Sunday, December 30, 2012

Elvis Is In The Building!

It's a book!

I can't believe it's 9 days away from being in your hands, too. The big reveal. The big showdown. The big holy smokes of all Sammy's holy smokes!

And here's what I've got to say about this book:


I remember when my kids were younger and they were reading Harry Potter and my older son said to my younger son, "Have you gotten to the part where X dies?" My younger son gaped at him and said, "X DIES?" All my older son could say was, "Oops." My younger son threw the book down and never finished it.

So yeah,


The reviews so far have been very good (and have contained NO SPOILERS).

Which is nice. (Sometimes reviewers should be jailed, but so far, so good.)

I really, really hope you guys like the story, like the Heather subplot, like the Cammy stuff, and wish, like me, that you could be a stowaway in Sammy's suitcase.

Well, her backpack because, Sammy is, you know, impulsive and doesn't really take time to pack.

And who can blame her? She has no time to pack. She's in too big a hurry to stow away.

But, like I said, NO SPOILERS.

Anyway, thanks for riding along through 2012 with me. It's been wonderful to know you're out there, supporting me and loving Sammy. Happy 2013 to all of you, and I'll see you next year! On my birthday! (Really.) Which is two days before Elvis's birthday. Which is the day Sin City is released.

And on all these accounts, remember, NO SPOILERS!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

An Elf Cap On A Happy State Of Mind

It's been a busy week! A boy (uh, make that 'young man') with a birthday, shopping, baking, wrapping for Christmas, and getting ready for last night's Risky Whippet gig. I went a little overboard making the gig a real Christmas party--we gave away a present after every song. At first I was just going to give away a few autographed books by a certain local author, but then I got carried away and pretty soon I had enough "real" presents to cover all 3 hours of music.

People were, like, Are you serious? thinking there had to be a catch, but I think it made me the happiest person in the room. (Well, I was playing music in a band with my kids and husband, which is an Are-you-serious? sort of situation to begin with, but the gifts were like an elf cap on my happy state of mind.)

Clearly  most of you couldn't attend the Risky Whippet party (I would have loved if you could have...and would have brought more books!) but I will leave you with a link to a little sample (below) of the "family band" in action. Merry Christmas to all of you, even if you don't celebrate it :-)

Risky Whippet does "Birthday" by The Beatles

Sunday, December 16, 2012

If Only Tears Could Change What Happened

Like millions of others across the country, what I keep thinking about is what happened in Newton, Connecticut. And maybe other topics would push this one from our minds, but what seems most appropriate is a post of silence. So here's to those beautiful, innocent children, their heroic teachers, and all their heartbroken families.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Elvis Holds Sammy

This week we laugh.

Go ahead.

I sure did.

If you read the post from 2 weeks ago, you've probably guessed that this photo is courtesy of Nancy, who took the ARC of Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City to all the places mentioned in Sin City.

She couldn't find a Mini-Elvis, like I did during my research trip (and like Sammy does during Showdown), but this guy's maybe even funnier. I wonder how much Nancy tipped him to hold the book. I wonder how much work he gets, there on the Las Vegas Strip, offering to pose with tourists.

Maybe he has a good singing voice.

Maybe that's the motivation.

Still. I wonder if he knows he needs a little help perfecting the whole Elvis thing. I wonder who he is when he's not Elvis. I wonder if he's got a day job.

I really hope he's got a day job.

Anyway, January 8th is right around the corner.

You'll be able to hold Sammy, too.

And find out who her dad is.

Just remember, the year ends in 13.

Can't wait.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

For My Mom

It's time for Sinterklaas!

If you've read the first couple of chapters of Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack, you'll know what this means.

Well, you'll know what this means Van Draanen style. For civilized Dutch folks it's a much tamer affair. 

Basically, Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus. Only he rides a horse. And his hat is way cooler than Santa's. And he comes early in December. And visits five times, not just one. 

Oh, and forget the whole coming down the chimney thing. Sinterklaas don't need no stinkin' chimney. Sinterklaas knows how to deliver spice cookies through the roof.

As Billy Pratt would say, The dude is awesome!

When I was growing up, Sinterklaas and his magic white horse (and cool hat) got all the credit. But the Royal Dutch Bakers for Sinterklaas are actually the ones who do all the work. 

As fate would have it, one of those Royal Bakers was (shhhh) was my mom. 

Yes, my mother had the recipe for the magic pepernoten that clatter through the ceiling / roof and onto the floor. She was a very busy baker, too, managing to make up to three thousand pepernoten in a few days, all while the kids were at school. 

Through this tradition, Mom filled my childhood Decembers with happy squeals and anticipation and fun. And since Sinterklaas kept a rather irregular schedule (depending on whether it was a school night or Scout meeting night, or whatever), peppernoten might fall on December 4th. Or 5th. Or (come on already!) 6th. 

Civilized Dutch stick to the 5th, but, well, we Van Draanens don't fit that mold, and the not knowing when pepernoten might come crashing down around us was half of the fun.

