Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's Christmas!

No post this week--Merry Christmas everyone!
(Would love to hear about your holiday celebrations if you'd like to share!)
Back to our regular programming next Sunday--see you then!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Diary

I know I’m in the middle of a Mini Horror Stories Blitz about places I’ve lived, but today was a milestone day--my son’s 18th birthday—and this is the year he got The Diary.

I did one for his brother, too, and really, they’re mostly just mommy mush. You know—entries about how adorable they are or what new milestone they’d reached, clear through their academic or sports or music accomplishments…that sort of thing.

I tried to just leave what I’d written over the years alone and allow the enthusiasm of being Mom override the critical self-evaluation of being Author. But as I was reading through the pages, preparing the text to take to the book binder, I found myself cringing over the number of times I’d used the word “awesome.” So I did do some snipping, but the end result is still more like a home movie than something anyone (besides the star) would actually want to see. That’s okay. It’s just for him, anyway. Mommihood gets a pass on real editing.

Now, in keeping this diary, I didn’t go back and reread it as I went. I would just add something to the end of the Word doc and close the file until the next time. The text added up over the years to more than 200 pages, but I confess to not remembering what was in those pages until I “edited” the entire thing a couple of months ago.

Being reminded of his little childhood antics and his first bike ride and how he came “from the Land With No R’s” brought back a flood of happy memories, but it was also interesting to read about things I'd said I was putting in for “historical perspective” –things like dreaming of getting a book deal, recording music, wish-wish-wishing we could move out of our rundown rental and into a house of our own—because it was all in the voice of someone who had no way of knowing what the future actually held.

I could dive back into the Mini Horror Story Blitz here and tell you about that rental, but despite the recurring mold, the peeling plaster, the leaky roof and the dangerous neighborhood, that little rental wasn’t one of the places I’d intended to tell you about.

Maybe because it was a place I lived after Mark and I got married and love makes anyplace bearable--even  if you have to share it with bugs and drips and drafts and dead cats.

Yeah. Let me stop right there.

Or maybe I should promise that someday I'll tell you about Dead Cat Bob and his clones, but not today

Today I’m feeling like a little excerpt from my son’s diary might serve a better purpose: to give those of you who dream big dreams to not give up hope. As I’ve learned from my own experiences, if you hold onto your dream and just keep working toward it, eventually your day will come. So here’s me talking to my very young son about my very big dream, not knowing if or when my day would ever come. (The excerpt picks up after I’ve explained what a typical working-mom day was like for me, and that Mark had already had many articles published by various music magazines, and had just landed his first sci-fi story in Aboriginal magazine.)

Me, I weigh in with the most words written for no money, but I keep telling myself that will change. Right now, Walking on Sensitive Grass and Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief are under consideration at HarperCollins Publishers, but the editor there is just taking her sweet time and I'm getting really frustrated. It's been over a year since I submitted the rewrite for Sensitive Grass and a good 6 months since I submitted Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief and was told that she'd get back to me "soon." So, what I've done is start on Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man and right before Christmas I sent her the first three chapters. I hope to hear from her very soon. Meanwhile, I'll try to keep writing, but it's slow going with this chronic lack of sleep.

As you know there’s a happy ending to this, but at the time I didn’t know what the outcome would be. And as it turned out, I still had a while to wait. The Sammy Keyes series wasn’t picked up until after I’d written the first four books. Still, day to day, I didn’t know that it would take so long. Day to day I just kept hoping that today would be the day.

So whatever your dream, wherever you may be wishing you didn’t live, keep working, keep believing.

Eventually, it will be your day.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Living Quarters (Mini) Horror

Continuing from last week’s theme, I find myself realizing that the second place I was going to relate to you has never made it into a book. Probably because it’s not really that unique. Anyone who’s had roommates will likely say, oh, that’s nothing! So I probably should skip it altogether, but I tell you what—instead, I’ll use it as an invitation to have you tell me your favorite living quarters horror story.

Actually, the Place That Hasn’t Made It Into A Book might do so at some point because it was weird in a fairly normal way…which can be deceptively insidious. I rented a room (inside the house this time) from a family—a husband, wife, and two high-school-aged daughters. The room was cute, the rent was cheap, and the family seemed nice.

It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that the girls resented me being there—one of them eventually confessed that this was true but assured me that it wasn’t me—they just didn’t like strangers in their home and were mad at their mother for bringing in a renter.

So yeah. Awkward.

And even though I had been told that I could have full use of the kitchen, it also became clear that the mom was very proprietary about her kitchen. Any time I used it I was chastised for not cleaning up adequately. I was tidy, don’t get me wrong. I just hadn’t grown up in a household where you dried the sink after you cleaned your dishes, or folded the dishtowel before hanging it inside the drying ring. It was always something, to the point where I rarely used the kitchen. One evening, however, after daring to make some popcorn, the mom called me down from my room. “Wendelin, I need to see you immediately.” So down the stairs I ran and what was so urgent? A single kernel of corn. It was under the toaster oven and I have no idea how it got there, but she did the “big reveal” and what could I say? I apologized, cleaned it up, and that was the last time I used the kitchen.

Which was the intended goal, I’m sure.

What really put this place over the top was that one afternoon I was home studying (I was in graduate school at the time) and coming from the room beneath me I could hear a loud thumping. And then screaming! And then loud, obscene swearing and more cries and thumping!

So I tore downstairs and I flung open the door to the room, sure that someone was in the middle of getting murdered, only what I found was the mom and a man I’d never seen before wielding big foam bats.

“May I help you?” the mom asks as I’m standing there with my jaw dropped.

“I thought someone was getting murdered!”

“Oh, no. I’m conducting an aggression therapy session. Now, if you don’t mind….?”

I lasted there four months, and yeah, she kept my cleaning deposit.

Next week’s place will be a little more extreme…and it definitely wound up in a book. And the week following will be downright creepy (and probably much too long) and you Sammy fans will definitely recognize what book it wound up in.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to hearing living quarter horrors from you!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Scary Roommate #1

There is a long, convoluted thought behind this decision, and I'm not sure why I think anyone might be interested...but I'm going ahead with it anyway. You'll have to follow along for the next few weeks for this to really make sense because it's much too long to put down in one post.

So I'm starting off tame and ending up crazed, and your job is to tell me if you recognize where the real life event I relate was fictionalized and put into one of my books.

Or maybe more than one of my books!

All these mini stories are true, and all have to do with places I've, uh, resided.

This week's story takes place in a garage. This was no converted garage. It was your basic, swing-up door variety, with not even a service sink, let alone bathroom.

If you're wondering what in the world I was doing, living in a garage, well, I'll just simplify it by saying, Hard times.

There are no nightlights in garages. I guess I could have rigged something up, but I kept telling myself I wasn't staying. I had a desk lamp that I'd switch on, but other than that, it was me, some basic supplies, a backpacking mat and a down sleeping bag.


And a black widow spider.

Just one.

I think.

The garage was actually fairly new, and the only junk in it was me and my minimal stuff. And at first I didn't know about the spider because it wouldn't show itself when the door was up. But one morning I did notice it, and boy did it freak me out. I slept with that monster dangling above me? It wasn't, like, lurking in a corner. It was right there! Above my sleeping bag! It could have dropped down and...and...creepy-crawled all over me! Or, what if I was sleeping on my back with my mouth open?


I t tried to catch it. Or, you know, smash it. But I didn't exactly have a broom or long-handled weapon to work with and the sneaky booger got away.

I stuffed my bag back in its sack, worried that it would otherwise crawl inside it and lay in wait while I was away. (I had developed a phobia of black widows long before this garage--developed over the years by them dropping out of attics and roof tiles and air conditioning units.Oh. And there was the one that dropped out of the workstation at a hair salon right past my knee!) Anyway, when I came back that night I checked all over for the spider and it was nowhere to be found. I went to bed, but the garage was pitch black when the light was off, so I would never be able to see if it was rappelling down it's sticky thread to come chomp on me. So I kept clicking on the light, kept checking the rafters. Eventually I fell asleep, but in the morning when my alarm went off and I clicked on the light, there it was again, dangling overhead.


To make a very long, sleepless story short, I never did catch that sneaky spider. Instead, I moved out.

