Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spilling Secrets

Several really cool things happened while I was in New York to accept the Josette Frank Award from the Bank Street College of Education for The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones. 

First, the newsy stuff:

Aside from the awards ceremony (which I wrote about last time), the date (April 6th) happened to be Sammy Keyes' birthday and was (by complete coincidence) also  the day that sample copies of the first three repackaged Sammys landed on my editor's desk. So I got to hold them for the very first time - a super cool way to celebrate Sammy's day!

Besides the whole 'rebirth' thing, the books are "so pretty and shiny!" and inside there's a new "What Do You Think" class/club questions page, which I think makes for a really helpful addition. Series tend to get dissed in terms of substance, but there's always something to think about / discuss with Sammy Keyes! 

For example: 

"Sammy and Marissa have such different homes and families. What are the pros and cons of each?" 

"Why do you think Sammy was so determined to help Holly? Why is Holly so reluctant to take her help?" 

"Sometimes things have surprising value. The value can be monetary, but also sentimental. In your own life, what things are of most value to you?"

The questions are gentle enough to not feel like homework, but substantive enough to encourage thought and discussion. I like that balance. 

The first three books become available on May 2nd, and on the high-top heels of that, the next batch (#4-8) is in the process of being finalized. 

The art (which I also got to see while in New York) is awesome, but I've also been under deadline to turn in tweaks to the text. All those Sammys plus my last-chance read-through of Wild Bird before it goes to press added up to the enormous stack of pages on my desk. I've been a reading machine!

The non-newsy New-Yorky thing I wanted to share with you has to do with the dinner I had with a small group of book people. It's always fun to be out with book people. Conversation is lively and thoughtful and fun. This was a dinner in my honor (because of the awardy-thing for The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones), but I didn't want the focus to be on me. I had already spilled a lot of personal stuff about my "secret life" during my acceptance speech and didn't really want to talk about me. So I suggested that we go around the table and everyone share about their "secret life." Fair's fair, right?

There were about ten of us at dinner, and some of the people had known or worked with each other for many years. But as we went around the table, new and surprising things surfaced. It was fascinating. It wasn't so much a "secret life" thing as it was the sharing of things that others didn't already know about them. One of them worked at a tire store. One of them had danced on Broadway. Everyone had something fascinating about them that the others hadn't known about them before. 

It drove home to me how you can work alongside someone for years, but not really know their personal story. Or what built them into the person that they've become. Maybe it's just easier that way. In my acceptance speech, I talked about how I didn't share about my past life with my new colleagues when I became a teacher because it was too hard, too complex, and really, how could they ever really understand?

In new friendships, I think we tend to start at our meet date and move forward from there. But with lasting friendships, I think it pays to also look backward. Not in a prying way, more in a Tell-Me-Something-I-Don't-Know-About-You way. 

You already know about my "secret life" - the life I had before I became an author which, not coincidentally, is also the life that led me to writing. (If you missed it and are curious, go to the previous post - there's a link.) And you already know about Lincoln Jones's secret life. And Sammy's - talk about a secret life!

So now it's your turn. Some of you have been reading this blog for years. We're all "friends at the blog," so share something about your life. 

Tell us something about you.

As always, thanks for checking in. Looking forward to seeing you in the comments!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Aiming at Brave

I'm pretty sure the forty Bank Street College of Education committee members who sorted through six thousand titles to find a winner for each of their award categories were expecting to hear about The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones from their fiction category winner, not about the author's secret life. 

But since the two are tied together, and since I've come to accept that I can learn from my characters, I took a cue from Lincoln and aimed at being brave.

Any time you open yourself up, you make yourself vulnerable to all sorts of things. It's easier, safer, to keep the windows closed, the curtains drawn. So I was conflicted about sharing this story, these pictures, and my past life with the audience. They're things I've only talked about generally, if at all. Things that still make me weep to revisit. But, channeling Lincoln, I summoned my courage and decided that facing my fear was the only way to conquer it.

My publishing peeps!
I was last on the program, which could have meant that I'd be completely short-circuited by the time it was my turn. But the other honorees' talks were so informative and entertaining that I was wonderfully engaged in their stories and not even thinking about my own.

First up was the category of non-fiction which was shared by three books. Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay is a picture book about a young girl who lives in a garbage dump town and finds hope in making a violin from debris. The author and illustrator were both present to tell their sides of creating this book--it was fascinating!

Next in the non-fiction category, Leigh Walton, the editor of March: Book Three, accepted the award on behalf of the authors. He brought a new angle to a book that has received enormous notice and many awards, something I really enjoyed.