When I had children of my own, I, too, was recruited to become a baker for Sinterklaas. And although I cannot call myself a Royal Baker or boast 3,000 cookies in any season (or maybe, even, total), I have for many years baked lots of little cookies during the early days of December. And each time I did, I thought about my mom. About the dough sticking in her palms, about her airing out the house before school so we children wouldn't detect the sweet spicy smell of pepernoten baking. About how much time and effort she put into the tradition and the holiday. About how much I loved her for the joy it brought to me as a child.

What I haven't shared on this blog (because it's personal and hard and just...sad), is that my mother is in the last stages of life. She's down to 70 pounds and in a memory care facility. (Please, no sympathy comments, okay?) I visit her a lot. (I'm there so much many of the residents think I work there.) 

Some days--some visits--are better than others. Today's was really nice. I talked with her about Sinterklaas and pepernoten and how joyful she'd made this time of year for us when we were growing up. I spoke to her in the best Dutch I know (and she corrected me, as is her way), and she smiled more than usual and remembered along with me about the baking and the hiding and the magic. 

It was obvious that me remembering and appreciating everything she'd done made her happy. Which made me happy, too. Mom may be retired from the workforce, but she will always love--and be loved for--having served as a Royal Dutch Baker for Sinterklaas.

So, happy Sinterklaas to you Dutch. And to you non-Dutch, read the first 2 chapters of Justice Jack. You'll wish you were. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Where's Our Girl?

I received a flurry of mysterious e-mails from Nancy (my editor) this week. They had a short teaser subject and an attached picture. No text, just the picture.

The subjects were "Where's our girl?" "Shady location," "Mystery man," "Hungry," "Searching," "Uh, oh"....things like that.

And as I opened them up, one by one, I was, like, HUH? Why is she taking a picture of the ARC of the upcoming Sammy Keyes in the midst of crackers and cookies? Wow, those are cool sunglasses, but...why?  And the book at the feet of suit of arms? Hello?

It was like my son was in kindergarten again and we were going around to odd places taking pictures of Flat Stanley. (Please tell me you had the Flat Stanley Experience as a child / parent.) But I had no idea why Sammy was in front of a fancy light. Or a stony sculpture. And I was feeling secretly dopey. Like, am I supposed to know what she's talking about?

And then, ZAP -- I got it.

It was the map. The corner of a map visible in the bottom of a picture.

I had studied that map when writing the book.

I'd studied it a LOT!

Stupidly excited, I wrote her back with the answer to where our girl was. Turned out Nancy had an elaborate series of pictures still in the queue--pictures that made it more and more obvious where Sammy was--and she was bummed that I'd figured it out so fast.

So right now you're going, Wendelin, hello? Sin City? How could you not have known? It's in the title, right?

I was in Flat Stanley mode, okay?

The first thing I thought was to share this with you. Especially since I've decided NOT to do a contest for ARCs of the book because I don't want some of you to know the identity of Sammy's dad before others do. No matter how fair the contest is, it just doesn't seem fair.

But I thought it would be fun to make a collage of the pictures she'd sent and post it for the super sleuths among you. (It was only after I was done with my little collage masterpiece that I discovered another batch of photo e-mails from her. I could share them later if you want, but I wasn't going to start over! For now, here's the first wave for fun (and to torture you a little :) ) ).

In the upcoming book, Sammy goes all these places. Can you identify any of them?

Have fun!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mudslide By Moonlight

I've been cleaning our garage.

Really cleaning the garage!

And what I've decided is that through their lives, people acquire too much stuff.

It's hard to get rid of stuff. Stuff reminds you of other stuff. Or times. Or people. Or things you've always intended to do.

Or it's the kind of stuff you think might be useful.

In certain circumstances.

Which might arise.


I'm a good organizer. I know how to label a box. I know how to maximize storage. I know how to juggle a puzzle of boxes.

Around here I'm known as The Master Packer.

So I am very good a squirreling things into spaces, but this time I've exposed the contents of all cupboards and have been merciless to the Little Voice that whispers, might be useful in a full moon mudslide.



No, you Widget! You get back in the Goodwill box!


Down, Widget, down!

Clearly, it's been a battle. And part of that battle has been books. My own books. Years ago I started with How I Survived Being a Girl and have continued through each of my 28 (!) books, to squirrel away 6 autographed first editions of each title. For, you know, grand kids, should they ever appear. And if they don't, for my sons to auction off for charity (or whatever) once I'm dead and gone and people think an entire series of first printing autographed Sammy Keyes hardcovers is worth something.

Thinking ahead can take up a lot of  space in one's garage.

I also have foreign editions. And copies of the audio book. And random publication paraphernalia.

Anyway. Aside from Book Stuff, I've been pretty good at letting go of Other Stuff. The trouble is, that only applies to My Stuff, and a lot of the stuff in the garage is not My Stuff. It's Their Stuff. And They don't want to get rid of Their Stuff.

For example, there are two tall, cheesy speakers that go with a tall, cheesy stereo system that my son got for (basically) free at a garage sale. The woman was so excited that my son wanted her junk that she actually loaded it into her truck and delivered it to our doorstep.

