Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spilling Secrets

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

First, the newsy stuff:

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

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

For example: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us something about you.

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Aiming at Brave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Happy Birthday, Sammy!

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

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

How old this year?

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

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

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

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

See you soon!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hope, Heart, and Making a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had I made a difference?

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

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

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

Suddenly, Holly's gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The teacher letter
Did it make a difference to anyone? 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

There's a Turtle on My Title!

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

That's not always the case. 

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

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

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

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

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

Who the heck was Sara Kay?

And why make her look like an angry Nancy Drew?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spastic and Weepy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which means I'm starting from scratch.

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

Yes, that's me (many years ago). 

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

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

More than you can possibly imagine.

The rest I'm saving for Bank Street.

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

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

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Flipped Audio GIveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

I made myself laugh a few times!

So that's a good, right?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Delicate Balance

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief (#1) published in 1998. Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye (#18) published in 2014. The series spans sixteen real years of rapidly evolving technology, yet in Sammy's world only 21 months go by.

Any series writer will tell you - tech is a headache. You can't keep up with it or predict how long a current trend or innovation will be relevant. (Which, I suspect, is the reason we're seeing so many books set in eras prior to the tech explosion.)

Also, cell phones are the bane of a mystery writer's plotting. There is no longer a believable excuse for not taking the picture, not recording the conversation, not texting your location from the trunk of a bad guy's car. And having the cell phone break or die or get forgotten is desperate plotting. Cell phones take the fun and creative solutions out of contemporary mystery writing. Everything can be traced. And really, how exciting are texts? Not exactly the stuff page-turners are made of. 

I remember reading about Sue Grafton's decision to keep her alphabet series set in the 80's. She began that series in 1982, which is when the first book (A is for Alibi) takes place, and the entire series is dedicated to that decade's style and technology. This seems right for that series. It fits. 

I purposely didn't do that with Sammy Keyes. The readership window is so much smaller when writing for youth than it is when writing for adults, so even though Sammy grows up a month at a time from one book to the next, I never specified a year. I also did what I could to avoid describing things in a way that might date the stories too quickly. I wanted my readers to feel like Sammy's world was their world.

But tech can trip you up! For example, during the writing of the early books I remember the price of a pay phone was going up again. It had been rising steadily and was on its way to fifty cents per call. So when Sammy uses a pay phone, I thought I'd be smart and have her insert "coins" instead of a specific amount. I wasn't imagining a time just a few short years later when pay phones would be nearly obsolete.

Also, as time ticked along behind the creation of the series, I adapted as I went. I worked at being subtle, introducing new tech and modernization casually. I wanted the book to feel relevant in the year it was released. Fortunately (!) Sammy lives in an old highrise full of old people; a place with shoddy maintenance and inattentive management. Also, Sammy's grandmother is on a fixed income, and Sammy has all sorts of legitimate excuses for not have access to technology.

Outside the highrise, though, tech happened. And with the opportunity to revisit the text while the books were getting an updated look, I weighed the pros and cons of making some subtle changes so that new readers (yes, a new generation of readers) wouldn't be thrown by things they'd never heard of.

After much discussion at home and some with Nancy (my editor), I decided to dip into the pages of Hotel Thief--the oldest title--and see how difficult (or, even, possible) gentle updating would be.

I will take a little sidetrack to share that I have never read a Sammy after it was published. I've read each and every one dozens of times during the revision process prior to publication, but once they became real books, I just didn't want to. Mostly that was because I knew I couldn't read them for pleasure. I would always be finding places I should have done or worded or said something differently.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I revisited Hotel Thief after nearly twenty years.

But you know what?

It's good!

And I was so relieved to feel that way about it!

You know what else?

To my surprise, it didn't take much tweaking.

So to finally end last week's cliffhanger, yes, I did it. I went through the pages, subtly excised, carefully added, but didn't change one single thing that didn't meet my reasons for what I was doing.

