Friday, February 28, 2014

SLJ And House of Ivy & Sorrow Sittin' In A Tree

Woohoo! School Library Journal is also in love with HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW. How will my book ever choose who to go to prom with now that there are multiple suitors?

It's starting to freak me out that the trade reviews are coming in, because that means the book is coming out soon. Like, pretty much 6 week. DUDE. Cue panic attack.


Whipple, Natalie. House of Ivy & Sorrow. 368p. HarperCollins/Harper. Apr. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780062120182; ebk. ISBN 9780062120199.

Gr 9 Up-Josephine, 17, lives with her grandmother in a house under the interstate where it’s rumored that an old witch can make someone love you if you’re willing to give her your pinkie finger. Jo knows that the rumors are true, because her grandmother is that witch.

Despite going to great lengths to hide the fact that she’s part of a long line of witches, Jo lives a fairly typical life until a mysteriously familiar man comes looking for her. She and her grandmother know that he’s somehow connected to The Curse that killed her mother 10 years earlier, but they don’t know how, since men are not capable of doing magic. They break tradition and learn more about themselves while uncovering centuries-old secrets.

Unlike many supernatural tales, this one does not perpetuate good witch/bad witch or light magic/dark magic themes.  Jo is clear that “There is only dark [magic]. A black pool full of power and pain.” The story also stresses that there is always a price to pay for using one’s powers, even for good purposes, and every character must deal with the consequences of their choices. This is a fast-paced fantasy, with just the right amount of romance and realism. Readers will relate to Jo’s relationships with her family, crush, and two best friends. Despite the current glut of supernatural and urban fantasy, this tale will stand out.-Sunnie Lovelace, Wallingford Public Library, CT

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pen Names & Industry Reality

I've thought a lot about pen names ever since I wrote my first male main character. Because tradition says boys don't read books by girls even if they have male main characters. It's really a silly notion if you think about it, but then you look at how everyone tends to buy into it. 

How many female writers go by their initials either at their own choice or their publisher's? Well, a lot. Because then a woman can hide behind a name that doesn't give her away. To keep those boys happy and all that. 

I think most women agree this sucks and isn't fair. But then the truth of the matter is, they WILL sell better to a male audience if their name is not obviously female. 

So if you're a girl who wrote a "boy book" and you want to sell it and sell it well…what do you do?

When RELAX, I'M A NINJA was on sub way back in 2009-2010, this weighed on me. Do I go with N.M. Whipple? But I kinda hate my initials. They're really pointy. NMW. Seriously. What about Nat Whipple? People might assume "Nathaniel." Except I hated being called Nat as a kid and can I really accept that as the name people will call me as an author? What about an entirely different name altogether? But that felt weird to me because I suck a keeping up pretenses.

Really I just wanted my name on my books. Though I knew my name could be a liability because I'm a woman. I wish it wasn't like that, but well, it is in a lot of genres still. I like to hope and think it's getting better, but sometimes you hear stuff that makes you think no matter how hard we fight it won't ever change.

Anyway, when it came to going indie with RELAX, this idea came up again. Should I go with a pen name? Or do I stick with my own name and hope my audience from previous novels follows? Or hope that maybe the boys of this generation can buy into a girl's name on the cover if the title is as awesome as mine (It's really the coolest title I've ever come up with.)? 

Ultimately, yeah, I chose to keep my own name. It's a really personal choice (unless your publisher is making it for you), and I'm not sure either is wrong, you know? For me, it was more important to keep my name recognizable across my novels, because though my published work is all different I think it all has my stamp of off-beat humor and unique (or really just weird) world-building. Starting with a new pen name to build up and promote seemed like a bad move when it's already hard enough to get my current name out there.

Maybe my decision would have been different if RELAX had been my first novel like I thought it would be. And I would have kept it for my books with female protagonists. Who knows?

Disclaimer: Of course there are other reasons to pick pen names, but this is my own personal story and it circles around gender. This is not intended to make anyone feel bad for going with a pen name—they are good tools and something to be considered when writing in any genre. It is a personal choice, as I mentioned, and one that everyone has to face in some measure.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kirkus + House Of Ivy & Sorrow = Forever

Excuse me while I bask in a rare, lovely moment—I just found out Kirkus has given HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW a practically glowing review. Like, it's so nice I almost didn't believe it was Kirkus at first, but my editor sent it to me so it must be true:

Author: Natalie Whipple

Review Issue Date: March 1, 2014
Online Publish Date: February 19, 2014
Pages: 368
Price ( Paperback ): $9.99
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
ISBN ( Paperback ): 978-0-06-212018-2
Category: Fiction

If being an adolescent already feels like a curse, try life as a modern teenage witch.