To where I'll tell you next week. For now, recognize anything in this story?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wendelin in Triptych

Hi, everyone – Mark here, subbing for Lady Wendelin. (Okay, when the boys were little we had a kid’s book about a knight and a dragon and a fair princess named Lady Wendolyn. It stuck. Kinda like the little boy named Patrick down the street, who our oldest called “Saint Patrick” for the longest time. Or our friend Mary, who the boys called “Mary-Mary”, from the nursery rhyme…)

I’m writing to provide a semi-external perspective on Wendelin’s writing process… and because I told her I had what might be an interesting blog topic, after I cobbled this pic together last night.

See, even though the 1st and 3rd frames look identical, they’re not - all three photos were taken in the order shown, a few minutes apart. And she had no idea I was photographing her, as she was working away late Friday night on the ‘SK and the Wayward Parents’. (She was in the dining room, and I was in the kitchen supposedly doing dishes. But I was watching her work - as I am wont to do - and something just caught my eye and I thought I’d take a few pics.) Then, when I looked at them last night, I was taken by the back-and-forth nature of the photos: She’d sit back and think. Then she’d write some. Then more thinking. Then more writing. Etc…

This struck me as a metaphor for the whole creative process. We’ve all heard ‘Writing is Rewriting’. And of course, ‘Writing is Hard Work’. (Both true.) But it also occurred to me that ‘Writing is Thinking’. (I suppose this is a big “DUH!” to most of you, but I’m known to make these very obvious discoveries, which everyone else already knows. Like, I’ll come in from the outside on a sunny day and announce, “Hey, you know the sky is really blue!”)

So, by ‘thinking’ I don’t necessarily mean the analytical kind, where you fall out of the creative flow, but more a mulling over – either what you’ve just written or are about to write - holding the words in your head like stones in your hand, rolling them around and around and trying to get them to fit together smoothly. And not being afraid to toss them back in the stream and fish out some new ones, if they’re not quite right.

Wendelin has talked about the concept of ‘do a chapter, do a chore’. Sometimes, if you’re stuck, it’s good to get away from the keyboard and go do some relatively mindless task for a while. But really, this may just be ‘thinking’ on another level, allowing your subconscious to get into the game.

But regardless, good writing doesn’t seem to be a linear task, at least not for those I know who do it. It’s more like a tennis match, whacking that ball back-and-forth, only you’re playing on both sides of the net.

So, look at the 1st and 3rd frames. That’s where the real writing is happening…

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I’ve just returned home from a week-long visit to Tennessee, where I did presentations at four middle schools and four elementary schools and one university.

I think.

Well, I’m sure about the number of universities.

I really like doing school visits—I like the kids, and the teachers and librarians do a fantastic job prepping the students for Author Day. It’s the traveling that kills me! I’ve shared tales from the road before, but I have a few more to add to my storybook of travel horrors. Or, more accurately, exhausting inconveniences. This time there was a semi-truck overturned on the interstate between Nashville and Knoxville. Add an hour to the two and a half hour trip. I kept reminding myself that I was inconvenienced, not dead, like the semi driver may very well have been. They were stacking the panels of the rig as we finally inched past. I don’t know what he’d been hauling, but the truck trailer seemed to be reduced to compact stacks of metal parts.

Needless to say, with two flights and a very long drive (through a time zone change, even) it was late night by the time I checked into the hotel.

But the next morning the travel was behind me and the fun began. Each school has a “host” who sees you through your day—or as this week shaped up, your half day with them. They pick you up at the hotel (a better guarantee that you will actually appear at the school and not get yourself lost in a rental car) and before long you’ve got your computer talking to their projection system and the kids are filing in, anxious to hear what you have to say.

Now, I have to hand it to the elementary schools—they get their students excited. The kids see me in the hall and whisper, Is that her? Or a brave one will be dispatched to ask, “Are you Miss Van Draanen?”

When I say yes, one of two things happens: They scamper off squealing, or they hesitate, then charge at me with a hug.

Who cares about a little travel delay when that’s the reception you get!

The middle schools usually come with a warning or apology from the host about the hour or the group. Depends on what sort of middle school it is. If the kids are 7th & 8th, they can be a little sleepy if it’s a morning assembly. Or a little chatty if it’s an afternoon assembly. Or a little, uh, distant. I mean, come on. It’s an author. How exciting can it be?

I love presenting to 7th / 8th – they may be my favorite group ‘cause they transform from sleepy and / or distant to engaged and laughing. My view is you just have to remember what it was like to be them. Jump around a little. Tell a story. Wake…them…up.

After my spastic presentation Monday morning, the 8th graders gave me a standing O. It started with the boys. The ones who’d sat at the back of the room. The ones who’d come in dragging. And then it spread forward and it about made me cry from happiness. There’s nothing like a spontaneous standing O from a bunch of eighth graders to set your mood for the whole week.

So the schools were great, but by the end of a week of three spastic presentations each day (well, I controlled myself a little at the university, so that one wasn’t as spastic) I was pretty exhausted and looking forward to getting home to my own bed.

The trip home started okay—my saintly host drove me the two and a half hours back to the airport, and fortunately there were no accidents or delays on the way. But when I checked in at the airport I learned that my flight was delayed because the original aircraft had been held up by bad weather conditions in San Francisco.

(SFO, you should just give it up. All over the country there are delays because of you  We're tired of it! Wake up! You've got fog! It's not going away! Let San Jose have your business, already!)

Anyway, that was the beginning of the end. The flight got me in too late to catch my connection home, because I was on different carriers for each leg of the trip and the carriers had different terminals which required me to go outside, then back through security. By the time I’d reached the second terminal my flight had already lifted off. The next flight out wasn’t until 8 AM, so I was stuck at 11 PM at a ticket counter where I was told that people often spent the time waiting in a little cordoned off area of plastic chairs as I wouldn’t be allowed to go to my gate until 4:30 AM.


I guess I could have gone back to the first carrier and asked them to put me up in a hotel room, but I didn’t want a stupid hotel room or to get up early and endure possible flight delays and more security screening and airport food. I wanted to go home and was willing to drive the four hours to get there.

Unfortunately, Hertz wanted over $300 for a rental car.

Fortunately, Avis only wanted $30.

So I got on the Avis shuttle and was transported to the Avis rental car lot where I got a car, a map, and a bottle of tea and hit the road.

Tennessee time, it was almost 6 AM by the time I hit the pillow.

Still. It was a great week. There’s just something about the kids that makes all the travel headaches worth it.

Thanks for checking in – see you next week!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Swinging Through Darkness

I hate to get information about my own books from Amazon.

Like, shouldn’t I be the first to know?

Or, at least, somewhere in the top ten?

I was actually at the Amazon site because I’d been given some good news—The Running Dream has been named one of Amazon’s Best Books for 2011 in the Young Adult category, so I was checking that out.

But then I happened upon the hardcover art for Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack, which—as you can see—is a bit of a stylistic departure from the rest of the series. I’d seen (and commented on) the initial sketches, but this was the first I’d seen the final art, and it caught me off guard. Partly because it looks collage-y instead of painted, and I wasn’t expecting that. My reaction was rooted in how the art fit with the rest of the series, coupled with a knee-jerk annoyance at seeing it for the first time on-line.

I tried to tell myself to let it go—that it was a done deal and there was nothing I could do about it.

And what is it I wanted to do, anyway?

I recognized that I was probably hurt more than anything, which I told myself was childish, but I kept staring at the Amazon page and the situation festered. I was feeling overlooked and undervalued and just…irritated.

My son came in and saw me brooding and asked what was wrong. So I told him. And his advice was that I should call the person in charge and talk about it. I told him it wouldn’t change anything, and that I would just come across as whiny and needy (and I don’t want to come across as whiny or needy!).

He persisted, though, and had made good headway in convincing me to call—to the point where I actually said I would--but just then FedEx drove up.

I like our regular FedEx driver. She’s friendly and competent and she’s been navigating our driveway for years without complaint. I can see her coming from my office window, so whenever I can, I go out and thank her i in person. And since my son had just convinced me to make a call I was feeling cowardly about, I took the FedEx truck as a welcome (albeit temporary) escape.

The FedEx lady handed over a box, and started chatting about having seen me on the news the previous week. She was her usual upbeat self and told me she had a grandson she reads to—he’s only two, but she love-love-loves to read to him—something he won’t be able to do for himself for a while, not, it turns out, because he’s two, but because he’s blind.


