Janet Sumner Johnson
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Winners!

Mar 31, 2014 Uncategorized 4 comments

The contest is over, and we have two winners of GABY, LOST AND FOUND by Angela Cervantes:

Sharon Mayhew
 
&
 
Akossiwa Ketoglo

Congratulations!! I’ve contacted you both with instructions for receiving your signed copy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Also, I’ll be taking a blogging break in the month of April as most people are busy with the A-Z blogfest, and life is extremely busy with kids activities and end-of-the-school-year stuff. You know how it is. 🙂

Have a happy April, and I’ll see you in May!


What I’m Reading: 10-y.o. Edition

Mar 24, 2014 Uncategorized 10 comments

We make frequent trips to the library at our house (luckily it’s super close), and 10-year-old always leaves with stacks and stacks of books. I try to limit him to what will fit in the library bag–but it doesn’t always happen that way. I think it’s really interesting to see what others are reading, so here is a snapshot of just a few of his recent selections*:

What does your TBR (to-be-read) pile look like?

P.S. Don’t forget to enter for your chance to win a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found. You can find the Rafflecopter HERE.

*I may have read some of these, too. 😉


An Interview with Girlie: Angela Cervantes (+Giveaway!)

Mar 17, 2014 Uncategorized 10 comments

Back in August, one of my super sweet CP’s (Critique Partner’s), Angela Cervantes, published her debut middle-grade novel, Gaby, Lost and Found with Scholastic Press. If you haven’t read it yet, you should! It is a touching story about a girl trying to find her place when her life is flipped up-side down. Here’s the blurb:

Gaby Howard Ramirez loves volunteering at the local animal shelter. She’s in charge of writing adoption advertisements so that the strays who live there can find their forever homes: places where they’ll be cared for and loved, no matter what.

Gaby has been feeling like a bit of a stray herself lately. Her mother has recently been deported to Honduras, and Gaby is stuck living with her inattentive dad. She’s confident that her mom will come home soon so they can adopt Gaby’s favorite shelter cat together. But when the cat’s owners turn up at the shelter, Gaby worries that her plans for the perfect family are about to fall apart.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a crier, but this one had me all choked up. I’m not an animal person, but she had me falling in love with each stray as I read the adoption advertisements. Gaby is a spunky character full of heart, and I’m certain you’ll fall in love with her like I did.
 
I begged asked Angela if she’d be willing to do an interview with Girlie (my 4-year-old daughter), and she obligingly agreed.
 
So this is Girlie, and I’m going to let her take it from here:
 
Girlie: I don’t know who you are. Who are you?

Angela: I’m Angela Cervantes and I’m author of Gaby, Lost and Found, which was published by Scholastic Press. 🙂

Girlie: I like to play Diego Wii with my friends. What do you like to do with your friends?

Angela: I enjoy going for coffee with my friends and playing tennis or baseball with them.

Girlie: I’m trying to make people happy by playing with them and sharing my stuff. How do you make people happy?

Angela: I think sharing things is a great way to make people happy. I’m going to have to do more of that. I also think people really like it when you’re a good, honest friend to them and you remember their birthdays.

Girlie: People can be nice to each other and don’t throw a fit. Is the girl with the cat in the backpack nice and doesn’t throw fits?
 
Angela: The girl on the cover is Gaby and she is super nice. She’s also brave, smart and a serious animal lover. She’d do anything to help a cat or dog if it were in trouble.  I think the only time she throws a fit is when she feels an innocent animal has been poorly treated. I don’t blame her really.

Girlie: I like the kitty on the cover. I don’t have a kitty. Do you?

Angela: I don’t have a kitty either, but I’m glad you like the cat on the cover. That cat is named Feather. In this book, we find out that Feather was named Feather by the folks at the animal shelter because when she was brought into the shelter she was as light as a Feather. She and Gaby become good friends.

Girlie: You look cute in that picture and I like your skirt. Do you choose your own clothes? I do!

Angela: Thank you! I do choose my own clothes. I love picking out cute stuff to wear. I love bright colors like red, purple, pinks and yellows.

Girlie: Did you sign the book? Do we get to keep it?
 
Me: Sorry Girlie, I know you love this book, but we have our own copy. We’re going to give these ones to some people who haven’t read it yet.
 
Angela: I am always happy to sign a book for anyone who wants it. 🙂 It’s one of the nice perks of being an author.

Me: Angela, thanks so much for answering all of Girlie’s questions. She loves your book and keeps sneaking it from my room! But I have a couple of questions for you, too. As you know, I re-joined our critique group shortly after you got the offer from Scholastic, so I missed the whole writing process. How long did it take you to write Gaby, Lost and Found? And would you tell us about your revision process, too?
 
Angela: It took nine months to write Gaby, Lost and Found and another two years of revision. I believe the real magic happens during revision and I enjoy it. For me, it’s not as intense as the writing process. I go into revision knowing I have to chop away stuff. I go into writing never knowing what will happen so I definitely prefer revision. Although it can be painful– especially when you have to take out a character (I had to remove two characters from Gaby, Lost and Found) or remove a favorite scene–but it’s necessary if you’re committed to making the story stronger.
 
