July 8, 2011

Westward Ho!

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:16 am

Westward Ho!Hi, Suspense Your Disbelief readers! (I need a pithier greeting–any ideas??)

We are off on our second annual trip west, this time with the added benefit of being able to stop at bookstores along the way, spread the word about Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, stock up on some car reads, and even–drop off some early, early swag for my novel!I’ll share what we did in case anyone’s planning something of the same.

I’ll also be visiting friends I’ve met through this blog and the web for some F2F meetings…an added, added bonus.

Please stay in touch here as I’ll be posting updates and tales, and if you have big news of your own, just write me and ignore the away message! I’ll be back in touch as soon as I can–you know those long expanses in the west.

Oh, am I excited for that emptiness again. 10 months in my beloved east and I am ready.

Be well, Disbeliefers! (Nah, don’t like it. The person who comes up with a winning idea gets three free books in the mail).

And here’s the route we’ll be taking, more or less:

Driving West

May 22, 2011

Voodoo dolls, backyard bonfires, & daisy petals

Filed under: Backstory,Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 3:59 pm

I know, I had trouble figuring out the name for this post myself.

I hope I came up with three iconic things that will make sense once I start typing.

It took me about as long to find a publisher as it did to find my soul mate. A little longer, but not much.

I’m dating the soul mate search from one day in eighth grade when I spun a long fantasy about my social studies teacher, who greeted me and the guy I was crushing on and said something like, “I always knew you two were meant for each other.”

OK, sure, it was the teen romances I gobbled by the dozens–Sweet Valley High, Sweet Dreams, Silhouette, does anyone besides me remember these?–and the model of my mom and dad, each other’s one and onlies, and married almost 49 years now, but I always thought the first guy I really dated would wind up being my husband.

And he was. It just took me 9 years more to find him.

What’s the relevance, you’re wondering, to this blog?

Well, here’s the thing. Even though I was only a college senior when we met and a recent grad when we got engaged that July, I *felt* as if I’d been looking forever. There were lots of letdowns and bitter disappointments and feeling lost and lonely along the way.

And I vowed that once it happened, and I became someone I could hardly imagine myself being–or even really relate to–that I would never forget what it was like to be single and hurting.

And I haven’t. I can still feel those times, I can still go out with my single or newly divorced or struggling in marriage friends and genuinely commiserate.

So is it with that other great divide–publication.

As most of you know from other posts, I’ve found a publisher now. An editor who believes in my work. I just sent her a card, and writing it didn’t feel *much* less meaningful to me than saying my marriage vows. When I found it, a piece of art with the word ‘begin‘ practically carved into the layers of color, and lace, and sparkle, I began to cry right there in the aisle.

It’s easy right now to say I haven’t forgotten anything, especially that feeling of not knowing if your work will ever find a home–but I promise the same thing will be true when as many years have passed published as not.

And after that.

I will always remember. I will always be able to empathize enough to offer support and hopefully concrete help to anyone else on this crazy road.

But just to make sure, I thought I’d jot down a few memories of my lowest points trying to get published over the past 11 years.

Like the games of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’, bonfires of photos and mementos with the girls, or dudes we make small copies of so we can stick a pin into their nether regions (sorry, guys…not *you*) some of these times may be recognizable to other writers.

