Before I start a June full* of Pride-themed blog posts, I wanted to share an update on my Oregon Book Award nomination. It was a huge honor to be named a finalist and really exciting to attend the Oregon Book Award ceremony for the first time, but I didn't end up winning. The winner of Best Young Adult Novel was Shea Ernshaw for The Wicked Deep. In her acceptance speech, she mentioned querying agents when she was ten or twelve years old, so it was clear she's been working on her writing for a while. It was pretty amazing to even be included in the same category as Shea and the other finalists, Fonda Lee and Emily Suvada, especially considering this was my first novel and was self-published without a professional editor touching it.
The most impressive part of the Oregon Book Award ceremony, though, was how many of my friends came out to support me. Five book club members, my stepsister and brother-in-law, and one of my coworkers joined my girlfriend and me in the crowd, and you better believe my friends made a ruckus when my book was announced. <3 <3 <3
It's hard to believe it's been almost a year since my book came out. Right now, I'm working on a second novel (not a sequel, but still queer YA). I've learned so much about publishing, writing, and marketing in the last year. Look for blog posts later this summer with more info about what I've learned! And don't forget - you too can go from an unpublished writer to an award finalist in a year! You just have to start writing now. My current goal is writing 10 minutes a day. It's a small goal, so it doesn't feel overwhelming, and I often find myself sticking with the work for more than ten minutes. Even when I don't write longer, I feel like I'm getting to know the characters better each time, and the word count really adds up.
Overall, being nominated for an Oregon Book Award was such a wonderful experience. I got great feedback from the judges, and just feel so lucky and loved. Thank you all for your support!
* Regular followers of my blog will recognize that "full" is probably an overstatement here.
Big thanks to Emily and Corinne at Hybrid Pub Scout podcast for interviewing me about writing a book, self-publishing, the Oregon Book Awards, zines, and vulnerability. It was really fun to record my first-ever podcast, and it turns out I don't hate the sound of my own voice as much as I thought I would! Click at the link above or on the photo below to listen in!
If you are bummed that I didn't talk a lot in the podcast about YA books that have influenced me, follow me on Instagram! Every Friday, I'm posting a different young adult novel recommendation. Some are books that have influenced my writing, and some are just plain great stories. Either way, I hope I can help you find some exciting new reads!
I found out this weekend that my debut novel, Book Smarts and Tender Hearts, has been chosen as a finalist for the 2019 Oregon Book Award in Young Adult Literature!
When I submitted my book for the Oregon Book Award, I thought there was no way I'd be chosen as a finalist. I thought maybe I would be lucky enough to get feedback from the authors who were judging. So it just goes to show that you should try for the things you want! Even if you think there's no way, just go for it! Now my book will be read by three more authors, including Donna Freitas, whose book Gold Medal Winter (a sweet story about a teenage Olympic figure skater) I once won in a giveaway. Yay!
Suzette Smith from The Portland Mercury shared the list of finalists and said: "THERE ARE COUPLE WEIRD THINGS with this year's list of finalists. There aren't as many small press or self-published titles this year as there have been in years past." I guess that means that I'm lucky to make the cut! I'm glad that the Oregon Book Award judges are open to independently published books, and I'm super excited to be among the other finalists. I can't wait for the awards ceremony in April.
Big fat thanks to Mindi of Fat Positive Cooperative for writing this nice review of Book Smarts and Tender Hearts! Fat Positive Cooperative is an amazing website, full of resources, book and podcast recommendations, and spotlights on fat heroes.
Every new year, social media and regular media fill up with weight loss messages. It gets so exhausting, and I think it's damaging to hear over and over that bodies like ours aren't acceptable and need to be changed. I'm excited to start the year following a bunch of fat activists on social media that I've discovered through Fat Positive Cooperative.
How are you planning on loving your body in the new year??
Author Zadie Smith, when asked about including autobiographical content in fiction, said: “When you know writers very well — I have a lot of good writer friends — Writer X could set a book on the moon and it could all be monkeys, but I can read it and know it’s about his wife. It’s always intimate. But the strange thing about it too is that even if you try to write quite close to life, fiction has its own logic. It’s always sorting things, it’s always changing things. When writers say, ‘It’s not me, it’s not me,’ they are telling the truth.”
