Happy Days Are Here Again

Break out the champagne and start up the band. I have started my next novel.

I’m the type of person that has a hard time focusing on one thing to write. I’ve been jotting down ideas for three potential novels for the past few months, and each week, a different idea seems to be the one destined to become a novel. However, after Greg and Cynthia’s workshop (where I was so confused over what scene to write that I actually didn’t finish the exercise), I sat my butt down in front of my computer and worked on each idea until I could figure out which one was destined to become the next novel.

Around 1:30 AM Sunday morning, I figured out what my next project would be. I even have a working title.

I’m superstitious, so I won’t say too much about it. I will say that it’s an upper YA novel, although it’s fairly tame compared to Red Polka Dot. The characters are not the types of people that will be dropping a plethora of f-bombs and other four-letter words. (Somewhere, my mother is breathing a sigh of relief.) Right now, I expect the novel to top out around 45,000 to 50,000 words.

I think the other novel ideas I had were pretty good, but not something I want to work on right now. One novel was about S-E-X. I wasn’t trying to glorify it, but I did want to write a funny, witty book about how much teenagers think about it (whether they’re having it or not). I actually have a pretty good concept for this, and may revisit it again in the future. (Somewhere, my mother is frowning and reaching for a bottle of Pepto.)

The other idea was a “The Dark is Rising Series meets Batman” type of book. (For those of you that are high on J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, you should really check out Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Series. Harry Potter doesn’t even compare to Will Stanton.) Anyway, while I really like this idea, fantasy isn’t one of my strengths right now. Plus, being a new author, I probably need to “brand” myself as a certain type of writer.

So, at least for now, I’m focusing on another contemporary YA novel. And so far, I really like what I’ve gotten down on paper. Wish me luck!!!

A Swift Kick in the Rear

Greg and Cynthia Leitich Smith gave a great workshop today at B&N on Writing the Teen Novel. They really did a good job of presenting the information so that it was of use to both newbies and more seasoned writers. A couple of things that really resonated with me were:

1) The YA age range. The YA age range, once 12-18, now is much broader. In addition to the traditional 12-18 year-old range, there is now the “Tweener” age range of 10-14, and the Upper YA range of 14-19. My works tend to skew towards the higher end of the age range.

2) YA vs Adult publishing. Cyn made some really good points on this, as to why an author or publisher would push for a YA novel to be published as an adult novel. I’ve struggled with this concept myself a little (see the last post and Cyn’s comments about my post).

3) Writers Must Read. There is a lot of great YA literature out there now. For those looking to break into the field, the bar has been raised. YA novels really have to be “special” in order to be published, and an author wanting to be published in this field must really look at the type of novels currently being published.

Point 3 really struck home with me. Between working on my own writing, increased responsibilities at work, and being a newlywed, I’ve really slowed down on my reading. There are SO MANY great books out there now, and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I haven’t even tried to read all of them. I’ve made a commitment to read at least 3 books by the end of the year.

In addition to more reading, I’ve also committed myself to writing more this month. Now that Red Polka Dot is out and I’m through with most of my book signings, I should be able to get back to a decent writing routine. One problem is that I have three potential novels vying for attention, and I’m the type of author that can only write one thing at a time. Hopefully, I’ll have it all sorted out by the end of the year.

There were a lot of SCBWIers in the crowd, including Julie Lake, Don Tate, JoAnne Whittemore, April Lurie, Frances Hill, Brian Yansky, Lindsey Lane, and Jerry Wermund. I know I’m forgetting a few people, so forgive me if I left you off.

So enough of the blog for today. I’m gonna write for a few hours, and then I’ll flip a coin to figure out which book I’m gonna read first. The finalists: Brian Yanksy’s My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World or Ellen Wittlinger’s Sandpiper.

The Path of Least Resistance

Now come on, did you guys really expect me not to get anything for Mrs. V for our anniversary? I ended up getting her a nice (i.e., expensive) ensemble of clothes from the mall. She especially liked the v-cut sweater from Ann Taylor.

On to other news, I find that I’m really, really confused about the state of Young Adult Literature. Most of us that are trying to write in this field know that it’s been in a state of flux for a long time. The old “12-18 year old” range doesn’t quite work anymore, and I don’t know if anyone has figured out what to do about it. On one end, we have books that are being challenged and even banned (see Cynthia Leitich Smith’s post on Brent Hartinger). On the other end, we have more and more authors willingly opting to publish their YA novels as adult fiction.

I’m not sure how I feel about all of this. Maybe by publishing an upper YA as an adult novel, you can circumvent the whole censorship thing. And we all know that teens are reading adult novels, whether we want them to or not (one young girl at one of my school visits asked me about Zane, an erotic fiction author that she just luuuuves). So if teens still have access to our novels, and if we can sidestep the censorship problem, and if in the process we sell a whole lot more books, does adult publishing become the clear choice?

I’m sure some of you have seen this before, but Publishers Weekly has an article concerning the different publishing options some “YA” authors have taken. The biggest thing that jumped out at me: the 200,000 copies that Prep has sold as an adult novel vs the 30,000 that Looking for Alaska has sold as a YA.

Publishing options aside, for those of you in Austin that are interested in writing books featuring teenagers, Cyn and her husband, Greg Leitich Smith, will be speaking at Barnes and Noble, Westlake, this Saturday at 10:30 AM. Their topic: Writing the Young Adult Novel. Be sure to bring paper, pencil and a creative mind.

The Perks of Being Married

My 2nd anniversary is tomorrow, and I still haven’t gotten my wife a gift.

