Writing and Publishing

You Are Allowed To Disappoint People.

Should authors read reviews of their books? OH BOY. Let’s talk about this for a sec.

One of my best friends is currently reading Mammoth. “You know,” she said the other day, her tone hesitant, “this one’s a lot better than Spookygirl.”

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I kid. She’s right.

I like to think I’ve learned a lot in the years since Spookygirl. I love that book, I do, but its road to publication was unusual (winning the ABNA) and it might have benefited from the extra steps attached to more traditional publication methods. A savvy agent would have called me out on certain details before the book even got near an editor, and I might have been a bit surer about whether I should leave some plotlines open (since I originally envisioned the story as a trilogy or series) or tie up everything neatly.

I was anxious and curious and new to publishing, and I read every Spookygirl review I could find. So many were wonderful! What surprised me, however, was how constructive a lot of the more negative reviews were. I learned so much about relying too much on stereotypes. About the risk of populating too much of a story with throwaway supporting characters. About when to dig deeper. I really did listen, and I’m grateful to readers who took a moment to explain why they didn’t like the book instead of just hitting that one-star rating.

(IMPORTANT: I’m not saying you should tag authors in your negative reviews! I’m not saying you should send authors your criticism. No, nononono. That’s kind of cruel, and some readers seem to delight in it. Don’t do that. But know that some of us do appreciate your honesty, even when it’s critical.)

I thought a lot about whether I should do the same with Mammoth reviews. After all, I used the lessons I learned from Spookygirl reviews when I wrote and revised Mammoth. Shouldn’t I want to keep learning?

Erm, hold up. That’s where my therapist would stop me and call me out on using “should” language. Shoulds are tricky. They seem so sensible, but they’re a great way to load yourself down with pressure and expectation and anxiety.

Mammoth is a deeply personal story. I put a lot of myself into Natalie and her struggle to love and accept herself. The book deals with sensitive topics like weight and self-image, and there’s no one right way to tackle those things. There’s no universal experience when it comes to being fat. Some readers will identify with Natalie’s path. Others won’t. I fully expect criticism from those whose experiences have differed from Nat’s, who wanted something else from the story, and that criticism is valid. But at some point I’ll have to draw a line and protect my own anxious, scattered brain a bit, along with my heart, which is so thoroughly invested in making sure Mammoth’s fashion-blogger-science-geek realizes just how awesome she is.

They say that you can’t please everyone. To a people pleaser like me, that just sounds like a challenge.

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Nah. I’m tossing that saying aside and going with “You’re allowed to disappoint people” instead. Every book out there (and every movie and every show and every song and and and) disappoints someone. If you’re preoccupied with that, you won’t be able to create your best, strongest, bravest work. You’ll risk diluting your brilliance into something bland. You don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that, either.

The disappointment will be out there, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you have to go digging for it.

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Learning to dig at Waco Mammoth National Monument (then Waco Mammoth Site), 2013.
Writing and Publishing

Mammoth Update

It’s been a minute since I blogged about Mammoth-related goodness, so let’s do a quick round-up of what’s been going on.

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First of all, Mammoth will be at Book Expo America this week!! *ALL THE HEART-EYES EMOJIS* My friends at Turner Publishing Company will have over 150 Mammoth ARCs available, as well as these super-cute totes to carry your books and swag. (I think they’re at booth 2829!) I love how the bag’s color scheme perfectly matches the book’s Central Texas Mammoth Site setting.

I use my tote all the time, and I have a few extras that I’ll be giving away when Mammoth’s November 6 release date is a little closer, so if you aren’t able to grab one in NYC this week, keep an eye out!

And hey, if you can’t get your hands on a physical ARC, eARCs of Mammoth can now be requested through Edelweiss!

I recently pieced together this paleontology-themed keychain design. I need to source some sturdier jump rings, but once I do that, I plan on sending out some of these babies as Mammoth-related swag.

