In early December, I found out something rather remarkable, to me anyway.
My next book, Nightingale’s Nest – you know that one I wrote a couple of years ago, and knew no one would publish (too quiet, too weird, too Texan, too literary)? But I had to write it anyway, because it was demanding to be written, and I couldn’t rest until I had done it? That book I loved so much, it made all my other books jealous?
That book got THIS. A STAR!!!
Turns out, Kirkus didn’t think Nest was too weird. They thought it was (an) “Unusual, finely crafted story of loss, betrayal and healing.”
Pretty much made my Christmas merry and bright!
So, to celebrate, I’m doing a giveaway of one Advance Reader Copy of Nightingale’s Nest. All you have to do is leave a comment here – “Merry Christmas” will do just fine! (And put your email address, too, so I can notify you if you win!) *Bonus: If you leave your favorite Christmas memory/tradition/story in the comments, I’ll give you TWO entries.
Then I’ll have my kid draw a name on Christmas Eve, and mail the winner a late Christmas gift on Boxing Day (12/26). Merry Christmas! May your skies and eyes be filled with wonder… and stars.
I’m sorry, dear blog readers. I have neglected you for an entire month! I had a lot going on this month, including company from overseas and cookie recipes to perfect for the Exquisite Long-Awaited Season of Baking that’s just ahead.
Baking is a priority, people. A high priority.
So I’m going to jam a whole lot of pictures into this post, and get back to my baking. Oh, and writing, I probably should do some more of that soon. *plans to write with icing on cookies*
Here’s what I’ve been up to:
1. The Library Jubilee Annual Conference in Waco, Texas, which was amazing and fun! (Sorry for the blurry picture, we were having too much fun to focus our cameras.) I gave a keynote speech and got to share my happy librarian memories – as well as stories from a ton of author friends. It was awesome.
Coordinator Sherry McElhannon and I helped convince all the Region 12 Texas librarians of their innate rock star-ishness earlier this month.
2. Then Sam Bond, one of my favorite writer friends in the world, and a founding member of the Soup Salon, had her debut book launch party in November! The book, Operation Golden Llama, is the first in what will be a series of around-the-world middle grade adventures, featuring five cousins and a cast of intriguing animals and criminals.
My writer friend’s debut book! So cute and super fun to read. But some now!
The first book is set in Peru. Look at that amazing cover!
The launch party was packed. And there were LLAMA COOKIES.
3. I was invited to do a special author visit at a high school in Round Rock, Texas. The librarian, Angela, and her lovely assistant Anna, posed for this picture right before the visit.
Check out those great high school librarians.. and their picture book month selection, too! What clever gals. Picture books are perfect for high school.
I taught two writing workshops that day on making memorable characters to some very talented students. It was fun and exciting and slightly scary – I usually teach younger kids. It went well, though – and I have proof! This picture was taken afterwards… and the librarians are still smiling. Thanks to Cedar Ridge, Angela and Anna for hosting me! Y’all are lovely.
4. What else happened in November? OH, my kid also won a third place ribbon with one of his gorgeous goats. Just in case you’re interested in such things. OF COURSE YOU ARE. YOU CARE DEEPLY. (Ignore the fingers in the photo.)
Random photo of my son winning third prize at a goat show. This IS what author blogs are for, right?
5. Last week, we all took a Thanksgiving break to the beach. Then… when I got back from vacation, THIS was waiting for me!
It’s so fluffy!!! In an evil way!
Oh, I love it! The paperback cover for Sinister Sweetness, out on January 16! It’s got shiny places, and matte finish places, and it’s a design my goat show kid came up with. I love it to pieces. What do you think?
Now, back to baking. And, um, writing, yes. That too.
Happy December, friends!
October was a fun month. It started off with a great local event, a winetasting fundraiser for the Dripping Springs Community Library. I emcee’d (a first time for everything!) for special guest, Texas-based singer-songwriter, editor, and author Kasey Lansdale.
Next up was the Texas Book Festival. Lynne Kelly, author of the prize-winning MG novel, CHAINED, came to visit me and my goats.
Don’t worry, Lynne. They don’t attack as long as you stare directly into their eyes. Never look away.
I never knew how cute goats could be. Baby goats especially.