Not changing optional things was actually hard. There were places I wanted to pull out filler phrases ("Now"s and such). And there were places where the switch in tense could have been done better. Lots of places. But I didn't touch them. Not any of them.

Encouraged, I went on and revisited Skeleton Man and Sisters of Mercy - the other titles set for re-release in May. In the end, each title had only about ten pages where little changes had been made - surprisingly little! But some of those changes took me hours to finesse, because I had to keep the line (or, sometimes, character) count the same. If I cut or added too much it might pull (or push) the length of the paragraph, which would then affect the page breaks--something I had to avoid.

When I'd completed the manuscripts, I made copies of the changed pages and sent them off to Nancy, certain that this was the right course of action.

And then I got some bad news. As it turned out, the older titles were on film. Changes might be impossible. Here's the news, directly from Nancy: It’s ironic that the earliest books will have the most tech things to change but the corrections will be the hardest to make because the printing technology has changed… .  It would be easy to make changes to the final books in the series because they’re all digital files, but on those we probably have the fewest corrections… 

At this point I was seriously invested so I did a little (well, yes, more than a little) pleading. This didn't fall on deaf ears because Nancy was invested, too. After all, she's been the one and only editor of all 18 books and she's the one shepherding the reissue through this whole arduous process.

And the good news is, they have found a printer who is able to do the changes. To celebrate, Nancy sent me Runaway Elf (#4) to work on, and the next 4 titles arrived in a box yesterday. So you know what I'll be doing for the next many weeks!

I'll leave you with this graphic of the titles with their page count (and total pages for the series), to drive home that yes, this is a lot of work, and yes, it would have been much easier to just leave the text alone.

So if you're a purist and disagree with my touching the text, I hope you'll be reassured by the examples I've included. Changes are being done with the lightest touch, and with the sole purpose of keeping Sammy and her feisty, funny ways infiltrating the hearts of readers, (and spreading girl power!) for years to come.

Thanks, as always, for making time to visit. Looking forward to seeing you in the comments! 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Rebranding - Ins & Outs

Last week I shared the new outsides of the Sammy Keyes series. This week we look inside.

There's a lot that goes into the interior design of a book. A lot more than you might think. There are decisions regarding font, point size, margins, chapter headings, as well as little style touches.

In the case of the Sammy Keyes series, the interior style is pretty basic. Each of the 18 books begins with the word Prologue, followed by an enlarged point size and offset first sentence. These, as well as each chapter heading, are set in the same font that's used on the book covers: Expose. 

There are bits of art from the cover design inserted sparsely throughout the book--usually to accentuate the beginning or end of a chapter--but the rest of each volume is simply text. 

Those design choices resulted in an integrated look for the hardcovers. When the paperback covers started getting different artwork the designers bridged the looks by continuing to use the Expose font on the covers. Expose was the "Sammy Keyes font."

So the interior chapter headings and opening sentences still made sense, but once they moved away from the original art, the bits of art that echoed the hardcover jackets did not. Readers who'd only seen the paperbacks wouldn't understand the odd squares of different art, so why weren't they removed?

I asked, but the answer was kind of vague, and it didn't seem that crucial, so I just let it go.

But as the series progressed, some of the inserted squares of art in the interiors of new hardcover editions looked murky. Some were almost unrecognizable as art. 

I was told they just weren't printing clearly on the paper that was now being used. That situation coupled with the weirdness of having the squares in the paperback pages led to the logical decision to stop adding them to the interior pages in upcoming titles. That is why, from Wedding Crasher (book 13) on, the bits of art no longer appeared past the Prologue page. 

(The new font is hand lettered.) 
This all relates to the new look in that the new paperback covers do not use Expose. After much discussion about the pros and cons, the design team decided they wanted to rebrand the whole series with a completely fresh look. 

And yet, when I mentioned updating the interiors so that all the old art bits were removed and the chapter headings and opening lines were no longer in Expose, I got some worrisome news: They maybe, probably, couldn't do that.