"No!" I cried when I saw it, because it was clearly out of someone else's garage, and I know spider poop when I see it.

"No!" my husband cried, because it was clearly a cheesy stereo system from the 80's and couldn't possibly work and was way too big for our son's room.

"Yes!" our son told us, and proceeded to haul his spider-poop prize upstairs to his room.

The system did work (which got ample HA!s from our son) but it is cheesy, and takes up way too much room, the proof being that  it's now back down to our garage where it sits waiting for its rightful owner (the dump truck)...only I'm not allowed to get rid of it. He demands that I leave His Stuff alone. "Stop trying to throw away my childhood!"


Garage-sale stereos aside, I guess it's my own darn fault that his childhood included so much stuff. Parents like to shower their kids with stuff. Stuff that they maybe didn't have. Or stuff that they really wish had been around when they were a kid.

Cool stuff.

But after a while even cool stuff starts to choke you out of your house. Not just your kids' stuff. Your stuff. The cool and the not-so-cool stuff. The useful and the mud-slide-by-moonlight stuff.

And you look around and realize--I don't need all this stuff.

I don't want all this stuff.

I just want my family and time.

If you don't manage your own stuff, people who are left to clean out your closets when you kick the bucket are gonna say, "Why'd she label this bin of bricks?" "What's with this box of buttons?" "Old curtains? Is that what these are? Why?"

And you can't pop out of the grave and explain, "Those curtains would make a FABULOUS dress, can't you see that? Haven't you ever watched Gone With The Wind? Stop! Put that back you stuff-trashing fool!"

I know I'll never make the dress. But thinking that I might gives my brain a little jolt of...someday. I like jolts of someday, because they make me feel like life will go on indefinitely.

Which it won't.

I know.

Not that I'm planning to kick the bucket anytime soon--after all, I have the final Sammy Keyes to write!--but I really need to sort my own stuff before some stuff-trashing fool comes along and does it for me.

Meanwhile, I'm done buying stuff. And if anyone wants to trade Stuff for Time, please let me know.

I'll make you a great deal.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rock Lobster!

Unless you're new to this blog you're already aware that it took me about 10 years to get my first publishing "Yes." What may be new to you is that during this time my husband Mark was writing non-fiction articles and science fiction short stories. When his first article got picked up by a national magazine we were thrilled and so were his parents and we all went out to Red Lobster to celebrate.

After that, Red Lobster became our celebration spot for publication. With each new article we'd go back, and  Mark was the guy at the head of the table.

Even though we usually sat at a round table.

But you get the point.

I was not jealous. Actually, I was the opposite. It was very cool to be able to go to a newsstand anywhere and pick up a magazine and say, "Here's one of Mark's articles!"

After a while Mark getting published became so routine that the Red Lobster thing stopped. I mean, who could afford to keep that up?

Meanwhile, I kept writing.

And meanwhile, I kept getting a steady flow of rejects. ("We're sorry, this is not right for us at this time. But please, think of us again with your next project.")

After years of this, Mark's magazine issues and copies of his two non-fiction books threatened to squeeze us out of our office / bedroom / library / nursery. (It was a 400 sq. ft. rental, so yeah, I'm serious.) And after years of all his articles and those books creating a lopsided teeter-totter of success, I know Mark was praying that something of mine--anything of mine-- would be published. There just comes a point where you can't enjoy your own success when someone you care about is deluged with failure.

So when I finally got the acceptance for my first novel Mark was at least as happy as I was.

And Red Lobster never tasted so good!

But with each new book of mine that got published, the teeter-totter shifted. And since Mark had started off as a writer of fiction, he was now the one wishing for a different sort of publishing success, and his focus shifted from non-fiction to writing novels.

He wrote a really long one about terrorists.

He landed an agent.

The idea garnered interest.

And then 9/11 happened and nobody wanted to touch it.

Onto the next novel.

And the next.

Sound familiar?

Well, the advice is the same: Patience, Grasshopper. And keep hopping forward.

As you know (unless you're new, and if that's the case now you will know so the next time I say this it will, in fact, be true that you knew), Mark is my first reader. He's brainstormed plot with me through 28 books. He's generous with ideas and has a sincere enthusiasm for my work and my area of work.

So (about 4 years ago) when he came up with the idea for a YA novel featuring a teen on the road with a band, I thought it was a great idea. After all, they say write what you know, and Mark--having spent a good deal of his youth as a drummer on the road--knows a thing or two about the subject. (He's also been writing for music magazines all these years, so music has continued to be a big part of his life.)

And this may seem out of the blue, but I know that really what it is, is about darned time...I'm ecstatic to share the news that Mark's stack on the teeter-totter will have a novel added to it. ROAD RASH will be published by Knopf in Spring 2014. I can't wait for you to meet Kimber and Zach and the colorful members of the band Bad Money and their rock 'n' roll adventures.

Meanwhile, you can find us at Red Lobster!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Power of You

I knew very little about the business of publishing before my first book came out. My focus was strictly on the creative end of things.

Well, that and my full-time job and my growing family.