This was the first I’d heard of the grandson, but my heart immediately went out to her.

She was in grandma mode, though, and having none of my sympathy. She whipped out her iPhone and showed me a video of her grandson swinging, and while I watched him go back and forth she told me he’d been born with detached retinas and that he would likely never be able to see, but then went on to talk excitedly about how he’s started walking by holding his palms against the walls, and how he’s the sweetest dearest thing.

“He doesn’t know anything else,” she said, putting her phone away. “So he’s happy.” Then she teared up a little and said, “It’s been hard on my son, though,” and it came out that in his two short years of life her grandson has already been through four eye surgeries and there will have to be ongoing surgeries as he grows—something about scar tissue and pressure and headaches.

I said whatever positive things I could think to say to her (like how blessed the boy was to have her for a grandma), but when she was gone I just stood there feeling like an ass.

How many lessons do I need about not sweating the small stuff?

Haven’t I had plenty already?

Why do I need these refresher courses?

Maybe I didn't like the way things were handled, but good grief. So what? It’s art, not life and death.

And, more to the point, I was born with eyes that can see it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Slap Me Silly!

Have I told you that the Sammy Keyes book I'm working on now is the "Heather" book?


How could I have kept that from you?

Maybe because I didn't know myself just how much of a Heather book it would be?

No, that's a cop out.

I knew.

But now that I'm in the middle of it?

Wow. Is this interesting?

I don't mean to imply that the book is written in the voice of Heather. What I mean is that she's in the main plot, not just a subplot, and in this book we're getting to the bottom of why she is the way she is.

As you  can imagine, this is taking a lot of digging.

But before you ever pierce your spade into the ground, there's the whole ordeal of finding "X-Marks-the-Spot."

In the case of Heather, it's been 15 books of figuring out where to start digging.

And now that I've started I'm reminded of digging a hole at the beach. Sand falls in, little crabs appear out of nowhere, you run into rocks and old bottle caps and baby shoes...then the sand gets darker and colder and slowly water starts seeping in.

I should maybe clarify that no, there's not actually something buried in this book--we've had enough of that with Dead Giveaway and Night of Skulls, right? The only thing buried in this case is what's inside Heather's head, and digging down to it has been fascinating.

And (confession time) during this week's writing (and digging), I came upon something that made me tear up.

Me? Tear up over Heather?

Slap me silly! Heather's a beast! And after everything she's put Sammy through? How could anyone (especially me!) tear up over Heather???

But it's true, I did. And although it was temporary, I do still have a long way to go before I quit digging. And if water's already seeping in?

Somebody send me a paddle!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Art and an Excerpt, Good Citizens!

I hope you all had a fun pre-Halloween weekend! We dressed up as musketeers and went to a couple of parties and saw lots of things that reminded me of Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls. One house had transformed their yard into a pathway through tombstones with a grave dug out to hold a real zombie person poised to spring to life and scare the candy out of you! (If I’d have had Night of Skulls with me I would have done a reverse trick-or-treat and given them a book.)

Speaking of Night of Skulls, some of you wrote such nice comments about it here at the blog and since it's just come out and there aren't a lot of reviews of it yet, if you'd like to post yours at Amazon or elsewhere, that would be great!

Moving away from Halloween, several of you commented that after you'd devoured Night of Skulls you were depressed by the prospect of having to wait-wait-wait for Sammy’s next adventure. Well, how about I cheer you up with some art and an excerpt from Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack?
Let's start with art. Karl Edwards is the artist for the paperback covers, and his process is to submit several preliminary sketches of the main cover drawing to Random House--check out the six versions of "Justice Jack" on the left. These preliminary sketches get passed around and one is selected as the favorite, and then Karl does his magic and creates the final, full-color rendering.

You may recall from a previous post that for Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher poor Karl was tortured by us changing our minds. How do you illustrate the Wedding Crasher? Who was the Wedding Crasher?

Not something I wanted to give away on the cover!

So with that book we went round and round trying to figure out what the image should be, and Karl got caught in the middle. This time, a key reason I wanted to keep “Justice Jack “in the title was so there would be an obvious image for Karl to work with for the paperback. And when his sketches came in I was so happy we did! One of the goals of the paperback art is to capture the humor of the Sammy Keyes books, and this one is sure going to do that—what a hoot!

Now, you’ve only heard me talk about Justice Jack. (For like, what? A year now? Sorry.)

I remember telling you about him when he was just a fledgling idea without a name. Remember that? I said he was “a kinda loser guy” who fancied himself a superhero.

But other than that, I don’t think I’ve given you much physical description, so there’s no way you’ll be able to tell which of Karl’s sketches best represents Justice Jack.

But you know what?

I have the power to fix that.



Before I paste in the excerpt, let me explain that in this scene Sammy & Friends are at Dot DeVries house. (Did I hear a chorus of yays? I know some of you have missed Dot.) And, back inside the Land of Blue, the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas is underway. All you really have to know for this excerpt to make sense is that Sinterklaas looks like St. Nicholas (or a pointy-hatted Santa Claus).

And now (drum roll please)… here we go!


The man on the porch does have long hair like Dot described Sinterklaas, but it’s black, not white. And he is wearing red and gold like Sinterklaas, but I’m pretty sure what he’s wearing is not something Sinterklaas would be caught dead in.

It’s Spandex.

Or, you know, some other stretchy, Morphsuit-ish fabric.

And over his stretchy-looking red-and-gold body suit he’s wearing tall black boots that have buckles everywhere, red knee and arm pads, and a gold chest plate that looks like a cross between a hotrod grill and a catcher’s chest protector. And in the middle of the chest plate there’s a big red “J” with a black lightning bolt behind it.

Topping all that off are heavy gold gloves, a Roman centurion helmet, and a black mask across his eyes. And around his waist is a utility belt.

You know—like Batman wears?

Only instead of high-tech Bat-gadgets in his utility belt, this weirdo’s got a hammer, a flashlight, and a slingshot.

I almost say, Hey, Halloween was over a month ago! But even though he’d need to do some serious lifting to be mistaken for a real superhero, from the way he’s standing and from the jut of his jaw, I’m getting the feeling that he actually believes he’s a superhero.


So there you go! Art and an excerpt. I hope you enjoy going through this process with me. It’s fun to share it with you, so thanks for tuning in—see you next week!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Typewriters & Avocados

I know that a lot of people who visit this blog are aspiring writers, and I think one of those Dream Moments in an aspiring writer's mind is The Book Signing. It's a moment where you finally get to share the physical result of years of work (and, likely, even more years of pressing on through the daunting weight of rejections).

Your first book signing will be a big celebration that your friends and family are excited to attend and that your local media will be happy to support. Getting your first book published is a huge deal and people from all corners of your life get that, and get behind that.

After 28 books?

People from all corners of your life get that this is what you do...that it's your job. Sort of like they have a job they go to every day, only they don't get to have the celebratory signings like you do. And you'd better get that, too--after the first few books your friends and family shouldn't be expected to prop up your career. (But for the first few, you bet!)

And this is where a new kind of hard work for the author comes in--you've got to solicit press. At least I consider it hard work because I seriously don't enjoy it.

Scratch that, I verge on HATING it.

The nice thing about your publisher springing for a national tour is that the publicity department gets involved in getting your book (and you) print coverage and TV spots and radio interviews. I've been lucky to have been toured many times, so I've seen first hand what a huge job it is for the publicist to coordinate all of this.

The reality, however, is that only a small percentage of authors get toured, so it then falls on the author to do a lot of the publicity. Blog tours have become popular and I think they're a brilliant way for an author to gain some traction--at least on the Web. But for most authors, they start with the local book signings and try to drum up interest in their own backyard, which they hope will be spread by word of mouth to neighboring areas, etc.

So for local signings, it's up to the author to contact the newspapers and the TV stations and get them to run a story on your new book and signing--preferably before the signing so people know about it and show up.

And that's the key--if people show up, your signing is successful and the bookstore will be happy to have you back. If nobody shows up and the book store has ordered in a good quantity of your book...well they won't volunteer this information, but those extra books are going to be returned to the publisher and the book store will be more wary about having you back for another signing.

