I was pretty stoked (truly, an understatement) to see this preview for my book in Entertainment Weekly!
It is soooooooooooo weird to suddenly find myself with an audience for my work!! It helps that I have an amazing agent, and an equally amazing publicist and marketing team at St. Martin's Press. I think it takes a village to birth a book...
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Thursday, January 18, 2018
There are a lot of exciting developments happening behind the scenes as we countdown toward Release Day - just under six months away!
BABY TEETH was selected for the Goodreads list, "40 of the Hottest Mysteries & Thrillers of 2018" - alongside some amazing other writers. Read the full list here.
It was also selected by Publisher's Marketplace for their Spring/Summer 2018 Buzz Books.
And now that we have contracts in hand, I can report that BABY TEETH will be published in the UK (by Transworld), Australia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The ink isn't dry yet on other contracts, so more announcements to come.
In the UK, the title will be BAD APPLE!!
And finally, here is the official book trailer for BABY TEETH:
Friday, December 8, 2017
One year ago I was putting in applications for Affordable Housing. The time had come that I couldn't realistically continue spending my entire $627/month Disability payment on rent. I visited an apartment building in Pittsburgh, knowing the wait list was at least one year long. But there was no other way I'd ever be able to move back home: the rent and cost of living was just too high for my meager income. I put on a smile as I looked at the apartment complex, but a part of me was dying inside. Most of the people who got apartments there stayed until they died. I really wasn't prepared for that to be the last place I'd ever live, but it seemed like my best choice at that moment: cheap rent in a decent neighborhood. But all I could think was: is this really all that's left for me? Cinder block walls and a life with no meaningful choices?
One year ago I had a holiday slumber party with my sister and our long-time friend, Lisa. I looked at these two women, just a bit older than I was, and wondered how my life had gone so astray. I don’t think I'd ever felt so defeated. They had careers, well-filled lives, and the confidence that should come with middle age. I barely felt able to contribute to our conversations. How had I, a reasonably talented and ambitious person, so utterly failed?
One year ago I was negotiating a peace treaty with myself to stop submitting my writing. The cycle of submission and rejection had gone on for so long – nearly 30 years – and it was time to break the cycle. I was exactly four years into writing novels. I'd completed my sixth, gotten it into Pitch Wars, and queried it heavily, but I just wasn't getting any interest. For my own sanity, I needed to make my life not about waiting for someone else to appreciate my work. And for me, that meant beginning a new chapter of writing for myself, and not submitting – for representation, or publication, or anything else. I needed my writing to become its own source of joy. I had embarked on writing novels for a not entirely pure reason: I'd hoped my one skill – writing – could help me escape living in poverty. But, one year ago, I needed to find peace with a different reality.
One year ago I was incredibly depressed – and let's be real, things started sinking after the 2016 election. It was hard – for many of us – to be happy. It was easy – for many of us – to start fearing the future. To make matters worse, my Rochester, NY apartment – where I'd been living for thirteen years – had recently been robbed by someone on the maintenance staff; they stole prescription drugs. I'd discovered it right away and called the police, but in the end my landlord didn't believe me. Let me tell you, to be called a "silly, careless woman, quick to make accusations" in the days after Trump was elected was truly dumping insult on injury. I started to feel unsafe in my apartment and was desperate to leave. So I began applying for Affordable Housing…
One year ago it was obvious – palpable – that something needed to change, and this was a challenge because I was feeling pretty powerless at the time. I did the one thing I felt I had control over: I got back from my holiday break and quit my job. I know, that sounds a little nuts. But at that point I was only working a few hours a week (I was on Disability after all, but I was trying to stay connected to the world and my community). There were many things I really liked about my part-time gig at my local library, but it had also been a frequent source of frustration. I was forever wanting to see my work – personal, or otherwise – make a difference; I wanted a sense of accomplishment, and that just wasn't to be had from a minimum wage job. So I gave my two weeks notice.
I don't recall being concerned about how I would spend my days, in spite of the fact that I'd committed to both quitting my job and "retiring" from my novel writing ambitions. I recall feeling a sense of relief that things – small as they may be – were changing, and that felt hopeful to me. One week after my final day at the library, I got a response from one of the last queries I'd sent out for BABY TEETH. An agent wanted to talk to me.