Of course, I knew it was a business with profit and loss statements etc., and I knew that if I ever got published I wanted my book to sell lots of copies...because I wanted lots of people to read it! But my thinking beyond that was limited and very uninformed.

I know many of the people who visit this blog hope to be published, too. So I try to do a little mix of this and that, sharing my stumbles and avenues for success and, you know, interesting or quirky tidbits related to publishing.

So last week when I shared the Great Star Killer Mystery with you, I did it because this was just another one of those little areas of being an author that was (although frustrating) on some level strangely fascinating. I mean, who knew?

I sure didn't.

But the outcome from sharing it with you? The rally? The charge?

Such power!

And so nice.

So although  my thoughts are much more complex than this will reflect, I'll limit myself to saying I loved feeling the strength of your collective voices.

I'll be back on track with news (or musing) next week. This week I just want to say Thank you.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Five Star Killer

I'm not a proponent of big brother conspiracy theories. Maybe I'm naive, or ignorant, or think too small, but I can't get myself too worked up when Big Brother stories circulate. So this is not the direction my mind goes, but after about six weeks of evidence, I've begun to believe that there is a Big Brother.

He works at Amazon.

(Perhaps it's a Sizeable Sister, but whatever. They work at Amazon.)

The BB/SS was brought to my attention by a sweet librarian in the Midwest who was baffled by strange goings on surrounding the removal of a review she submitted for Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack.

Perhaps authors should have better insight into the workings of this book-selling giant. I'm sure some do--I'm just not one of them. I spend my time writing, not analyzing Amazon. So when the correspondence came from this librarian, I initially thought that her experience reflected a simple glitch in the web giant's posting system. After all, the review (which she sent me) had nothing objectionable in it, and she was a legitimate reviewer--an educator at a middle school. What reason would Amazon have to remove it?

After I told her I was clueless about why it would be removed, she waited a few days and when she was sure her review was not magically reappearing, she contacted Amazon directly.

They wrote her back, saying:

We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we've removed your reviews for this title. Any further violations of our posted Guidelines may result in the removal of this item from our website. 

She wrote them back explaining who she was and that she had no vested interest whatsoever in the book.

So they reinstated her review.

And the next day it was, once again, removed.

This librarian works at a school that annually does an all-school read to tie in with a theme. This year their theme is"super heroes" and their book of choice was Justice Jack. They liked the book's theme--that one person can make other's believe in and act upon doing the right thing. So lots of people at this school have read this book. And in addition to the librarian's review, the assistant principal posted (from a separate computer and through a separate Amazon account) this review: 

Sammy Keyes is a great read! I am an assistant principal, and I have always tried to read the books that the young people I am working with may be reading.  I recently read Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack and found it to be a wonderful read.  The book was very entertaining. It flowed very nicely, kept my interest, and made me laugh at the escapades of the superhero Justice Jack.  I love the author’s colorful descriptions of her characters.  The characters are easy to relate to, and the moral behind the story was positive and easy to discuss with young people with an opportunity to encourage them to incorporate it into everyday living.  I strongly recommend this book to read with your children. In fact, I read this book with my eleven-year-old daughter, and it was a great father-daughter bonding experience.

Very nice, and nothing that puts up any red flags that I can see. But it, too, was mysteriously removed shortly after it was visible on the site.

When the librarian told me this, I searched the ol' gray matter for a reason. There had to be a reason! And what I hit on was that the school had ordered a large quantity of books through Amazon and somehow Amazon could track the school's computer system (BB/SS!!) and saw the reviewers as having some resale interest in the title.

But guess what?

The school did not order their books through Amazon!

Since nobody could figure out what's going on, the librarian contacted Amazon again and asked for an explanation. She got the same message as before. So at this point she was ticked off enough to track down a real person via phone (not an easy thing to do). She explained the situation to this real-life person, and the next day both 5-star reviews were reinstated.

Twelve hours later, poof, they vanished again

About twelve hours later, poof, they were back up! 

Then poof! they vanished again!

At this stage this librarian and I are e-mailing back and forth like mad. They're up! They're down! They're up! They're down!

And I'm finally the one who says, "Man, this feels so Big Brother."

In the end, after Amazon threatened the librarian with future reviews (for any books) being automatically blocked should she persist, I told her that she didn't have to be a superhero about it. She could just let it go. 

Which she has. 

But not before sharing Amazon's final correspondence: 

"I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter."

That was it. No actual explanation.

My theory is that the librarian was dealing with two people at the Big A. One daytime, one nighttime. And as the Up and Down Battle ensued, the person in a position of greater authority exercised that authority and shut down the conversation. 

Who knows what the actual truth is. After all, they're "unable to offer any additional insight", so that leaves it to our dangerous imaginations.

Besides not being able to get to the bottom of this mystery (and the little fact that the Five-Star Killer got away), what irritates me is that there are presently only 2 reviews--one 5-star (from a legit outlet) and one 2-star (from someone who clearly has no sense of fun or humor). So the average star rating looks pretty bad! Which is sad because everyone tells me that the book is really good! 

