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Congrats to Sharon Biggs Waller on her Starred Publishers Weekly Review!

Following Kirkus’s sterling review, here’s Publishers Weekly on THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID:

ForbiddenOrchid_ForFinal_LR“Once Elodie arrives in China, Waller (A Mad, Wicked Folly) creates a vivid portrait of the country’s landscape and history—and the restrictions women faced there, too—through Elodie’s observations and via her new friend, Ching Lan. The discordant relationship between England’s fascination with China’s many unfamiliar treasures and the Victorian desire to conquer is also front and center. Elodie and Ching Lan are feminists of their era, refusing to bend to the rules and limits placed before them.”

 

Read the full review here.

You can pre-order THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID (which is coming from Viking this March) on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or check it out on Goodreads.

You can also find Sharon at her website, on Facebook, and on twitter.

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A Starred Review for Valynne Maetani’s INK AND ASHES

Congratulations to Valynne Maetani on her starred review in Kirkus!

“This fantastic debut packs a highly suspenseful blend of action, intrigue, and teen romance.”

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Read the full review here.

Check out Ink and Ashes on Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, and Amazon.

Check out Valynne Maetani on her website and twitter.

Debut Deal for Amy Brashear and her Y.A. Retelling of In Cold Blood

Now, Truman Capote’s classic non-fiction novel In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books of all time. It explores the murder and aftermath of the Clutter family in 1959 Holcomb, Kansas, the search for their killers, and the eventual trial and execution (um, spoilers). So when author Amy Brashear queried me with a y.a. retelling of ICB from the point of view of Nancy Clutter’s teenage best friend, I requested immediately. Today I’m thrilled to announce that haunting coming-of-age, CONDEMNED, will be published by SoHo Teen!

Amy Brashear Author Pic

Greenhouse: When and how did you start writing?

Amy: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I was always scribbling something down on paper. I blame my mom. We would watch a lot of murder shows growing up, especially Murder, She Wrote. We would sit in front of the TV and try to figure it out before Jessica did. I wanted to be a writer like Jessica Fletcher. I wanted to write about murder and solve crimes. I was a weird little girl.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I was in the fifth grade and we had just moved from Garden City, Kansas to Nacogdoches, Texas. My class went on a field trip to Stephen F. Austin University to see a production of The Diary of Anne Frank. I had never read the book before seeing the play. But after school my mom took my brother and I to the bookstore at the mall and bought a copy. I still have that worn paperback.

Growing up I read a lot and that’s due to my mom. She would always tell my brother and I stories. She would always make them up. Though they would often be about us— what we were like as kids. When I started reading on my own I would read the Little House on the Prairie books, the Boxcar Children, the Babysitters Club books, Goosebumps, really anything by R.L. Stine, Caroline B. Cooney, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, and Lois Duncan. I couldn’t get enough of those books.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I grew up in Southwest Kansas and knew about the Clutter family murder way before I read imgres by Truman Capote, which is one of my favorite books. I was always fascinated about the case. Truman focused on Dick and Perry but I was fascinated with what it would be like to live during that time in that small town and what happens when everyone is looking at everyone else as someone who could have done something so violent. I wanted to answer the question of what happens if you’re best friend was murdered and your father ends up having to represent one of the suspects. I did so much research for this book. Newspaper articles were my saving grace.   

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

Yes. Yes it was. I’m a product of the slush-pile. I didn’t know anyone in publishing. Being published has been a dream for a very long time. I’ve queried many a book. But I guess this book was different. I researched many agents and queried many that I thought would be a perfect representative of my book but I ultimately signed with John, an agent that wasn’t just the perfect agent to represent this book but hopefully my future career.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I like to write historical fiction so I spend a lot of time researching. I like to read old newspaper articles, looking at vintage photographs, old magazines, anything and everything can make a good story. I write anytime I can. I use the note app on my phone throughout the day, whenever inspiration strikes.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I’ve finished another YA historical. It’s set in 1969. I’m drafting a YA alternate history novel set in 1984 and a MG historical fantasy.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I know it sounds silly but never number your chapters until the very last minute. Trust me it will save you a lot of hair pulling. Always backup your work in many different places. Trust me. I’ve been there. And even though it’s easier said than done try not to worry and have patience.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1. Have an outline but don’t stick with it. Let the words take you where they want to go.

