Tucson Festival of Books!

This weekend is the next Tucson Festival of Books! After six years, it’s hard to believe this event hasn’t been part of Tucson forever.

I’ll be there this Sunday, signing with Mostly Books from 12-12:45 p.m. (booth #148), and then moderating Ally Carter and Sarah Mlynowski’s Twitter and Trailers: Using Social Media to Promote Your Book panel from 4:00-5:00 p.m. (Education Bldg., Room 333).

And both Saturday and Sunday I’ll be on the UA Mall of course, enjoying the Festival. Hope to see many of you there!

Millions of Cats, Billions of Cats, More Stars Than in the Entire Milky Way of Cats

When it comes to picture books, not understanding the natural world inevitably leads to tragedy.

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág

A cautionary tale about the dangers of relocating wildlife.

An old man removes an entire population of cats from their native ecosystem, only to discover he lacks the knowledge and resources to care for them on his own. When the cats grow hungry he offers them each a mouthful of grass, unaware that these obligate carnivores cannot subsist on such a diet. “What are you doing?” the old woman he lives with cries when she sees the cats, aware, as he is not, of how unsuited the creatures are for their new environment. Her fear proves well founded, as in their desperation for meat the poor felines ultimately resort to eating one another.

Only a single small kitten survives, young enough to live on the milk the man and woman are able to provide, but it faces an uncertain future as it grows “nice and plump” and nears adulthood.

Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

The tragic tale of a good-hearted squirrel who lacks the skills to survive in the wild. Unable to tell the difference between a bear, a rabbit, a frog, and an owl, our hero’s lack of discernment proves fatal when he cheerfully accepts an owl’s invitation into her nest for “cookies.” The final details of the squirrel’s inevitable demise are, in a bold yet necessary move, left to the imagination of the reader.

“Uh oh,” indeed.

Now Available! Unicorn Seasons: Four Magical Unicorn Tales

 My ebook collection, Unicorn Seasons, is now available!

From a mythical time before the winds were fixed to the corners of the earth to a present-day forest where unicorns are not—quite—extinct, this ebook exclusive brings together four magical tales about unicorns and the humans who are forever changed by them. Written over the course of two decades, these stories reflect my lifelong fascination with the mythical creatures.

Learn more about the collection and read excerpts here.

Or order your copy now from any of the e-tailers below:

- Kobo (and their many independent bookstore partners)
- Barnes and Noble
- Amazon
- Smashwords
- Apple (to come)

If you know any unicorn-loving readers who might enjoy these stories, please spread the word.

And if you finally meet a unicorn one day, whether in the heat of summer or upon the winter snow … well, I won’t say to run away, not exactly.

But be careful. Be very careful. Mythical creatures are, after all, chancy things.

For all those who never really stopped looking for unicorns

One day back in college, I declared myself through with unicorns. I pulled a childhood’s worth of accumulated unicorn posters off my walls, fully convinced I was finally growing up and moving on.

I was wrong. I never did move on, not really, not for good. I gave up my unicorn posters, but I never stopped telling unicorn stories.

Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that my ebook collection, Unicorn Seasons, goes on sale Monday and is available for pre-orders now.

 A unicorn for every season.

From a mythical time before the winds were fixed to the corners of the earth to a present-day forest where unicorns are not—quite—extinct, this ebook exclusive collection by acclaimed fantasy writer Janni Lee Simner brings together four magical tales about unicorns and the humans who are forever changed by them.

In Lost or Forgotten, a unicorn sacrifices his mortality for the woman he loves, leaving their descendants to mourn the loss. When sisters Sara and Amelia hear the trees calling to them one spring night, they have to decide whether to take on an ancient sorrow—or accept an ancient magic.

In Unicorn Season, Megan’s small-town summer turns more interesting when a local boy offers to help her find unicorns in the nearby mountains. But why is Josh so interested in the elusive creatures? Megan may not know as much about unicorns—or Josh’s motives—as she thinks.

In Tearing Down the Unicorns, Stacey is furious when her older sister tears the unicorn posters from their walls. Then she sees a real unicorn dancing in the autumn night, and she discovers there’s more to the mythical creatures than those rainbow-and-butterfly bedecked pictures show—and more to herself, as well.

In Windwood Rose, Miranda has been haunted all her life by strange music and uneasy dreams. When a unicorn appears in the snow one winter afternoon, it may have the answers she longs for. But will it be willing to give her all that she seeks?