Nancy (my editor) explained that the first books in the series were originated long enough ago that there were no digital files; the pages were on actual film, like negatives, and so it would be cost-prohibitive (and way too much work) to regenerate the books digitally. 

She gave me a little glimmer of hope, though, saying they would approach a different printer to see if there was any way around the situation.

This maybe-probably-not impacted more than just the style of the interior. It threw a monkey wrench into a decision I've been agonizing over for a couple of years: Should I take this opportunity to gently address text that might make the series seem dated? If interior changes were impossible, that option was off the table.

Fans of the series will recognize how important a decision to-tweak or not-to-tweak the text is. It has been truly agonizing! And I do plan to tell you all about it, but sharing that decision and the rationale behind it will make this post much too long. 

Also, it's an ongoing, evolving situation. 

So I'm afraid I'm leaving you with...

A cliffhanger! 

Sorry, no peeking ahead possible. The story will continue next week. (And I will finish, but bring your flashlight - it may be a long night.)

Until then, thank you for stopping by. See you in the comments!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New Look for Sammy Keyes!

I am so excited for this week's post! Finally, finally, finally, I have new Sammy Keyes art to show you.

But first! From last weekend's post...our drawing winner is....Ashli B. from Ohio! (Congratulations on your Charmin' good luck. Your box of Lincoln Jones goodies will ship out on Monday.) 

(Did y'all, uh, snicker about the "Charmin' good luck"? No? Well, go read Lincoln Jones--it's magically delicious!)

Okay, okay. I feel like I tapped the mic, read last week's minutes, got sidetracked, and lost my grip. 

But what else is new, right?

Wendelin! FOCUS! 

Right, right! Sorry! I'm just excited!! And honestly, I don't know where to begin. Some of you have been reading this blog since I first started soliciting your input regarding new Sammy Keyes artwork, and you have probably wondered, what the heck ever happened with that? Well, it's a huge thing, redoing the art of 18 books! And in the end, it's a business decision. Do sales--past and future--warrant an investment in new art? And, if so, what is the purpose for the investment, and how will the new art serve that purpose? 

It's not unusual for books to get a "refreshed" look periodically, and having multiple looks across the life of a series is pretty normal. I've been told that Sammy having the same art/artist for all 18 hardcovers was very unusual.

Here's a post from back in 2014, where I was trying to get a bead on the direction the art should take once the series was complete. The dilemma with Sammy Keyes is that she doesn't fit neatly into "Middle Grade" (8-12 yrs) or "Young Adult" (12 yrs & up, but more realistically, 14 yrs & up). Sammy is edgy, funny, irreverent, and not obsessed with boys. And she deals with stuff like meth labs, buried bodies, gangs, and seriously scary adults. 

I personally wanted the new art to move in a more realistically rendered direction (as proposed in that linked post). And, because her name can confuse the uninitiated, I wanted the new art to make clear that Sammy is a girl. 

So for a good year I gathered input from booksellers and kids at schools and people here and online. One of the crucial questions I posed was, where do you think Sammy should be shelved? YA, or MG? It makes a huge difference in bookstores and in schools. 

The data was pretty evenly divided...which reflects the situation with middle school itself: it's that transitional ground between childhood and near adulthood.

Here's what finally came down as the reality of current trends: Realistic covers are for YA books, and although Sammys are read by a wide range of ages, the books belong on shelves accessible to kids younger than 14. 

Realistic was out.

I was bummed.

And then I was shown some preliminary sketches done by New Zealand artist Craig Phillips.

And I got a whole lot less bummed in a hurry.

The new look still had humor, but there was also an edginess to it. And a girl! I know we all have our own picture of what Sammy looks like, and that was the goal. We wanted readers to picture her their way. 

So after all this time, seeing Sammy on these covers is a little strange. And it may not match the Sammy you see in your head, but give it time. I hope you can adjust and learn to like this new art as much as I do. 

