Random Thoughts

1) For anyone seriously thinking about making a go of the writing-full-time gig, I would encourage you to check out The Cold Hard Facts about the Writing Life and More Financial Truths from author Laurie Halse Anderson (found via Cynsations). It may come across as a bit bleak, but it’s definitely worth reading.

2) To my mother: I’m okay. Really. I still have a job. I still have a wife. I still have a car and a house and two dogs. It’s not that bad. Really.

3) To a certain classmate who will remain nameless: You will be a rock star in children’s and YA lit one day! You heard it here first!

4) I saw The Dark Knight yesterday afternoon. Wow. Dark is an understatement. Very good, but very dark.

5) I am counting down the days until Watchmen comes out. If you haven’t read the graphic novel, RUN to your nearest bookseller and buy it now.

6) I haven’t posted to the event calendar on my website, but that will change…soon…I think. I’ll keep you updated.

Mr. V Explains the Last Six Months of His Life

Perhaps a better title for this post would be, “Where the hell have you been? You haven’t been blogging. You haven’t been calling? What’s wrong?”

Just as a recap, here a taste of what was going on with me during the past six months:

1) My Life as a Rhombus came out.
2) I spent the better part of February doing school visits, booksigning, and book festivals.
3) I started a new semester at Vermont College.
4) In addition to my Vermont College work, I also worked on getting another manuscript ready for submission.
5) At the Brown Bookshelf, we kicked off our 28 Days Later Campaign.

On top of all of that stuff:

6) I still have a full-time job. And believe me, designing bridges isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do.
7) And on top of all of that, I still have a wife and a house and two dogs. And a mother and a father and a brother and a sister and nieces and nephews and in-laws.

So I’m going to be totally honest here. The last six months were murder. Seriously. There were some mornings where I didn’t think I had the energy–both physical and mental–to pull myself out of bed, much less make it through the day. There were some nights where I worked on writing stuff until 5 o’clock in the morning, took a two-hour power nap, and then went to work.
There were some nights were I didn’t even have two spare hours for a nap.

So, I had to give some things up. First on the list–blogging. That was pretty easily to do, actually. As much as I missed it, I figured that I could always pick it up when I needed to.

The second thing was much harder to give up. I pretty much became a social hermit, cutting off ties with many of my friends. My thought was that if my friends were real friends, then they’d understand, and they’d still be there when things calmed down. I still believe that to be the case.

And family life was…strained. And I’ll leave it at that.

But, you know what–it’s July. And I’m still here. And so are my friends. And so is my family. And so is my job. And so is this blog.

I thought about taking a semester off from the program for a brief second, before pushing that thought out of my mind. Now, I know a lot of people take semesters off, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in my case, I needed to push through. I needed Vermont College. More than anything, for those that don’t understand writing–for those that see it as something easy, as a hobby, as something not worthy of blood and sweat and tears–Vermont College gave me a legitimate reason to write.

And it paid off. We sold a book to Delacorte. Rhombus did (and continues to do) really well. Rita was pleased with my VC work. And I even wrote a picture book.

And you know what else? I’d do it all over again. In a heartbeat. Without thinking twice.

I am a writer. As much as I wish otherwise, it’s more than a job. It is more than a passion. It’s a way of life for me, and for better or worse, it’s who I am now. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from Vermont College, it’s that.

Another thing that I’ve learned is that I’m going to be honest from now on about my writing. I write. It’s important to me. Plain and simple–I want a writing career.

More importantly, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a writing career. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be successful and get paid to do what you love to do.

Now, a writing career means a lot of different things, which I’m still trying to define. And, I’m not saying that I’m plan to march into my job tomorrow and quit–I promise, that’s the last thing I want to do. (Plus, engineering is a big part of who I am as well. I’m not sure if I could give that up.)

All I’m really saying is that, for a long time, I side-stepped and avoided talking about what I really wanted out of writing. I marginalized and belittled it. It wasn’t a real career…it was just something I did on the side.

Well, those days are over. My name is Varian Johnson, and I’m a writer. And I’m not ashamed to say that I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it.

So, while this post seems to have gotten a little off-topic, I’m going to post it anyway. And while I’m at it, I really need to give a special shout-out to my Vermont College Class–The Super Secret Society of Quirk and Quill, to the Awesome Austin Writer’s Workshoppers, to my critique group (April, Helen, Brian, Frances, and Julie), and to my advisor, Rita Williams-Garcia, and to Cynthia, for just being Cynthia. A lot of people don’t understand the writing life, but y’all do. Thank you for being there when I needed to bitch and moan and complain.

The next six months are going to suck, but not nearly as bad. I’ve got a critical thesis to write. I have a new novel I’m working on. I have to get edits in for RIGHTEOUS pretty soon. And I’d actually like to spend some time with Mrs. V.

Okay, so enough with the backstory. There you have it. Perhaps a little personal, but sometimes it’s okay to be personal, right?

Or maybe I’m still feeling all touchy-feely from Vermont. It can have that effect on you, you know.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

I just got back from my latest Vermont College Residency, as like always, I riddled with a mix of joy at being back at home, and at sadness for leaving such a magical place. As always, the residency was great–full of great lectures and workshops, laughter and tears. My class felt especially close to the graduating students, so while I was happy to see them go, part of me wanted them to stick around just a little bit longer.

I’m heading into Semester 3: The Critical Thesis Semester. I have a good idea about what my thesis will cover, and if that doesn’t work out, I have a back-up idea. I’ll be working with Margaret “Here’s your thirty-page response letter” Bechard this semester. I also have a super secret novel that I’m hoping to work on with Margaret this semester.