People are entitled to their opinions--I can live with the negatives. But Amazon shoppers do judge a book by the customer reviews (I know I do), and to have the positives excised without justification seems wrong.

Justice Jack would be appalled!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sammy Update!

The problem with a mystery is that once you've read it you know whodunit. There's no ah-HA moment the second time. It's like a joke--it isn't really funny after you know the punchline. So I never share my work-in-progress Sammys with Nancy (my editor, for you newbies). Key to me is finding out from her when she knew who the story's culprit was. Her first read is very valuable because she's an astute reader as well as mystery buff.

Usually I manage to pace the story in a way that reveals things such that she solves the mystery at a satisfactory time -- ideally around the same time Sammy does. If something tips her off too early, she can point to a sentence, an action, or even one word that can be changed. I can't stress how important her first read is.

My goal with Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise is to have it be an homage to the mystery genre because it's the last true mystery in the series written in a genre that has provided me with reading enjoyment since I was a young girl. So I set out to make this a classic mystery, with heroes and villains trapped on a cruise ship, sleuthing and snooping and, of course, Sammy sassing!

But it's also the book where Sammy (and we) get to know her dad.

Which is A BIG DEAL.

And as much as I like sleuthing and snooping and Sammy sassing, I loved the progression of the relationship with her father. It became the aspect of the book that shined through everything else for me.

Nancy loved this subplot too, but when she told me she'd figured out the mystery early on, I knew I was in for a big re-write. After all, if you set out to write a fabulous mystery but  your editor's figured it out by page 100, you've definitely fallen short of your goal.

In early September she sent me a letter.

I read it and mulled.

In mid September we spoke on the phone for an hour about plot changes.

I mulled and then got to work.

And that's where I've been--buried in a rewrite. And as difficult as restructuring the story is, it started to become fun when I let go of the old and let Sammy be Sammy. In the original manuscript, there was a lot of Sammy talking to the villains. Now she's up to her eyeballs in spontaneous (read: dangerous) reactions, and rash (don't try this at home...or on a cruise ship!) actions.

She may be turning 14, but (as Marissa points out) the shadow of 13 is definitely following her!

Man, I'm going to miss that girl.

A little page-count update: I'd said in an earlier post that I was aiming for a slightly shorter overall length. Maybe 250? Some of you were, NO! but I saw it as an (extended) bell curve, where the series started under 200 pages and would taper to The End the same way.

In my mind it made for nice aesthetic symmetry.

Well, (although I'm sure things will change slightly) as of tonight we're weighing in at 302.

(Can I hear a chorus of YES! please? There is a huge difference in work between 250 and 300 pages.)

So much for aesthetic symmetry.

I hope you're also happy to learn that since we'll have some extra (blank) pages at the back of Sin City, it looks like the first chapter of Killer Cruise will be included when SC is printed up. (It was either that or include ads for my other books...I'm thinking you'd prefer the first chapter of KC, am I right?)

Finally, I hope you enjoy the cover art for Killer Cruise. (That will probably be tweaked, too, as you know, but I thought you'd like a sneak peek.)

Looking forward to your comments (and YESes) :)

Thanks for stopping in. See you next week!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kansas And The Two Minute Timer

I made like Dorothy this week and went to Kansas. I'd have preferred ruby slippers as a means of transport, but I was stuck in sardine class on a couple of puddle jumpers each way.

I try to work on the legs of my flights because I find it makes the time go faster. Usually it's edits to manuscripts in paper form because that way I don't have to wait for the all clear to turn on my electronic devices. Because I've figure out that from the time you get onboard to the all clear for your electronic devices, there's a lot you can accomplish.

I actually learned from brewing my afternoon cup of tea that you can get amazing things done in just two minutes. While my teacup with water is heating up in the microwave, I can completely unload the dishes from the dishwasher. By the time the microwave goes off, ping, I've got the dishes empty, and the "dishes bowl" filled with pre-scrub water for the ones waiting to be loaded. Then I take the teacup out, put the teabag in, cover the teacup and put the microwave timer on for two minutes ('cause I don't like tea that's too strong or bitter and 2 minutes is the perfect brew time). While those second two minutes are ticking, I can reload the dishes, wipe down the counters, and get a load of laundry started.

Part of why I get so much done in 2 minutes is that I started noticing how much I could get done in 2 minutes, and have turned it into a little afternoon game with myself--on your mark, get set, go!

So that's where my awareness of what you can get done in two little minutes came from and why I can't stand waiting, like, thirty or forty minutes for a plane to take off and and for permission to turn on my computer. All those wasted two minutes! I could have, like, cleaned my whole house!

Or, at least, revised a chapter.

So I do the paper and pen(cil) thing when I travel, only I invariably get the question from the person sitting next to me: "Oh, you're a teacher?"

And then the whole conversation thing starts.

And you get zero editing or writing done if you're talking or listening.

Now, sometimes people are fascinating. The woman on my leg from Phoenix to Kansas City was a great example. If I hadn't already written Swear to Howdy I would have been taking notes. What a character. I got very little editing done, but the time flew by, so that was okay.