Unicorn Seasons is available most places ebooks are sold. Read excerpts here, or pre-order your copy from any of the e-tailers below:

- Kobo (and their many independent bookstore partners)
- Barnes and Noble
- Amazon
- Smashwords
- Apple (to come)

And of course, if you feel inclined to spread the word, I’d be grateful!

April Henry on Rejection, Dry Spells, and Tenacity (Writing for the Long Haul Series)

New York Times bestselling author April Henry started writing in 1989 and published her first book a decade later. She joins the long haul series today to talk about rejection, career hard patches, and the one thing she believes long-haul writers need more than anything else: the tenacity to never stop writing.

Do you want to be a writer for the long haul? I think the key is tenacity. Tenacity is at least as important as talent.

In 1989, I had a dream: to write a book. I didn’t know a single writer.

Two years later, I had a finished book and a new dream: that it would be published and I could quit my day job. Instead, I got a ton of rejection letters from agents. Was my career over before it had even begun?

I wrote a second book and sent it out to agents. Agent after agent rejected it. Finally, an agent told me the book was one of the best she had ever seen. It was so good, she said, that she was sure I hadn’t shown it to any other agents. I did not tell her that over 50 agents had already rejected it.

A year later, it was clear my second book would never sell, despite complimentary rejection letters from editors. So I wrote a third book. Which got nothing but ho-hum rejections.

I could have given up, but instead I had been keeping busy writing a fourth book. Circles of Confusion sold to the first editor who saw it. The advance was certainly not “quit your job” money. We bought some new furniture.

But at least I was a real writer, right? I thought the hard part was over. I didn’t realize that just because you have been published once, it doesn’t mean you will be published again.

Circles of Confusion got nominated for several awards and got good reviews. I wrote a second in the series and then a third. I was on a publisher-paid tour for the third book when I learned they were dropping me because the sales of my second book hadn’t been double that of my first (an idea they hadn’t shared with me, although I’m not sure what I could have done about it if I had known). Would I ever be published again?

My heroic agent managed to move the series over to a different publisher for less money. I put out two books with them. The new publisher put very little effort into promoting them. One did great. The other not so great. We came to a mutual parting of ways.

Somewhere in here I wrote a few books that didn’t sell. One was on the chick lit side, the other really didn’t fit into a category.

In 2004, not only did I not seem anywhere close to quitting my day job, but my day job was starting to suck. I worried that I would never be published again. But that did not stop me from writing a new book, one with a 16-year-old main character. It was a YA according to my agent. (I had just thought of it as an adult book with a young main character.)

After that first YA, Shock Point, came out, I hit another hard patch. I had written another YA, but the release date kept getting pushed back and my editor had pretty much stopped answering my emails. Not only had my dream of quitting my day job faded, but my job had actually gotten worse. There were frequent “emergency” meetings in which I would realize one or two co-workers were missing. Then the meeting would turn out to be about how they had just been let go. It felt like everything was falling apart. But I didn’t stop writing.

I finished writing a YA book I really liked, about a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped when someone steals her step-mom’s car—with her in it. My editor didn’t like it, saying that books about kidnapping were overdone.

In late 2007, I got approached about partnering with a TV legal analyst on an adult mystery series. When we made a four-book deal, I knew I would never again have such a biggish chunk of money at one time. So I quit my day job in 2008. It was the scariest thing I have ever done. A few months later, I sold the book about the blind girl—Girl, Stolen—to a new editor, Christy Ottaviano at Henry Holt.

In 2009, that first adult coauthored book, Face of Betrayal, hit the New York Times bestseller list. And I learned that Girl, Stolen would be a lead title for Holt the next year.

Girl, Stolen, which was originally turned down by my first editor, has since been on nine state lists, named a Quick Pick, and is on the recommended curriculum in Ireland.

From 2010 on, I have published two books a year, one adult and one YA. And I’ve managed to continue to make a living as a writer. I think the key has been being tenacious. Even if—and it’s probably when—I hit another dry patch, I will keep writing, keep trying.

April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. April had one detour on her path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children’s author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he arranged to have it published in an international children’s magazine. By the time she was in her 30s, April had come to terms with her childhood and started writing about hit men, drug dealers, and serial killers. Look for two new books from her in 2015: Lethal Beauty (written with Lis Wiehl) and Blood Will Tell.

Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

- Kelly Bennett on Quitting Writing
- Pete Hautman on the book that will save us
- Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
- Steve Miller on building a writing life
- Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
- Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
- Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
- Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
- Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
- Sharon Shinn on managing time
- Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
- Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
- Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
- Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
- Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
- Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
- Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
- Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
- Kathi Appelt on the power of story
- Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

“And here we are waving Brenda and Eddie goodbye …”

Department of revising my Long Island childhood: ranking all 121 Billy Joel songs. (Via lnhammer.)