And now, some pictures…

Here’s a picture of my and my last advisor, Rita Williams-Garcia.

Here’s a picture of one of my classmates, Rachel. And yes, that is a picture of Dean Cain in that poster behind her. Apparently, he’s still making movies:

Here’s another classmate, Larissa. I told her not to eat the chili in the cafeteria, but she had to learn the hard way:

I hope all you other VCers had as good of a time as I had! See you all in six months, if not sooner!

The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine

I just wanted to give a quick shout out to my friend April Lurie. Her new novel, The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008) was officially released yesterday. This is my favorite of April’s books–she strikes just the right balance of humor and drama. And I’m not the only person that likes the book–it’s already been nominated for the BBYA list!

Check out an excerpt from the book here.

The Newness

I hate starting a new project. Every time I start something new, the following thoughts pop into my head:

1) Why am I doing this? I don’t get paid enough to be this miserable.
2) I’m such a hack. No wonder ____ said _____ about my last book.
3) I could write a novel about ___, but ___ has already done it.
4) I could write a novel about _____, but ____ could do it so much better than I could.
5) I should write something funny.
6) I should write something serious.
7) I should write a fantasy novel. Yeah, Hakim Potter at the Deathly Ghettos.
8) I should write a middle grade, so that I can win a Newbery.
9) I should write an adult novel. That way I could be on Oprah.
10) I should just quit while I’m ahead.

Eventually I’m able to push through these thoughts and get something down on paper. Sometimes it just takes a while. A long while.

In other news, I wish I had something more to add about the sale, but really, there isn’t much more to say, at least not now. My editor feels pretty confident that we can get the revisions done in enough time to make the Fall 09 schedule. I’ll be sure to let y’all know when something exciting happens.

Rhombus continues to do well–thanks to everyone who’s purchased the book or requested it from the library or posted a positive comment about it. A few weeks ago, I uploaded the Discussion Guide for My Life as a Rhombus, created by the multi-talented Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think.

The Path of the Righteous

A lot of you guys have been asking me to write a novel from a male point of view. Well, be careful what you wish for…

From Publisher’s Marketplace:

MY LIFE AS A RHOMBUS author Varian Johnson’s THE PATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS, about a preacher’s son who has to make some big decisions about who he is and who he wants to be when his childhood crush returns to town, all grown up into a gorgeous and troubled teen, to Stephanie Lane at Delacorte, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (NA).

Details are still sketchy, but here’s the important info:

1) It’ll be a hardback.
2) We’re shooting for a Fall 09 release.
3) The title may or may not change.

More news soon…I hope.

Checking In

Just checking in to post a few updates:

1) New reviews: We got good reviews from both KLIATT and The Edge of the Forest. I especially love this part of The Edge of the Forest review:

“Johnson’s book strikes a good balance; it’s gripping and sensitive at the same time. It doesn’t oversimplify; it doesn’t pull punches. And, perhaps most importantly, it does not pass judgment.”

I love that readers and reviewers “get this” about Rhombus. It gives me faith that I did something right.

2) Updated website: I’ve added a couple of pages to the website — a dedicated calendar page and a page on school visits. If you see any misspellings, please let me know.

3) On the Vermont College front, I wrote my first picture book last month. It started off at about 1500 words, and by the time I submitted it, I had cut it down to 1070. Now Rita wants me to trim off at least 200 more words.

4) Among the many books that I read last month, the one that stood out the most was E. L. Konigsburg’s A View from Saturday. I’m not quite convinced that it has a plot, but I don’t care. It’s a great story. I see why it won the Newbery.

5) I hit the big 3-1 today. I celebrated by filling out paperwork that I had neglected for the past month.

6) Congratulations to both Paula Yoo and Sara Zarr for getting nominated for the 2009 ALA BBYA list. Of course, they’re both great writers, so I’m not surprised in the least.

7) Thanks to everyone that saw me at all of my book signings and at the South Carolina Book Festival. And thanks for buying books!

8) Likewise, I had a great time talking to the students at Darlington High School and at Gardner Betts last month. Talking to those kids reminded me why I started writing in the first place.

Okay, back to work!

Book Signings and Interviews

Thanks to everyone that came out to my book signing at Barnes and Noble this past weekend. Not only was it a great success, but it was also nice to catch up with old friends. Austin authors and friends that dropped by include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Greg Leitich Smith, Jeanette Larson, April Lurie, Brian Yansky, Frances Hill, and Brian Anderson. (Note: Mrs. V did a beautiful job with all the table decorations.)

This morning, I was happily greeted with my interview in The State, South Carolina’s capital city newspaper. I’ll be back in SC this upcoming weekend, and will be participating in a number of events. I’ll be discussing and signing copies of My Life as a Rhombus on Thursday, February 21st, at Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Florence, SC. On Saturday, February 23rd, I’m scheduled to participate in a young adult panel at the South Carolina Book Festival. Alan Gratz, author of Something Rotten (Dial, 2007) and Samurai Shortstop (Dial, 2006) will also serve on the panel; the panel moderator will be Dr. Sam Hastings, Director of the University of South Carolina School of Library & Information Science.

For those of you that haven’t checked out Cynsations lately, please do. Cynthia Leitich Smith is hosting the SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series, which so far has included interviews with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary and Steven Chudney of The Chudney Agency. The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series will include 32 sequential question-and-answer interviews with agents, editors, art directors, publishers, authors, illustrators, and other publishing types about the international youth publishing scene, and will be hosted at both Cynsations and at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s MySpace blog.