Although 17-year-old Josephine Hemlock still grieves for her mother, who died from the Curse, she and her spunky grandmother manage to hide their witch identities from the rest of their small Iowa town. When popular Winn asks her out, Jo may finally reap the happiness she deserves. The light romance turns thriller, however, after her long-lost father, controlled by dark magic, appears unexpectedly in Jo's female-only household. Questions about her parents' relationship beget more questions about the events leading up to her mother's murder and who may have stricken her with the Curse. And Jo may not be the only one in her high school with secrets. With the help of some unexpected allies (and a possible love-triangle interest), she may not only find her mother's killer, but end the Curse for good and preserve her family line. As in Transparent (2013), Whipple pays attention to details (but doesn't get bogged down with them) to create a magical, entertaining world that has the right amount of darkness to keep the story intriguing and the right amount of light to keep readers content.

With unwavering BFFs, stolen kisses, red herrings and a variety of spells, there's something for chick-lit, romance, mystery and fantasy fans alike. (Supernatural romance. 13-18)


Right? I totally want to steal their tagline—it's so perfect. Anyway, I've learned to savor the good while it lasts these days, so I will go bask in temporary glory before I get tweeted 1-star reviews. Ah, the time leading up to release is magical.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

All Day Q&A

It's been quite awhile since I've done my one "regular" feature, so today is for YOU! Ask as many questions as you want about whatever you want today, and I will answer them as soon as I can. That is usually in real time, though sometimes I have to feed/diaper/drop off kids.

They can be writing questions or life questions or questions about my characters. Whatever you are curious about is fine by me. I will take questions in comments here, on Twitter, Facebook, or even Tumblr.

Here is a pretty beach picture to distract me while I wait for questions.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Life On The Midlist

Books are a lot like luchador masks: huge variety, yet all the same,
they all tell a story, and are highly subject to
personal preference. (Taken at Old Town, San Diego)
I'm a midlist author.

Heck, I may not even be that. I could be low-list, really. But I don't think that's a term (perhaps too depressing?), so I'm sticking with midlist.

It seems like in the online writing community we're afraid to talk about that, as if it's this horrible thing to be. When really most authors are midlist.

But on social media we're all supposed to pretend that our books are a Big Deal and that only awesome things happen to them and that every book is treated the same by a publisher. I think we all know that's not really true, but we're not supposed to talk about it because people get all uncomfortable with where their work stands and how "important" or "not important" they are.

Today I'm just gonna do that thing where I talk about it realistically. I do that. Maybe I shouldn't, but I have this problem where I suck at lying so I usually just opt to take the honest route and its consequences.

Basically, publishing is a brutal business.

It is. Plain and simple. It may make author dreams come true, but because there are only so many spots it also has to crush a lot of dreams, too. It's not personal…though, man, does it feel entirely personal at times…it's just the reality of a business that sells a product that, well, doesn't get purchased that much. You've seen the studies about how little Americans read—so yeah, we're all trying to sell products that aren't really in that high a demand. We all wish that would change. But hey, in the grand scheme of things books are a bit of a "niche" market. Then you start dividing by genre and you can really get a picture of how little pie there is to share when it it comes to trying to turn a profit.

This is starting out really depressing. I honestly don't know if it'll get better, but I'll try!

I knew I was going to be midlist at best the second I got my advance offer. It's really easy to tell, actually—if you didn't get high six-figures or you're not a book package, then you fall somewhere in the land of "not a lead title." And even though most everyone who sells a book lands here, you feel a bit deflated. At least I did. I think because you have all the potential in the world when you're querying and on sub. You COULD sell big. You never know!

When you finally sell, well, you know where you stand. I knew I wouldn't get any more than the standard debut marketing package, if that. I knew there would be titles in my debut season that would get more press and love and push than my book. I knew there would never be a tour. Et cetera and so forth.

Jealousy is a beast. As a midlist author it's like envy is always there in the shadows waiting to pounce when you least expect it. Especially now that social media seems to be a huge part of being an author, you get to see all the things other people are getting that you aren't. It looks like everyone is selling more than you and you're doomed.

And it can be very easy to get bitter and down on yourself and your work. It's easy to want to give up, to feel like your writing isn't special, to wonder why you wanted to publish in the first place, to maybe even regret slaving over words for so long and for what?

Perhaps this is why I'm writing today, for all those authors—and there are a lot of us! maybe even all of us!—who wonder if any of this is really worth it.

Is publishing worth it?

I mean, it's a valid question. I thought I'd heard horror stories before I sold my book. I'd spent 2 years in the query trenches and 2 years in submission hell—I had been through and heard a lot of stuff! I'd racked up over 200 query rejections, I'd done the R&R dance with an agent for 9 months, I'd gotten harsh crits that made me cry, I'd rewritten an entire novel, had an agent leave, gotten so close to selling I could taste it but still got rejected. And I watched most of my writer friends go through the exact same types of stuff.

You want to think this torture goes away once you sell. Because, goodness gracious, the trials should end at some point, right?

