Saturday, December 17, 2005


I can't believe that it's almost been a week since I last posted. At least I have a good excuse - I've been slaving away on a manuscript.

A few months ago, I talked about some issues I was having with my writing, specifically with my current work-in-progress. After much thought, I decided to send my manuscript to a freelance children's book editor. I NEVER thought I would pay to send my manuscript off to someone just to get their opinion on it. I guess I always thought that my work was good enough to entice any editor or agent. HA!! If only I had known then what I know now about the craft of writing and the publishing industry.

I paid a good penny for it, but it was THE BEST critique I've ever gotten on a manuscript. The editor send me a very detailed outline of the good and bad points of the novel. And while she hit on a lot of topics, she identified the ONE BIG THING that I had been missing. Once she mentioned it, I was amazed at how I had overlooked such an important detail.

The good thing is that it's fairly easy for me to fix the novel. While the plot needs tweaking, the character-driven feel of the story is strong. The bad thing is that I only have two more weeks to finish it.

I really want to submit it to a contest at the end of the year. There are still some technicalities that I'm trying to work through, but if everything works out, I plan to submit. Something tells me it's something I'm supposed to do. I don't think I'll win (the subject matter may be a little too edgy) but I really believe it was meant for me to submit to the contest.

Speaking of edgy - there is one thing that the editor talked about that really just sunk in with me this morning - if this book ever gets published, it'll probably be challenged, and maybe even banned. Another editor said the same thing at the SCBWI conference. Now, neither editors are saying that I shouldn't write the book, but they are warning me of some potential issues that some people will find objectionable. As much as this sucks, I think I'm okay with it.

But, I guess I'm putting the cart before the horse. I need to get the book published before it has a chance to be banned. And I can't get it published if I don't finish it. So, I guess I need to finish the damn thing.

Monday, December 12, 2005

What's a Varian?

"Dude, you're the ugliest looking woman I've ever seen."

Well, an editor at an SCBWI conference a few years ago didn't quite put it like that, but it was close. What she said was more along the lines of, "You're Varian Johnson? I expected an overweight, African-American woman to walk into the door." Hmm, at least she got the African-American part right.

All jokes aside, that is probably the best compliment I've gotten about my writing. Both Red Polka Dot and my current work-in-progress feature female main characters, and most folks that read my work without knowing me are surprised to find that I'm not a woman. While most of that is do to the outstanding job I do of creating female characters (yes, that's a shameless plug) , a lot is probably do to my name.

Varian isn't really a macho name. Hell, most people have never even met a Varian before. It's a name that was once the bane of my existence. I HATED my name. You don't know how many times I've been called "Ms. Varian Johnson" while waiting at the doctor's office. Most of my family and close friends call me by my middle name.

There are some good perks to using the name Varian, though. There are a lot of Johnsons out there, but not a lot of Varian Johnsons. Plus, it's a name that's hard to forget. Pair it with a title that's equally as hard to forget (like Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid) and you at least have something that will make people pause while browsing at the bookstores.

But more than anything, there is one thing I can't argue with: Varian Johnson looks great on a book cover.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I know a lot of you have already heard about this, but for those of you that haven't, a bunch of YA authors have joined together to support Intellectual Freedom. The group, calling themselves AS IF, first began as news surfaced about St. Andrew's decision to turn down a $3 million donation (yes, I said million) instead of removing Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain from their library. The recent banning of Brent Hartinger's Geography Club is only a reminder that the issue will not go away; we must continue to fight censorship.

I am extremely proud to call myself a member of this group.

We may not always win all of the battles we fight concerning censorship, but as one of the founders of my college fraternity said, "We must fight till hell freezes over and then fight on the ice."

For more information, see

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Days Are Here Again

Break out the champagne and start up the band. I have started my next novel.

I'm the type of person that has a hard time focusing on one thing to write. I've been jotting down ideas for three potential novels for the past few months, and each week, a different idea seems to be the one destined to become a novel. However, after Greg and Cynthia's workshop (where I was so confused over what scene to write that I actually didn't finish the exercise), I sat my butt down in front of my computer and worked on each idea until I could figure out which one was destined to become the next novel.

Around 1:30 AM Sunday morning, I figured out what my next project would be. I even have a working title.

I'm superstitious, so I won't say too much about it. I will say that it's an upper YA novel, although it's fairly tame compared to Red Polka Dot. The characters are not the types of people that will be dropping a plethora of f-bombs and other four-letter words. (Somewhere, my mother is breathing a sigh of relief.) Right now, I expect the novel to top out around 45,000 to 50,000 words.

I think the other novel ideas I had were pretty good, but not something I want to work on right now. One novel was about S-E-X. I wasn't trying to glorify it, but I did want to write a funny, witty book about how much teenagers think about it (whether they're having it or not). I actually have a pretty good concept for this, and may revisit it again in the future. (Somewhere, my mother is frowning and reaching for a bottle of Pepto.)

The other idea was a "The Dark is Rising Series meets Batman" type of book. (For those of you that are high on J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, you should really check out Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Series. Harry Potter doesn't even compare to Will Stanton.) Anyway, while I really like this idea, fantasy isn't one of my strengths right now. Plus, being a new author, I probably need to "brand" myself as a certain type of writer.

So, at least for now, I'm focusing on another contemporary YA novel. And so far, I really like what I've gotten down on paper. Wish me luck!!!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Swift Kick in the Rear

Greg and Cynthia Leitich Smith gave a great workshop today at B&N on Writing the Teen Novel. They really did a good job of presenting the information so that it was of use to both newbies and more seasoned writers. A couple of things that really resonated with me were:

1) The YA age range. The YA age range, once 12-18, now is much broader. In addition to the traditional 12-18 year-old range, there is now the "Tweener" age range of 10-14, and the Upper YA range of 14-19. My works tend to skew towards the higher end of the age range.

2) YA vs Adult publishing. Cyn made some really good points on this, as to why an author or publisher would push for a YA novel to be published as an adult novel. I've struggled with this concept myself a little (see the last post and Cyn's comments about my post).

3) Writers Must Read. There is a lot of great YA literature out there now. For those looking to break into the field, the bar has been raised. YA novels really have to be "special" in order to be published, and an author wanting to be published in this field must really look at the type of novels currently being published.

Point 3 really struck home with me. Between working on my own writing, increased responsibilities at work, and being a newlywed, I've really slowed down on my reading. There are SO MANY great books out there now, and I'm almost ashamed to admit that I haven't even tried to read all of them. I've made a commitment to read at least 3 books by the end of the year.

In addition to more reading, I've also committed myself to writing more this month. Now that Red Polka Dot is out and I'm through with most of my book signings, I should be able to get back to a decent writing routine. One problem is that I have three potential novels vying for attention, and I'm the type of author that can only write one thing at a time. Hopefully, I'll have it all sorted out by the end of the year.

There were a lot of SCBWIers in the crowd, including Julie Lake, Don Tate, JoAnne Whittemore, April Lurie, Frances Hill, Brian Yansky, Lindsey Lane, and Jerry Wermund. I know I'm forgetting a few people, so forgive me if I left you off.

So enough of the blog for today. I'm gonna write for a few hours, and then I'll flip a coin to figure out which book I'm gonna read first. The finalists: Brian Yanksy's My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World or Ellen Wittlinger's Sandpiper.