Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It Takes a Village

I'm not talking about raising a child, though that is true, yes. What I'm saying is--it takes a village to publish a book. A lot people give full credit to the author, and while I smile and say, "Thank you!" I always think about how I wouldn't be here today without my amazing publishing village!

As many of you might have seen, Ascension has been shortlisted for the Independent Book Publisher Association's Ben Franklin Book Award in New Voice: YA. This is maybe the most spectacular thing to ever happen. A Ben Franklin is the top book award in the independent publishing world. I mean, this is huge, guys. I never in a million years would have dreamed that I'd actually be able to say that or get to put an award sticker on my book. But I can, and I will!

Everyone is congratulating me, and I'm so very appreciative of all the support. Now it's my turn to say thank you to my village!

To my publisher, the most amazing, independent, brilliant, surprising, talented woman I have ever had the pleasure of knowing--thank you for seeing something in me and my book and moving us forward.

To my editor, who thinks so very differently from me yet seems to completely get my writing, my characters, and story--thank you for pushing me to think differently, work hard, and never settle.

To the Head Elf, the most kick-butt, do-all, hilarious woman--thank you for being the biggest cheerleader, flying all the way out to little Maryville for the book launch, and pushing this book down everyone's throats :)

To my graphic designer, who I converted to be a vampire fan after just 10 pages -- thank you for wanting to read more than 10 pages and for designing a perfect, beautiful cover and layout for my story.

To my copy editor, who went above and beyond, who read for more than just comma errors--thank you for those 17 pages of notes to fix. I resented it then. I treasure it now.

To my first reader, who may be more attached to this book who I am, who knew Ascension when it was Macy the Teenage Vampire -- there aren't enough thank you's in the world for helping me to shape Ascension in your basement for those 6 years.

To my parents, the ones who always support me, encourage me, cry with me when Ascension gets an award, sell books out of the trunks of their cars or at business meetings...simply, thank you.

And thanks to all of you for reading Ascension, bringing it to life, supporting it and me and this team. Where would I be without all of you?

Look for the official results of the IBPA Ben Franklin Award April 7th!!

Keeping you posted,

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spring Break in Boston!

Woohoo!! Travel time again! It feels like forever since I’ve been to a new place when really it’s been less than a year. But I guess that’s a long time for me haha. So Friday afternoon, I flew to Boston to visit my cousin and my sister from another mister.
I don’t really want to talk about Friday. You know how it’s possible for everything to go wrong when it comes to flying? Well, that was yesterday, except, thank the Lord, they didn’t lose my bag. Though I think it would’ve taken an effort to lose my bag since I was sitting in the Newark airport for three hours waiting on a flight that was supposed to load right after I got there. Anyway, let’s just say that I didn’t touch ground until 2 in the morning.
I saw so much this weekend (JUST 2 DAYS), I’ll bullet point this trip for you lovely readers J
·      Central Square:
o   Breakfast at Veggie Galaxy
o   H-Mart – huge Asian market with restaurants within
o   Graffiti Alley – found a wall to match my jacket
·      Beacon Hill
o   Saw the original bar where Cheers was set. If you haven’t watched it, you should. It’s great.
o   Made the mistake of walking along the Charles River where we were almost blown in by the viciously cold winds.
o   Walked past Boston Common and the Public Gardens
·      Newberry
o   This is where all the primo shopping is at. We went to a really cool shop called the Fairy Store, which was misleadingly a completely Harry Potter shop.
o   Amorino – THE BEST ICE CREAM/GELATO EVER! They shape it like a rose and have gelato macarons that are melt in your mouth amazing.
o   Trident Bookstore – also a cafĂ©, old feel, creaky floors, wide variety, lots of cool side items, looked like fantastic food!
·      Theatre District:
o   Dinner at Sip which had great sushi. Man, I haven’t had sushi in so long. Missed it!
·      Financial District:
o   The Black Rose: If you’re looking for a traditional Boston bar, this is the place to go. Great, fun atmosphere!
·      Allston:
o   Allston Diner for breakfast – great hometown restaurant with cute kitchen accessories. They whistle from the kitchen when the food’s ready.
·      Brookline:
o   Coolidge Corner
§  Brookline Book Smith: Fantastic YA section, open floor plan, TONS of side items. They also told me that they love indie authors. So, they get an A+ in my book. They’re also pet friendly
·      Copley Square:
o   Boston Public Library founded in 1630, absolutely spectacular. Has a Harry Potter-esque in some areas. It’s very modern in others. I had to take a panorama picture to get the full image with their motto.
o   Trinity Church – built in the 1700s. Have absolutely gorgeous stained glass. Individual and guided tours. Students had a $5 self guided tour. They had beautiful pipe organs and handmade kneeling images.
o   Max Brenner – restaurant + chocolatier. OH MY GOS. We had a churro fondue platter and Italian cream hot chocolate with dark chocolate in what they call “hug mugs”
·      The Prudential Center:
o   Mario Batali’s Eataly – a monster store of fresh Italian ingredients split into sections. So overwhelming and fantastic. You can even get fresh pasta, and they have meals in the building too.
o   Copley Shopping Center - the designer stores that I shouldn’t even be allowed to touch haha
·      We walked through Back Bay and Tremont
·      China Town – small, just a coupe blocks, huge welcome arch.
·      One of the oldest carousels, funded by Tiffany & Co.
·      Kennedy Greenway has art exhibits right now. A neat wall graphic, giraffe statue, light display, a little free library. Plus, I got hugged by a golden retriever. Fantastic.
·      The North End -  aka the Italian district
o   Dinner at La Famiglia – family sized meals. So leftovers for days. I ate my leftovers on the train for lunch.
o   Bova’s Baker – get the Florentine Cannoli. Oh, my good gracious. Yum.
What I learned about Boston
            *It was not planned well, but the public transit is pretty comprehensive and laid out.
            *You’re not a true Bostonian unless you drink Iced Dunkin Donuts Coffee in the dead of winter.
            * The farther out of the city you live, the cheaper the cost of living.

