Author Archives: Christina Uss

About Christina Uss

Bike writer, bike rider, dweller of Massachusetts, lover of popcorn and all things sleep-related. My debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out January 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books at Holiday House. Whee!

ACKNOWLEDGING THE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

In the months leading up to signing with my agent, I got in the habit of flipping to the acknowledgements page of middle-grade books to peruse who the author thanked and how fervently they thanked them.  I didn’t realize how much the tender, earnest gratitude other writers pledged towards their supportive spouses and children was making me sweat until I saw the acknowledgments page of Scott Seegert’s VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE. Here, after dedicating the book to his own glorious self, Vordak refuses to commend the contribution of others to its publication, observing, “A herd of bison would have been more helpful.”

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I felt a thrill of YES and VORDAK, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS ME.  Then I found a quote from Franz Kafka telling his fiancée, “You once said you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case, I would not be able to write at all…one can never be alone enough to write…” Oh, Franz, I hear you, too, dude.

 

My husband and I worked out a plan last summer whereby he’d be the family breadwinner, and our kids would be the family bread-eaters, and I would try being the family writer. In planning, however, we failed to acknowledge that I already have a couple of full-time jobs managing our household and parenting two intense little people who want nothing more than to spend their day talking to me, negotiating with me, playing with me, squabbling near me, and lying down on various parts of me and asking me to read to them. In addition, my husband is pretty introverted and many days, I’m his only social outlet.

We’ve tried various methods of preserving a quiet, protected daily writing space and time for me.

writer at work

 

I’ll be frank, though: bit by bit, I’ve been disintegrating. I’ve always been unusually sensitive to disturbances in the Force around me, which my doctor is now calling generalized anxiety disorder. When I’m out of balance, I develop really odd anxieties. (One fun example: after my twins were born, I developed a fear of my home’s mailbox.)

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And I’ve found that even with a regime of medication, supplements, meditation, and therapy, if I don’t get enough alone time, I’m neither a good writer nor a good member of our family. Instead, I hide in bed and fantasize about:

  • digging a moat around and bricking up the doorway to our home office
  • finding a way to become the sound-hoarding Soundkeeper from THE PHANsoundkeeperTOM TOLLBOOTH
  • inventing reverse hearing aids that allow you to turn silence up or down as needed (better than ear plugs, we’ll call ‘em Hearing Thwarts, $19.99 per pair plus shipping and handling. Stock up for the holidays!)

It’s not easy. Nevertheless, when my editor asked for my own dedication and acknowledgements pages, I did thank my family. It’s understated, but it’s there. While there’s a mailbox-fearing creature ready to hijack my hippocampus pretty much whenever, I’m not a jerk nor an evil overlord at heart.

It’s worth noting, however, that my kids’ school summer vacation begins tomorrow. So if you hear I’ve disappeared, please do me a favor – don’t tell the authorities that I’ve likely taken my laptop to sit amidst the nearest herd of bison to get some peace and quiet.


Christina UssCHRISTINA USS has never found a frilled lizard in her mailbox, but there’s always a first time. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Tweet her if you know of a herd of bison seeking a Writer in Residence @christinauss or drop by http://www.christinauss.com.

 

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Filed under Anxiety, Families, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

After the Ecstasy, the Editing

Everything editors, agents, and authors have told me at SCBWI conferences has turned out to be true, particularly the things I didn’t believe would be true for me.

For example, I’ve been told that getting a book deal will not magically transform me into a permanently satisfied, optimistic, and resilient human.  When SCBWI folks said stuff like that, I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m sure that’s true for the other pre-published writers here, but not me. Once I get a book deal, I may still be an easily-exhausted anxiety-prone weirdo, but then I’ll be that weirdo WITH A BOOK DEAL AND THAT WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.”

Nope. Sigh.

After the ecstasy of getting “the call” in 2016 from my darling agent and connecting with my talented editor to begin the publication journey for my debut middle-grade novel, I expected to wallow in utter contentment for a long time. Years of wallowing. At the very least I’d wallow through the whole process of getting my manuscript out into the world.

