Mr. V’s Top Ten Goals for 2009

I’ve never been one for creating New Year’s Resolution, but being that I’m too lazy to get some writing done right now, I figured I’d share a few thoughts on what I’m hoping to accomplish next year.

1) Hire someone to update my website: I started my website in July of 2005, using good-old html and Notepad. I’m relatively happy with the design, but the source code is a pain to update, and quite frankly, my time is probably better spent writing books than writing code. I’m also hoping to get my blog better integrated into the website.

2) Spend more time with family and friends: 2008 was a killer year. I spent way too many late nights trying to beat a deadline. My schedule looks much, much better this year, mainly because in July I’ll…

3) Graduate from Vermont College: All my critical work is done (more on this later this month), so now that I’m focusing mainly on my creative work, things should go a lot smoother.

4) Finish a new novel: Note that I didn’t say sell a new novel. Don’t get me wrong, I fully intend to have another book under contract by the end of the year (hopefully sooner), but much of the hocus-pocus of publishing is out of my control. However, I can control what I produce at home, in my office, on my laptop.

5) Take more chances with my work: I’m itching to do something new, something different, although I don’t really know what “new” or “different” is yet. Maybe more short stories. Or a picture book. Or a pop-up book about breasts and man-parts (my classmates will get this).

6) Read Octavion Nothing 1 and 2.

7) Do a better job at cheering on other authors: I sometimes get so wrapped up in what I’m trying to accomplish, I forget about what other authors are trying to do. There are some really great authors out there, and I want to make sure that they get their time in the spotlight.

8) Finish a joint-project with a classmate: One of my classmates and I have been talking about working on a joint MG project for almost a year now, and mostly because of me, it hasn’t gone much further than a few outlines and sample pages. I’m hoping that as things calm down, we’ll be able to work on this novel.

9) Find the drive to consistently get up at 5:00 in the morning: Ever since I turned in my last round of edits for Saving Maddie, I’ve been reluctant to get up in the morning for my usual writing routine. My goal this year is to get up and out of the house by 5:50 AM at least four days a week. This would give me almost two hours of fresh writing time before work. (And look for another post in a few months concerning motivation.)

10) Clean up my office: Seriously, it hasn’t been cleaned, dusted or vacuumed in over a year. My desk is covered with papers, books, and random receipts. Mrs. V won’t even stop foot inside my office at this point.

Hmm…on second thought, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.

Happy 2009!

Why I love Texas Librarians

I’m happy to announce that My Life as a Rhombus made the 09-10 Texas Tayshas High School Reading List! A number of great books are on the list – my personal favorites are Liz Gallagher’s The Opposite of Invisible, Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts, John Green’s Paper Towns and E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (which I’m really hoping comes home with the Printz in January.)

In addition, Delacore Dame Jennifer Ziegler’s How Not To Be Popular made the Texas Lone Star Reading List!

Yay Jenny! Yay Texas Librarians! Yay writers!

Austin SCBWI Celebration of Books

Austin SCBWI is moving our monthly meetings to Bookpeople, and in order to celebrate, we’re having a huge party on Thursday, November 13th from 6:30 to 9:00, featuring readings, panel discussions, door prizes, and refreshments.

Here’s the schedule of events:

6:30 Social Time – Second Floor
Visit and enjoy refreshments

7:00 A Holiday Reading – Amphitheater
Join us in the amphitheater as author Philip Yates (in full pirate costume) reads from his latest book, A Pirates Night Before Christmas (Sterling, 2008)

7:15 Picture Book Panel Discussion – Amphitheater
Featuring: Greg Leitich Smith, Philip Yates, Don Tate, & Emma Virjan
Moderated by Brian Anderson

Middle Grade/Young Adult Panel Discussion – Second Floor by the Stairs
Featuring: Lila Guzman, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Helen Hemphill, and Jo Whittemore
Moderated by Tim Crow

8:15 Young Adult Panel – Third Floor
Featuring: Jennifer Ziegler, Cynthia Leitich Smith, April Lurie, Brian Yansky, & Varian Johnson. Moderated by Julie Lake

Authors and Illustrators Scheduled to Appear
(Book Signing opportunities will occur during the social time and after each panel)

Cynthia Leitich Smith
Lila Guzman
Jane Ann Peddicord
Mark Mitchell
Greg Leitich Smith
April Lurie
Shana Burg
Frances Hill
P.J. “Tricia” Hoover
Helen Hemphill
Phyllis Peacock
Jennifer Ziegler
Christy Stallop
Julie Lake
Brian Yansky
Jessica Anderson
Varian Johnson
Philip Yates
Emma Virjan
Brian Anderson
Anne Bustard
Don Tate
Jerry Wermund
Jo Whittemore

Thank you

Thank you, America, for doing what I never believed possible in my lifetime.

Thank you for believing in equality.

Thank you for believing in fairness.

Thank you, America, for believing in change.

28 Days Later – 2009

A little over a year ago, I, along with four of my colleagues in the kid-lit industry, joined together to form The Brown Bookshelf – an online community charged with highlighting both established and up-and-coming African-American children’s and YA authors and illustrators. Our 2008 – 28 Days Later Campaign was a huge success, and I’m happy to announce that we’re now accepting submissions and nominations for 28 Days Later – 2009.

As our new campaign began to ramp up, I found myself thinking a lot about the role of The Brown Bookshelf. Were we making enough of an impact? What additional programs should we be pushing? Had we outgrown our usefulness?