So, low points on the road to publication…

  • There was the time I was sure, absolutely positive, despite the monumental odds against me, that my novel was destined to win ABNA. That’s why I’d never gotten published all these years! It was because I was due to take the rose-strewn walk across that Seattle stage (*is* there a stage in Seattle?) to accept my award. And then it seemed that my husband had messed up my entry–included my name, grounds for automatic disqualification. And I howled, a bleat of pure, sheer despair, loud enough to wake (and scare) my children. Well, my husband hadn’t actually messed anything up. And I didn’t win anyway, or even come close.
  • My second agent decided she had come to the end of our road one morning when my husband was pulling out of the driveway to go to work. My kids, then not even 2 and 4, awaited. A whole day of reading stories, and fixing snack, and dancing till we got dizzy, and I knew that I. just. couldn’t. do. it. Couldn’t do anything at all. Couldn’t keep an agent. Couldn’t run my day. “Come back,” I mouthed against the window as my husband started the car. And he did.
  • One night I sat in the bath and my agent called and I spoke to her from in the tub. She was actually calling to give me good news–an editor at William Morrow was interested in my first novel, which my agent had submitted second. But this was still a low point because when I said words to the effect of, “Finally. Thank goodness. Because I can’t go through [another failed sub] again,” my agent replied kindly, “Well, Jenny, there are no guarantees.” And there weren’t. That novel, too, failed ultimately to sell.
  • The agent who rejected me after asking for one page, one chapter, three chapters, then more, all drawn out over the course of months approaching a year–before rejecting the whole manuscript. She was right to. But that didn’t make it any easier when I saw that whole period slipping like sand back into the sea I was facing.
  • The stack, twenty high or higher, of beautiful, snail mail queries, on 100% cotton bond, with clear address labels, and stamps that featured great writers–can you say OCD??–and Every Single One came back no.
  • The novel–a whole novel–I couldn’t interest a single agent in even though the great Jackie Mitchard herself called to say it was terrific. “Won’t sell,” she said. “But it’s terrific.” She too was right, though it took me a year + and over eighty queries to accept it.

There are other lower than low points, I am sure. I’m sure they will come to me, and I promise I will never forget.

But since the only thing that really gets us through–the only thing that worked for me anyway–was communing with other people who know–for now, what are yours?

April 17, 2011

While I’ve been waiting, the world has changed: To E Or Not To E

Filed under: Backstory,Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:48 pm

Today on his blog Joe Konrath asked me if I was an idiot. OK, he may not have used quite that word. And I suppose he wasn’t exactly talking to me. (Joe doesn’t know me).

But I felt as if he were.

It used to be that if you wanted to publish a book, and you hadn’t been graced with validation from a publisher, then it meant one of two things.

1) Your work wasn’t very good


2) Your work was good but publishers didn’t agree and so you’d better be ready to fork over a lot of money, and a lot of shoe leather, to try and prove it

I know several people who did exactly that. One fell into category 1) and the other into 2). All that differed between them was their level of success eventually. But the blood, sweat and tears along the way were the same.

No more.

Now, as Joe points out, and out, and out (because dummies like me might need to hear it twenty-hundred times as my five year old would say–the twenty-hundred, not the dummy part) you can publish a book that publishers won’t touch. For free. And quickly, too.

All it takes is a smattering of technical skill, or some cash to pay someone with a smattering of technical skill–or a baby and six years.

By that time, the baby will be able to get your book out on however many apps we’re using then. Maybe imprint it directly onto your retinas. Saves the piracy problem.

What does this mean? Well, first of all it means a lot of [insert word here] stuff will be put out there.

Mystery novelist Jeff Markowitz said at a recent Writing Matters panel that 80% of Americans think they can write a novel.


“Eighty percent of Americans,” said Jeff. “Can’t boil pasta.”

So there’s going to be a lot of [insert word again] clogging the pipelines. But so what? Did you think everything the majors publish smells like daisies?

Joe wisely points out that most self-published writers won’t make a living off their writing. Then again, most traditionally published authors don’t either.  The figure I’ve always heard batted around is 200.

Two hundred Americans earn a living off their fiction.

I am pretty sure my book isn’t [insert word]. It’s gotten more than a dozen blurbs from big authors. Ones who weren’t contractually obligated to read my book since, well, no one would ask them to do that. It’s been blogged about and tweeted by two authors whom I’d count among the best.

So why I don’t I follow Joe’s advice? Like, tonight?

Two reasons. First, I love print. I am thrilled if people–more people by all accounts–are reading digitally. I’m happy (OK, more than happy) for them to read my work that way.

(Ooh, and now you can! Yes, go to this link and you can download a short story of mine that represents my very first paid for piece of work. No one’s reviewed it yet as far as I can tell, so if you do you get an extra doughnut, or at least my heartfelt thanks).

