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 Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books at Holiday House. Whee!

MUSIC SOOTHES THE LOST

I’m thrilled to be writing about author Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel, LOST BOYS. While the essential plot follows twelve-year-old Reza’s experience as a child soldier during the Iran-Iraq War, music lives at this book’s heart as well. Reza’s love of music helps him make sense of his world and to survive.  I won’t give away any plot points, but suffice it to say, one couldn’t take music out of this book and have it tell the same story.

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Since the beginning of human history, from every continent across the globe, we’ve made and shared music. Whether it’s soothing our savage breasts or our savage inner beasts, it hath charms nothing else can quite duplicate. Reza shows us this in one complicated twelve-year-old life.

Darcey’s story of Reza’s reality where music can never be taken for granted smacked me upside the head with the realization of how lucky I was in my own music-filled childhood. I was encouraged to find passion, solace, sanity and happiness in listening to and performing music. I love the idea of young readers having their eyes opened to their own aural freedoms by learning about Reza’s barriers to access.

When Reza finds adults who not only recognize his need for music but take risks to provide it, it made my heart soar.  As a parent with kids headed towards the pre-teen years, I think a lot about providing them access to quality music, expanding their auditory boundaries, letting them know music is as good for them as proper sleep and decent food. I often prescribe doses of their favorite pop songs to lift their moods. (As Dr. Mom and a music major, I have the authority to say, “Take two Weird Als and some Katy Perry followed by Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and call me in the morning.”)

I’m so glad that LOST BOYS portrays the power and necessity of music for children – NOT the necessity of music lessons to turn kids into Baby Einsteins, but something that helps us feel balanced, comforted, understood, and more alive. I brainstormed to think about other middle-grade and YA books where music plays an integral role in supporting the main characters. How about Conrad Wesselhoft’s poetry-and-Red Bull-fueled ADIOS NIRVANA, Adi Rule’s gothic mystery STRANGE SWEET SONG, Ann McCaffrey’s classic fantasy DRAGONSONG, Linda Urban’s quirky A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT?

I know there are others out there. Please share with us at Emu’s Debut your own suggestions below for books where music is as integral to a character’s happiness as it is for Reza in LOST BOYS!

LOST BOYS can be found at your local bookstore, or online at:

Indie-Bound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781627797580

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-boys-darcey-rosenblatt/1125067336

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Boys-Darcey-Rosenblatt/dp/1627797580

Books-a-Million: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Lost-Boys/Darcey-Rosenblatt/9781627797580

 

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Filed under Book Launch, middle grade, music, Uncategorized

LET ME COUNT THE LINES

The celebration of Sarvinder Naberhaus’ new gem of a board book continues! Have you ever wondered what unicycles, doughnut trucks, towns, and our solar system have in common? (C’mon, you have at least once, haven’t you?) I’ll let you in on the answer: LINES.

 

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And illuminating profound connections between disparate things doesn’t require as high a word count as you may suppose. As authors, we may think more often than most people about the number of words we are writing – did I make my daily quota for NaNoWriMo? Has my picture book inadvertently expanded to chapter book? Is my YA novel so long that no agent could ever even lift the manuscript?

 

Female face behing pile of paper

 

The fewer words we choose to use, the bigger the challenge to create something of substance, a book a child will enjoy having read to them again and again (and a book adults are happy to pull off the shelf again and again). LINES offers the simplest of ideas, carefully crafted. Sarvinder uses sparse language and simple repetition to condense the shapes around us to their basic essentials. Then she expands the reader’s view to see those shapes filling out into every nook and corner of the world around us.

In less than twenty words.

 

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That’s right – she pretty much covers the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, from doughnut trucks to the solar system, with just a double-handful of nouns, verbs, and prepositions. The famously constrained Green Eggs and Ham uses a whopping fifty. Goodnight Moon and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! both have over a hundred. Just sayin’.

 

If you’re a writer like me who usually functions at maximum verbosity, you can’t help but be impressed with the skill of writers who can pare down to the essentials and create an engaging book for the youngest readers-to-be.

 

Now are you wondering not only how LINES links so many things but how it does it so succinctly? Only one way to find out – pick up a copy (I promise, it’s as light as a doughnut) at IndieBoundBarnes & NobleAmazon or your favorite bookseller and take a look at how Sarvinder and illustrator Melanie Beck made it happen!

