Janni Lee Simner
14 May 2014 @ 11:48 am

Bones of Faerie is five years old this spring! I’d get all sentimental, only Liza isn’t really the sentimental sort, so instead here’s a Book Smugglers’ “Old School Wednesday” review.

“Bones of Faerie is an unexpectedly lyrical and beautifully written book – I am an immediate fan of Janni Lee Simner’s haunting prose, which captured me from the first eerie chapter. It’s a poignant, elegiac novel about a world ravaged by magic and the children who have grown up in its ruins. It is Liza’s world that is so captivating, that draws you in and defines Bones of Faerie …”

Also, the Zombies, Run! episode I wrote is now live! Specifically, it’s Season 3, Mission 6: Career Day: “Mysterious giant footprints have been spotted–could this be related to the Phantom of Abel?” I had a blast writing this, and of course, I jumped ahead and ran the mission out of order just so I could hear it. It was a blast, running to my own words–but of course, the real blast is thinking of other people running to my words.

Because, after all, we are all Runner 5.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
04 May 2014 @ 02:15 pm

The birdbath is frozen,
There’s snow on the ground,
Anything worth saving
Will survive on its own.

Water flows along curbs and down drains,
Seeking anything that craved sunshine–
The flowers sagged with bees,
The pithy dead stems,
Wintering insects.

For the butterflies’ sake I can adapt,
But it’s going to take a lot of work.

Gardening for Climate Change

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

I talk to Naomi Alderman about writing for Zombies, Run.

The Zombies, Run! app chooses songs from whatever playlist you feed it, and in that post, I talk about how my favorite moments are the ones when something comes up that’s wildly inappropriate for the narrative.

Today’s episode was filled with those awesome moments.

First, just as a friend has gone gray (turned into a zombie) and I’m fleeing from them, my playlist urged me to “Let It Go.”

Then, just another character was revealed to have secret zombie blood inside them, I was told “Something has changed within me. Something is not the same.”

And then a traitor was unmasked to strains of, “Don’t bring me bad news, no bad news, I don’t need none of your bad news today.”

And this is why I run from zombies.

Along the way, I’m pondering the fact that said traitor’s unmasking was utterly expected, and yet nonetheless satisfying. The discovery isn’t the only thing that makes a reveal satisfying–this is a craft thing worth thinking about some more.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
09 April 2014 @ 05:27 pm

So, you all know by now that I’m a huge fan of Zombies, Run! right? That app that’s been keeping me running (or, this month, getting me back to running) by (in theory) giving me something to run from while (actually) making me want to know what happens next so badly I have no choice but to run? That app that I first downloaded because I thought it was had clever gimmick but kept playing because it’s really well written and has all sorts of cool and compelling story things going on? That app I geek out about to pretty much anyone who will stand still long enough to listen?

Yeah, that app.

Well, season 3 starts up this month, and I can finally tell you that …

… I wrote a guest episode!

I had so much fun writing this, you have no idea. It turns out writing about running from zombies is as much fun as actually running from zombies. Who knew? And the thought of other Runner 5s getting to run to it just fills me with glee.

I won’t say anything else now, except that I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and a Girl Scout leader for 8 years and these things just might have had a … teeny tiny bit of influence on the episode.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
31 March 2014 @ 11:22 am

“Some people find this hard,” the rabbi warned us, as my brother and sister and I stood by my father’s grave.

He didn’t tell us, as he had at the funeral home, that this meant we didn’t have to do it. Not directly.

He’d told us a lot about the things we didn’t have to do. We didn’t have to follow the casket from the car to the grave. We didn’t have to watch that casket be lowered into the earth. And, yes, didn’t have to put the ritual shovelful of earth onto the casket once it lowered. All things, he explained, that many people found hard.

Through it all, my siblings and I stared at him dumbfounded. We were supposed to avoid doing things because they were hard? As if following, lowering, and shoveling were any harder than burying one’s father in the first place—a father who had never seen his children truly, who confused giving gifts with giving love, who I’d spent years trying to please and trying to reach until finally, in self-defense, I’d given up to protect myself?

As if we got to skip feeling the hard things if we skipped doing the hard things? Even then, we all knew better. We would have helped carry the casket, too, had we not been told that wasn’t allowed for liability reasons.