Abatha, world’s cutest goat. Staring at you.
At the Book Festival, I got to hang out at the Writer’s League of Texas tent, watching friends of mine – like Laura Cottam Sajbel, sign their books.
Laura writes fascinating nonfiction! Dive into her new book, BUOYANT – the water’s fine. :)
Then, I got to stand around looking important and drinking champagne with Kelly Bennett, author of tons of books, including Vampire Baby and One Day I Went Rambling, winner of the Writer’s League of Texas picture book category book award.
Kelly is as cute as her book!
A huge thanks to the Writer’s League for choosing my book as the MG/YA category winner! I already spent the money, of course. But the memories will last a lifetime…
After I was done being Fancy People, I got to hang out with some truly Famous Fancy Ridiculously Talented Authors.
Claire signing her latest masterpiece, The Year of Shadows. SO GOOD.
Also, I got to hang our with a Texas librarian, her lucky duck husband, and her awesome kids!
These are the sort of clothes one wears to the Texas Book Festival. :)
How was YOUR October, friends?
Now, on to November! Home of one of my favorite holidays… mmmm, gravy.
The Texas Book Festival is upon us! Flee, flee! No, wait. Don’t flee.* Unless you’re running off to the official site to decide whether to see R. L Stine, Lemony Snicket, Sherman Alexie, Katherine Applegate, Anne Ursu, Claire Legrand… oh, mercy, I’ll never have time to see them all! But, by the power of coffee, I will TRY!
And if you’re there, and happen to want some champagne (and maybe a signed book? Full of scariness and sweets?), I will also be appearing at the Writer’s League of Texas booth (#415) from 12-2 pm on Saturday, as one of the winners of the WLT Book Awards. This is totally cool, and I am super-excited. But please don’t leave me alone at the booth, dear ones. I will have chocolate for you if you visit me.
Now, on to other topics. I started a new book yesterday. Um, no not the one I said I was going to start working on last time. (Pesky good intentions and all…) I got to daydreaming, and came up with this idea for a Middle Grade novel that will be funny… and ultimately tragic… and as controversial as anything I can think of.
I won’t tell you what it’s about. Let’s just say, it hasn’t been done yet, as far as I know. (I WILL call my Friend Who Knows All Kidlit Things soon and ask her if she’s read one like it, of course. Due diligence, yadda yadda.)
I wrote pages of it yesterday and today, and I keep thinking “they’re not going to let me do this.” (“They” being the People in New York who get to decide. My husband also thinks this may be the case, so I’m not being 100% paranoid.)
But the thing is, I don’t write for publication all the time. When it comes down to it, even if a manuscript goes nowhere, I still had the excitement and experience of writing it.
When it comes down to it, this is one of the stories I have to tell, taken both from my own deep dark past and our messed-up American present. I can’t NOT tell it. The protagonist of this one? Is pretty much me, aged ten. Kid Nikki wants me to tell this one.
So, I will.
But it terrifies me, a bit. Of course, I’ve come to enjoy the feeling. It’s like a literary roller coaster that I keep strapping myself into, no seat belts installed in the carriages, no operator to pull the brake…
It’s close my eyes and go time.
Write well, friends, and remember to let yourselves be a little terrified.
And Happy Halloween!
* I was thinking of what I do every time SXSW hits town. Stayin’ safe out here in the boondocks…
So far in my writing career, I’ve discovered a lot of things about myself, my work, and my audience of middle grade readers. But this week, I discovered something about my home state.
It all started when I was invited by the truly lovely Marre Brister, librarian/superstar at Hico Elementary, to visit her school in Hico, Texas.
Superstar Librarians make me happy!
First off, I had no idea where Hico was. Truly, I’d lived in the Hill Country my whole life and never heard of it. And now all I want to do is go back there. The place itself was darling, with immaculately restored early 1900′s buildings, giant murals, and cozy cafes tucked in between cute shops. The town has a motto, posted on the side of the road when you drive into town: “Hico, Texas: Where Everybody is Somebody!” How lovely is that?
And one student’s shirt had a very different, hilarious motto!
The school was gorgeous, the students attentive and excited, asking some of the best questions ever… and the librarian, Marre (shown here with her son, an avid 2nd-grade reader!), made me feel exceptionally welcome.
