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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.

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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.

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(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.

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(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. ❤

Life

Life Happens. So Do Hurricanes.

I live on Marco Island, which is several hours south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida. About a month ago, the island took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, which I believe was a category 4 storm at the time.

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Image courtesy CNN.com
Had the eye stayed a little more to the west, the resulting storm surge could have been as high as fifteen feet. As it was, I believe we got more like four feet, which was high enough to swamp the island and come most of the way up our driveway but not high enough to get into the house.

We evacuated the day before the storm hit, knowing we might very well come back to . . . nothing. Irma barreled through on a Sunday and we were allowed back onto the island on Monday; turning down my street and waiting to get a glimpse of my house (or whatever remained of it) was one of the most dreadful moments of quiet, terrified anticipation I’ve ever experienced. We were very, very lucky — we got plenty of cosmetic damage, but the roof stayed mostly intact (although it still most likely needs to be replaced) and we didn’t lose any windows or doors. We spent days without running water or electricity (September in southern Florida without air conditioning, man, NO). We’re still waiting on a lot of repairs. We’re trying to budget for what insurance won’t cover (which, as it turns out, is probably most of the damage, ugh). My father always handled these things when I was younger; not having him here to arrange repairs and make decisions is bringing up a lot of emotions on top of everything else.

 

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This used to be our screen enclosure. It looks so much better in the photo than it did in real life.
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We lost more than half of our trees, including this 30-ft palm that blocked our driveway for nearly a week. The debris in the driveway marks the height of the storm surge. You can also see several downed power lines near the street.
I’ve been through so many hurricanes that I can’t even keep them all straight anymore, but I’ve never experienced one like Irma. I’m dealing with a lot of delayed anxiety, a newfound sensitivity to mold (the island has huge piles of molding debris everywhere waiting on county clean-up), and a still-unreliable internet connection. Once everything blows over, I’ll be back to blogging more regularly. In the meantime, I’ll be taking out my anxiety on the coconuts that got knocked down by the storm. We’ve got a lot of coconuts, but I’ve got a lot of anxiety, so it works.

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CONSIDER THE COCONUT.
Writing and Publishing

Lightning Strikes Twice

Last month I posted about what can happen when your literary agent doesn’t like your next book. Here’s how that’s been working out for me.

So. By spring 2017 I’d been unagented for nearly two years.

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I queried new agents when I had the time and determination, but between being a caregiver for my dad*, who had renal failure, and digging up whatever freelance opportunities I could, I didn’t have a lot of emotional headspace left for agent hunting. Especially when the rejections I got were variations on a theme: “I love the voice/concept/whatever but there’s no room in the market for plus-size** characters.”

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(Pun not intended. And, I mean… What? ELEANOR & PARK was on fire when I was drafting MAMMOTH in 2013-2014, DUMPLIN’ took off in 2015, THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED was on the way… The audience is there! Plus, MAMMOTH is a story about personal authenticity and paleontology geekery. Its protagonist happens to be plus-size. She’s also smart. Clever. Ambitious. Conflicted. Brave. Flawed. Obviously I’m biased, but I think her value as a character goes beyond the size tag on her jeans.)

In April, an agent I followed on Twitter, Eric Smith of P.S. Literary, tweeted that he’d be closing to submissions in a few months. Eric seemed super cool, and he represents several writers I know (Rebecca Enzor, a friend from my toy-collecting days, and Rebecca Phillips, who I knew from the ABNA), and I figured, why not? I was spending a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms, so that’s where I drafted a new version of my query letter. Within a couple of days, Eric requested the manuscript. Yay!

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A few days after that I saw this tweet and wistfully thought, “Aw, I wish he was talking about MAMMOTH!”:

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BUT. BUT. HE WAS TALKING ABOUT MAMMOTH.

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He made a few revision suggestions that I totally agreed with, and a week or so later I signed a contract. His enthusiasm has been nothing short of remarkable, and I don’t know how he finds enough hours in the day to accomplish all that he does. Eric’s just awesome. Plus, I gained an amazing group of supportive agent-siblings!

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MAMMOTH is now out on submission, and I can’t wait to prove that the market has plenty of room for Natalie and her dig site discoveries. THIS IS HAPPENING.

*My dad passed away in late May, and one of the last things that made him really happy was knowing I’d signed with a new agent. As overwhelming as the last few months have been, I’m really glad he knew I’d found my footing again.
**Not everyone likes “plus-size” as a label. I acknowledge that, and I’ll address the reasons I use it for Natalie in a future post.
Geekery

Okay, Who Brought the Dog?

Back in May I was 100% jazzed by the news that paleontologists named a newly-discovered ankylosaur species Zuul after the terror dog from the original Ghostbusters movie. A paleo spin on my favorite franchise? YES, HAVE SOME.

Here’s an artist’s rendering of the newly-named pupper (image courtesy Royal Ontario Museum):

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And here’s Zuul itself in Terror Dog form (image courtesy Columbia Pictures):

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I can see the resemblance.

The dino’s full name is Zuul crurivastator. The species name is Latin for “destroyer of shins,” a nod to the animal’s clubbed tail. This Zuul was a herbivore, but at its size (as heavy as a rhino and as long as a pickup truck), it would probably do even more damage to Louis Tully’s apartment than the fictional keymaster version.

Next can we have a Slimersaurus Rex?

Reading

The Enormous Egg

I’ve been sorting through a lot of long-buried possessions, and I recently came across this book about a boy who finds and hatches a mysterious egg (SPOILER ALERT IT’S A DINOSAUR EGG YEEAAAHHHH!!!):

The Enormous Egg
That chicken is not having any of this.

I was six or seven when I got this. I remember being intimidated because although it looked like other chapter books, the print inside was so much smaller than I was used to — but I loved dinosaurs, so I jumped in. Years before I read Jurassic Park, I encountered my very first fictional paleontologist, Dr. Ziemer:

Dr. Ziemer

The Enormous Egg was originally published in the 1950s, and some elements of the story haven’t aged that well, but I’m still fond of it as a product of its time, and I still adore the illustrations. And I still want an Uncle Beazley of my own:

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COME ON THO HOW ADORABLE IS THAT AND CAN IT BE LITTERBOX TRAINED

I’m not someone who normally has a lot of maternal instincts, but show me a teeny baby triceratops and suddenly I’m all:

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Of course, large dinosaurs don’t make particularly good pets.

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THAT SIDE-EYE. THAT SQUISH.

So, I mean… I guess that dream’s ruined. Still, as a kid, I always hoped I’d stumble across a mysterious egg, just like Nate did.

(Okay, I admit it. To this day, I still kind of wish that could happen.)