But the tough tales never end. I've now gotten to watch authors I know lose their editors, and thus their novels get pushed to the bottom of the totem pole. I've seen writers pitch idea after idea to their editor, only to be told that it might be time to part ways with no more sales. Authors I love and respect have had to leave houses because their novels "aren't meeting expectations." People who "deserve" attention don't get it. Constantly. And sales never pick up. (Because there just isn't enough to go around, as I said before.) Books "flop" with no explanation, even with a huge marketing budget. Covers go bad. Reviews can be harsh. Or non-existent. Publishers fight with bookstores and sometimes authors and their novels become casualties.

It's a flipping battlefield out there, guys.

Some of these things have happened to me. Some haven't. It's hard to watch your friends deal with it, too, because it's a very real reminder that the same thing could happen to you. That nothing in this business is sure. That it can all change in a day, for better or worse.

Honestly, it's enough to make this mormon girl want a drink and let loose with a few swear words. I seriously never understood why people drink until I started trying to get published—and now I'm all, "Damn, that sounds nice I wonder what my favorite alcoholic beverage would be."

Not that I'd drink, but I've thought about it.

So back to the question, is this worth it?

A lot of the times, my answer is no. I kid you not. I know I'm supposed to say, "Yes! Because there are all these emotional rewards and fan letters and I just love to write so much!" But well, emotional rewards don't pay the bills, and I have a lot of those. I am trying to supplement my husband's income. I do want to get paid because I have three mouths to feed and all that junk. And monetarily speaking, no, writing is not currently worth it. Maybe it will be in the future, but that'll be over a decade at this rate. Seriously.

As far as emotional pay off, that is a big ol' can of worms. I mean, I love to write. I honestly do. I still fall in love with my stories and my characters, and there is something very rewarding about a reader feeling the same way. But at the same time, I did have a nervous breakdown that was a direct result of trying to publish, and it exacerbates my anxiety like nothing else I've ever come in contact with. I know so many writers struggling with anxiety or depression it's not funny. Like, really not funny—it scares me.

When it comes down to it, no, I don't think I get as much from writing as I put into it. Yet I want to keep writing and I can't imagine doing anything else. I seriously have no idea how that works, but I may be a masochist. The question I've been asking myself a lot lately is this:

Does it have to be worth it?

I'm starting to see that maybe it doesn't have to be. At least not in the traditional senses. I think there's a lot to be said about doing something hard, not giving up, and pushing yourself to grow. Regardless of whether or not the activity will "pay off." Maybe I give more to publishing than I'll ever get back, but somehow I love it all the same.

And I think most authors will tell you the same thing. Yes, the business is hard as hell, but they still do it. Because writing never stops being a labor of love. Sacrifice is part of that. I don't know where I'll be in another few years, except for the fact that I'll probably still be trying to write and publish stories. Maybe I'll still be selling "not up to expectations," maybe not. The truth of the matter is, "not meeting expectations" hasn't stopped me yet, and it probably never will.

Life on the midlist? I think more than anything, it's the life of a fighter.

*puts on luchador mask*

I'm still standing. Bring it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

California Dreamin'

Encinitas, CA. In January (which isn't even fair).
No matter how long I've been away from California, whenever I go back I feel like I've gone home. So what if I've now lived half my life in Utah? Nope, California feels like home. To the point that I teared up while driving on the freeway, just because the trees looked right and all the license plates said California. I didn't even grow up in Southern CA—I lived in the Bay Area—and still. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.

So many of my stories have taken place in California, probably because I can never seem to get the state off my mind. Writing about it only makes me more connected to it, since as I create characters that live there I make more ties in my mind to the place. More meaningful connections, as fictional as they may be.
Two of my favorite people, being all adorable and stuff.
Then there's the problem of having so many dang friends who live in the state. Every day of my vacation/work tip I got to see people who mean a lot to me (And they kept feeding me yummy things!). Signing with Kiersten and Shannon was kind of a dream come true and all that—it was the first time I got to sit on the same side of the author table with two of my friends who have helped me wade through tough publishing waters.

Cindy Pon and me, eating some awesome Japanese ice cream.
After she'd fed me an incredible Chinese beef soup with hand pulled noodles.
One of my oldest friends (from Jr. High!) and now
librarian, Lynn, who took us out to
Korean BBQ at the Honey Pig in LA. Yum.
 With so many wonderful people to see, it really felt like I was at home. I wanted to hang out for another week because it felt too short. And then there was the food, but I'll spare you more pictures of that. You can see my Instagram for all my food pics.

The best part of all? I got to spend the entire time with this awesome guy. I took him all around Southern California (from San Diego to Newport Beach to LA to Encinitas), and he was there to support me through my work events and was happy to meet all my friends. Marrying him nine years ago was probably one of my best decisions.

And I think I've convinced him that if we ever get rich enough, we should totally move to California. Mwahaha.