Marre and son, cutest kid in Hico!
In the goodie bag she put together, Marre included a gift certificate for a piece of pie and a cup of coffee at the Koffee Kup cafe, for a snack on the way out of town.
I didn’t think my day could have gotten better… but as it turns out, it was true. Pie does make everything better.
My new motto.
I’m planning a road trip back soon! There are 13 kinds of pie I wasn’t able to sample, and a chocolate truffle factory (Wiseman House) I didn’t have time to explore, and a bunch of kids I’m going to miss! Thank you, Hico Elementary! You made my week so much brighter.
I have one chocolate truffle left… wait, no. They’re all gone now. :)
More News: Congratulations to my friends Sara Kocek (Promise Me Something) and Amy Rose Capetta (Entangled), on the release of their debut novels! The event at Bookpeople was lovely and memorable. And the books are incredible!
Hooray for Amazing Books!
Oh, and for those of you keeping track, I’m finishing the latest revision of my third book… today! I am ready for the next project. It will be a very different sort of book indeed. (Cue evil laughter…)
Every once in a while, I get asked to do an interview, ostensibly so readers can learn more about me. And sometimes, when the questions are perfectly insightful and meaningful and wonderful… I learn more about myself in the process.
This was the very first time I was asked about my first love in an interview, and I answered honestly. Coincidentally – serendipitously? – I am going back to my childhood backyard this very morning, to take a picture of that first love, so I can talk to kids about it when my love story to it comes out next February. A la recherche du temps perdu, indeed…
I hope you go to Kristina Perez‘s glorious blog, The Madeleine Project, and read my interview, or one of the many others she has there. (Isn’t she wonderfully clever to have come up with this idea? Thank you Kristina, for allowing me to answer your lovely questions.)
There is a lot I do not know about taking care of goats. A LOT. As the new, confused owner of two Boer goats, I can say with confidence that I did not know goats needed quite so much care! There’s the food, water, shelter, minerals, trailer to haul them, brushes, medicines, clippers, shearing equipment, halters and leads… I’m only mentioning a few of the things here, the list is too long. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the training.
Yes, training. You see, these goats aren’t just ordinary goats: they’re show goats (for my ten year old son, who wants to be an animal scientist when he grows up). And while ordinary goats might be able to get by on some hay, a weedy lot, and a tin can or two, show goats take very special care, handling, and constant attention. My son isn’t just raising these goats to be goats: he’s raising them to be the Best Goats Ever. He doesn’t want them to be good goats – he wants them to be GREAT. “Don’t think you’ll win the shows this year,” he hears when he tells people about his goal. “It’s ridiculously hard to win as a new goat owner. Impossible.” He gets this. But does is change how he handles his goats?
Well, maybe. I think it might make him work harder.
And that, dear friends, is how raising goats is exactly like writing novels for publication. You can choose to write just for yourself – think of those regular goats with the tin cans, happily munching away, not a care in the world. But when you choose to step into the show ring, to send your words out into the world to be judged, to be measured against all the other debut and already-published authors, to be held up against classics and best sellers… you have chosen a much harder path. People will tell you to give up. They will tell you “it shouldn’t be this hard.” They will claim it is impossible.
It’s not. But it is incredibly hard. You might have to get up to feed your writing, like my son does his goats, at 5:45 every morning. You might have to spend hours every day training yourself to be a better writer, knowing it could all be for nothing if the judge happens not to like your goat’s haircut… I mean, your style of writing. There will be a stupendous amount you do not know about writing and publication, and you will have to learn it on your own, or hunt for experts to help you, pay for some of that help, buy the materials, trim and clip and shear and revise your work until it measures up to the best.
Your goat/novel might never win. But don’t let that change how you treat your writing.
Well, maybe let it make you work harder.
I’m still learning about writing, Every novel is a new challenge, every page a fresh headache some days. Sometimes, when I get really frustrated writing, I head out to the goats. I let them breathe their sweet alfalfa breath on my cheek, feel their soft fur as they encourage me to scratch their backs, watch them jump and run and leap with cute baby goat abandon.