And the final non-fiction award went to Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story. The author, Caren Stelsen, shared her research and how she worked with Sachiko for many years to write this book. Her talk really underscored how dedicated authors are to "getting it right."

Then, in the poetry category, author Julie Fogliano accepted her award for When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for all Seasons. Her talk was funny and sweet and unassuming and...wonderful. The parts about her denying she's a poet made me laugh out loud, but I especially love how her friend helped her get writing again after other pressures and responsibilities in her life had caused her to stop. 

And then it was my turn to talk. Which I did. And survived.

If you're interested in hearing any of the program, you can find the whole thing on the KidLit TV site. My part is only 10 minutes long and starts somewhere around 1:20. Focus on the pictures, not my quivering voice. 

As always, thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Happy Birthday, Sammy!

I am getting ready for next week's trip to New York, so this will be a short post, but I did want to point out one very important thing:

Thursday (4/6) will be Sammy Keyes's birthday!

How old this year?

Well, I'd say she's turning "thirteen all over again," but if you're a Sammy fan you already know that she has managed to (finally) put that number behind her. We think.

I hope you'll take a moment during your day on Thursday to wish Sammy a happy birthday in whatever form suits you. Take a shortcut. Ride a skateboard. Wear high-tops. Boycott fuzzy pink sweaters. Maybe even mix up some mac'n'cheese'n'salsa. (It is, in fact, god-like.)

If you want to post or send me pictures, I would love that.

And please know that I'm grateful for this community, where I'm not alone in thinking Sammy's birthday should be celebrated.

See you soon!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hope, Heart, and Making a Difference

The original cover 
Here's the thing about being a teacher: You're the one left behind. I'm not talking about pay structure or professional status, I'm talking about being left behind by the students. 

Each year teachers ready their classroom, prepare their strategies, devise fresh ways to enrich the curriculum and seed knowledge, then greet a whole new crop of kids, who for nine months will grow stronger and smarter with the care and feeding of considered education. And then, in a buzz of summer break excitement, those students will dash out the door, and out of your life. And you will likely never have a definitive answer to the question all teachers ask themselves: Did I make a difference?

I know this because I did this cycle for fifteen years.

I didn't teach at the cuddle-kid level, where intrinsic rewards can come in spurts of little hugs and tearful goodbyes. I taught high school. Semester courses. Six of them each semester for fifteen years. Somewhere between 28-33 kids per class. Let's call it an average of 30 k/cl. 

When I multiply 6 x 30 x 2 x 15, I get 5,400 students. Some of these took  more than one of my courses, so let's just round down and say approximately 5,000 kids came through my classroom during my tenure as a teacher. I poured my heart and soul into making school fun and educational, into making kids feel like my room was a safe haven--a place they belonged. I ran myself ragged in the pursuit of excellence, especially after I became a mom. I was on my feet all day and lost weight to a point where people thought I was anorexic. I wasn't, I just wasn't taking care of myself the way I was taking care of everything else. 

The new cover
And at the end of fifteen years, I looked back and wondered ... had it been worth it? 

Had I made a difference?

Because, really, that's the reason we teach.

My novel Runaway had been an idea long before it became a book. And the reason it took me so long to begin writing it was because I didn't know how to end it (and I won't start a book unless I have an ending in mind). 

In case you're not familiar with Runaway, it's the journal of Holly Janquell, a girl who runs away from bad foster care shortly after her teacher, Ms. Leone, gives her a journal in an effort to help Holly "turn the page." 

Suddenly, Holly's gone.

And Ms. Leone has no idea what's become of her troubled student. 

I had the basic plot for the book. And I knew where I was going, just not how to end it.

And then one day I was out on a run and the idea for how to end the book hit me like a bolt of lightning. I know exactly where it happened. No, the earth isn't charred there, but it did get sprinkled. The idea hit me so hard that I stopped in my tracks, gasped at the emotion of it, then started crying. Right there in the middle of my run, I got all weepy and overwhelmed and, you know, spastic. 

Because if what happens at the end of Runaway were to have happened to me as a teacher, I would have bawled my eyes out. In the very best, happiest of ways. 

And no, I'm not going to spoiler it here!

Runaway was first published in 2006. The reason I'm bringing all this up now is twofold: 

First, authors experience a thing similar to teachers. We write stories, they go out into the world and we have no idea if the story we poured our heart and soul into has had its intended effect. Did readers understand what you were trying to say? Did they feel it in their heart? Did it make them think? 

The teacher letter
Did it make a difference to anyone? 


Because, really, that's the reason we write. 

