I’ll be at Chapters/Indigo in North Vancouver, signing and schmoozing with five other Vancouver area authors on August 6th.
Come for a visit and enter to win a Chapters gift card!
I’ll be at Chapters/Indigo in North Vancouver, signing and schmoozing with five other Vancouver area authors on August 6th.
Come for a visit and enter to win a Chapters gift card!
As you might expect I’m pretty happy about my deal. I’m supremely grateful to my new agent, Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency, and I’m super excited to be working with Simon & Schuster editor Zareen Jaffrey. I have a lot of work ahead of me. Right now we’re just starting on edits to book one in this series. After that I’ll have to write book two. Then there will be edits to that and so on. Not to mention all the promotional stuff I’ll be doing.
But I want everyone who reads this to know a little bit about the work behind me too. I started writing this book in 2011. It got pushed aside for many reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve written and sold five books in the meantime, one each year for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and one on the way this year – Pandas on the Eastside.
So Zero Repeat Forever is something that has been percolating for a long time. Early this year I figured out that I finally had it in the condition I wanted it – this was after two “page one rewrites” (that is, completely starting the book again, from page one – twice) and countless revisions (based on multiple readers’ notes). Having it in a good state to sell put me in a position where I needed to make some hard decisions. Perhaps the hardest was changing agents. I’ve worked with a lot of agents over the years as a screenwriter and novelist (and as the mother to a child actress) and I’ve learned how important it is to have the right agent to match your goals.
I knew what I was looking for. I spent weeks perfecting my query. I sent it out to a long list of agents. I had A LOT of rejections. A LOT. I wanted every agent who read my query to drop everything they were doing and demand to read my manuscript but that’s not how it turned out. Agents are busy. They have individual tastes and stuff they are and aren’t looking for. Most of the agents I queried were not looking for what I was selling. That’s the way it goes.
If you’re an aspiring writer reading this and you take away one thing, let it be this:
YOU WILL BE REJECTED. A LOT. Just as a visual aid, consider that the bulk of querying – probably about 80-90% — has been done by email. Also consider that about 50% of queries I sent by post never got any reply at all. So bear that in mind the below represent the rejections I received on about 5-10% of my queries over the years. This, in other words, is 5-10% of my rejection letters:
The moral: NEVER, EVER GIVE UP. I believed there was an audience for my book and I stuck with that belief. I knew if anything was going to be my breakthrough book it would be Zero Repeat Forever. And it was. Because among those many rejections were a few agents who saw what I saw and my beta readers saw. Adventure, romance, intrigue, suspense, originality.
A book that would sell.
I knew Barbara Poelle was the right agent for me the first time we spoke on the phone. After the usual discussion of her thoughts on the book etc I took a deep breath and confessed my dream scenario for Zero Repeat Forever.
“I want a multi-book deal, sold at auction for six figures to a big five publisher”
I expected her to snort, but I was wrong. I don’t think Barbara is a snorter so much. She very calmly said: “I think that’s reasonable.” I knew from her track record that she could do for me what she did for NYT Bestseller Lauren DeStefano amongst others. I signed with her the next day. Ten days later I had a publishing deal.
A two book deal
Sold at auction
For six figures
With Simon & Schuster.
I would never say “everyone can do what I did”. That’s the kind of misleading doublespeak Kindle marketing gurus spit out to get you to buy their Kindle books about marketing Kindle books. I’m not sure if there are some people who could never write a publishable book. But I do know that some books just aren’t publishable. Some of my books will never be published. They’re not good.
And to get published and/or sell books you need two things:
You have to find people who will tell you the truth about your book. You have to listen to people who criticize your book. You have to make your book better. And you have to not give up. Because at the end of the day there are really only two reasons why you might not be successful as an author:
So that’s my advice summed up. If you want to be a successful author write good books and don’t give up.
For someone like me, social media is a scary and unpredictable place. As much as I love being a reasonably well-known author, I don’t really want to be a well-known person. That is, I don’t want to share most of the non-fiction of my life. In fact the idea is slightly terrifying. I make characters up so I don’t have to let people know me. I guess this is why most of my Facebook posts are just silly things I thought of after two glasses of wine.