A couple of other quick things: 

One of the many questions I asked when collecting data was...should the books be numbered? Again, the answers were evenly divided. Readers edged toward yes, but booksellers edged toward no. And really, although it's best to read the series in order, I wrote them so you don't have to. So if the title you have in front of you is, say, Hollywood Mummy, don't think you have to find the previous five books before you read it. Open it up, get on that bus to Hollywood, and go!

So, again, the team at Random House concluded: No numbers.

Only this time I countered with an idea that originated in the comments of this blog: 

Hide the numbers in the art. 

And guess what, guys? That's exactly what they're doing! Some of the numbers are easy to spot, some are a little more challenging. (I've seen art for the first 8 books but I can only share 3 at this time.) I think hidden numbers are super fun, and I just love that the idea originated here. (Yes, okay, go find them. Then come back and read the rest of the post.)

The other thing that I'm crazy nutso happy about is the spines. There's a piece of art (to remain unnamed) that will span the width of the series. When you have the (secretly numbered) books on the shelf, spines out in the proper order, an image is created behind the spines' titles and text. It's like putting together a puzzle. Very appropriate for Sammy Keyes! I'm including the full span art of Hotel Thief so you can see its spine and get a taste for it.

There's a ton more to share, but this is probably enough for one post. But I promise to be back next weekend with more!

Meanwhile, thanks so much for checking in, (And for those of you who have been waiting years for this post, thank you for your patience and steadfast loyalty.) I will leave you with a compilation of the first three Sammy paperback covers over time, from the original puzzle-piece art (which was only out in paperback for a short time), to the realistic interim art (lasted about 8 books, after which it was replaced by) the "cartoony" art (which was available up to but not including the very last book), to the upcoming art (to be released beginning May 2nd).

So...what do you think? I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts. See you in the comments!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Story Time!

Story time!

While other college friends would go bar hopping on weekends, my friend Mary Lou and I would go dessert hopping. We’d stop by a restaurant, order a single dessert, split it, walk to the next place, order another dessert…you get the idea. Maybe it was all the sugar, or maybe it was just that we tend to make each other laugh hysterically, but by the end of our tour d’esserts, I'm sure people who saw us staggering down the street laughing thought we were on something stronger than sugar.

This same friend and I would also entertain ourselves by playing a card game called (very appropriately) Nerds.

I don’t remember the rules, exactly, but it’s as physical a card game as there is - at least it is the way we played it.

It involved two decks and was something akin to solitaire, but you could put your cards on the other person’s field. We would fly through our decks, flipping through cards, arms jetting across the table, laughing hysterically. The goal was to unload all your cards (your entire deck). The first player to do that and shout "NERDS!" won.

Our roommates hated Nerds.

Or us nerds playing it, more likely.

Whatever. Cool people have their own code of conduct. I’m sure it makes them happy.

But not as happy as playing Nerds!

This relates to the dessert hopping story in that a king-sized Snickers was involved. We would slice the candy bar into about eight pieces, and the winner of the hand—or scrimmage, as it were—would get to eat one slice. Shuffle, shuffle, switch decks, go! That slice is mine.

You may have noticed that Snickers make cameo appearances in my books. If one of my characters is having  a candy bar, it’s most likely going to be a Snickers. (Or a Reese’s, but the reason for that is a story for another day.) (Although I must digress here to insist that Resee’s are best eaten quartered.) (Like a pie.) (Really.) 

Snickers are my go-to candy bar in stories because, well, authors write what they know, right? But also, Snickers remind me of Friday nights in college with a really good friend. Snickers have the power to make me laugh.

Which is why in The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones, Lincoln has a thing for Snickers. The candy bar makes more than just a cameo appearance. The "Tattletale Toilet" chapter is all about the hazards of sneakin’ a Snickers.

Hey, since it's story time, do you want an excerpt? Oh, how fun. Okay! 

Diving into "Tattletale Toilet"...(h-hm)...


The next morning, Ma sprung my cage. "Lincoln!" she called from the bathroom. "Why are there bits of Snickers wrappers swimmin' around the toilet?"

