Author Interview & Book Giveaway: COUNTING BY 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Goldberg-Sloan_Holly_290sqI’m excited to tell you that I have Holly Goldberg Sloan here today, answering some questions about her new middle-grade novel, Counting by 7sand more! I’m a huge fan of Holly’s debut, I’ll Be There, a heart-pounding, emotional, gorgeous novel that still makes me choke up when I think about it. Now Holly has turned her talents to a younger audience, and I can’t wait to read it.

And scroll down to see who won the giveaway!

NRS: You have a new novel coming out—COUNTING BY 7s, from Dial. I’ll share the jacket copy to give everyone a delicious tease:

In the tradition of Out of My MindWonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle-grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

Counting-by-7s-by-Holly-Goldberg-SloanMy response to this? …Wow. Cannot wait to read. COUNTING BY 7s is on sale tomorrow!

HGS:  Yes. Book launches are exciting and anxiety filled. It feels as if you wait for a long time after you’ve finished for the book to be edited and printed and get to the bookstore. And then all of sudden after all the waiting the day is upon you.

Your first novel I’LL BE THERE (from Little, Brown) is difficult to place in a category.  It’s contemporary realistic fiction, but if you had to put a label on it (and I see from COUNTING BY 7s that labels interest you), what else would you say?

HGS:  I think I’d call I’LL BE THERE a thriller. The category exists in the adult book world, and usually involves crime/detectives/murder. But in the YA world, I think you can have thrillers, which is another way of saying page-turners. Things HAPPEN. Or that’s what I hope anyway. And there is an element of danger.

But COUNTING BY 7s, your new book, is not a thriller.

HGS:  No.


HGS:  A story about loss. But it’s also about being found. It’s very personal to me, in many ways. Or at least the underlying emotions are very personal. One of my closest friends from college, Lisa Gaiser Urick, passed away from cancer. And the father of my sons (we had divorced when they were very young and I have remarried but stayed very close to my first husband) died of heart failure while swimming in the ocean. It was very sudden and we were not prepared. I was on a walk and my phone rang and I saw that it was my ex-husband. I spoke to him almost every day so that was not unusual. But he had just left for a vacation in the Virgin Islands. He would call me when he was out of town, so again I didn’t think anything when I answered the phone. But when it wasn’t him on the other end of the line, I knew something was very, very wrong. I think on some level, I’ve been in shock ever since. It’s been over two years and I still have trouble processing that he’s gone. And the same is true of Lisa. I still believe that it’s possible, somehow that I can find her.

And yet your book is not just about that kind of shock of sudden loss, it’s about what happens next.

HGS:  Exactly. And I have tried to do that embracing humor, and hope.

Do you think your books have magical realism? Do you believe that the things you write about could happen?

HGS:  That’s a hard question to answer without giving away spoilers, which I don’t want to do. There is almost nothing that irritates me more than reading a review where the plot is revealed. But I understand the point of the question and I will say this: almost everything that happens in my books has happened to someone that I know, or I’ve heard about. So to me, these characters and what they go through are real. They are grounded. I can answer that in a specific way if someone has read the book. But again, I retreat to the position of saying sometimes crazy things go down. People are not predictable. You think they are, but they surprise you. In all kinds of ways.


What would you be if you hadn’t become a writer?

HGS:  I’m very interested in architecture, so that would have been a possibility. And I also would have considered politics. I was a Political Science major at Wellesley (and also English literature) and at one point I thought that I’d live in Washington DC and work in government. My youngest son is there now, so maybe he’s fulfilling some kind of family destiny.

Holly Goldberg SloanI know you have another book coming out after COUNTING BY 7s. Tell us a little about it.

HGS:  I have written a follow-up to I’LL BE THERE.  It’s titled JUST CALL MY NAME. It’s coming out in 2014 from Little, Brown. I’m very happy with the novel, which I believe stands on its own merits and does not require reading I’LL BE THERE. Of course that might enhance the experience, but the characters in the first book had a lot of ground still left in them. I’m excited for that to come out next year.

So am I! I’m excited for both of your new books—and, lucky us, we don’t have to wait for the next one: COUNTING BY 7s comes out tomorrow, August 29, from Dial!

HGS:  And I guess now is the time in the process where I’d say “Read my blog,”—except I don’t have one. And I’d also say follow me @HGoldbergSloan on Twitter—but I’m a shy tweeter. What’s a bird with a very low voice? That’s me in the electronic world. So I’ll just end by saying thank you, Nova. You are a great writer, and great to writers.

Aw, thank you, Holly—and congratulations!