Sometimes my fingers twitch to comment on something that everyone is commenting on, to share something that everyone is sharing, to express outrage when everyone is expressing outrage. But I’ve never been one to follow the pack. So much social media seems to be about people angling for approval, acceptance or membership in some ephemeral justice club, the entrance criteria of which change day by day. It starts to feel like a race that no one can ever win, that never ends. It feels pathological to me.
But today, someone posted a story I can’t stop thinking about. No it’s not #CeciltheLion and no it’s not more horrific details about #SandraBland. It’s this story, about a female passenger being asked to move on an airplane because an ultra-orthodox Jewish man didn’t want to sit next to a woman. It seems a small thing, we’ve all changed seats on planes for various reasons – to accommodate a family or someone with a disability for example – but in those cases anyone would be asked if they minded moving, not just women. The more I tried to get on with my day the more I found this story haunted me. Not because it happened – I read stories of discrimination and abuse against women everyday – but because of the way other passengers reacted. Because of the way the world reacted.
Was it with outrage and solidarity like in this story? Was it with calls for boycotts and lawsuits like in this story? It was neither. The passengers, from all reports, mostly reacted with frustration that the flight was being delayed. Social media, apart from one of my feminist friends who can always be relied upon, has been mostly silent. And this is not an isolated incident. This has been happening with increasing frequency for some time. Nor is it limited to plane travel. But no one seems to care.
Maybe it’s because people think that this is not important; after all the female passengers in question still get to fly. The female riders of the publically funded bus still get to ride – at the back of the bus, like Rosa Parks did, until she got snippy about it.
That was sarcasm by the way, in case you’re uncertain.
The reason it affected me so much today is because it reminded me of a story I read long ago (before social media) about Rick Swope, who saved a chimpanzee from drowning at the Detroit Zoo in 1990. When asked why he attempted something so dangerous (chimpanzees can be lethally strong) this was Swope’s reply: ‘Well, I looked into his eyes. And it was like looking into the eyes of a man. And the message was, “Won’t anybody help me?”’
That’s how I would have felt on that flight. I would have been thinking: “I’m a human being. Won’t someone stand up for me?”
Somehow, in 2015, we’ve arrived in a world where the rights of trans women to use the restroom of their choice, of lesbian women to have wedding cakes, or of Muslim women to drink a whole can of Diet Coke seem to have more universal support than the rights of any woman to just, you know, exist in a public place. I’m FOR restroom equality. I’m even, in theory for cake and coke equality (though both of these things are bad for you); I’m just wondering where are the voices of outrage about the everyday, universal, deeply ingrained and millennia old micro and macro aggressions against women – straight women, gay women, trans, queer and bi women, Muslim women, Jewish women, Black women, white women, Asian women, women with disabilities, single women, married women, young women and old women – women who are victimized simply for being women. It happens everywhere, every day, in a million different ways, for a million different “justifications”.
Won’t anybody help us?
What happened to the feminist movement? It seems these days to be mostly about the rights of young women to dress like hookers at school and bare their nipples in public pools. What happened to wage equality? To maternity leave? To reproductive rights? What happened to the simple idea that a woman is entitled the same rights and privileges as a man? To the same dignity? In public, in private, everywhere. Step ONE is to treat us like PEOPLE.
It is horribly insulting to be asked to move to accommodate the preferences of a passenger who doesn’t want to sit next to “a person like you”. Imagine the outrage if a white supremacist passenger asked to not be seated next to a black person (in fact there is a, likely apocryphal, story about this floating around social media). What if someone didn’t want to sit next to a Muslim, or an Orthodox Jew? Social media flew into a rage over men being asked not to sit next to unaccompanied minors despite the fact that numerous cases of children being molested in just such circumstances exist. And yet, after extensive searching I have yet to come up with a single incident involving a woman damning the soul of an Orthodox Jew or any other man with her Jezebel ways on a plane.
