24 November 2014

A New Title

In the process of editing my novel, my editor and my agent suggested changing the title. I have to admit that I was a little disheartened to hear that. I thought the title was perfect. My critique partners thought the title was perfect.

The original title was Unnatural Selection. Why was that perfect? The main character, Katrien, adores Charles Darwin. Her primary goal in life is to prove his theory of natural selection. But then Krakatoa erupts with disastrous results. Hence the title Unnatural Selection. Perfect, right?

Not so much.

I first learned of the need for a new title not long before I went to the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in April. Of course, Holiday House had a booth at the conference, and I stopped by and spoke with their marketing representative. I told her I had just signed a contract with Holiday House, and she asked me what the title was.

Me: "Well, apparently it needs to be changed, but it was called Unnatural Selection."

Her: "Oh, is it nonfiction?"

Me: "Umm ... no."

Her: "That's why it needs to be changed."

Point taken, ma'am. Knowing now why I needed to change the title, I set about throwing out suggestions. After a couple of emails, a phone call with my editor and some suggestions from the Holiday House marketing team, we came up with the perfect title.


Look for it next fall!

01 April 2014

My Book Is Sold!

At the end of January (January 28, to be precise) my agent called to tell me I had an offer for my book from Holiday House.

I said, "Really?!" and had to sit down.

I took a few notes about what she said, including reminding me that a couple other editors still had the manuscript. The rest of the day I could not stop grinning. I had a meeting at work that afternoon, and I honestly have no memory of what we discussed. After that phone call from Carrie, the rest of the day was a blur. I did buy myself a big bag of M&M's and a York peppermint patty to celebrate (I am the last of the big spenders!).

Of course I told Mom that night, but I didn't tell anyone else. Carrie got back with me a few days later to say that the other editors had passed, and I was officially with Holiday House.

I was thrilled! Holiday House only publishes children's books. We have lots of their books in the library system.

One week after the phone call, I told all my friends on Twitter and Facebook (mainly because I saw the post from my agency). I emailed other friends and my critique group buddies. The beautiful thing about writing books for children is how supportive everyone is of other writers.

Then I got a lovely letter from Kelly Loughman, the editor I'll be working with at Holiday House.

While I was at PLA, I got the contract to sign. When I got home, I signed it and mailed it off.

Now I'm waiting for the next step.

Here's the official notice from Publisher's Marketplace (thanks to Sam for sending this to me).

Sara Joiner's UNNATURAL SELECTION, about a Charles Darwin-loving girl of the Dutch East Indies, and what happens after volcano Krakatoa erupts and the only person who agrees to her plan of following the animals to safety in the island's jungle is her prim-and-proper nemesis, to Kelly Loughman at Holiday House, by Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency.


11 March 2014

Off to Indiana

It's been a few weeks since I've updated here. We had the floors replaced in parts of the house, so between packing stuff and moving furniture, certain things - including this blog - got neglected.

Now I'm off to attend the Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis. This will be the sixth PLA Conference I've been to. When I was in graduate school, a professor told her classroom that once we attended PLA, we would never want to go to another type of library conference again.

She was right.

PLA is strictly for public librarians, so all the sessions are useful. I don't have to figure out how to adapt information for school or academic librarians to a public library setting. Bliss!

I've had lots of fun at PLA Conferences in the past, and I fully intend to have a good time at this conference.

My biggest problem is that every one of these conferences I've attended has been up north in cold temperatures (it might even snow this time!). Can we move it somewhere warmer please?

14 February 2014

Critique Group Fun

I work with a great group of critiquers. We meet in a Barnes & Noble. A regular group of four of us, plus a semi-regular group of others offer great insight, good questions and sound criticism.

I drive forty-five minutes one way to meet with them, and I’ve been doing that for almost nine years. How the time flies!

Some people from the group have moved away (boo!), but we still keep in touch through Skype. We created a group which one of the members christened the Texas Skype Walkers, so we could still read each other’s work and offer support and encouragement.