And then I get up, go back inside, and tackle the page again. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. And at the end of the day, I’ll have scenes I can revise tomorrow… and some seriously cute goats who will listen to me read them, even if no one else does.
I had two lovely bits of news since my last post! First, the lovely Marisa Schouten did an interview with me for a cooking/family blog called FRESH. It went up last week – and she wrote a recipe for Sinister Sweetness to go with it! Lorelei’s Pear and Marzipan Puff Pastry Galette. (A galette, people. That’s fancy.) I’m cooking it for some writer friends next week – it looks divine.
Also, I am going to be signing copies of my *cough, cough* award-winning book, THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY, at the Texas Book Festival, with the Writer’s League of Texas! The signing will be on Saturday, October 26, probably from noon until 2 pm. I’ll give more details later. Hope to see you there!
Every once in a while, a friend of mine – either online or real life – sends me a manuscript to critique or a new book to read. I almost always find myself holding my breath as I open to the first pages and begin. Will it be good? Horrible? Great? Will finishing it be like eating a mountain of goat poo? (By the way, we now have goats at my house, so there may be a lot of goat references from now on. Be warned.)
Or will the novel in front of me catch me by the throat and not let me go until that very last page is turned, and will I be happy – so happy! – for my friend, who has written this amazing thing?
Like I was this week when I read Lori Ann Stephens’ debut YA, Some Act of Vision.
Some Act of Vision by Lori Ann Stephens. No goat poo in sight. ALL AWESOMENESS.
(Published by ASD Publishing – and out today! Go celebrate with Lori here.)
Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
After ten years of ballet lessons, Jordan Walker has finally landed her first principal role in Romeo and Juliet. Sweeter yet, “Romeo” has asked her to the May Fling Ball at Winston High. But a massive Texas earthquake triggered by the fracking activity nearby tears apart the community and Jordan’s future as a dancer. The Walker family survives the earthquake, but wake up the next morning utterly invisible.
On the run from a military with nefarious plans, Jordan and her family are forced to abandon their old lives and flee to Galveston. It isn’t until she meets Caleb, a blind musician, that Jordan dares to hope again. And the more their secret friendship develops, the more Jordan understands the danger she’s placed everyone in.
I had a great time reading this book, and I raced through it. Fast-paced and fascinating, I couldn’t stop reading. I loved the way Lori handled Jordan’s relationship with her little brother, and the love story with Caleb.
Some Act of Vision is great – and I see wonderful things in Lori’s future as a YA writer!
Okay, the names were printed out, cut up, thrown into a bowl, and my kid drew the winner of the Sara Squared Blog Tour… and it is Shelli!
Congratulations, Shelli. You’re going to LOVE these books. I know I did!
And, in Nikki News this week… I may have also won a little thing. (Well, my book won.)
THIS LITTLE THING.
I was jumping for joy! Not only was my book competing against some of my very favorite books published last year (No, seriously, check them out. SO. Good.), but this was an award I used to dream about winning, back before I even had a single finished manuscript to query. Thank you tons and tons, Dear Writer’s League of Texas. You are my favorite ever.
(Oh, my gosh. This means… I am officially an AWARD WINNING AUTHOR. I will have a t-shirt made to commemorate. It will be made of gold threads and unicorn hair. I will wear it until I die.)
So, a very good week! I also finished another draft of my third book, sent it into the
hungry jaws open arms of my agent, and I’m tucking into two manuscripts this week – one to blurb and one for a critique partner.
Oh, and also? Getting back to work on my Wholly Inappropriate YA Delightful Secret Project, which I call Buckets of Blood.
So much to be happy about, so much to look forward to! I hope you’re feeling as unicorn-ish as I am.
I was delighted to be invited to be a part of the Sara2 Blog Tour – and even more delighted when I finished reading both of their amazing books. I may write exclusively MG, but I read YA all the time, and I knew these books were special before I even finished them.
I recommend them wholeheartedly – and I hope you read to the bottom of this hilarious/awesome/thought-provoking duet interview with the authors in question, so you can have the chance to WIN their books, and fall in love with them, too!
And now, to the good stuff…
Q&A with Debut YA Authors Sara Kocek and Sara Polsky
What’s the best thing about being a debut novelist? The worst?
