Happy Thanksgiving and New Novel Teaser

As the title suggests, I’ve got some thanks to give and a teaser to share, but with this post, you’ve got options. Below is a synopsis video, and beneath it is the full post. Watch, read, or do both. Whichever, enjoy!

 
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you have the opportunity to be around family and friends for this holiday about gratitude, and I hope that you have the opportunity to express your thanks for them. 

Thanks to my readers! 
Sincerely, in the digital and social media age in which we live, if you are spending time reading my work instead of spending time on your phone (unless you’re reading on your phone 😉 I can’t thank you enough. There is so much demand for your time, that I believe I offer the sentiment of every author when I say thank you for choosing to spend time with the written word-especially ours.  
 
And a special thanks to teachers and librarians who manage to get my books into the hands of teens. My work isn’t wholesome and what a lot of adults want teens reading, but I read whatever I wanted to as a teen and turned out just fine (mostly). Teens want to see themselves in stories, and not just picture-perfect selves, or aspirational selves. They want the real deal. The fact that as teachers and librarians, you understand this, separates you from the pack. I thank you, and I know the teens in your life do as well. 
 
Teaser 
And on that note, are you ready for more of my work? How about a story about heroin addiction with a dab of dystopian government control? And some teens who are hellbent on not becoming pawns? 
 
Does that sound like something teens you know would read? Of course it does! I’m confident there are adults reading this post right now who would also love this story, titled One in Ten.  
 
I’ll have more details as the New Year begins, because the Holiday season is busy for everyone. I’ll pop back in after all the merriment. Therefore, get ready for some insider options I’ve never before been able to offer, and be ready for April when the novel releases. And, so as to not leave you high and dry, here’s the opening paragraph of what will be One in Ten
 
Here’s the secret no one tells you: drugs are fun. I know a lot of addicts and I can’t think of one who started using because they wanted to feel bad. It’s the opposite. We all know what could go wrong, both long and short term. But that’s a gamble, that’s life. Therefore, it’s worth rolling the dice, because snake eyes are a potential, but so are those double six boxcars. The risk is worth the reward of escaping from this world. Every. Single. Time.  
 
 
 

 

Mixed Emotions at the Albany Book Fest


This past Saturday I was fortunate to be at the second annual Albany Book Festival, sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute. Like last year, attendance was phenomenal, as was the lineup of featured authors–Jamaica Kincaid and Joyce Carol Oates were there.

The layout for tables this year was better than last. I was in a prime spot near the featured signings and directly next to the Book House’s point of sale.  Therefore, I had significant traffic and found new readers among them. I saw many faces from the past, spoke with numerous teachers and librarians about potential visits, and even had some of my students show up to the festival. I was able to test run a short story (check it out here) and simply enjoy the atmosphere of being with “my people.”

However, one question kept coming up: When’s your next book coming out?

I was happy people asked, thrilled that they still care, because if you haven’t been keeping track, I haven’t had a book out in three years. 

And so I was equally sad not to have an answer. Well, not one I am proud of, because I simply don’t know when I’ll have something new published. I have three manuscripts that could very easily become novels, but publishing a book is a process that’s not entirely under my control. 

Therefore, I don’t know what’s next, what the answer will be, but if you are out there waiting, please know that I am trying my absolute best, and if something clicks into place, you will hear it loud and clear. I love writing, telling stories, and being with my people. I simply need to find someone who loves what I do and is willing to usher my projects into reality.

Wish me luck.

In the meantime, thank you to the Writers Institute for putting together such a great day, and I wish you all happy reading.

Writing Advice 101

Recently I received an email from a college student and aspiring writer. It’s a humbling experience to have someone reach out under the assumption that I’m going to know what I’m talking about and have the ability to provide accurate advice for where that person is in their writing process. Because it is a process. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that the learning curve for writing extends into perpetuity. That’s simply something that every author has to get comfortable with if he or she intends to keep publishing. 

Therefore, it is with an enormous grain of salt that I publish my response to the aforementioned email. If you are a new writer, someone who is hoping to crack into publishing, this might be perfect for you. If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ll recognize some of the advice, because you’ve heard it and you know it works. Even for the veterans out there, this may serve as a concise but good reminder of what we must do, which first and foremost, is approach every project with a “beginner’s mind” as Goldberg famously said.