They’re all members of SCBWI and write children’s books. Their books are wonderful, and I know I’ll see them published one day. I look forward to celebrating that good news with them.

As a librarian, many people in our library system know I also write. One of our branch managers had several patrons ask her about offering a writers’ group. She asked me if I would be willing to run it. I said sure.

Our first meeting was in September. We decided to form a critique group, and we have about six members including myself. They write all kinds of genres, both fiction and nonfiction. The group is still new, and the dynamics are still forming. But it promises to be a good group as well.

I cannot praise my critique partners enough. We share our news with each other. We mourn setbacks and celebrate victories. If you can find a critique group -- in person, online, through email -- find one. I love my critique partners.

03 February 2014

My Exercising & Writing Desk

I’ve been writing pretty seriously toward publication for about about ten or twelve years now. It’s taken me a while to figure out a system that works for me, and I still learn new tricks all the time.

One thing that slowed me down was the need to exercise -- or at least my doctor told me I should exercise regularly.

I used to get up at 5 a.m. and go swimming. It was a great time to think about my writing and work out any problems I had. But it cut into the time I had available to do the actual writing.

I tried writing longhand during lunch, but that wasn’t really enough time.

I bought a laptop, so I could work and watch television. That helped.

I muddled through writing a couple of novels that way. But despite what my critique partners think (they believe I write a book a week!), that took forever and always drained me.

All of these things were an effort to be able to write, exercise and work my 8-hour-a-day library job. It was exhausting, and I usually seized on any excuse to avoid writing or exercise (I can’t get out of the paying gig).

Then I began hearing about writers who used a treadmill desk. What was this mysterious thing?

My writer friends Samantha Clark and Cynthia Leitich Smith use one. Other writers do, too.

I could do this, I thought. I don’t have any problems walking and reading, so I didn’t think I would have motion sickness issues or anything like that.

There was one big problem, though.

I didn’t have a treadmill. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to shell out several hundred dollars for something I might like and might use. Also, I wasn’t sure where I could put it in the house.

But we did have an exercise bike. Was there some way I could use that?

I tested it with my iPad to see if I could even get close enough to type. I’m short and need to be close to the pedals to use the bike. Any closer -- as I suspected I might need to be to work -- and I might bang my arms with my knees. If that happened, this plan would never work!

But the iPad worked. The next step was to carefully, oh so carefully, balance my laptop on the handlebar and see if that worked.


Now I needed to get something sturdier and more secure. I couldn’t afford for my computer to fall and break.

What would work?

I bought a serving tray at Walmart. It ended up being the wrong shape, but the idea was sound.

I went to Home Goods and bought a different tray with a lip. Perfect!

Presenting my very own fabulous exercise bike desk. I did have to add the support cushion to the seat just to support my back and keep me sitting up straight. Fortunately, we already had one of those for some reason.

The cat is only there for moral support.

It is excellent!

The serving tray is attached with a bungee cord and duct tape -- true Texas engineering!

Now I get up at 5 a.m. and write and ride the bike. I don’t go super fast and rarely break a sweat, but I’m riding it for about an hour each morning. I only ride it while writing the first draft. After that, I can re-type in front of the TV and veg out as nature intended.

When I write, I also bungee cord the computer. Just in case.

I am not made for exercise.

28 January 2014

How I Got My Agent

I read a lot of blog posts like this. Aspiring authors who finally get an agent after years of trying.

Usually it seems like those stories have some almost fantastical element to them.

Mine doesn’t. I hope someone finds that inspiring.

The first novel I wrote -- which is literally in a drawer in my house -- is terrible. Dreadful. Awful. Hang-my-head-in-shame bad. But everyone’s first book is this way. (By the way, I still think the idea for this novel is great; I just have to figure out how to make it work.)

I wrote another book. This one was based on incidents from my grandmother’s childhood. Because it’s written in a vignette style, it was harder to pitch as a first book. I set it aside.

