Friday, April 5, 2019

Cover Reveal!

Cover design by Connie Gabbert
I paint with a light brush when describing what my characters look like. I try instead, especially through dialogue, to convey who they are. In terms of physical description, I only give readers a few specifics, and leave the rest to their imaginations as the story unfolds.

So I was fairly gobsmacked when my editor shared artist/designer Connie Gabbert's cover depiction of Izzy, who is the main character and narrates How to Build a Heart.

"Oh my god. It's her!" I exclaimed. Out loud, to the empty room, as I stared at my computer screen. Well, maybe Frisbee (The Dog) was there. But probs not. I talk to myself. A lot. I'd like to tell you it's an occupational hazard (Writer Who Spends Too Much Time Alone) but I've been doing it for years.

But I digress.

I. Love. This. Cover. The expression on the girl's face completely conveys what Izzy feels most of the time. That will change as the plot unfolds, but for most of the book ... that's her.

Intrigued? Head over to Bustle for the first chapter! And if you want more, mark it as a To Read on Goodreads!

How to Build a Heart is a Fall 2019 book, with an on sale date of January 2020.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Almost there ...


So you've seen the spine ... and a bit of the inside ... and now here's the BACK of the galley. Call me ridiculous, but you know: a lot of work went into putting all that together! And I'm not talking about the novel itself:  a whole bunch of people are working hard to get this Book Baby out into the world.

So to the whole crew at Algonquin Young Readers and Workman Publishing: THANK YOU!!

Cover reveal and first chapter tomorrow, Friday 4/5 online at Bustle!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Inspiration

Hogan's Heroes
Stories come to me from a whole lot of directions, but I think it’s fair to say How to Build a Heart draws most heavily, of all my books, from my personal experience and from family. Not only the one I grew up in, but also the one I chose. Meaning: my husband.

Conrad Gustav Schneider is a Southern boy from North Carolina. He loves Tar Heels basketball, barbecue and biscuits. With a name like his, you’d expect him to be from Mainz or Berlin, but he grew up in Davidson, with a mom who could trace her roots back to Andrew Jackson.

His dad, however, was Fritz from Berlin. Long story about how he met Conrad’s mom, but suffice it to say it wasn’t easy growing up with a German dad and a name like Conrad when one of the most popular television shows at the time was Hogan’s Heroes. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure: this was a sitcom set in a Nazi POW camp, in which the hilarious, clever allied prisoners constantly outwit the bumbling, ridiculous Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz. It ran from 1965 to 1971: Conrad’s prime “growing up” years.) 

I won’t detail the bullying he endured, but his perceived outsider status, combined with being part of the first class of North Carolinians to attend integrated, “bused” public school from grades K through 12, has always helped Conrad see the world differently than people for whom identity was clear and simple and inclusion unquestioned. 

The first page of a galley often includes an author letter, where we have a chance to share what inspires a particular book. As I said, I can’t point to just one starting point for any of my novels, but without a doubt the immigrant experience and the challenges of learning a new language and finding your place in a new culture … which were part my family’s story as well as Conrad’s … played a big role in How to Build a Heart.


Most readers will never read the galley, or this letter, so as part of the run-up to the cover reveal on Friday, I’ll share it here:



Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Shorter is Harder

Page Proofs
Synopses slay me. Honestly? I'd rather write War and Peace than draft a 250-word summary of my latest book.

Choosing the important details and figuring out what to leave on the editing room floor (sorry: that's a metaphor from the pre-digital age, back when we cut tape with a razor blade) is sooooo hard.

So I'm in awe of the publishing pros who have brought my books into the world and SUMMARIZED them brilliantly, in promotional materials and book jackets and ... most recently ... the back-of-the-galley copy.

How to Build a Heart is at that "galley" stage, stepping tentatively out into the world (is it unfortunate that Mary Shelley's Creature from Frankenstein just popped into my head?) with a shiny new cover and a few residual typos. Galleys are basically pre-publication advertising in book form, and while I'm pretty sure THIS cover (coming Friday!!!!!) won't change, in the past I've had galleys with covers that ultimately changed or ... in the case of Jersey Tomatoes ... no cover at all.

I'm incredibly grateful for all the folks at Algonquin Young Readers who are working with me on this latest novel. There have been moments when I've felt they understood my characters better than I did!  Here's what you'll find on the back of the galley for How to Build a Heart:

        All Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere.

