Debuting Within a Pandemic

I haven’t composed a blog post in a long time. It’s easier to post fun things like cover reveals and quizzes and games. Not because those things take less time—making those Derby Daredevils quizzes and learning how to code them took WEEKS—but because I don’t have to be as vulnerable in those moments. I get to sit back and have fun, like stepping into a roller coaster cart and letting the ride shuttle me across the park. With blog posts, it feels like I’m the engine pushing the cart up every. single. climb.

Even so, blog posts are good for me. It’s important to step out from behind the curtain, or at least yank it back every now and then so I don’t become a caricature of the happy-go-lucky writer. Last year I wrote about writing rejections and infertility. This year, I’m going to write about what it’s like to have the moment you’ve been waiting for your entire life crushed under a worldwide emergency.

But don’t worry. It’s not all bad. I’ll explain.

First, I do need to point out that the blog post I had planned for this month was not going to be about cancelled events, closed bookstores, and sheltering-in-place. It was going to be about my debut book—THE DERBY DAREDEVILS: KENZIE KICKSTARTS A TEAM.

Luckily, over the past few weeks I have gotten to share a lot about my work and the process behind it. If you pop over to my Press Kit page and scroll all the way down, I have 11 (!) new interviews & guest posts up, all about the Daredevils! You can find embarrassing childhood photos of me in a leotard (NOT underwear. It’s a leotard. I promise) as well as my impassioned opinions about queer themes in middle grade books and what it actually means to be “athletic” versus what I thought it meant in middle school. You’ll find all of that and more over there. But stay here for the vulnerable and timely wallowing.

On the first day of March, I was composing a super duper enthusiastic newsletter for subscribers. The letter included the schedule for my debut week in Austin, along with a list of fun things attendees could do in Austin if they were traveling to any of the events.

The night before I sent that email out, things changed. I rewrote the letter, now discouraging anyone from flying in. The next day, things changed again. I cancelled my trip even though we were driving instead of flying. Things kept changing. A few days later, the bookstore I was set to appear in cancelled the rest of the month’s events. My partner was abruptly asked not to go into work again if he could work from home. I stopped seeing my in-town friends. I stopped seeing my parents.

On the last day of March, I was throwing a fit about having to leave the house for a very necessary prenatal appointment. I hadn’t left the house in over two and a half weeks, and was terrified of venturing out.

Oh, how so much changed in one month.

I don’t need to tell you this, of course. Congratulations—we’re all living through history together! This is one of those moments, one of those times where the Before and After will be sharply defined thanks to this global pandemic. I’m not sure I will ever think of handshakes or large gatherings the same way again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing… but it is a thing.

My fear and confusion over the events that transpired in March was shared by so many people. Yet my particular perspective in all this was from the place of a debuting author.

Around a year ago, and up until the beginning of the month, I had thought the third week of March 2020 might possibly be the best week of my entire life. I had dreamed of being a published author since I was seven. Of course, I have to note here that the core of that dream is having a bound book sitting on the shelf. I am so incredibly fortunate to look up at my shelf right now and see that bound book—my book! Nothing can take that away and I know that.

But still.

There were other dreams wrapped up in that one. I dreamed of getting misty-eyed at my book launch, looking at a small crowd of people I loved who had supported me for years in this endeavor. I dreamed of attending my first ever conference as an author. I dreamed of visiting schools and signing copies of my book for students, maybe some of whom would be inspired to write a story of their own! Those things can still happen someday. But all three were set to happen that one week of March.

I thought my debut would be like walking into a full auditorium and standing under a spotlight that had been waiting for me for a very long time. Instead, my debut turned out to be one of those moments where the world said, “Not now honey, Mom’s busy.” And that was that.

I felt small. I felt insignificant. I felt a lot of self-pity. The poop icing on the cake probably came during my virtual launch, when in the middle of answering my first question in front of a bunch of friends and family who had logged in remotely… we were hacked by someone with a lot of pain and hate in their heart. And suddenly the screen, the computer speaker, and the audience chat box were overflowing with extremely inappropriate and terrible things. There was a flash, an instant, where I wanted to close my laptop and go cry in the corner for the rest of the year.

But I didn’t.

I sat where I was and tried to remain calm while our brilliant launch host booted out the hacker. I finished answering my question, and then the rest of the questions over the next forty minutes. I gave myself a thirty-minute pity cry when it was all over. But I didn’t sit out the rest of the year. I got up and planned my next bit of online promotion. I sat at my desk and brainstormed everything I could do as soon as schools and libraries and bookstores reopened. I peeked at my forgotten revision plan for my next project.

I decided that instead of waiting to be invited into the spotlight, I would make my own light.

I know I’m far from the only person to feel left out from their big moment because of COVID. I know high school and college seniors are hurting from missing out on the much-deserved pomp and circumstance of graduation. I know so many other spring 2020 debut authors. I know people who were getting married next month, or going on a really important trip, or getting ready to do something that has now been snatched away from them.

And we all deserve to feel upset over that. We’re allowed those feelings of bitterness and frustration and resentment. But we also don’t have to resign ourselves to saying: “That’s it. Moment is over forever. Life took a dump on me, the end.”

We can, whenever we feel ready, demand a rain-check.

And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

I’m going to go dark over here for the next month or two. It’s not because of what’s happening in the outside world, but more so what’s happening on the inside. I’m in my final month of pregnancy, and it’s time for me to gently close the curtains on social media and news and cocoon inside with my first child.

But you better believe that soon enough, I’ll be back with a million things I want to do and try and celebrate. I hope you’ll be here too to celebrate with me. And to bring your own new projects and ideas to the table so I can celebrate you.

One of the characters in THE DERBY DAREDEVILS tells Kenzie in Book 1: “Change happens no matter what, Kenzilla—you can’t control that. The thing to focus on is how you pivot and skate forward.”

March 2020 has changed everything, dear friends. But we can pivot. I know we can.

Skate forward. We got this.

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Illustrated and designed by Danika Corrall