SK: The best part? If I die tomorrow in a freak accident (karma, pay no attention to this) I will have died knowing that I achieved one of my most difficult dreams. The worst part? If I DON’T die tomorrow in a freak accident, I will actually have to watch my friends and family read my book. These are people who have been waiting for years to read my stuff! And now I can’t delay them any further. It’s like that old dream of showing up at school naked…except this might actually be more terrifying.
SP: Hearing from early readers who’ve connected with the book has been the most wonderful part of the experience so far. The hardest thing? I always find it hard to talk about my own projects without rambling on incoherently or getting embarrassed. But at least now I’m getting a lot of practice!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
SK: I knew when I was eight-years-old that I wanted to be a writer someday. But it wasn’t until one afternoon in college that I found out I already was one. I was home for Thanksgiving break and found myself in my childhood bedroom, poking around through my cluttered desk drawers. Buried under some old flash cards and colored pencils was a small diary with a flimsy lock. When I pried it open, I was amused by what I read on the first page: What a stupid little diary. My life is too big to fit in these dinky little lines. However, as I read further, I grew mildly disturbed. There was an entry about a mean piano teacher—I never took piano lessons. There was an entry about my dog’s funeral—I never had a dog. There was even an entry about my trip to France—I never left the country.
I hadn’t written about space travel or magic. Instead, I had filled pages with stories of utter banality—a complete fictional account of what could have been my life. That’s when I knew that on some fundamental level, I was (and always would be) be a writer. It wasn’t something that I would become someday after practicing a lot (although practicing sure helped me get published). It was something I already was. Just like I had brown hair, just like I had weird toes, just like I was five-foot-three. I was a writer. And proud!
SP: I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. I used to make up stories about my stuffed animals and dolls and write them down. But as a teenager and adult, it took me a while to find the courage to try fiction. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be any good at it, so I turned to non-fiction instead, focusing on my academic essays and my school newspaper. When I decided to try fiction, my early efforts — which included an unfinished Da Vinci Code rip-off — were terrible. But then I got the idea for This Is How I Find Her, and it wouldn’t let me go. I cared enough about the story to revise and revise until I was happy with the result.
The characters in your novels deal with serious problems and they have to make difficult choices. What was it that drew you to address such thorny material, and what do you hope readers will come away with?
SK: I didn’t set out to write a book about bullying, homophobia, or teen suicide; these issues just reared their ugly heads as I got to know the characters. That said, the more I wrote about Olive, Grace, and Tim—not to mention their incredibly bigoted History teacher—the more passionate I started to feel about gay rights as an issue on the national stage. It has been especially exciting to follow the recent Supreme Court cases pertaining to gay marriage. Olive and Reyna even get into a discussion at one point in the book about gay marriage, a conversation that isn’t too different from the one so many Americans have been having lately. I’ve been heartened by the relatively recent shift in public opinion on gay rights, and I hope that readers of my book will walk away leaning in that direction—the direction of tolerance—if they weren’t already.
SP: I’ve always been drawn to writing about difficult topics and complicated emotions. I think that’s because I’m motivated to write by questions I find hard to answer and emotions I’m trying to figure out in my own life — big questions about family and friendship and finding a place for ourselves. I hope readers of my work will be comforted in their own attempts to answer these questions.
Which recent YA novel do you most admire and why?
SK: I loved Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe. Don’t be fooled by the carefree surfer on the cover—it’s not a light beach read. While there’s plenty of sizzling romance, there are also some dark issues at play—namely child abuse. As a writer, I know how hard it can be to achieve a balance between levity and darkness, so I really appreciated how this book blended the two.
SP: I love all of Sara Zarr’s books, and her most recent, The Lucy Variations, is right up there with Sweethearts as my favorite of her books. I’m always trying to figure out how to create more tension in character-driven stories, and Sara Zarr is a master at writing complicated, compelling relationships.
What is your favorite line from your forthcoming novel, and why?
SK: I love when Reyna tries to squirm her way out of a bigoted statement by saying that she’s playing the devil’s advocate, and Olive responds, “Well, don’t. The devil already has enough advocates.”
To me, that’s Olive at her best. At those moments—when she’s standing up for what she knows is right, no matter the consequences—I wish I knew her in real life. If she were running for public office, I’d vote for her.