If any one piece helps, great, run with it. Possibly some will be more than you need. That’s fine, too. Same for the things you’ve surpassed. Regardless, it all comes back around, so you may want to bookmark 😉 Share widely if it resonates, and happy writing.

Response:
I can give you thousands of suggestions, but some of those depend on where you are in the process and what you need to consider. Right now, I would say that in addition to writing your novel, you should be journaling (it helps to clear your thoughts); you should be reading as many novels that match yours as you can; you should also be watching any TV series or movies that also fall into that genre and analyzing their structure (yes, you have permission to binge watch). All of this will clarify your thoughts about what you want in your novel and what you don’t, as well as help you structure your plot turns and foreshadowing and the climax. Certainly read any book on craft that appeals to you as well. On Writing, Bird by Birdand anything by Donald Maass are worthwhile.
For your novel, the best thing you can do is finish the first draft. Just write it. Do not care if it’s garbage. It will be. All first drafts are terrible, especially mine. There isn’t an author I know whose work is great in first draft form. Once it’s done, walk away from it for a couple of months. Do not look at it. Then, when you’ve kind of forgotten about it, go back and read it like you are a reader, not the author. Mark it up. What works? What doesn’t? Be brutal. Have others read. But ones you trust will provide authentic feedback, and not, “This is the greatest!” Beware of those people. They’re not being honest, they’re being kind. You want the former, not the latter when it comes to your writing.
After that, cut, revise, redo, completely unravel the novel and write a second draft. Repeat the above process for this draft.
Do it again.
Then, and only then, might you want to go anywhere with it. At that point, I could give you many suggestions for that process. However, right now, finish, and then put your writing through the process. It works.
I am currently completely rewriting a 300-page manuscript from scratch. This will be the third draft. It’s better than the other two could have ever dreamed of being. This is the work if you want it. 
Now, that’s a lot to take in, but please don’t hesitate to ask me any follow-up questions or seek clarifications. I wish you the best of luck. Writing is one of the best things in the world for me. Publishing is a business, however. You’ll know where you stand once you’ve gone through all of the above. Have fun!

Being Thankful for the Truth

It’s been almost three years since I’ve sold a manuscript. Thirty-two months, to be exact. These years have been rough, in various ways, but this isn’t a pity-party post. Rather, it’s about embracing the truth of your situation.

I’m a fighter by nature. I fight over little things and significant things, and I often win. Not because I’m petty, but because the things I fight for matter to me, and at least in my mind, are of importance.

Recently, though, both personally and professionally, I have lost numerous battles and the losses have left me wounded. I have had to take stock of so much of what I believed to be true and come to terms with how wrong I have been.

I know in this world today, with recent hurricanes and raging fires, that my struggle is insignificant. I have family and friends who love me, a roof over my head, and employment. That’s plenty. But I still feel what I feel, and have had to struggle to make heads or tails of my situation.

When it comes to writing, I’m down. I can’t explain why my manuscripts don’t sell, even when they come so close. I have no crystal ball about what the market wants, what readers need. I only know how to tell the stories I tell. They are not pretty. They are not always upbeat. They don’t always provide black and white scenarios in which readers can rally behind. I don’t believe anything in this world ever works that way. There is so much gray. I write about that gray, for good, for bad.

And yet, even though I’m down, I’m not out. I am happy to know the truth, to have been able to reconcile where I stand, to understand the lack of power I have, that the lost fight isn’t always because of my personal failure. I hold no more delusions. To some, that may seem like a loss of hope. That’s not even close to the case. My hope springs eternal, but it is tempered.

At signings, my signature line for Press Play is “Truth, whatever the cost.” I have always believed Greg would like that, and I think only now do I understand why.

So, as we belly up to our Thanksgiving tables, and as so many families do, we offer up what we are thankful for, know that mine is the truth. I’d rather know where I stand in this world, than to believe I am on some other footing. Of course, current truth isn’t always fixed, and this situation is certainly dynamic. But for now, what I have learned from these recent set of circumstances has provided a clarity I have never had before. As the saying goes, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward” (Law).

Well played, life; well played.

