Reflections on 5 years of being an author – Happy 5th birthday, The Distance to Home

This week, five years ago, my debut middle grade novel The Distance to Home was published and I crossed over from being a “writer” to being an “author.” It’s been a wild ride so far, to say the least. I’m grateful to have published three more books for young readers in the years since, with some news to share about another sometime soon.

Suffice it to say that traditional publishing is not for the faint of heart. It’s a business that functions a lot less like other businesses and a lot more like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what will stick and also some of the spaghetti is gluten-free and some of it is very fine Italian pasta and some of it is made out of chickpeas, you know? (Not saying which pasta = my books but you get the picture.)

No two books are really alike and reading experiences are so subjective and the market is always changing. But . . . that’s how just it is and that’s why us authors are calloused from all that happens along the way. Or at least, that’s how I explained it to an aspiring author I talked with the other day when I popped into my local indie bookstore.

There are things I could only dream about that have happened to my books or are soon to happen (being on the front of a Scholastic book club flyer! having books selected for Junior Library Guild! being on state reading award lists! having an audiobook recorded of one of my books). As well as others I’m still waiting for and may very well never achieve (writing a NYTimes bestseller, having one of my books made into a movie or TV show, winning a Newbery). A girl can dream.

And yet, what’s mattered the most–both to me and I’d wager many other middle grade authors–is the impact of my books on readers. Knowing that my books are out in the world being read and even cherished by kids I will never meet or know? My books living lives of their own in libraries and bookstores, in people’s homes?

It’s the actual coolest. A huge honor I don’t take for granted, trust me.

All of this is to say, Happy 5th Birthday, The Distance to Home. I can now enroll you in kindergarten, but I won’t because you’re a book.

Congrats to the Where We Used to Roam Preorder Giveaway Winners

Thank you so much to everyone who preordered Where We Used to Roam or requested your library to purchase a copy. I’ve randomly selected 5 entrants for a signed book of their choice, and one grand prize winner. I’ve notified all of the winners by email, but I’m a little worried my email might get caught in spam filters, so if you see your name below, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly (jenn@jennbishop.com).

Signed book of your choice winners: Marisol D., Chelsea H., Karsyn R., Shuk M. N., and Katie H.

Grand prize winner: Denise S.

Congratulations again, and thank you for all of the support. Happy reading!

Where We Used to Roam Preorder Giveaway

Where We Used to Roam will be published on March 23rd, 2021, but did you know you can preorder it right now?

Preordering a book helps authors because by preordering a book, you’re telling the bookstore, hey, people want this book! Which makes them more likely to stock more copies of the book, which means more people can see it and buy it. Preorders also help bookstores. And right now indie bookstores need a lot of help to survive what’s likely to be a challenging winter.

Because the pandemic has affected the ease of travel and events, I know I am not going to be able to see that many readers in person for the foreseeable future. (Sad face!) So I want to give my readers something special. For everyone who preorders, I will send a signed bookplate and bookmark. And everyone who enters the giveaway will have a chance at prizes — there’s both the Grand Prize Pack (everything pictured above, minus the flowers) and other opportunities to win signed books.

 

The Rules

  1. To enter, preorder Where We Used to Roam and make sure to save a receipt. You can also enter by requesting your local library to purchase a copy of Where We Used to Roam.
  2. Then, click here. The Google form will collect your name, email address, and any personalization details. You will also need to upload a photo or screenshot of your receipt/proof of purchase.

 

Everyone who enters will receive:

  • Signed Where We Used to Roam bookmark
  • A personalized signed bookplate

 

One lucky winner, picked at random, will receive the Where We Used to Roam Grand Prize Pack, including:

  • Bison stuffed animal
  • My Neighbor Totoro sketchbook
  • Colorful markers
  • Personalized, signed copies of The Distance to Home, 14 Hollow Road, and Things You Can’t Say

 

Five lucky winners, picked at random, will receive:

  • A personalized, signed book of your choice: The Distance to Home, 14 Hollow Road, or Things You Can’t Say

 

US and Canada only. Entries must be received by March 22, 2021 at midnight to qualify.

 

If possible, please pre-order from your local indie bookstore. They need our support now more than ever. <3

Book Festivals go virtual!

This weekend (Friday – Sunday, August 28-30) is the Ohioana Book Festival. Typically, this book festival is held in Columbus, Ohio, but because of Covid-19, this year it is being held virtually. Which means anyone can attend! Wherever they are! For free!

Earlier this week, I participated in a panel with fellow middle grade authors Dustin BradyTamara BundyPolly FarquharJason R. Lady, hosted by Cover to Cover Bookstore. You can tune in to this event and many others here.

The Book Loft in Columbus has signed copies of books from many participating authors available for purchase, including mine! Click here to order a signed copy of any of my books.