I was in the middle of a dream, trapped inside the corner market by a decrepit old man who was trying to tase me for sneaking Snickers to homeless folks. His Taser was slick and could shoot from a distance, but his aim was all shaky and he was shufflin' along like a zombie in short red socks, wearing a hospital gown that was gaping wide open in back. "Don't you know it'll kill 'em?" he was shouting as I dodged him. "Send 'em straight into a diabetic coma!"

"Lincoln!" Ma hollered again. "What's a Snickers wrapper doing in the toilet?"

I was glad to shake off the zombie in red socks, but now my mind was dodging around for another escape route. How could there be wrapper left in the toilet? I'd seen it go down! And I'd used the toilet since! Had some pieces stuck to the sides? Had they made their way back up stream? How could this be?

"You sure it's not somethin' else brown?" I called back.

"Lincoln Jones, I know the difference between somethin' else brown and a candy wrapper." Her head popped out of the bathroom. "And I'm guessin' no 'No' means you got some explainin' to do?"


Having just typed this, I realize that it doesn't convey at all why the Bank Street College of Education just gave the book an incredible award. From that excerpt, the book seems like it's light and silly and funny. Which it is in parts...but in other parts it's weighty. And heavy needs a counterbalance. Especially for kids. 

And what also hit me just now is that the "Tattletale Toilet" excerpt is just like taking a break from the serious things in life to play a game of Nerds. Mary Lou and I are actually very introspective people. We have serious philosophical discussions, and help each other focus on what's important in life. But we also cut loose and laugh. Because the heavy stuff by itself can be crushing. All of us need some version of Nerds, some fun escape to fortify us for when we face off with the weightier things in life.

But back to Snickers! Or, more precisely, the reason dessert-hopping and Snickers made an appearance in this post to begin with. I didn't lead with PRIZE! because, hey, if you're just here to win stuff, go away.

But for you, my faithful bloggettes or bloglodites (or…can I hear a chorus of blogonerds!?), I'm doing a Lincoln Jones giveaway. And because Lincoln loves them, a king-sized Snickers is being added to the box.

This one-winner giveaway will include: one (dare I say very cool) Lincoln Jones T-shirt (made and donated by one exquisitely nerdy librarian who, I’m positive, wants to remain anonymous), one autographed copy of The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones, plus Listening Library's audio version of it (read by the wonderful JB Adkins), and one king-sized Snickers.

If you would like to enter the drawing—anyone in the USA is eligible—all you have to do is go to the Contact tab at my website and send me an email following these guidelines:

1) Put “Snickers!” in the subject line.
2)  In the body of the message include:
  • Your NAME
  • Preferred T-SHIRT SIZE. (There's a limited size selection, I will match as closely as possible.) 
The bonus is, I will stuff the box with other books because my excellent editor gave me the gift of prepaid (domestic-only) boxes for Christmas. (This may sound like an odd gift to you, but she knows how much I hate the hassle that is our local post office, so it's a great gift.)

Anyway,  I'm allowed to stuff in as much as I can in the box for no extra charge, so it'll be Lincoln Jones stuff plus a grab bag (or, you know, box) of other titles.

Get your entry in by Friday (2/10) and I’ll announce the winner right here next weekend.

That's it for this week. Next week I'm planning to do the Sammy Keyes new covers reveal. (I'm so excited to finally be able to share it with you!) 

Meanwhile, if you have some game or activity that you do with a friend that always makes you laugh, please share it with us in the comments. I'm sure we'd all love to hear (or, you know, snicker!).

Thanks for stopping by. See you in the comments! 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Don't Call It Cute!

Images of my upcoming YA novel Wild Bird are starting to appear online. It seems way too early for this. The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones came out only three months ago. Most people haven’t had the chance to read that book yet. And I love Lincoln! I want his story to be heard, to touch readers, to be a source for discussion among kids and teachers and parents. 

Lincoln should have a chance to breathe. 

Plus, I am allergic to people saying or thinking that I “crank ‘em out.” That is the opposite of what I do. I'm productive, yes, but that's because I'm submerged and obsessive and live and breathe and dream whatever book I'm working on.