Since publishing my novel, the main question I’ve gotten is whether the story is autobiographical, or which parts really happened to me. Some people have asked my mom why she did the things that Hannah’s mom does in the story, which weren’t things that my mom ever did. Book Smarts and Tender Hearts isn’t an autobiography. I wouldn’t even call it autobiographical fiction. Hannah is better at school, a lot more self-aware, and way cooler than I was as a teenager. Georgia, Hannah’s mom, isn’t my mom. As I was writing Georgia, I actually worried that she was turning too much into me and that she wouldn’t be believable as a mom, since I don’t have kids. A lot of things about Hannah and her story were inspired by my life – I was a queer, fat teenager growing up in Salem, and my grandma did have Alzheimer’s – but most of the actions are made up. I didn’t get to spend the time with my grandma near the end of her life that Hannah does, but I wish I had. I was older than Hannah when my grandma moved into an Alzheimer’s care center, and I had already moved away.
It’s interesting to me that so many people are sure that Hannah is me, because I feel like all the characters are me in some ways. I made art and zines and had a million crushes like Corey, and I can be self-centered like Liz and aggressively opinionated like Paula. I guess it’s because Hannah is the narrator of the story, and because she’s fat with frizzy hair like me, that’s who people assume I’m telling my story through. But I would never do a lot of the things Hannah does in the story, from covering French fries with ketchup to being able to keep such a huge crush a secret.
When I’m reading, I do wonder sometimes what parts the author drew from their life. And I probably would wonder that more if I were reading a book written by someone I knew – is reading this book teaching me more about my friend? At first, I was kind of offended when people asked this, like they were saying I wasn’t creative enough to make up a whole story. But so many people have asked me that it must just be a natural leap to make.
Maybe people are asking if the feelings in the book are true. One of my favorite quotes about writing is from Toni Morrison, who famously said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I grew up queer and fat in a town that didn’t value either of those things, and I wanted to see my feelings in a story. I couldn’t find one, so I wrote it. I would say that the feelings are the truest things in the story. Maybe, when people ask if the story is real, they’re saying it is believable and that the emotions resonate enough that they feel true. I hope so, anyway.
I can’t control how people interpret the story. That’s something cool about books – how they change depending on who’s reading them, and how everyone sees stories differently. In the end, all I want is for people to read my book, and I would love for readers to connect with Hannah and the other characters, and to find true feelings in the story. Really, what more could I ask for?
The weekends since my book release have been busy, busy, busy! On Sunday, July 28th, I tabled with my book at the Portland Zine Symposium. I volunteered at the first-ever Portland Zine Symposium in 2001, helped organize the event for several years, and have tabled many times, but it’s been a few years since I’ve had something new to table with. My experiences writing/reading/trading zines were major influences on my book, and I never would have met my writing mentor, Sage Adderley-Knox, if it weren’t for zines, so I was glad to share my book with the zine community. I was also lucky enough to sit with Rebecca and Krissy, two long-term zine friends. The Portland Zine Symposium is completely volunteer-run, and it’s a TON of work to organize. If you see a Zine Symposium organizer or volunteer around town, don’t forget to thank them!
The next event was a little more anxiety-producing . . . my 20-year high school reunion! I’ll admit, part of my motivation in finishing my book this summer was to finish it before the reunion, so I could show up as a Published Author. I don’t know how much of a difference that made, but the reunion was a lot more fun than I expected. Everyone was excited to see each other, even people that I didn’t really expect to remember me. I had a few fears going in, like that I would discover that everyone thought I was mean in high school (a la Liz Lemon), or that hearing about how wonderful my classmates’ lives are would make me feel like my life is lacking. But I was surprised that neither one happened! A few people mentioned remembering me as a kind person, which was a relief considering how angsty and moody I felt in high school. And I discovered that it’s true that being confident in yourself makes you not want to compare yourself to others. I genuinely felt happy for my classmates and their successes. I wish I’d talked to more people and learned more about what everyone is up to, but I felt like the night was over in a flash! Before I knew it, my girlfriend and I were back up in our hotel room, eating yummy takeout poutine from Taproot before collapsing into bed.