I CANNOT wait to go back!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day!

I'm never political in person. I'm not even political in private. I just don't consider myself a political person at all. I like people who are nice to others and that's pretty much the end of the story. However, today is international women's day. And maybe you'll say I'm being political for acknowledging this, but I find absolutely nothing wrong in acknowledging the kind, caring, brilliant, smart, strong, powerful women that have shaped who I am.

Anecdote time: So I have kind of unconventional birthdays. Like this year for instance, the ongoing joke was, "What happens when four girls, a mom, and a pastor walk into a bar?" Because that's literally what my birthday was. Well, on my 18th birthday, apart from my friends, I invited all the influential women in my life--teachers, my unofficial editor Mrs. Pam, my to-be publisher, neighbors, her friends who have all been like aunts to me. And I can tell you the impact that each one of them had on my life, but I don't want to keep you here for ten hours. 

Just as it is so important for young boys to have strong, respectable, caring male role models in their lives, it's equally as important for girls have strong female role models, not only in society but also in their personal spheres. 

The women in my life taught me to be proud and confident, to be strong and independent, to be caring and vulnerable, to cook an omelet the right way (I love breakfast). All of these women are doing what they love, influencing others in so many ways that they can't know. 

However, that's not to say I wasn't shaped by men too. My dad is everything to me. In one of my worst years, my sophomore english teacher told me that I was a good writer, encouraged me. Many other men have influenced me and encouraged me to be my best self. 

But today is about women because we rock, because we are equal, even though not all of the world understands that. God did not create as to be subservient but to serve with, to be equal and paired with. Men and women are meant to move through life together, not separate and unequal. 

Kudos to the amazing women today who are shattering glass ceilings, who are doing what they want to do with their lives for their reasons, for their happiness, for no one else. If all of you are lucky enough to have women in your lives like I have, congratulations. If you don't, it's not too late to find them. It's never too late to learn and change and grow. Again, that's what we were made to do. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February Book Round Up

Happy Fat Tuesday!! Hope you're all enjoying your last day of indulgence :)

Alright, so my reading was somewhat lacking this month. But, to be fair, it was a crazy busy month. That's no excuse, but the two books I did read were great!!

1. A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern
      So, as is normal, this has been on my shelf for about a year. I met Cammie McGovern at the 2015 Southern Festival of Books, which normally leads me to buy speaker's books if I don't know them already. [Fun Fact: her sister plays lady Cora on Downton Abbey...no, I'm not kidding :D]
       A Step Toward Falling is told from the alternating perspectives of a young girl with a mental disability, Belinda, and another girl, Emily who goes to her high school. One Friday night, these two girls are both at the football game, and when Emily passes to go back to her seat, she spots a guy sexually harassing Belinda. And she doesn't do anything. Well, she does, she goes to find a teacher, and it turns out one of the football players has the exact same reaction. Frozen in fear when we'd like to think we'd do the right thing and act. After the janitor helps Belinda and everything is taken care of, she refuses to go back to school, and her mom and grandma have no problem with that. And as a punishment, Emily and the other passive football player are made to volunteer at an afternoon group for adults with disabilities.
       This story took me a while to get into, to be honest. I was really excited to read it, but the beginning was just a little slow. I couldn't connect to Emily. However, as the story progressed and the characters started to develop, the story started to flow and move. I love the development, the different conflicts. This was a very high school, but in a great way. I think it was an accurate representation of how a high schooler in this situation might react and feel afterward. And McGovern's depiction of Belinda was beautiful and touching.

2. Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (3rd in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children)
      It's been a couple years since I read the first two Peculiars books, though I loved them, and the movie that came out the end of last year pulled me back into the world. They did a pretty great job, though they switched the ability of the main female protagonist :/
      I can't really give you a synopsis of this book because it would make no sense if you haven't read the first books. So...go back and read the first books! You'll get to learn about a world of peculiar children and adults with all sorts of unique abilities living in protected time loops that have them repeat the same day over and over again so that they never age and are protected from the normals. The really unique part is that Riggs has included photographs to show off his peculiars and the worlds they live--both creepy and awesome! It's really an intriguing read.
       Again, it took me a long time to get back into this series, but I think that's more because I haven't been in the world for so long. After I'd read about 50 pages, I was fully invested again. There's a dry, morbid humor to this novel, on top of young love challenged by the fact that Emma has been sixteen for hundreds of years and Jacob is really only 16. The innate goodness of humanity is challenged, as well as our perception of looks. It's true, looks can deceive. What we might have considered to be horrid monsters for the first two books might actually be okay creatures under the correct instruction. (read the books and you'll understand).
       All that I have left in this series is the Tales of the Peculiars, which was a book that Riggs created as a history book inside the series, then he actually wrote it for our pleasure reading. Pretty neat extension of the series, if you ask me.

Next Up: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Reading anything good?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Best Readers

Before I actually say what I want to say, I have to just mush about this amazing weather that (at least East TN) we're having today. But on top of that, both of my classes were cancelled today, so here I am, sitting at my favorite coffee shop with a yummy cup of coffee, getting ready to edit--my weekend has begun!! I have been one of the loudest voices in the I-hate-this-unseasonal-weather-it-should-be-cold, but I think I'm coming around. I know I'll regret that statement come TN June, early July, but right now I'll just savor it.

SO...readers! Readers are what make us authors. Our writing makes us writers, but without readers, we'd be selling to no one. And I have to tell you, I have the most amazing readers! I met my first fan at my book launch here in Chattanooga. She'd read and reread Ascension before the launch, was there before I got to the store, and stayed the entire time, showing over her extremely well-loved copy. She made my day/week/month and made me feel like a bona fide author for the first time since publication.  She fits into the age range that Ascension is essentially geared toward.

Then, there's my 90-year-old Swiss friend who, upon discovering that I'd written a book, said she must have it in her lovely accent. And she read it so quickly!! And guess what? A 90 year old Swiss woman, who has never read a vampire book, LOVED Ascension. I'm not bragging, I swear. I think that's just the coolest thing ever.

Upon returning back to school after Christmas, I ran into the head of the Creative Writing department, who had bought my book for her nephew for Christmas. She made my day when she told me that A) He was quite irate at the ending (mwahaha) and B) said it was my favorite book of the year! She told me to take this as a huge compliment because he's a very avid reader. This was a big moment for me because it told me that Ascension would not just be liked by girls, but guys too! Woohoo!

And the most recent reader story I have may be the funniest. So though I am a career woman now (scoff, I'm still a student), I still babysit occasionally for a family friend here in Chattanooga. Their daughter Evie is about the most perfect angel child I have ever met or had the pleasure of babysitting in my entire long life of babysitting children, though I have had some great ones. But Evie came with a group of her close friends to my Chattanooga book launch, and though she's only in 3rd grade, she devoured Ascension and again LOVED IT! A third grader loved my book. Like, what is life? She bombarded me with questions when I came through the front door and showed me a book that she was working on. And when it came time for bed, she said to me, "You know what would be cool, Miss Hannah? If you read your book to me." Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I read Ascension as a bedtime story. It was a fun, happy part, however fleeting those moments are in my book. But she loved it, and it was definitely one of the most memorable Ascension moments for me.

All this is to say that, readers, we writers pay attention to you, treasure you ,need you. You make our day when you buy our books and fall into the worlds we've created. Whenever I start to think about any negative feedback I've gotten, I'll just think about these amazing readers, their dedication and love for reading and for our characters.

