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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Birthday Reloaded

Well, it looks like Mrs. V has changed her mind about her birthday present. Or rather, she has amended her birthday gift list. We walked into Barton Creek Square Mall the other day to return a shirt, and exited an hour later with a pair of 14K white gold hoop earrings.

And yes, she’s still getting the golf clubs.

I really can’t complain; she deserves every gift I can afford to buy her. Between my day job and getting ready for the book to drop in November, I’ve had zero time for her, for chores, or for much else. And because she understands how important this is to me, she just sucks it up and takes care of everything that I either forget or choose not to do. So if she wants a new pair of earrings, who am I to argue?

I hope to announce a few book-signing locations within the next few days. I have a date set with a store in my hometown, and I am close to finalizing locations in Austin and Dallas. Be sure to check back for updates.

To the first-time authors out there with a novel coming out soon, it is NEVER too late to start promotion. This has definitely been a learning experience for me, from ordering postcards to writing a press kit to calling stores for signings. I loved writing the book, but I could live without the marketing.

I’m heading back to Florence, SC tomorrow for my sister’s wedding (I am scheduled to attend at least 4 weddings between now and the end of October). I’ll let you guys know how the cake tastes.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Authors, Illustrators, and Golf Clubs

Mrs. V and I ventured out to Round Rock to pick up a couple of signed books by author Greg Leitich Smith (Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo and Tofu and T. rex). The book signing looked to be a huge success, and it sounds like both Greg and his wife, Cynthia, should have additional novels coming out soon.

Speaking of Cynthia Leitich Smith...man, she is like the patron saint of all Austin children's book authors. She's a wealth of knowledge, and she is so personable. Just talking to her makes you want to yank out a pencil and pad and start writing.

Cynthia is also very spirited - she and Greg seem like a good team. I've already informed Mrs. V that she's gonna have to be the bubbly, personable one whenever we're talking about the book. I also ran into Sean Petrie and April Lurie (Dancing In The Streets of Brooklyn), and saw Nancy Jean Okunami just as she was walking out of the door.

And then, to my surprise, I finally ran into Don Tate, illustrator extraordinaire.

Most of you guys have heard me talk about Don before. He's a great illustrator, a great author, and hands down writes one of the funniest blogs on the net. He was out with his wife and son, and was loaded with books. It was great to finally meet him in person.

Like Don, I don't do so well with a crowd of people, so Mrs. V and I retreated to the back of the bookstore to peruse the sci-fi section. As we left, we met Brian Yanksy, author of My Road Trip To The Pretty Girl Capital of the World. Brian conducted a great writing workshop at the local SCBWI meeting last month, so it was nice to finally speak to him face to face. And of course, I couldn't leave without saying hello to his wonderful wife, Frances Hill (The Bug Cemetery). She, like Cynthia, has one of those bubbly, outgoing personalities.

Oh, and before I forget, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my wife, Crystal (though I'm trying to convince her to officially change her name to Mrs. V). Thanks to everyone with all the birthday present suggestions. It looks like Mrs. V has made the decision easy for me - she wants a new set of golf clubs. Being that she's gonna be a high powered corporate executive, she needs a good set of clubs. And while I hate the price tag, it does keep me out of the mall, so I guess I came out on the positive end of this deal.

Of course, after we get the clubs, she'll want new shoes, and a new golf bag, and then she'll need new clothes....

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Pause for the Cause

I hadn't written in a few days, and I was getting a little blog sick, so I figured I'd drop a quick post. Things are well. Mrs. V and I have spent our evenings scurrying around Austin, reacquainting her with food that she hasn't eaten all summer – believe me, you do NOT want to get between that woman and Chick-Fil-A fries.

The response from friends and associates concerning the novel has been great. My inbox was literally flooded with over 50 emails from friends, all wishing me the best. And although it may take a while, I have tried to respond back to each one.

I still haven't gotten a b-day present for Mrs. V yet. She can be pretty hard to shop for, being her tastes are so varied. I guess I'm going to have to squeeze in a trip to the mall sometime today or tomorrow.

More to come later today or tomorrow.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Big Push

By the time RED POLKA DOT hits the bookstores, it would have been eight years and one month since I started writing it. As long as that sounds, the time flew by very quickly. Since I first conceived the novel, I joined a fraternity, graduated from college, got a real job, got married, and became a licensed professional engineer. And pretty soon I can add published author to the list!

Before a few months ago, only a handful of people knew about the novel. It's pretty hard to say, "Hey, I've got a novel coming out, but it won't be published until two years from now." Most people outside of the book business don't have a good sense of how long it actually takes to get a book into print. Hell, most people in the book business don't quite understand it.