The rest, as they say, is history. And this last year has been one I never could have imagined.
A couple of weeks later I signed with Sarah Bedingfield of Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. A few weeks after that she submitted my novel to publishers. A week after she started submitting, we received a six-figure pre-emptive offer for BABY TEETH. And I suddenly became a professional novelist.
A year ago I was applying for Affordable Housing. Now I'm living in my apartment of choice, in my neighborhood of choice, in my hometown of Pittsburgh. It is the ability to choose that makes a person wealthy – I've always believed that. I have teams of people at St. Martin's Press working to make my book the best it can be. Sometimes I joke now that my "job" is sitting at home in my pajamas. Or my "job" is getting surprise emails filled with good news. I've seen the cover of my book and held the ARC in my hands. I've done copy edits and reviewed the first pass pages. I've talked to my publicist, and my film agent, and had lunch with the leader of BABY TEETH's marketing team. And I've had many calls – and exchanged thousands of emails – with my agent, Sarah.
The changes happened so incredibly quickly. Sometimes it still doesn't quite feel real. Sometimes I'm not sure who – or what – to thank, but be sure: I'm incredibly grateful. I can't thank Sarah and the folks at St. Martin's Press enough. I don't think they'll ever be able to fully understand the opportunity they've given me: I have an entirely new life.
During the first half of this year I couldn't stop thinking in terms of BABY TEETH being my only book, my only chance. I've been through too much in life to make assumptions about things; I've shopped my own work around enough to know that you can't make people read, watch, or like anything. But slowly I am moving away from the shock of that blizzard day in March when Sarah called to tell me we had an offer for my book. Slowly I'm moving toward a longer-term way of thinking: building a career.
I've been working really hard on a new novel. Sarah's feedback has been so helpful – as has her enthusiasm. It's starting to really settle in: I am a professional novelist. Maybe all of my books won't succeed, but I know better than anyone that that's no reason not to try. I always love my new, shiny work the best… So I'm entering the New Year full of hope, and immense gratitude.
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
People rarely consider the connection between living in poverty and living with chronic illness, but without the ability to work full time it's nearly impossible to support yourself. My financial situation stabilized once I was approved for Federal Disability—a process that took five years—but "stable" doesn't mean you aren't still living below the poverty line. At the start of 2013 I set myself an asinine goal: I wanted to work my way off of Federal Disability and become financially independent by becoming a published author. My inspiration for this was J.K. Rowling—who had once been a writer on welfare, before Harry Potter became a phenomenon. But I knew the odds weren't good, and pursuing a career as a novelist often inspires the advice "don't quit your day job."
I came to writing novels after spending 20+ years dreaming of being an independent filmmaker. I wrote a ton of screenplays, but in 2012 I had to face a very difficult truth: I was no longer well enough to take my filmmaking dreams into the real world, where making a film—being on set—required long, arduous days. It was a blow to my entire identity, both that I was never going to be a Palme d'Or winning director (yes, I had lofty goals), and that my health, truly, impacted my day-to-day functioning (yes, I had been in denial). After decades with Crohn's disease—and the removal of key portions of my digestive system—my body and stamina just weren't what they used to be.
I started off writing Young Adult novels—four of them, fantasy and sci-fi type things. And then I had a revelation. I took a long, hard look at what I liked to read, and realized I was writing the wrong books—the wrong types, and for the wrong age. I didn't regret switching gears though: I felt like my learning curve had been pretty slow, and I needed to write several books to learn how to write a novel (which is exceedingly more complex than a screenplay). When I started writing adult novels, I revisited some of the concepts I had used in the scripts I'd wanted to direct, as a few of them were pretty good, and I didn't want to squander those ideas if I could repurpose/re-imagine them.