This week, as I recover from my big reunion weekend, I’ve gotten 2 pieces of exciting book news. First, I received an email from Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago, asking me to consign books with them. I’m getting those in the mail this week, so if you’re in the Chicago area, stop by to pick up a copy! The second piece of news is that the Multnomah County Library has purchased copies of my book. When I started writing, my goal was to eventually have my book available in my local library. And now it’s happening! I’m so glad that local readers will be able to access my book for free, and I hope lots of people check it out! I have info to help you request that your local library purchase the book over on the book page, and would love help spreading Book Smarts and Tender Hearts to libraries everywhere!
My book release party was this weekend. It was a great day! So many friends came to support me and my project, and it really warmed my heart. After the day was over, I realized that I hardly had to do any work. Everyone was so willing to help out and I got to just enjoy the party and soak in the love. Thank you Becky Morton for capturing so many sweet pics!
I didn't realize how different I would feel, seeing the book in print. It feels separate from myself in a way that the story didn't until now. Which I'm glad about, because I can't change the story now, and I need to remember that critiques of the book aren't critiques of me. Writing a book has definitely changed how I read books, and been one of the hardest things I've ever done. It's also shown me that I can accomplish a huge goal like this, if I focus and put in the time.
This has been a bittersweet week and weekend, because my aunt Kris passed away on Sunday night. I wish she could have come to the party and read my book, because I know she would have been proud. She was a generous, creative, funny, beautifully strong woman, and her absence in our family will be huge. I feel lucky to have had family like her, and am so thankful for the outpouring of love and support that has been enveloping me this week.
I'm also thankful that my friends helped me make a donation to Innovation Law Lab at the party. Together, we raised $150 to donate. Innovation Law Lab is offering pro bono legal representation to over a hundred immigrants who are being held in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon as a result of the policies of the current administration.
My proof copy of Book Smarts and Tender Hearts arrived last night! This is really starting to feel real!
Every day, the news stresses me out more and more, but I’m trying to focus on the positive. Like my upcoming book release party. I’m glad I can give my community at least a couple of hours of fun.
The release party is Saturday, July 21st, 1-3 p.m. at The Rosewood Initiative, located at 16126 SE Stark St in Portland. Check out the Facebook event, where you can RSVP and keep on top of updates. If you have friends who would be interested, please share the event with them!
If, like me, you like to know what to expect before you come to a party, read on!
From 1:00 – 1:30: Arrive, mingle, and get settled while listening to some sweet 90s tunes. Fill out a raffle ticket for your chance to win a door prize. No purchase necessary – everyone who comes to the party gets a ticket.
At 1:30, we’ll get down to business:
Can’t make the release party, but still want your own copy of Book Smarts and Tender Hearts? The paperback and eBook are already available for pre-order from Amazon, with a release date of Sunday, July 22nd. I’m also tabling at the Portland Zine Symposium from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 29th, and you can pick a copy up there! The Zine Symposium is at Wattles Boys and Girls Club, 9330 SE Harold St. Portland, OR 97226. I’m excited to share my book with other zinesters, since zines are central to the story, and making zines led to my interest in self-publishing and writing.
If you’ve never been to Rosewood Initiative before, look for the sign below. Rosewood Initiative is to the left (east) of Su Casa, and there’s plenty of parking. You can get there via the #20 bus, and the Blue Line MAX stops a block away, at 162nd and Burnside. Rosewood Initiative is one story with hardwood floors, and the entrance is wheelchair-accessible.
I’m excited for you to read my book and meet the characters I’ve been working on for years, and to celebrate reaching this goal! Let’s party!!!
It’s June, and that means it’s Pride Month! I went to my first Pride fest when I was sixteen, but it wasn’t until I was older that I learned about the history of Pride. I think it’s really important to learn where we came from and celebrate the queer heroes that helped us get to where we are today. If you don’t know about Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (pictured on the left in the photo above), J.M. Ellison’s article is a great starting place. Pride marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when trans women of color led a fight against the police oppression and harassment that had become commonplace.