I got some adorable bookplates this month as well. I’ll be autographing these and mailing them out to anyone who pre-orders Mammoth. More on my pre-order campaign this summer! I’m still planning additional swag, too. I’m thinking bookmarks and buttons for sure, and maybe stickers. I’d looooove to design an exclusive enamel pin — we’ll see! Let me know if you have a favorite kind of book swag!

And hey, speaking of pre-orders, Mammoth is popping up all over. It’s now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. Ask about it at your local library and your favorite indie bookstore to put it on their radar!

BlogMammothBuzzBooksNovember is SO FAR AWAY. If you’d like an early preview of Mammoth, Publishers Marketplace included an excerpt in its Fall/Winter Young Adult edition of Buzz Books. The excerpt includes Natalie’s first day at the Central Texas Mammoth Site and ends with one of my favorite Mammoth moments.

Buzz Books is a free download and a great way to preview lots of awesome new titles coming your way later this year.

Augh, what am I forgetting?? I’m sure I’ll think of it as soon as I hit publish… ❤

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5 Things I Love About

5 Things I Love About…You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone

“5 Things I Love About…” is a blog series about what makes some of my recent reads stand out. While I do my best to avoid major spoilers, some of the details I list could be considered minor spoilers.

[Content warning: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone contains some suicidal ideation and self-harm.]

Okay. I’m promising myself right now that the next few books I feature in this series will be light and fluffy and frothy. Between last month’s focus on The Hate U Give and today’s installment, I’ve been through the YA wringer.

It’s a glorious wringer, though.

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My apologies to Adina. Yes, that’s a violin. I don’t have a viola.

Rachel Lynn Solomon’s debut, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, is about Adina and Tovah, twin sisters whose mother has Huntington’s. This means that the girls each have a 50% chance of developing the disease as well; their mother’s decline might mirror their own futures. When they go through genetic testing, one twin tests negative. The other tests positive. This adds another layer of conflict to the girls’ already strained relationship as they navigate the senior year of high school and wrestle with what’s to come.

I described this story as gorgeous and wrenching over on Instagram. You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone is beautiful. It’s heavy. It’s a brave, poetic punch to the gut.

Five things I love:

1. The divide between the twins. The conflict that drove Adina and Tovah apart is revealed gradually, which had my curiosity in overdrive, and it builds on itself through most of the book. Tovah touches on it early on in this quote, but the narrative dances around the details for several more chapters:

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2. The split narrative. The story alternates between the twins’ points of view, which adds to the power of that gradual revelation. I enjoyed experiencing everything through both Tovah’s and Adina’s perspectives. Understanding their motives and emotions made the story more complex.

3. Adina’s flaws. I admit that I’m firmly Team Tovah, but Solomon’s depiction of Adina is brave and unflinching. Even when I didn’t like Adina much, I still found myself rooting for her. I wanted her to figure things out and find some balance, some happiness. (And as someone with tons of nervous habits, I related so much to her habit of picking at her tights.)

4. Pg. 306 in the hardcover. It gutted me. I think I snarled out loud. No spoilers here, but you’ll know it when you get to it. I AM NOT OVER IT YET.

5. The book design. Yeah, it’s totally shallow to end with this, but this book is so pretty. The blazing autumn leaves against those shades of turquoise and teal! The depiction of the twins as a reflection. Those boots (I want both pairs, please). The text dividers that change depending on which twin is narrating. I am making heart-eyes at this book.

. . . Dang it, now I’m out of numbers and I didn’t even touch on the Jewish representation! The voices are authentic and the religious details are skillfully woven into the narrative. ❤

And that’s that! Next time I’m bringing the fluff.

Anxiety, Life, Writing and Publishing

You Are Enough.