The way back was a different story. Oh, I got very little editing done, that's the same, but now my neighbor was a woman with baby. A squirmy bruiser-boy baby. The mother, in contrast, was down to skin and bones. (I know that look. No rest for mama.) So I wound up helping her with her squirmy boy. I had the window seat. He loved the lights. He wasn't so sure about me, but he was willing to risk standing on my lap for the view of lights.

Two minutes (not to mention 3 hours)  is a very long time when you're on your own on a plane with a 14 month old bruiser of a boy and you're desperate to get him to quit squalling because everyone around you is giving you the Can't-You-Keep-Him-Quiet? glare. So, yeah. I wasn't going to be one of those. And so my work went undone.

But I was talking about Kansas, wasn't I?

I did eventually arrive, and was put in a very nice new hotel on the campus of Kansas University. It's the first hotel I've been in where the windows have thick, solid wood shutters in front of the windows, and a white-noise machine available alongside hermetically sealed packets of earplugs on the nightstand.

The earplugs had notes stapled to them which read:

We hope you enjoy the vibrant nightlife that is ever present so near the KU campus. Unfortunately, this fun is often accompanied by late-night noise. Please make use of the complimentary ear plugs if you feel necessary. Have a good night sleep!

Which is all to say that it's the traveling that saps you. I love the actual work I'm asked to do, and I love meeting the students and teachers. If only I could just click my Converse and appear.

And then, you know, click them again and disappear!

Think of how much more I could get done!

Anyway, glad to be home, thanks for checking in, and next week I'll give a Sammy's been a while and I know some of you are anxious to hear the latest.

Meanwhile, have a good week!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Importance of Showing Up

My father died when I was twenty-two. My mother didn't arrange an official funeral or wake or, you know, public gathering. It was a very private goodbye and consequently people had no real vehicle or method or deadline to express their condolences. I remember feeling devastated and very alone during that time, and it was one of those periods where I gained a new perspective on what it means to be a friend.

When we're young, we don't know what to say to someone who's faced something awful. We want to say something--we want to say the right something--but we're sort of at a loss of what that is and we're afraid of saying  the wrong something, so very often we wind up saying nothing.

One particular gesture from that time has stuck with me ever since. A childhood chum of mine drove up from my old hometown to take me out to dinner and talk about my dad. Three hours on the highway up, an order of enchiladas (with no rice or beans) for dinner, two hours of talk and assurances that my father had done more living in his 52 years than most people could fit into 90, and then three hours on the highway back. I was so touched by this gesture of friendship and what I learned that night is the value of showing up.

A week ago Mark and I attended the funeral of the father of one of my high school students. His death was an accident and a shock. I didn't really know the man, except from back-to-school night and similar functions, and it's been at least 15 years since his son was my student. But I had an impression of the family from things the son had said (and the character that he exhibited) and I had a sense that this family of 7 was extraordinary because of their closeness and humor, which were obvious to anyone who even brushed up against them.

The funeral was held about an hour and a half drive from my home, and I had all the reasons in the world not to attend. It's not like I would be missed. But ever since my father's death, I've understood that it's important to show up. So I did.

Over time I've seen that this doesn't just apply to funerals. In big ways, in small ways, it applies to everything.

Friends show up.

That's not to say that if you don't show up, you're not a friend. I can't be everywhere and I sure don't expect my friends to be everywhere, either. But the friends who show up are remembered and appreciated and treasured.

And even in this small way, here you are.

Thank you for showing up.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spreading Fun Around

Life gets heavy. And the older we get, the harder it is to shake off the collective weight of The Bad Stuff. People disappoint. People betray. People you like and admire die. Time will whittle away at your optimism; at your spirit; at your views on what life can be.

If you let it.

I don't use this blog as a forum for my problems, but I may have mentioned that it's been a hard year.

(It's been a hard year.)

Actually, it's been more like two.

So yeah, life been heavy. And although I count my blessings and go through my litany of All Good Things, that's not the same as feeling joy or having fun.

So Mark (being the great guy he is), decided I needed a distraction and booked our family band (Risky Whippet) for a 3-hour gig at a club (uh, make that bar/saloon). The four of us have worked up about 35 songs (sneaking in about 6 originals) of mostly danceable rock.

With a little Metallica.

And Deep Dark Robot.

And Alice in Chains...

There is something exquisitely fun and indescribably therapeutic about playing in a rock band, and being in one with your husband and sons is 'nother-worldly. How lucky am I that my kids don't think it's completely dorky to play in a band with their parents.

Yeah, I know. Don't pinch me.

Very often when someone finds out we have a band I get the comment "I always wanted to be in a rock band!" And most often it's "I always dreamed of singing back-up in a rock band." Like they want to be up there and be part of it, but not in a scary out-front sort of way.

So I got to thinking that I wanted to help people check that one off their bucket list. I got this big urge to spread the fun around. After all, I don't have a corner on life feeling heavy. Everyone needs a little fun infused now and then.

So we came up with the idea of the Whip-ettes -- friends we would invite to come up and sing background on a few songs. I bought some cool purple-and-green sunglasses. ($3 close out at Claire's!) Three purple feather boas were dug out of my closet. (An old Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy prop, of course!) Friends were invited, purple tights have been ordered, and after two great rehearsals, I know the Whip-ettes are ready!

