Monday, February 24, 2014

A New Cover!

...but first, check out all these awesome blurbs for  
THE GREAT GREENE HEIST!


"A political heist page-turner set in middle school? Is that even possible? Varian Johnson shows us how it's done, expertly walking the tightrope between true-to-life school experiences and belly laughs."

GORDON KORMAN, author of Swindle and The Hypnotists


"Pay attention! This terrific story speeds ahead on every page, but the lively characters will make you care enough to keep up. Do yourself a favor and start reading immediately."

REBECCA STEAD, Newbery-winning author of
When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy


"The Great Greene Heist is one crazy cool caper!"

RITA WILLIAMS-GARCIA, Newbery Honor-winning author
of One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be 11


"A smart, charming, and hilarious novel featuring one of my favorite protagonists in years. I'd follow Jackson Greene anywhere, and The Great Greene Heist is a fantastic ride.

MATT DE LA PEÑA, author of The Living and Mexican WhiteBoy


“This fast, funny heist novel takes the reader on a ride full of twists and turns. I’m a sucker for a good scam, and Jackson and his gang work one of the best in the business. Nice pull, Varian Johnson!”

JUDE WATSON, author of Loot and In Too Deep (The 39 Clues).



And here's the revised cover!



After the release of the initial cover, Scholastic got feedback from a lot of channels, and there was an overall desire to see more of the OCEAN’S 11/James Bond nature of the book. At the same time, we all wanted to stay with the same illustrator (the uber-talented Kali Ciesemier) and retain the spirit of diversity from the old cover. 

I love this cover, and I hope you all do as well.

(I can't believe that the novel will be out in a little over three months. Things are starting to happen behind the scenes...looking forward to sharing more soon!)

Labels:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

More Jackson Greene!

I posted this on my brand-new, ultra-underutilized Tumblr page, but I figured I'd post it on the good old blog as well:

Varian Johnson's TO CATCH A CHEAT, a sequel to his forthcoming middle-grade caper, THE GREAT GREENE HEIST, in which an eighth-grade con artist and his crew must reunite to clear their names after being framed for a prank and stop a group of cheaters from stealing a school exam, again to Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (World).
So happy to be working with Cheryl and the crew at Arthur A. Levine and Scholastic again! More soon!


Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2014, Day 1


I really hate making New Year’s Resolutions.

Let me clarify—I don’t hate making them, but I don’t do such a good job of keeping and tracking them. Last year, my goal was to write 1500 words a week. Did I hit it? Maybe. I never really tracked it, so it’s hard to say. Plus, I spent a lot of time revising The Great Greene Heist—and it’s hard to count those as new words, even though it often takes just as long to revise as to write a first draft.

So I’m not going to make any big, grandiose resolutions for the new year. However, there are a number of things I want to work on in 2014, including:

1)   Finding a way to balance day job / family / writing: This is always a struggle, finding a way to keep all the balls in the air. I want to continue to find ways to be more productive when writing and when working, so I’ll be able to physically and mentally “be” with my family when I’m at home. I’ve also gone back to writing in the mornings—it’s amazing how much work you can get done when everyone’s asleep. Of course, what will really help with this balance is—

2)  Being okay with saying "No". 2012 was a really busy year for me—I accepted a lot of teaching and speaking engagement (including a 10-day stint as a grad assistant at VCFA, a week-long teaching assignment at the Highlights Foundation Full Novel Workshop, and speaking at NCTE in Las Vegas, among other things). I promised my family that I’d cut back in 2013. Even though I missed out of a number of events I usually attend, the time away was well worth it—I got a lot of writing done, and I had the opportunity to spend a lot more time with my daughter. I’ll be doing more events in 2014, but I still plan to be very deliberate about what I choose to do.

3)   Being an author and a writer: When I talk to new writers, I often say that there’s a big difference in Varian-the-writer and Varian-the-author. When I’m in writer-mode, I’m just worried about me and the page. But when I’m working as Varian-the-author, I have to deal with everything else in the business—marketing, contracts, taxes, speaking engagements, invoices and payments, etc. With a new book coming out this year, I know I can’t totally neglect all of the business stuff, but I also want to make sure I nurture the writing as well. Writing retreats are really good for that, and I’m hoping to take two in 2014. And really, the best marketing is writing a new, great book.

Sara's clients at the S3Q2 retreat: me, Jessica, Rachel, Marianna & Amy Rose

I’m sure there are more things to work on, but now it’s time to write. Happy 2014, people.

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 09, 2013

Favorite of 2013 (and some stray thoughts)

This post by Joy Piedmont at Someday My Printz Will Come pretty much sums up why I adore Eleanor & Park.

Note 1: I don't necessarily think it'll win the Printz - my money's on Boxers & Saints - but an honor would be a well-deserved recognition.

Note 2: I also loved Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl.

