Happy Birthday, Sean Griswold (and his head)

March 1, 2012
Today is the one year birthday of my young adult contemporary novel, Sean Griswold’s Head. I’m oddly sentimental about this fact, because I’ve been so amazed by how this book has been recieved since it’s publication. Actually, everything that has happened with Sean Griswold has been amazing.
I started Sean Griswold’s Head in 2006. I brought the first few chapters to the Chautauqua conference and got a read from author Rich Wallace. He told me it had a great voice, that I really should finish this story. Really? An author and editor who probably reads millions of subs thinks this has promise? I went home and got a good chunk done (a chunk I’m pretty sure no longer exists in the finished manuscript), but then took a few months off to have a baby and move. By the time I finished, it was late 2007, but I knew, I KNEW this story had something.
I sent over 30 query letters to literary agents in small batches of 5 or 6. Of those, half requested to read the manuscript. And of those, about 10 wrote me back with really wonderful rejections that told me the same thing over and over again.
Contemporary YA is a tough sell right now.
I’m not sure I can place this.
Loved it, don’t know if a publisher could get behind it though
I might be making a mistake, but I’m only 92%, and I need to be 100% to be your advocate.

So I lost faith in Sean Griswold. I closed that file and instead started and finished (ish) Princess for Hire. And what do you know, an editor I’d met at a conference years before contacted me out of the blue and asked if I was working on anything. I sent her Sean. She loved it. And two agents did too! Hello sunshine! I signed with Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary and she contacted the editor. We worked on revisions together. Sean went to an acquisitions meeting and…
He got shot down.
A moment here to say that hurt. It really did. All those agent rejections seemed prophetic–a publisher couldn’t get behind it. And I had loved working on revisions with that editor, loved the serendipity of her emailing me when she did. I STILL love that editor, and love a lot of her books. But at that time, because of the market, because of the publisher, possibly because of the story, it just didn’t work out.
Sarah and I strategized and decided we needed to put Sean away for awhile. In 2008, pink books were still selling well (thank you, Meg Cabot), so we revised my messy manuscript and sent it out. We had instant interest, and from many different publishers. In the end, Princess sold at auction in a three-book-deal. I got to work on some gnarly revisions that took me months to complete.
In early 2009, Sarah and I had a talk about the fate of Sean Griswold. She wasn’t hugely optimistic about his chances, but said it was a good story and she wanted to go on submission with it. We did some more revisions, and off he went.
To be honest, I didn’t think the book would sell. How could it? How could a book that had been read and rejected by 15 agents and 1 publisher have any chance of actually becoming a book? Didn’t all those no’s somehow taint the manuscript? I adapted a devil-may-care attitude. I didn’t check my inbox a million times for emails from my agent. I didn’t expect a thing to happen. I hoped, yes, but even that hope was thin.
And one day an email from Sarah popped up in my inbox with the subject line “Cross Everything”. Bloomsbury, the publisher who coincidentally had lost the auction on Princess for Hire, liked the story and wanted to share the manuscript with their marketing team and would be in touch soon. I wrote back with a Yay! and my lovely, level-headed British agent replied with a “Just don’t get your hopes up” and went on to explain that although she really wants it to sell, sometimes marketing shoots down quirky books like this.
So I went back to breezy. Book sale? Maybe. Whatever. I don’t care. Just a little thing I POURED MY SOUL INTO. No big.
A day or two later, we had our offer. When Sarah called, I was sitting at the park with my girls. I didn’t cry or start shaking like I did when I heard the news about Princess for Hire. I believe I was in shock. “Really? They want to publish it? Really?”
It was as a modest deal. This wasn’t slated to be a huge book. But I didn’t care–I was going to publish another book in the genre I had always loved. Something that had seemed so impossible was suddenly a possibility. No, it was real.
Other publishers chimed in. We had lovely rejections, even other interest (really? You like it too?), but we went with Bloomsbury. I talked to my editor, Caroline Abbey, for the first time and hung up and finally cried. This story that had so many pieces of me tucked inside was going to be shared, and this woman GOT the book in a way no one else ever had.
Working with Caroline was a dream. I can’t say enough about how enjoyable the revision process was. I probably only cried 2 or 3 times, and those are great numbers. Caroline championed my book in-house, and somehow, Sean started to gain steam. I heard things about a marketing plan when I didn’t think there would even be a marketing plan. I did a huge blog tour. I went on a fun book tour. I got some great professional reviews. And, finally, Sean came into the world.
And then the biggest shocker of all happened. Readers read my book. Readers liked my book. Readers contacted me and told me how much this story meant to them because they had fallen in love with their classmate, or their mom had MS too, or they were sad and this story made them feel better. Those notes were, are, so special to me.
The hardcover of Sean isn’t in Barnes and Noble anymore, probably not in many independents (although the paperback will be out in September with a new cover. Details soon). I’m not selling hundreds of copies a week. But. Scholastic picked it up for their book orders, meaning I’m reaching a readership I wouldn’t have otherwise reached. I’ve been nominated for some nice lists and awards. Bloggers still review the book. And this book that I thought had no hope is still being read. Not by the masses, but there are readers checking it out of their library, borrowing SGH from a friend, ordering it online, downloading Sean’s cute head to their e-reader.
And the emails continue. I want to share something I got yesterday that made my life. A girl named Emily did her book report on Sean Griswold’s Head and SHE DID A DIORAMA. On his head. Dioramas are my favorite school project on the planet. I have been known to do diorama’s with my daughters just for the love of diorama. So yes, it boggles my mind that this little-story-that-could found Emily, and that she liked it enough to do this report. It boggles my mind that you’re reading this now, that I do what I do. Truly. Thank you.

