry, and the more I read it, the more I realized how truly talented Tupac Shakur was at poetry. Me Against the World has always been my favorite Tupac album, with Death Around the Corner being my favorite song. It’s on the dirty side, though, so I figured that I’d better not link to it. However, if you look hard enough, you can find the song on YouTube.

6) …And He Gets the Girl by Lupe Fiasco

Coltrane’s blogged about this artist quite a bit, so I won’t add much except to say that I love his work, and I love this tribute video someone created on YouTube.

7) Good Enough by Evanescence

I’m not a big fan of Amy Lee’s Goth look (she looks like she bathes in flour, she’s so pale), but she can write a damn good song. Good Enough is one of those “all emotion, all the time” songs that I really like. Plus, the song reminds me of the main female character in my current WIP (which I’m kinda sorta but not really close to finishing). I don’t like the video, but I am glad she cut that bs piano intro at the beginning of the song.

Hope you enjoyed the picks. If you want to play, consider yourself tagged.

Here’s to a Happy 2008!!!

Yes, I can do the math…

…and I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. I’ve pretty much come to the realization that, until I finish up a Vermont College, my blogging volume is going to drastically decrease. But the semester is finally over (almost). I still have to get together a bunch of paperwork to turn in to the admin office, and the way I’m going, I’ll have to Fed-ex it to get it there on time.

So, I’ve been spending a lot of time with VC stuff, but there’s still a lot of other things going on. Like, My Life as a Rhombus, which was supposed to be available on January 1, is available NOW. Well, at least it’s available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It should trickle into the actual brick-and-mortar stores later this month or sometime at the beginning of next month. (Thanks for the nudge, Lisa).

Rhombus was also featured in a recent Booklist article about math in fiction. Check out their entire Core Collection of Math in Fiction.

We’re also still going strong at The Brown Bookshelf. Again, be sure to check out the blog posts, as we’re always adding content.

Okay, that’s it for now. Maybe I’ll have a chance to post another blog this week.

But then again, don’t hold your breath.

Catching up and Rhombus news

I know I’ve been gone for a while, but with school / the Brown Bookshelf / work / Thanksgiving / life in general, I just haven’t had the time to blog.

I’ve got a few things to announce, but first, some Public Service Announcements:

1) Thanks for all of your support for both The Brown Bookshelf and the 28 Days Later initiative. The last day to suggest a book is this Saturday, so be sure to head over to the site and nominate a book.

2) There’s a great discussion going on at Finding Wonderland concerning just what it means to be a “brown” author. There are good points on both sides of the issue there–I highly suggest reading through the comments (up to 30 as of this evening), and perhaps even posting one of your own.

And concerning Rhombus:

It’s hard to believe, but in five short weeks, My Life as a Rhombus should be on the shelves (I say should because release dates are notoriously wrong). I’ve updated the website to list upcoming author appearances, a new blurb from Booklist, and…the first full chapter of the novel!

Take a look, and let me know what you think.

The Brown Bookshelf and 28 Days Later

Attention all librarians, book sellers, editors, authors, readers and bloggers: We need your help.

After months of hard work, Co-Chair Paula Chase-Hyman and I are pleased to formally introduce The Brown Bookshelf. We’re a group of authors and illustrators brought together to push and promote African-American authors in the Children’s Lit community.

Along with the African-American Read-In Chain, the Black Caucus of NCTE, and AACBWI, we’re proud to launch our first initiative, 28 Days Later, where we’ll be profiling a different author on our website for the first 28 days of Black History Month. We’ll have some great giveaways sprinkled throughout the month, and on February 29th, we’ll give out our grand prize–a gift basket featuring every book profiled during the month, donated to the library of your choice!

Excited? So are we. But to pull this off, we need your help. We’re looking for the best new and unnoticed works by African-American authors. From picture books to novels, books fresh off the presses to treasured classics–whatever books you like, we want to know. We’re specifically looking for new books and books that have “flown under the radar,” but you can nominate any book, as long as it’s a children’s or YA book written by an African-American author.

We’ll be taking nominations from November 1st to December 1st. Just post a comment at the 28 Days Later page, or email us at You can nominate as many books as you like. And be sure to leave your email address, as each nominator automatically has the chance to win one of our great giveaways.

Also, be sure to check the website often, as we’ll have regular updates and blog posts by the members of the Brown Bookshelf, and maybe even a post or two by some special guests.
So what are you waiting for? Nominate an author! And spread the word!
Edit: I neglected to mention that all of our logos are available for download on the site. They were all design by author, illustrator, team member (and my friend) Don Tate.

Keeping it real?

I woke up this morning and found this in my blogger comments:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post “Blurb from Ellen Wittlinger“:

“Without a bit of preaching…” – Why is it whenever anyone dares to take an unpopular position on a controversial moral topic in our society, their ideas are described as didactic, dogmatic, preachy, or any other apparently negative label? With all the destructive sexual activities and misinformation plaguing young adults in America, it would be immensely helpful if those with the power of the pen would use their gift to steer some attitudes in the right direction rather than be content with “keeping it real”.

Dear Anonymous (if you’re reading this),

I tend to ignore anonymous comments, but this one is actually interesting, so I plan to reply…but not today. I’m sorry, but I’m just too swamped with other things right now to reply, especially when I don’t even know who’s making the comment. However, you may want to drop a line to my editor; I’m sure he’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter. In addition, I would suggest emailing my friends as the AS IF blog; they commonly deal with issues such as yours. And of course, I have a lot of writer-friends, and they are welcome to post a reply of their own, if they wish.

And Anonymous, just for the purposes of discussion, could you please post a few books by authors that you consider to “use their gift to steer some attitudes in the right direction rather than be content with ‘keeping it real'”? Thanks.

More Good Stuff

We received another blurb this week, this time from author-extraordinaire Cynthia Leitich Smith.

“My Life as a Rhombus is a sensitive and powerful friendship story about two very different girls who connect over the toughest decision either of them will ever make. In his YA debut, author Varian Johnson offers a realistic, heartfelt, and thoughtful take on unplanned teen pregnancy from the perspective of a young math whiz trying to reconcile her future and past.”

I’ve never told Cynthia this, but I the first time I saw her in person (at the 2004 Austin SCBWI Conference), I didn’t have the courage to speak to her. I mean, she’s Cynthia Leitich Smith–and I was just a lowly, unpublished author. Anyway, about a year later, after meeting her husband, Greg, at another SCBWI event, she sent me the following email:

Dear Varian,
How is it that I don’t know you yet? 😉

I’m happy to report that two years later, I’m privileged to call her both a friend and a mentor.

Blurb from Ellen Wittlinger

Ellen Wittlinger, the award-winning author of Hard Love, was gracious enough to blurb My Life as a Rhombus. She says:

“Without a bit of preaching, Varian Johnson gives us a story of two teenage girls who are faced with the consequences of unplanned pregnancies. Teens will love the emotional peaks and valleys of the tale and be gratified by the conclusion.”

As you can imagine, I’m very, very, happy.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I respect Ellen Wittlinger’s work; Hard Love is one of the main reasons I started writing YA in the first place. I also respect that Ellen doesn’t shy away from tough topics, such as transgendered teens in Parrotfish or oral sex in Sandpiper.

FYI — for all of you Hard Love fans out there, check out Ellen’s faq page. It looks like we can expect more from Marisol and Gio.