Counting-by-7s-by-Holly-Goldberg-SloanCongrats to Jocelyn Smith!

You won a copy of Counting by 7s!

Hope you love it.


The Night You Read with One of Your Favorite Authors

I wanted to tell you about last week, Wednesday night. It was probably the best experience at a book event that I’ve ever had.

I was excited to be invited to read at the wonderful Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel and held, once a month, at the awesomely red-tinged KGB Bar in the East Village. It was such an honor to be asked to read in the series, and all the more so because the author I’d be paired with that night is one of my absolute favorites… an author whose books I love, who actually (this really happened) blurbed my own novel and has taught me so much about this industry, this complex and crazy life of being an author, and inspires me as a writer: Libba Bray.

Libba, as sweet as she is, decided to read new work in solidarity, since I’d told her I would be reading an excerpt from my novel-in-progress. Plus, she was kind and accommodating when I begged to go first. (All the better to get it over with, and sit back and relax after, and enjoy her reading!)

Here we are in the nerve-wracking moments before I took the podium to read my pages:

(Photo by Ellen Datlow)
(Photo by Ellen Datlow)

Here we are trying to be frightening (I am not so convincing):

with libba scary
(Photo by Ellen Datlow)

Here I am reading, though doesn’t it look like I’m singing an aria here?

(Photo by Ellen Datlow)
(Photo by Ellen Datlow)

Here I am reading in the red-tinged light—this gives you a sense of the mood of the place, which I loved:

(Photo by Matthew Kressel)
(Photo by Matthew Kressel)

And here’s the wonderful moment in which I can breathe again and relax and listen to Libba read from The Diviners #2: Lair of Dreams—and she was phenomenal. Truly phenomenal. I absolutely cannot wait to read this book when it comes out. If you haven’t read book #1 yet, you must remedy that right now.

libba reading

I should explain why this felt like probably the best book event I’ve ever done: I love readings. I love to do them, and I love to hear them. Reading with Libba was thrilling, comforting, and exciting. KGB was the perfect space. And, most of all, I’d chosen to be brave this night—I’d chosen to read new work never before uttered aloud in front of other humans. I took a risk. And I’m so glad I did.

After I read the last words on my page, I remember how everyone broke out into a wave of applause, embarrassing but also delighting me. The response after my reading was incredible. The comments I got, the emails, the wonderful things people said. Thank you. E at my side, telling me I did good. And most of all: my own sense of accomplishment. I’d done a scary thing—and I even enjoyed it.

After, one of the kind people from my literary agency who came to see the reading said to me: Didn’t I say I get nervous? I mean, I blogged all about my nerves over public events and my deep shyness, didn’t I? That’s all true. But also true is that I’ve worked hard to be able to stand up in front of a room full of people—friends and professional contacts and fellow authors I so desperately want to be like and strangers among them—and be able to read words I wrote. It’s taken years to be comfortable in my own skin doing this (or at least comfortable enough to hide the nerves so they don’t show!). And I’m really so proud of how far I’ve come.

Readings are easier for me because the words are all down there on the page. I don’t have to improvise; I already did all the work of writing it. And when I say the words out loud, it sounds just like the book sounds in my own head.

I followed my own advice in that post I wrote, and I also didn’t. I did get a new shirt (though kind of hilarious that the shirt is a lot like other shirts I have already…) and I dressed for comfort; I did practice beforehand, at home in my apartment to the walls; I did eat a few hours before so I wouldn’t be light-headed; I even sent out that cringe-worthy email to friends and acquaintances telling them about the reading and hoped against hope that a few of them would show up so it wouldn’t be an embarrassment that no one came to see me. (Some friends did come; they actually did! Thank you, friends!)

But the advice I didn’t follow was this: I didn’t give myself options in what to read. I had a feeling that if I walked up to that podium with two choices: the scary new work that’s never been read before and the published work I’ve read and talked about numerous times, that I’d, well, I’d chicken out. I’d show myself to be a coward. I would have panicked in the moment, and I wouldn’t have read those new words.

So I left 17 & Gone and Imaginary Girls at home and I walked up to that podium with only one possible thing to do and say.

An added bonus: Thanks to this night, thanks to the response and the fact that I was actually courageous enough to do it, I feel a new sense of excitement about this novel. As I said at the reading, The Walls Around Us is due to come out in 2015. I’m still writing it. Everything can change between then and now, including every word I read that night, and even the book’s title.

But the electricity I felt while reading from it for the first time will never go away.

Thank you to everyone who came to see me. Thank you to Ellen and Matt for inviting me to read. Thank you to KGB Bar and WORD Bookstore for selling books. And thank you to Libba Bray.

