So I opened up my soul and poured it into a letter to my teenage self and wrote this for the Dear Teen Me website.
And now that it's out there, I kind of can't believe I put it out there on the interwho.
Which is a good indicator of just how honest it is.
Click this link to go to the letter.
When my first novel, This Girl is Different, came out last year, I avoided reading reviews. Avoided like the plague. The very thought of their existence filled me with Walking Dead dread.
My publicists, editor, and agent are very careful not to send me reviews, per my request; reviews get sent to my manager (aka my husband) who reads them, but keeps their contents in the vault. He tells me excerpts for my website and Facebook and stuff.
You’re probably all, “Time out! I call WUSS! Authors need thick skin. You gotta listen to criticism. Otherwise you won’t grow as a writer.”
I am a wuss.
And agreed: critique is paramountally important.*
[Yes, I just wrote paramountally. Whatevs. I’m writing this in the thick of a bunch of 7 and 8 year olds constructing scrap-material cars, and they’re all screaming and running around, and I forgot my earbuds. ARGH.]
Anyhoo. Where was I. Right. Critique. Critique is one of the top three necessities of successful authors -- the other two necessary components being (1) writing, and (2) reading a ton. I am open to critique, but here’s the thing: source matters. I am wide open to critique FROM PEOPLE I TRUST.
Are most professional reviewers smart, thoughtful readers who care about books and their place in literature and libraries? Almost certainly. But what about the few bad apples? What if my reviewer is a Bitter Betty who gave up on her own novels (or never even got started) and is now on a mission to spread misery wherever she goes? That’s not a review I need to invite into my psyche.
So now you’re all, “Why not just read the good reviews?” Well, because. If I take to heart the good reviews from people I don’t know, it’s only fair I take the bad. I suppose I could do like the Olympics, and discard the top and bottom scores, but that’s getting a bit complicated. Besides, I’d have to read them all to keep track.
So. Here’s what I do: I listen to people I trust.
My critique group (Stephen Messer, Jennifer Harrod, John Claude Bemis – Adverb Fight Club, holla!) are my first readers, and we meet and drink coffee or beer and they tear my work to shreds. Shreds. AND THEN THEY HELP ME BUILD IT BACK UP into something better. Because they are my friends, and they are super smart, and they are working on their own books, and THEY HAVE MY BEST INTEREST AT HEART. They have my back; I have theirs. End of story. Well, actually start of story ....
After Adverb Fight Club does their worst/best, I rewrite. And then hand it to my husband to read and critique, and I fix more stuff. Then it goes to my agent, who is super thoughtful, professional, and honest; based on her feedback, I make more changes. If you’re keeping track, that’s at least five critics – and probably twenty re-writes – before a manuscript hits the desk of my editor at Peachtree, Kathy Landwehr. Who then rips it to shreds … again. And so I rewrite it again. And I give it back to my critique group. And then my husband. And then back to Kathy. (Ginger gets spared that round.) Then it goes to my parents and mother-in-law, and Peachtree’s several copy editors. THEN it goes to print.
So. Yeah. I can take criticism. But I don’t read reviews.
Except when I do read reviews. I’ve read a few more of them with the publication of my second novel, The Theory of Everything. And I’ll be honest, I was stoked to get a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Because it was complimentary, yes, but mostly because maybe the little red star in front of my book gets it on more school and public library shelves, and into the hands of more readers.
*Thick skin is not necessary; persistence is. But that’s another blog post for another time.
The time: June 2012. The place: St John, USVI.
I'm in an island paradise, sipping a drink, staring at this four-foot-long iguana staring back at me, and instead of thinking, Wow. What a cool creature. Or, I'm a lucky girl. Or [Zen lack of thoughts, Be Here Now]," I'm thinking, I can't believe the wireless is down! I need to get a photo of this on Facebook, stat!
And then I said: "Facebook, I need a break. It's not you, it's me." Four reasons:
Let me be clear: as an author, I care a lot about copyright and piracy. But I care a lot more about freedom.
SOPA and PIPA would let the US government --and the big corporations most of our representatives are clearly beholden to-- mess with internet content AND structure.
I'm convinced that SOPA and PIPA will break the internet -- technically, practically, and philosophically.
If you want to learn more, the video is a great primer. But don't take it from me. Do your own research. And when you do, please contact your representatives. Stat. (Click the link at left to contact your reps, but remember, when it comes to actions like this, phone calls count a LOT more than e-mails.)
_Who doesn't love a good "Best of" list to ring out the old and ring in the new?