The value of the misogynist preferences of certain religions outweighs the value of the dignity of women. That sickens me. The irony of it is that literally the ONLY valid justification for wanting to choose the gender of your seat mate would be for women to prefer to sit next to another woman to avoid the harassment most of us have endured on commercial flights at least once. I’m 48 years old, fat and antisocial. The last time I flew, a man of about 25, on learning I was an author, eagerly shared a page of a book he was reading with me – it was a sex scene.
I didn’t ask to move. I just laughed and went back to my own book.
I’ll be giving a workshop in the Festival of Trees on May 12th and I’ll be visiting two Toronto Public Library Branches on May 13th: Maria Schukha Branch Library at around 9:15 and the McGregor Park Branch Library at 4:30.
If anyone has any other ideas about what I can do in Toronto I’m all ears. I arrive late on the 10th and leave midday on the 14th.
Readers, I’m hitting the road tomorrow and it just occurred to me to let you know. As some of you may have heard, I was recently nominated for a BC Book Prize – The Sheila A. Egoff Prize for Children’s Literature. The nominated book is CAPRICIOUS and in all sincerity I am humbled and honored. As one of the nominees I’m doing a little tour of BC, starting tomorrow.
As such I have a couple of events coming up in Regional BC. If you happen to live in those regions I would love to see you. here are the details:
This blog post is a perfectly understandable reaction to the fact that no one has been paying much attention to me lately. I don’t mean my family and friends and people that I should actually expect to pay attention to me, I mean the world. I mean everyone. Everyone stop what you’re doing and look at me.
Since I’m a writer, this first paragraph will be the obligatory paragraph bemoaning, in a number of variously odious ways, the death of literature. I will begin by castigating anyone who enjoys reading books for teenagers, including and especially teenagers themselves. I will name-drop a selection of books I’m pretty sure I read but about which I remember nothing, and loudly declare that they have more literary worth than several other books of which I personally own three copies each. At least one of the books I disparage will be written by a woman now worth more than the gross national product of Lithuania. I will repeatedly point out that these are very Badly Written Books, as though there is some machine somewhere that measures badly-writteness in exact numbers.
Having found that my despair over the death of literature cannot be summed up in one paragraph, I will continue, this time in a brief paragraph comprised of a witty take-down of eReaders and eBooks. I will pepper it with stories of people I have observed on public transit and how the world was a much better place when I could see that the handsome, bespectacled, be-goateed boy across from me on the Yonge Street Night Bus was reading Life Before Man. Despite the fact that I never take public transit (in fact I rarely leave my house) I will recall wistfully looking at a man in a pea coat and speculating with some horror that for I could tell from his featureless black eReader, he might be reading Atlas Shrugged. The world was just a more open and friendly place when men were men and books were books, I will say.
And now, having said that last I will have to depart from the topic of books briefly to loudly declare my support for anyone whose gender or sexual orientation differs from my own cis-gendered femaleness, with the conspicuous exception of those who were born and remain male, of course, because they don’t need any support. This whole topic will fizzle out rather quickly because it will become horribly apparently that I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. Hoping no one noticed, I will move back into the realm of publishing, where at least I can claim some level of, if not exactly expertise, then at least experience.
And speaking of publishing, I will hoe into “self-publishing” as though it is the source of both the ebola virus and that song from Frozen that no one will ever forget. I will begin by brazenly criticizing a very successful book I haven’t read and the associated movie I haven’t seen. I will go on to say that this book I haven’t read is “Very Badly Written”, because presumably I have taken the time to run it through the “write-o-meter” mentioned above, and I will end by pointing out that the hero of this badly written book is in fact a rapist (as though to say that a well-written book about a rapist would be okay, or even a badly written book NOT about a rapist). I will quote several lines from this book out of context that support this accusation. I will not take the agency of the female author, protagonist or readers into account. I will make it clear that I believe most women are too weak or stupid to know when they have or have not been raped.
No, I will say. This is what it is and that’s final.