I know how this sounds, but believe me, I’m really not that absent-minded. I knew November 29th was coming up. Mrs. V and I have been trying to make plans to get away to a little Bed and Breakfast for our anniversary. I knew our schedules were bad, but I figured I could surprise her and sneak her away this weekend. Unfortunately, the professors at UT had something different in mind, because there is no way Mrs. V can afford to lounge around this weekend, with finals and projects looming around the corner. Mrs. V and I consulted our calendars yesterday, and I quickly came to the conclusion that the soonest we could get away would be the beginning of next year.

So my problem is: Can I count a trip in January as an anniversary gift, even though our anniversary would have long passed? Or, am I still obligated to get my wife a gift?

I personally think that the trip still counts, but a few guys at the office have informed me of the error of my ways. Supposedly, a gift only counts if it’s given within two weeks of a holiday. I could run off to the mall and get her a gift, but I hate malls, especially during the holiday season. As much as I love my wife, it’ll take a lot more than a 2nd anniversary to get me to brave a Dillard’s at this time of the year.

Yep, it looks like Mrs. V will be getting a bag of mints and some ice cream sandwiches from the CVS around the corner this anniversary. I know it isn’t romantic, but as I’ve told Mrs. V countless times, you don’t have to be romantic when you’re married.

Happy Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope to resume a more normal posting schedule now that I’m through with the bulk of my traveling. I do want to say thanks to everyone in Florence, SC that came out to support the book. We ended up selling over 100 books over the course of the weekend.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday. Don’t eat too much turkey.

Lessons Learned

I love Texas.

There aren’t many other ways to express how I feel after my book signings in Austin and Dallas. Cynthia Leitich Smith and Don Tate have some great observations about the book signing here in Austin at Barnes and Noble, so I won’t go into too much detail about it. I will say that I was super-nervous. The only time I’ve been more nervous was on the day I got married. I consider myself a pretty good speaker, but on the night of my first book signing, I was terrified. It really helped to have so many friends and co-workers there – we had a GREAT turnout. I’ll post pictures in a few days.

My book signing in Dallas at Black Images Book Bazaar also went pretty well. I was a lot less nervous, being that I had made it through the first book signing. Again, it was a great turnout, and we actually ran out of stock.

There are a few lessons that I’ve learned from my book signing experiences:

1) I probably spoke for about 10 minutes too long at B&N. I felt myself rambling during my talk, but I couldn’t force myself to stop. I think I did a much better job at Black Images.

2) It helps to have a lot of friends in the audience.

3) I have to be careful not to get on a soapbox when someone asks about something near and dear to my heart. At B&N, a small child asked if I wrote books for kids. Instead of answering his question, I spent five minutes talking about how YA books are so great and that not just teenagers should be reading them and that people are really missing out on a good thing by not reading YA and….well, you get the point. Upper YA books, African-American Literature, and censorship (especially censorship) are topics that really get me riled up.

4) People are very interested in how I came up with the title of the book.

5) People like it when I smile.

In closing, I got my first review from a teenage reader. In her own words, “I finished your book in the same day and i believe it was a really good book and i haven’t cried so hard over a book in a long time.”

Somehow, that makes all the nervousness worthwhile.


I just wanted to say one thing to everyone that came out last night for my book signing:


I was soooooo nervous, but seeing so many familiar and friendly faces in the crowd made things a lot easier. I promise, I’ll post more later, but for right now, I’m literally at a loss for words. Thanks again. As one of my co-workers would say, “You Guys Rock!”

FYI – the novel is now available via Barnes and Noble’s website.

Stark Fear

Tomorrow, I have my first book signing at Barnes and Noble (Sunset Valley).

What in the hell have I gotten myself into?

2944 Days and Counting

October 12, 1997. Will Rogers World Airport. As I sit in the airport, waiting for my brother to arrive, I see a tall, slim, beautifully awkward young woman walk past. She has frizzy red hair; it’s so wild that it looks like it has a life of it’s own. She has pale, skinny arms that look as thin as straw. She has a radiant smile that momentarily makes me forget that I’m stuck at the airport in the middle of the night.

Even though I never spoke to her, that young woman would be one of the most important people in my life. She was Maxine Phillips. And after a little over eight years, I’m finally getting the chance to share her story with the world.

A lot has changed with Maxine since I first began jotting those notes down that Sunday night. At first, Deke was the narrator. But after a few chapters, I realized Maxine wasn’t going to let anyone else tell her story. Maxine still loves comic books, although you wouldn’t be able to tell from the published novel. Also, Maxine started off as a Muslim, but she just couldn’t give up bacon. The working title of the manuscript was Captain Maxine to the Rescue, and then Family Portraits, and then a bunch of other crappy titles until I lucked up on Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid.

I titled this post 2944 Days and Counting because due to a cover error, the novel’s release date had to be pushed back from November 1st as originally planned. However, the folks at Genesis Press and Kensington assured me that the books would go out within the next two weeks. Also, they’ve already made arrangements for the books to be at all of my book signings, so please come out and get a copy of the book. (I owe Stephanie Nelson, Community Relations Manager at Barnes and Noble-Sunset Valley, a big thank-you for talking to my publisher, and for also calming me down.) I planned to start off this post by complaining about the release delay, but after eight years, I figure I can stand to wait a few more weeks.

At the bottom of this post are a few of my handwritten notes from that night. And yes, my handwriting is atrocious.

When I left the airport that night, I knew I had something special. For those of you that read the novel, I hope you realize the same thing.