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!