Especially this teen blogger's "Best Books of 2011" list, which includes, and I quote: "This Girl is Different by J. J. Johnson. This book is different. In a good way. No, scratch that, in an amazing, incredible way."
**Happy sigh.** Feeling the love.
And it gets me thinking ... what are MY Favorite Books of 2011? Well, well -- I'm so glad I asked myself!
First, FICTION. Man, I read some hella good books this year. So here goes:
The White City by John Claude Bemis (Random House, 2011). Totally satisfying, Ferris Wheel-centric conclusion to The Clockwork Dark Trilogy. Super love.
The Death of York Mortwell by Stephen Messer (Random House, 2011). Creepy and touching and just plain fantastic.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (HarperCollins, 2011). This novel just stuck to my ribs.
Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal by Mal Peet (Candlewick, 2007). What it might have been like to be in the resistance in the Netherlands, WWII.
Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald (Bantam Dell, 2006). Caught my eye at Goodwill, and I loved it, because it's hard to find a "real" novel about straddling two cultures.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown, 2007). Because I heart Sherman Alexie.
For more, including my non-fiction picks, click right over there --------------------------->
I do love me the resolutions of the new year variety. And this year, having spent NYE on the sofa with the flu, I've had time to consider my resolutions. (Too much time.)
First, the J.J. Johnson Criteria for Acceptable New Year's Resolutions:
(A) A resolution must be desirable. And by that I mean something *I* desire. Sure, I could resolve to run a half marathon--and believe me, I admire those who do--but the sad truth is that I do NOT enjoy running. In fact, it's torture. I've tried, people, I've tried. Me, I'll keep fit through other means. Moving on.
(B) A resolution must be measurable. "To feel better about the fact that I am not a runner" is not truly measurable, and thus, kind of a buzzkill to achieve, because there's this nagging voice that's all "Are you SURE you REALLY achieved this?" Whatever, nagging voice. Go to hell.
(C) Proposed resolutions must be achievable. Difficult is fine, but completely out of the realm of possibility is just a sucky plan. (Section C-1) This also means the resolution must be, barring illness or other "acts of God," wholly within my own locus of control. Thus "Get third novel published," while both desirable and measurable, depends on other people (not to mention a crazy industry), and therefore does not qualify as acceptable under the J.J. Johnson Resolution Statutes.
And so, without further ado, I give you my 2012 New Year's Resolutions. (Careful readers will note these skew more "goal" than "resolution". But whatevs.)
1. Go somewhere new. This has been on the list several years now, and it's always a good one. It can be near, it can be far, but it must be a place on Earth as yet un-walked-upon by me.
Desirable? Yes. I love to travel and explore. Measurable? Yes. Achievable? Yes.
2. Finish writing a new novel. Along with editing and releasing my second novel, I want to write at least one more this year. Either finishing a work-in-progress, or completing a whole new project, doesn't matter.
Desirable? Hell yes. Measurable? Yes. Doesn't matter if it sucks (although hopefully it will be RAD!). No value judgments, just need to get to "THE END." Achievable? Evidently so!
3. Investigate going solar. Read at least two more books AND contact a local solar company for their advice and free estimate on transitioning our household to solar. (The decision itself--whether to install panels--is not the resolution.)
Desirable? Yes. Not sure whether it makes sense for us to make the transition, and it would have to be a decision made with my hubs, but I do desire to greenify my energy choices, and I want to know what solar panels would cost/conserve, ballpark. Measurable? Yep. Either I read the books and make the call, or I don't. If the company flakes out, that's not on me. Achievable? You betcha.
Well ... I think that's it. Sure, there's "be healthy and happy, invest in important relationships, keep marriage strong, work hard, save for retirement, keep fit and eat well." But here I refer you back to item B under "J.J. Johnson Criteria for Acceptable New Year's Resolutions". They're all too gelatinous. Except Save for Retirement. Duly Added.
4. Save for retirement. I have specific numbers in mind, but that's personal, yo.
So there they are. What are your thoughts? Have you made resolutions? Discuss.
_T-MINUS three days before Christmas. Once again, Charlie Brown has kicked us in the gut with his wimpy-sad tree, reminding us that the season isn't supposed to be about consumerism. And yet. And yet the hubs and I are counting the rechargeable batteries we need to stockpile, since Santa's official policy is "batteries not included." (Oy. Santa. That's a whole 'nother post.)
Got me thinking, as it always does, about consumerism. I wrote this article for Friends Journal, "On Potty Training and Consumerism," and thought I'd share some of it here.
