I cannot even begin to tell you how incredibly excited I am today to be hosting a stop on the official blog tour for Sleight by Jennifer Sommersby. I first read a very early version of this book several years ago, and have been so thrilled to follow its journey towards publication. Jenn is one of the sweetest people I know, and this book is AMAZING. So prepare to be dazzled.
First, a guest post from Jenn – then keep reading to learn more about Sleight and enter to win a copy!
When I hear horror stories about public education (and live through them with my own children), I reflect upon how incredibly lucky I was to have amazing teachers, pretty much my entire journey through the formative school years. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Ripper, at Alameda Grade School in NE Portland, put me in the reading group with the third graders because I was bored, and she encouraged me to write my little stories because it kept me from talking so much; Mrs. Williams, fourth grade, called home and told my mother than she should support my writing efforts because I seemed to have a flair for it; Mr. Williamson, Mrs. Bartell, Mr. Gass, all middle school teachers, didn’t dock my grades when they’d ask for a short story and I’d turn in twenty-five pages of an unfinished project that could probably have become a (likely terrible) novel. (I was long-winded from the get-go.)
And because I was always that type A, perfectionist student who wanted to be #1 in the class, I slurped up their praise like a kid with a Slurpee on the first hot day of summer.
But then, tragedy! A college professor told me a story I’d shared with him was “the worst thing he’d ever read.” Sadly, stupidly, I listened to him. Boom. Done. Throw away the pens and the Writers’ Market because you’re a poser and no one will ever read your garbage words.
I stopped writing for years. If this dude with a PhD and a comb-over thought I was an awful writer, I probably was, despite the fact that all the years leading up to this moment, I’d seen nothing but straight A’s across every English and creative writing pursuit. I’d hungrily consumed all those metaphorical Slurpees from well-meaning teachers who must’ve just been saying nice things to be, well, nice.
Oh, Jenn, Jenn, Jenn.
A terrible regret: letting Dr. Comb-Over’s opinion hamstring me instead of goading me on to do better.
Fast forward a few years.
At this point in my storied existence, I now have a busy one-year-old and a daughter in fourth grade who struggles with chronic ear infections; add to that my chronic tardiness (let’s blame the busy one-year-old because that’s easier than taking responsibility for being a terrible time manager)—and I am constantly writing notes to the teacher to excuse absences and late arrivals. Only I get bored of the “Please excuse Yaunna because she’s sick/the baby pooed on me again” notes, and I decide to embellish. Pretty soon, those excuse notes turn into small imaginings about the reasons Yaunna was absent or we were late. Usually involving fire, dragons, elephants raining from the sky, invasions by masked marauders, one of H. G. Wells’ terrifying tripods blowing up my minivan.
You know, regular suburban stuff.
The notes make the teacher laugh. Enough that she tells a few other teachers about them.
And then one day at pick-up, that teacher, Mrs. Robertson, says to me, a boring old mom with bad hair and a snot-riddled, teething baby on her hip: “You’re a good writer. Have you ever thought of doing something more with your notes than sending them to me?”
Ding ding ding!
Another teacher telling me I was good at something! It had been a long time since I’d heard someone say nice things about my writing.
The inspiration drought was over!
That one little pick-me-up at pick-up meant so much, in fact, I started writing a blog immediately thereafter, and then tiptoed into writing some short stories that I never showed anyone. Because scary! What if they hated them? I was very fragile—droughts always lurk, waiting to strike. Just look at California.
Slowly, I moved on to writing magazine articles and movie reviews that I had to show people because editors want to read the stuff you write.
Still okay—no one said I sucked. No one fired me for being terrible.
I took editing and proofreading classes, and then in 2007, I accepted a spot in the fiction cohort at the Writer’s Studio via Simon Fraser University here in Vancouver, BC. Steadily, the possibility of drought eased. I was growing a nice patch of green, writerly grass to sit on. As proof, 2007 gave birth to a short story about a thirteen-year-old girl named Frankie who lives with a traveling circus and has a pet frog named Hamlet.
Which sprouted into the book we’re presenting to you here today on Novel Novice. Frankie is now Genevieve, and that frog, well, she’s a 6500-pound African elephant named Gertrude. (And she’s a beauty.)
So, teachers, librarians, esteemed educators, if you’re out there, please NEVER underestimate the power you have to inspire your students (and the parents of your students!). The quiet confidence I gained from teachers during a childhood that was filled with familial tumult—it felt like a gift, a prize I could keep locked away that no one could ever steal from me. (Well, at least until I let Dr. Comb-Over into my head—writers, don’t let the naysayers in! Write more! Learn your craft! Be prepared to rewrite!)
All these years later, my inner type A, perfectionist student still survives—it just took the love of a teacher to open the closet a little, and invite her out for a Slurpee.
Thank you, Mrs. Robertson.
Something slams into her. The lyra whirls like a half-dollar spinning on its edge.
My mother is thrown backward.
And she falls.
Growing up in the Cinzio Traveling Players Company, Genevieve Flannery is accustomed to a life most teenagers could never imagine: daily workouts of extravagant acrobatics; an extended family of clowns; wild animals for pets; and her mother, Delia, whose mind has always been tortured by visions—but whose love Geni never questions. In a world of performers who astonish and amaze on a daily basis, Delia’s ghostly hallucinations never seemed all that strange . . . until the evening Geni and her mother are performing an aerial routine they’ve done hundreds of times, and Delia falls to her death.
That night, a dark curtain in Geni’s life opens. Everything has changed.
Still reeling from the tragedy, the Cinzio Traveling Players are also adjusting to the circus’s new owner: a generous, mysterious man whose connection to the circus—Geni suspects—has a dark and dangerous history. And suddenly Geni is stumbling into a new reality of her own, her life interrupted daily by the terrors only Delia used to be able to see.
As the visions around her grow stronger, Geni isn’t sure who she can trust. Even worse, she’s starting to question whether she can trust her own mind.
Represented by Victoria Doherty Munro at Writers House.
Romantic comedies under Eliza Gordon.
Ends on May 4th at Midnight EST!
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