Monday, July 28, 2014

BIG NEWS from a singing gorilla

Last month, I tweeted this seemingly mundane thing about gorgeous weather, tattoos and farmer's markets putting me into good mood:

But in reality there was more to the story. Way more. I was bursting with a huge secret. "I literally cannot tell you how this day could get better" was my little nod toward that. I mean, don't get me wrong, the farmer's market, the perfect Seattle summer day, and my impending tattoo plans were wonderful, but literally I could not say how or why my day was so freakin' above-and-beyond-my-wildest-dreams amazing. Now I finally can because this announcement ran in today's print edition of Publishers Weekly:

Yeah. My next book is going to be a zine-style memoir (think a bunch of my personal essays from Rookie illustrated and woven together to create a cohesive story of my life from ages um 8 to 25) and it is going to be published by Dutton and edited by the one and only JULIE STRAUSS-GABEL, who I have been DREAMING of working with for YEARS.

Here is a summary of how I've been feeling since I've received this news:

I always thought that that last image of Sally Draper is how I would actually react when I got the call, but here is the actual (albeit slightly blurry) reaction shot taken by my husband:

Yes. That is a gorilla in a tuxedo. A singing, dancing gorilla in a tuxedo. Amazing Agent Adrienne decided that this news was something that a simple phone call COULD NOT cover, especially since we've worked so long and so hard for it. Those of you who have been following this blog or Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere know that for me getting published AGAIN has been an even harder experience than getting published the first time. My last book, Ballads of Suburbia, came out almost five years. It sold six years ago. In that intervening period (i.e since January of 2009 when I finished revisions on Ballads) I've written a couple of YA partials, a full YA novel and an adult novel that haven't found homes yet. I've also been writing for Rookie since it launched in September of 2011.

I signed with Adrienne in October of 2011. She's been the one shopping all of those projects I mentioned above. She's seen me through many moments of writer's block, self-doubt, and full-on crises of faith. She once sent me a copy of The Little Engine That Could to remind me that she believed that I would get through my WIP and I would find my way back to the bookshelves. It was her unceasing faith that kept me writing and pushing through rejection, hard times, and heart break. I'm still working on the words and some sort of grand gesture to thank her. A grand gesture like the one she made on Tuesday, June 17th at 8 pm when she sent a gorilla to my door. I'd told her that I didn't have a proper "The Call" story because I'd received emails not phone calls about my previous two sales. This is definitely "The Call" story to end all "Call" stories and here it is as I told it to my critique partners (who fortunately I was allowed to tell early on because otherwise I would have died). 

A couple important items of note to the story: Scott is my husband and apparently he and Adrienne had been colluding over Facebook messages for a week once Adrienne was aware that Things Were Very Likely Going To Happen (she never told him I had an offer, she said she wanted to send a surprise to "encourage me") and I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago and was icing it because I'd gone running when I got home from work (I showered before this all went down thankfully, but I am sans makeup, hair drying weirdly, and in a random t-shirt--I mean, really, Charlie Brown Halloween shirt, I have to remember you forever?)

But without further adieu, THE CALL as told in some version or other to Tara Kelly, Jeri Smith-Ready, and Alexa Young (ie. the women who along with Adrienne who have continually kept me going for the past 6 years):

So at 8 pm our door buzzer goes off, and I am mystified because you know, packages don’t get delivered that late. I’m in the process of icing my ankle so I tell Scott to answer the buzzer. He says there’s something at the door for me. I’m like, "I didn’t order anything, am I fucking getting served or something?" (Because of course my mind goes to the worst possible thing...) Scott was like, "Well, you better go down and sign for it." At that point, I was almost kind of pissed, like why is he making me limp downstairs instead of signing for me and who is this interrupting Orange is the New Black? 

Then I open the door and there is a gorilla in a tuxedo with an iPod dock boombox asking if I’m Stephanie. 
I was so beyond confused that at first it didn’t even compute when he said, "This is from Adrienne," because I was thinking it was some sort of joke maybe from my friend Eryn or Beth Ellen, who have that sort of sense of humor and knew I’ve been dealing with some shit lately. Also, not gonna lie, there was still a small part of me wondering if this was some elaborate way to mug me (you can take the girl out of Chicago, but…). The gorilla had to ask if he could come in, so I ushered him into the lobby of my building and I guess at that point Scott had arrived and took this picture: 

The gorilla started playing “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang (which was my first cassette tape because when the Cardinals won the World Series when I was a kid it was their theme and I was obsessed. I cannot recall if this is in the memoir or was just a lucky bit of fate) and at that point my brain finally put two and two together. Adrienne. Your agent. Celebration. Dancing gorilla. But at first I still couldn’t even let myself believe it. At one point some of the people in the apartment nearest the front door came out and were like, “What is going on? Why are we celebrating?” And I was like, "I have no idea!!!"