2. Don’t be afraid to cut characters during revisions.

3. When you get “stuck” don’t be afraid to step away and work on other things.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Truman Capote. I think it would be a fun dinner party. Though he’d be doing all the talking and gossiping. But there would be laughing. And I think many secrets would be spilled.

Luna Lovegood and Amy Dunne. Two of the most different but amazing characters ever written.

“This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. Easy, you know, does it, son.”

-Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things

(Spent the predawn hours rereading my favorite author. Feeling good.)

I Left My Heart in Dimension X

This Saturday I attended the fabulous Rutgers One-to-One mentoring conference. It was a great opportunity to meet with writers, discuss their work, and shoot the breeze with my peers– fifty-or-so of whom turned up to volunteer their time and expertise.

The highlight though,  for me, was Bruce Coville’s keynote address.

I was obsessed with the Rod Albright books in grade school. Aliens Ate My Homework, I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X, etc. I even fashioned tiny aliens out of Play-Doh and converted one of my mother’s ex-makeup packages into a vaguely disc-shaped spacecraft. I used to run around the yard making laser noises and essentially embarrassing myself and having a wonderful time. And yet, I’d only noted Bruce’s presence at the conference with passing interest. I was here to work, network, and drop some truth bombs about conflict and character arcs. Not swoon over childhood idols.

My afternoon session went long, so I arrived at the makeshift auditorium late. I’m embarrassed to admit I had no idea what Bruce Coville looks like, and when I entered I saw a bald, bearded man in a brilliant white shirt standing before an enormous crimson curtain. It looked like God was giving the keynote.

I found a seat at the back. All my peers, the mentees, everyone had their backs to me. Though the space was packed, I suddenly felt pleasantly alone, private, as if it was just me and Bruce, one of the first authors who’d ever captured my imagination. Suddenly I didn’t feel like a professional book-sligner, Mr. Big Bad Agent Man. Instead, I felt like my fifth-grade self, John Michael, a total geek, total cheese-ball, utterly vulnerable.

Now, I’ve heard a few keynotes in my day, the majority of which have the same subtext: “Being Me [Bestselling Genius Author of the Week] is Absolutely Amazing.” Bruce was different. He spoke about “lengthening the chain,” how making life just a little easier for others can ripple out in unpredictable, positive ways. He read letters from fans (to other writers) about the positive effect of books in their lives.

It suddenly struck me (how had I forgotten?), that we are in the business of communicating… something to young people. What we choose to show kids effects and even shapes their world. We are not just here to tell compelling stories, but to share meaning. I don’t mean preachiness, littering the narrative road with moral cow pies for kids to step in. I mean taking whatever it is that moves us, cuts us to the bone, makes us sing, laugh, or totally lose it, and giving it away in our writing.

Then Bruce said something that absolutely killed me.

“We all want to be numb. Don’t be.”

There’s something to be said for building up your armor, especially in a world that is not always beautiful, meaningful, or easy. It’s easy to grow callouses around your tenderest feelings, especially when the work-a-day existence of surviving demands so much force and bullheadedness. But that’s what I love about writing novels. It is a chance to not be numb. It is permission to weep.

And I’ll tell ya, maybe it was exhaustion, or relief, or hearing it straight from a childhood hero, but I teared up right then. I’m glad as hell I was in the back where no one could see me. (It doesn’t look good for an agent to get misty-eyed.) But I’m happier still that for the second time in my life, Bruce Coville reminded me to be happily vulnerable.

To be a total geek, an absolute cheese-ball.

Recommended Reading: “The Kill Sign”

“I pass churches starting to fill up with black-suited people and I wonder what good that is. The mysteries of Jesus, the everlasting life, all that, what are we supposed to do with it when we can’t even figure shit in this life out? The dying won’t stop right here and now. I don’t know what heaven will do for a dog, anyway. I drive on past the steeples.”

 

 

Read this gut-socking story by Marvin Shackleford, originally appearing in Armchair/Shotgun,  featured in this month’s Recommended Reading, presented by Electric Literature. Marvin is a literary dervish, whipping up all sorts of verbal froth out on his Texas Panhandle farm. I was so thrilled to include his story “The Kill Sign” in Armchair, and double-thrilled it’s now featured in E-Lit’s awesome online program.

I highly recommend you make your day a little more spectacular, and read it.