Then the first round of revision edits was delivered to my door, and with it arrived the Mind Games Writers Play On Ourselves (yep, MGWPOO).

I got caught up in such MGWPOO favorites as:Shel Silverstein head

  • I’m Not a Real Writer
  • Before I Can Handle Criticism, I Need to Die
  • Chasing False Measures of Success
  • Envy of All the Other Writers Who Don’t Struggle with This Crap
  • The 33 -Minute Limit of Success-Fueled Joy-Basking Before I Find a Way to Undermine Myself
  • The Permanent Longing for Success That Makes Hope Painful.

 

TheySidecar (4) come roaring along with every new delivery of manuscript revisions, like rumbling motorcycles leaving greasy tire tracks across my soul, and this thousand-pound steel sidecar is attached to every single one: Beating Myself Up for Falling into Mind Games Again.

What’s an anxiety-prone weirdo to do?

First, I think, find another writer somewhere who will tell you that you are not alone in this. (You’ve found me. I’m telling you. You’re not.) Airing out the mind games, bringing them into the light of discussion with your fellow writers shows them up for what they are: common. Common as commas.  I’m beginning to think none of us can publish a manuscript with some of them in the mix.

Editing Kit Kats

Next, it seems smart not to assume the mind games will pass us by.  We must arm ourselves for the ongoing battle; perhaps with weapons of Show Kindness to Fellow Writers and Give Yourself Time and Turn the Nebulous Sense of Mortal Despair into a Concrete To-Do List. I’m still working on this concept as my battle armor currently consists of a jar of Kit Kats.

But I’ve got my MGWPOO out in the open now, here in the light of EMU’s Debuts, and that’s a start.

(Many thanks for the warm wit and wisdom of my agency-mates Anne Nesbet, Ann Bedichek, and Sophie Petersen for convening the Special Committee on Writerly Mind Games and How to Defeat Them. Check out Anne Nesbet’s Middle Grade Mayhem post on the same topic!)


Christina Uss

CHRISTINA USS is a bike writer, bike rider, mother of twins and dweller of Massachusetts. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Help her learn to dodge the MGWPOO at http://www.christinauss.com.


 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, jealousy, process, rejection and success, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Let Nature Nurture You, and Wash Your Spirit Clean

Readers of Terry Pierce’s cozy MAMA LOVES YOU SO will encounter many poetic images of nature nurturing the young, reminding us that nature has room to nurture us at any age.  mama-loves-you-so-coverTerry will be giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. Enter by leaving a comment below, and she will enter your name into the giveaway (up to one comment per day.) Read on to see how nature nurtures Terry and some of her fellow kidlit writers.

Terry has always found solace in nature, going back to her childhood. “For hours, I could sit cradled in the branches of a tree, or perched on a rock watching the woods. Anytime I’m feeling restless, worried, or at a breaking point, if I can get out in nature I’m instantly calmed and can put things in perspective. And I love writing in the woods! I carry a waterproof journal and pencil in my backpack because my muse often appears in nature. In fact, I wrote MAMA LOVES YOU SO outside, inspired by the grandeur of the mountains.

 

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The place in nature that nurtures me the most are the Sierra Nevada mountains. Whether I’m sunning on a boulder, climbing, hiking, listening to a stream, or watching wildlife (hopefully with a camera in hand), I’m at peace in the mountains. I once spent five weeks hiking from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

John Muir, one of my favorite writers, once wrote, ‘Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. So true! My hope is that MAMA LOVES YOU SO will inspire parents to take their little ones outdoors so they can learn to love nature and feel its benefits, too.”

 

Author Debbi Michiko Florence finds, “Whenever my mind gets too busy or I feel overwhelmed by my Things To Do list, all I need to do is step outside. I have two ducks (Darcy and Lizzy) and at least twice a day I have ‘duck time.’

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I let them out of their coop to wander the yard and I sit there, watching them, listening to bird song (and duck quacks), breathe the fresh air and watch the clouds roll by. My mind settles and I get present with what is. Duck time is meditative for me and nurtures me like nothing else.”