I think they somehow comprehended before I did because they said congrats and went inside as the song was ending. Then the gorilla was like, "Congratulations!" and I think he maybe said we had an offer, but I’m actually not sure, he told me that I had to call Adrienne RIGHT NOW. And I said, "I don’t have my phone!" Scott tried to give me his and I’m like, "Dude, I don’t know her number." So then the gorilla gives me his phone which is already cued up and dialing Adrienne and he instructs Scott to video tape it. Good thing, too because the conversation is kind of a blur. Basically, all I remember is saying, “Hi, Adrienne, this is Steph, I’m, uh, calling from the gorilla’s phone?” And I think she said something like “I promised you a good 'The Call' story.” And I said, “So this is it? This is The Call?” And then she told me, “Well, worst case scenario, we're selling your memoir to Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton.” And I practically passed the fuck out while Adrienne laughed. Of course she was totally kidding about the whole "worst case scenario" thing--it was actually the "dream come true scenario." 

After more giggling on both ends and me stammering, "Oh my god," we said goodbye to the gorilla. (I did not tip the gorilla! I feel bad about this! I had no wallet though. Maybe Scott tipped him? Maybe that isn’t necessary???) Then I went upstairs, called Adrienne back on my own phone and got all of the details. I also asked, "Is this actually real?" several times. As I mentioned earlier I’ve wanted to work with Julie for years (and for you writers out there, she has passed on more than one of my manuscripts—it really is about right book, right time). She’s edited some of my favorite books including both of Nova Ren Suma’s masterpieces, Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone; Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door (as well as the forthcoming Isla and the Happily Ever After, which I’m currently devouring) by Stephanie Perkins A.K.A. my fellow YA writer named Stephanie with brightly colored hair; If I Stay by Gayle Foreman, and of course, Looking for Alaska by John Green, A.K.A., the book my first agent told me to read when I expressed some shock about her idea to shop my first novel as a YA.

Adrienne also thought Julie would be perfect for this project, so by the next day (right before I posted my “I cannot tell you…” tweet), even though we had interest from other publishers, we were only negotiating with Julie and Dutton and by Thursday, June 19th at noon, we’d officially accepted their offer. The book hadn’t even been on submission for two weeks (it was barely a week when we got the offer). Since it took over a year to sell my first book and I’ve had other things out for even longer than that, I was floored.

I’m still floored.

And I’m beyond grateful.

And now I’ve got about half a book to write, so…. I’ll conclude the same way I did in my recent YA Outside the Lines blog post about the best advice I could give aspiring writer me or any aspiring writer is that nothing will go as expected: “The things you didn’t or couldn’t plan often turn out better than you possibly could have imagined.”

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and to everyone who is as excited about this book as I am!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

GCC Presents: Judith Tewes!

My Girlfriends Cyber Circuit bud Judith Tewes has a new book launching today from Bloomsbury Spark. Here are the deets!

My Soon-To-Be Sex Life

Charlie is down to her absolute. Total. Last. Resort.

Despite a thoroughly comprehensive list of potential cherry poppers, er…suitors, and careful plotting, Charlie is three weeks into her devirginzation campaign, still untouched, and getting desperate. In the movie of her life, this aspiring screenwriter is giving herself a PG, for please, get some.

Her project goes into freeze frame when her mom checks herself into rehab and packs Charlie off to live with her estranged, or just plain strange, grandfather, Monty. How is she supposed to get a date when she has to go pick up his Depends?

Enter Eric, a hot rehab grad on the road to redemption, and the only one who can make Charlie rethink her strategy. The more she gets to know him, the more convinced she becomes that is the one, and not just another to add to the list of people who will abandon her.

In this hilarious and heartbreaking story of one girl’s detoured road to womanhood, Charlie’s list develops a life of its own – right when she realizes there’s so much more to lose.

