A few weeks ago, I sent out a newsletter to my subscribers with a recap from a busy fall, and I said something about how I was looking forward to enjoying a peaceful December writing and spending time with family. WELL. I have been writing and spending time with my family, but it’s like I ordered a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream and this month instead delivered the most delicious and epic banana split imaginable.
Not only was THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS listed as one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018, but then THIS happened!
It’s an understatement to say this is a dream come true. Because this is the kind of dream that I (a confident, optimistic person) did not even dare to think about. The idea of working with Nancy Paulsen has always seemed so out of my league that for years I never even brought her name up with my agent.
Here’s the backstory:
Last April I was excited to have my first book coming out soon and even though I knew it was with a small press, I thought I could make it work. Then, I got a call out of the blue from my agent that my publisher had just fired my editor, my publicist, and the entire children’s division! We didn’t know if the book was even going to go forward. When we found out that they were still going to publish it, I was relieved, but it was also clear that this book was going to get zero support from the publisher and it was up to me to make sure it could find its way to readers. I teamed up with the amazing goddess Kirsten Cappy, who not only loved the book but made it her personal mission to get the book into educators’ hands. We only had a handful of Advanced Reader Copies to work with, but it was just like doing grassroots organizing for GunSenseVT. Maybe you can only connect with a few people, but if they are moved, they might tell others and it can take on a life of its own. We were hoping…
Around that same time, I had the chance to talk with Karen Hesse (because she had just read the book and loved it!) She told me, “You need to be writing the next thing.”
I said, “nnnyugghhhhh.” (I hadn’t written something new since the election.)
She said: “When are you going to write.”
I took a deep breath. “Early morning.”
She said: “And what happens when someone invites you to breakfast?”
“I say ‘I can’t go because Karen Hesse told me I can’t.”
That day, I set a goal of hitting 45,000 words by September 1st, and I wrote 400 words every morning—and I hit my goal!
Then the first week of September, OCTOPUS released to WAY more buzz than I could have imagined, immediately went out of stock, & my agent, the fabulous Tricia Lawrence, called to ask if I could write up a pitch of what I’ve been working on because there might be editors interested.
And I said, “Yes,” and then I also decided I need to be brave and voice a dream that I hadn’t even been willing to voice aloud to myself before, and I said, “Can we send it to Nancy Paulsen, too?”
And NOW…HOLY BANANAS!!!! This makes my non-swearing-self want to say many swears and leap around with abounding glee!!! But since I can’t do that all the time, I’m just going to sit here and write and feel the joy within me like sunlight because I get to work on this book (AND THE NEXT BOOK!) with Nancy Freakin’ Paulsen!
One step at a time. It’s how we make change in our world. It’s how we make change in ourselves. It’s how we can grab on to the tiny voice in the back of our heads whispering the dreams we long for, even as the rest of us doubts our ability to achieve them.
Have faith that one tiny step in the right direction
no matter how hard it is
or how small it is
is making that NEXT step possible.
Yesterday I got some amazing letters from students that I got meet at a school visit last month…
“You inspired me to believe I can do anything.”
“I have many obstacles in my life, and I’m glad to know I can get through it.”
“I once got bullied and I lost all my hope, and when you told us we all have superpowers I felt better.”
“You motivated me when you said that everyone has a superpower but not everyone has discovered them yet. I knew that I haven’t discovered my superpower so I am looking for it.”
And then this morning I got to chat with Olga Peters of WKTV about these school visits. Take a listen here!
What an incredible evening to celebrate launching THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS into the world!
For one thing, 133 Octopus cupcakes were eaten. That alone would make a successful party. But then there was also AN EASY CHEESE TABLE! As in, Easy Cheese designs on a saltines made-to-order!
If that makes zero sense to you, here’s a sneak peek from page 10 of the book where Zoey is explaining how she single-handed keeps her little siblings happy when resources are scarce: “Because little snowmen out of Easy Cheese are the most magical thing little kids have ever seen. And Easy Cheese letters on a saltine is totally different than having to eat regular saltines. Aurora knew the letter A before she even turned two thanks to Easy Cheese letters.”
The evening also served as a benefit for the Women’s Freedom Center, and I loved the activity table they ran with Pin-the-tentacle-on-the-Octopus — which participants filling each tentacle with answers to the question: “What helps a relationship be respectful?”
Check out some of the fabulous answers along with some fabulous poses (as and with) octopuses on this highlights reel!
