Like many people watching the President and the first family on November 7, I was struck by how tall Malia and Sasha have become. Wait! When did they grow up so fast?
My next thought: Is it too late for them to read my middle-grade novel?
For Malia, 14 and a high school freshman at Sidwell Friends, the answer is yes. But if I could be so bold, I think Sasha, 11, would love My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer.
This brazen idea came to me last spring when President Obama came out in support of gay marriage on May 9, just two days before my book launched. I wanted to send him the book as a thank you but I knew it was impossible to just send it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Here's what I did:
We're all connected, right? We're on Facebook, Twitter, blogging and monitoring all our digital connections.
And yet, I've become aware of spinning and spinning online; building ties and promoting, yes, but the virtual, in the end, is fleeting.
In college, I wrote my senior thesis on the works of E.M. Forster. (Look, here's my ancient edition!) Now, I confess, I don't remember the thrust of my argument, but I do know I was drawn to Forster's epigraph: Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. For Margaret in Howard's End, it was her hope to reduce the inevitable inner solitude that isolates humans.
When we make human connections, we nurture compassion. As Gary Schmidt (my new hero!) reminded us at the LA SCBWI conference, “Write the stories that will give kids more to be human beings with.” His five dictums to authors are: "Love the world. Love words. Make wonder. Pay attention. Make the writing serve." Read Schmidt's Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy to know how it's done.
It's what I've tried to do with My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer. As one librarian noted, the story "allows opportunities to understanding love."
The highest calling, I believe, is to write the truth. This is hard. "Make an authentic connection between author and reader," said Arthur Levine. "Truth is timeless."
I'm not the first to observe that social media is just another way people try to escape the isolation that plagues us. But perhaps the answer is to read (and write) more true, wonderful books to connect with our inner humanity.
"What would 10-year-old you want to read that grownup you can make?" With that one stroke, artist Tony Diterlizzi rocketed the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators into an incredible weekend of workshops and speeches. More than 1200 of us came together in LA to learn (and yes, to dance!).
My best guess is that I last attended 10 years ago. That's too long! It was great to come back as an author and to continue to learn. If you're a pre-published writer (as they call it), you can gather your own inspiration from the official blog of the SCBWI conference here.
Here is my favorite advice (culled from twitter!):
"Great writers use anticipation more commonly than surprise." -- Arthur Levine
"Separate the writer from the editor, the editor from the critic, and dump the critic." -- Karen Cushman
"Look to see what might have washed up on the shores of your story." -- Cushman quoting Tim Wynne-Jones
"Don't burn your manuscript; instead, set your heart on fire." -- Ruta Sepetys
"Quiet holds emotions. Make time for ideas to emerge." -- Deborah Underwood
"In a culture that has ceased to cherish its children, you are called to service....to cherish your readers." -- Gary Schmidt
There is nothing better than being in the society of your peers. And the reason I write was reaffirmed: To tell the truth.
In San Francisco on June 24, thousands marched in the annual Pride Parade--a wonderful splashy show of love in all its forms.
Started more than 40 years ago, many longtime gay activists said the next generation gives them hope--for a better future.
Even with the strides made, bullying of gays or even kids who don't fit the mold continues to be a problem. Middle school is the worst, with almost everyone suffering a consuming and terrible desire to fit in. For those who can't, the school days are miserable. Too many hope to remain invisible. I was lucky; too bookish, I stared aloofly off into space, fooling no one into believing I wanted to be alone.
So yes, it's great to see the kaleidoscope colors of Pride. Hooray for a celebration of difference!
And for those who want to know what to read, check out Lee Wind's excellent website "I'm here, I'm queer, what the hell do I read?"
So here's to standing on the side of love, always.
For everyone who aspires to write a book, it's true -- there is nothing more thrilling than opening that first box of hardcover books and seeing your name on the cover. Yet lately I've been struck by something more. I'm even more amazed by all the helping hands.