So it's your job to get the word out to people who are a) not related to you, and b) not your core group of friends, but instead c) your fan base or newcomers who may truly be interested in what it is you've written.
This means you have to...
1) write a compelling press release--one page or less
2) get a good digital photo of your book jacket
3) get in touch with the right people at the various media outlets.
4) follow up without being a pest.

Per #3: If there's someone at a particular outlet that you've worked with over the years, this can be fun. Usually, however, it's someone who's worked there less than a year, is overworked, and has no clue who you are.

Per #4: This can be a real balancing act. Me, I'd rather just step down from the rope.

There are lots of publications about how to go about doing this whole press thing, and my point here isn't to go into all the how-to's of it, but more to explain that this is part of being an author--something you don't really think about before your first book comes out. And if you're okay with the inevitable mistakes and misrepresentations that seem to go hand-in-hand with news coverage; if after a dozen books—or two dozen— you don’t mind answering, “So, what got you into writing?” from someone who hasn’t read a word of what you’ve written, then maybe you won't mind it.

What keeps me trying is that in the end, people show up. This weekend I saw some old friends, some familiar faces, and some new people. People who are crazy for Sammy Keyes. People who have read every book I've written. People who already knew what got me into writing and just want me to assure them I'll keep doing it. People who were moved by a book and want to just shake my hand and thank me. People who heard I stuck with it through ten years of rejections and want me to know that they're on their fifth year and hanging in there. People who were students of mine, or the parents of students of mine. People who bring pictures of their kids and grandkids and share a memory of how a book of mine has bonded their family.

And then there are the people who bring things. Sometimes flowers, sometimes letters, sometimes drawings.

Sometimes just an excited hug.

At this weekend's signings I received all of those things, plus some avocados.

I love avocados.

But the coolest gift I received was a fat black ring of skeleton keyes.

Whoops! Keys.

The ring is big enough to fit over my hand, and if you've already read Night of Skulls you understand the dual significance of this gift.

The coolest thing I signed was a typewriter.

A typewriter!

When I do school visits my policy is to only sign books because if I stray from that pretty soon I'm signing foreheads and shoes. I just tell the students that if I do one scrap I have to be fair and do everyone's scrap, so I can't do any scraps. Or body parts.

But at public book signings I'm okay with signing other things. I did a few autograph books and three casts this weekend (2 were purple). I'd have signed a pumpkin if someone had brought one in.

Instead, a writer brought in an ancient typewriter--one he's had some of his favorite authors sign, most notably Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury's book Dandelion Wine is what inspired me to write my first published work--How I Survived Being A Girl. So the idea that my name is signed on the same typewriter as Ray Bradbury’s is, to me, awesome. (And that this writer wanted my name to be signed on the same typewriter as Ray Bradbury is double awesome!) My autograph's on the side, which you can't see in the picture I posted...but it's there!

So this is a long and sorta rambling way of saying that sometimes parts of our jobs require us to do things we would rather not, but if we make ourselves do them anyway, the net result can make it worth the effort.

I've got the hugs and the avocados and the keys…and a picture of an awesome typewriter to prove it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Let The Son Shine In!

My sons are both awesome, but today was Colton's day. He's been training for months to run his first marathon, and today was the big day. Mark and I trained with him.-how else is a college student going to get up every Saturday at 6:00 AM to go for the week's "long run" -- a distance that stretches up to 20 miles a few weeks before "race day"?

He confessed today that he "tapererd early." Meaning that for the past two weeks, instead of reducing his mid-week runs like the schedule dictated, he just didn't do them.

"It was too hot."

Also, the carbo-loading he did this past week at his dorm included eating an entire box of Captain Crunch, another of Cocoa Puffs, and another of Honey Bunches of Oats.

Not smart. Especially when you need to keep your intestines...uh...streamlined.

Anyway, today proved (once again) that attitude is everything. Colton's super smart (although he did not apply his intelligence to his marathon prep this past week), and really, really nice. He may look like a shred metal guitar player (because he is) but he has got to be one of the kindest, gentlest people on this planet.

He's also got this wonderful enthusiasm for certain things, and today that shone through in a big way. "This is gonna be fun," he kept saying.when we got him out of bed at 5:30 this morning, and he continued to say it all the way to the starting line.

You think so, I thought to myself, because you've never done a marathon. They hurt. A lot. Why am I doing this again? Who's stupid idea was this? Oh,yeah. Yours.

Then off we went, me keeping the pace because we'd agreed to run as a family and I am the undisputed boat anchor. At mile eight Colton's still yammering. Wow, look at this scenery! (It was beautiful.) Wow! This is so much fun! (No comment.) Thank you SO much for doing this with me. This is the best time I've had in ages! (Poor, poor you.)

At mile 20 he's still excited, but when I ask him how he can still have so much energy, he tells me that he's just trying to keep a positive attitude. Then he says, "I didn't hit the wall like I did in training. Did you hit the wall!" (Yeah, about eight miles ago.) "I was sort of  looking forward to hitting the wall so I could really see what it's like to go inside my mind and pull up my reserves."

Yup, attitude is everything.

Still. At Mile 22 I'm completely wilted. The sun has broken through and is baking me into the asphalt. My feet are blistered and my intestines are duking it out, making me nauseous. (Maybe I should have had some Captain Crunch.) And then Colton suddenly charges ahead and then scrambles up a steep embankment onto a field.

"What's he doing?" I ask Mark.

Mark just shakes his head. "I have no idea."

"Wow, that was really stupid," Colton says when he joins us again. "I was just seeing what I still had in me, but I think I'm going to fall over now."

Mark and I just shake our heads at him. But Colton's still staying positive, acting like he's actually pleased to have legs of lead. "Are yours sore, Mom?" (Thud-thud-thud.) "Because my legs are whoa! Jelly!"

When we finally crossed the finish line at 26.2 miles and Colton got his first marathon medal slung around his neck, he turned and thanked me for being the pace keeper. "I'd have been sprinting and walking if it wasn't for you." And when I tried to apologize for slowing him down he said, "Are you kidding? I couldn't have done this any faster."

I know there are lots of things I should be updating about Sammy Keyes, but they'll have to wait a week. This post is dedicated to Colton--an inspiring human being, and an an awesome son.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

And The Winning Number Is...

Well, it is NOT thirteen. Sorry to the over thirty of you who guessed that number, but pfew to me, because I would have had to have a run off and would feel bad about not being able to send each of you a book.

I liked the explanation some of you sent regarding why 13 was your choice--especially the ones that referred to Sammy's recurring age.

So thirteen was the most frequently guessed number, followed by seven, which is also not The Number.

Interesting that the two numbers guessed most were the "lucky" number and the "unlucky" number.

The numbers NOBODY guessed were one and three.

Fortunately, neither was The Number.

Although three was a contender.

I do like the number three.

And a lot of you also guessed four, and your explanation was based on the first four books and the last four books...I really liked that.

But the winning number was also not four, sorry.

So, good grief, why don't I tell you already?

Yeah, sorry. I know--you've been waiting all week.

Cutting to the chase: the winning number is nine.

As in 9.

There were five correct guesses, but two of them did not include mailing addresses. Sigh. What am I supposed to do with you? The instructions were really clear and really easy. And I have three books to give away. Five minus two-with-no-addresses equals three.

Okay, right now The Nines are freaking out. Did I send my address?! Please! I was just excited!

Yeah, yeah, I know. And I like that you're excited. And maybe a little forgetful. It reminds me of my mad scientist son. So fine. I'll e-mail you back and the subject will be HEY SPACE CASE!- and if you e-mail me your address, I'll scare up a book for you.


Congratulations to those of you who won--if you sent me your address I'll autograph your book and get it in the mail tomorrow. And thank you to everyone who submitted a guess, and especially for the nice comments you included. I wish you could all have won a book! Maybe we'll do this again in May when Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack comes out.

Whether you won or not, I hope you enjoy Night of Skulls (which comes out on Tuesday).

See you next Sunday!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Ugly Dirty Shredded Rubber Chicken (and a Book Giveaway)

As those of you who follow my weekly postings know, last night was the Risky Whippet "concert."  I mentioned before that someone was threatening to record parts of it. They did. So I have a two minute YouTube link for you, which you will either find cool or ridiculous. Hey. It's rock and roll. Anyway, if you watch it you're bound to notice and eventually discern that that ugly yellow thing dangling from the ceiling in front of my face is a rubber chicken.