As I contemplated these and many other questions, I was directed to a Publishers Weekly essay by Denene Millner, co-author of the “Hotlanta” series. In the essay, Millner notes the dearth of books for African-American teens, stating, “Very few prolific authors have enjoyed consistent, successful careers writing about black teen life, and only a handful of publishing houses have dedicated their resources to publishing black teen books. And once those books are released, good luck finding them in bookstores or reviewed in the media.” Specifically, Millner points out the gluttony of “street fiction” on bookshelves, and implores publishing houses to publish “more books about and for African-American teens, and not tomes about slavery, the ghetto and growing up in impossible conditions. I’m talking books with modern, hip stylings and everyday stories that address teen issues in a way that speaks to the audience in their own language.”

I’ve stated before my surprise, and disappointment, when teens shout out that their favorite authors are Zane and Eric Jerome Dickey. Truthfully, Zane and Eric Jerome Dickey may be okay for some students. However, I’d love to go into a school one day and hear a teen say that his or her favorite author is Coe Booth or Rita Williams-Garcia or L. Divine.

And, I think this can happen, because teens that read novels by these authors love their books. The key is—how do we get these books into the hands of the readers? Libraries are our primary lifeline to these students, but is there another way to reach these readers? Can we—authors, publishers, booksellers, and parents—do more?

But as Millner’s essay reminded me, sometimes it’s not just the end reader that we need to support. Milliner states:

“…I’m not as confident about what can be done to improve the morale of authors like me, who are weary from the mess that has become black fiction. I can’t tell you how painful it is to have my books—particularly a teen book—dismissed as street fiction because the cover features black girls.”

African-American authors are a dying breed, a breed which I fear may become extinct if we don’t do a better job of supporting both established and emerging talent. That’s why 28 Days Later is so important. We need books not just for African-American children and teens, but we need books—well-written, diverse books— written and illustrated by African Americans.

So please, drop by the site today and nominate an author or illustrator. And remember: well-written, entertaining books aren’t just a benefit for certain ethnic groups. They’re a benefit to the entire industry. And most importantly, good, well-written, diverse books provide the greatest benefits to our end users—children and teens all across the world.

Up and Coming Events

Okay, so I’ve been a bad blogger, but since I’ve been under deadline for both school, work, and writing, I figure it’s okay to take a little time off. However, I wanted to let everyone (well, the five of you that still read my blog) know of some upcoming events that I’ll be participating in:

Oct, 2008:
Creative Writing Workshop Series (Sorry, this one’s closed to the public):
Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center

Oct 11, 2008 at 11:00 AM:
Southern Festival of Books
Nashville, TN (See the schedule)

Oct 25, 2008 at 11:00 AM:
Book Discussion – Cedar Park Public Library
550 Discovery Blvd.
Cedar Park, TX 78613

Nov 1-2, 2008:
Texas Book Festival
State Capitol Building
Austin, TX

Okay, that’s it for now–but be sure to check back on Monday for a Brown Bookshelf Announcement!

Me and My Peeps

Pictures from the Austin Children’s and YA Happy Hour last Wednesday (captions below the photo):

Don Tate and Mark Mitchell

Madeline Smoot, Greg Leitich Smith, Carmen Oliver, PJ Hoover and PJ’s husband, Riley

Jerry Wermund, Frances Hill (Yansky), Jane Peddicord

Lindsey Lane, Debbie Gonzales, Mark Mitchell

Shana Burg and Anne Bustard

Crystal (my wife, aka Mrs. V), Roger (Jo Whittemore’s loyal husband), and Jo.

Me and Margo Rabb (photo courtesy of Alison Dellenbaugh’s blog).

Who says you have to live in LA or NY to have a kick-ass kid-lit community?

Check out more photos at PJ Hoover’s blog and Alison Dellenbaugh’s blog.

Back to the Grind

Okay, so I know all of you guys are faithful readers of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations (and if not, add it to your Google Reader TODAY), so by now you’ve seen the interview that I did with her. If not, check it out. And be sure to sign up for the giveaway!

In other news, work seems to be going well on the critical thesis that I’m required to complete for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program. I think I kinda-sorta know the general structure of the thesis, but I’ll know better once I fill in a few pieces. I’ve done a fair amount of research, although I have a ton more to do–which is one of the reasons why I’m not posting the topic of my thesis–at least, not yet. Once I get through a first draft, then I’ll feel more confident about what I’m writing about.

On the RIGHTEOUS front, I chatted with my editor, Stephanie Lane, last week, and it looks like the novel will be coming out on the Delacorte Spring 2010 line (I know the tentative release month, but I ain’t telling). Now, I know that seems like a long time away, but I promise, it isn’t. Plus, if any of you read my bumbling, rambling post from last week, you’ll see that I could stand to use a little extra time before the novel comes out.

What else…a few people have called me out concerning the Alumni Award that I was given at the past Vermont College Residency. It’s not that I was ignoring talking about it–it’s just that I always feel strange talking about awards like this. Seriously, I can think of so many people that do so much for the program that deserve this recognition at least as much as I do–if not more. That being said, I am extremely honored and humbled, and I hope that I can live up to the ideals of the awards.

On the writing front, I’m working furiously on a new project that I’ll call JG for now. I’ve workshopped it a few times, and uber-agent Sara has seen the first forty-or-so pages of it. It’s a bit of a departure from my other work, but at this point in my career, I wanted to try something different.

My career. I have a writing career. God, it feels good to say that.

I hope everyone is having fun doing what he or she is supposed to be doing in life. At least for today, I know that I am.