Bookshelf Tour

Over on Goodreads, a reader requested that I share a YouTube video of my bookshelves. I didn’t realize bookshelf tours were a thing, but an hour later on YouTube, I can see that they are quite a thing.

It’s neat to see so many ways of organizing books (and the other cute goodies tucked into people’s bookshelves).

Well, without further ado, on the recommendation of Fantasy & Felines, my bookshelf tour.

Enjoy!

 

Mental Health Awareness Month

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, which exists to help raise awareness and educate the public about the mental illnesses affecting so many Americans as well as the effective strategies for attaining mental health and wellness. Mental Health Awareness Month also exists to draw attention to suicide, which can be precipitated by mental illness, and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

As you may know, my middle grade novel Things You Can’t Say (Simon & Schuster 2020) deals frankly with suicide. Twelve-year-old Drew, the protagonist, had his life upended three years prior when he lost his father to suicide. In the years since, he’s struggled to understand his father, but it’s through the events of one remarkable summer that he begins to see things differently, and to articulate his own concerns and feelings to his family and friends.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. According to the 2017 CDC report, suicide annually claims the lives of over 47,000 Americans. If you have lost a friend or a loved one to suicide, I want you to know that you are not alone. There are countless people out there who understand what you are going through, as well as trained professionals who want to help.

If you or someone you know would like to talk with a licensed mental health professional, consider reaching out to a therapist through:

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

The American Counseling Association

The American Mental Health Counselors Association

The American Psychological Association

The National Association of Social Workers

 

Further Resources:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

This national network of crisis centers offers free emotional support, 24/7, including specific resources for kids. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Crisis Text Line

The free 24/7 confidential text message service for people in crisis. Text HOME to 741741 in the United States.

 

American Association for Suicidology

A nonprofit organization advocating for suicide prevention, which envisions a world where people know how to prevent suicide and find hope and healing.

 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

AFSP is the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide.

 

The Dougy Center

The Portland, OR-based National Center for Grieving Children & Families provides support in a safe place for children, teens, young adults, and their families grieving a death to share their experiences.

 

Eluna

Eluna offers resources and programs—including camps—to address the needs of children experiencing confusing emotions in the wake of a loved one’s death or addiction.

 

National Alliance for Grieving Children

This professional member organization specifically addresses issues about child bereavement and offers continuing education, peer networking, and a national database of children’s bereavement support programs.

 

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education

SAVE’s mission is to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, to reduce stigma, and to serve as a resource for those touched by suicide.

Happy National Library Week!

While life has been disrupted in so many ways by the coronavirus pandemic, one of the things I miss the very most has to be the public library. I can’t recall a time in my life where I’ve gone this long (6 weeks, tomorrow, not that I’m counting or anything) since I last visited my local branch of the Cincinnati Public Library.

It’s not just that I miss getting new books. (Truth be told, at the time our library system closed down, I had 60 checkouts….) What do I miss, honestly? The habit of walking with my heavy L.L. Bean tote, full of returns, eager to pick up my holds and chat with my favorite librarians. I miss my library book club, even if some of us never read the whole book. I miss the creative displays in the entry way. The witty writings on the chalk board. All of it.

Of course, just because public libraries are not open right now doesn’t mean librarians aren’t still working to serve patrons virtually. They are available in virtual ways for those in need. And I know personally I’ve been reading a few library e-books to bide the time (love the Libby app!). But I’m sure I’m not alone in yearning for the day, however far away it is, when I can step foot into a library again. In the meantime, I just hope that librarians and library staff everywhere are safe and healthy. <3

To celebrate the joys of the library as space, I thought I’d put together a brief bibliography (once a librarian, always a librarian, right?) of middle grade novels in which a library plays a central role.

 

Middle Grade Novels <3 Libraries

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransom

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler

A Girl, A Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon by Karen Romano Young

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

Insignificant Events In the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan

The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander

Like Magic by Elaine Vickers

Mr. Lemoncello series by Chris Grabenstein

Nightbooks by J. A. White

The Ninja Librarians series by Janny Swann Downey

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

Rhyme Schemer by K. A. Holt

The Story Collector by Kristin Tubb

And yes, my latest, Things You Can’t Say by Jenn Bishop

 

Did I miss your favorite middle grade novel that celebrates libraries? Let me know! 🙂

You may leave the library, but the library never leaves you

At the end of the summer in 2012, I worked my last afternoon in the public library’s teen room. It had been a busy summer — as any public librarian who works with children and teens will tell you, they all are — and I was on the cusp of burnout. I’d recently enrolled in Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in writing for children and young adults and I was discovering that a full-time public service job didn’t leave me with much emotional energy to put into my writing. My then-fiance and I looked at our finances and, though things would be tight, we realized we could swing it: me, trying my hand at writing full-time.