Sometimes Pride frustrates me because it’s turned into such an advertisement fest, a rainbow party that everyone wants to be at. And I get it – queers are fun! And we deserve a break from fighting and having our worth debated and worrying all the time. Will this person still be my friend once they find out I’m queer? Will I be able to use the bathroom without harassment? Will it be one of my friends who’s attacked at Pride this year? As a cis, feminine woman, I don’t have to deal with a lot of these worries, which makes me feel lucky. I think it’s important to prioritize the voices of people in the community who are more marginalized, to amplify trans voices, disabled voices, and voices of people of color. I don’t agree with people who want queers to be more “normal,” like if we can just act or look like straight people, then finally they’ll accept us. We need to be accepted as we are. Especially in a movement in which trans men and women, drag queens and kings, and sex workers played such a pivotal role, it’s disgraceful to now turn around and tell those groups that them being true to themselves is holding the rest of us back.
In my upcoming novel, Book Smarts and Tender Hearts, I struggled with terminology. I describe myself as queer because it feels more inclusive and easier to me, but my book takes place in 1996. I don’t really remember hearing or using “queer” as a positive term until I was in college, which was in the early 2000s. I used “GLBT,” knowing it’s dated, because it felt historically accurate to me – it’s a term I used and heard at the time. Today, I use LGBTQIA+, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual, PLUS. I like the plus because people use a lot of different terms to describe themselves.
I’ll try to post more Pride-related blog posts this month, and in the meantime, I recommend checking out Eli Haswell’s cute and informative comics on The People of Pride. Know your history!
I’ve seen a lot of writers say online how much they hate this question, but I don’t really mind. I think it’s nice that people are interested, and my deadlines seem manageable, at least for now...
I’m working on final details now. My writing mentor, Sage, and I are both going through the manuscript (Sage uses this word, and it makes me feel extremely fancy and Real Writer-ish) to do detailed grammar edits, and I’m also reading the whole story out loud to see how things flow. My beta readers pointed out some grammar issues, and I thought it was interesting that everyone caught at least one thing that no one else did. So, THANK YOU beta readers! (NOT the only time I’ll say this.) I’m sure there will be at least one typo in the final book, though, just because it seems like there’s no way we could catch everything. I’m trying to let go of my expectations of perfection.
Something I’d never really considered is that self-publishing means doing everything on your own. The title page? The page behind the title page that talks about copyright? Where to put a barcode on the cover? I have to figure all of these out, or hire someone to do them for me. I’ve selected my cover image, and I decided to contract out the layout of the cover and the actual pages. The cover in particular was hard for me to let go of, because I think of myself more as a visual artist than a writer. But I don’t have software or access to a variety of fonts or any experience laying out a cover or a book. So, I’m leaving those parts in the hands of someone who knows more than me. And a nice thing about self-publishing is that I’m still the one who gets the final say.
Choosing a cover image, like choosing a title, took a long time. It’s scary, thinking that I could write a decent book, but what if no one picks it up because of the title or cover? I know that these two things definitely influence whether I’ll pull a book off the shelf to read the back, or (more accurately these days) click to learn more online. I started where I’m most comfortable, by painting a cover, but eventually decided that I could convey more about the story with a photograph. I set up a still-life of items that my main character might have on her desk, took a few pictures, and I think I ended up with a solid image.
And did I mention that I’m doing all of this while working full time? If you’ve wondered why you haven’t seen me out and about lately, this is why. Since January, I’ve been spending about an hour a night writing, and now I’m spending that time editing. Now that I don’t have a word count goal, it’s a lot easier to slack off. But I’m trying to fight my inner self-sabotager that likes to come out as any project nears completion. “You’ve already done so much,” it says. “You should rest for a while.” But I know that listening to that voice will result in the story sitting on the shelf like it has for years. So, I’m trying to listen instead to the voices of Sage and my friends and my partner, who are telling me that I can do it! I can finish this! And I can share it with my friends and family and the rest of the world, including the scariest people, strangers online.
I like cats, feminism, queers, making things and writing, apparently.