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?

Don’t Call It A Comeback

As James Todd Smith would say, “Don’t call it a comeback / I’ve been here for years.”

It’s true. I haven’t disappeared. I’ve been here and here. But not on the blog.

Despite my lack of blogging, I have been working on a few new projects, though I can’t quite talk about them yet. My new editor at Delacorte, Rebecca Short, has what may or may not be my next published novel, which may or may not come out in Fall 2012. I know–it sounds like a long time away–the original pub date was Spring 2012, but I had a better shot at winning the lotto than making that deadline, and I don’t even buy lottery tickets.

Anyway, today Rebecca asked me to send her a few sentences about the book–what the “heart of the story” was. That’s a question I always struggle with–what’s a book about (I talked about that some here)–but it was a fair question. I finally came up with this response (edited to remove spoilers/specificity):

So I’m a structural engineer. 95% of my structures are designed using the principal of “structural redundancy.” It’s kind of like a safety net for bridges and buildings. Basically, if one member (one part) of the structure fails, another part is there to carry the load—maybe not forever, but at a minimum for long enough for people to notice the problem and to react. The main goal of structural redundancy is to avoid catastrophic failures.

I think human interaction is the same way. I think we’re all protected by a series of “redundant safety nets”, for lack of a better work. Someone may fall/fail/slip/stumble, but if she is loved, there will always be someone there to catch her—either a parent, or a mentor, or a friend, or even a boyfriend/girlfriend. And these safety nets—they’re not optional. When we choose to interact with people, when we decide to be a parent/friend/mentor/etc., it’s our job—our responsibility—to serve as that safety net. To be a protector, whether the person wants protection or not. To be a protector, despite whatever conflicting feelings may be tugging at us.

So in XXXXX’s case, there should always be someone looking out for her. And even if the first net fails—even if she pushes one out the way or slices through another—there’s always one right behind it.

But what happens when all the safety nets fail? How much of it is XXXXX’s fault? How much of it is due to the collective failure of her network? And how far will she fall?

So this is a bit longer than a few sentences, but this is what I found myself returning to over and over again in the manuscript: “We all have a job to do in a personal relationship. And when we all fail, bad things happen.”

I’m very curious if I’ll feel the same way once the book comes out–if it comes out.

And while I’m posting, I’d like to take the time to thank everyone for all the support you’ve shown for Saving Maddie. A paperback version is coming out–next Spring or Summer, I think.

Until next time….


So here’s a copy of My Life as a Rhombus:

And here’s a copy of My Life as a Rhombus. In Korean.

This ranks pretty high on the “things I never thought would happen” list.

I love how both covers show show a girl covering her mouth with her hand, though I have no idea whether that’s Sarah or Rhonda on the Korean Cover.

But my favorite, favorite, favorite part of the Korean verion, by far, is the interior art:

Here’s “Congruence”:

And here’s “Remainders”:

So just being curious…does anyone speak/read Korean?

(And FYI – my official blog address has changed. It’s now http://blog.varianjohnson.com)