The Fantastic Fiction at KGB series recently held a Kickstarter and now has enough funding to run for the next five years! It’s held the third Wednesday of every month at the KGB Bar in the East Village, and next month, on September 18, the featured readers are Christopher Barzak and Catherynne M. Valente.

As for me, it’s now time to relax and focus solely on writing, because I have no more public appearances until February 2014. I’ll be on a panel (with fellow authors Stephanie Kuehnert, Micol Ostow, Laurel Snyder, and Sara Zarr!) at the AWP Conference in Seattle, so maybe I’ll see you there and then.

Extra Little Announcement:

Do you want to take a YA novel writing class with me? I am leading a workshop and retreat in February 2014 at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Northern California. Applications are now open—and the deadline is October 18. APPLY! 

If you have questions about the workshop, feel free to email me directly.

YA Novel Workshop & Retreat in Northern California

Have you ever wanted to take a workshop from me… in person? Plus have retreat time to write new work in a beautiful location where other artists go to create? Plus, eat delicious food from an incredible chef (not me! I can’t cook!)?

I am excited to tell you that THIS is happening and applications are now open:

Djerassi shortcut path

djerassi-2014poets&writers-adDjerassi Writes: Young Adult Novel Workshop and Writing Retreat
with acclaimed author Nova Ren Suma

Sunday, February 9th–Friday, February 14th
Djerassi Resident Artists Program

Application fee

Workshop fee
Applicants accepted pending review of writing samples by Nova Ren Suma
$1500 includes workshop fee, 5 nights lodging, and all food (single)
$1000 special couples rate of $1000 each (shared room/bed)
Private Consultation of up to fifty pages of a novel

Deadline for submissions October 18th
Notifications by November 15th

Application Process:

Applications for the workshop can be accessed through this link:

Applications are now open!


Yes, this is an artist colony I’ve been lucky enough to visit on a residency, and now they’ve asked me to hold a workshop on the gorgeous, gorgeous campus in the Northern California mountains. Please feel free to email me at nova[at]novaren[dot]com with any questions or ask in the comments!

Fantastic Fiction at KGB Reading August 21

Next week—Wednesday, August 21—I’ll be at the KGB Bar in New York City reading with one of my favorite authors. Who might that favorite author be? She wrote this book of terrifying brilliance:

The Diviners

And, so you know, Libba Bray is terrifyingly brilliant in person too. Oh yeah. I’ll be there reading from something I wrote, also.

So if you’re in New York, come to our reading!

There will be books for sale courtesy of WORD Bookstore if you’re so inclined, and we’ll surely sign them.

Here are the details:

Fantastic Fiction at KGB is a monthly reading series held on the third Wednesday of every month at the famous KGB Bar in Manhattan. The reading series features luminaries and up-and-comers in speculative fiction. Admission is always free.

FANTASTIC FICTION at KGB reading series, hosts Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel present:

Libba Bray is the author of the New York Times bestselling Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible BeautyRebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing), the Michael L. Printz Award-winning Going Bovine, the Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist, Beauty Queens, and the recent 1920’s supernatural fantasy, The Diviners, as well as several short stories and plays. When Libba is not inventing excuses for missing various deadlines, she sings in the all-YA author rock band, Tiger Beat, and has considered selling Poetry Tampons(TM) on Etsy.

Nova Ren Suma is the author of the young adult novels Imaginary Girlsand 17 & Gone. Her next novel, a ghost story called The Walls Around Us, is forthcoming from Algonquin Young Readers. Her short stories have appeared inGulf Coast, Orchid, Small Spiral Notebook, New York Stories, and other literary journals.

Wednesday, August 21st, 7pm at

KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street (just off 2nd Ave, upstairs.)

A Dream


I had a dream that I had a magic wand. It was pink, with glitter. (I do not like the color pink, but go with me on this.) I could wave the wand and it would give me completed manuscripts. A wave, and The Walls Around Us was finished and ready for my editor. Another wave, and a short story appeared. Another wave, and the adult novel I want to write turned into a massive stack of pages on my desk. One last wave, and the secret project I’m working on was done and no longer such a secret. Waving my magic manuscript wand was SO easy. It was the best kind of magic I could hope for. I can’t tell you how terribly sad I was when I woke up and realized I didn’t have the wand and none of those manuscripts were actually written…

Until I remembered something.