Yes, that's right--an ugly, dirty, shredded rubber chicken

So, you ask, what is an ugly, dirty, shredded rubber chicken doing dangling in front of the stage (by a chain, no less)?

No, I didn't put it there.

And neither did Billy Pratt.

And yeah, I was wondering the same thing myself. It was gross and I really wanted to take it down. I mean, how was I supposed to concentrate on my hard-spun lyrics with a ugly rubber chicken dangling in front of my face?

The bar owner knew what I was thinking. "Don't touch the chicken," he growled at me. "Ya gotta work around the chicken. All bands do."

Of course I asked what the significance of the chicken was, and was told, basically, that it was good luck.

A dirty shredded rubber chicken hung by it's neck on a chain in front of your stage signifies good luck?

Mark knew I was about to pop off so he pulled me away and told me, Look, Wendelin. Just deal with the chicken.

So we set up our gear and rocked the house and I guess the chicken worked because everything went great. I even got a round of cheers when (to my younger son's chagrin) I introduced the band as our family and identified myself as "the mom."

"Yeah, Mom!" the chicken heads at the bar shouted.

Anyway, if you want to see the two minute "sampler" on YouTube and check out the dangling chicken for yourself, here's the link.

And now onto the reason most of you have tuned in to this week's blog babblings--the Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls giveaway contest.

Actually, it's not a contest. I did a contest last time. This time I'm just going to make it luck-based. (Influenced, I'm afraid, by the chicken.)

As (I hope) you know, there are going to be 18 books in the Sammy Keyes series, so simply pick a number between 1-18, inclusive, and send it, along with your name and mailing address, to  Put NIGHT OF SKULLS GUESS in the subject line.

This is NOT A RACE. You may send in your e-mail anytime between now and Saturday, October 8th. I'll go through the entries on Sunday the 9th and announce the answer during next week's post. I have three books to give away, so if more than three of you guess the correct number I'll either scare up more books or have a run off contest. The only hint I have about this number is that I like it. That's it.

So dangle an ugly rubber chicken in front of your face and send me a number!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Counting to Twelve

Late again!

We took four teens to see a Bright Eyes concert last night. And I had a baby shower at the house during the day.

Good excuses!

It does not pay to stress about things. I keep reminding myself of this, but it's slow to sink in. When I first offered up  my house for this shower, the head count was going to be "ten or twelve" -- something I could manage. Then the pregnancy had complications, the baby came early, (he's doing great!), and suddenly people were asking if they could come, too,and the count zoomed up to twenty. All week I stressed about where I was going to seat twenty people -- the deck would have been great, but it was Sog City all week and not an option. So I spent Saturday moving furniture, adding chairs, you know, stressing.

And yesterday the sun broke through and everyone wanted to be out on the deck.

Which I had, of course, not cleaned.

So, see? All that stress and for what? I really need to just go with the flow more.

I will try to apply this to our gig on October 1st. I'm rhythmically impaired. I can't seem to count to twelve. And when you're doing songs based on 12-bar progression, counting to twelve is important.

Unless, as my drummer husband says, you "just feel it."

When you're Type-A, just feeling it collides with counting to twelve, and you find yourself lost at eleven-and-a-half going, Now?

Never mind. They all laugh at me. You're probably laughing at me, too. That's okay. I laugh at myself.

Only not when I'm lost somewhere between eight and twelve and I've got to jump in singing.

Anyway, see? I'm getting myself all stressed, and for what? It's a bar. We're going on at 11. At that stage people there will probably have trouble counting to four.

(But they probably know how to feel it.)

Anyway, some of you asked for details, so I'll add the poster. We'll do originals, plus covers by Social Distortion, Papa Roach, The Who, Alice in Chains, Jet, Sixx get the's gonna be loud. Someone's threatening to record it. I'll let you know.

Double-anyway. Onto something you may actually be interested in: I have a few early copies of Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls! Next week I will post a giveaway contest...or maybe not a contest but something. So check back here next Sunday (I won't be late, promise), and we'll figure out how to give a couple of you faithful followers a copy of the new book.

Until then, count to twelve for me!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Bad Part About Good Habits

Hi, guys! Mark here, sitting in for Wendelin because she’s up to her neck with the latest SK manuscript, where Sammy is up to HER neck, getting in trouble in Las Vegas in what I affectionately refer to as Sammy Keyes and the Wayward Parents. (Ever notice how sometimes the parents act like children, which of course means that the children have to act like parents? But that’s a topic for another time, mi amigos!)

What’s on my mind at the moment are habits. Both kinds… the good ones we all aspire to acquire, and the bad ones that are oh-so-easy to pick up and darn near impossible to let go. Bad habits are certainly more fun, but I want to talk about good ones because lately I’ve been trying to divine their secrets…

The good thing about a habit (assuming it’s a good habit) is that once it in fact becomes a habit, you don’t have to struggle with the ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ issue every day, as it becomes an automatic part of your life. Cool.

The bad part about good habits, however, is that they can be a beast to make into an actual habit.

Sometimes that beast can be almost un-tamable. (Anyone tried quitting smoking lately?) However, there is a secret. (Actually, it’s more like a helpful methodology. However, doesn’t ‘SECRET’ sound way more interesting than ‘HELPFUL METHODOLOGY’? I thought so, too…) And the secret is this: You do NOT have to force yourself to do the desirable/healthy/intelligent/mature/successful behavior forever. Nope. You just need to force yourself to do it for the indeterminate-but relatively-short period of time it takes for the desired behavior to become a true habit.

After that, it’s automatic, right? Easy money, honey!

And it really helps (uh, I mean, here’s another secret!) if you can put a strategy in place whereby the desired behavior is pretty much unavoidable during the habit-forming stage.

Case in point…

Wendelin has mentioned that we (as a family) are training for a marathon. This will be the first marathon for both of our boys. The older one is really looking forward to it, and joins us on our group training runs with a smile and zero complaints. The younger one… not so much. At first, he tried to say he wasn’t going to do it. Until I reminded him that he committed to doing this, and only after we had everyone’s commitment did Wendelin move some already-scheduled speaking engagements so we could run a marathon as a family. Then, he’d go on the early runs (marathon training is a four-month endeavor) very begrudgingly, complaining the whole way, and walking half the time. We just put on our ‘happy face’ and laughed when he complained, like he’d just told the world’s funniest joke.

Finally, after several weeks of this, his body started getting used to the running and his fitness level improved, and instead of being the boat anchor, he and I actually ran ahead of the others on a few runs, and he was like, “Hey guys, keep us with us!” (Ahh, the glory of youth…)

And most recently, on a Friday evening when we had a 12-miler scheduled for the next morning (usually a cause for much verbal dissention) he said, “Ya know, I’m actually looking forward to tomorrow’s run.”


I knew (okay, hoped) that if he stuck with it through that magic ‘indeterminate-but relatively-short period of time’, he would arrive at this juncture. And the thing that helped facilitate his sticking with it was a strict schedule (and occasional reminders that he was required to honor his commitment).

Once you’re past that stage, the part of the human brain that likes things in an orderly, repeated, constant, and consistent pattern takes over, and makes the motivational piece of the self-improvement puzzle that much easier to deal with.

At least, that’s my hypothesis until proven otherwise. (IOW, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…)

Here’s hoping all your newly acquired habits are good ones!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Electronic Editing (and a small sample of Justice Jack!)

Whenever I have a conversation with Nancy (my editor) about her job I learn something new. Maybe I was ignorant when she acquired my first book, but I didn't even realize back then that editors negotiate contracts. I thought they, you know, edited. Turns out editing's only a small fraction of their duties. I should ask Nancy to do a guest post sometime to explain...or even just list...what she as an editor does. I know some of you would find it fascinating.

For now I'll just give you a few interesting tidbits from our conversation.

First, apparently a lot of authors don't use the traditional guidelines for submitting manuscripts. You know, Times New Roman, double spaced, one-inch margins, header with name, book title, and page number, printed single sided in black ink on standard white 20# paper?

It's in every beginner's guide to submission.

Granted she doesn't work with many beginners anymore, but she's gotten pages submitted on onionskin parchment.

No, I'm not kidding.

I remember my dad using that stuff in the typewriter with carbon paper...or to include an extra page in an airletter for overseas.

So whoever this author was, he must've been pretty "established" for her to put up with that.

And pretty old.