So after we assured the rabbi, yet again, that of course we wanted to perform this final ritual act, he went on to explain that putting dirt on a grave fell under its own special category of lovingkindness, because it was one of the few favors that could never be repaid.

Or even, I would think later, that we could hope might be repaid, because with my father, issues of reciprocity between parent and child, of the gap between how he thought he acted toward us and how he did act, had always been complicated.

But just then I waited, while my brother threw one shovelful into the grave, and then a second. I took the shovel in my hands in turn. The dirt was surprisingly light, and the tactile act of throwing it in, of hearing it thunk onto the wooden casket, was satisfying, necessary. I sent a second shovelful after the first. I could have kept going, could have lost myself in this deeply physical task and seen it through, but instead I stepped back, letting my sister take a turn as well.

And then I spent some time standing silent by that open grave, by that lowered casket, by all the things we were told we didn’t need to do, thinking about how while the rabbi had been right about other things that day, he’d been wrong about this, because I did need it. These rituals are here for a reason, after all.

I rode back to my father’s house in silence, too, but unlike the days before the burial, it wasn’t a turbulent sort of silence. It was a peaceful, grounded sort of silence, a transitional sort of silence, the sort of silence that let me know I was passing through something, into someplace new.

And now, a few days and a second plane ride later, I’m home.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

Chelsea Mead Kirkpatrick’s film adaptation of my short story “Drawing the Moon” begins shooting in just a few weeks! “Drawing the Moon” first appeared in Bruce Coville’s Book of Nightmares and is the story of a boy who’s convinced the moon has stolen his dead parents away–and who will do anything to get them back.

The short clips of the actors in this video gave me shivers in places:

It’s pretty amazing seeing the first hints of how these characters will be brought to life.

If you want to help make this film happen (and to get your own DVD of the finished film), you can support the Drawing the Moon film funding campaign here.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner

When I first heard that Amtrak was considering having writers-in-residence on its trains, I was pretty captivated by the idea. I find trains deeply evocative, liminal, even mythic. I loved the idea of hopping on board for a multi-day trip (instead of my previous several hour or single-day rides), of watching the landscape roll by, of chatting with my fellow passengers, and of, presumably, writing up a storm. So I figured I’d go ahead and apply. Why not? I knew the Amtrak Residency was a PR move from the very start, but I’ve worked in business communications and I actually thought it was a brilliant PR move. I’m in favor of train travel, so it wasn’t like I’d be promoting something I didn’t believe in.

Along the way I priced out some sleeper-class tickets for long-haul journeys, because if I really wanted to get in some train-writing time badly enough, there were of course ways to do that even without Amtrak awarding me a free ticket. I looked at the prices, for sleeper cars especially, and … realized that I actually didn’t want to do this badly enough. Not as badly, anyway, as the many other things I wanted more that I could also do for the cost of a long-haul train ticket. At this point I still planned to apply–a few days writing on a train would still of a heckuva lot of fun–but I’d clarified that this wasn’t some great life priority for me.

Then the Amtrak Residency application went live, and I saw that this wasn’t so much a writers’ residency as a writers’ contest–complete with the requirement, common to many contests, that entrants give over legal rights to the application. The rights Amtrak was demanding from writer-entrants were non-exclusive (cool), but they also included the up-to-10-page writing sample attached to the application (not cool) and, worse, those rights would be given up simply by applying, whether or not one was awarded a free ticket (even less cool). I stepped back and thought it through. A sleeper-car train ticket is actually reasonable compensation for a 2000-3000 word article, given the cost of a ticket and going freelance rates. But an entry in a contest for a possible train ticket is … not.

Writers have been applying in tremendous numbers in spite of the rights issue and the low chance of compensation for same, eight thousand of them last I heard. With that many applicants and those terms, the whole business feels less and less like a group of professionals and would-be professionals applying for a residency, and more and more like a group of hopefuls buying rather expensive lottery tickets.

But what’s truly disconcerting is the way more and more applicants are talking about the residency, tossing around phrases like “this would be a dream come true for me.” Just this morning I saw one person claim he would just die if he were selected, and another claim she was salivating at the possibility of being one of the “Chosen,” and I couldn’t help feeling like somewhere along the way, realistic perspective about this whole business had been lost.

