Tag Archives: Hannah Barnaby

Signed Books Motivate Me to Keep Writing

I buy oodles of books. They pile up on shelves, and on a wide windowsill beside my writing desk. They collect dust in stacks on a braided blue rug, and from time to time I clean them off. Every year we donate one or two boxes worth to a library sale, clearing space for new reads. But I can’t bear to part with any of the books that authors have signed to me. To me.


These pictures show only some of the many signed YA and middle grade titles in my collection. I also have a slew written for adults—nonfiction, poetry, memoir, mystery, thrillers, and literary fiction. I’d like to say I’ve read them all, but the truth is that some sit in my to-be-read stack (which got three books taller after last week’s RVA Lit Crawl. Richmond, VA, is a great town in which to be a writer. Have I said that before? Yeah.)


It takes a long time to draft a novel, and even longer to revise it, and in my case we’re talking years. I’m currently in a stage of deep and messy revision on two novels, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get them out into the world. Sometimes I feel discouraged.



Then I pick up a signed book, feel its weight, turn a few pages, and run a finger across the inscription. I picture the author who signed it. I try to recall the conversation we had on the day I got the signature. I remember getting tongue-tied when I met Lois Lowry because The Giver is one of my all time favorites and I couldn’t believe I was actually meeting the author. We were in Richmond in the bookstore formerly known as Narnia (now bbgb books), and for Lois it had been a long day. I think she’d done some school visits, and by late afternoon was probably ready for a nap, but there I was, eager and tongue-tied, and as I recall, I mumbled that I was writing a book for young readers. “Good luck,” I think she said. Or maybe, “It’s a rewarding job.” Or maybe I’ve forgotten her exact words, but I haven’t forgotten her encouragement, her warmth, her smile.


Sometimes when I look at my name handwritten in a book, I imagine the author writing a new novel, hunched over a desk or leaning back in an overstuffed chair with a laptop, sipping coffee, typing away. I always picture these authors smiling, but who knows? Maybe they cry while they write. (Nah. Don’t tell me that. And actually, come to think of it, one of these authors has passed away, so I have to picture her smiling from heaven.) In any case, the image of most of these authors hard at work on another book motives me to get back to my manuscript.

Every morning when I slip into my backless chair, the shelves above my desk like telephone wires full of birds chatting and singing, ready to take flight, I feel the authors smiling. I imagine they’re smiling at me. At me! And I pick up my gel pen and begin to write…


Wanna write? Gotta read.

It’s true what they say: to write well, you have to read well. And often. And widely, and not just in your own genre.  So when Lyn Miller-Lachmann tagged me for the WORLD TOUR BLOG (WTB), I took it as a reminder to carve out more reading time. (Thank you, Lyn!)

I’d already read two of Lyn’s books (here I am with her Gringolandia and Rogue), both character-driven, but worlds apart. The first explores the lives of family members displaced after General Pinochet’s 1973 military coup in Chile. In the second, we watch Kiara, a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, struggle to make—and keep—friends. Horn Book notes: “The depth of Kiara’s loneliness, her capacity for empathy (though she’s unsure of when and how to express it), and her persistence in her quest for true friendship make the book a substantive addition to the emerging body of youth literature about Asperger’s.” You can read more about Rogue here, and about Gringolandia here. Leave it to Lyn to tackle some tough topics! I love the many ways that her fiction sheds light on fact.

What authors am I currently reading? I recently finished Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, which was so compelling, I couldn’t put it down. The writing is spot-on, and the characters are so real, I knew them. I mean, I just knew them. The day Park met Eleanor, I felt as if I were meeting her, too. I was there. On the school bus. In the aisle. No seats. Too many eyes. Made me squirm so much, I could smell it.

My next project is in a messy first-draft stage. Between this work-in-progress and Brotherhood lies a whole other novel that will never see publication. Once Viking bought Brotherhood and that manuscript was making its way through the production process toward a September 2013 release, I finished a contemporary middle-grade novel with fantasy elements, showed it to my agent, and got a reaction from her that I’ll just call… tepid. Hard to hear, but yeah… she was right. I’ve shelved that one, and it’s too early to say much about my new one, as I’m still getting to know these characters, but I’ll say this: they’re at summer music camp.

As for taking a year to complete a novel then shelve it, well… I see it as part of my process. Sure, it’s great when people tell us our work is awesome, but I respect my agent for telling me mine wasn’t, and for sending me back to work. Writing is hard! For me, the hardest part is digging deeply for emotional truths. It’s draining. But emotional truths are the places where readers connect with a character or story. Wanna write? Gotta dig deep.

Last month I read Wonder Show, and today I’m tagging the author, Hannah Barnaby, to post next on this World Tour Blog. I fell in love with Hannah’s language. Set in 1939, the story emerges in three parts, and the setting for Part Two is a traveling circus. Fun stuff. (And some disturbing stuff about the ways people with “medical oddities” had no place to go at that time— no place to belong—except perhaps in a circus or traveling show.) Here are some of my favorite lines from the novel:

All of them would remember… the story starring Mister and his mysterious house, and they would shiver like dry leaves.

Promises are easily made—we toss them like coins bound for a fountain and leave them there, under the water, waiting to be retrieved.

One of them smiled. The other ducked her head so that her long yellow hair draped her face like water closing around a stone in a riverbed.

The air coated everyone like an extra skin.

And that’s only a few of the delicious sentences in Wonder Show. Between them unfolds a story like no other. If you haven’t read it yet, well, the paperback just came out. No excuses.

If you’re in Virginia this coming Thursday, Oct. 17, you can meet some of the authors whose books you’re reading. Fifteen—count ’em—15 authors of books for young readers will be signing books at Richmond Public Library, 101 East Franklin Street, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. during TEEN ’13 (check out the Facebook Event page here), one of many programs celebrating ALA’s Teen Read Week and the Virginia Literary Festival. Hannah Barnaby and I will both be there, and if you miss us then, you can find the two of us on a panel together at SCBWI-Mid-Atlantic’s annual conference on Saturday, Oct. 26. In between those two events, I’m speaking at the James River Writers conference, Oct. 19-20 in Richmond, VA. More authors, more awesome books begging to be read. I’m on it…