But she also gets books e-mailed chapter by chapter as they get completed.Which means she has to consolidate the chapters into a manageable file herself.

Where's the author's rewrite process if this is how they submit it?

Unique fonts, not using Word, no electronic file available whatsoever (so she has to retype the thing?!)...I told her I couldn't believe she put up with it, but she said that one of the things she likes about her job is that all her authors are so different. They have their own personalities and ways of doing things, and she likes to allow them to breathe as artists.

A very noble attitude given the extra work it causes her. I'd want to tell the Wordless guy, Get with the  program, man! I can't be retyping your novel because you can't be bothered to take a class! Wake up Rip Van Wordless, it's 2011!

Anyway (deep breath) this recent conversation about the seemingly endless scope of Nancy's job was precipitated by my feeling befuddled by a new editing process she had asked me to try for the post-copy-edited manuscript of Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack.

(Yes, we settled on Power.)

The manuscript came back to me as a Word doc with "tracked" notes from the copy editor and Nancy, with the idea being that I would comment, and change what I wanted on the computer and e-mail it back.

Save paper. Save time.

Murder your eyes.

After reading three chapters on screen I realized I wasn't reading the book as I always do (because there are always little mistakes that sneak through the process and I make it a point to read it each time). Instead I was jumping from markup to markup, trying to decipher what it is they were talking about.

Here's a little example :-)

Fortunately Nancy had had the foresight to also send me a hardcopy of the electronically marked-up manuscript. We're under a little time crunch and just in case I didn't adapt well to the electronic process, she said I could just mark up the hardcopy with pencil (like I always do), send it back, and she would enter the changes for me.

This was before our conversation, and, not liking the process, I put aside my computer and got to work with a pencil. I do have lots of other pressures in my life right now, and this whole new electronic editing business seemed tedious and like something I just was not interested in learning at the moment.

Still. When I'd finally made it through the 300-page hardcopy, I called Nancy to let her know that the 8-page pdf she'd sent me titled "How to Review and Mark Electronically" (which I'd wasted paper printing) didn't match my version of Word and that I didn't know how I was going to be able to get this done. I also told her exactly what I didn't like about the process.

She totally got where I was coming from and we then had a little talk about why she had chosen me to try this process on (flattery will get your author to try again) and how she would never ask Wordless or Onionskin to attempt this. Then, because her version of Word is similar to mine, she was able to walk me through a few of the changes. She helped me add comments...explained how to substitute one word for another...taught me what the different modes showed or didn't show.... Soon I had the hang of it, and I realized that, even though it was still a little scary, it was really pretty straight forward.

She again offered to do it for me, but at this point she'd told me about Onionskin and Wordless and I realized that if I didn't step forward, one day I'd be my own version of Onionskin (I plan to live a very long time, okay?). She also told me that although Random House is just converting to this, other houses have already established this as standard procedure. So I got off the phone and got to work, and within a few hours I'd entered all the changes and had the manuscript e-mailed back to her.

So I've stepped forward, and next time I'm sure it will seem easy, but not without the hardcopy.

That goes forward with me.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Escape From Sin City

Unfortunately, I did not get thrown in jail.

Unfortunately, Las Vegas needs a big detention facility for its serious, accidental, and notorious criminals.

It's the Clark County Detention Center and it's huge.

Apparently O.J. Simpson is there.

But the young man running the security station has a ten year old daughter who is into reading mysteries, so when I told him who I was and why I was trying to get into jail he was all over helping us.

In a sometimes confused, is-this-reality-you're-talking-or-are-you-making-this-up? sort of way.

Poor guy. I do talk about my characters like they're real.

Anyway, I found out some important information, even though it was from outside the holding tank. (Which is as far as a 13 or 14 year old will be allowed to get anyhow.)

(Go ahead, pick a character. Any character.)

(Well, okay, not Hudson. He's 73. I mean any character of appropriate age. You know.)

And then, as luck would have it, across the street from the cagey CCDC--a mere parking lot away--we spotted a wedding chapel.

With a drive through window!

I squealed, I was so excited. Mark and I were with another couple who had flown in to Las Vegas to join us on this adventure. I'll call them Bill and Loraine to protect their identities. (After all, no one would guess that I'd use their real names right? I mean, if I said I was making up names, that's what I'd be doing, right? Right.)

Anyway, Bill and Loraine are fans of the Bellagio (as are many of you apparently!) and Cirque du Soleil shows--you know, the more high end stuff. I warned them that this wasn't going to be a high-end excursion. That we were there to check out bad shows, tacky wedding chapels, forbidden corridors, and the jail.

Loraine couldn't wait.

So when I spotted the wedding chapel, she squealed, too. And then we dragged the men to this drive-through facility and got an awesome tour of the inside of the chapel. You can get married in the little room downstairs. Or a churchy looking big one upstairs. Or on the rooftop! With Astroturf and a little arch bridge. (The photographers blue-screen out the CCDC in the background. for no extra charge.)

And, if you want, Elvis can marry you.

Loraine and I came away from our extensive chapel tour thinking that it was actually a lot nicer than a drive-by facility first seemed.

The boys just wanted to get out of there!

Speaking of Elvis--we ran into a few of those (as you can see from the picture). They all wear that white getup. And, yeah, that little Elvis cracked me up. It would be interesting to know his story.

We saw bad shows, got nosy in back corridors, took tons of pictures, and had the good fortune of asking the right person to show us around behind stage at a club. There were all sorts of rooms, offices, VIP sections, sky boxes, and loading docks that I had no clue existed. From the front the venue looks almost small, but as you probably already know, nothing's small in Vegas.

(Well, except that one Elvis impersonator.)

So it was a very fruitful trip and I'm excited to get Sammy off the plane and into Las Vegas's McCarran Airport (which we also took lots of pictures of). And even though I'm pretty sure I won't be using all the information I gathered, it's better to have too much than not enough. Especially since I'm not a fan of Sin City and have no desire to go back.

Unless maybe it's to the Bellagio.

Still. How could staying at a posh hotel compare to a Sammy Keyes romp through the city?

Watch out Las Vegas, here she comes!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Viva Las Vegas!

I should have started packing earlier. My maps are not together, my equipment is still charging, the laundry is taking forever to dry, and it’s going to be 110 degrees in Las Vegas tomorrow!

I really, really don’t want to go.

But that’s where Sammy’s headed (I’ve just about got her on a plane…it wasn’t easy!) and I have to go do what Sammy’s going to go and do or how can I write about it?

No fancy casinos for me.

Gotta hit the seedy side of town.

Well, there are a lot of those in Las Vegas, but you know.

And I’ve got to go to one of those tacky wedding chapels.

And see an Elvis impersonator in action.

And get back stage.

And on the roof.

I don’t know of what, but of something!

Sammy always winds up on the roof.

Then there’s the jail.

I’ve really got to go to jail.

No, I’m not giving away the plot. You think you’ve got this figured out, but uh-uh-uh! How can you? I don’t even know what that girl is going to get into!

But the roof?

And jail?

Foregone conclusions.

Maybe Elvis will bail her out.

You know who I’m talking about!

And if you don’t you’ve picked the wrong week to check out this blog.

I’m packing.

I’ve got no time to explain.

Viva Las Vegas!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book It!

I've been thinking about deadlines. They're everywhere, in one form or another. Bills, taxes, getting your car smogged, the morning bell at school, getting to work on time...

Then there are the things in life we want to do, and because we want to do them, we don't associate them with deadlines. For one thing, there's that word dead inside it. The word has an ominous feel. It just doesn't fit with the notion of enjoyable things. For another, if we want to do it, it's probably something that can wait...or is entirely optional.

The result is, those enjoyable things get pushed to the bottom of our list because, of course, the items with deadlines are more pressing.

I've been saying for years that I need to learn some more cover songs to round out our set of original songs. Not only would it be good for me, it would be fun and would allow our band to play out more. But that's one of those After-such-and-such's something that can wait until other deadlines are met.

Trouble is, the deadlines of everyday living are never all met.

There will always be more chores, more bills, more taxes.

Pretty soon you're having to smog your car again.

Pretty soon you're dead.

So Mark decided that what we needed was a deadline--a way to make what we want to do as pressing as things we have to do.

So he booked us a bar gig.

"You did what?" I squeaked when he told me.

"We've got five weeks to learn twenty more songs."