I have gotten some beautiful, heartfelt letters from teen readers over the years. But this week, eleven years after Runaway went out into the world, I got a letter from a teacher. (See sidebar.) What he wrote made me weepy-happy because it tells me that yes, he understood. Yes, he felt it. And yes, it made a difference.

The second reason I'm bringing this up now is because we have finally completed the Runaway book trailer. Faithful readers of this blog know that it's been in the works for, what? Eight or nine months? Introducing a trailer after a book has been out for so long is not normally done, but we wanted to do something to celebrate the new cover and help Runaway find new readers. Not that a 90 second trailer should take nine months, but when you watch it, you'll better understand why it did. (Yes, that's the Los Angeles River.) (Oh. And a little trivia: The place where you'll see Holly in the bushes writing in her journal? The path right beside it is where I had my stop-in-the-trail moment.)

So, I will link to the trailer, but before I do, I have a request: Sometime soon, tell the teachers who have made a difference in your life that you appreciate them, and why. This is not hard. They are out there. Teachers love Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Find them. Post to their wall. Send a direct message. Something. It may be just what they need to find the strength to go on in their career. 

And while you're at it, tell your parents. Or your kids. Tell the people who matter that they matter, and why. 

Because, really, that's what we all live for.

And now, here's the RUNAWAY TRAILER. Please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please send light and love out for others to catch. This story is all about hope and heart and making a difference. Help it find its way to the people who need it. 

As always, thanks for stopping by. See you in the comments!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

There's a Turtle on My Title!

This week I received my author copies of Vietnam's edition of The Running Dream. I love my foreign editions. They're fascinating. I may spend more time marveling over them than I do the original book when it's finally something I can hold in my hands. By then, I've been over the manuscript dozens of times and figure there can be no surprises. 

That's not always the case. 

Sometimes the surprise is good - as in Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye, where there was the absolutely wonderful surprise of the fancy endpages. 

And sometimes the surprise is not good - as also in Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye where the dedication page was (and is still) missing. 

Usually, though, it's a matter of receiving the book, admiring it for a a little bit with the feeling of immense gratitude that it's finally, finally a real book, and then getting back to work.

The foreign editions are different, because everything about them is new and fascinating and mysterious. And the idea that I'm holding a book that I wrote but can't read gets me every time!

Sometimes the editions arrive and the art is a complete surprise. For example, when I received copies of the French translations of Sammy Keyes, I was shocked to see that Sammy's name had been changed to Sara Kay. 

Who the heck was Sara Kay?

And why make her look like an angry Nancy Drew?

My agent assured me that the foreign publishers understand their marketplace better than we possibly could and to trust them. I have learned to do that. The Sammy Keyes books have done well in France, so maybe a girl with (what seems to be) a boy's name wouldn't fly in their market. 

Sometimes the foreign publisher gets cover approval from the author prior to publication, which was the case with this Vietnamese version of The Running Dream. And I did do a double-take about the art. With the framing trees and the starry feel, it seemed to be art more representative of Flipped.

So I asked my agent about it, and she relayed my query to the publisher in Vietnam, who replied with this explanation: Our keyword is "dream". We show a healthy girl sleeping peacefully, as if after a fierce struggle. It's like a dream within a dream of Jessica.

They also said they felt the artwork would do well in their market, so I'm trusting that it will.

Some other interesting details about the Vietnamese edition: The title, “Đường đua của những giấc mơ,” translates to something like “Race Track of Dreams,” and the book comes with a nifty star-shaped bookmark. Each chapter is labeled "Chuong" which translates to (big surprise) "Chapter," but it's the section headings that I haven't been able to figure out. I think this is because the "a" used in "PHAN" has a special symbol over it. Or a combination of marks. 

The translations I've come up with are "Chalk" or "Phase." I'm pretty sure neither is correct because in analyzing the language, there are a variety of special symbols (and combinations of them) put on letters that change the meaning. The one (or combination) over this "a" looks like a turtle going to the left. There's also a turtle heading to the right on "ket" below "PHAN." (I'm sure these 'turtles' have nothing to do with slow and steady winning the race, although I'm applying my own symbolism anyway!)

So, see? It's fascinating. And that I can't read a word of it makes it even more so. 

If you have any knowledge of the Vietnamese language, please share with us in the comments. And if you know anyone who'd be interested in the Vietnamese translation, here's a link.

Thanks for checking in. Here's to happy surprises landing in your mailbox. Looking forward to chatting with you in the comments!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spastic and Weepy

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's contest. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, to ask for your favorite quote or  scene, but it  made for a really wonderful week for me. There was such a range of favorite scenes, and I loved each and every comment. 