About the Author:

Judith Tewes resides in small town northern Alberta, where she: writes, sings, plays bass guitar in an all-woman band, walks her three crazy labs, and suspects she's living the life of a superhero's alias.

The Book Trailer:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

One Year Seattle-versary!

A year ago today at around 3:30 in the afternoon, we drove through this tunnel and arrived in our new hometown.

It was a moment I'd been dreaming of for nine years, ever since I'd visited with a group of girl friends in 2004 and knew-- just knew the very moment I glimpsed Seattle on the bus ride into downtown from the airport that this was the city of my heart. 

It's scary though to take a leap of faith, to believe that just because you want something, because you feel it is part of your soul or your destiny or whatever, that you can go for it and it will work out. It was scary for me in particular because I've always been anxious, a worrywart. For years I focused on the many reasons I couldn't move--the townhouse I couldn't sell, the sorry state of my finances after my last leap of faith leaving full-time work to write (and bartend... and freelance... and teach...), and especially the overwhelming fear that I would fail.

I’m a perfectionist, a straight-A student, a Lisa-Simpson type. My failures and perceived failures haunt me. I was not supposed to be the girl who dropped out of college after a year, but I did. Then, my first attempt to live on my own failed when I completely lost sight of myself and the drive I’d had throughout childhood and high school and was forced to crawl back home to Chicago at 21 with a drinking problem, an alcoholic boyfriend, tons of credit card debt. Then there’s that relationship with the alcoholic that lasted years longer than it should have because I didn’t want to admit I’d failed by being with him. And let’s not talk about my writing career and all the missteps and failures I feel I made there (whether or not that is truly the case.)

But dwelling on these failures and letting my fear hold me back was killing me. In 2012, I found myself as depressed as I had been in the worst phases of my life—eighth grade, junior year of high school. I had to make a change. I went back to therapy and found a brilliant social worker named Liz Ledman, who pretty much saved my lifeShe was the first person who really asked me, “Why not? Why can’t you go to Seattle? Just GO and see how it all works out.” It was part of her way, I think, of teaching me to live in the present. Forget my past failures, forget my future fears of jobs, financial security, housing markets. Just go. 

Fortunately, my incredible husband, Scott was on board with this. So at the beginning of last year, we started planning. In June, we came out to Seattle to rent an apartment and then we went back to Chicago to pack. On the morning of July 2nd, we set off on a three-day drive across the country through the Badlands, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and into Washington with our two cats. There were some not so fun moments like right across the Wisconsin border when Kaspar freaked out and pooped all over his carrier, but for the most part it was one of the most incredible, scenic trips of my life and I hope we can do parts of it again (without cats and an overpacked car). It was the beginning of what would be the best year of my life and my marriage.

Me and Scott at the Columbia River in Washington
 I keep a five-year journal—a notebook where each page is divided into five sections so you can write a few lines about each day. I’m currently on year three. It has been incredible to track the difference in my mental health between 2012 and now. I’m a different person, a healthier and happier person than I ever thought possible. It’s also been funny for the last month or so to revisit all of my anxieties about moving: those days in Seattle when our housing prospects looked grim until we found a place in a prime location with a gorgeous view of Rainer and the Cascades; my OMG there is so much stuff to pack followed by procrastination followed by pure panic; my deep and horrible anxiety about the delivery of our moving containers (god, what a trainwreck it was to get those into the driveway next to our house) and then the fear that all of my precious, precious things would break in the process; my tearful but sweet goodbyes with friends and especially my mom and niece; and of course the horrible, all-consuming “must get a job and/or sell a book” state that I know will fill my journal entries until mid-August. Depending on my mood, these entries either ended with giddy hope or prayers to the universe that this leap of faith would be worth it.

Even though the job anxiety lasted for six weeks after we moved (and through several heartbreaking “But that was the perfect job! Why don’t they want me?” moments), I knew almost immediately that my leap was worth it. My fears big and small were for naught. Packrat that I am, I was able to whittle down our stuff, pack it up, and though there were a few headaches with arranging the transit, it all arrived completely safe and sound. Seriously, not a single thing broke. (And therefore I can highly recommend Mayflower’s container move.) The drive across the country went well, even with the cats (though as I noted in my July 2nd, 2013 journal entry, “We should have brought baby wipes.”) and I even drove a few stretches on the highway (though admittedly I have hardly driven at all in Seattle because I’m intimidated by the hills and the traffic, something I should work on.). I have a great hairstylist (Danielle at Bowie Salon on Capitol Hill), great health care (Group Health), a great dentist (Smiles on Madison), a great vet (Jet City Animal Clinic) and neighbors in my apartment building to swap cat care with. I didn’t lose my local support network—I keep in touch with my best friends in Chicago the same way I have with my best friends that live in Denver, St. Louis, and San Francisco—and I found an amazing set of friends in Seattle, some who I’ve known for a long time, some who are brand new but it feels like we’ve been friends forever. Though my husband changed jobs once after we got here, he loves his current job and I love my job at Seattle University, a gorgeous campus that’s an easy walk or bus ride from my home where I get to work surrounded by people who share my same passion for books, learning, and social justice.