Adding complications to my novel's publication date was the distribution deal my publisher signed with Kensington. By partnering with Kensington, Genesis is able to get more of their books into the bookstores. This is a GREAT thing, but it felt pretty shitty when it was announced to me six months before my original publication date. That being said, it turned out pretty well - I was able to study and pass my professional engineer's exam last year, and now I have this fall fairly free to focus (damn, that's a lot of F's) on marketing.

I planned to send out an email to friends and acquaintances from high school and college in September, but I was inadvertently nudged out of hiding by some of Mrs. V's sorority members. To make a long story short, word leaked out about the novel, and while the buzz was great, I was kinda blindsided by it. I hadn't even told my fraternity brothers yet, and her Sorors already knew.

So, approximately 15 minutes ago, I sent out "THE EMAIL." I mustered up every email address I could find and sent out the first "official" announcement of the novel. I guess I'm officially in marketing mode. I also finally updated the press kit info on the website. I still need to work on the Links and the FAQS pages, but the major stuff with the website is done (I think).

I've still got a lot of stuff to do, but I'm going to try to put the novel on the backburner for a week. Mrs. V will be back in town for good on Monday, and being that I haven't really seen her since Fourth of July weekend, I plan to spend a lot of quality time with her (you can come to your own conclusions on what "quality time" means). Plus, her birthday is coming up this weekend, and I still haven't gotten her a gift. Anyone have any suggestions? I prefer the "thoughtful, but thrifty" type of gift.

Have a good week, everyone.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Publishers Weekly

If anyone in Austin saw a six-foot black man dancing around Border's Bookstore last night, it was me. Why was I doing my happy dance in the middle of a bookstore? I had just seen my novel previewed in Publishers Weekly.

For those of you that aren't in the writing business, Publishers Weekly is one of the largest trade magazines covering the book industry. Twice a year, they publish a list of Spring and Fall titles for adult and children's books. Red Polka Dot was lucky enough to make their "titles to watch" (their words, not mine) list this Fall. It was one of twenty-two novels listed in the Trade Paperback: First Novels list. Now, I don't know how many first time authors in trade paperback there are, but something tells me that there are more than twenty-two. A lot more than twenty-two.

In the grand scheme of things, this probably isn't a big deal. Authors get listed in PW every week. But to actually see my name in print...man, there's no real way to describe it. It's almost as good as seeing the galley of my novel for the first time.
There are hundreds of things I need to do tonight, but they'll have to wait. Tonight, I'm hitting the town. There's only one way to celebrate, and it involves downtown Austin, and lots of beer.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pouring a little out for my homies

I have been on the road way too much for the past few weeks. I just got back in town from attending an engineering conference in Dallas, TX. Upon checking into the hotel, I realized that I was without internet, and I was actually relieved. It was nice to sit in a room and not be tempted by the allure of a high-speed internet connection. But I'm back home now, and as you can see, I'm once again a willing captive of the super-information highway.

After getting back online, I moseyed over to Devas T's blog and was saddened to see that he was essentially "going underground", making his currently blog less...spirited, and starting a new blog under a pseudonym.

From a business point of view, I total understand where he’s coming from. He writes and illustrates books for young children, and there are some things on his site that aren’t for the kids. He needs to have a site that both children and parents are comfortable viewing, and that probably means he needs to separate the personal from the professional.

I’ve never met Don (although he must be a rather striking fellow, being that I was mistaken for him twice at an event last week), but I do know that he’s had more than a few headaches concerning censorship and where to draw the line on his blog. And as much as I hate to admit it, he’s probably making the right choice in cleaning up his professional blog.

For all of you that don’t know, I write for the 14 and up crowd (I’m 28, but I still include myself in this category). We curse. We say what’s on our mind. We can be crude and funny one minute and be pissed off and infuriated the next. (And don’t tell anyone…but some of us even have sex.) Technically, Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid is being published as an adult novel, due to it’s crossover appeal with older and younger readers (similar to Megan McCafferty’s novels).

Just like Don feels that his professional blog needs to be a reflection of what he writes, my blog needs to do the same thing. So for all of you that have graciously linked to my site over the past few weeks, I won’t be offended if you want to remove your links. Really. This is a business, and if you write for eight-year-olds, you may not want them wandering over to my site. Not that this blog is going to be filled with gratuitous sex and mindless violence (I’ll save that for Cinemax’s late night movies), but I can’t promise that it’ll be G rated. If anything, I can promise that it WON’T be G rated.

I know that if my agents and editors are reading this, they’re probably cringing, but I know I’m right…at least for the moment. I’m sure I’ll change my mind by tomorrow.

There much more to report on (including a listing in Publishers Weekly’s Fall 2005 Preview for Trade Paperback First Novels), but that will have to wait until this weekend.