I’ve been participating in #IGWritersApril over on Instagram this month. The prompt for day 26 was “writing inspiration,” which could be interpreted in so many ways. The Waco Mammoth National Monument inspired the dig site in MAMMOTH. My love for the city of Austin inspired several MAMMOTH settings, and my bff Dava inspired some of my favorite plot points. I could have posted a photo of my childhood copy of JURASSIC PARK, or a still from the movie, or a favorite page from the dinosaur encyclopedia I read over and over as a kid.

Instead, I found some photos of myself as a young teenager. I shared the kid who never felt thin enough, likable enough, cool enough, pretty enough. She was never enough.

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In MAMMOTH, Natalie is a popular plus-size fashion blogger. She has an amazing vintage-inspired wardrobe. She rocks a red lip and perfectly winged eyeliner. She works for her aunt’s indie clothing line and knows how to design, sew, and alter for a perfect fit (and how to use shapewear to make that fit even more perfect). Natalie’s that fatsionista you envy on Instagram because she’s got it together (or at least she looks like she does).

Natalie adopted that persona because she was bullied in middle school. She reinvented herself so she’d no longer be “Fat Nat.”

Unfortunately, changing how others see you doesn’t fix how you see yourself. In MAMMOTH, Natalie has to figure out how to love and appreciate herself for who she is beneath her fashion armor. If she’s going to stand out during her dig site internship, she’s going to have to do so in an authentic way. She’s going to have to accept that she is enough, just as she is.

This means that Natalie isn’t as perfect as she appears. She has flaws, especially in how she thinks about herself. One of those flaws in particular, a habit Natalie has of being too aware of body size, is a detail I’ve discussed with readers, my agent, and my contacts at my publisher. Some people love it. Some people hate it. It’s polarizing, and whether to include or cut it has been a tough call! I went with what felt like the most authentic option, even though I’m still second-guessing myself about twenty times a day. The detail evolves as the story progresses. I hope readers will give my girl a chance so they can see that evolution happen.

Body image is so personal. SO PERSONAL. I’ve struggled with the concept since I was about seven years old, and because a lot of the self-doubt and anxiety in MAMMOTH mirror my own, putting this book out there is kind of terrifying. But if Natalie can be bold enough to stand out in paleontology, I can be bold enough to share her story.

I’m sharing it for that kid in the photos. She was enough, even though she never realized it. I’m sharing it for kids like her.

You are enough. Changing what’s on the outside won’t fix things until you accept and embrace that.

You. Are. Enough.

Geekery

Dozing Dragon

When I wasn’t reviewing MAMMOTH copy edits or coordinating hurricane repairs last week, I was geeking out over photos of a 110-million-year-old nodosaur currently on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada.

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(National Geographic)

It looks like it could wake up and lumber off. ❤

Found in 2011, the nodosaur is so well preserved that you can still see its armored plates and the outlines of its scales. National Geographic did a great write-up of the discovery and its significance.

And if you’re like me, and your immediate reaction is OMG CAN I PET THE GOOD PUPPER?!, the Royal Tyrrell Museum has you covered. The exhibit includes a touchable replica of the nodosaur’s head cast from a 3D-printed copy:

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(Royal Tyrrell Museum)

And now I need to go to Canada to pet a nodosaur. Adding that trip to the bucket list.

5 Things I Love About

5 Things I Love About…The Hate U Give

“5 Things I Love About…” is a blog series about what makes some of my recent reads stand out. While I do my best to avoid major spoilers, some of the details I list could be considered minor spoilers.

IMG_4163Confession time: While I’ve owned The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas for months and months, I only just got around to reading it. This is YA sacrilege. I knowwwww. 2017 was a crappy year, and I wasn’t emotionally up for heavier reads like THUG.

BUT Y’ALL, I HAVE RECTIFIED THIS ISSUE AND I AM SO GLAD I DID. This book is so incredibly powerful. In case you’ve been even more out of touch than me, THUG is told from the POV of sixteen-year-old Starr, who’s the only witness when her childhood friend is shot and killed by a police officer. What follows is one of the most stunning and relevant and necessary stories I’ve read in a long time. Starr is fierce and vulnerable and so well-rendered, and . . . ARGH YES JUST READ IT.