Either they’re (some of them) making all of this up to make their applications look better–because, really, of all the grand dreams in the world, how many thousands of people really put a domestic U.S. round trip train ticket at the very top?; or else this really is their (some of their) grand dream–because, okay, dreams are highly personal, and just because this isn’t at the very top of my list doesn’t mean it’s not at the top of a whole bunch of other writers’ lists.

But the thing is, if something really is your grand dream? Entering contests and buying a lottery tickets isn’t the usually way to obtain one’s dreams. (I dream of returning to Iceland, too, and so I’ve entered contests for free IcelandAir tickets, but I’ve never seriously believed that was the way I was really going to get back there.) A dream as grand as some Amtrak Residency applicants seem to believe this is calls for strategizing, and marshaling/saving one’s resources, and thinking through what else one can do if saving resources isn’t enough. (Maybe a shorter journey is required to make it happen, or sleeping in coach, or getting off the train at the end of the day and sleeping in hotel rooms or a tent in the towns one passes through.)

If the trip is truly that deeply, earth-shatteringly important to a writer, maybe it even calls for striving to sell one’s work at fair market price in order to put the profits towards making it happen, rather than blowing that work and those profits on lottery tickets.

The problem with wanting a dream this badly and thinking a lottery ticket is the only way to get it is … then you become desperate, and willing to pay too much for the lottery ticket you think is your only shot. I hear that desperation in other comments in that online discussion, comments along the lines of “don’t you want to be read?” and “it’s not like you don’t have other work” and “what’s the big deal, it’s only ten pages?”

That air of desperation may be what’s making me most uncomfortable, and what’s taken the luster away from something that was, initially, a nifty idea. Because train rides are a heckuva lot of fun. They’re just not worth selling my soul or even my words for a one-in-eight-thousand chance of getting one.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
So you all know that one of the best things about living in Tucson is ... well, that we're in a state that understands that changing our clocks doesn't actually change what time it is.

But one of the other best things is that we're the home of the Tucson Festival of Books. Which is this weekend, March 15-16.

And I'll be there! Here's where you can find me:

Saturday, 1:00-1:45 p.m.
Signing at Mostly Books Booth (#130-131 & #134-135)

Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
World Building: Creating Imaginary Worlds
Education Bldg, Kiva Auditorium
With Cornelia Funke, Aprilynne Pike, Janni Lee Simner, and Chuck Wendig (Nancy Brown moderating)
Half hour signing follows panel

Sunday, 4-5 p.m.
The Craft of Writing
Education Bldg, Room 353
Sun, Mar 16, 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
With Nancy Farmer, Janni Lee Simner, and Suzanne Young (T. Gail Pritchard moderating)
Half hour signing follows panel

If you're going to be on the festival too this weekend, do come by and say hi!

(Mirrored from simner.com/blog/?p=5678)
Janni Lee Simner

Children’s book veteran Kelly Bennett has been publishing picture books and children’s nonfiction for a quarter century. She joins the long haul series today to discuss something many writers think about: when (and how) to quit–and when (and why) not to.

bennett_vampireReTIRED and Better for It!

I’m honored Janni invited me to discuss Writing for the Long Haul. It’s an interesting topic, especially as I recently quit.

Someone asked me once. “What made you think anyone would want to read what you write?”

Snarky as the question sounds, it wasn’t intended to be an insult. It was posed as a query, more of a “Why did you become a writer?”

The idea that I could . . . should . . . must be a WRITER struck me like a tractor trailer on an empty New Mexico highway. I was driving Route 66 from California back to Oklahoma, in a metallic green Cadillac with my two children—then 2 and 4—when it smacked me upside the head. (We were listening to kiddie music on an 8 track.) Unlike many authors I know, I had never before considered becoming a writer. While I had earned high marks on school writing assignments, I was not a writer. I didn’t even keep grocery lists, let alone a journal. Nevertheless, I answered the call.