Happy Almost Mardi Gras!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hardest Part of My Job

Last Friday, I visited Coulter Grove Intermediate School in Maryville, talking to the 6th and 7th grade classes. In total, that was close to speaking to 400 students. 400!

I like to think that I have my spiel down pat now--I introduce myself and my book, tell them a little bit about my story of starting Ascension at age 12 and the journey from there, read an excerpt from the prologue to peak their interest, then talk about believing in your dreams and making them happen, and end with questions. I have it down, can basically do it in my sleep now. I like to think that maybe they walk away from my talks thinking, "Hey, that author is a pretty cool lady!"

I've had some awesome moments at my school visits over the past five months. My first visit, right when I walked into the classroom, a girl raised her hand and said, "She's really pretty!" At the middle school career day, we had so many people come up to the table telling us that they were writing a book or wanted to be a writer. At the other intermediate school, kids asked so many questions that we ran out of time and a horde approached me afterward.

Most of the questions I get at school visits are the basics--"what's your favorite book?" "How do you write better?" "Do your character names have meaning?" "Is your book going to be made into a movie?"

I have instant answers to these questions. Then at this past school visit, apart from the other fantastic questions the students had, one boy asked me, "What's the hardest part of your job?" This question shocked me and also made me smile. So far, the only people that have referred to my writing as my job are me, my publishing team, and my mom. Not my friends. Not my students. So I guess I just made me smile to hear that. But I also knew my response: "Talking to you guys." The writing is not so hard, though it can get frustrating. Editing can be heart breaking or tedious. But this part, selling yourself, seeing yourself as a product that needs to be pitched, a public figure, is so difficult. Now, I'm not just talking to my friends or family. I'm imparting "wisdom" on kids who I hope will eventually read my book.

Plus, speaking to that many people is just exhausting. I got in the car afterward and slumped into my seat, totally ready for a nap.

But despite the nerves that rush through my body, make my hands shake imperceptibly, I'm beginning to love talking to students. They always have great questions, and it's so encouraging to hear all these students with writing aspirations. Even if they aren't interested in my book, I hope that they hear me when I talk about believing in themselves first, that they are the ones who are going to make their dreams come true. I'm living proof of it.

But then, there are the moments that I'll always remember, like a 7th grade boy coming up to me after my talk and asking me to sign his shirt then hearing him on the way out, "Dude, she signed my shirt!" I think I reached a new level of ultra cool at that point.

Until My Next Thought,

Sunday, February 5, 2017

21 Baby!!

It's weird to think that I started my semi-consistent blog posts this time last year with notes of what I'd learned by 20. And now it's a whole year later, and I'm 21. And it's amazing to think about all of the things that have happened in the past year and thinking about everything that's to come in the future.

I guess I've learned a few more things in the past year :) I've learned that I don't need to have a million + 1 friends. I'm really satisfied with having a small group of close friends who are kind, caring, funny, and adventurous. And I'm lucky that I'm able to keep up relationships over long distances and still be super close. That's amazing to me.

I've learned that going with the flow is the key to success. If you are so stuck in your plans, your ways, disappointment will constantly be the name of the game. The road to a final published copy of Ascension was a definite roller coaster of changed dates, late edits, plot holes, and all sorts of things. And I was very blessed to have my superwoman mother, my fantastic editor, and my indescribable publisher/mentor who taught me to be flexible. That's how you succeed not only in the book world, but also life in general.

I've also realized the importance of taking time for yourself. Even if you're an extrovert, you still need time to destress from the stress of work and people and school and just society. I used to feel guilty for being alone and not spending all my time with my friends. Don't get me wrong, putting effort into your friendships is so important. My friends are invaluable to me. They make my life so much fun and are helping me get through this craziness called college. But I need alone time. I need to read books, jam out to music, or just lay down on my bed for awhile and let the stress seep out of my pores.

I used to think I was a pretty good person, but over the past few months, I've realized that there's a lot to improve about myself. And thinking about all I want to change is super overwhelming and stressful. But now, I'm taking it one day at a time--complaining less, trying to smile at people everyday so they know I'm not a grump, texting friends I haven't talked to in awhile just to check in. One day at a time.

Right now, at a time when my future is pretty ambiguous, I'm trying to stay in the day. And today is my birthday! And guess what? Because I love celebrating stuff, I'm gonna celebrate all week long! I mean, you only turn 21 once, right?

One more year older,