So today my book, GOING VINTAGE, releases. RELEASES is a glamorous word for Books Get Stocked On Shelves, which for booksellers is often called TUESDAY, but for the author, it’s kinda a big deal. Writing a book takes roughly as long as a pregnancy, an elephant pregnancy, so kissing our babies on the top of the head and nudging them out into the world is always a little scary and sweet.
Mommy loves you GOING VINTAGE! Now go make me some money proud.
And maybe you want to buy my book, maybe you want to check it out from your library (after making sure your library orders it), maybe it’s not your thing but you want to do something just for support. Maybe you are sick of hearing about it, in which case, last post, promise! (Note: I break a lot of promises).
Whether it’s a shout out on facebook, a review, or just a good word, it all adds up.
Also, if you are reading this, you know likely are aware I/my books exist, and for that I am grateful, more the book than me, because I don’t need to get existential about my existence too often. Anyway, thank you for reading. Always always. Thank you.
In high school, the identifier often used to describe me was cute. I say this not to brag, because I didn’t find this something to brag about. Cute means smiles, silliness and brainlessness. Puppies, cheerleaders, and baby rolls are cute. Not a 5’10” highschooler trying to take herself SERIOUSLY already. I wanted to be an actress, an athlete, I wanted to change the world and better mankind. I didn’t get pretty, I never had brilliant, and I sure as heck wasn’t labeled as mysterious. I wanted to be all these things that I wasn’t. Cute. Bah.
I’ve learned, however, that cute has a longer shelf life than beautiful. Cute isn’t an insult. Grandma’s are cute. Some of my favorite movies are also. And in my present day, I write CUTE.
I just checked goodreads to see how early reader reviews are looking for GOING VINTAGE (yes, I check goodreads, but only in spurts. I will try not to check again for a few months now. Or weeks). These are some complimentary phrases:
(exclamation points are my own)
Other reviews are less positive. Some find my writing to be meaningless, fluffy, trite, predictable, vague, stupid, boring, and one kind reader once wrote to tell me she wanted to cut me. Keep those positive opinions coming, kids!
If I let it, these words become as much a part of my writing process as my writing pants or character charts. I start to ask the most toxic questions, like, Who cares? What does this matter? Why try? Is seven diet cokes too many?
Writing isn’t only something I do, it’s something that I am. Take it or leave it, I write and live in an optimistic, rose-colored world or splendor and delight. For this, I will probably never win a major award or write a book that speaks to the core of my generation. I don’t do gritty or profound or twisted or raw. I still love to read these kinds of stories, still love to understand other world views and backgrounds. But when I spend a year with a book, I prefer it to be something that makes me giddy and satisfied, an escape for me and for you. There are days where I question this, days that I wish I was more of something else, but that’s like wishing I was shorter or had thicker hair.
After I started to write this blog entry, I found that I wrote almost exactly the same post 5 years ago. Isn’t it funny how the same themes come up in our lives, just like in our stories? I vaguely remember writing this as I revised Princess For Hire for my newly-signed agent (and went on to sell it at auction two months later). Although I want to edit this mother, I leave it here for you in all my pre-published glory.
Written on April 3, 2008
The other night, I asked hubby if he’d get the girls down so I could get a few more writing things done. Hubby obediently grabbed the kiddos and smiled. “Come on. Mommy has to write The Next Great American Novel.”
For some reason, the comment made me twitch. I sat, paralyzed, staring at my computer screen for the next fifteen minutes.
Let’s just get this out in the open now:
I have not written, nor shall I ever write, the Next Great American Novel.
I’m rereading To Kill a Mockingbird for the bazillionth time. Blows me away how at different times in my life, I pick up on different themes in this book. How the emotions are still raw and fresh, how I put it down and want to be better. To do better. And, whoa, I wish I could write like that!
And then there’s my magical tweeny romp (Yeah, I said romp. Big fan of romps). I’m sure it’s destined for a pink cover–which would be poetic since the sweats I wear whilst writing say PINK on the bum.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of it’s glittery princess pinkiness. I hope readers love reading it half as much as I loved writing it. But I’ll tell you a secret–I started this book two years ago and I quit for awhile because I thought I wasn’t, I don’t know, delving into the human experience. When I idealized writers in high school, I pictured them hacking at a type writer with a stern expression and a black beret. That, or barrels of hard liquor and drowning in their own angst (Maybe that was all the punk music I listened to?)
