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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.

BlogTeenageMe

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:

RedditAMAScreencap

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.

5 Things I Love About, Reading

5 Things I Love About…Love, Hate & Other Filters

Time for a new blog series featuring my favorite things related to some of my recent reads!

Warning: While I won’t reveal any major spoilers, some of the details I list could be considered minor spoilers.

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Here I am striking a Maya pose to celebrate the release of Love, Hate & Other Filters!

First up is Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed. Samira’s debut has been getting tons of attention since its highly-anticipated release in January, and it deserves every bit. It starts off as a sweet/fluffy YA contemporary about Maya, an Indian-American Muslim teenager caught between her dreams and her parents’ overbearing expectations while also juggling the onset of a love triangle.

Then an attack ignites a storm of Islamophobia that affects Maya and her family, and everything changes.

It’s jarring. It’s relatable. Maya’s voice is genuine and honest, and I truly enjoyed getting to know her.

Five things I love:

  1. Maya is an #ownvoices character, and that comes through in the narrative. She’s so authentic. The #ownvoices movement is bringing attention to some brilliant and very deserving voices in YA fiction, and LH&OF is a great example of that.
  2. Maya’s use of her video camera as a shield between her and the rest of the world. “The camera gave me distance and something to hide behind.” SO RELATABLE. I often feel like I need a shield too, and I’d definitely need one in the sort of boisterous family wedding scenario Maya describes.
  3. Speaking of weddings, the book opens with a an Indian-American wedding that’s just… SOMEONE ADAPT THIS BOOK INTO A MOVIE RIGHT NOW JUST SO I CAN BE DAZZLED BY ALL THE COLORS IN THIS SCENE PLEASE. It’s so vivid and gorgeous and I can’t even.
  4. Hina, Maya’s aunt. I adored her! I’m a bit of a sucker for cool aunties (Natalie has one in MAMMOTH, too), so I was already biased. Hina is so awesome and supportive, and her refusal to follow tradition gives Maya a more balanced perspective:BlogLoveHate2.jpg
  5. The fact that Phil remembers the barfi story from when he and Maya were seven years old. Come on, how cute was that?? ❤

Those were my top five, but there’s plenty more to love about Love, Hate & Other Filters!

Anxiety, Life

Anxiety and the Hole to Nowhere

HoleToNowhere001Hey, so this is fun.

We had a water leak in the slab of our house. There wasn’t much evidence at first — just a vague, slow, barely-audible hiss that might’ve been water moving where water shouldn’t be, but hey, maybe it’s just the air conditioner. Or the refrigerator’s ice maker. Or the wind. Or a nearby snake talking to himself. When you’re already preoccupied with other major repairs, it’s really easy and really tempting to shrug off that odd little hiss.

Then you end up with a river running through your garage, and there’s no more ignoring. You have to dig down and deal with what’s going on.

It’s a little like having an anxiety disorder. You learn to mask it out of necessity because no matter how much you’re freaking out, sometimes you still just need to get through the day. (And deal with the plumbers and the leak detector and make phone calls you don’t want to make and and and…) On the surface you seem okay, but there’s chaos underneath that a patch here and there won’t fix. That’s where therapy comes in. And maybe medication, if that’s an option for you. And self-care, whatever that looks like for you.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I don’t mind admitting that. It’s just part of who I am, and I try to be open and matter-of-fact about it because I feel like that’s the best way to combat some of the stereotypes and stigmas associated with mental disorders and mental illness.

GAD is a challenge I live with. I compare it to having various Kristen Wiigs in full meltdown mode inside my head, which sounds facetious but is almost alarmingly accurate.

giphybridesmaids001
(giphy.com)
giphywiig001
(giphy.com)
giphyghostbusters001
(giphy.com)

Seriously, she’s in there punching cookies and passing out and trying to convince the mayor of New York that a portal’s about to open up and flood the city with angry ghosts, and I’m just trying to get through the day. I’ve learned to mask my GAD so effectively in a lot of situations that people who don’t know me well, especially professional acquaintances, often don’t believe it’s as bad as it is. This is frustrating; it gives more weight to the inaccurate assumption that anxiety is an excuse or a minor issue that can be overcome with some willpower and an attitude adjustment. It leads to people saying things like “Don’t worry,” which . . . OH THANK YOU I AM SO GLAD YOU MADE THAT SUGGESTION I NEVER THOUGHT OF TRYING THAT.

gifbinwiig001
(gifbin.com)

But anxiety has also given me some gifts, and I try to be mindful of that (especially since it’s not like my Inner Wiig is going anywhere, so I might as well make peace with her). I don’t miss deadlines, for example. Editors appreciate that. When I’m writing, I can portray anxious characters in realistic and sympathetic ways. Some of my anxiety is money-based, so I’ve had to become good at budgeting. And since I’m so used to functioning with a high level of anxiety, I tend to be pretty good during a crisis. I don’t break down until after the worst has passed.

tenorbridesmaids001
(tenor.com)

Just like that leak in the slab, plenty of us have some under-the-surface stuff to work through. I choose not to be ashamed of mine. I choose to be open about it. I choose to appreciate what I’ve learned from it, the strengths I’ve developed.

Plus, it’s an excuse to post Kristen Wiig gifs, and that’s always a plus.

Writing and Publishing

MAMMOTH is being published!

Okay, so where were we? I took a little break to deal with Hurricane Irma cleanup (almost five months later, we’re still working on getting our roof replaced) and other life stuff. I’m still processing a lot of anxiety-related stuff (hurricanes and anxiety disorders are a fantastic combination), I’m catching up on a ton of reading, I finished a new rough draft during NaNoWriMo last November, and last week I helped one of my best friends move from Georgia to south Florida.

IMG_7240I’ve also been sitting on some super-exciting news, and now that the announcements have run in Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace, I can finally share: my next novel, MAMMOTH, will be published in fall 2018 by Turner Publishing!

This book is so dear to my heart, and I’m so ridiculously anxious (in a GOOD way) to launch it out there into the world. MAMMOTH is a body-positive, science-geeky story about being true to yourself and letting your talents and ambitions shine.

IMG_7092Most of the book is set at an Ice Age dig site; to get the paleontology angle as accurate as possible, I trained at the Waco Mammoth National Monument and learned to dig and prospect for fossils. I also interviewed paleontologists, toured a bone lab, practiced screen picking, and spent a particularly spectacular morning hanging out with a pair of elephants at Cameron Park Zoo. (Thank you FOREVER to my bestie Dava Butler, who works at Waco Mammoth, for making all that possible!)

IMG_7276I wrote MAMMOTH in 2014. As I explained in an earlier post, my agent at the time didn’t connect strongly enough with it, and we parted ways in 2015. Finding new representation took some time, but Eric Smith of P.S. Literary was worth the wait. He began pitching MAMMOTH in May 2017, and after a few other close calls, we accepted an offer from Turner in December. You can read Eric’s post about MAMMOTH’S deal here.

I’m so jazzed to work with Turner, and so excited to share updates as MAMMOTH’S publication date approaches. Watch this space, my vintage velociraptors (as MAMMOTH’S Natalie would say) — there’s so much more to come. ❤