Off to a starry start!

 

Galleys of AUDACITY are out in the world, and the first two trade reviews are in!

* Readers hear Clara’s strong, clear voice in action-packed verses that convey with intense emotion her conflicts and conviction, her deepest thoughts and her doubts and triumphs. Crowder breathes life into a world long past … Compelling, powerful and unforgettable. Kirkus (Starred Review)

* The verse form of the narrative lends lightness to an otherwise bleak topic and moves the story along quickly, while artful formatting of the text creates and sustains mood. This book stands alone in its topic and time frame … With historical notes, interviews with Clara’s family members, and a glossary of Yiddish terms, Audacity is an impactful addition to any historical fiction collection. School Library Journal (Starred Review)

Thank you, Kirkus and SLJ!

[ETA: and a third star, too, this time from BCCB!]

In graceful, affecting poetry, Clara shares an internal monologue, relating her early years in a Russian shtetl as the hardworking daughter, helping to keep the household running while her father and brothers pursue religious study … When the concepts of socialism and unionization ignite her spirit, she takes to the union hall and picket lines, fighting to convince other young women in her situation to join the battle and ultimately seeing some measure of success in sparking a general strike. Crowder does an outstanding job of limning Clara’s inner struggles… Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (Starred Review)

 

Book Release!

 

The last time you all heard from me, I was busy planning. Planning my blog tour, planning my book release, planning my launch party. I was so busy with promotion and all that, well, planning, that I stopped even trying to write.

More on that later. Let’s rewind to the 11th hour when I’d done everything imaginable to make Parched a success, and it was time for me to enjoy the ride.

First, the reviews came tumbling in. Anyone who says this isn’t terrifying is lying! Don’t believe them! But despite all the nervous-making, the reviews have been great! And if you mash the best bits all together, Parched sounds like the most awesome book ever written in the history of the human race. It’s a fun game, (if you’ll forgive me fudging the strict rules of citation and quotation). Let’s play:

Fans of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (1987) will want this[1] thrilling, imaginative soul quencher. Crowder’s stunning debut is sure to become a modern classic.[2] The writing, especially the descriptions of the drought conditions and extreme thirst, is excellent[3] all the more impressive for its restraint.[4] Makes one want to love the whole world with more courage, gentleness and hope.[5]  ZOMG. ZOMG. ZOMG. EVERYTHING I COULD WANT IN A MIDDLE-GRADE. OMG.[6]

[1] Booklist

[2] Rita Williams-Garcia

[3] School Library Journal

[4] Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Wall Street Journal

[5] Elizabeth Phinney, Amazon

[6] Eden, Goodreads

See—that was fun, right? The thing is, you can’t take reviews too personally—positive or negative—if you want to keep writing. But more on the whole writing bit later.

After the reviews came release day.

Launch Party! (Yes, I was smiling that big the entire time!)

You’d think that seeing your book on a bookshelf in a bookstore would be the most thrilling thing about that day.  And don’t get me wrong—it was great, really great. But by far, the best thing about launching my debut novel was seeing the community that had built up around me rise up and hold my book high for the world to see. It’s the best feeling, ever.

The Emu crew threw me a fantastic blog party, and my agency mates tossed confetti all over facebook and twitter. Fellow Vermont College alums and students posted pics of my book all over the country and penned swoon-worthy reviews. The Lucky 13s celebrated in their own bomb-diggity style. My launch party at Tattered Cover was packed with teachers from my school, buddies from my tennis and soccer teams, family and a few very supportive local writer friends.

It was amazing. Really. I feel so very honored.

It took me a while to come down from all that excitement. Promoting a book and writing a book use very different parts of my brain, and they don’t always play nicely together. But any writer worth her salt will tell you that resting and thinking and reading are as important to the writing process as actually getting the words down on page.

And I still wasn’t quite ready for the writing part…

My book launch ended in some lovely, surprising news. My next two Young Adult novels were picked up by Philomel Books and I signed on for another middle grade with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. That makes three books on the horizon for me. I always wanted a long and varied writing career, and now, there it is, right in front of me.

So last week, I cleaned my office. I put away all my bookmarks and teacher guides, and I celebrated the last leg of my blog tour. It had been about two months since I had worked on one of my stories, since I had written anything other than a blog post or press release.