 

 

Author Hayely Barrett appreciates animals too. “As much as I love people, I’m deeply thankful that humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet. Life on Earth is spectacularly varied, and whether I watch a video of a jaguar slinking through the rainforest or spot a fisher slinking through my yard, I am cheered.

Me and Munchkin

Hayley and Munchkin, fully themselves

I enjoy the company of non-humans, horses and dogs especially. They are fully themselves—unchanging and at peace—and spending time with them helps me to remember who I am too.”

 

 

 

 

Author Katie Slivensky shares,

bluejoyNature calms me by giving me something to focus on that is external. I was stuck on some summary work during a snow day in February, and then a paused and spent an hour taking pictures of blue jays outside. That took my mind away from my book troubles, and when I came back around to work on those summaries later, I had a much easier time.”

 

Author Megan Lloyd’s debut picture book celebrates kids in nature, and she finds support there herself. “When I find myself getting anxious, with my heart racing and my thoughts swirling, going outside for a walk, or just taking a minute to sit in the sunshine, centers me. It helps me let go of my problems and instead feel absorbed in the beauty around me. And then I’m ready to take a deep breath…and return to my challenges (writing and otherwise), with a renewed sense of perspective and focus.”

Author and agent Ammi-Joan Paquette knows where writers can find an ever-present boost beyond their writing chair, saying, “Nature is nurturing because it is always accepting, always peaceful, always there. It’s like a personal magic kingdom that lies in wait for whenever you need it.”

And wherever any of us are in the writing and publishing process, there’s not one of us who couldn’t use plenty of that.

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Filed under Book Launch, Inspiration, Nature, Thankfulness, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Come Along for the Ride

I’m so ridiculously happy to be introducing myself to you today. Hi. I’m Christina. I love to read and I love to write. And after I rode my bike across the United States, I’ve never been the same.

If I hadn’t pedaled from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco over the span of one crazy summer, I bicycle-girl_smallnever would have become an adventure tour guide, taking other people bicycling and hiking all over the place. If I’d never become an adventure tour guide, I’d never have decided to pedal down the entire span of the U.S. Pacific Coast with one equally intrepid (and equally unemployed) tour guide pal.

If my pal and I had never decided to ride down the Pacific Coast, I’d never have submitted an article about the experience to a magazine, and they never would have published it, and I never would have become a professional freelance writer scribbling and bibbling about the wonders of bicycling.

If I’d never published lots of bicycling articles, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to sit down and write a middle grade novel called THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE about a 12-year-old who pedals from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. Or the confidence to send it out to agents until I found one who believed in it like Ammi-Joan Paquette. (And who was tickled to find out big chunks of it are true, based on the real places and people I’ve met on my own rides.) And to have Ammi-Joan’s help to find an editor and publishing house who want to share THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE with the world.

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No, I wouldn’t! I would be someone else. And I’m so glad and grateful I’m me today.

Author Bruce Weber wrote in Life Is a Wheel, “Novelists will say that one reason their work is so agonizing is that no one out here is waiting for what they do; they have to create their own welcome in the world…a cross-country bicyclist feels the same way.”  I can’t tell you what it means to me that I’ve found a welcome in the U.S. many times as a cross-country bicyclist, and now I’ve found a welcome in the world as a children’s novelist.  My BICYCLE will be riding into kids’ hands and homes one year from now.  Whoa.

In case I’m making it sound like the life of a debut children’s author is all kittens and rainbows, let me assure you it resembles my cycling career in many ways: I often gasp for breath and want to give up while others around me seem to be surging ahead. Steep hills appear for me to climb that weren’t on my map. And just when I think I’ve hit smooth sailing, a pack of territorial farm dogs show up.

But today, I’m not complaining. Today, the farm dogs feel far behind. Today I get to introduce myself to you as a debut children’s book author. Hi! I’m Christina. This looks like it’s going to be one heck of a ride.


christina-ussCHRISTINA USS is a bike writer, bike rider, mother of twins and dweller of Massachusetts. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out January 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books. Wheee! Visit her at http://www.christinauss.com.

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Filed under joy, process, Thankfulness, Uncategorized