“The Falling of the Rain” gets a bad rap (for all that it’s not like anything else of his and very not Long Island), and “Only the Good Die Young” an over-generous one (good-kid me used to hate that song, and adult me still thinks Andrew Marvell did it better hundreds of years earlier), but he’s dead right putting “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” at number one, as well as ranking the post-apocalyptic “Miami 2017″ in the top ten.

Goodnight Moon and the End of All Things

My review of Goodnight Moon, as posted to Goodreads:

A heartbreakingly spare story about the heat death of the universe. One by one the things of the world are bid adieu. Beginning with small losses–clocks, socks, a young mouse who will never reach adulthood, the stakes rise relentlessly until the loss of the atmosphere, stars, and sound itself. In the end the illustrated moon shines on, a reminder of things lost, but the protagonist–and the reader–are left sleeping in the dark.

I’ll confess it took me a few (hundred) readings to fully understand this book, but aren’t the best works of literature like that?

For further commentary on Goodnight Moon, I recommend God-Night Rune, a translation from the original Old English; and Goodnight Room, a look at the inner workings of the Great Green Room.

Onward, into the mist, the future, the new year

Toddler was up before well before dawn this new year’s morning. We encouraged going back to sleep (and succeeded), but if we hadn’t, we realized later, we just might have seen snow falling to the desert floor.

As it was, what we saw was still more than worth getting up a little past dawn for.

[Sun on desert snow]

Any year that begins with desert snow has to be all right. Here’s to a good one for us all.

On motherhood and voice and being heard

So there’s a strange thing that’s been happening since I became a mother. Specifically, many people seem to have more trouble hearing me than before parenthood.

I understood my time would be tight for a long while, of course, and that I wouldn’t have as much time to speak up, online or in person–most of my writing time is saved for fiction these days. What I didn’t understand is that when I did speak, many people would hear my words–even my words that had nothing to do with parenting–only through the lens of motherhood, and not through the lens of, well, me.

It works like this. I’ll either talk or post about A Thing. It doesn’t really matter what I say specifically–it could be a critique, a complaint, or simply an observation. What matters is that if there’s even the slightest hint of discontent in my comment (and sometimes even if there’s no discontent at all), someone or other will too often proceed to utterly fail to hear me.

Not only fail to hear me, but proceed to tell me how happy they are for me. Even if I was speaking about something I was either unhappy or neutral about.

So maybe I’ll mention my writing time being tight now. Along with sympathetic comments, someone will say something like, “Isn’t parenting wonderful? Enjoy!”

If I mention some parenting challenge (usually in person, because I tend to keep most the actual details of my family life offline), someone will say, “Oh, I’m so happy for you!”

“How wonderful!” “Isn’t it great?” “What really matters is that you’re a parent now!” It seems that if post-motherhood I also express any unhappiness, even passing, trivial, daily-life ordinary-griping unhappiness, even if that unhappiness has nothing to do with my child, someone will often assume what I really need is for them to tell me how happy they are about, well, my unhappiness.

Before I was a mom, those were moments that called for sympathy or empathy, as I recall.

I do get it. This is lovingly done, for the most part, these cheerful responses to less-than-cheerful statements, an attempt to express love and support. I appreciate love and support. But when the words I have actually spoken get ignored in an attempt to remind me to be happy, what that says is not I love and support you but I don’t hear you.

Having my voice heard truly is tremendously important to me. It’s why I write.

I’m guessing I’m not alone. I’m guessing there are at least some other moms–writers or not–who feel the same way, which is part of why I’m posting now.

Parenting is awesome. I love my child, I love watching the day to day changes, I love seeing our family and household grow and change too. There’s a lot that’s amazing in my life right now, and I am genuinely and deeply and beyond-words grateful. Maybe I don’t say it enough, especially online where my focus is more on the professional than the personal, especially when I assume that everyone of course knows I feel that way. So I’m saying it again now.

But the rest of my life didn’t cease to exist the moment I met my child, and the rest of my emotions and observations and the whole of my me-ness didn’t cease to exist the moment I became a parent. Being a mom is an addition to and expansion of who I am, not a replacement for who I am. I am not some generic what-a-mom-is. I am me and I am a mom. There’s a difference.

As mothers, part of our job is to learn to listen to our children. It’s a wonderful part of our job.