At the first opportunity, I enrolled in a writing class. Along with introducing me to the business of publishing, that first class also brought me together with Ronnie Davidson, a kindred spirit who soon became my writing partner. Within that first year we’d sold our first book. However, as our co-writing career took off, my personal life crashed.  Frankly, as passionate as I was about writing, if it had not been for Ronnie, and the support and accountability that comes from being part of a team, I probably would have quit.

By writing team, I mean Ronnie and I sat side-by-side every school day for as many hours as our schedules allowed, with Ronnie at the computer keyboard (one of the earliest home systems) and me scribbling on a legal pad, bouncing ideas, plotting, creating, and finishing each other’s sentences . . .  As a team we set goals—primarily to publish—and set our course of action. What we wrote—poems, puzzles, How-To, Travel, parenting magazine and newspaper articles, memoir, True Confessions, fiction, non-fiction—didn’t matter. The fun was writing and publishing, and being paid (no matter how small the check; every dollar was one less I had to make waitressing.)

Being part of a writing team came naturally to me. As a kid, I preferred team sports—volleyball, kick ball, badminton—over individual sports. Even in Tennis, I preferred doubles.  So, when after more than 12 years, 6 books and a binder-full of articles to our credit, we dissolved our writing partnership, I floundered. For the first time, I questioned the call. Was I really meant to be a writer? Or, was I only a writing partner? Could I even write by myself? Did I want to?

Fast forwarding through the ensuing agonizing self-appraisal, I determined, partner or not, I was a writer. I plunged into a new writing life. Partly out of fear, partly loneliness, this included becoming active in writing organizations I had only been vaguely connected to while team writing, including a critique group. Through them I found the supportive community I craved and began realizing success in my solo career.

Odd as it sounds, publishing can wreak havoc on our writing lives. It did mine.  Having a “career” requires us to split ourselves in two: part creative writer, part business-minded author. Whether it’s true, or it’s just my excuse, the last few years I’ve been so busy moving, marrying off children, caring for aging parents, traveling, etc. etc., I haven’t had much time for anything else. Of necessity, what time I did have went to “must dos” and “should dos”—promotions &; marketing, presentations, social media—author stuff. As a result, the “want tos”—everything I enjoyed about writing, including writing and fellowship—went by the wayside.  I came to one day and realized my writing life was no longer a joy. It was a job. And, judging by my actions—splitting with my agent, neglecting revisions, not sitting my butt in the chair—a job I might not want.

I was wallowing somewhere between miserable and pathetic when it dawned on me that, called or not, I did not have to be a writer. There were a zillion other careers out there, a zillion other things I could be doing besides writing. So I quit. Being free from the publish-and-promote-or-perish pressure felt grrrrrreat! . . . Honest.

While on hiatus, I attended a retirement dinner for a colleague of my husband’s. After the dinner was over one of the young, non-native English speaking attendees approached him. “Mr. Michael,” he said. “After you get your new tires, what will you do?”

New tires! We all enjoyed his naiveté, and some among us filled him in on the “real” meaning of retirement. (Although I’m not sure we should have.) In a Chauncy Gardnerish way, he was correct. In retiring, Michael was replacing a worn set of work tires with a comfy new set for rolling into the sunset. Yes, retirement is an end. But it’s also an opportunity for new beginnings.

I didn’t want to quit. Writing is my chess, my Suduko, my Candy Crush.  Even when the writing isn’t going well, I’m happier writing than not writing. I had been called to writing. And not heeding that call was driving me from crazy to cranky. I wanted to retire so I could begin a new, fulfilling writing life.

Just as there are different kinds of tires—on road, off road, snow, etc.—there are different ways to approach our writing lives.  After deciding that I wanted—want—to be a writer, I visualized what I wanted that new writing life to be. Next, I set goals to ensure I don’t forget or ignore my “want tos” again! These include:

  1. Staying connected to my team by attending one writing retreat, workshop or conference (as a participant, not a speaker) bi-annually chosen to inspire and energize me.
  2. Interacting with my readers regularly (preschoolers and elementary students) at paid events, and as a volunteer.
  3. Challenging myself to try new things (by taking classes and group study).
  4. Scheduling quarterly check-ups to evaluate my professional life with an eye to maintaining balance between author duties and writing—with prime time going to writing.