It took me two days to truly comprehend that a) he wasn't kidding, and b) he wasn't cancelling.

Now, for Mark this is no big deal. He's played drums in professional bands his whole life. He knows his way around hundreds of songs, and if he doesn't know a song he can totally fake it. And the boys are young and energetic with sponge-like brains and don't have bills to pay and laundry to fold. Nothing is more important to them than music, so they are all over this new deadline.

Me? I've mostly stuck to writing and playing original songs. I'm comfortable with them. You understand a song if you write it. You know the chords and when to come in and how it's's yours. Plus you wrote it for a reason--it means something to you.

But outside of that? Well, for starters, I'm rhythmically challenged.

 Hello? Wasn't that the one?

Mark is so patient.

And then I have to remember all the words.

Words are important!

But half the time they don't make any sense.

"It's rock and roll, Wendelin, get over it."


Anyway, we've been woodshedding in the studio, and to my great surprise, I actually can sing songs like "Helter Skelter", and "Life is Beautiful" (Sixx AM). I've always thought maybe I could and that someday I'd try, but this deadline has forced me to get over my nerves and doubts and belt it out.

It's also been great therapy. This has been one stressful summer with zero vacation time, so being forced to do something I really love is probably the best thing Mark could have done for me.

So my little advice to you is to give yourself a deadline to do something you've been wanting to do but haven't made time for. Book yourself a gig. Or a poetry reading. Or a lunch date. Or a 10K.

What is it you wish you had time for?

Pick a date, a venue, a race, and book it!

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I loved all the input last week about the new Sammy Keyes title. Some of the suggestions were really good. I just wish they fit with the story! The word that still goes best with the story--or theme--is "Power"--it just doesn't sound as good as some of the other words.

Mark's sick to death of me talking about it -- a first, by the way. He's usually patient and will continue to think until the skinny lady sings, but after literally months of this he's done. And who can blame him?

I did hear back from Nancy...something along the lines of "I give up! You can have Power!" I think that may have to do with how the word goes well with the preliminary art sketch. Justice Jack dominates the center of the cover and instead of the usual diagonal or straight-edged icon sections, Jack's in a jagged KA-POW! type segment. Pretty cool! 

But rather than take her concession and run with it, I told her I was still thinking about it.

And I have been.

Only now I'm distracted by having started on Sammy 16.

This is totally unfair, isn't it? Night of Skulls hasn't even come out yet, I've been talking for months about Justice Jack, and now I'm starting you trust me with a title?

You shouldn't.

But Mark's calling it Sammy Keyes and the Wayward Parents.

Just so you know.

I actually think it's a funny title, although I'm stickin' with Sammy 16 for now (or Sammy Next-to-Next-to-Last), but the point is, the developing story has sort of usurped my mental chugging regarding Sammy Keyes and the Whatever of Justice Jack.

So it'll probably be Power.

Unless I have a bolt of inspiration. Maybe in the middle of the night. Or, if I get sick, while my fever is breaking like what happened when I was pregnant and wanting to name our baby Jagger. But that's another story. And unfortunately for the title, I don't expect to be running a fever in the coming week. If a bolt strikes from elsewhere, however, I'll be sure to let you know!

Meanwhile I just want to say that I had a blast reading (and considering) each suggestion made. What a great group!

See you next week!  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Ballad, Call, Power, Legend, and Curse of the Title

Nothing’s done ‘til it’s done, and then you may wish it was undone.


Sometimes titles are so easy. Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen—poof! There it was and everyone loved it. Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy—how can you argue with a song that keeps looping through your brain? Confessions of a Serial Kisser—everyone was in stitches.

But this one?

The one with the kinda loser guy who turned out to be super funny and uses the moniker Justice Jack?


The title has to start with ‘Sammy Keyes and the’—the ‘the’ has to be there. The first four Sammys were named with a ‘the’ and after that it just seemed weird not to have one. You can’t go and switch it up. Sammy Keyes and Justice Jack sounds lame. Like, what are they? Going out?

The ‘the’ has to be there.

And I’m kinda very stuck on having ‘Justice Jack’ in the title.

I just like it.

Nancy (my editor, for you newbies) isn’t as invested in including Jack in the cover.

She’s sorta partial to ‘Masked Maniac.’

Which would work very nicely with a simple ‘the,’ it’s true.

But I’m kinda very stuck on ‘Justice Jack.’

I’ve gone through SO many variations trying to find the perfect fit to capture the essence of this story. It’s been like naming Moustache Mary. I couldn’t figure out what word went best with it. I was partial to Sammy Keyes and the Spirit of Moustache Mary, but Nancy thought it sounded like an airplane. When I finally struck on “Curse” I felt this enormous sense of relief. Like, yes. That is the perfect word.

After that was settled we went round and round about the spelling of mustache. I really wanted the ‘o’.

I just liked it, okay?

Who knew titles were such battle grounds, huh?

Anyway, part of the challenge with both ‘the Curse of Moustache Mary’ and ‘the ______ of Justice Jack' is working with the space constraints. The word that fits in the blank cannot take up much room because of the design of the jacket.

I had settled on ‘Power’ but there’s something about it that Nancy isn’t keen on. And I do have ‘Power Potion’ and ‘the Greatest Power’ in the Gecko & Sticky titles.

That’s a different series, but it does influence my decision. Like, maybe ‘Power’ isn’t the best choice after all. I know I wouldn’t name another book with ‘Run’ in it – I have Runaway, The Running Dream, and Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf. I’m done with running. So maybe I should be done with ‘Power,’ too.

Then I came up with ‘Call’ as a nice substitute.

Nancy's reception to the change was cool at best.


Now, you’d think that an author could just say, This is the title of my book and you keep your mitts off! And if this had been one of those love-it-from-the-get-go titles, well, Nancy would have probably loved it from the get-go, too and we wouldn’t be swimming around in title stew.

But we need to decide!

Like, yesterday!

So I brainstormed some more with Mark and we’re now liking ‘Legend’ as the fill-in-the-blank word. Physically it’s a little long, but only one more letter than Power, which is the same length as Curse, which we know fits.

We actually like ‘Ballad’ but there is no song in the story (silly me!) so it would make no sense. Too bad.

Anyway, I sent the new title to Nancy on Monday and her reaction?

I haven’t heard a peep.

Which means that she’s still wanting Masked Maniac.

(After 25 books with her I’ve learned to interpret the silence.)

And of course you have no idea what this story is about (except that it’s about a kinda loser guy who is very funny and goes by the name of Justice Jack) so you can’t help me!

Maybe next week I’ll have an official title for you.

(But don’t hold your breath!)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Random Tidbits

Random updates and tidbits this week!

This round of rewriting Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack is done. I know I'll see it again when the copy editor takes a crack at it, but for now, off it goes.

Oh. Those of you who are into the business of writing may be interested in payment structure. It used to be you received 50% of your advance upon signing, and then 50% upon "acceptance"...acceptance being at the stage where your editor says "cool beans" and passes the manuscript off to the copy editor.

In other words, now.

(Assuming, of course, that she says "cool beans" which, by the way, is an expression I adopted from her.)

But with "the economy" there's been a restructuring of payment so now it's 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on acceptance, and 1/3 on publication.

Next tidbit:

I'm "training" for a new marathon. It's more like slogging out the miles. Those of you who have followed along here know that every  marathon I run I swear is my last. And I really thought the last one was.

But then my son said he was thinking he'd like to train this summer for his first marathon.

And then my other son said he'd do it, too.

So the 4 of us are doing a "family marathon" where we'll all run together for Exercise the Right to Read with the goal of crossing the finish line together.

But my younger son is having second (third and fourth) thoughts. So getting him up in the morning to do our runs has been...challenging.

After all, it's summer and, more to the point, he's a teenager.

Today our training chart called for a 12 miler -- the furthest distance yet. So I mapped a route that I thought might help keep our reluctant runner trucking along...including a detour to his girlfriend's house. I'm happy to report that it went fairly well and that we can check off the 12 mi in the box on the refrigerator.

(Don't tell my son, but I'm sore and tired and wondering why in the world I'm doing this again.)

Next tidbit:

Risky Whippet (family rock band!) played at a party this week--just a handful of songs but it was loud and raucous and fun.

My sons have been having a "do you remember" summer and decided they wanted to watch The Sword & the Stone VHS video from their childhood.


