Category Archives: Op-Ed

On debuts, gratitude… and a giveaway!

I’ve been at this writing thing for a while now — as a journalist, in corporate communications, and writing MG series fiction under various pen names. But in just a few weeks, I’ll reach an exciting new milestone: my YA debut (pinches self repeatedly, faints and falls over), will publish with Disney-Hyperion.

It’s all a bit crazy. And surreal. And thrilling and actually a little (okay, a lot) terrifying. Because here’s the thing — I don’t care how ready you think you are, how hard you’ve worked, how many rejections/edits/revisions you’ve gone through to reach this point — nothing can really prepare you for the wild roller coaster ride of emotions as publication day approaches. Here’s my last couple of months in a nutshell:

  • Final edits are done. I’ve seen the galleys. My book is real! Holy moly, it’s real!! Soon, my book is actually going to BE IN STORES!!! People will be able to BUY it! And read it! Oh my *&@#$, someone other than my mom, (hi mom, I love you!), is actually going to READ MY BOOK!!!
  • Oh my *&@#$. Someone other than my mom is actually going to read my book. They are going to read it and figure out I stink. Because I stink. I have no clue what I’m doing. And this whole published author thing? A fluke, obviously. Can I have my book back now? I need to fix it. I don’t care that it’s gone to print. I NEED TO FIX IT!!!
  • Oh help me. There’s no fixing it. Review copies have been sent out. Where’s my chocolate?
  • I got a review? And the reviewer liked my book? (Are we sure this wasn’t my mother?) It wasn’t? And more reviewers have read it and said nice things about it, too? I’m so happy now I might cry! Please pardon me while I dance down the middle of the street with my hands in the air, until…
  • Oh boy. Here comes the-review-magazine-that-shall-not-be-named (rhymes with Quirkus). Is it possible the word “the” is a compliment? Because if so, I totally nailed that one, baby! No? Okay, I’m done dancing. If you need me, I’ll be curled in a ball under my coffee table with a big bag of chocolate and a bottle of wine until this whole thing is over (or I run out of chocolate and wine).
  • But, wait! School Library Journal loves my book, and Booklist thinks it’s pretty darn good, too. I think I just saw the words “must-read”… ABOUT MY BOOK!! You know what, it’s getting a little stuffy here under this table (and seriously, who’s in charge of vacuuming this place anyway?!? I think that’s a dried-up Cheeto stuck to my sock). Ah, who cares? I’m feeling the need to daaaaaance! Because who knows which way the roller coaster is headed next?
  • (Dances all the way to Costco to buy cases of chocolate and wine. Vacuums under the coffee table. Just in case…)

And if that’s not bad enough — don’t even get me started on the uncontrollable urge to Google yourself. And check your Amazon ranking. And see how many people have added your book to their to-read lists. Even though you know you should be — what is it they always say? — working on the next book. Ha. Yeah right. Telling yourself to stay off Amazon is kind of like telling the dog to stop eating scraps from the garbage can. It’s irresistible, man.

Yet, despite all that — despite the fact that publishing a book will basically turn you into a walking basket case who can’t decide whether to laugh or cry at any given moment — I’ve discovered there’s one emotion (at least for me) that trumps all others:

Gratitude.

Zero-Day_Final

My book!

Yes, gratitude. Even though I’ve paused writing this post a half-dozen times to check my Author Central page (uh, kidding/not kidding), I’m grateful. Grateful I’ve been given the opportunity to be on this wild ride in the first place. Grateful to the many wonderful people who helped me get here. Grateful to the people who’ve taken the time to review my book, whether they love it or hate it (yeah, even you, Quirkus).

But most of all, I’m grateful to the readers who let me and my words into their lives. It’s an honor and privilege, and one for which I’m endlessly thankful.

So! To share my gratitude, I’m giving away a signed hardcover copy of my new YA novel, ZERO DAY! Just leave a comment below to enter for a chance to win. The winner will be drawn on January 5, and the book will be shipped by the release date.

Many thanks, and wishing you all a beautiful and Happy New Year!

Jan Gangsei’s debut YA novel, ZERO DAY, a political thriller set in her backyard of Washington, D.C., publishes January 12, 2016 with Disney-Hyperion. She’s also the author of middle-grade series fiction for London and New York-based book packager Working Partners. Say hi to her at www.jangangsei.com.

 

Writing for the Generations

Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers in the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow
And we’re living here in Allentown
–Billy Joel, “Allentown”

When World War II ended, American soldiers returned home en masse to start new families. Their children were the Baby Boomer generation–the first kids to grow up with television, the first kids to encounter rock and roll music at a high school, the ones who might have watched a live Moon landing and been inspired to careers in science.

I came along a couple decades later. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I had Baby Boomer teachers who were the audience for my first writing assignments. The Baby Boomer authors of then-contemporary books were the models I tried to emulate. When I was first trying to break into publishing, Baby Boomers were the mentors who spoke to me about their own struggles with writing for a younger generation. Paula Danziger told me her theory that a high school generation was only four years long–which meant that eight years out of high school, I was already two generations removed from the experience!