Writing for the long haul is no different than other professions, harder perhaps considering the paychecks may not be as plump or regular. It’s easy to stay busy attending to the “must dos” and the “should dos” while ignoring the “want tos.” But, attending to those “want tos” is what brings us joy.  And while I don’t recommend doing anything as dramatic as calling it quits, I do suggest doing what I should have:  in the same way you take your car in for servicing, schedule regular career check-ups.  Ask and answer those defining questions:

  • Why did you become a writer?
  • What kind of writing life do you want?

Depending on your responses, make necessary adjustments to your writing life. Could be it’s time for you to re-tire, too. Oh, the places we can go on a brand new set of tires!

Kelly Bennett started telling stories when she was two, using her mother’s mascara to write on her neighbor’s car. She’s gone on to publish more than a dozen picture books and nonfiction children’s books under her name, as well as several books co-authored with Ronnie Davidson under the pen name Jill Max. Her most recent titles include Vampire Baby, the Writer’s League of Texas Book Award Winner One Day I Went Rambling, Your Mommy Was Just Like You, and Your Daddy Was Just Like You. She’s a graduate of the Vermont College Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Visit her online at Kelly’s Fishbowl.

Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

- Pete Hautman on the book that will save us
- Elena Acoba on touching reader lives
- Steve Miller on building a writing life
- Sharon Lee on remembering we’re not alone
- Betty G. Birney on always challenging ourselves
- Nora Raleigh Baskin on making deals with the writing gods
- Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
- Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
- Sharon Shinn on managing time
- Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
- Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
- Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
- Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
- Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
- Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
- Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
- Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
- Kathi Appelt on the power of story
- Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Janni Lee Simner
I was recently talking to a new writer in that scary, hopeful place of awaiting publication of their first book, and at some point in our conversation, they said to me:

"If you look at careers that crash and burn you can often trace it to a first book that failed to do well."

And I was all, what? Umm, no.

Never mind the absolutism of "crash and burn" as the opposite of runaway success--I know at least as many prominent working writers whose first book wasn't noticed much at all when it came out, maybe isn't known even now. I mean, how many urban fantasy fans have heard of Nightseer? How many lovers of children's books know Kenny's Window? How many epic fantasy readers have read Dying of the Light? And how many of those of you who do know these books discovered them before you discovered these writers' better known works and went looking to see what else they'd done?

Yet the myth of big-debut-or-nothing remains, and has grown alongside an increasing emphasis on first novels that can easily become one more tool writers at all stages of their careers use to beat themselves up with. So in the interest of providing a little balance, I've decided we need a list of little-known first works by now-bestselling and award-winning writers. Because it's lovely when your first book comes out to great fanfare, but it's not some sort of automatic death knell when it doesn't.

Here's the start of that my list. This is just a starting point, so I hope you'll help me expand it by mentioning other first books by now-bestselling or award-winning writers either in comments here or under the hashtag #unknownfirsts on twitter.

The Big U, Neal Stephenson
Burgoo Stew, Susan Patron
Conan the Invincible, Robert Jordan (who also wrote The Fallon Blood a couple years earlier under a pseud)
Duran Duran: The First Four Years, Neil Gaiman
Dying of the Light, George R. R. Martin
Fire Proof (The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo #11), Suzanne Collins
First Light, Rebecca Stead
The Foolish Giant, Bruce Coville
The Gremlins, Roald Dahl
Just Morgan, Susan Beth Pfeffer
Kenny's Window, Maurice Sendak (his work as an illustrator goes back further)
The Lightning Time, Gregory Maguire
Nightseer, Laurell K. Hamilton
Outlaws of Sherwood Forest (Choose Your Own Adventure #47), Ellen Kushner
Pilgrims and Other Stories, Elizabeth Gilbert
Pirates in Petticoats, Jane Yolen
Restoree, Anne McCaffrey
The Small Rain, Madeleine L'Engle

There are many, many ways to build a career, and having a bestseller or award-winner right out of the gate is only one of them.

There's also the fact that one can have a viable career without ever publishing a high-profile book, not to mention the whole business how careers aren't things that are unequivocally made and just as unequivocally kept in the first place--but that second, I think, is a whole other discussion. (If you need reminders that it's true, though, the ongoing Writing for the Long Haul series is a good place to start.)

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.