But, all the above notwithstanding, I do love print, and I love bookstores (duh, that’s obvious, my 7 year old would say before I nailed her with a mommy look) and I’d also like to be able to read my own book. Joe’s method doesn’t cover that because he believes books are going the way of the T Rex.

The second reason is that I’m searching to repair an age old wound of invalidation and lack of recognition left over from childhood days at school.

Well, I am.

Don’t a lot of us want to be published traditionally for the validation? The, “See [insert name of prom king or queen/varsity star/valedictorian here]? I did it!!! You wound up dried up and dried out and wallowing in a bog somewhere and I. Got. Published.”

Joe would say that a hundred thousand readers and a million bucks will afford a lot of validation.

And maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s time to put away childhood–and childish–things and follow the eleventh commandment of Nike.

You know what that is, don’t you?

February 21, 2011

Who am I?

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:31 pm

I don’t mean existentially.

But just in the past couple of days, I’ve received several emails from readers asking me how I select Moments, or writers to feature on my blog. Do I know the people? Do I read their books and like them?

“There’s such a range,” one email said. “I have no sense at all how you do this.”

The answer is, I don’t. Or rather–you couldn’t. Have a sense.

I want Suspense Your Disbelief to be a community for authors, writers, readers, and publishing folks of all stripes and colors. Polka dots even.

Every so often, if a book just blows me far and away, I may say so. Or I may not. Oftentimes a Moment-er is brand new to me, in which case I try to put his or her book on my TBR pile. I have discovered many new-to-me authors this way. And some new-to-the-world ones, too–a unique pleasure.

If you have something to say about this brave new world of publishing, or this almost-as-old-as-the-dinosaurs world of writing (storytelling), please contact me.

I don’t have to agree with what you say. If you scroll through the posts you’ll see some of the biggies covered in ways that may or may not link up with what I personally believe. Politics. Human rights. Religion. Parenting.

Suspense Your Disbelief is for everyone who has a respectful, thinking take on something related to books.

It’s your blog.


February 17, 2011

A great night of music

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 9:32 am

If your kids are slightly older and you’d like to expose them to the world of jazz, taken easy–or just have a fun night out yourself–I’ve heard great things about Bob Devos who’s playing on Market Street in Newark this Friday the 18th–no cover!!

If you go, please come back and leave a comment. I’d love to hear how your night went.

February 4, 2011

Parenting: A Long Walk Through the Woods

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:13 am

There are some people for whom parenting is pure joy. The smiles and the screams; the Valentine hand print painting brought home from school as much as the sticky fingerprints on the wall.

OK, maybe there’s one person for whom it’s pure joy.

The rest of us probably never experienced such a roller coaster–from bliss to boredom to total, gut-wrenching self doubt–before we became the keepers of these new little souls.

Sometimes I think of parenting like those Tom Cruise movies that never should’ve been made. Your mission? Usher these small beings through the minefields of child predators, weird ass accidents involving umbrellas in eyes and falls down stairs, drugs, premature sex, and whatever Sony dreams up to corrupt youth in ways we of another generation can only stare, slack-jawed at, until they are big enough to usher a few little beings along themselves.

Parenting is a long walk through deep woods.

Except when it’s not.

Except when it’s a picnic by a sunlit stream. That’s why we keep doing it, isn’t it? For those picnic moments?

Just the other day my little one was hugging me and he murmured, “I could do dis forevah,” and I thought, One day he’s going to be able to pronounce t-h, and I wanted to hold him by the sunlit stream–forevah.

As parents we know that what feels like a marathon will really be over way faster than it would take me at least to run twenty-six impossible miles.

Writing a novel is a lot like parenting.

It has its peaks, the moments when the words are coming and you feel like you could do this forevah. It has its times in the middle where you can’t believe you will ever get through.

And then one day you’re done, you’ve written that exciting climax, and now it’s time to pen the words ‘the end’.

They’re off, to college, to homes of their own, to points unknown.

We’re out of the woods.

But oh, those trees were beautiful.

December 3, 2010

Tomorrow’s the Day!

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:59 pm

Get ye to a bookstore on December 4th. Take a son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, cousin, student, or friend. Take your inner child.