I did not fail. I succeeded in all of the best possible ways, in ways I didn’t even dare to dream about.

It’s weird to think about being here a year. Part of me feels like I’ve been here forever—maybe because this is where I belonged or this is where I finally came into myself, like the real me—the happy, joyous, capable of living in the moment me was born here. On the other hand, it does still feel so new. I’m constantly in awe of the view of skyline I get every time I go over Jose Rizal bridge on the way to or from home, in awe of the mountain, of the Sound, the long summer days, the changing sky, the many, many flowers. I’ve never lived somewhere with so many flowers.
Washington Arboretum

Washington Arboretum

Washington Arboretum

The garden behind my office building where I eat lunch
But I don’t think that awe will ever fade or go away. That awe goes hand-in-hand with my gratitude, which I've also started recording in a notebook this year. Each night I make a list of at least five things I'm grateful for and it always includes Seattle or some aspect of it--vegan pizza, delicious vegan food, hikes, legal weed.

I am so grateful to be here. To wake up to smell of rain or the dampness that never seems to fade even when the sun has been shining for a week. I’m grateful for cloudy days, foggy days, sunny days, rainbows, gray mornings that turn blue, gray mornings that stay gray. For the drizzle in the winter that makes it feel so good to go home, cook a warm meal and cuddle with your partner and furkids. For the glorious, glorious return of the sun.

December Fog

Seattle Skyline from Alki Beach on sunny spring day

Golden Gardens

I’m grateful for the view from my bus stop:

The view from my apartment window:

The view from the trail I regularly run:

Downtown as seen from the I-90 trail
Mount Rainier and Lake Washington as seen from the I-90 trail

And the spectacular sunsets I can walk down the block to see:

I'm grateful that all the places that I loved when I visited Seattle are mine now. I can spend time at the waterfront, at Pike Place Market or Viretta Park anytime:

Viretta Park on April 5, 2014
I'm grateful to keep discovering new parts of the city and surrounding area and taking part in Seattle traditions that make me feel like I'm a real resident:

Fremont Solstice Parade

I'm grateful that I'm surrounded by so much nature. By water:
Saltwater State Park
Canoeing in Mercer Nature Slough

Alki Beach

By waterfalls:
Snoqualmie Falls
Wallace Falls State Park

By trees:

By mountains with amazing views:

The view from the top of Little Si
The view from the top of Rattle Snake Ledge

By eagles and ducks and deer and slugs and snails and turtles:

Mercer Nature Slough

And I see those on our Sunday hikes, we have also taken a slew of long weekend adventures since we've been here--probably as many trips as we have taken together in the course of our marriage and I am very grateful for that!

San Juan Islands Anniversary Trip

We saw a fox

and alpaca

and Mount Baker on the ferry ride back to Anacortes

Olympia in fall

Tacoma, Defiance Point Park, New Year's Day

Valentine's Day trip to the magnificently rain WA coast

And the spectacular Hoh Rain Forest where we saw our first eagle!
Easter Weekend

Above all, I'm so grateful for the ways that this move has made me physically and mentally healthier and closer to my husband than ever.

Fully vegan Thanksgiving for two

Crossing the finish line of my first 5K

That’s a large chunk of my year in pictures, but if you want to see more (and all of the adventures to come), check out my tumblr.

I’m proud, ecstatic, and beyond grateful to call Seattle home. I miss my Chicago people (and am thrilled that my mom and niece are coming to visit soon!), but this is definitely where I belong. I feel centered, whole, focused, and inspired on a daily basis. Even on the dark days, I am able to find beauty and peace. I can’t wait for all of the adventures in the years to come.  Great risks do lead to the greatest joy. I highly recommend taking them.