Right after I finished writing BABY TEETH, my sixth novel, I submitted it into Pitch Wars—a contest run by Brenda Drake where writers seek the opportunity to work with a mentor. This was my third year/third book I entered in the contest, and I was so fortunate that Margarita Montimore selected my manuscript. Under her guidance, I embarked on an intense two-month revision period. I'm not going to lie, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life, but I'd entered Pitch Wars to learn how to do better revisions, and to experience what a professional writing career might be like. I got everything I'd hoped for out of the contest, though my confidence wavered for a while. I started to question if I had what it took to make it in the publishing industry, and considered the possibility of simplifying my life by going back to my roots, poetry.
Afterward, in spite of getting a lot of requests during the Agent Round of the contest, I was back in the query trenches. When you're in those trenches, the walls can seem insurmountable. You keep sending your stuff out, sending your stuff out, hoping someone "gets" your work and loves it enough to champion your career. Between mid-2013 and January 2017 I sent over 300 queries (for several different books), although most of my actual manuscript requests started with Twitter pitch contests (and then the Agent Round of Pitch Wars). But ultimately, I got my agent from a query letter.
Sarah Bedingfield of Levine Greenberg Rostan requested my full manuscript two days after I queried her. Eight days after that, she asked if we could talk on the phone. Now, writers are always eager to have The Call—that magical phone chat where you know your query trench days are behind you. But I'm kind of a skeptical person. Pretty much I'm always waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. So when she said in her email that she wanted to discuss "editorial ideas" I took the cautious approach: maybe this would be a Revise & Resubmit call. I prepared for it to be both A Call and THE CALL, and spent the weekend praying that I'd love her suggestions for my book.
I knew during that phone conversation that I wanted Sarah to be my agent. It was extremely important to me that her suggestions resonate, and her ideas were simple and impactful—I was smacking myself that I hadn't thought of those details myself! In this business, getting notes from people is commonplace, but getting notes that make you shout out "Aha!" with a big smile on your face are rare. However, it's standard protocol to alert the other agents whom I'd queried/sent my manuscript, to let them know about the offer I'd received and give them time to offer/decline. So I couldn't accept Sarah's offer on the spot.
|Happy me, signing the agency agreement|
It was very humbling, after years of no offers, to end up with more than one. And it was even stranger to find myself composing a "rejection" email to an agent! On February 6th, 2017 I formally accepted Sarah's offer, and on February 9th I signed the agency agreement. After completing the small revisions we'd first discussed, she sent me a few line edits. And in a very short time, BABY TEETH was ready to go on submission to editors.
Over March 8th-9th, Sarah submitted my book to thirty-three editors. On March 15th, we received a six-figure, pre-emptive offer from Jennifer Weis at St. Martin's Press. I drew a green maze on the 3/15 square in my calendar… That is the day my life changed. I trembled as Sarah gave me the news over the phone, and fought tears as I explained to her what this means to me—to actually succeed at this insane dream of working my way off of Disability and out of poverty. It was the most surreal day of my life.
On March 16th I spoke with Jennifer for the first time, and I was so thrilled with her enthusiasm and vision for my book. I had spent four years trying to educate myself about the publishing industry, so I wouldn't make the mistakes I'd made pursuing film, and I understood it was standard procedure to make revisions. But, to my surprise, no major edits were deemed necessary—and after so many years of writing, I feel like I've finally done something "right." Jennifer, Sarah, and I are starting to brainstorm some ideas for giving the ending more "oomph," and I can't wait for people to read What Happens! If all continues to go well—I still can't quite drop my long habit of expecting the other shoe to drop—my book will be available to the world in spring/summer 2018.
I do not expect to be the next J.K. Rowling; I'm perfectly happy to simply—and finally—be able to share my work with people in a meaningful way. My first "treat" to myself after finding out about my book sale was to schedule a hair appointment (which was something I've been struggling to regularly afford), and then a dentist appointment (and finally sort out the difficulties I've been having, an expensive proposition without dental coverage). My next move will be an actual move—I'm heading back "home" to Pittsburgh this summer. I hadn't planned on staying in Rochester, NY this long, but New York had more to offer in the way of healthcare for the working poor, and the cost of living in this part of the state is lower than the 'burgh. After I relocate, I plan to cross off something that's been high on my bucket list: I'm going to buy a damn sofa!