Now, having done my due diligence on the book du jour, I will broaden my ire to include all of self-publishing (despite the fact that the book in question was not self-published). I will say a number of things about indie authors. They are talentless hacks, for example, or they are ruining publishing. They don’t charge enough for their books, I will complain, as though it’s the author’s choice to have their big six publisher take 95% of the cover price. Indie publishing is not real, publishing, I will conclude. Real publishing has men and reviews in the New York Times and university professors for god’s sake. Does indie publishing have any of those things? DOES IT?
Having exhausted the topic of publishing will not weary me, because for a blogger in search of attention no topic is too unlikely. For this reason I will briefly speculate on the color of a dress and what it says about us, apart from the fact that for a couple of blissful days nothing happened in the world involving rape, racism or Islamophobia (often all three) and we were reduced to discussing something so brain-meltingly dumb that it was as though the entire world was being punked by some alien race.
And speaking of racism and Islamophobia, this is the paragraph in which I will not pass up an opportunity to express to the world how charmingly liberal I am, despite being white, straight, nominally Christian, English speaking and middle class. I will achieve this by quoting a lot of people who are none of these things in a way that make it seem like I really understand where they’re coming from. I mean I really get it, you know? I will make sure that it seems like my appreciation of these under-represented voices is just as important as the voices themselves, if not more so. Because I’m so charmingly white and liberal.
At this point I will nervously realize that all the books I mentioned as being worthy in my second paragraph were written by white men, so I will go back and add Beloved by Tony Morrison and White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I will feel rather smug about the fact that I have in fact read both of those, as though reading a book a by a black woman is some kind of revolutionary act for a white middle class Canadian housewife. Sing it sista, I will think to myself as I write, though of course I won’t write those words, because that would be appropriation.
My tone might take on a certain rantiness at this point, because I will begin to realize that in fact I truly don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about on most subjects, not just the ones addressed in this blog post. I will rant about many things ranging from the NSA to GMOs, the NDP and PDAs. In fact this paragraph will resemble nothing more than a bowl of organic gluten free vegan alphabet soup as I vainly search for that one final chunk of witty bloggerly wisdom that will fix me firmly in the zeitgeist du jour of the day. Live long and prosper, I will bleat desperately. The dress is blue! No, white! No, black! No, gold!
I am the dress. I will conclude, inscrutably. All of us are the dress.
I love giving workshops and seminars, especially to teens and children. Today I got an envelope full of thank you cards from a recent visit to a grade nine class. Here are some of the gems:
“I learned how hard and how much effort goes into making a book”
“Thank you for coming in and talking to our class about different types of poetry and sharing your book AUDACIOUS with us. I really enjoyed learning about found poetry and verse novels”
“Thank you extremely for presenting and helping inform us on finer more forgotten literature”
“You have made me realize poems can be very fun to write”
“Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. I personally enjoyed your visit because I am currently working on a short novel myself.”
I really appreciate every comment, guys. Keep’m coming.
It’s Banned Books Week again! I LOVE Banned Books Week! it’s better than Halloween!
Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. For more information on Banned Books Week, click here. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.
I live in hope that my book AUDACIOUS will one day make the list of most challenged books so in that spirit I’m giving it away! If you’re wondering why this YA verse novel might be banned, I’ll give you a hint. It starts with C.
This is a US/Canada only giveaway for physical books but the good news is that I am giving away an eBook if an international entrant wins!
Sixteen year old Raphaelle is that girl who says the wrong thing, who crosses the wrong person, who has the wrong hair, the wrong body, the wrong attitude, the totally wrong clothes. She can’t do anything right, except draw, but she draws the wrong pictures. When her father moves the family to a small prairie city, Raphaelle wants to leave behind the misfit rebel, the outcast, the vengeful trouble-maker she was. Reborn as “Ella,” she plans fit in at her new school, while her perfect younger sister goes to the Catholic girls’ school and her emotionally fragile mother looks for a job. But Ella might just be a different kind of misfit. She’s drawn to a brooding boy in her art class, Samir, and expresses her confused feelings in an explicit artwork. When a classmate texts a photo of Ella’s art to a younger friend, the horrendous fallout spreads though Ella’s life like an uncontrollable disease. Ella is expelled from school and faces pornography charges, her mother is hospitalized, her sister fails all her classes, and her distant father finally notices something is wrong.