Now, let’s take advantage of my misty-eyed pinings. I’m doing a little birthday giveaway to celebrate. Just comment below, I’ll pick a name, and send along a signed copy of Sean Griswold Head. Now, if you make another diorama? I’ll see if I can find you an actual Sean Griswold.

Snow Bunny Retreat

February 25, 2012
Last year, a few of my writing friends met up in snowy Utah for a weekend of food and fun. We affectionately title the weekend SNOW BUNNY, for some funny reason that I can no longer remember. No, it has nothing to do with the this picture wherein I am wearing bunny pajamas and holding the world’s largest gummy worm. Christmas party. You know how it goes
Last weekend, SNOW BUNNY 2.0 went down, with the usual suspects, minus Becca Fitzpatrick, who got sick the day before (and was sorely missed), and plus one of my favorite people on the planet, Irene Latham, a friend from my days of Alabama yore. She’d missed the year before so I was glad she could make it this go around.
My parents have a house near Park City, and in this house lives a 5-foot stuffed moose that my sister-in-law gave my mother as a gift ten years ago (longish story). The moose is so large that sometimes I walk in a room and think it’s a stalker with large ears or one of those dorky beer guzzling hats. Like this…
quite possibly scarier than the moose.
But probably not as scary as that picture of me in the bunny suit. You can see why I didn’t squeeze those pink PJs into my carry-on.
A few trip highlights:
The HGTV dream house: Just a few miles away from where we stayed. Pretty sure I didn’t win, despite the fact that I entered everyday in the hopes of owning my own writing haven. We drove up, tried to sweet talk the security guard into letting us in, then commented, “Wow, it’s not that big in person, huh?” As you do when you see architectular wonders that have been built up in your head for far too long.
Milkshakes: I think that one is self explanatory. Raspberry brownie.
Watching Downton Abbey with people who care about Downton Abbey: I have tried to no avail to get my husband interested in this spectacular show. His take: “It’s just a bunch of British people in period dress being dramatic about history” Direct quote. In other news, he’s very hot, so we forgive his shortcomings. But whoa, the season finale! What a way to go. I anticipate a trip to BN really soon where I buy every book on the “If you like Downton Abbey, you’ll like this” endcap.
Oh. And writing. We did that too. I got some wonderful critique notes on my upcoming contemporary story, and might even have a title for said story. MIGHT.
Now, a weekend later, I am sitting next to my two-year-old’s crib so she can hold my hair and fall asleep while I get back into the blogging swing of things. As lovely as this is… yes. I miss those milkshakes. AND MY FRIENDS.

Snow Bunnies from left: Irene Latham, Me, Rachel Hawkins, Lisa Schroeder, Emily Wing Smith, Becca Fitzpatrick (in spirit), the moose.