Enjoy your holidays, your time with family and friends, and whatever truths you embody, for the moment, or for a lifetime.

NPR Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson

Not only did I have the great pleasure of attending the Inaugural Albany Book Fest this weekend, but I also had the chance to talk about teaching sexual violence with none other than Laurie Halse Anderson-you know the author of Speak. It was an excellent conversation, and one I think could spark great discussion in the classroom for educators who teach the novel or about the topic. Here’s the article I that I wrote if you’re interested in that, and if you have seven minutes to spare, give a listen. It will be time well spent (click the image or link below).

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/30/653160035/teaching-high-school-students-about-sexual-assault-through-literature

Hey, everybody! I know, it’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to say, but life has been super busy, and the summer flew by. However, now that we’re back into the New Year (seriously, isn’t September more like a new year than January?), I have an event coming up.

Not just me, as you’ll see by the lineup. The Inaugural Albany Book Fest kicks off in two weeks. The main event is Saturday, the 29th, from 10am-4pm, and is at UAlbany. All signings, readings, panels, etc. will be held indoors, so don’t fear any bad weather. 

Admission is free and the talent is vast, so come and check it out. The more that attend, the better next year will be. See you on the 28th!

P.S. Yes, I’m working on book news. No, I don’t have any yet. But trust me, I am working on it 🙂

Rockin’ Times at Rochester Teen Book Fest

The hype crew, getting the 2,500 in attendance ready.

Last year I posted about the Rochester Teen Book Fest and my awesome time attending with Albany High’s Book Club. In that post I said that I’d be back, and I meant it, and it happened, but this time with me as  part of the author lineup.

I joined 25 other authors and 5 teen authors for the festival above all other festivals. That’s not hyperbole. To walk into the gymnasium at Nazareth College (bedecked in a cape no less), following a drum line, and take a seat in front of thousands of teens and librarians and teachers was a bit breath-taking. But volume isn’t everything. I’ve attended similarly sized events, and they did not match the intensity and fervor with which the audience reacted to the authors on stage. Some say that reading is dead or dying, but if the pulse at Nazareth is any indication, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Presenting this year, instead of attending, was a blast. However, I would have thoroughly enjoyed listening to any number of the other authors (you checked the link above, right?) My team–I got a team–was on point and took care of everything, including enforcing the teen-first policy that makes Teen Book Fest so special (I’m looking at you Nick).

My man, Nick. A.K.A. “The Enforcer”

I extend a huge thanks to the teens who attended my sessions and let me ramble on about the fears I hold in life and in writing, which are many, and spout off about the various dumb choices I made as a teenager and how they’ve shaped my writing today. Someday I will write a story that includes those goldfish. They deserve a proper sendoff.  And to all who then bought my work, thanks for buying ALL the copies. It happened so fast, I truly don’t understand how. But no complaints, here. I’m just glad my work has found its way into so many new hands.

Hanging with the authors and librarians this year was phenomenal fun. When I get to have dinner with the likes of Brendan Kiely, Bill Konigsberg, John McGoran, Alisa Kwitney, and Taran Matharu, as well as have lunch and great conversation with Gloria Chao, only to then have drinks with Ellen Hopkins and Cyndy Etler, what more could I want? Well, more librarian time. My rowdy table of fantastic librarians, who were ready to party after executing one hell of a day, after one hell of a difficult year, was truly the icing on the cake. To spend time with these individuals, who have volunteered so much time–so much time–to make this incredible, teen-focused event a reality was wonderful to be a part of. Yes, our singing was terrible, and I couldn’t tell a cow from a pig, but the vibe that existed was a carry over from the vibe from the morning. There’s a reason Teen Book Fest is spectacular, and it’s not the authors, it’s the people who work behind the scenes to connect us with the teens. That’s my takeaway from this year, and something I’m proud to have experienced.

Awesome authors

Even more awesome, librarians and organizers that make up the TBF committee.

And so here’s hoping I’ll be invited back next year, so I can jump off more tables, do more cartwheels and hand springs, sign more shirts, tell more stories, and to again ask one question of the teens, who came up to the signing table, full of excitement and exhaustion: “Did you have fun today?”

And to hear the inevitable response, “It was the best!”

Yes, yes it was.