AUDACIOUS was a CLA Award finalist and won the Westchester Award for Best YA Fiction.
See some AUDACIOUS reviews here.
And to make it even more fun, I’ll be giving away the sequel, CAPRICIOUS too.
To enter all you have to do is follow the blog and let me know in the comments if you have added the book on Goodreads, Tweeted or Facebooked the giveaway and I will give you an extra entry. Good Luck. Don’t forget to visit the rest of the blogs participating in the Giveaway Hop (there are a lot of them!). You can find the list here.
Readers, my fifteen minutes is here. No less than TWO newspaper features (no more, either. It was just the two) this last month have launched me into the public imagination (probably not, but it sounds good). Anyway, my duties as writer in residence for Vancouver Public Library include three public readings this September. If you’d like to come and here me read from my latest book, I’d be delighted to see you.
Here are the details:
The inaugural Writer in Residence reading will be on September 17th at Vancouver Public Library Central Branch.
Wednesday, Sept. 17; 7 p.m.
Alice MacKay Room, lower level
Central Library, 350 W. Georgia St.
Admission is free. All are welcome!
I will also be doing TWO readings at The Word Festival in Vancouver. These will be at 1:45 as part of the Canada Writes program and at 4pm on the Poetry on the Bus bus.
There will be books for sale at both events and I would be happy to sign them for you.
I hope to see you all there!
Also, don’t forget, if you live in the Vancouver area and would like a private consultation with me about your writing, you need only apply through the VPL Writer in Residence page.
This Tumblr post resonated with me particularly strongly with me today, given the week I’ve had. The general gist of it was Malinda Lo responding to comments expressing a wish that “*bestselling author*” would include POC/LGBT characters in their books, by suggesting to the commenters that they read other authors who do. On the face of it she could mean any NON bestselling authors (which would be great for me, since I’m a non-bestselling author who includes POC and LGBT characters in my books) but actually I think she means POC and/or LGBT authors like herself.
Which is good advice, only slightly marred by the fact that Malinda Lo’s latest books feature a white character on the cover (though she is bisexual).
Some pundit commented back to Malinda’s Advice in a, I think rather hostile way. Then Holly Black pointedly and entertainingly got Malinda’s back. The most striking phrase of Holly’s reply was:
“…reading a book with a diverse cast written by JK Rowling or myself or any other white straight cisgendered writer isn’t the same as reading a book written by a person of color or a LGBTQ+ writer.”
I think she’s referring to diverse books by diverse authors as opposed to any old books by diverse authors. (As an illustration, Oscar Wilde was famously gay. Reading The Importance of Being Earnest does little to further the LGBT awareness in the reader).
Holly is right too, though. Holly and Malinda both speak the truth.
But the more I think about it, the more I think the original commenter also has a good point. If we passively accept bestselling “mainstream” (I’m going to use this term to mean white, cisgendered etc) authors continuing to produce monochrome/mono-gendered etc. books, we are failing in a catastrophic way to address the sources of the problem that began this discussion in the first place – the ubiquity of what I like to call Super-Cardboard-Character.
And what does that failure mean? This week I found out.
I taught at a five day long camp for teen writers at the Vancouver Public Library. As an invited author I can conduct a workshop on a topic of my choosing. Last year I had a blast with the kids talking about poetry, verse and verse novels. This year I wanted to try something different. Perhaps foolishly, for a mainstream white writer, I wanted to talk about diversity. I wanted these kids to leave the workshop with their minds wide open. Over the course of the week I saw 48 kids. 48 – remember that number.
Before I go on I should say something about the racial/cultural diversity amongst teens in Vancouver, Canada. I don’t have exact figures but according to the public school board about 60% of Vancouver students speak a language other than English at home. While some of these would be white Europeans it’s worth pointing out that in Canada Francophone kids have their own school board and schools if they choose. Most of these kids who speak languages other than English at home would be non-white. This does not count those who speak English at home but still identify as non-white (Aboriginal Canadians for example, make up about 4% of public school kids in Vancouver. Mostly they speak English at home).
Long story short – about half of the kids in my workshop were visibly NOT white.