I heart you hard, Scholastic and OCCBF!

October 6, 2011

IF you're a teen/have a teen in your possession and IF said teen attends a school in US and IF that school has an English/Reading teacher, than chances are high (roughly 73% by my calculations) that you can have access to scholastic book clubs. And you really want access, like, NOW so you can go to the October TAB book order and order Sean Griswold's Head for the low low LOW price of 5. I already ordered, because i'm narsacistic like that (but not too narsacistic that i know how to spell that word) and also bought another copy of I HEART YOU, YOU HEART ME by Lisa Schroeder and GIRL, STOLEN by April Henry. That's three authors from RAD. Here's the screen shot for SGH. The big surprise bonus was that it's also a featured booktalk title, which you can what here

Isn't he adorbs? Pretty much one of the most exciting things to happen yet as an author. I lived for scholastic book orders when I was a kid, spent all my babysitting money on books. Gleeful fun ordering my own book now as an adult, with daughters over shoulder saying "Buy that best friend journal instead!"
Also, had a fabulous Disney adventure. I think you can't say trip, it has to be adventure, right? I thought I signed a contract that said that. Afterwards, I was the last-minute moderator for the Orange County Children's Book Festival "Keepin it Real" panel with Jessi Kirby, Kirsten Hubbard and Andrew Smith. Someone filmed and posted on YouTube (this happens. Usually when your posture is especially bad and you know you're mom is going to call and say STAND UP STRAIGHT) But nonetheless, here it is. And now, I must away. I will be in Portland this weekend for the WORDSTOCK festival, speaking Sunday on two panels, SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT at 2 and a chat with buddy Lisa Schroeder at 4. See you there!

LA SCBWI conference

August 12, 2011

In the last year or so, I've gone to some great conferences and book festivals and signings and schmoozes and get togethers. They're all fun, I meet great people everywhere I go, and I always come home and nap for about three weeks afterwards. Don't worry–I put some cereal on the table for my kids and turn on Disney channel. I have learned children can survive months with these basic staples.
But my most favoritest concert in the galaxy is LA SCBWI aka kids camp for kids writers. At other writerly shin digs, I'm either speaking or signing or meeting important people, and this all means I have to prepare and worry and put on my professional face (which closely resembles my fun face, just with more twitching). At this conference,  I can sit in the lobby and talk with writing friends I only get to see every year. Yes, I also go to classes taught by acclaimed, wise authors, BUT i was so gold star in high school that i never ditched so I have to live out those fantasies now. At writing conferences. That I paid for. 
This years conference, although an utter blast, was also bittersweet, remembering my dearly missed friend, LK Madigan. Our first in-person meeting happened two years ago in the conference hallway, and no, she was not wearing pants. Good times. Another best writing bud, Lisa Schroeder, was also noticeably absent, but she did come to Las Vegas to see the band LIFEHOUSE the previous weekend, and we played with my girls and ate cupcakes and had an overall grand time. I don't have a picture of us, because I am THE WORST at documenting major life events, but here is one picture from the poolside conference.

And now some highlights from the conference.

1. Author signing
I'm used to going to signings and having the majority of buyers either not know who I am or have not yet read my book. At the published author reception, i spoke with other writers who knew me and my work and it was pretty hard not to reverse fan girl and thank them for reading. Having readers is still pretty mind blowing, truly. Also, that people spend their money on my book? Forgetaboutit.

2. Adjoining rooms
Like I said, seeing friends is the best part of the conference for me, and this group of Utah authors are some of my favorite. I don't have an in-person writing group in Las Vegas, but I do travel to Salt Lake City regularly, so I'm like an occasional honorary member at their lunch table. Brodi Ashton (upcoming book is EVERNEATH. I will blog about this book in January. It is on my top 5 YA list for the year) had the idea, and lo, the adjoining rooms were genius. Along with Bree Despain (THE DARK DIVINE) and Emily WIng Smith (BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE), we had many late night giggles with the doors between our room open. Seriously, like camp, minus campfire and plus king-sized beds and maid service and balconies and room service. Which is how I like to roll.

