Monday, April 22, 2019

Cover Reveal for NIXIE NESS and VERA VANCE

With all my life's sadness these past few months, I've sort of forgotten my new year's goal of making this The Year of the New. I was supposed to be doing six big new career-related things I've never done before: 1) teach my first-ever online class (for the graduate program in children's literature at Hollins University); 2) write my first book on a topic on which I know nothing (my coding-camp book); 3) make my first serious effort to promote my books; 4) write my first novel-in-verse; 5) write my first 500-word picture book; start submitting my poetry for publication.

Thus far I have neglected all but one of these. I LOVE my online course - I ADORE IT! - and of course teaching is one thing that absolutely cannot be ignored: thank goodness for that. But while I've chugged along - very slowly - on the coding book, I'm way behind where I thought I'd be. I've done nothing at all on any of the other four, including promoting my beloved little book, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, which comes out on June 4,  a date now alarmingly near.

I am not a big fan of self-recrimination. I'm probably overly forgiving of my own lapses, all too ready to offer a cheering rationalization for any failure to achieve my own goals. But this time I don't even need to call on my reservoirs of self-satisfaction to excuse my delinquencies. My life has been hard. It's been very hard. It will continue to be hard for at least a few more months. If I was ever allowed to cut myself some slack, now is an an excellent time.

That said, I do feel a pang at neglecting poor Nixie! Oh, my sweet book child! I have done so little to prepare for your imminent birth, despite including "make my first serious effort to promote my books" as #3 on my "New Things" list for the no-longer-new year.

So today - or at least the first two hours of today - is devoted to making amends to Nixie. I've sent out some emails to line up guest blog posts for a little "blog tour" in her honor. I've emailed local bookstores to see if they want to make any fuss over me. And I'm doing the formal "cover reveal" for Nixie and her sister book, Vera Vance, Comics Star (due out next year).

Cover reveals have now become a thing. (One poet friend asked recently, when did "becoming a thing" become a thing?) Just as expectant parents now host parties where guests can watch them discover the gender of their soon-to-be-born child, authors now take over social media so the whole world can behold the finalized cover of their soon-to-be-born book. As soon as I finish sharing these two covers in this blog post, I'll dash off to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to continue in this task.

Universe: here are the covers for Nixie Ness, Cooking Star and Vera Vance, Comics Star, courtesy of brilliant illustrator Grace Zong (universe, thank you for partnering me with Grace on this series) and fabulous publisher Holiday House (universe, thank you for letting me find my publishing home here).

Drum roll!

Expectant pause!

And now:

Aren't they adorable? Yes, they are!!!!

Oh, universe, thank you for this!

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Best of It: Part II

We are advised that when life gives us lemons, we should make lemonade, and that when life gives us limes, we should make a gin and tonic.

But sometimes we're just so sad - so sad - so sad. It's hard to summon the strength - and the chirpy cheeriness - to do anything at all positive about the situation. The situation, in fact, is so terrible that we feel we would dishonor its tragedy by even trying to rouse ourselves to go forward.

We just want to lie amidst the ruins of what once was our life, cursing the universe and sobbing.

Some of this is good and right and necessary.

Especially the sobbing.

I've done my share of sobbing over the past couple of weeks, as my husband, diagnosed with advanced Parkinson's last year, has continued to decline in strength and mobility. A week ago, after several 911 calls in succession to pick him up off the floor after a fall, and his near-total inability to get off the couch at all without professional assistance, he ended up in the hospital. Now he's in a rehab center for a week? or two? or three? Seeing if he can regain the ability to function enough to move back home - or ??

What will the future be for him?

What will the future be for me?

What will the future be for us?

The rehab center is about half an hour's drive from home, and I go there every day, so this whole episode in our lives is not only heartbreaking, but time-consuming. This month I'm also teaching an online course for the graduate program in children's literature at Hollins University in Roanoke, and working with three aspiring writers through the mentoring program sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and writing a book of my own under contract (my most challenging title yet - the book set in a coding camp for kids, where I know - or at least initially knew - nothing whatsoever about coding).

I can't just give up on these projects. And I don't want to. This current heartbreaking situation is not one that is going away any time soon. This is not a sprint. It's not even a marathon. It's the way my life is going to be for the foreseeable future.