Me: Oooh! I love knowing secret stuff like about books, like characters that didn’t make the cut. I may have to hear about these characters at our next meeting. 🙂 Okay, so last question. I kind of have this thing about personalized license plates. So, if Gaby were old enough to drive, what would her personalized license plate be?
 
Angela: Gaby’s license plate would be GRLPWR.

Me: I love it! She definitely lives up to that. 🙂

Angela Cervantes is a poet, storyteller, and animal lover. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in various publications, including Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. When Angela is not writing, she enjoys hanging out with her husband in Kansas and eating fish tacos every chance she gets. Gaby, Lost and Found is her first middle-grade novel. She is currently at work on her second book.

You can keep up with Angela at her website:

http://angelacervantes.com/

Now for the Giveaway! I have two signed (paperback) copies of Gaby, Lost and Found to give away to two lucky visitors. Just enter in the Rafflecopter below! The giveaway is open through March 31st. Good luck!
 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Pitch Madness! and Giving Back

Mar 10, 2014 Uncategorized 4 comments

A year-and-a-half ago on a whim, I entered a little contest (under exaggeration there) called Pitch Madness. Amazingly I got in and had all kinds of interest, all of which led to an offer of representation! Woo hoo!!

Brenda Drake is one of the most giving authors I’ve ever encountered, and I owe her a lot, so today I want to do some giving back of my own. If you haven’t heard, Pitch Madness is open for entries TODAY! Right up until 11:59 EDT. All entries time-stamped before that time will be considered (no cut-offs!). You can find more information HERE. But seriously, if you are seeking an agent, you should enter. Really.

Now, I am not claiming to be an expert, but I have had a lot of success with my past pitches, SO . . . as a way to give back, from now until 4:00 PM EDT (of Monday, March 10th), I am offering to critiquing/helping with anyone’s pitch who wants help.

Simply send an e-mail to rjljohnson (dot) janet (at) gmail (dot) com with PITCH CRIT in the subject line, and the pitch you want critiqued in the body (remember, the pitches can only be 35 words). Feel free to ask any specific questions there, too. I will respond in the order they’re received.

Please spread the word, and wishing all the Pitch Madness entrants the best of luck!


When Things Aren’t Roses and Kittens

Mar 03, 2014 Uncategorized 8 comments

So I’ve been revising . . . revising a work that I have revised A LOT. And I want to tell you something:

It has been hard.

I’ve spent a lot of time just staring at the screen, begging my characters to do something, because I had no idea what should happen next. I have spent a lot of time not staring at the screen, lost in deep, deep thought as I’ve reconsidered, oh, pretty much every scene. And then reconsidered it all again.

And mixed in there, there’s been a bit of typing, babysteps of progress, and slowly, slowly I’m getting through.

I’ve asked my husband more than once, “Why do I like this again?” Because in those moments when the plot feels impossible, and the characters feel flat . . . things can seem a bit bleak.

But then I came across this quote from Muhammad Ali:

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit.
Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”

-Muhammad Ali

True champions push through the hard times. They don’t stop just because things aren’t roses and kittens all the time. True champions realize that the reward is greater than the pain.

I will never get one of those belts with the ginormous gold buckle on it. And I may never even get a publishing contract for this book. But when I finish, when I get to that point . . . I will be a champion.

Because I was stronger than the doubts and the fears that tried to hold me back.

What are you battling against right now?


This vs. That: Pancakes vs. Cereal

Feb 24, 2014 Uncategorized 7 comments

As I tallied the votes on this debate, I suppose I was not surprised. Disappointed would be a better word for it. But here, I’ll let you see for yourself:

Total votes: 15

Pancakes: 9 votes; 60%
Cereal: 5 votes; 33%
Smoothie: 1 vote; 7%

Cereal, people! Cereal. How could you not choose it? So quick to fix. So many different flavors! Good at all hours, night or day. In fact, just typing this up is making me want some.

But you. With your fixation on steamy, butter-melting, syrupy gooey pancakes. Sheer disappointment, that. And a smoothie? I just can’t even. (You know I’m teasing, right Amy?)

On the bright side? More cereal for me! Because I want all the cereal. All of it!

And now, in the spirit of the Olympics, on to the next debate:

Snowboarding

vs.

Skiing


Chip On My Shoulder

Feb 18, 2014 Uncategorized 8 comments

Seriously guys. Today, I just have a chip on my shoulder. Some days are like that.

Maybe I should eat more carefully.

Has this ever happened to you?


Writing from a POV Outside your Culture

Feb 10, 2014 Uncategorized 4 comments

I have long heard the debate of whether a writer should attempt to write from a POV outside their own culture. The question is this: Can an author who is not of a certain ethnicity, do that ethnicity justice? Can s/he give an authentic point of view?