I began the workshop by getting the kids to fill out a questionnaire about what they were writing. The first question was “what is the race/culture/ethnicity of your protagonist?”
On Monday ALL TWELVE kids answered “white”.
On Tuesday eleven out of twelve answered “white”
On Wednesday ten out of twelve answered “white”
On Thursday I had a group, about half of which had been in my workshop last year. Seven of them answered “white”
In all just eight kids out of forty eight were writing about someone who was not white. About 16%. Looking at my classes I could see that between 40-60% of them were not white.
The rest of my questions, which concerned gender identity, body type, disabilities or visible differences, beauty and economic class didn’t fare much better. These kids represented all cultures and races, language groups, economic classes and body types. A few of them were certainly LGBT (they admitted as much in class, a not unusual thing in Vancouver these days) and likely at least a few had disabilities. They were all gorgeous vibrant young people, but some in less Hollywood ways than others.
Almost all of them were writing about “Super Cardboard Character” who was white, straight, able bodied, conventionally attractive with a fit, average height physique and an economically privileged existence.
Most of them were not developed enough as writers to have been making these choices for the tired “books about POC characters don’t sell” excuse. Most of them had not even thought about it.
Most of them had neglected to assign a race or other diverse criteria to their character, thinking instead about plot, world building etc. In other words they had, for the time being, slotted in a “neutral” character. The only thing is that “white” is not a neutral cultural designation. “Straight” is not a neutral gender orientation. I don’t need to go on. You get the picture.
Here’s the saddest part. When my students had this revealed to them, I could tell they were horrified. Even a little ashamed. I spent the rest of the workshop explaining to them why it’s not their fault. Superheroes, Disney Princesses, Shakespeare, Fairy Tales and MANY classic children’s books that we all grew up with have inculcated them with the idea that “stories are for white people”.
Let me demonstrate. Here is The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Tell me, what is the ethnicity/culture of this caterpillar?
“Come on,” some of you are saying. “It’s a caterpillar. It doesn’t have a ethnicity.”
Oh really? Look at what it eats:
No lychee or plantain, no wontons or tempura, no tacos, no naan, no sushi, no pork rolls, no okra, jalapenos, bok choy or yams. Not even a mango.
Now tell me again the culture of the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
The idea that stories are for white people is so pervasive and DEEPLY ingrained in young readers that when it comes time to write their own stories the characters that naturally come out neither reflect the community in which that kid lives nor, in many cases their own diverse designations. To suggest that the solution is for readers to buy books by writers of color is at best a band-aid solution, geared more towards, it seems to me, spreading the wealth of the publishing industry equitably than actually confronting the issue.
It is absolutely critical that we address this problem head on. And yes that includes saying “Yo, John Green. White much?” What if everyone stopped buying John Green’s books and purchased instead one of the below books, all written by authors of color (some of whom are bestsellers), would that help?
It would help those authors, certainly, but would it help young people of various diverse designations see themselves in books? On book covers? Would it help disabuse them of the notion that “stories are for white people”? No, because all the people on these covers are white.
What if, instead they purchased the below books by bestselling white authors?
Like the saying goes: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I think it’s fair to want and expect “mainstream” bestselling writers to write diverse characters at least occasionally. I don’t think the writing of these characters in any way prevents writers of color from being successful at telling their own stories. Bestselling authors take shelf space away from ALL non-bestselling authors whether they are diverse authors or not, whether the stories are diverse or not.
We can maybe ask them to take a long holiday and give a few new people a chance, but somehow I don’t think they’ll go for it. Instead we could just keep asking them to diversify their writing. My first thought is for my diverse readers and students. It breaks my heart to see them feel so excluded from the adventures that they love to read. And I want the books that reflect their identities to be bestsellers because only finding themselves in the nichy corners of the book world is almost worse in a way. The success of my diverse colleagues is secondary, though, of course, not entirely unconnected, especially if they actually write diversely. If a diverse book by a diverse author becomes a bestseller it is a double win. I’m all for it.
But in the meantime, would it have been so bad if the Harry Potter series had looked like this?