(or a note from a fangirl)
“Ellen Hopkins blurbed my book! Ellen Hopkins blurbed my book!”
It’s a song I’m singing, shouting. Don’t care if it turns into an earworm.
Ellen Hopkins blurbed my book. I knew she, Brilliant Queen of the Edgy YA Verse Novel had been asked to do so, but I didn’t ever for a second take it for granted that she would.
A disclaimer here. I DO know Ellen personally. And she’s fabulous. But anyone who knows her knows she’s incredibly principled and tough, and gets a lot of requests for blurbs.
I remember well the only conversation we had about it. It was a year ago in March. We were in NYC, standing outside her hotel. The wind was biting, but it was exciting being out there amid the hurly burly of cosmopolitans spilling out of cabs and rushing about in that purposeful way one associates with folks in New York.
I was still writing Freakboy and she’d seen a bit – a couple of poems that she deemed “strong”, but there was also some stuff in that early draft that needed work. And Ellen, the consummate teacher, noted this.
We’d been standing side by side, people watching, taking in the grandeur of the Very Fancy New York City Hotel where she was staying. She turned so that we were facing one another.
“You have to work harder than you’ve ever worked,” she told me, seriously. “I know you can write something special, but if you turn in something that I can’t blurb, I will be really mad at you. And I won’t blurb a book that isn’t exceptional, because then I would be mad at me… and it just isn’t worth it.”
I looked into her eyes, and I knew she meant it.
Then followed a year of the hardest work I’d ever done. I have an amazing editor at FSG, Joy Peskin, who helped me tremendously. It was challenging and fulfilling, doing this good work… but anxiety provoking, too.
Because I knew that my friend and hero Ellen was not going to give me a free pass.
When I finished the final draft in October, I knew that the manuscript had been sent to Ellen. And I knew that she was busy with school visits, and caring for her family, and attending conferences and festivals, and setting up her non-profit, Ventana Sierra. Still, knowing all of that didn’t stop me from freaking out when she didn’t get back right away with a yea or nay.
I actually went out to dinner with her during that time, when she was in the San Francisco Bay Area for a book event. We talked about other projects, and we talked about politics, and we talked about our families. But we didn’t talk about the blurb. She didn’t offer any information, and I didn’t ask.
Miss Manners offers no helpful etiquette tips in this sort of situation. I checked.
Months went by and I continued to work on revisions. And on starting my new book. And I wondered if I was going to need plastic surgery on my fingertips because I’d bitten my nails down past the quick and they were beginning to resemble slender vienna sausages.
By now other things were ramping up; new projects, other aspects of book making. I produced a show for an area youth theatre. I volunteered at Oulet, a local center for LGBTQQ teens. I was still nervous, but was learning to put my investment in the outcome of that particular thing on the back burner. I won’t say I’d forgotten it, but other things began to demand my attention and I wasn’t obsessing quite as much.
Here’s the thing about learning to let go of outcomes.
When you manage to do that, you create space for good things to happen.
No sooner had the show closed, the poetry workshop at Outlet been held, and my fingernails grown back in, than a note popped up in my inbox from my editor. The subject line was “YAY!!!!!” With no fewer than five exclamation points. “A blurb from Ellen Hopkins.” And when I opened it and saw that she had called my book “important” and praised its “startling insight” I wept. With relief, and joy and gratitude.
Then I began to sing. And shout.
Ellen Hopkins blurbed my book! Ellen Hopkins blurbed my book!
And I HOPE the little tune I set it to becomes an earworm, because I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that song.
Ellen Hopkins blurbed my book!