When you consider the works of people such as Amy Tan, Maya Angelou, and Khaled Hosseini, the idea feels pretty daunting if not impossible. How can you hope to capture the heart of a culture you haven’t lived?

Yet I believe that if a writer is willing to put in the work, it’s possible. Certainly, a character is not Hispanic, Chinese, French, or Russian just because we say they are. Simply giving them an accent is not good enough either.

Writing from the POV of another culture means a whole different way of thinking about the world. To list just a few of the things we must consider:

Honestly, the list could go on for a long time. But if we want to be authentic, we will take the time to understand how these things work within the culture we are writing from.

To give just a small example, I spent 18 months in a French Territory. I lived with girls from all over the world (France, Tahiti, Vanuatu . . .). When I was preparing to come back to the USA, a girl I knew was interested in buying my bike. She asked how much I wanted for it, and I told her $75. That amount felt like a nice even and reasonable number.

But when we got home, my French roommate shook her head. “I just don’t get you Americans. Why $75? Make it $70 or $80, that would be a nice round number. But you Americans insist on such odd amounts!”

I was flabbergasted. I had been going for a nice round number. To me, $70 or $80 felt uneven. But her comment made me think. Why did we see something so basic and seemingly simple in such a different way?

The answer? Our different monetary systems had biased our way of thinking. You see, the USA uses a 25 cent coin so my mind naturally breaks $100 into four 25’s. I do it without thinking about it. France, on the other hand, uses a 20 cent coin. My French friend naturally counts by 10’s and 20’s.

Such a simple thing that leaked from our experience into our way of thinking. This is how cultural bias is formed. Understanding such simple differences is one of the things we must do to successfully write from a POV outside our own culture.

Have you or would you ever consider writing from a POV outside your culture? If you have, what suggestions do you have for achieving an authentic voice?


Challenging Ourselves

Feb 03, 2014 Uncategorized 4 comments

With some challenging revisions ahead of me, I’ve been feeling a bit daunted. Then today, I read this quote:

“Find [work] that challenges you, that raises you to higher levels of performance. It may be harder, but you will grow, develop better, and contribute more good. You really have no idea yet who you are and what you can accomplish in life. You have great potential far beyond what you can imagine today.”

-Richard G. Scott
 
Love this! Love the idea that we have all this potential that is buried in us and that we must work to discover. I shall not be afraid of hard work! Because no matter what happens, it will always lead me to a better place.
 
What is challenging you?
 
P.S. Have you all heard of Sharon Mayhew’s contest with literary agent Terrie Wolf? February is for Picture Books, but Middle Grade and YA works will each have their turn come March and April. Go check it out! It’s a seriously awesome opportunity. 🙂

Finding Motivation

Jan 27, 2014 Uncategorized 10 comments


Middle child at 5, proud of his piano skills,
and oh, so motivated.
Growing up, we had a rule at my house. When you turned 5, you took piano. Hard and fast. I couldn’t wait for my turn . . . until it actually came.
 
Then I hated it.
 
Hated that I was forced to waste precious daylight hours practicing the piano when I could be doing something much more important such as playing in the ditch with my friends.
 
I was 9 when I convinced my mom that I was wasting my time and her money (and I believe my piano teacher told my mom the same thing). I got to quit.
 
Which I appreciated until I found a piece of music I really wanted to play.* Suddenly I spent hours at the piano learning how to play it.
 
And then there was another song I loved, but the sheet music was terrible! I wanted to play what I heard on the radio. Next thing I know, I’m begging my dad for lessons on playing by ear.**
 
The point of all this is that when I wanted something, I found the motivation to spend time learning and practicing a skill. And it was FUN.
 
So let’s get to the point. I love writing. I do. I love creating a new world that I (and hopefully others) can get lost in. I love meeting my characters and discovering their secrets. I love that feeling of satisfaction at having gotten the words just right . . . of having made someone laugh or cry or think or whatever it is. I love it.
 
Even so, sometimes I lose my motivation. I want to write. I want to immerse myself in that world, but I struggle to make myself actually do it.
 
So the question is why? Why do I struggle to make myself do something I love?
 
Honestly, I don’t know why . . . but I have some theories.

So I could go on.*^6 But the point is, there are plenty of excuses we can use for why we didn’t write. We need to find that one thing that keeps us going. We need to find that one song that motivates us. That one challenge that has us begging for more writing time. Because isn’t that why we started on this road in the first place?

What is your motivation?

*It may or may not have been “Part of this World” from Little Mermaid, and I may or may not have sung this song incessantly at the time. But you’ll never know for sure. 😉

**My dad’s an amazingly accomplished musician and I don’t mind bragging on him a bit.

***This is actually the reason that I doubt my ability to live in Alaska or anywhere way up North. How do you people do it?

****This it a totally true thing, too. 😉

*^5 That would refer to every season. So you can see why I really need to catch up.

*^6  Seriously. I swear I didn’t just stare at the screen for five minutes trying to come up with a fifth theory.