Finally, I loved being interviewed by Starr Latronica, the incredible director of Brooks Memorial Library. Kirsten Cappy, of Curious City, captured our Q & A on video for those who couldn’t make it to the event.
Than you so much to the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center for hosting the event!
If you couldn’t make the party, you can still purchase a signed copy of The Benefits of Being an Octopus from Bartleby’s Books. Amazon might have sold out, but the staff at Bartleby’s worked hard to make sure they can keep enough in stock!
Wow. This week has been quite similar to having an actual baby: with all the deep deep emotions and not nearly enough sleep. And now that I’ve had two human babies, I know that as momentous as this week feels, that combination of exhaustion and full-on emotions will make it hard to remember later. So, mostly this blog post is for my future self, so I can remember what actually happened.
On Tuesday, the book came out! And then it sold out on Amazon! A great problem to have, especially when you have independent bookstores ready to step in and save the day. Bartley’s Books worked hard last week to get extra stock, and you can order online from them! (Plus, a whole bunch of the copies are signed!) Or, if you’re a Barnes & Noble fan, it seems like it’s still possible to get them there.
Then on Wednesday, I woke up to this tweet from the amazing educator Pernille Ripp who runs the Global Read Aloud program. (If you’re not familiar with the GRA program, it was “created in 2010 with a simple goal in mind; one book to connect the world. From its humble beginnings, the GRA has grown to make a truly global connection with more than 4,000,000 students having participated.”)
Needless to say, I spent most Wednesday crying. Even simply being a contender for the GRA means that so many people will read this book and hear Zoey’s voice!
On Thursday, I tried to dial my emotions back to normal, but I couldn’t stop looking at the pictures of other people with my book! It is so very exciting!
And then today, I was walking home after dropping my daughter off at Kindergarten, and I walked passed the middle school bus stop.
A 7th grade boy asked, “When’s the party?”
He was asking ME?
And then I looked and realized that he was in the middle of reading my book!
“Next Friday,” I said.
“Because it’s really good,” he said.
And my day was made.
For those of you in the general vicinity of Brattleboro, VT, you should come to the launch party, too! It’s Friday, September 14th at 5pm at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. Here’s the Facebook Event. I hope to see you there!
Tomorrow THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS will launch into the world, and I am overflowing with emotions.
A good chuck of those emotions are connected to how excited OTHER people are about this book! I’m honored to have been interviewed by high school student, Kester Necum. You can read Kester’s interview here.
I’m also moved by the Emu’s Debuts post created by Christina Uss, Anna Crowley Redding, and Kat Shepard, that includes not only an interview of me, but also a conversation with four awesome educators about the book. Read it HERE. Finally, Hayley Barrett celebrates the magnificence of the octopus here.
I am counting down the hours until tomorrow with my many arms, and I will do my best not to explode before we get there.
It is VERY exciting.
THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS has gotten its first trade review, and it’s a STARRED REVIEW from School Library Journal!!!
You can read the full review at Barnes and Noble.
I’ve also been so touched by the reviews written by teachers and librarians who have read advance copies of the book and see their students reflected in the pages. And just the other morning, I got a review from Kester Nucum, a high school student, that moved me to tears. I’m pretty much over the moon about all of this.
I’ve officially become a presenter with the Children’s Literacy Foundation! Their mission is to “inspire a love of reading and writing among low-income, at-risk, and rural children up to age 12 throughout New Hampshire and Vermont,” and I LOVE it! I’ve already gotten to visit two summer programs, Green Mountain Camp for Girls and the Title 1 Summer School program in Swanzey, NH. At Green Mountain Camp for Girls, we talked about persistence, running with your passion & how sometimes you find out you’re stronger than you thought. And at the summer program in Swanzey I got to talk about THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS for the first time. This was my message:
1) Recognize your superpowers,
2) Name the obstacles in your path,
3) Find the courage to raise your voice,
4) Team up with allies who listen and support you!
In the book, the main character Zoey uses a Sharpie to give herself her own octopus tattoo to remind herself of her inner strength, and I was excited to give these kids their own temporary octopus tattoos to help THEM remind themselves of their own inner strength. One girl told me that she’s going to save her tattoo for when her cat dies so that it can help her remember to be strong!
What a fast and furious — and fabulous — #MGBookChat we had last night on Twitter. I had the privilege of co-hosting it with Susan Sullivan, and we focused on the topic of “Building Book Access in Book Deserts.” If you missed it, here are some of the highlights!