I remembered that the reason I write isn’t for that final stack of pages all neat and collated on my desk. It’s for the *writing* part of writing. The feeling I get when I invent those pages, when I carve a good paragraph, when I create a character who surprises me. The process of writing, on good days, can be such a terrific high. A thrill and a deep sense of satisfaction that I’ve never felt for anything else in this life, ever. If I did have that pink, glittery magic wand from my dream, I’d never have a chance to experience this feeling again. And wouldn’t that be sadder?

5 Things I Learned from Losing Another Hard-Drive

Part of my story as a novelist goes like this: It was the winter of 2008. At least I think it was 2008—my memory and sense of time passing has been going lately, so let’s just assume I know what year it was. It was the winter of 2008 (probably). I’d written a quick-and-dirty draft of a novel during November, my first-ever attempt at NaNoWriMo, and I didn’t “win,” and I didn’t like the experience because I’m a revise-as-I-go kind of writer, but it wasn’t a complete waste because I had about 200, 220 pages. Sure, I found those rough pages shameful. Still I had a draft. A physical something. A start.

Then my laptop died. The hard-drive turned on itself and ate its own head. All data was lost and not even the angels of Tekserve (an Apple specialist computer shop in New York City, known for data recovery) could recover it.

I lost the draft.

I mourned.

I raged.

But the good news is I would then go on to completely rewrite the book from scratch and that book turned into Imaginary Girls, and while I’m sure losing the first ugly draft was all for the best, creatively, it was still a painful way to get some good words down, you know?

I lost other pieces of writing in that hard-drive crash, too.

Not to mention photos, songs, diary entries, notes to myself, stuff. Lots of stuff. I lost A LOT.

Because I hadn’t been backing up very often.

You’d think a writer such as myself would learn a lesson from the Terrible Winter of 2008: The lesson that computers are flimsy things that cannot be relied on. The lesson that you can count only on yourself, if your self is smart enough to back your shit up.

Well, since the big crash in the winter of 2008, I went through a whole other laptop. (Which died and is a whole other story.) Now I’m on another new one, a shiny new Macbook Air that is less than a year old.

This shiny, new, practically perfect Macbook Air that is less than a year old died on me a week ago today.

It froze while I was reading an article on the New York Times website, and with that, in a blink, it was dead.

That morning—after a visit to the Apple Store, then to Tekserve (because the Apple Store won’t even attempt to try to recover your data), I learned that the hard drive and had turned on itself and melted to oblivion and was gone to the world. Gone.

The replacement would be covered by warranty, as the laptop is so new.  And the tech at the Apple Store, and the tech at Tekserve, they both said to me, “But you’ve been backing up, right?”

And oh.

And ugh.

Because I remembered that I hadn’t been backing up as regularly as I’d meant to.

Because I’d gotten comfortable.

I’d gotten too trusting.

I thought for sure a bad hard-drive crash like the one in the winter of 2008 would not happen to me a second time… surely.

I thought Apple wouldn’t make a laptop so defective that it would die so horribly less than a year after I bought it.

I was dead wrong. And the writing I lost will be gone to me forever.

And the people who said, “Don’t you have Dropbox?” made me want to hurt them. (Because, yes, I do have Dropbox, but, no, it wasn’t set up to automatically back up for me.)

And the people who said, “Blah blah I back up every day” made me want to scream. (Because I used to do that and lately I’d been forgetting.)

And the person who did not back up every single day (me) is the person I am most angry at.

(My laptop returned to me, repaired and with a factory-fresh, blank hard-drive.)
(My laptop returned to me, repaired and with a factory-fresh, blank hard-drive.)

Here is what I learned from losing yet another hard-drive:

  1. Never get comfortable. Assume your laptop could break tomorrow. Could break in the next five minutes. Back up every chance you get, like a paranoid backup fiend. Do not trust anyone—least of all a soulless machine.
  2. Do not expect sympathy if you lose your writing because you were not backing up every day. No one cares as much as you do. No one but you even knows what you lost.
  3. Tell yourself the writing you lost was needing to be lost in order to become what it was truly meant to be. And prove it, by writing up a storm. Prove it by being better than you ever thought you could be.
  4. Sometimes there is joy in writing from memory. It’s even better than it was before, I know it. (And don’t let your doubts tell you different.)
  5. Oh, and buy a Time Capsule or sign up for some kind of automatic backup service if you’re okay with your files being out in a cloud somewhere. Now I am backed up every hour on the hour, when I’m connected to home wifi, so I can do an easy Time Machine restore if (face it: when) this ever happens again. Plus yes, yes, I know: Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox.

None of this is news. It was only a hiccup. A setback. And now I’m off and running and I’ll get everything back that I lost, everything and more.

PSA: Have you backed up your writing today?