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Filed under Board Books, Book Launch, craft~writing, Uncategorized

WHO, WHO IS YOUR AGENT? An interview with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency

whobert hoover

As we continue the debut celebration of Jason Gallaher’s WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, I got to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on how WHOBERT went from manuscript on submission to debuting picture book with the help of agent extraordinaire, Tricia Lawrence. For those of you interested in becoming agent-signed authors yourselves, here’s how the process worked for Jason and WHOBERT:

Tricia, I saw WHOBERT as an advance reader copy and was immediately charmed by this over-eager owl detective. Was WHOBERT WHOVER the manuscript that led you to sign Jason as a client? (If not, please tell us how you and Jason first connected!)

Actually, this wasn’t the only manuscript. Jason had a few more manuscripts and WHOBERT made me laugh out loud for the second time. The first time I laughed out loud was at his manuscript about a squirrel that hoards unusual sustenance for the winter (that one hasn’t sold yet, but if you love WHOBERT, you’ll love that one too!)

squirrelI’d love to see that one – I’m already trying to imagine what that squirrel is up to! What was it about Jason’s writing that drew you in?

 

His incredible sense and use of humor; his understanding of what makes a text strong enough to stand up to being illustrated; his vision coming through only the text (very sparse art notes) and the beauty and strong emotion of his writing. 

 
I understand you’re the kind of agent that helps her authors revise and polish their manuscripts before sending them out to editors. How did you and Jason work together to make sure WHOBERT was in tip-top shape before going out on submission?

I didn’t have to work on this one, and that is very rare. Usually, I am much more involved in manuscript revisions. This is why I knew I had to sign Jason immediately. The majority of his PB texts come to me ready to go. Jason has that strong eye to know when he needs revision before I even seen the manuscript.

Being on submission can be a nerve-wracking time for authors, since every day can Jason G.bring the chance of an offer…or the chance of another rejection. While WHOBERT was out on submission, did you do anything to keep up Jason’s spirits? (Did he even need spirit-up-keeping? He seems like one of the bubbliest and cheerfullest authors ever. And I know livens up any costume party.)

Jason doesn’t need much spirit up-keeping, true! But we keep in close contact anyway, because even if the submission process is going smoothly, he also writes novels and he is awesome about keeping me in the loop on his progress and always ready to ask for help when he needs it. 

 
Knowing when to ask for help is a skill in and of itself; Jason’s main character Whobert the owl certainly has trouble doing that! Have you ever done something Whobert-esque, where you were certain you were right but completely misunderstood the situation?

Oh, yes. Haven’t we all? It’s usually me intervening in the dog negotiations at our house. The big mastiff, Toledo, is a bit intimidated by his younger and smaller sister, husky-shepherd mix, Rue, and they have this long “Wookie”-esque conversation about who gets to come through the dog door first. I often think it’s Toledo trying to bug his sister, but he’s just trying to get inside out of the sun or outside into the sun. 

dog negotiationsDog negotiations do sound complicated. I know you are closed to unsolicited queries, so if there’s an author out there who thinks they have something special like WHOBERT, is there a way they can query you? And do you have a suggestion on how their query can shine as brightly as an owl’s talons among all the queries that come your way?

 

They can attend a conference where I’m on faculty (I’m done for 2017; stay tuned for the 2018 schedule) or they can get referred into Erin Murphy Literary Agency by an EMLA client or another industry professional. Write something good! The query should not shine brighter than the manuscript. Make your manuscript amazing first. Then get help with the query by reading aloud a lot or having someone more experienced read and review it for you. I am a BIG FAN of critique groups and beta readers. Use them.

I’m going to take a page from some previous Emu agent interviews and ask you to finish this sentence: the perfect reader for WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE is…

Who, Who, Who, Whover-ific!

Who could doubt that? Thanks, Tricia!


Christina UssChristina Uss loves being part of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency since she gets to hang out with terrific people like Jason Gallaher and Tricia Lawrence and see sneak previews of books like WHOBERT.

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Book Launch, Picture books, Uncategorized

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