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  • Writer's pictureT.J. Hendrix

My Biggest Fan(s)

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

My first book is alive. The only thing I can compare it to is watching your kid go off to college.

It's been a total Learn By Doing experience. First, how to take all the scenes in my head and the characters walking around in there, and thread them into a coherent story.

Then getting feedback from editors and critique group partners and kid readers and revising revising revising. Then the actual process of getting it printed and turned into a paperback.

Then came the scariest part. In order to sell a book, you need to get some good book reviews.

At first the idea of other people reading my fiction writing terrified me. Which was really weird, because I was a newspaper reporter for 14 years, and people read my writing all the time. Sometimes they loved the news stories I wrote; sometimes they hated them. I have had people call my editors and complain about my writing, or my reporting or that it was unfair or the headline was misleading (reporters don't write newspaper headlines headlines, but that's another story). I've had people stop me in the grocery store by the dairy section to tell me how much they loved what I wrote. I've had people give me dirty looks from across a restaurant throughout a whole meal after they didn't like a story in which I mentioned them.

But that's non-fiction writing. It's just the facts, with some description and explanation thrown in. Or if I wrote a newspaper column, it was just my opinion about something going on. All the feedback just goes with the job.

But the idea of critics and reviewers reading my fiction writing? Horrifying. In a scary movie kind of way. What if people said it was awful? Worse, what if everyone agreed it was awful? That's personal. Incredibly personal. But if you want to sell a book, you have to get good book reviews. So off went The Pack, The Dare and The Draugar into the world of professional book reviewers.

One of them was an American book review magazine called Kirkus Reviews. It's been around since the 1930s. Now they review 10,000 books a year; if you've bought a book in the past 20 years, chances are it had a Kirkus Review quote on the cover.

I was on pins and needles after The Pack went out for reveiw - a process that would take three months. It only got worse as time went on. What if the Kirkus reviewer I got was like my second grade teacher, Mrs. Wells? Shudder. What if he/she were like Gordon Ramsay and I was on Hell's Kitchen for Books and I'd dropped a whole bowl full of prepped words on the floor?

I wrote terrible reviews in my mind.

Then a Kirkus email showed up in my in-box. I held my breath for a few seconds and then clicked on it, feeling like I was the hero in one of those action movie scenes picking which colored wire to cut to diffuse a time bomb.

And then I nearly fell of the chair. It was good, it was in fact great, and it was better than I ever expected it to be. "This imaginative fantasy by debut author Hendrix becomes a roller-coaster ride into the supernatural...throughout, Hendrix adds real-world substance to the plot with a framework of the area's folklore, history, geography and ecology...Lively and sometimes surly preteen characters helm this fresh, well-crafted supernatural fantasy."

- Kirkus Reviews

I went on Facebook (my private Facebook) and started a post that went "OMG OMG OMG," and told all my friends. And then the Publishers Weekly review came in. (I got it because I entered a PW writing competition, The BookLife Prize 2021.)

"A unique and engaging story...readable and entertaining...the combination of realism and supernatural elements allows for...novelty and surprise...The prose is straightforward and easy to follow, making the story accessible to a wide engaging and fun read for middle grade audiences."

- Publishers Weekly BookLife Prize 2021

It was like getting an "A" on your final paper or thesis from your toughest university professor. Take that, publishing world. My little book baby got an "A." I'm still doing the happy dance. Sure, the best review ever was when my first test reader, my Texas niece, wrote "I give it five stars!" on her manuscript. (She was 13 at the time).

I thought those were the best reviews I'd ever get. Turns out I had one more coming. My father finally started reading my book this month. It's not his genre. He's 81, and a former high school history teacher and middle school vice principal. If he's reading a book, it's either history or politics.

I went over to visit with my parents last week and return my mom's pie plate. When I walked in I found him sitting in his chair with a copy of my book.

He looked at me kind of startled and said, "I'm finally reading your book! I can't put it down! It's really really good! I'm so proud of you!"

If you've read the book yet, you know that redwoods, and redwood forests, are a very big part of the story.

So we talked about all the time he spent in the redwoods with his family as a kid in the 1940s and 50s -- memories the story brought right back to him. The sounds. The sights. The nighttime walks with his sisters and aunts and uncles. Just like he was there. I was completely happy, in an "I've done my job here!" kind of way.

"Don't tell me the ending! Don't tell me the ending!" he insisted, but then he started guessing about what would happen next in the story. I was having a hard time keeping a poker face, but I didn't give any clues. (He was at the part where Harmony accepted the dare in the dining hall.)

Then he said he was reserving judgment, but that "I might have to give you a nickel for this!"

It's our joke.

When I was a little girl and then a teen he would give me a nickel for big occasions and whenever he was proud of me. For one or two birthdays when I was in elementary school, he gave me a card with a nickel taped inside. He smiled while I roared "DAAAAAAAAAD!" because I couldn't believe I was actually only getting a nickel for my birthday.

A real wrapped present would always make an appearance later.

When I turned 13, my father gave me a nickel with "13" hammered into it. He'd bored a hole into it and hung a little chain through it. I kept it on my keychain until I lost it sometime in my early 30s. I was sad on the day I picked up my keys and realized it was not there anymore.

Twenty-five years down the road, I still miss that nickel. So when my father told me my book might earn me a new one, I was touched straight to my heart. "A nickel! Wow dad, you really like it!"

"Now now, it's too early to say officially yet," he said solemnly (and joking), "but I think I might owe you a nickel for this book." Damn. It must be a good book.


The book is The Pack: The Dare and the Draugar, and it's available on Amazon and at Copperfield's Books in Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and Petaluma; The Gallery Bookstore and Bullwinkle's Childrens' Books in Mendocino; Books Inc. in Campbell and in the Marina in San Francisco, and two as yet unknown bookstores in Europe: one in England and one in Germany.


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