Monday, September 23, 2013


Have been sitting on this news since the end of June, but can finally announce that my new YA, FINDING PARIS, has sold to Alessandra Balzer of Balzer and Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins!

Here is the official deal announcement in today's PW:

Alessandra Balzer at Balzer + Bray took world English rights to Joy Preble’s Finding Paris, in a deal brokered by Jennifer Rofé at Andrea Brown Literary. Preble (The Sweet Dead Life) offers a book that, Rofé said, feels like “Speak meets 13 Little Blue Envelopes,” about a teenage girl whose older sister sends her on a scavenger hunt from Las Vegas to L.A., to protect her from a dark secret.

And here is the link:

I'll tell the longer story tomorrow when I have time to collect my thoughts.

But until then, I can say that this book was written last year once my dear and tough agent, Jen Rofe, finally convinced me to write the book I wanted to write rather than the one I thought I should write, which is not the same thing at all. The full tale to come.

FINDING PARIS is slated to hit shelves in Spring 2015, which sounds like a long time away, but in publishing terms is not long at all. And I am so thrilled that I am dancing!!

More tomorrow!

Monday, September 16, 2013


Mall Culture Heaven: French Fry Heaven!
So here’s the story: One day recently, it occurred to authors Tricia (PJ) Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Mary Lindsey and I that we all had new YA novels set in Texas. This is perhaps not surprising since we all live here in the Lone Star State – Mary and I here in Houston and Mari and Tricia in Austin. But the more we brainstormed, the more we realized that we really had a lot to say about not only why we set our stories here as well as the process involved in the specifics of a Lone Star state setting. Thus was born a panel presentation that we’ll be doing all over Texas this fall at a variety of regional library conferences. Sometimes it will be all four of us; sometimes it will be two. But it’s been both fun and eye-opening to look at the various aspects of setting a novel in Texas and what inspired each of us as well as what Texas elements play key roles.

To catch you up to speed: PJ Hoover’s SOLSTICE is a morph of dystopian and mythology, set in a slightly future Austin where global warming has changed a great deal. Plus two hot guys and one girl who is not quite who she thinks she is!  Mari Mancusi’s brand new SCORCHED uses a West Texas setting to begin a story that is best described as Game of Thrones meets Terminator and has—yup—2 hot guys (twins!) and girl and a dragon egg and a potential dragon apocalypse! Mary Lindsey’s SHATTERED SOULS series has—yup!—two hot guys and a girl who can help lost souls. Right here in Galveston. And finally, my SWEET DEAD LIFE series is about a girl whose brother returns from a fatal car accident as her less than angelic guardian angel, setting in motion a vast family mystery with huge global consequences. Also a cute guy who appears in book 1 for the beginning of a love story that will wind its way through the series. Just 1 guy. At least for now. And set – right here in Houston, with a few Austin road trips.

(Plus all our title start with 's'--something I just noticed)

For some stories, setting is an aspect, but it’s not crucial to the story telling. Certain romances, for example. The story is so much about the couple that the setting feels secondary. But imagine Twilight set in Miami? Uh, no. Even something like Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall is deeply intertwined to the specificity of a certain economic class in a certain type of suburban CT high school. At least as I see it.

So setting. For those of you who haven’t thought about setting since your 10th grade English teacher asked you to draw a map of Maycomb Alabama or whatever, there’s more to it than just a geographic location. Setting is everything: time period, social milieu, climate; time of year; physical and political environment and more. Here’s a quick Writer’s Digest article if you really haven’t thought about it in a while:

When my Soho Press editor first suggested the basic idea for the TSDL series, I remember being a bit nervous when I sent him an email saying that I would love to write this series but that I envisioned it set in suburban Houston. I figured he would say, ‘uh no,’ or perhaps, ‘hell no’ or perhaps wtf are you thinking, Prebs?’ But instead, he said, YES!

So why Texas? Well first of all, I live here. So the small societal details come easily to me because I live them every day. I mean let’s face it, there is a stunning specificity to the ‘wasteland’ of the northern Houston ‘burbs’ : Breakfast tacos and kolaches and mall culture and Olive Gardens and strip centers and stuff like how here in the more affluent suburb where I live, they’ve built us a town center that looks like a small town’s downtown, with stores built into old brick buildings. Only it’s just a façade. The buildings aren’t old at all, just a few years old, really. So in essence – a FAKE town center that everyone raves about. Stuff like that sticks in your head, you know?

So when my brain went whirring about where I would set a story about a 14 year old girl who’s older brother came back as a guardian angel, I thought WHAT BETTER PLACE than in the middle of giant high school football stadiums and Crocs kiosks and FAKE TOWN CENTERS, and western wear and cowboy boots devoid of actual farm work, and churches so enormous that they have a Starbucks inside (yes really) and a societal culture that often professes to have a pipeline to all the answers about faith and salvation and things of that nature. So, my brain said, what if the stoner dude (formerly a football star but down on his luck  and failing his classes because he’s been supporting the family since his dad disappeared and his mom went all depressed) in one of those ordinary suburban houses actually came back as his sassy sister's guardian angel? Right before Christmas. When the next door neighbors were putting out their lights and lawn angels? And became the most unlikely hero ever? And what if there was a big global mystery that could change life as we know it and its center was the Houston Medical Center? And the newly minted Texas boy angel and his narrator sister were at the epicenter of it all?