Her father, a Marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. 

When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia in Izzy’s junior year, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school — even if she is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.


How to Build a Heart is the story of Izzy’s journey to find her place in the world and her discovery that the choices we make and the people we love ultimately define us and bring us home.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Stuff's Getting Real

Spine for How to Build a Heart
Galleys!!!!

Also known as Advance Reader Copies. Uncorrected Proofs.

Also known as OMG THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!!!!

In other words: my next book, How to Build a Heart, toddles out into the world this week. On Friday, April 5th, Bustle will reveal the cover and first chapter. Meanwhile, reviewers/book bloggers/bookstore owners/other bookish folks will receive their paperback Advance Copies from my publisher, Algonquin Young Readers. I’m not a NetGalley subscriber, but probs you’ll find it there as well. 

It’s my fifth book but wow, this never gets old. My editor popped a few copies in the mail to me and I just keep … petting them. I know, it’s weird, but that’s what I do. I stand there, stroking the cover in semi-disbelief.

Speaking of: artist/designer Connie Gabbert created the beautiful cover for How to Build a Heart. You might recognize her work from the terrific cover she did for Erika Sanchez's I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter:

When I visit schools and talk to students about writing and publishing (I mostly like to talk about writing; they mostly like to hear about publishing) they are always amazed that the vast majority of (traditionally published) authors don’t choose the covers for their books. A small army of art, sales and marketing experts pretty much steers that ship. So … it’s huge, absolutely HUGE, when they decide on a cover and … you like it. Or, if you’re lucky, LOVE it.

Which I can honestly say, I do! I am in love with the cover Algonquin has found for How to Build a Heart. I can’t wait to show it to you!

In the meantime, the photo above is a bit of a “spine teaser.” Throughout the week I’ll share other parts of the Galley, including the book description, a brief letter describing my inspiration for this story, a scan of the back and finally … the cover.


Stay tuned …

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Plot Follows Character

It’s not my idea. Anne Lamott, in her fabulous book on writing, Bird by Bird, taught me that the first rule of writing fiction is developing your characters.

Once you know who they are and what they want, the rest follows.

I was recently visiting a high school creative writing class in Freeport, Maine, pushing the “Plot Follows Character!” message (I should really emblazon that on a tee shirt … ) and that very night opened Fredrik Backman’s Beartown and WUMP! There it was. And so well done.

Beartown is the story of a down-and-out, rural town where hockey is practically a religion. The local hockey club wields a disproportionate influence on every aspect of life, hockey players are demigods, and because there isn’t much else happening economically the community’s fortunes are linked to one particular team’s success and the potential for attracting a hockey training camp to Beartown.

Fully the first third of the book introduces us to a large assortment of characters, from current teen players to their parents to local business owners to coaches, former players … Backman slowly fills in the various canvases of their personalities, their histories, their desires and fears, step by step, as if each were a paint-by-number. At times it felt like I was peeking into Backman’s writer’s notebook. You know, the place where we work things out? All the words we need to write as we get to know our characters? Of course, it wasn’t as rough as my notebook, which should never be read by anyone except me …

By the time the big game approaches, we can well imagine how each of these characters will react, win or lose, and what the stakes are for each. But of course, that’s not enough. We need higher highs and lower lows. So Backman throws a Molotov cocktail into the mix, and we watch what happens. 

Well, PLOT happens. But it’s a plot that will unfold based on all the careful, intentional character details the author has given us. We know how each character will react and what he/she will do based on who they are, and what they want.

Folks have been urging me to read this book for ages because I wrote Wrecked, which dramatizes the aftermath and various character reactions to an accusation of campus sexual assault. Beartown’s Molotov cocktail is a rape: the daughter of the hockey club’s manager is raped by the club’s star player. Her accusation is made public the eve of the Big Game.

“Explosive” doesn’t go far enough to describe how the town’s citizens react. What’s so, so good, however, is that while we can’t PREDICT what each will do … when they do it, it makes sense. Because they’ve been so well-depicted from the beginning of the book. Our hearts break for them and we turn pages FAST, because we know these characters and we’re invested, we’re bought in, we care. Deeply.

That’s good writing.

As a novelist I’m mindful to read like a writer. Not necessarily with a pencil in hand, but with an eye toward craft, and how another novelist is pulling it off. I’d say Beartown is an outstanding example of Plot Follows Character.