Then I wrote another novel, this one for young adults. I wrote and revised and wrote and revised and worked hard to make it perfect. Then I queried agents. I got rejections. I revised some more. I queried again. I got rejections. I revised again. Sometimes agents would ask for the partial or the full manuscript, and then I would get a rejection. This process took about two years, and I eventually got more than 100 rejections for that novel. Somewhere about the time I had seventy-five rejections, I told myself I would buy an iPad if got 100. And I did.

Then I set that novel aside.

I wrote another young adult novel. I never queried it, but I did send it to an editor I met at a conference. It was rejected, but the rejection was quite positive.

I wrote another young adult novel. I remembered reading once that writers didn’t really learn what they were doing until they wrote their fourth book. This was my fifth. I felt positive about this book. I felt like this was “the one” -- this book would take me to the next step.

With more patience than I ever thought I had, I wrote. I worked on this book for about two years. I slashed scenes. I added characters. I dropped ideas. I changed details. I took my time to get it right.

Then I queried.

I sent out four queries and got rejections. I sent out four more and got a request for the full manuscript.

Then I got the email that stopped my heart. She liked the book but wanted to see some changes. Would I care to talk to her about it?

Of course I said yes. After listening to her, I knew her ideas would make the book stronger. She would be willing to read the manuscript again if I addressed her concerns.

I took my time and re-submitted to her.

And she offered representation! I actually cried when I read that email.

But it was a great day, and in October 2012, I signed with Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency. Now we’re on to the next stage.

Meanwhile, I’m working on another novel.

22 January 2014

Vacation Stories: The Key in the Trunk

In 2003 Mom and I traveled to Alaska. It was wonderful trip. We flew to Anchorage and rented a car. We drove down to Seward and up to Denali National Park and on to Fairbanks. We took a day trip (by air) to Barrow, and we even visited North Pole.

This trip produced quite a few stories that have become family lore. Our favorite is about Mom locking the keys to the rental car in the trunk.

This wasn’t the first time Mom locked a set of keys in the car. She had done it years ago in Mississippi (the police opened the truck for her).

But this time was more unique than most.

We were on our way out of Anchorage to drive to Seward. I was driving, and the car needed gas. Stopping at a gas station in Girdwood, I pulled up to the pump and filled the tank. Mom needed to get something out of the trunk, and I thought nothing of watching her dig around for whatever she needed.

I went inside the store to pay, and when I came out, Mom was coming in to buy a drink. I asked for the keys so I could move the car.

This is where the trouble began.

“I don’t have the keys, you do,” she said.

“No, I don’t. You have them.”

“I don’t have them, Sara.”

“You do.”

She searched her pockets and came up empty. Realization hit her. “I bet I left them in the trunk.”

Eleven years ago there weren’t smart phones, and my cell phone did not work in Alaska. We both went into the store and told the cashier our dilemma.

What you need to know is that Girdwood is a small town -- only about 1500 people at the time. Odds were pretty good we were going to have to wait for someone to come out from Anchorage, about 45 minutes away.

The temperature was dropping, my coat was in the car, and we were blocking one of the gas station’s pumps.

But the cashier knew a guy in town who could do it. “Let me see if he’s home,” the cashier said, picking up the phone.

Fortunately, he was.

We waited outside for him to arrive. When he pulled up, we showed him to the car. The man, tall and skinny with black hair, carried a tool box with him. He set it down beside the driver’s door, opened it up and pulled out a small, thin book. “I’m still learning how to do this,” he said.

At this point, Mom and I gaped. There was a book about how to open car doors?!

I watched a logging truck pull into the parking lot of the gas station. A short blond man climbed out and walked toward the store. Noticing our lock-picker, the man asked if we needed any help. The lock-picker assured him that he was fine.

The lock-picker had a thin wire with a loop on the end worked through the top of the window. This would have been perfect if the locks weren’t molded plastic that contoured to the wall of the car door. But he was getting close. He could get that ring around the lock, but it would slip off. Over and over, he tried to hook that lock.