That, and I've got this increasingly keen (and, yes, morbid) awareness that Death can be capricious. And since there's work to do and finish, I need to get it done today because tomorrow may not come.

But Wild Bird appearing so quickly can definitely give the mistaken impression that I'm sitting at my desk, cranking these books out. It makes that comment/accusation/assumption almost understandable. The vast majority of people in the industry don't actually know me. If they did, they'd almost certainly thank their lucky stars that they didn't live with me. It's a bit much to experience Wendelin in writing mode. And I'm usually in writing mode.

The first time I heard people say I was cranking them out was when the first four Sammy Keyes books were being released. Those people didn't know about the many years of intensive writing while I was in search of a publisher, or that I'd completed all four of those Sammys before I got my "yes." They just knew that (back then) the books were coming out at six month intervals. They assumed the writing was happening in real time; that I was cranking them out.

So I admit to being sensitive about that accusation/assessment/assumption. And while I'm admitting things, let me also address the descriptor 'cute.' Do NOT call my books cute. They are not cute. None of them. Including Flipped. You want to see me flip out? Call Flipped cute.

The Running Dream published in January 2011. The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones came out in October 2016. That’s nearly six years between stand-alone books. And now, boom, Wild Bird is coming out in September 2017. But between 2011 and 2016 a lot happened, much of which contributed to my withdrawing into the research and writing of these two new books. And part of that withdrawing included wanting time to write these stories without the pressure of deadlines…which meant without contracts.

If you don’t have contracts, you’re not in your publisher's book release queue. There’s the whole editorial process to go through, plus, publishers want all their sales and marketing efforts to be in motion before pub date in order to give a book its best chance.  

One of the things a publisher does to introduce an upcoming title is print up advance reader's copies (or ARCs) of the book. This is the pre-pub paperback and “uncorrected” version of (what in my case will be) a hardcover book. They send these ARCs to reviewers, bloggers, and people in the industry who might be excited to share the news about it.

To put some perspective on timing and distribution, the Wild Bird ARCs were printed in December. This past week, I returned to my editor corrections to the “first pass galleys” – the next step in the book writing process. So the text that appears in the ARC (which is already printed) is now slightly different than the text that will appear in the finished book. It’s mostly subtle—more of a fine-tuning in this case. But I remember for Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary, the ending had changed in such a substantial way that I felt compelled to paste over the old ending with a printout of the new one before sending out the ARCs I had on hand.

Even with the latest revision, the work on Wild Bird is still not done. In another month or so, I’ll be getting another pass at it. And the fascinating thing is, there will be more changes. A copy editor will have found mistakes. And I know there’ll be passages that I want to improve. There are always corrections. The trick is to do everything you can to find them before the book goes to press. 

Wild Bird research folder
But for now, the news is out: I’ve written a new YA book. I tear up just thinking about Wild Bird. What a journey! It's the story of Wren, a 14 year old girl who's taken a wrong turn in life and gets forced into wilderness therapy camp in the Utah desert. It's about finding yourself after being lost, about forgiveness and honesty and (if you know my work at all you'll not be surprised to hear...) redemption. And in keeping with my commitment to librarians and parents who've come to trust the lines I do not cross, it's gritty but clean. 

And, as you can see from this picture of my research folder, I did not just crank it out!

Back cover of Wild Bird ARC
Thanks for stopping by the blog. I actually have a lot of exciting upcoming news to share, including a new look for the Sammy Keyes series. (Yes, finally!) 

I also haven’t forgotten my promise to give away a box of books here, so I'll figure that out soon!

And if you’re a YA blogger, a kid-lit reviewer, or work with at-risk youth and would like my publisher to send you an ARC of Wild Bird, please send a brief email at the Contact link here with your information.

I hope you’ll stop by again next weekend. ‘Til then (employing a takeaway from Wild Bird), here’s to remembering there are stars above us, even when we cannot see them..