Somehow I HAVE to find a way to go on living - and working - and even (dare I say) being happy.

So the other day, I packed up a tote bag filled with all kinds of tantalizing and delicious work projects: a book to read for my class, my laptop so I could respond to my students' delightful posts on last week's reading, mentee manuscripts to review, my clipboard and pad of paper and favorite pen for scribbling notes for Chapter 3 of my book.

When my sister and I were growing up, one of our favorite ways to spend a day was with what we called "Personal Business." We each had a pegboard box: a rectangular box with a sliding wooden lid marked with holes where you could insert colored pegs. We had long lost the pegs, but the boxes remained. We'd fill them up with a book to read, a poem to write, homework to do, a potholder to weave with those little cloth loops on a little metal frame. Then we'd get into our beds, each with our Personal Business, and work side by side.

A few Christmases ago I opened my present from my sister, and somehow, on Ebay, or wherever, she had found . . . . matching  pegboard boxes for each of us! (Small teddy bear in the photo for scale):
This cherished pegboard box, alas, is too small to hold all my current work projects. But as I packed them up to take to the rehab center, I suddenly remembered the pegboard days. I would spend a morning doing Personal Business as I visited Rich at the Powerback rehab center!

And so I did. As Rich lay in bed, watching TV, dozing a bit, or was wheeled off to physical or occupational therapy, I sat curled up in a nearby armchair, sending emails, reading for my class, and making some notes for my book. Of course, we also chatted - and laughed at old jokes and memories - and just kept each other company.

My morning was productive - and cozy - and companionable - and comforting.

My morning was . . .  lovely.

I still don't know what the future holds for him, or for me. But maybe . . . just maybe . . . it will be okay - in not a Plan B way, but a Plan Q or R or S or P way - for both of us.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Best of It: Part I

My life in the past year has moved so far past optimal that I now consider myself somewhat a specialist in the domain of the sub-optimal. I'm not only learning to make my peace with Plan B, but Plan C, D, E, F, and G. (This recalls the conversation I had with a young reader of my books who told me blithely that poor grades at school never daunted her. "The worst they can give you is an F! It's not like they give you an X, Y, or Z!")

I'm slowly learning how to make the best of it, even if my favorite poet, Kay Ryan, gives a somewhat dim assessment of this project in one of my favorite of her poems (quoted in full in the New York Times review of her Pulitzer-winning collection also titled The Best of It.) Sometimes making the best of it turns out to be something beautiful.

First (tiny) case in point. (Bigger, sadder, bittersweeter case in point to follow in my next post.)

This past week I was scheduled to speak about my forthcoming book, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association spring conference: I'd be one of twelve authors (including nine authors of "grownup" books) giving a five-minute pitch for my title at their "Author! Author"! dinner. I was thrilled that my publisher had arranged this opportunity for me.

The only problem was that on the day of the conference a "cyclone-bomb-blizzard" was predicted, with driving winds and accumulating snow.

I have mentioned before that after totaling my previous car on a slushy road two years ago, I do NOT drive in snow. Or like to be in the car when anyone else is driving in snow.

So: what to do?

To drive in a cyclone-bomb-blizzard was not an option.

Missing the conference was not an option, either.

Maybe the predicted snow would not materialize?

But maybe it would.


Then my writer friend Kim Tomsic, who was also speaking at the booksellers' dinner, and I made a plan - a most excellent plan indeed. We would book a room at the hotel for that night! A sleepover!!!!! And we'd drive down to the hotel hours and hours ahead of the storm! Time to chat! Time to work! Time to lie on our beds!!!!!

And so we did. The blizzard did turn out to be not so bad, so maybe we could have driven home that night. But wasn't it lovely not to have to worry about the weather at all? And to lie on those beds side by side, doing our own projects, while also exclaiming over how brilliant we were to have thought of such a splendid plan?

Our beautiful room in the lovely Origin Red Rocks Hotel had a little magnetic message board in it; the next morning I came out of the shower before our breakfast-by-the-fireplace to see that Kim had left me this message:
Well, I love Kim, too. And I loved having a sleepover together.

Sometimes making the best of it turns out to be best of all.