The blond came back outside. He again offered his services. “Are you sure you don’t need help? I used to do that for a living.”

I have no idea if he meant that in a legal or illegal way.

Our lock-picker decided to let the man try. He walked over, picked up a Slim Jim, jammed it down into the car door. Boom. Boom. Done.

I think our lock-picker would have had the door open in about five more minutes.

We thanked the blond profusely, and he climbed back in his logging truck and drove off. We paid the lock-picker, popped the trunk and got the keys out.

As we drove off, we both laughed at the whole situation. It was utterly ridiculous, and if it hadn’t happened to us, I would never believe another person telling me this story.

The lesson learned from this little experience? You can apparently buy a book to teach you how to open locked car doors.

And I keep the keys.

14 January 2014

How I Became a Librarian

Short answer? In my last year of college, my mother said I could go to graduate school, but it would have to be a public school. I had two options -- International Relations or Library Science. Like any good future librarian, I consulted the Peterson’s Guide to Graduate Programs and discovered that library school did not require a thesis. Ding, ding, ding! That’s why I chose library school.

Although the above answer is true, there is more to it than that.

When I graduated high school, I went to Texas Lutheran University (then it was still Texas Lutheran College; the name changed after my second year there). I was a communications major and hoped to eventually be a film critic. For my four years at college, I served as the arts and entertainment editor for the university newspaper, the Lone Star Lutheran.

But TLU changed the requirements for communications majors and overhauled the department. I thought the changes actually weakened the degree. Let me be clear, the newspaper advisor was excellent. Many of the things she taught me, I still use today (yay, library marketing!).

At the time of the overhaul, I was taking an American government class that I thoroughly enjoyed. I decided to double-major in communications and political science. That lasted about a year before I realized I wouldn’t be able to graduate in four years. I was attending a private university. Although I had several scholarships, I also had some pretty significant loans. I had to graduate in four years.

So I dropped communications. By that time I thought about joining the U.S. Foreign Service.

But I was also working in the school’s library at this time. It was fun work, and I adored seeing the new books. I also rediscovered my love of children’s literature through the library’s small collection of titles, mainly used by education majors.

When Mom said I could go to graduate school, I had a decision to make.

Foreign service or public library?

I chose librarianship, and one of the biggest determining factors was not having to write a thesis. But the fact that Texas has three American Library Association-accredited library schools helped. Of those three, I chose the University of Texas and earned a master's degree in library and information science.

Looking back at how U.S. foreign policy has morphed over the past fifteen years, I know I made the right decision.

Despite the fact that my path to library school was circuitous, some of the classes I took at TLU have proved useful in my professional career.
  • Newspaper Writing -- I have to write, read and review press releases. I also have proofread signs, online ads and plenty of other written documentation.
  • Public Administration -- I work for local government, so this is easy to understand. Most important thing I learned in this class? Never answer a question with “I don’t know.” Always say, “I’ll have to get back to you about that.”
  • Statistics -- For those of you who don’t know, librarians actually love numbers (whether they love math is a different matter). We use statistics to justify adding programs, dropping programs, increasing budgets, our entire existence basically.

You never know what the future holds for you, and the things you learn along the way may prove useful in ways you never imagine.

07 January 2014

Not for Teens After All

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, and I need to get better about doing this. My new goal is at least one update a week (but let’s not kid ourselves, I’ll be happy with twice a month).

Anyway, an update is required.

Last summer, I got more passes from editors and more comments. This time there seemed to be a trend -- “it sounds like a middle-grade novel.”

So guess what I did?

I revised again. This time I had to change the ages of my two main characters, delete quite a few chapters and change the beginning. Again.

But all that was done before I went on vacation.

My agent has submitted the revisions to editors again, and now we wait.

That’s how the publishing business works. Lots and lots of waiting. I am learning patience through this process.