I donated that to Goodwill.

"What about our other videos?"

"Uh...donated. We could get your favorites on DVD?"

"No! It's not the same!"

Talk about being in the dog house. But this week I got my hands on 10 old VHS Disney movies from a girl who was having a yard sale.


So I'm mostly out of the dog house. For now, anyway.

(I wonder if they'll get nostalgic over their Beanie Babies...)


Every day I tell myself I've got to respond to the comments from the last few weeks. Some of them are so good! And every night I fall into bed telling myself I'll respond tomorrow. I will! soon, promise! Meanwhile, know I always appreciate that you visit me here and send me comments.

All for now. Good night!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bloodied and Blind

It’s rewrite time!


Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack returned to my doorstep this week with a two and a half page letter from Nancy attached.

I once received a 15 page editorial letter from Nancy. (That was for Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary when I had a full time job teaching, my kids were tiny, and I was seriously frayed from trying to keep it all together.) So I know—a two-and-a-half page editorial letter isn’t bad.

Besides, I don’t read the letter right away.

It’s full of work, and I know it.

Instead, I go straight to the manuscript and flip through it page by page, ignoring all the little red marks that do not say HA! or NICE! or GREAT!

I live from HA! to HA! if you must know. It’s what keeps me going through the daunting process of analyzing three hundred pages of edits, especially after spending the past six months re-writing the same manuscript into what I hoped was a state of perfection.

Well, near perfection, anyway.

But now here it is, back on my desk, bloodied.

Actually. the pencil she used may be red, but it’s a faint red. I’m not sure if her glasses have gotten stronger of if I just need a pair myself, but some places the writing is so small and faint that I can’t help but wonder if she was on her bed, recovering from a nasty flu, or perhaps a migraine that stress from tardy manuscripts has been known to trigger.

Regardless, I don’t want to read the faint stuff at first anyway, so at this stage I’m perfectly fine with not being able to see it. I focus on only the HAs and NICEs and GREATs in their glorious swoopy red circles so I can gather into my psyche the strength needed to lift a magnifying glass and face all the scribbled suggestions.

But after I’ve soaked in all the good stuff, I still don’t read the letter.

I boycott it.

I'm not yet ready to face what’s wrong with what I’ve written.

So I shove the letter along with the manuscript inside a desk drawer and let the good stuff settle in for a day or two.

It needs time to get securely attached.

Really, it does.

And then, finally, when the good stuff is settled and secure (and can claim squatter’s rights on my emotional state), I pull open the drawer and face the work.

First I read the letter.

Then I let out a big sigh of relief.

Not so bad.

Then I re-read the letter, this time making notes about broad-picture corrections and needed additions (or adjustments in tone).

Then I take a deep breath, roll up my sleeves, and start on page one of the manuscript, grateful that I’ve got an editor who is still willing to show such attention to detail and give me such astute feedback—even on the 15th book in a series.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crazed and Confused

Years ago when we moved into our house, Mark’s parents gave us an old “petticoat table” as a house warming present. It was an antique and looked like it had been banging around in garages for the last hundred years. The finish was crazed, the marble dull and cracked, and although it had claw feet which I liked, it was not something I was wild about having in the entry hall of our new house.

Now, I knew from early in our relationship that Mark’s parents were into antiques.

I was not.

I couldn’t get past the smell. The four of us would go check out some barn full of antiques somewhere, and the minute we walked in I’d want to leave. Maybe it’s because antiques are just old and have been stored in the basement and the attic and the shed and the garage (because, hey, nobody really wants them in their house!) Or maybe it’s because antique furniture was stuffed with horse hair and hundred year old horse hair can’t smell anything but bad. (What is horse hair anyway? From the tails? What are they thinking, stuffing furniture with horsey tails. Giddy up?)

Anyway, the point is, antique “warehouses” smell, and then there’s the issue of springs. Do not sit on antique furniture. If it doesn’t crumble underneath you, it fights back.


The seats are full of perilously bound springs. You have to worry about placing your bottom down carefully and just so, or risk getting goosed by an old rusty spring (wrapped in stinky horse hair).

Now, I might have appreciated the wood and the unique carvings on some of the furniture if it wasn’t for the fact that antique collectors insist that you can’t remove the “patina.” (Also known as crazing.) Crazing is a combination of dust, decay, and wood finish. It’s like the shellac (which, by the way, is made from a secretion of the female lac bug) in a state of cloudy decay makes the piece more valuable than if it’s stripped and newly finished. After all, it would be a crime to get rid of all that history of neglect and garage storage.

So, yeah, the last thing I wanted in my brand new house was a crazed old petticoat table.

And besides, a petticoat table?

What the heck'sa petticoat table?

And who’s wearing petticoats around here?

(Just so I don’t leave these questions unanswered, 1) the table is about three and a half feet tall, four feet wide, and two feet deep with a mirror against its back wall which dainty ladies could use to check their petticoats before leaving the house. 2) Nobody.)

So no, I didn’t want the senseless, ugly, crazed, outdated, smelly thing in my house.

But my in-laws are awesome and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

After all, in their view they were giving us a family heirloom.

A rare and wondrous treasure.

One with valuable patina.

Anyway, Mark, being Mark, saw the potential in this piece of firewood and decided to commit a cardinal sin:

He stripped the thing and refinished it.

Weeks later what emerged from our garage was a breathtaking piece of furniture. (The picture doesn't even begin to do it justice.) It with beautiful, matching grain, stunning feet, and a finely polished (but still historically weathered) marble top.

For the first time I found myself really appreciated wood.

It wasn’t just for building fires!

You could do more with it than frame a house!

You could create furniture that was truly art.

That was our first piece of furniture and now our house is full of antiques. We’ve collected “firewood” furniture which Mark (and a really great upholsterer who’s happy to get rid of horsehair) have brought back to life. Not only is the reworked furniture beautiful, but I like the thought that the people who put such care and artistry into creating it have their work appreciated all over again.

I’ve been told that I make, uh, off beat connections, and I confess that the reason I’m babbling about petticoat tables and stripping antiques is because I realize that I myself am “crazed.” The petticoat table is a good reminder that sometimes you have to let go of the past to really shine in the present.

Underneath the crazing there’s life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Blood: Lost In Translation

I have always loved the melody to the French National Anthem (La Marseillaise). It’s spirited and uplifting and memorable. And although I was familiar with the sound of the words and could mimic the opening lines, I had no idea what any of it meant. But hearing it recently (don’t ask), I recognized a word:


Not as in sing-sang-sung—that’s English.

No, this word forms half in your throat and half through your nose…. Sang.

The reason I recognized this word is that my book Swear to Howdy has been translated into French and the title is Pacte de Sang.

Pact of Blood.

So I got curious and looked up the words to the French National Anthem.

First the direct translation:

(Direct Translation)

Arise, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us of the tyranny
The bloody banner is raised, (repeat)
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They're coming right into your arms
To slit off the throats your sons and your companions!
To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let's march, let's march!
That a tainted blood
Water our furrows!

Holy smokes! I know many national anthems were written in times of war, but...when a French citizen wins a gold medal at the Olympics in 2012, these are still the words the French hear in their heads?

And then I remembered that several stanzas into our American National Anthem there are some pretty, uh, robust lyrics (look it up)…but not in the first stanza (the only one anyone knows) and nothing like this!

Upon further search, I found the “English Versification” of the French National Anthem, which, beginning with the same French words, winds up this way:

(English Versification)

Ye sons of France, awake to glory,
Hark, hark! what myriads bid you rise!
Your children, wives and white-haired grandsires.
Behold their tears and hear their cries! (repeat)
Shall hateful tyrants, mischiefs breeding,
With hireling hosts, a ruffian band,
Affright and desolate the land,
While peace and liberty lie bleeding?
To arms, to arms, ye brave!
The avenging sword unsheath,
March on, march on!
All hearts resolv'd
On victory or death!

Wow. How completely different the tone and meaning of the same words can wind up, depending on the translation.

We authors allow our works to be translated into foreign languages with the agreement that translations stay true to the story. Still, after my little eye-opening adventure with the French National Anthem, I can’t help but wonder what sort of story Swear to HowdyPacte de Sang—is to the French who read it. Since learning French is nowhere near my bucket list, I’ll likely never know.

And maybe that’s just as well.