I believed POWERFUL writing equaled SERIOUS writing. Which is a very limited view, and I could give you a million reasons and a million books why, but I’m in the middle of an epiphany here.
This silly struggle reminds me of a small identity crisis I suffered when moving from the West to PA. I decided when we moved, I would use my maiden name, Taylor, as my first name. Ditch Lindsey and the negative connotations that went with it. Start fresh. Because the thing that bugged me about being ME was everyone viewed me one way, and I wanted to be something–someONE– else. I was, on occasion, described as funny by my fans, snarky by my critics. And this was all well and fine, but what I really wanted to be was
No one EVER labeled me as sweet. If you looked up sweet in the dictionary, you’d have to scroll down to the antonym section, and THEN there’d be my face. So I figured I’d change my name and become the sweet girl that bakes her neighbors cookies and intuitively knows how to fix everyone’s emotional breakdowns and talks in a sing song voice uh… other sweet things (see, it’s not natural for me).
Well, Taylor didn’t last long. Because I was not, AM not, Taylor. I’m Lindsey-eye-rolling-one-liner-but-still-can-occasionally-bust-out-heavier-stuff-Leavitt. And I finally came to terms with this:
That’s Just as Great. Just as Necessary. Just as Important.
(except for moments of extreme emotional distress. You don’t want the funny girl around joking about Grandpa Frank’s gambling habit during his funeral. You want sweetness. So I try to fake it then. Or just avoid talking.)
In the same way, it’s ok–nay, better than ok!– to write something that makes people smile and laugh and take a break from the so-called human experience. My writer friend, Lisa, wrote this to me when I was having one of my Who-am-I-as-a-writer? moments. (Lisa, I hope you don’t mind me quoting your excellence)
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that it takes awhile
to find our strengths. But once we figure it out, we need to go with
it. The market is too competitive to try and be good where others are
great. So, my strength seems to be novels in verse. Yours is
definitely humor. And so, you are going to have to find stories where
you can really make it shine, and it may be that you aren’t going to
be a literary writer, but more of a commercial one. I think sometimes
we look at other books and long to do THAT (I know I do) instead of
embracing the kind of book we do well.”
This really hit home for me. Because Harper Lee really rocked my world in high school, but you know what? So did Meg Cabot (ok, read her right AFTER high school. Was going to let you assume I was that young, but I’m going with the honesty theme for this post). Or PG Wodehouse, who said about his own writing…
“I go in for what is known in the trade as ‘light writing’ and those who do that – humorists they are sometimes called – are looked down upon by the intelligentsia and sneered at.”
What a relief to hear P.G. recognize my fear for me–that my lightness would be considered lesser. Even though I never thought this about Sir Wodehouse. Bow down to you, Jeeves!
I think it’s key for writers go through these moments of self-assessment in order to become comfortable in their craft. Who am I? Where do I fit? Do I fit? Do I care if I fit? Do these sweats still fit?(Of course they fit. Even though the PINK looks a little bigger nowadays).
So, not the NGAN. But I’m happy with where my writing is going. I’m happy in my PINK sweatpants.
I’m going to delete my old LiveJournal blog in a few weeks/months/whenever I get to it, so first I’m combing through old entries and making a “best of” kind of book for myself. I started blogging in 2005, five years before my first book was published, and I love reading through my journey to publication. Mostly. There is a lot that I just don’t want on the world wide web anymore, so over the next couple of weeks I’m sharing a few throwback pieces with you. THEN DESTROYING THE REST. Get it while you can.
This is a post I wrote on March 9, 2007.
I’ve spent a good chunk of the day packing, an activity I do not recommend because it leads to backaches and heavy bouts of nostalgia. I mooned over pics of hubby and I in high school, back when we were chubby-cheeked and tan. Then I read through some old journals and came across this picture taken at my seventh grade water park trip.