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore!
–Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

I’d always had a vague sense that many of the books in our school library weren’t really written for me. The classics of prior decades sometimes included confusing instances of 1960s counter-culture, or references to songs, shows, and movies that my friends and I had never heard of. Even the newly-published books had moments where the styles, themes, tastes, and experiences didn’t match the needs of Generation X. We needed more books about kids with working moms or divorced parents that weren’t issue books about working moms or divorced parents. And we definitely needed more computers in our books than we were getting.

Desktop computers became a big thing in the 1980s. Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 1983 was a desktop computer–except that they weren’t yet called desktop computers because there was no other kind. Our junior high school had a computer lab of TSR-80s, and friends of mine had Apple IIs or Timex Sinclair 1000s. My first Internet experience was logging into a bulletin board with a 1200-baud modem in 1987.

But the characters in our books only had computers if the machines were big, crazy, complex things that tended to become sentient and wanted to take over the world. The Baby Boomer authors of the time clearly weren’t as comfortable with the technology as their Generation X readers.

That’s why, when I started writing, I wrote for me. For little kid me, who saw gaps in his bookshelf where there should have been Gen X adventures. My characters had computers they used for doing homework, sending email, and writing their own stories. Computers weren’t the focus of the story but they existed for my characters as they had for me.

Today, I don’t write for myself anymore. My current audience is the new generation that my children are a part of, the ones who come after the Millennials. My goal is to fill some of the gaps that exist in their bookshelves. We Need Diverse Books is a long-overdue effort to identify and fill some of those gaps to reflect the diversity of our culture, something all authors need to immerse themselves in, but there are other gaps that require us to figure out who these kids are, what they have in common, what makes them tick, and how they are different from the generations that came before them.

I was reminded of this recently when MTV took a stab at the first step in describing a new generation–tagging them with a cute nickname. Some people have been calling them Generation Z, recognizing that “Millennial” is an awful name that should be retconned into Generation Y. I once put forward Generation XII for the same reason. Others are calling them the iGeneration because of the influence of iPhones, iPads, and the Internet on their lives. MTV, after first asking the kids what they’d want to be called, is throwing out “The Founders.” Because prior generations have messed the world up so much that it needs to be rebuilt from scratch.

The Founders have never known a world without the Internet. I know kids who are so steeped in Internet culture that they identify the second in a series by the “hashtag-two” on the cover. The Founders have never known a U.S. President who wasn’t black, except in their history texts. The Founders don’t accept books that acknowledge the existence of cell phones but don’t provide characters with “enough bars” for their use. Founder activities are more heavily scheduled than mine ever were, with more sports leagues and fewer unsupervised games of stickball in the middle of the street. While we grew up with concerns about dirty water and dirty air, the Founders are growing up with the prospect of catastrophic global climate change. While we grew up with Soviet ICBMs aimed at our cities, they are growing up with terrorism.

Writing for the Founders is an honor, a privilege, and a challenge. They’re going to need some amazing books to inspire all that founding that needs to be done.


Greg R. Fishbone is the author of the Galaxy Games series of sports and sci-fi books for the Founders.

What Are You Grateful For?

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it. I love this time of year, and have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. My older daughter has been suffering from an eating disorder, and after living at Oliver-Pyatt (an amazing eating disorder facility in Miami) for the past six months…she’s home and way stronger than I’ve seen her in a long time!

People often spend so much time concentrating on food for the holidays. While it’s nice to enjoy special treats, I’m definitely going to celebrate being with both daughters and my husband. It’s such a gift to spend quality time together!

I originally had a different topic in mind for this post, but since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I started thinking about how much books have meant to my daughters and me. I have so many wonderful memories of snuggling together, reading books from the time they were little. One book I’m extremely grateful for is Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. It was one of my favorite books as a child! I’ll never forget reading it to my girls. My younger daughter was in pre-school at the time, and both girls listened intently to every word and laughed at Fudge’s antics.

When my first born was a bit older, we read My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville. She loved it so much that when I had to stop reading it during an appointment, she grabbed the book, sat down in the corner and said, “I’m sorry, Mom, but I just have to see what happens next.” What priceless words!

Now that my girls are older, we haven’t read together in way too long. I really miss it! I think I’ll see if they’re up to picking out an amazing middle grade novel to read together this weekend.

Besides being grateful for family, friends, good health, and awesome books–I’m also grateful for SCBWI (and the SCBWI Blueboard, which is an amazing message board for anyone interested in writing, illustrating, or involved in publishing or being an agent for children’s books). And I’m thankful for everyone at the Mixed-Up Files blog, and all of our wonderful readers. 

What are you thankful for this holiday season, and which middle grade novels helped create special memories for your family?

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.