While publishers regularly stage dual and group tours, it’s rare for authors whose books target different audiences to hit the road together. But Holly Goldberg Sloan and Julie Berry are doing just that, thanks to their instant bonding at this year’s BEA and Penguin’s high hopes for their fall books. Sloan’s Counting by 7s is a middle-grade novel released by Dial on August 29, and Viking published Berry’s All the Truth That’s in Me, a YA title, on September 26.
Counting by 7s is Sloan’s first foray into middle-grade fiction. Previously, she wrote a YA novel, I’ll Be There (Little, Brown, 2011), as well as a number of film screenplays, including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. Her new novel introduces Willow, a 12-year-old genius who, after her parents die in a car crash, pushes through her grief and finds a diverse surrogate family.
“I think my book is fundamentally about recovering from loss,” said Sloan. “One reviewer wrote that it isn’t a happy book, but it is a hopeful book, and that is how I would describe it. This is a very personal book for me. I dedicated it to one of my best friends from college, who passed away from cancer at an early age. And my first husband passed away very unexpectedly. Sometimes when you have to face loss you weren’t prepared for, it makes it all the more jarring. That’s what happens with Willow. She gets knocked down, but she gets back up and finds people who love her. Children are resilient – as human beings we have to be. We have to go on.”
Berry’s All the Truth That’s in Me, which combines a love story with a murder mystery, centers on a teen who disappears with her best friend and returns two years later, alone and unable to speak. The novel is written for an older audience than the author’s earlier middle-grade books, The Amaranth Enchantment and Secondhand Charm (both Bloomsbury), and the Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys (Grosset & Dunlap), illustrated by her sister, Sally Faye Gardner.
Berry laughed when asked about her inspiration for All the Truth That’s in Me. “Truthfully, it’s a really flat answer, and I wish it were sexier,” she replied. “I’d been reading about nuances of different points of view, and the challenges of using the second person, and I wondered if I could pull it off. And one day, as I sat on my bed surrounded by laundry, cats, and mess, I opened up my computer and a lone sentence came into my head: ‘You didn’t come.’ I began to wonder, ‘Who didn’t come and why?’ That became the first line of the first chapter, and I wrote that first page in one sitting. It was the clue to the rest of the book, and I had to follow it. It was kind of an accident, but the kind of accident you hope for.”
Fast Friends and Traveling Buddies
“It was love at first sight,” said Berry of the immediate connection that she and Sloan felt when they first met at BEA, where Counting by 7s was featured on the middle-grade editors’ buzz panel. “We had read each other’s books – I may be Julie’s biggest fan – and had emailed each other before BEA,” said Sloan. “We spent time together there, and it was great to have a chance to get to know and understand each other, and at the same time learn more about publishing.”
The duo’s camaraderie, and Penguin’s interest in promoting their books as lead titles, inspired the publisher to send them on tour together. “These are two dynamic authors who get along fabulously,” said Marisa Russell, publicity manager for Penguin Books for Young Readers. “While Holly is writing for a middle-grade audience and Julie for the YA crowd, we found that both books have such distinctive narrators and voices that they had to be highlighted together.”
Over the next two weeks, the two will attend dinners with booksellers in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Denver, and will appear at the Heartland Fall Forum in Chicago (hosted by the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association) and at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association meeting in Denver.
The tour’s agenda of meeting with groups of 15-20 booksellers over dinner suits both authors just fine. “The notion of spending quality time with booksellers – and eating– is very appealing to both of us,” said Sloan. Berry concurs. “We are dining our way across America talking about books. I see no drawbacks to this plan!” She added, “As writers, we largely hang out in our homes, libraries, or coffee shops working on books. To get the chance to have so much face time with booksellers, who we so depend on, is a real treat.”
Before embarking on their tour, Sloan expressed high hopes about their road-show act. “We’re ready to go. We’ll be Laverne and Shirley, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby,” she said. “We’re both incredibly shy – that’s a joke. And don’t like to meet people – another joke. In truth, we’ll be elbowing each other out of the way to talk to booksellers wherever we go.”
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Dial, $16.99 Aug. ISBN 978-0-8037-3855-3
All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. Viking, $17.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-670-78615-2