I used to rip up pictures of myself in junior high and hide them in the couch. I don’t know why I thought the couch was a good hiding place and not the, oh I don’t know, garbage can. Maybe it was a cry for help. Maybe I was just too lazy to get up. Somehow, this survived. I used to OBSESS about this picture–and it’s not because the neon green on my suit put Kelly Kapowski to shame. At the time, this picture was living proof to anyone that dared to argue that I was unquestionably hideous. If I ever started to believe for a moment this wasn’t true, one glimpse of this picture would prove me wrong.
I wasn’t an insecure kid. I was smart, did sports and other activities, and had friends. I enjoyed life. But this picture is part of what held me back from true confidence.
My thighs were huge. My chest was flat. I didn’t know how to get my bangs high enough. I didn’t know how to dress. My ears looked pokey, my nose too ski-jumpy and I could not figure out how to smile for a picture. In short, I believed I would never “get” a guy, unless he was visually impared or especially desperate.
I started to get over myself in high school when a guy friend of mine admitted he had a crush on me in junior high. He said he followed me around the day this picture was taken because he thought I looked so good in the suit. I wanted to pull it out and point out my obvious flaws, but I’d been taught you shouldn’t argue a compliment. Especially when it makes you look psycho.
I look at this girl now and wish she could have known how beautiful she was, not because of how she looks in a bathing suit, but because of who she is. I long to show her how lucky she is to have a fully functional and healthy body, and that boobs and butts aren’t ultimately what’s going to get the guy.
But I can’t go back. The closest thing I have to a time machine is my writing. When I write, I think of her. Of me. Of who I was then and who I am now. What will make my writing really worthwhile is if I can someday reach a girl like me and somehow help her to be stronger, smarter, and secure enough in herself to rip up her “ugly pic” and get on with her life.
Summer, where did you go? We had a good time, didn’t we? Spontaneity, lake trips, quick weekend getaways, a book release, sleeping in, eating whatever and whenever we wanted. In short, this summer will go down in the books as one of the best the Leavitt family has seen perhaps since Mr. Leavitt and I fell in love in the glory days of ’97.
But this summer was also interesting for me as it was the first summer in quite a few years that I didn’t have an intense, end-of-summer deadline. I have a contemporary book due this fall, hopefully to be released in 2014. I have a mid-grade book I’ve been fiddling with that isn’t contracted. So I thought, writing-wise, this summer would be a breeze. In some ways, it was. I had a sitter for just a couple hours a week, a day or two to daydream, outline, get a couple of chapters in when I felt inspired. But the problem was, I didn’t feel very inspired, especially on this contemporary I was working on.
Oh, I certainly liked the story. There were some characters and dynamics that I could discuss for hours (and did with some poor, unfortunate writing friend). There were characters I wanted to meet, themes I wanted to explore, and a romantic dynamic that I’d been thinking about for years. Notice there is no mention of a plot. A hook. A POINT. And because of this, because there were no high stakes or drive in the story, I would often sit down and write these fun descriptions and back story without any idea why the scene mattered or where I was going next.
This isn’t my first rodeo. I knew I was doing something wrong. But I didn’t know how to fix it, how to suddenly infuse conflict into all these other elements. This was something that had never happened to me before, something I hope doesn’t happen again. Finally, I finished the first couple of chapters and sent it to my editor. We scheduled a phone call and she very nicely pointed out THERE WAS NO PLOT.
Sometimes you don’t know the plot when you start a story. Sometimes you follow a character along until you realize the rest. Plot is even a dirty word in some literary circles. But you still need conflict, an inciting incident. There has to be a reason to root for that character. At this point, this story was lacking in all those areas.
During this phone call, my editor made a comment about another story I’d sent her years ago set in Las Vegas with a paranormal twist. She mentioned how much she liked the Vegas setting in that story and I said, yeah, yeah, maybe I’ll dig that up after I finish this book I’ve been working on for three months. But once I got over those three months–three months paying a sitter, three months away from my kids–I realized the Las Vegas story I should have been working on all along. I went to LA for SCBWI conference and to sign with Lisa Schroeder, and Lisa said exactly what I’d been feeling, “Maybe you should shelf that hard novel and work on the one your editor mentioned.” Boom. I told her about the idea. She asked some questions, I got going, and within thirty minutes I’d ditched the paranormal element, made the story a straight contemporary, found my conflict, my character, my love interest, my story timeline.
Sometimes you have to flounder through the wrong book before you find the right one.