Five things I love:

1. THUG is one of those brilliant, wrenching YA titles that can hook non-YA readers. My best friend doesn’t read YA fiction beyond Harry Potter and had never heard of THUG, but I left her alone with my copy for a short time last week. When I got back, she stared at me with owl eyes. “That chapter!” she said. “THAT FIRST CHAPTER.” Since then, we’ve been passing the book back and forth. She’s impatiently waiting for me to finish writing this post so she can have it back, and I’ve had to hold back from texting her quotes and spoilers and “OMG WAIT UNTIL YOU GET TO THIS PART” messages every ten pages. Oh, and speaking of that first chapter . . .

2. The way my heart crashed at the end of chapter one. I knew what was coming from reading blurbs and reviews, but the story leads up to that moment with such intensity that I went into full-blown denial. Read it and tell me you don’t feel that same dread, that same inevitability. Tell me you don’t start to sink.

3. Garden Heights Starr vs. Williamson Starr. Angie Thomas juggles Starr’s neighborhood vs. school personas so skillfully that the narrative slips between them almost imperceptibly at times.

4. Starr’s dad, Big Mav. There’s so much to adore about Maverick’s complexity and wisdom and I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll go with a few of my favorite tiny details — his gardening and the way he refers to Starr’s Macbook laptop as “that expensive-ass fruit one.” I use a Macbook too, and . . . Yeah, that sums it up pretty well.

5. Starr’s knowledge of sneakers. What a unique character detail. She can ID them, she knows how to maintain them, and she’ll probably judge you for the ones on your feet. She usually goes for Jordans, but she wears silver sequined Chucks to prom, and . . .

IMG_4164I might be just a little bit biased about sequined Chuck Taylors. These are mine.

There’s so much to digest in THUG. So much to fall in love with and so much to rage against right along with Starr. And now I need to hand my copy back to my friend. She’s waiting. And staring.

Writing and Publishing

Don’t Give Up

Last year I wrote about deciding to query this cool agent dude I followed on Twitter, and how that cool agent dude is now my agent. However, my first interaction with Eric Smith happened during the Reddit AMA he did in in Beth Revis’ YA Writers subreddit in January 2017. At the time, I was starting to buy into the whole “plus-size characters are a hard sell” line I was getting from other agents.

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Actual footage of the query process. (giphy.com)

I was flirting with the idea of self-publishing MAMMOTH. The only thing keeping me from doing so was that I hadn’t yet come up with a cover design I liked. (More on that in a future entry!)

Eric was on my radar because I knew several of his clients (Rebecca Enzor and I ran in the same toy collecting circles well over a decade ago, and I knew Rebecca Phillips from the ABNA), and I figured, hey, might as well get one more opinion.

I didn’t even have a Reddit account at the time, so I made one.

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Of course my Reddit username is a Ghostbusters reference. You expected otherwise? (thebrag.com)

Here’s my question and Eric’s response:

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The TL:DR version is that I asked if fat characters are really such a tough sell, and Eric said nope. “If you’re getting that kind of feedback from agents, they simply aren’t the right agent for you.”

“Don’t give up.”

DON’T GIVE UP.

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I wrote about mammoths, Joey. Keep up. (mrwgifs.com)

If you’re a writer in the querying trenches, go back and read that last bit again.

DON’T GIVE UP.

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Would Gillian Anderson give up? I DON’T THINK SO. (tenor.com)

Eric shared a ton of great info in that AMA (seriously, go read the whole thing if you haven’t already), but those three words are the most important part. You might be one email (or tweet or Reddit post) away from the right connection, and you don’t want to miss that. I’m glad I didn’t. Turner Publishing is releasing MAMMOTH this fall.

Don’t give up.