As promised, I put all the entries in a hat- - a hat that some of you may recognize from the Sammy Keyes Goodbye party - and the name I drew was...Yusa! So congratulations, Yusa! Send me an e-mail with your snail mail address and I will get your box packed and sent.

Now on to this week - I'd like to invite you to New York! Or, more practically, I'd like to invite those of you in the New York City vicinity to come to the Bank Street College of Education's Children's Book Awards ceremony. I was stunned to learn that it was open to the public, so if you're interested, you can just show up! 

The awards are broken into three categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

This year they have 3 winners in the Non-Fiction category - one for younger readers (Ada's Violin) and two for older readers (March and Sachiko).

When Green Becomes Tomatoes won in the Poetry category, and The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones won in Fiction.

Each award recipient will give a short talk (5-10 min). I've been told that, so far, Susan Hood, the author of Ada's Violin and Leigh Walton, the editor of March will be there to accept, as will Julie Fogliano, author of When Green Becomes Tomatoes.

I'll be there, too, for Lincoln Jones!

The wonderful thing about being recognized for you work is...well, that your work has been recognized. It's really nice validation for all the sweat and tears you poured into creating your story.

The unnerving thing about being recognized for your work is...well, that you have to talk about your work. How do you boil down the essence of what took years of your life to create? How do you explain why it's important without sounding, you know, self-important?

Some people are good at this. They're eloquent and at ease. Me? I'm spastic and weepy. Even when I've coached myself into believing it's going to be a breeze - and even if I have to speak for only 5-10 minutes - somehow I turn spastic and weepy.  

I've been told that it would help reduce my level of s tress if I had a few tried-and-true speeches that I could pull out and use. But I'm terrible at delivering speeches from the page. It feels so stiff. I've witnessed lots of other authors deliver do it to great effect, so I don't know what my problem is. I recognize that I'm the creator of my own anxiety, but even if I had some tried-and-true speeches that I could deliver well, it would feel like cheating. Every event is different. Every audience is different. And every time I think about what I want to say - what would be most appropriate for that particular audience - it turns out different.

Anyway, thinking about what I want to say - and convey - in the 5-10 minutes allotted for me to speak at this awards ceremony, I realized that for this book and this audience, I needed to go where I have never gone before. 

Which means I'm starting from scratch.

I'm not going to go into detail here. I'm just going to show you one picture from the slides that I'm putting together. 

Yes, that's me (many years ago). 

Yes, that's a pipe wrench in my hand. 

What does this have to do with The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones?

More than you can possibly imagine.

The rest I'm saving for Bank Street.

If you've read through to this point, you are probably one of my faithful readers. So if you're also someone who lives near New York City and has been wanting to get your collection of books autographed, here's your chance: Following the awards ceremony, BSCE is having a booksale/signing, So come. Bring your stacks. I will make sure they get signed. 

And don't worry - I'll leave the pipe wrench and coveralls at home. 

As always, thanks for stopping by. See you in the comments!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Flipped Audio GIveaway

There's a lot of stressful stuff going on here this week. It has me in a time crunch...but there's always time to give away something, right?  

So...who wants Listening Library's newly released Flipped audio book? 

It's six CDs in a nifty case and it's been awarded an  AudioFile Magazine Earphone Award, which means that Tara Sands (who voiced Juli's parts) and Ryan Gesell (who did the voice of Bryce) are amazing in this...and they are!

Closing things out on Disc 6 is the new bonus material, which addresses demands for a sequel, and shares some behind the scenes stuff about the book-to-movie experience. 

Since I wrote that part for the anniversary edition like a long letter to my readers, Listening Library thought it would make sense to have it narrated by, well, me, which I wrote about back in November.

I was afraid to listen to that part, but today I finally did. And you know what?

I made myself laugh a few times!

So that's a good, right?

If you want to enter the drawing, all you have to do is leave a comment at this post (below) where you share one of your favorite scenes or a quote from ANY of my books. It doesn't have to be long or fancy--just tell me what made you laugh, cry, think, whatever. If you have two favorites, leave two separate comments, but no more than two entries per person. It'll be fun for me to see what resonated with you, so please do enter!

Deadline is midnight (PST) on Friday, March 10th. I'll print the comments, cut them into strips, and pick a winner "from the hat." The winner will be announced right here next weekend and I'll get that person's mailing address afterwards via email. (Due to shipping complications, USA residents only, sorry!)  

Oh, and you know me -- I'll cram the box full of an assortment of signed books, and I'll make sure that a copy of the Flipped anniversary edition is among them.

Thanks for checking in and for playing along. Good luck, and I'll see you in the comments!