I’m not giving up on the first story, but that one still needs to marinate for awhile. Sometimes you can’t force it, deadline or not. A story doesn’t need to come fast for it to work, but I have found that once I get that A-HA moment where that one line hook happens, then I can move on with a story at a solid pace. So now, end of summer*, I start again, with a nice tan and fresh story idea. Bring it on, fall.
*Meanwhile, to celebrate the end of this crazy summer, I’m giving away a copy of GOING VINTAGE on goodreads. You can enter here!
As mentioned roughly 29498 times, A FAREWELL TO CHARMS released last week, and as such I was temporarily released from the writing cave and allowed to enter society. And some of the very best folks in society are librarians, which is why I was so excited to attend ALA aka American Library Association last weekend.
My daughter bathed my I-phone a few weeks ago, and as such it randomly refuses to take pictures, especially during important moments like when I’m stalking, run into Sharon Creech. So these pictures are yanked from unsuspecting sources.
I met up with two of my favorite authors/people, Lisa Schroeder (The Day Before) and Jessi Kirby (In Honor) for lunch and catch up, after which I waited in line at their signings and told all the librarians what they already knew–these girls can write. Just read Lisa’s upcoming book, FALLING FOR YOU, and it was surprising and beautiful. Jessi’s MOONGLASS was also one of my favorite contemporary books last year, so much so that my family spent a morning looking for sea glass at the beach from the book, Crystal Cove in CA
We also ran into Corey Whaley, Mr. Printz Award himself. He is such a great guy, so happy for all his success. I took my shoes off out of respect in this picture, because otherwise he just looked like my teenage son.
Great signing at the Disney booth and chance to catch up with publishing peeps there. Also met some online friends and the librarian who nominated SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD for the Utah Beehive book award, which was so surprising and cool. You never know who is reading your book, and it’s so amazing when someone connects with it enough to take the time and nominate it.
Afterwards, I met up with some authors and librarians for a little meet and great, put together with Librarian extraodinaire, Sarah Thompson, who I met at ALA two years ago and ended up sitting by her on a plane. She’s so smart, passionate and with her pink hair, would make a great agent for the FACADE agency from Princess for Hire!
Here we are an the Newbery banquet. The speeches were as inspiring as ever, and I got to mingle with the team at Bloomsbury, who are just some of the nicest publishing people around. We discussed GOING VINTAGE, and I’m very excited to do some creative marketing for the release, starting with giving away ARCS very soon. LIke, I have them in my clutches. Just need to figure out how to share.
I didn’t pick up that many ARCs, but two I did get that I’m very excited about are…
THE ARCHIVED by Victoria Schwab. This is one of my most anticipated books of 2013. Can’t wait to read. From goodreads:
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
I loved A TALE DARK AND GRIM by Adam Gidwitz, and was bummed that he was signing his upcoming book, IN A GLASS GRIMMLY, at the same time as me. I mentioned to this to sweet blogger, who surprised me by getting an ARC signed for me! And after she told him what kind of books I write, I got the best inscription ever:
ALA happened to fall during our family vacation, so release day was spent at Knott’s Berry Farms. My stomach is not a fan of rides, so I was happy touring Ghost Town musuem and the old Iowa Schoolhouse. My children’s enthusiasm did not quite match my own.
Friday was release party day, which began with flowers from my charming husband. Crystal Perkins at my local Barnes and Noble puts on the BEST events, and she totally outdid herself this time. I almost cried when I walked into the store. Not only did she have a fabulous wall display, but she added pictures of various princesses to the balloons aka bubbles. Best of all, she made a huge charm bracelet with pictures from my Facebook of previous events. It’s in my office now, because nothing says professional writer like a giant charm bracelet. Was really fun to have family and friends come together for this last book and see those books on the wall disappear. Thanks for everyone who came, really was a magical night.
With the fabulous Crstyal. Why yes, that is the same dress I wore to the Newberys. I splurged and got it at Anthropolgie, so I have to get my money’s worth out of that frock
Me with my fifth grade teacher, Miss Dean, who is also my favorite teacher and a huge reason I’m a writer. She had the best reading curriculum, and fifth grade was the year I discovered Roald Dahl and Katherine Patterson and all sorts of books. Love her!