SP: A few of my favorite lines are spoilers, but here’s one from early in the book, when Sophie, my main character, arrives at her aunt and uncle’s house and her cousin answers the door:
“We’re the same height and have the same shade of dark brown hair, but mine hangs wearily down my back, split at the ends, while hers bounces along her shoulders. After the startled moment when she opens the door and finds me there, we avoid each other’s eyes.
We’re good at that. We’ve been doing it for years.”
The relationship between these two characters — cousins who were best friends as children but aren’t any more — is what originally compelled me to write this story, and this scene was one of the first I wrote about them.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
SK: Be the most you that you can possibly be. Listen to the songs that make you feel alive. Read the books that make you feel less alone. Observe yourself from afar. Go to parties and pretend that you are floating above the room, looking down at yourself as you talk to people. What do you see? That is your material.
SP: Have patience. Not just with the publication process — though it certainly requires patience — but also with the process of writing and improving as a writer.
Readers always want to know how old I am. I tell them I’m really old, but inside I’m about nine. So, how old are you? How old are you inside?
SK: My friends tell me I have an “old soul,” but I think I’ve just done a really good job of mastering the knowing nod and smile. The truth is, I feel like I’m a different age every day. Sometimes I feel like I’m nine. Sometimes I feel like I’m ninety-nine. According to my birth certificate, I’m 27 years old.
SP: I’m 27, but inside I’m about 17.
My mom frequently asks me when I’m going to decide to write a “real” novel for grown-ups. Does anyone ever ask you this? What do you tell them? Try not to use four-letter words in your response.
SK: Nobody has asked me this directly, but when I first told my friends I was working on a young adult novel set in high school, a few gave me a look that seemed to say “Why on earth would you want to revisit that?” We used to make fun of certain teachers for being emotionally stuck in high school themselves. Now I wonder if I should be saying the same thing about myself.
SP: Usually I say that stories come to me in different forms — some are fiction, some are non-fiction, some are for younger readers, and some for adults. I would never have written This Is How I Find Her as an adult novel. I might someday write an adult novel, but I definitely don’t view my writing career as a progression toward writing “real” novels.
What question do you wish an interviewer would ask you? Give your response here. It’ll feel great.
SK: I wish someone would ask me my favorite word. It is “discombobulate.” Say it ten times fast—I guarantee you will find it funny.
SP: Where does the title of your book come from?
The book went through a few working titles, but it took a long time to come up with a title that felt right. I made lists and lists, and most of my ideas sounded too vague or felt too young for the story. Finally, in the same week, my editor and I both hit on very similar ideas for the title and knew we’d found the right one. “This is how I find her” is a line from early in the book that also resonates with the rest of the story.
Thanks for following along on our blog tour, and thanks for reading!
Title: Promise Me Something
Author: Sara Kocek
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co.
Title: This is How I Find Her
Author: Sara Polsky
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co.
Sara Kocek is the author of Promise Me Something (Albert Whitman Teen, 2013). She received her BA in English from Yale University and her MFA in Creative Writing from New York University, where she taught fiction and poetry to undergraduates. A freelance editor and college essay coach, Sara has served as the Program Director at the Writers’ League of Texas, a literary nonprofit. She is also the founder of Yellow Bird Editors, a team of freelance editors and writing coaches based in Austin, Texas.
Sara Polsky’s debut YA novel, This is How I Find Her, will be published by Albert Whitman in fall 2013. Her fiction has appeared in Fictitious Force and Behind the Wainscot. She is represented by Suzie Townsend. Sara is a writer and editor at Curbed NY, and her articles and essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Forward, Poets & Writers, and other publications. She lives in New York City.
This Friday, head to the next stops on this blog tour at Dear Teen Me, which has a guest post by Sara Polsky, and Left to Write, where you will find a review of Promise Me Something and a signed book giveaway.
Now, if you would like to win signed copies of BOTH books, please leave a comment (with email address) below! On September 7, I will draw a name out of a hat (literally, I’ll have one of my kids help me do this with an actual hat – we’re old school), and announce the winner! (Sorry, US and Canada only for this drawing.) A huge thanks to Albert Whitman and Co. for providing the signed books!