And if you go, don’t forget to ask if the bookstore staff if they know it’s Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. (As if *anyone* could not know ;)

On the website next week there will be a montage of photos, video clips, and bookseller/customer accounts of what the first annual Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day was like. A foundation has indicated that depending on how strong the movement is, it may offer support so that kids who have never been to a bookstore–or bought a book–can do so.

So get out there and participate, then come over to the site and share your memorable moments. Already this holiday has put me in contact with people from Tennessee to Saskatchewan. Today PW posted a link to an article, and Minotaur tweeted the Day.

And none of that would have happened if it weren’t for bloggers and journalists, parents, and of course, booksellers–and readers like you.

Let’s all celebrate together tomorrow.

November 30, 2010

Where Will You Be On Saturday?

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:22 pm

If you go to the website, you can check out all the progress there’s been on Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.

New stores (and states) added every morning this week.

We’re in Saskatchewan now. Mississippi, too. Both coasts. And a lot of places in between.

This is all thanks to booksellers, bloggers, and book lovers. During this long, slow slog of a submission it has buoyed me immensely to see how many people care about books–and are excited by them.

So, where will you spend Saturday December 4th?

I’ll be at Watchung booksellers with my kids, my dear friend, and her kids. There will be puppet making, a book signing, treats–and maybe an impromptu discussion with the children about what they love about stories and stores.

Bookstores, that is.

Thanks for celebrating with us!

November 18, 2010

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, Part II

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:27 am

Last night I went to sleep on an email from someone offering to to get her relatives involved in Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.

Her relatives live in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Idaho, and Washington.

One of my favorite bloggers, Peg Brantley, is going to write something, and get the word out in Colorado.

A bookstore owner in Tennessee just wrote.

Plans for the Day are growing. People seem to really like the idea.

And why not? Back in 1993 when Take Your Daughter to Work Day became established, there was a real need to show girls what kind of jobs they could hold in the future–who they might become.

Today, most women work, and my daughter would look at me cross-eyed if I suggested that once upon a time, it would have been difficult for her to become a doctor.

Right now it’s once upon a time that’s threatened.

And reading is as much about teaching a child who they might become as any future career is.

Oh, don’t get me wrong–children today are reading. Anecdotal accounts have them reading more than ever; this is certainly what I see with my friends’ kids. But it is undeniably hard to keep a bookstore afloat, and as the Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day website indicates, bookstores–the actual physical places–can be key to developing a lifelong love of reading.

So get on board, go to the website, print out a poster and ask your bookstore if you can hang it. Put one in your child’s school.

Most of all, come on out on December 4th (since my first post we’ve changed the date so that it is always the first Saturday in December; sorry, John, and Liz, but you’re still part of the Day in my heart).

Bring the child in your life along.

Go to a bookstore and tell the staff why you’re there!

Together we can make Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day a yearly event.

August 23, 2010

On the Road Again

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:38 am

I just can’t wait to get on the road again.

It’s really true. As much fun as we had, staying with family for a month in Oregon, for me there’s always been a draw–a real pull–to being on the road. It’s one of the only things that can truly distract me from hoping for news about my novel.

I remember as a child my family would take route 3 out of NYC to get home, and as we got off at the exit, there was a sign, pointing one way to our town, and one way to Paterson. I would play this game with my dad where I’d tell him that they’d switched the signs, and he’d say, “Well, I always wanted to see Paterson.”

With all due respect to the people who live there, it strikes me as funny now that my hunger for new, novel places would extend to Paterson, NJ.

The places we’ll hit along this route–camping in Spokane, WA; seeing the glaciers of Glacier National Park, which are tragically due to vanish by 2030; the infamous Fargo, ND; a lake in the middle of national forest in MN where we can kayak and even take the kids tubing from a motor boat at the safe speed of 5 or 10 mph; and from then on into uncharted territories in Ottawa, before being back in the familiar lands of Montreal, Vermont, and Boston–promise a little more exotica than Paterson probably would’ve offered in the end.

But the excitement I felt as a child to get there isn’t any different at all.

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