I’m between my own novels right now, having just put copyedits on my latest to bed. I’m waiting for page proofs, which are always fun to read (it looks like a book!) but also SLOW to read because you check for mistakes and typos. I tend to review page proofs with a ruler under each line, and even read the sentences backwards … just to make sure nothing’s out of place. Excruciating, but necessary.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and just finished Lauren Groff’s collection of short stories, Florida. 


What’s in your stack?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

How to Tell a Story

I’m playing “revision tag” with my editor right now, which means it’s her turn to read/react to the latest draft of my current manuscript. While she’s “It,” I take a complete break from the work-in-progress and INHALE other books. And wow, I read some good ones this week!

They are very different but what I love about each is the narrative device employed by the author. As writers we have to choose WHO tells the story ... but in each of these books, there are multiple WHOs telling a version of the story. The result is a three-dimensional kaleidoscope of narration: we see events from the north-south-east-west-inside-and-out. If you’re trying to figure out how to tell your story, take a look at these for some inspiration/innovation!

Homegoing by YaaGyasi is a debut (!) which begins in the late 1700s on Africa’s “Gold Coast” (Ghana) and tracks the divergent fates of two half sisters who never meet and whose stories play out on two different continents through multiple generations. Effia is married off to a British naval officer who deals in the slave trade; Esi is captured, sold into slavery and shipped as “cargo” to America. Eight generations later, we see how history, culture and ultimately, choice, bring these broken strands from the same mother back to the same place.

Each chapter reads like a short story, told from the POV of a next-gen narrator. A family tree in the beginning of Homegoing is an essential reference … there are a lot of characters … but the result is both expansive and personal. Gyasi brings individuals and their wrenching stories to life amidst the backdrop of sweeping events. She writes “small” in order to breathe life into the “big.” This is not a historical novel, but rather a family epic played out through history.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys on the other hand, is a historical novel. Based on the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship filled with refugees, sunk by a Soviet sub in the Baltic Sea in 1945, the story is brought to life via FOUR narrators: an East Prussian teenager, a Lithuanian nurse, a Latvian girl and a young German sailor.

I’ve attempted two alternating narrators before, but never four! Sepetys pulls it off brilliantly, due, I think, to keeping each chapter very short. She never bogs down and instead captures a particular incident and unique, personal reaction from a character in every chapter.

I remember years ago visiting the Famine Museum in Strokestown, Ireland, and our guide pointing out how their goal was to move beyond the conventional history-telling of the “big house,” the rich and powerful, and tell the stories of the ordinary people: the stories from the potato ridges one can still see in the fields. When Sepetys was researching Salt to the Sea, she visited a museum where they displayed notes-in-bottles which had been hastily written and tossed into the freezing ocean by passengers from the Wilhem Gustloff. Her goal with this novel was to bring their stories and voices to life, and she achieves this, resurrecting the individual stories which become lost in the great sweep of big, historical events.

 Sadie by CourtneySummers, which is fresh on the shelves this month, is wonderfully innovative. The narrative alternates between Sadie’s dark, emotionally wrenching first-person account and a somewhat ironic podcast script “narrated” by a DJ who has been charged with uncovering her story. I’m guessing this is inspired by NPR’s brilliant podcast, “Serial,” which slowly unravels one true story over a series of episodes.

Basically: Sadie is missing. Her younger sister has been brutally murdered, her killer never found, and months later Sadie has disappeared as well. Like the reader, the DJ becomes increasingly drawn into the “What really happened?” and tries desperately to catch up with the missing Sadie before she becomes yet Another Dead Girl.

The tension Summers creates by juxtaposing Sadie’s real-time narrative with the fits-and-false-starts investigation by the DJ is terrific. I found myself turning pages quickly and gasping in dismay at points: she totally hooked me. This device also breathes life into secondary characters, as the DJ interviews the various people who know or encountered Sadie along her journey. It’s a truly inventive way to tell a story.

Okay, I’ve probably got another week before I have to dive back into MY latest story, so next in the queue: Samantha Mabry! I’ve got A Fierce and Subtle Poison and All the Wind in the World on my night table right now. Also fresh out this month: Nova Ren Suma's A Room Away From the Wolves. And in October, Kelly Jensen's (Don't) Call Me Crazy. 

So many books, so little time ...