Fast-forward nearly eight years. Today my third middle grade novel, Things You Can’t Say, hits bookstores and libraries. I’ve got another in the pipeline for next spring, Where We Used to Roam, recently sent book #5 off to my agent, and I’ve got a new notebook where I’m starting to imagine book #6. While I haven’t returned to work in a library in the interim, the enduring impact those library jobs I worked from 2006 to 2012 had on me is unmistakeable.

Things You Can’t Say opens with twelve-year-old Drew assisting the children’s librarian, Mrs. Eisenberg, with her story hour. Seeing how good he is with the little kids, she’s let him run a puppet show segment in her story hour, which has become Drew’s pride and joy. In my time as a librarian, I learned there are two kinds of kids who frequent the library. The kind who come in with their parents for fifteen minutes or so to browse and pick up some books or attend programs. And the kids who spend all afternoon there, sometimes all day. The kind for whom the library is a second home.

People who don’t spend much time in public libraries often don’t understand what purpose they serve today. “Can’t you just get books on Amazon?” they’ll say. Or, “I have an e-reader, I’m all set.” But the public library is ever so much more than a repository for books. For so many, from all walks of life, the library is a sanctuary. A place where they are treated with kindness, dignity, and respect. Librarians are part-social worker, part-teacher, part-parent, part-cat herder. Admittedly, as a teen librarian, I leaned real hard into the “cool aunt” vibe.

In the hours after school, or all day in the summer, it was hard not to notice the complex social dynamics of middle school and high school unfold right before my eyes. Even the breakup of the teen room couple! The library was a hiding place for some, and for others, a place to see and be seen.

Though the children’s librarian Mrs. Eisenberg is not a central figure in Things You Can’t Say, in small moments with Drew, I hope what comes through is that she sees him. That she recognizes his talents and helps nurture them, and that she’s cheering him along. What I loved about being a teen librarian (as opposed to a teacher) was that chance to be an adult in their life who wasn’t grading or evaluating them. But simple accepting them as they were, wanting the best for them, and helping however I could.

In crafting Drew and in writing his story, my years in the public library seeped into the text. How could they not? Even if subconsciously. In many ways, Drew is an amalgam of the kids I knew back then. “My library teens,” if you will. They left an indelible mark on me. When it came time to decide to whom I would dedicate this book, it was no question. This one was for them.

My relationship with libraries is different now. I’m not there five days out of the week anymore, but you can usually find me there at least two. I’m on a first-name basis with all the librarians at my local branch of the Cincinnati Library and it’s not uncommon to find my holds stacked on a shelf all by themselves.

Once a librarian, always a librarian, right?

The only thing better than a book festival . . .

. . . is a book festival with writer pals! Which, honestly, is pretty much all book festivals these days. The Books by the Banks Book Festival was this Saturday in Cincinnati and with 150+ authors in attendance, well, yes, we do tend to know each other. I was so fortunate to share a table for the day with my writer bestie, Abby Cooper, author of the wonderfully imaginative new middle grade novel Friend or Fiction, which published earlier this month. By the end of the day, I *might* have had a slight headache from talking non-stop for 7 hours.

Basically, book festivals are the author equivalent of 7th grade sleepovers.

Did we have enough fun? (Also: let’s just pretend my eyes were open in that last picture, shall we?)

Coming in 2021 – Where We Used to Roam

I’m thrilled to share that I have another project in the pipeline. Where We Used to Roam, my fourth middle grade novel, will be published in spring 2021 by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.


On the outside, it probably looks like, wow, she has two books coming out in two years (2020 and 2021), she’s so speedy!

Oh, how things look in hindsight. 😉

Prior to these two projects, my most recently published book, 14 Hollow Road, came out in 2017. Since then, on my metaphorical writing stove, I’d been juggling pots on and off the front burner, with these two middle grade projects (Things You Can’t Say and Where We Used to Roam) fighting for the prime spot, and a YA novel I wrote and revised only to entirely abandon. One project would seem like it was fully cooked, but then I’d taste it and realize, ick, nope, needs more time still. At one point I felt like I would never finish or figure out Things You Can’t Say. Perhaps it was like that time I tried making vegan macaroni and cheese and had to throw the whole thing out–it just was not coming together as I had imagined it.

But it turns out an important part of the writing (cooking?) process is patience. And it takes time to cultivate patience. It’s never easy to wait. Especially when you see your fellow writers zoom ahead, announcing deals for their zillionth books while you’re juggling multiple pots on the stove, wondering if maybe you should just call in a takeout order.

But sometimes, with enough patience and persistence, you end up with a multiple course meal, a few splatter on the backsplash, just in the nick of time as your friends ring the doorbell.

That’s sort of how I feel now, on the other side of it all: grateful that things came together. And ready for a dinner party.