3. The pajama party
I was bummed that the annual ball wasn't dress up this year, until I got my PJs on. And then I realized it is easier to cabbage patch in pink slippers and plaid pants. I am also in professional love with this DJ. Yes, if I say PROFESSIONAL, than it is totally kosher. And this was a professional conference, so…


4. Libba Bray made me cry. Twice.
Tears 1: Libba Bray (Printz winner, bestseller, author of BEAUTY QUEENS and A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY) gave a hilarious talk about writing the third book in her career launching trilogy. Did I mention I too am finishing the third book in my trilogy? She said it was hard. That she had to rewrite the entire book. That she was late on deadline, that she was a mess and… this is Libba Bray. This is an author who, from my internet vantage point, seemed to always have her stuff together. So wow, even the incomparable Libba Bray feels those same crazy feelings I've been going through? I'm not alone? This is NORMAL?  I'm NORMAL? 
Tears 2: Running into Libba Bray, and explaining to her that no one understands me but her and we should be best friends now, all while holding a blow up monkey I found on the ground at the dance. And using said monkey to wipe my tears. Impression? Made. Restraining order? Filed.

5. Craft
The best class I attended craft-wise was by Bruce Coville on intersecting plot and character. I took seven pages of notes. I replotted out my next MG idea. I do not feel like rewriting these notes now, but I will. Or, uh, link to someone who typed notes. Yeah, I'm a tease.

6. My agent. Agents.
I love her. My agent–Sarah Davies. Whenever I get the chance to spend time with her, I do, even if it means flying down for a conference during deadline (Which We Will Not Speak Of). Because Sarah? Makes things happen. During this trip, I also had a chance to meet with my film agent, Jason Dravis, and talk about some possibilities for various, er, works. Vague, much? Yes. But possibility is always lovely.

7. Close Encounters of the Author Kind

My daughter just started The Magic Tree House books, and keeps begging me to write a chapter book that she can read now. Since that is impossible, being as publishing takes eons and kids grow up, I did the next best thing and took a picture with Mary Pope Osbourne. Notice the glint in my eye. I can't decide if it's excitable or manic. 

Lunch with authors that I stole from Leigh Fallon. We moved for the picture. We didn't eat Last Supper style the whole time.
(from the left) Josephine Angelini (Starcrossed), Bree Despain (The Dark Divine), Brodi Ashton (Everneath), Lindsey Leavitt (Princess For Hire),  Lani Woodland (Intrinsical), Leigh Fallon (Carrier of the Mark), Morgan Shamy (writer), Alexandra Monir (Timeless), Gretchen McNeil (Possess).

And now! Back to that deadline. I am painfully behind due to these two back to back deadlines, so please forgive my lack of blogging and/or email response. I should be back sometime in, oh, 2012. That is the year after this one, right?

The Things We Keep

July 10, 2011

My Grandpa Keith passed away last week at 92. Whenever I note his death, I feel a need to mention his age. He’d lived a very full life, and each year that he aged, we knew that he didn’t have much time left.
I thought knowing something was inevitable translated to being prepared. And I was wrong. I will miss him very much– miss him for me, but especially for my father, my aunt, and my wonderful uncle who took care of grandpa for any years.
In the closet of my father’s summer home are stacks of boxes filled with my grandpa’s life. I happened upon these boxes one night (happened=waited until everyone in the house was asleep so I could search the loot) and spent the next hour learning more about my grandpa than I had in my entire life. From a box.
Journals, letters, pictures, annotations, golf cards, file folders, paper clips, stuff. Stuff. Stuff. And so many questions. Who was this lady who kept writing during WWII and referencing an apple tart. Was the tart a joke or code? Who were all these people in the pictures? When did he sell real estate? Why didn’t I know that? And why was THIS stuff important, why were THESE the things he kept?
There was a person I knew, and that person i’ll treasure. He was my grandfather, and a good one at that. We saw each other a couple of times a year at best, with years sometimes passing in between. Our visits were often brief and surface, especially at the end when grandpa wasn’t always lucid. I was just a few pictures in those many, many boxes, but all those pictures and people and relationships formed the man he was. But one thing I got out of this past week is this–
I might not have known everything about him, but I knew something, and that something was pretty special.