My article (apparently from a time in my life when I was much wiser) concludes thusly:
"... Ultimately, consumption doesn’t only mean buying things; it connotes an illness of taking in more than we put out. Consumption, to me, includes watching too much TV, eating non-nutritive foods, being too lazy to hang the clothes outside to dry, reading celebrity magazines, gossiping, driving a gas-guzzler. Consumption is that which distracts me from the real work—and joy—of life: connection, creation.
The opposite of consumption is creation: giving, generating, being generous. Connecting to myself and others. Examples? Hiking, yoga, writing, sharing wholesome dinners, playing with my family, spending time with friends, making gifts, attending Meeting for Worship, gardening, voting, camping, being intimate, caring for the Earth, reading good books, praying.
My goal has become to put out a bit more than I take in, on a daily basis. It’s the days when I give Sam my full attention, when I eat well, when I garden, when I really listen to my husband, when I walk in the woods, when I write a new chapter of my novel—when I then fall into bed exhausted, with a content heart. That, to me, is the opposite of consumerism. That is valuing creation more than consumption. And that’s what I want to teach [my son]."
What do you think? Leave a comment; I'd love to hear from you.
CLICK THE 'READ MORE' LINK TO READ MY "ON POTTY TRAINING AND CONSUMERISM" ARTICLE --->
From the TEEN WRITERS BLOC -
blog and book reviews from MFA students at the New School
read the whole review here:
Excerpt: "... Author J.J. Johnson could have taken us in the standard direction with this—mean girls torment our heroine until the handsome jock comes to her rescue. Thankfully, Johnson’s Evie and the world she lives in are much more unique and nuanced. Johnson spreads a message throughout the book about the value of activism and standing by your principles, but it rarely comes across as preachy. Instead, Evie and the other characters, who include a boy, a cheerleader who’s more than pom-poms, and a creepy teacher too many teens will recognize, are well rounded individuals with real-world concerns.
"One of the great things about this book was that it caused me to think about things I don’t normally think about. Evie, in genuine confusion, wonders why she’s not allowed to use her cell phone or go outside during lunch. I have no doubt that these are real restrictions that kids face, and they had me scratching my head, too. (My high school had an open campus, so even hall passes seem weird to me. I’m not sure how I would have reacted to suddenly being locked inside.) ..."
(Posted on TEEN WRITERS BLOC by Mary G. Thompson, June - 2 - 2011)
My BFF Jen just sent me this photo from when we shared an apartment in college. I usually don't like photos of myself, but this one? Love. Because it pretty much sums up who I was, who I am, and who I (God willing) will continue to be. What I like about it:
1. Good friends. In the photo, I'm smiling not for the camera, but for Jen -- because she's an amazing person, and a phenomenal friend, and she had the thoughtfulness to take a picture of me "doing two of the things you love the most." (Mind you, this was 1994, before camera phones or even digital cameras, so it took some effort --"Wait right there, JJ! Don't move! I'll be right back!" -- for her to take this picture.) If you've got friends like this, you're blessed and lucky.
2. Dance. I'm stretching after rehearsals for a modern dance performance. Whether for performance or just getting my groove on, I heart dance.
3. Yummy food. Love me some num nums. In college, I had the good fortune to room with several women in possession of vibrant, healthy body images and good relationships with food. These women DO exist!
4. Also about the spatula dipped in batter: life's all about measured risk. Small risks, like eating raw eggs; large risks, like professing your love to the object of your affection. Someone wiser than me once said that you'll regret the things you didn't do in life more than the things you *did* do.
Take care, and take risks.A life without cookie dough (from scratch, mind you) is a life not worth living.
Take care, and take risks.
That about sums it up.
_This "authorthoughts" interview by thatcovergirl.com isn't exactly new; I'm re-posting due to popular (or perhaps polite) demand.
JJ: I really didn’t have a sense of what the cover might look like, and I didn’t give any concept input to Peachtree. The only thing I knew for certain was that I did NOT want what I call a “headless girl body” cover: those YA covers with a photo of a skinny teenager, wearing trendy clothes, whose head is either cropped out of the picture or hidden behind some object. I assume those covers are trying to encourage readers to picture themselves as the heroine (“insert your face here”), but I think they’re very objectifying. Our culture already tells girls to think their bodies and clothes are the most significant part of their identity, and “headless girl body” covers reinforce that idea. What does it say when the heroine of a novel doesn’t have a head worth including on the cover? It’s a subtle message, but it’s unhealthy. Readers need to see whole people, with strong minds and smart brains attached to their healthy bodies....
read the full interview: http://thatcovergirl.com/2011/03/17/authorthoughts-jj-johnson-this-girl-is-different/
OR CLICK OVER THERE TO READ MORE ---->
j.j. johnson, author