Promoting MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER is like balancing on a log, trying to stay on top -- and every hand extended fills me with gratitude. The hands that are keeping my feet from slipping into oblivion belong to:
Writing is solitary work. It's just me and my computer (although I often talk to myself as a I puzzle out plot). Selling is social -- and I thank everyone for pitching in and helping me get across the stream!
That's how people in the publishing business talk about a book's release day. A new story has been born; my wish is that many children, teachers, and librarians discover the story of June and one summer in Vermont.
When I was 15, I wanted to be a writer. Who knew it would take this long? That's the topic of an upcoming New Voice guest interview on Cynsations.
Do you remember being a teenager? Everything is so uncertain, and yet as adults we know it gets better. To alleviate the isolation some kids feel, two writers launched a website of letters from authors to their younger selves. If only we knew! Here's my Dear Teen Me letter.
These days, it's just as important to appear in the blogosphere as it is to do book readings. But I will be making a couple of public appearances. Check my Visits & Posts page for updates.
And let's make a wish for a berry good summer!
On the heels of my last post, I'm awed by my good fortune to win the attention of the Association of Booksellers for Children. MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER was selected as one of twelve novels to earn a spring New Voices award!
And I love the company I'm in! Check out Hannah Barnaby, Augusta Scattergood and Caroline Starr Rose (I loved May B.). There's more: Marilyn Sue Shank, Carole Geithner, Cynthia Levinson, Jennifer Shaw Wolf, Marissa Meyer, Jesse Andrews, Leigh Bardugo, and Trish Doller.
So thank you so much to the booksellers who spent hours reading all the new releases! Order your books from these folks:
Crowded hallways, subway cars, and airplanes. It's not very comfortable is it? I sometimes get that closed-in feeling, and the only solution is to hold very still, as if I am disappearing.
Some crowds are just too many people in a small space. Other crowds can feel bigger than they are, especially if they are menacing.
That's the way June feels when she finds herself in the middle of a hostile crowd outside the library.
Fortunately, the world of book publishing is the first kind of crowd--just too many books in a jammed freeway of information. How can MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER stand out?
With help. Lately I've realized how wonderful the writing community is. Slowly, like a spring vine, I'm connecting with booksellers and authors, fans and friends on twitter and Facebook. Everyone has been so supportive!
The care I've taken with the words and story will show, I hope. The book is baked, and in one month it will be on the shelves, ready for young readers.
Candy hearts, cards, chocolates -- this day can be pretty miserable, especially for anyone in middle school. I can remember being relieved that I wasn't forced to send a card to every classmate as I was in elementary school. But the relief of not doing 24 homemade cards was overshadowed by receiving only one or two from friends.
Valentine's Day gets better, really, when you are older.
Especially when you realize it's OK to celebrate the love you feel for your friends, your dog, and your sister or brother.
This Valentine's Day, I'm thinking about the people in Washington State. They just voted to approve marriage for all. Now, it doesn't matter if two men or two women want to marry. You can marry who you love. That makes seven states, including Vermont, that have legalized gay marriage.
I think that's great. June would, too. In MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER, June encounters some grownups who don't think her mom should be allowed to marry her girlfriend. June struggles to make sense of her new family, and how to stand on the side of love.
You'll have to wait until May to see how the pie gets mixed in.
As you get older, birthdays are smaller affairs and mostly a chance to be with the people you love. This year, my daughters made me an amazing cheesecake (wrong time of year for pie!).
I know what I like for my birthday. How do I get ready for my book's birthday? I'm overwhelmed as I learn how to celebrate the publication of MY MIXED UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER. The big day is 99 days away!
So that means build the buzz, and build it now. So I've revived my twitter account (follow me @JenGenn), I'm blogging more, and joining the conversation more. And I'm inspired by AC Gaughen, and cheering for writer friends, including Kekla Magoon, and supporting independent booksellers.
The good news is people are helping. The sales team is talking about my book this weekend to librarians at ALA midwinter in Dallas. I wish I could see the banner over the table!
The best for me, though, is that soon June's story of pie and courage will be out. Here's hoping readers of all ages enjoy MY MIXED UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER.
Here's what I've been thinking and writing about. I love getting email, too!