It was time. I was rested. My mind was quiet and I was eager to get going again.

I’d love to tell you that the words flowed onto the page, that it was a delightful, inspiring week. It was not. I wrote very little, and not very well. By the end of the week, I had 2,000 words, a quantity some writers can crank out in a morning.

But writing is as much about habit and discipline as it is about inspiration. I know how to get myself back into the habit of writing, so that the inspiration is welcome. I know that the words will come, and that they will be good, if not the first time around, then maybe the second, or the third. I’ve got a great community around me who will challenge me and cheer me on as I write my way through this story and the next one, and the one after that.

I am so very proud of Parched. And I will continue to spread the word about this story to schools and libraries and readers, wherever I can find them. But as people much wiser than I have said, the best part of your writing career should always be your work in progress.

So off I go, to get to work.

 

 

Sea Glass

 

I visited family on the Oregon coast over the holidays. For those of you who’ve never been there, it’s a rugged, beautiful place. In the winter, storms hammer the beaches, uprooting seaweeds, ripping buoys from their moorings and crushing it all against the rocks.

I went for a walk early one morning. There was no one on the beach; the water had retreated from the cliffs and laid bare a long stretch of sand. December is not the time to go beachcombing for sand dollars or scallop shells, so you’ll understand my amazement when I found a light bulb as big as a basketball lying like a beached jellyfish in the sand.

Where had it come from? Did it fall from the cabin of a passing trawler? Or from a bayside cannery warehouse? Wreckage from the tsunami in Japan has been washing up on Oregon beaches for months—but a light bulb? How could such a delicate thing separate from its fittings, travel across the great expanse of the Pacific, and somehow dodge the watery minefield of coastal rocks to perch safely in the sand?

Because I knew the tide was on its way back in, I picked up the light bulb and tucked it behind a tuft of beach grass, thinking that I’d finish my walk, then take it up off the beach. If it had made it all this way, the least I could do was keep it safe from the incoming tide. But by the time I finished my walk, it was gone. Someone else must have found it, and, struck by the absurdity of a giant light bulb in a patch of beach grass, carried it away.

It was just trash, really. Flotsam. But it was beautiful, too, in a sad sort of way.

I’m writing a novel in verse right now. Poems are fragile, particular things, while novels are unruly and unpredictable. It isn’t easy getting the two to work together.

Of course, writers see metaphor in everything, but I like to think there was a message for me in that glass bulb finding its way onto the sand.

 

The Next Big Thing…

 

I’ve been tagged! Chain letter style, that is, by the lovely A.B. Westrick, author of the forthcoming novel Brotherhood (I have heard the author read from this novel, and it is amazing!)

So it’s my turn now, to answer a few questions, and tag a few other writers for the Next Big Thing interview series.

Those who have been faithfully reading my blog posts at The Lucky 13s and Emus Debuts know that I’ve been working on several projects over the past year. So I’m going to spread the questions out over all three books … just to give you a little sampling of each!

 

1. My debut novel…

(out in June … did I mention that I’m just a little bit excited?)

 

What is the title of your book? Parched

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at EMLA, who sold this book to Harcourt Children’s Books. I am so lucky to have the insights of an excellent editor and the support of the enthusiastic team at HMH behind this novel.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Parched is the hard-hitting but hopeful story of three characters who come together in what might be their last hope of survival.

 

2. The verse novel…

 

Where did the idea come from for the book? I was inspired by the true life story of Clara Lemlich. She was an amazingly brave and determined you woman.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Hmmm … I’d have to pick the verse novels by Karen Hesse and Margarita Engle.

Which actor would you choose to play your character in a movie rendition? Helena Bonham Carter. The resemblance is uncanny!

 

3. The Steampunk…

 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? A year, which is a long time for a first draft! I started it for NaNoWriMo, but then PARCHED sold and it had to wait in the wings while I worked on several rounds of revisions.

What genre does your book fall under? Back to middle grade for this one!

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Steam engines, gadgets & goggles, and adventure. AND, there be dragons…

 

Now, it’s my turn to tag 3 excellent debut authors:

Pat Zietlow Miller, debut author of SOPHIE’S SQUASH (2013, Schwartz & Wade)

Nancy J. Cavanaugh, debut author of THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET (2013, Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky), and

Laura Golden, debut author of EVERY DAY AFTER (2013, Delacorte/Random House Children’s Books)

 

Look for their posts in the Next Big Thing interview series next week!