Note 3: I loved the music threads in both Eleanor & Park and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and would kill to read a novel that paid homage to late 80's and early 90's R&B / Rap / Hip-Hop in a similar way. If this book exists, please email me and let me know.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Great Greene Heist



The Great Greene Heist
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic
Middle Grade
Summer 2014

Edited by Cheryl Klein
Designed by Nina Goffi
Cover Illustration by Kali Ciesemier


"If you're going to pull a con, know how to pull a con in style."

Labels:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Catching Up and Open Mic


First of all, thanks so much for all the kind words and support you all showed concerning my blog post about the lack of black boys in middle grade literature. (Also, be sure to check out the comments—lots of good stuff there.) I've been thinking about it a lot, and while I don't have a definitive solution to the problem, there are some things I know I can do to make a difference, such as:

1) Mentor more authors of color.
2) Mentor more authors writing about people of color.
3) Keep talking about the problem.
4) Continue to include diverse casts in my novels.
5) Buy books featuring people of color!

I'm not saying that my solutions are the only solutions, but I think they're the best way for me to make a difference. I've already got two manuscripts lined up to read (one written by an African-American male, the other featuring an African-American male as the main character). Depending on my schedule, I hope to take on a few additional authors next year.

Finally, I can't believe I haven't posted about this, but I'm proud to be one of ten authors featured in the upcoming anthology, Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices (Candlewick, Sept 2013). The anthology, edited by author Mitali Perkins, has already been named a Junior Library Guild selection and will also be released as an audiobook. You can learn more about the anthology on Facebook and at the Candlewick website.

Here's the full list of authors in order of appearance:

"Becoming Henry Lee" by David Yoo

"Why I Won't Be Watching the Last Airbender Movie" by Gene Luen Yang

"Talent Show" by Cherry Cheva

"Voilà" by Debbie Rigaud


"Three-Pointer" by
Mitali Perkins
 

"Like Me" by Varian Johnson

"Confessions of a Black Geek" by Olubemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

"Under Berlin" by G. Neri

"Brotherly Love" by Francisco X. Stork

"Lexicon" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Where are all the black boys?



Last week, author and librarian Betsy Bird posted this on Twitter: "At the risk of sounding desperate, can anyone name me just ONE middle grade novel published in 2013 starring an African-American boy?"

She later followed up with a post listing all the books published in 2013 featuring African-American boys as main characters. If I'm counting correctly, the number is somewhere around eight. Maybe ten, when you count some of the small publishers.

You have no idea how depressed this makes me feel.

There are a lot of theories why these books aren't being published. Maybe authors aren't writing them. Maybe editors and agents aren't acquiring them. Maybe readers don't want them.

While this makes me worry about the state of the industry, I find myself first worrying about my daughter. My nieces. And especially my nephew.

I grew up in a time when there were very few books for young people featuring people of color. There's no way to describe how it feels NOT to see yourself in books. There's no way to describe how it feels NOT to see other authors that look like you writing books. As someone that had wanted to be an author since I was in second grade, it was...crushing.

Hell, it's still crushing. Have you ever scanned the shelves at your local bookstore? If the real world were like the YA section, I wouldn't exist.

Knocking on wood—I have a new book coming out next year. It's my first middle grade, and while it features an ensemble cast, the main character is a thirteen-year-old African-American boy. As of today, it's titled THE GREAT GREENE HEIST (published by Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, edited by Executive Editor Cheryl Klein). It's about...well, a heist.  

(Sorry, but I don't do well with describing my own books. And while I'm at it, sorry for all the disclaimers, but in publishing, nothing is ever set in stone until the book's on the shelves.)

Selfishly, I worry that no one will buy the book. Either people will think it's not relevant to them because it features a black boy. Or they won't buy it because they'll think it's about slavery or racism. Or people won't buy it because it's NOT true Black History Month material. (Or it could just suck, but that's a worry shared by the majority of authors.)

I try not to obsess about things like this, but given the industry's track record, can you blame me?

I also worry that with such a small sampling of books that feature African-American boys, my book will have to do double or triple or quadruple duty. Being a fun caper novel won't be enough. It'll have to be more. More literary. More commercial. More accessible. More poignant.   

I know this is crazy talk. This is the type of talk that puts authors in a forever do-loop with a manuscript. I know this—but still, I worry.

I feel fortunate that this book is being published by Cheryl and the folks at AAL /Scholastic. I trust that they'll make the right decisions about the cover—whether it features a brown face or not. I trust that they'll do what is best to get the book in the hands of all readers, not just ones with brown faces. (And please, please read this blog post about judging covers by Andrea Davis Pinkney, vice president and editor at large of Scholastic's Trade Books. Even as an author of color, I struggle with this issue.)

I'm working on a new project now, and it's tough going. But in a day or so, I'll try to forget about publishing statistics and book covers and authorial responsibility and all the other crap that can weight an author down. And then I'll get back to work.