But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that those who care about us don’t forget how to listen at the very same time that we’re learning it.

For many new parents, now, more than ever, is the time that we want and need to be heard and seen truly.

Star Wars, episode … yeah

So. There’s a trailer online for The Force Awakens, aka Star Wars episode VII. And I have thoughts.

Those thoughts begin in the summer of 1999, on the release date for The Phantom Menance, I was hiking through Capitol Reef National Park, miles from any movie theater. And at some point, staring out at a 360 degree panorama of some of the most stunning geology out there, I found myself thinking that I was missing something amazing, for all that I knew I was surrounded by things even more amazing that I’d consciously chosen over opening night of Star Wars Episode I. Still, I wondered if I’d made a mistake, choosing to go camping instead of waiting in line that week.

I hadn’t made a mistake. When I finally saw the movie a few days later, I knew that.

Still, I was an optimist. I saw both of the remaining prequels. The second time, I genuinely hoped I’d see something better. The third time … well, the third time, I saw the movie at a local drive in theater some days after release, mostly for the sake of completeness, but also “just in case” that something amazing might turn up after all.

Because the first three Star Wars movies, episodes IV through VI? Pretty much changed my life.

Teen me imprinted on The Empire Strikes Back hard, and from there there was no turning back. I practically memorized that movie. I practically memorized the novelization of that movie. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of self-insertion Star Wars fanfiction. Han Solo became at once my hero and my crush object. I did wait in line for Return of the Jedi, and while by the end of the movie my teen self was just beginning to understand how that movie–and the trilogy–weren’t perfect, I did not regret it. At all.

For me, the first trilogy was always about characters, not special effects. In many ways, although I was a voracious reader, it was the screen-based Han, Leia, and Luke who occupied the space for me that for later readers would be occupied by Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I loved their interactions and interplay, I loved the whole good-boy/bad-boy vibe of Luke and Han, I loved Han and Leia’s romance, did I mention I especially loved Han? (Later, I would think about the problems of Leia’s becoming an increasingly non-character over the course of the trilogy, and my decreasing engagement with her. But I was young, and my understandings were still growing, and I was unsubtle in my expectations. Characters who were larger than life and cast in broad–if problematic–strokes were still what I was looking for.) I loved, too, the sense of epic struggle, and being able to straightforwardly hate Darth Vader with all his straightforward villainy. (The flip side of this being that I was never sold on his redemption … but that’s a subject for another post.)

When Leia told Han she loved him, I cheered.

Years later, when Amidala told Anakin she loved him, I looked at the friends I was with, and we all mouthed the same word: WHY? (Jedi mind tricks, we later decided. Only Jedi mind tricks could explain that romance.)

It wasn’t just that I was no longer my younger, less subtle self by the time the prequels came along, though a couple decades of idolizing and being shaped by the original trilogy did mean that any new movie would have struggled to live up to the originals.

But the prequel trilogy, it didn’t even come close. For me, the heart wasn’t there, the soul and the characters weren’t there, and if the effects were pretty, well, unlike many the effects had never been what drew me to the Star Wars universe. Like I said, I enjoyed the novelizations as much as the movies. I was looking for character, and I was looking for story, and I’d probably have found those somewhere else if I hadn’t found Star Wars when I did–would probably have happily obsessed over something else instead–but Star Wars came along first and filled that space for me.

Star Wars shaped me as a fantasy reader (you didn’t think those movies were really science fiction, did you?), and it shaped me as a fantasy writer.

So. There’s a trailer for a new trilogy online. And it sure looks pretty.

I don’t care about pretty. It looks like it has characters too, but I can’t tell much about them from the trailer. And it looks like it has the Millennium Falcon too, which of course makes me smile, but the Millennium Falcon is not, by itself, enough, not unless I knew I’ll care about whoever’s piloting it now.

And maybe I will. The trailer, it doesn’t give me enough to know either way. And while I know there are in-depth analyses of every last detail of that footage out there, I haven’t read them.

Because I’m not getting my heart broken again. I’m not waiting in line opening day or opening week or … probably ever … for this one. I’m not thinking of it as the start of–or a return to–something amazing this time.

Unless. If enough people who I respect and whose story buttons are similar to mine tell me it actually is amazing–and not just visually amazing or tech and battle scene amazing–I’ll … think about it. But this time around, you all can take the opening day/week/month/maybe-forever hit for me.

I’ll be here at home with a novelization of The Empire Strikes Back, and several hundred thousand words of fondly remembered fanfic.