I am incredibly grateful to Sarah and the vision she's had for my book, and glad she has such a great agency behind her. And I also can't thank Jennifer enough, and the whole team at St. Martin's Press who are working to bring BABY TEETH into the world. Sometimes just thinking about what's happening now—and going to happen soon—makes me a little nervous, a little stressed. It's all very exciting, but we're talking about some big life changes here. It seems like a miracle that after thirty years of submitting my work—poetry, stage plays, short stories, screenplays, novels—everything basically changed in the span of a few hours. So when I find myself getting anxious I do the thing that always grounds me, that always makes me feel good: I sit down and write.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
What I Learned About My Writing by Dissecting My Reading Choices
After writing four Young Adult novels (three of them speculative fiction) I decided to switch gears. I took a long, hard look at what I like to read – and how I go about choosing what to read. It suddenly seemed incredibly obvious that what I write should pass a simple first test: would I read this? When I asked that of my first four books the answer was a little shocking: probably not. Don't get me wrong, I read both YA and speculative fiction – plus a lot of other things. But if I'd picked up my own books in a library or bookstore, based on the description and concept it's pretty iffy whether I would have taken any of them home.
I learned something very important from this: I am very judgmental about what I read. And in a world where people have busy lives and endless distractions, most readers are probably fairly picky about what they commit to. So that's when I started analyzing my own decision-making process: I work in a library and can bring home anything I want, for free. But I don't. So what am I looking for?
Not only do I judge a book by its cover, I judge it first by its spine. In the library where I work, New Fiction and New Non-fiction have their own displays, but the covers don't face outward like they do in some libraries and bookstores. I realized I make silent evaluations about the spine before I even pick up a book to find out more about it. Especially in fiction, the spine reveals a lot of information – from how long it is to how famous the author is (based on font size). I am apparently adverse to both super thick books, and books that scream "Huge Commercial Success!" That's just me.
|The books on my reading table.|
After I approve of the relative size of the book and the style of its spine, I pick it up and look at the cover. Too girly, I put it back. Too masculine, I put it back. An interesting image intrigues me, and maybe a title that makes me say "What's that about?" Then I open the cover and read the jacket copy. My attention span is mercilessly short. Maybe it's the setting I don't like. Maybe it's the main character's occupation. My ability to say "no" is brutal. I am more biased than I ever realized. So what am I attracted to?
Sometimes it's one word – the setting or the concept. Sometimes it’s a few sentences that make me go, "Hmm, I'd like to see what happens." Sometimes, to further convince me that I've made a good selection, I read the blurbs. I prefer blurbs from reviews (as a former filmmaker I know how hard it is to get press coverage, so I appreciate that as a general accomplishment). Alternately, I like blurbs from writers whose work I know, but even if I'm unfamiliar with the blurbists, several dazzling comments can make me even more excited about reading something.
The next thing I usually do is open the book and read a bit of the first page. It's not a deal breaker, I just want to know if there is an immediate connection. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't. Again, it's not a deal breaker because I know you often need a few paragraphs, a few pages, to feel like you're involved. Admittedly, as I've gotten older, I've become less inclined to give books a hundred or more pages to spark something in me… But that's a different blog.
There are exceptions to this scrutiny of course. If "everyone's talking about it!" I might read a book regardless of if I find the description inherently interesting. This was true for both "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt and "Dead Wake" by Erik Larson and I read both of them quickly and with pleasure. I'll read things based on a New York Times review if it's gotten glowing praise, or by a friend who gushes while recommending something. And obviously I'll read almost anything by favorite authors.
The challenge here was to dissect my own process for choosing a book unknown to me, with the intention of then writing a book that, based on the description and concept, was without a doubt something I would eagerly tuck under my arm and take home. With that in mind, I recently finished my first book for adult readers. (The words "artificial lifeform" will be on the dust jacket!) The enthusiasm and intention I had for this book from the beginning were very different from how and what I'd written before. It makes perfect sense that I should be the ideal reader for my own work. Especially given the precariousness of making an actual career in publishing… but that, too, is another blog.