Monday, March 23, 2015

The Walls Around Us

One of the things I miss most about college is being surrounded by a community of writers all the time. I loved gathering together for open mic nights, or listening to visiting authors share their work and talk about their process. Especially since I was on a small campus, I would know pretty much everyone in the audience. And on open mic nights, I would get to hear the finished product of something we had workshopped in class. When we left the event, we'd walk back to the dorms together, talking about the writers we'd met, or our favorite open mic piece, or what we were working on next. I'd talk someone who had been too shy to share into going for it next time. That literary cocoon of support was one of my favorite parts of my time at Penn State. When I graduated, I mourned because I thought that was all over.

Turned out I was wrong. Sort of.

Tonight I attended a book reading at the McNally Jackson bookstore on Prince St. in NYC. The visiting author? None other than Nova Ren Suma, writer of several young adult books including 17 & Gone, Imaginary Girls, and most recently, The Walls Around Us. And almost like the open mic nights of my college days, I knew the person at the mic sharing her words. I used to proofread for her. Just like me, for years Nova worked in publishing and was a production editor. Just like me, she wrote on the side and had dreams of quitting her day job and doing the writing thing full-time. Unlike me (so far, at least), she actually made the leap, and quite successfully at that. Her books now frequently show up on must-read lists, and the writing workshops she teaches have a devoted following. Basically, she's living the dream. And now that I've read her work (which is pretty great, by the way) I'm glad that she didn't put her writing on the back burner, something she'd get to eventually, one day, maybe. I'm not saying it's possible for everyone to quit their job and throw themselves into their art full-time. I haven't been able to do it yet, after all. But wow, when a person is able to do it, great things can come of it.
Nova in conversation with fellow author Libba Bray.
In the audience I spotted Nova's former HarperCollins boss, who attends lots of her appearances, and an editor friend of mine who I hadn't even realized also knew Nova. While I waited in line to have my books signed, I ended up meeting a publicist who works for Simon & Schuster Children's Books, which will be publishing my book this summer. We talked for a while about what a small world publishing is. When I finally got to the front of the line (Nova had drawn a huge, somewhat unruly crowd), she thanked me for coming and for always being so supportive of her career.

But it was I who should have been thanking her. Even though now, not everyone in the audience knows one another, and most of us hop into cars or onto trains heading our separate ways into distant corners of the five boroughs, I still felt for a while like I did back in college, listening to a friend share her work with a roomful of writers and readers who wanted nothing more than to listen, support, and be inspired. Nice job, Nova.

Nova Ren Suma at the McNally Jackson bookstore reading from The Walls Around Us.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I Solemnly Swear that I Am Up to No Good

For the first time in a long, long time, I have no writing, revisions, or proofreading to do. I feel so free! I mentioned this to my friends on Facebook and joked that I feel like I should go to Disney World now--or better yet, Universal Studios so I can visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Well, my friends jumped on that immediately. Before I knew it, they had all planned a long weekend trip to Universal for my birthday this October. As my friend Jodi said, "I can't think of a better place to go for a grown-up birthday party." Can't argue with that. 

I could chalk their eagerness up to the fact that I've been so busy over the past few years that I haven't gone on any trips with my friends, so now that I've mentioned wanting to go somewhere, they pounced before I could change my mind. But their enthusiasm could also be just because they all have as much love for the Harry Potter books as I do. 

Case in point, I recently participated in a fund-raiser for Read Ahead (formerly called Everybody Wins!), an organization that promotes literacy among children. In addition to other education initiatives, Read Ahead pairs kids with adult volunteers, and they spend their lunch hour once a week reading together. It's a great way for the kids to get some individual attention, improve their reading, and associate books with stress-free fun. I actually volunteered for two years back when I was working at Tor Books, so I know how valuable the program is and how hard they work to keep it going. The event was a bowl-a-thon that took place at Frames in the Port Authority terminal. We had to form teams of four and come up with a team name and motto. My team, made up of friends of mine who are also fellow Penguin Random House employees, was called Harry's Lightning Bolts (Jenn's great idea). Our motto: I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. Teams were encouraged to wear costumes. We decided to keep it simple and go with Harry's glasses and one Hogwarts tie. 

Harry's Lightning Bolts (from left to right): Me, Cindy, Alison, and Jenn.
In addition to the bowling, they held raffles and a silent auction. I bought $20 worth of raffle tickets, completely convinced that I would win the picnic basket or the Birch Box of beauty products. (Alison actually won both.) Anyway, I'm proud to say that as a team--with help from Penguin Random House's charitable matching program--we raised almost $2,000, and all together, the event raised more than $40,000 for Read Ahead! It was a great night for a good cause. (But more important, I broke 100 on the bowling lane! Finally...)

As for the writing, exciting things are on the way. Last month I finished revising book two in the Hunters of Chaos series. And my publicist (I have a publicist!) at Simon & Schuster reached out to me about possible promotion opportunities here in New York. So if you're in the area, I may be visiting a bookstore near you very soon. I'll keep you posted. I'll also be visiting an elementary school in Queens this month. The teacher who invited me told me that kids in her school who are named Student of the Month receive a free book as a reward for their good work. Apparently, she often gives them my books, and they've told her they enjoyed reading them, so she thought it would be fun if I came to visit. :-) Of course, I'm thrilled! Especially since I live in Queens and haven't been to a school here yet. I can't wait. 

I've also been invited to participate in a book fair in Boston in June, and I may be going to another in New Jersey in May. Again, I'll let you know when all the plans have been nailed down. 

Since all this promotional stuff will be kicking off soon, I thought it was high time that I step up my social media game, which I'd kind of been slacking on for a while. The first thing I did was create an official Facebook page as an author: (There isn't much on it yet. Feel free to help me fill it up!) I started to actually Tweet some things on what I consider to be my work Twitter account: @cvelasquez6. And I've enlisted a former coworker of mine to help me revamp my website. Hopefully, she'll be able to whip it into shape soon. I still have so much to learn about the business side of being a writer, it's ridiculous, and I am definitely technologically challenged. (I JUST learned how to access emojis on my iPhone.) But I'll try my best to get up to speed. 

In the meantime, I guess I should start planning my trip to Universal in October. I do believe I've earned it. Harry Potter, here I come!