The eyes behind the shades on the left belong to my sister. I called her the Reluctant Whip-ette because singing in a rock band was definitely not on her bucket list. She doesn't like loud music. Stages make her nervous. I had a Whip-ette waiting list, but I hounded her and promised her she'd have fun, and after our first rehearsal she was a convert. It was so cool to watch her get into it!

If there's a point to be made here it's that the times I feel the happiest is when I've managed to make someone else happy. Life really is too short and gets too heavy to not make an effort to infuse it with joy, not just for ourselves, but for the people we know. Cut loose. Act a little silly. And spread the fun around.

We'll probably post pictures from the show on our RiskyWhippet FaceBook page if you want to investigate. Meanwhile, have a good week, find some fun, and spread it around!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Saluting The Shuttle

I was booked to speak at Whittier College in the Los Angeles area this weekend. Even though it was a long way to travel, I chose to drive because flying can be so frustrating and it takes way more time than the flight time would suggest. And then there’s the whole getting from LAX to Whittier…not fun.

Anyway, Los Angeles traffic lives up to its reputation. It’s a gamble every time you venture in, and the odds are you’re gonna lose a lot of time sitting still on a road designed to be speedy. And you’re not surrounded by palm trees and glistening oceans, either. Cement, barbed wire, graffiti, and tail lights--that’s the LA scenery you’ll see. The only time I like driving through LA is at three in the morning. It’s actually really cool to zoom through at that hour.

When it’s not three in the morning, you really have to concentrate ‘cause locals are crazy and not afraid to show it. They zig in front of you only to slam on their brakes before zagging out to do the same to someone else. So it takes concentration and patience to stay out of trouble, and by the time you’ve negotiated traffic for hours, you’re beat up tired, even though all you’ve really done is sit and stress.

Double-anyway, I knew all that going in, so that tells you how fond I am of flying. But a strange thing happened on the way into LA—we didn’t hit any real traffic. There were a few places where we crept along, but overall it was 55-60mph—excellent for LA freeways.

And then everyone on the 101 started noticing a big ol’ plane coming toward us. Not just a big ol’ plane, but a big ol’ plane with two little jets escorting it.

The Shuttle.

If you had told me that I would get all teared up seeing the shuttle fly overhead, I’d have said, Yeah, nah. But this was close. I’m talking right there. And as we drove along I realized we were timed such that it was going to fly directly over us.

Something about seeing it fly up close and personal really got to me. It made me proud to be American. It made me proud of all the people who dreamt it, designed it, and built it…and dared to fly into space in it. Seeing it fly piggybacked on a 747 overhead was, in the best sense of the word, awesome.

And yeah, I teared up.

I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Right there on the 101 some people pulled over, got out of their cars and cheered. Most drivers slowed down to a creep—one eye on the car ahead, one eye on the shuttle above. It’s a wonder there weren't pileups galore.

In short order it was gone, but right there in LA traffic, surrounded by cement and barbed wire and graffiti, I was given one of the best visual moments of my life.

Glad I drove.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Little Ridiculous Philosophical Mumbo-Jumbo

Last you heard from me about Killer Cruise was that I was in the yabba-dabba-doo phase of it all coming together. 

Or, you know, the yippity-doo-dah phase.

And I was and it did.  And then I got to the end of the story and something completely unexpected happened.

I bawled my eyes out.

Big gasping gulps and sobs and waterworks galore. The kids thought something tragic had happened. Mark just held on and let me soak his shirt.

Don't get me wrong. The book has a happy ending. But it's the last book in Sammy's voice.(Kiss Goodbye, the final book in the series, won't be.)

I hadn’t actually realized that before typing the final sentence. Or maybe it just hadn't hit me. But as the final sentence came out my fingertips the waterworks started and then I just couldn’t stop crying.

Well, I did. Eventually. You know.

But it was just so overwhelming and unexpected and the opposite of how I usually feel when I type the last line of a book. I was anticipating being a basket case for Kiss Goodbye, but this...well, I just didn't see it coming.

Sammy has been in my life even longer than my second son, who is 18 and just started college. It's strange to spend so much time with a character--so many years with a character--because they become real to you. And I know there is a time for everything--a time for my boys to go off to college and start adventures of their own--and a time for a series to come to a close. But them happening at the same time is pretty dang hard on "the mom"! 

And it causes some strange ideas to form.  

For instance, old people often say, "All I have left is my memories," meaning the people who created those memories are gone but the memories themselves are still there. There were real, physical entities in this world creating those memories but their absence doesn't detract from the memories created, so the question is, are those memories more valid or 'real' than those created by fictional characters? Are the memories created by the imagined less real than the ones created by people who are now also not physical beings? People you can only now imagine.

I know this is ridiculous philosophical mumbo jumbo, and honestly, I don't believe that a character can equate to a flesh-and-blood person. But these are the kinds of thoughts that play around with my mind.