You see what I mean? Houston Texas was the PERFECT setting for this novel—for not only the main story but also much of the subtext. In fact, the setting works as a character of sorts. I can’t imagine this novel taking place anywhere else.

So what novels have you read where the setting plays a huge role in the story?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mugging Monday

Mugs! And my dishwasher!
Periodically, I've collected stuff. Books, of course. In high school I'd haunt used bookstores and library sales and obsessively searched out the paperback novelizations of the original Star Trek -- mostly written by James Blish, who wrote other sci fi but also did this on the side. Then there was the Buffy phase -- more books and other stuff -- it's sitting in two plastic bins on the top shelf of my closet....

But the mugs, well, I don't even know how it started. I don't have too many. They have to be just right. By this I mean: Odd, quirky or supremely memorable. The place itself is key. A mug that says I Heart Dobermans -- nope. A mug from the Texas Prison Museum where you can visit the real Old Sparky-- yup. Right now, I'm drinking coffee from my James Joyce mug. It's from our trip to Ireland, so it's great in that regard. I had a lovely grey wool cap from that trip, too, but I left it in a taxi in Manhattan last March and so it's the James Joyce mug that's left, and my memories of a lot of Jamesons in various pubs...

Back to the mugs: A few are sentimental: mugs from various school visits or Bethany Hegedus's Writing Barn in Austin. But mostly they're weird. Like the one for Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, WI. Have you been? Here's the link:
Or the Wagon Wheel Restaurant on Route 66 in Needles CA, where there was a corded phone at every booth! (This is topped only by the restaurant where we used to have breakfast when we lived in Albuquerque NM, where each table had its own toaster and the cords wound beneath your feet with dozens of fire-hazard extension cords in this devil may care way that delighted me no end. Just the thought that my English muffin might torch the place if I wanted it extra crispy! Like Breakfast Theater!) Here's the link to Wagon Wheel:

I love kitsch. What can I say.
(Also I love Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins! FNL!), but that has nothing to do with the mug topic)

The picture above has, from left to right: James Joyce (with my coffee!); Teague Middle School (school visit); Pea SoupAnderson's  (a strange Swiss chalet place on Hwy 101 where they serve, yeah, pea soup and everyone lines up for like a block. Here's the link: ; the aforementioned Mars Cheese Castle; Writing Barn ; and the aforementioned Texas Prison Museum. It is right up the road from me in Huntsville. It has a gift shop. (as does the Funeral Museum in Spring, but that's another story, too).

Let me know if you collect anything weird and why.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Character Study

Working on a new project the past few days. Took it for a test ride in critique group and that went well, so I would say that a new story is birthing itself and I am EXCITED! It is one thing to develop a character in pre-writing and another to put her on the page and see how she comes across. So I asked last night: Is she abrasive? Do you hear her voice? What do you think? Huh? Huh?

Thus today's topic: How do you find out who your characters are?

For me, it's a multi-step process and an on-going one. I can find some of the layers before I start the story. But I have to put my character in action to find the rest. Always, I am surprised. This girl -- my new mc-- surprised me right away. She had a talent-- a hobby if you will-- that she announced about page 2. I do so love it when my characters tug on my sleeve a lot.

If that sounds all 'new-agey' well, so be it. That's how it works. At least for me.

But to the nitty gritty of it, here are the steps I take:

I begin with a logline and a general overview of the book. What is it going to be about? What's the general plot? Who are my characters in general terms? How might I pitch this book to someone? (It's Game of Thrones meets the Simpsons but with less incest and clowns instead of dragons) In case you are satire-deaf, I am just kidding... maybe.... Okay I am. You know what else I think is funny? THIS!  (thank you, Maggie Stiefvater)

Okay, back now:

Then I spend some quality alone time with Ms. Laptop, creating character sketches. I try to go as deep as I can: looks, personality, name (I have secret places I go in search of names. I will not divulge them. Okay, I will divulge one. Nameberry. But that is only ONE, gentle reader. Actually, you might find it fascinating that a LARGE NUMBER of names in current popular YA fiction appear in the hipster names list on Nameberry. Just saying. Yup. Both Hazel and Grace are on that list. Possibly I am alone in finding this fascinating), backstory, hobbies, friends, sibs, parents, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, relationships.... As much as I can get. Often much of this changes later. But you have to start somewhere.

Anyway, then I research all the research-y stuff that must be looked up for me to get the general gist of how to, say, write a story set in 1995 in Pittsburgh with a family of one-legged pirates and their 16 dogs and a seal.  I am a research geek, so this never feels like work to me.

I noodle around with titles. I am usually largely horrible at this. Sometimes I nail it right away. Those are usually the times when my editor hates what I came up with.

Eventually, I write. And once the actual voice starts appearing on the page, I learn more.

Rinse, repeat until you get it right.

The basic thing I'm mining for is: Who are you? What do you want? Why do you want it? What matters to you most? What would you do if I ripped that away from you in the most painful way possible, just after you realized what you really wanted? Hmmmm?

I spend very little time on the literary stuff. I just hope it appears out of the ether and once it's there, I play with it in later drafts. i.e.-- I don't say, in this book I will use a stunning metaphor for life. I just hope that the muses present me with one and when I find it, I shake the heck out of it.

How do you find out who our characters are?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

And the Winner IS

Javalotta -- you are the winner of the signed copy of THE SWEET DEAD LIFE and the Sbux card. Please email me address at joypreble at gmail dot com