I’m disabling the commenting ability on this post, but feel free to email me at vcj@varianjohnson.com. I’d love to hear what you think.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Running in a Square Circle

Posts have been sparse as of late, due to all the running around I've been doing over the past few weeks. I presented materials about the new book to Austin Independent School District librarians this past Thursday with other Austin SCBWI authors. It was a great event, and it gave me a chance to talk to some of the other authors from the chapter. A lot of the librarians were in the elementary and middle schools, so my novel wasn't right for them. But I did meet a few librarians that seemed interested. Honestly, I think a lot of the educators were more interested in the fact that I was a structural engineer rather than an author, but that necessarily isn't a bad thing, is it? (For any educator in the Austin area reading this, I am ALWAYS happy to come to schools to speak about engineering - for free, of course.)

In other news, Mrs. V finally made it back into town. For those of you that don't know, Mrs. V was in Minneapolis the entire summer, participating in a marketing internship. I just spend a frenzied 15 hours trying to get the place cleaned up for her arrival. To put my level of uncleanliness into perspective, I've been washing the same cup for the past two weeks, just because everything else is dirty. I know, I could have washed all of the dishes, but why? I only need one cup at a time.

I'll be out of town for a few days participating in a conference in Dallas (this is for the job that pays the bills). And hopefully, I'll get a chance to get some writing done this week. Plus, Frances Hill suggested that I do a book kickoff party here in Austin, so I guess I'd better get on the ball and try to set that up as well.

Too much to do. Always to much to do. Hope everyone has a good week.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back from the Left Coast

I got in late last night from the SCBWI conference in LA, and I'm still recuperating. I feel like I did a good job of networking with other conference attendees. And I had a great manuscript consultation. I'll add more about the conference over the next few days, but here are a few points that are still fresh in my head:

10) My all time favorite SCBWI group (other that Austin, of course) is the Illinois SCBWI chapter. They were easy to spot - all of them wore pennies in their name badges. I like Lincoln just as much as the next brotha (you know, with the whole Emancipation Proclamation thing), and I really, really liked the Illinois people. I hope to post pictures in a few days.

9) Calling all Texas SCBWIers - we need something cool to put on our badges as well. Don't we have any Texas-born presidents with their face on money? You'd think with all the Bushes that have been in office, one of them would have found a way to stick their mug on a coin by now.

8) SCBWI really needs to think about having a rotating Summer Conference. I don't even want to think about how much money I spent this weekend, between the flight and the hotel and the conference itself.

7) Alexus Rhone - keep doing your thing. And congrads on the SCBWIdol contest.

6) For all of you Austin SCBWI conference attendees that have Mark McVeigh for a manuscript consultation, you've really lucked up. I was fortunate enough to have him for a critique, and he did a great job of giving constructive comments. He also gave me a lot of good industry advice.

5) Not that you should follow trends, but teen fiction is hot right now.

4) According to most of the editors at the conference, there is no such thing as too edgy in teen fiction. Nothing is taboo (maybe I should call up some of the erotica writers from my old writing group).

3) Megan McCafferty really has me thinking about trying to publish "teen" novels as adult fiction.

2) Carolyn Mackler is just as nice as I expected her to be. I must admit, I am a big fan of her books. Of course, I have to remove the jacket from them before I can read them. A brotha can't go walking around with a pink book.

1) Christopher Paul Curtis is DA MAN!!! Hearing his speak reminded me why I wanted to become a writer in the first place. I only hope I can convince Mrs. V to let me have a year off to write, like he did. And I dare all of you to read Bucking the Sarge and not laugh.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I'll Always Love My Mama

I was in a grumpy mood all day. I was stuck in traffic this morning. Some of my promotional materials for the conference weren't ready, like they were supposed to be. And I shelled out $30 for a new Writer's Market, only to realize that three of the main magazines I wanted to send something to no longer accepted fiction.

Then I got home to find a package from my mother (she sent me two wedding pictures of Mrs. V). Isn't it always like mothers to know when their sons need a little pick-me-up?

Thanks, Mom.

And yes, I'm eating my vegetables.

Monday, August 01, 2005

For the grown and sexy

One of the things I really liked about by writing group in Dallas was that it just wasn't a children's lit writing group. We were comprised of all different types of writers - poets, journalists, stage play writers, screenwriters, romance writers, and even...gulp...Erotica writers.

One of my pals from my writing group in Dallas just started a blog. In addition to being a stage and screenwriter, Paula also writes erotica.

Now, I'm gonna do my best to keep this blog PG 13, but I've got to at least mention Paula's blog. But before you check it out, be sure to put the kids to bed. Of course, with the amount of sex and violence on TV nowadays, maybe erotica isn't so shocking to kids anymore. And truthfully, Paula is pretty tame when it comes to the racy stuff (I've read about more shocking stuff in some YA novels...has anyone heard about Rainbow Party)? One story I critiqued once had people putting things in places where only a doctor should travel. And then there was this other story -

Gotta remember, PG 13. Gotta keep it clean for the kids.