 

 

Out of My Hands

 

There is nothing even keel or humdrum about this whole “write a book and send it out into the world” thing. It’s thrilling! And it’s terrifying.

Think about it: you write a book. You pour your soul into it. You show it to a trusted few readers who give you lots of encouragement and lots of work to do. So you get back to work, revising, reworking, rethinking.

Then one miraculous day, the book is acquired. Thrilling! And you get your first editorial letter. And then another. Then there are line edits and copy edits, and with each new round, you worry: “What if I can’t get it right?” What if I mess it all up?”

But you do your best, and you trust your story. Then before you know it, it’s time for the first page pass, which just may be the most thrilling and terrifying of all.  Let’s start with the terrifying, just to get it out of the way.

  1. This is your last chance to change anything before the book goes to print.
  2. The ARCs will be made from the same file, so any mistakes in the FPPs will be seen by anyone reviewing the book.
  3. This is your last chance to change anything.

But seeing those pages for the first time is also incredibly thrilling.

See the font they chose? Doesn’t it look … well, parched?

And look, the name of that chapter’s point of view character is at the bottom of each page.

Okay, I did more than just admire the typesetting. I combed through every sentence, hunting for errors and inconsistencies. I write pretty thin, so every little change feels enormous. Like this one, on page 4, line 15 below: the fragment of the word “ing” ends before the indentation of the following paragraph begins. So my editor asked me to add a word. Just one. That should be easy enough, right?

Well, I wouldn’t say it was easy. But I did it. And as a reward, look what showed up on my doorstep over the weekend!

So that’s it. My job—the writing—is done.

It’s out of my hands. And that is truly thrilling. And truly terrifying.

 

Fire Season

 

The writing is done. Revisions, line edits, copy edits—all done! So while the editorial team at HMH is working really hard to bring the book to print, I have moved on to my next project.

My new novel is very different from PARCHED, and this is intentional. I hope to have a long and varied writing career, where I am free to follow the characters and stories as they come to me; free to work across genres and markets. I don’t want to get stuck writing the same kind of book over and over again. But actually doing that, trying something new, is sort of terrifying.

What if all my best attempts go up in flames?

Where I live, wildfire is just a part of summer. Some years are worse than others, and this season has been nothing short of devastating. But fire is a natural part of a healthy forest. In order to make way for new growth, the forest has to burn.

I began this summer with a plan. This wasn’t just going to be a vacation. It was going to be a working vacation. And I have worked—really hard. I finished a draft of the new novel, and then turned immediately to revisions. I planned marketing strategies for PARCHED and connected with writers and readers who share a love for stories and a commitment to getting them into children’s hands. But somewhere along the way, this summer stopped being a working vacation and became work.

I sat myself down in early July and asked why I was so irritable, why I was virtually crackling with stress. Here I was, living my dream, but the pressure of promoting the first book and writing the second had sucked the joy out of the process. And where was this pressure coming from? Not from my editor; not from my agent. No, it was all me. The combination of self-imposed deadlines and self-doubt knocked me off balance.

I camped this past Friday night along the Poudre River in northern Colorado. Two weeks ago, the canyon and forest all around was burning in a fire so intense it melted rock and devoured almost 90,000 acres and 259 homes.

 

The first thing I did when we got to our campsite was go down to the river, shuck my shoes and wade into the water. The damage to the forest was easy to see, but it took a moment for me to notice what it had done to the river. The ripples of sand in the riverbed were coated with black char, sediment that had washed down the burned hillsides when the rains finally put out the fire. That sediment altered the pH of the river, putting the ecosystem at risk. But even as I stood there, the river flowed, washing itself clean, finding its balance again.

For writers, there will always be stress and doubts and deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise. I have a month left until school starts again, until the bulk of my time and energy belongs to my students. A month until the first ARCs go out into the world and it’s time for reviewers and readers to have their say. The pressure will only build from here.

So I choose to view this fire season as an early warning. A chance to dig my fire lines wide and long. To create a protected space where I can write, where no doubts or pressures or negative reviews can reach. A chance to find my balance so I can keep it when the next fire season comes around.