And man, did I cry.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Are Some Of Your Best Friends Fictional?

Nancy sent me one more guest post and I think it rounds out her entries nicely so, although I said I'd be back this week, it makes sense to keep her posts together. The questions left in the comment section at previous posts will be addressed later, although I can tell you that she can't answer your questions about Hudson or the Nighty Napper or characters' back stories, etc. I keep her in the dark about as much as I can because I only get one chance to have her read a manuscript for the first time, and that first read is very important to me--both for her reaction to the mystery (when did you know whodunit?) and the emotional impact of relationship development. Anyway, enjoy this last (for now) post from Nancy!

When I tell people that I edit children’s books, they frequently ask, So what qualifies you for that?

Probably they’re curious because it sounds like a great job, and they want to do it too.  But the question always makes me squirm a little because I don’t have a good answer.  What qualifies me?  Nothing in particular.  But also, everything I am.

I think it’s more revealing to talk about what qualities most editors possess, instead of what qualifications.  (Maybe because I don’t have any specific qualifications, but we won’t dwell!)

Some things to consider:

Do you love to read?  I mean, love to read kind of like you love to breathe?  Do you carry around not only the book you are currently reading but a second one as well, just in case?

Are some of your best friends fictional? Consider this:  I’m in Venice with my mom and sister, exploring an old cathedral, and my mom says, “This is Guido’s mother’s favorite church.” And I say, “Really? How come?” And she points out the paintings and the architecture that make this place special.  My sister asks us who Guido is, and rolls her eyes when we tell her we’re talking about Guido Brunetti, a Venetian detective in books by Donna Leon. 

Another example:  Wendelin is touring near where I grew up, and so I bring her home to meet my parents.  We’re all chatting around the dining room table and my mom turns to Wendelin and asks, “So how is Hudson?  I haven’t heard about him lately.”  Wendelin laughs, looks at me, and says, “Now I understand where you came from.” (Perhaps what this really means is that I have a great book-loving mom.  True enough.  But I think it’s more—I think it’s that characters truly live for us.)

Do you love words? Do you like slang and lingo and jargon and colloquialisms?  Have you ever stopped and sighed over a particularly elegant phrase?  Are you always searching for the exact right way to express something?  Does it make you inordinately happy to find it?

Do you have a fix-it gene? Are you constantly critiquing things?  Do you read a book or see a movie and think, Yeah, that was good, but it would have been even better if only they’d changed this.  Or, There is no way that character would have done that.  Do you imagine how the whole thing could have played out differently?

Would you rather be pointing the spotlight than in it? An editor’s job is to help.  Help writers express their ideas in the best way possible.  Or to help them clarify what it is they are trying to say.

For me, I’ve never wanted to be the lead in the play or the rock star.  Even in my dreams, I’m a back-up singer.  You know, shimmying in a cute fringed dress, adding the perfect harmony, helping keep the beat.  (Now that I consider it, I think I got this idea from a book—Laurie Colwin’s Goodbye Without Leaving.  Typical.)

Did you answer yes to most or all of these questions?  If so, you might just make a great editor!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Day In The Life Of An Editor

Before I turn you loose on Nancy's post #3, I'm happy to report that Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise is off my desk and on Nancy's. So although she's said she'll answer questions from last week and you'll see her here again from time to time, I'm planning to be back to do the full post next week (while she gets notes together about my book and sends it back to me for Round 2).

And also, first a little explanation about the picture.

I've told Nancy many times over the years that she looks like Snow White. It just strikes me when I see her and then it pops out of my mouth. Call me Dopey, but I just can't help it.

Well, on the wall of the movie theater where she and I attended a Flipped movie premiere, there was a mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  So of course I got all excited and made her pose like Snow White in front of Snow White. And since it was a Flipped premiere there were little fuzzy chicks everywhere, which is how we managed to get a little bird in the picture, too. So now I have proof. Am I right, or what?

Anyway! Here's Nancy....
* * *


Wendelin thought her readers might be interested in a day-in-the-life of an editor.  But really, each day is different—with the exception that I hardly ever accomplish what I intended to do that morning.  Things just tend to come up.  Which is why I try to work from home one day a week.  I think what will surprise most people is what doesn’t happen from nine to five (well, ten to seven-thirty).

What I do at my desk / in the office:

  • Email. Reading it—questions from authors and agents; updates from marketing, publicity and sales; book reviews; industry newsletters; notices of reprints, first prints, out of prints; the google alerts I’ve put on my authors; requests for meetings; submissions.  Writing it—answering questions from authors and agents; passing on the good and bad news from all that’s come in; requesting more info from pretty much everyone, and then disseminating the answers; passing myriad big and small requests to the assistant editor who helps me (blessings upon her).
  • Write long letters to authors extolling the virtues of their book and pointing out any weaknesses, holes, confusions.  Try to give a road map for how to make the book even stronger.
  • Write the copy for book jackets, catalogs, sales reps’ tip sheets, on-line book descriptions.
  • Prep manuscripts so they are in the proper format for copy editors and designers to deal with.  (The system for doing this seems to change yearly, requiring training on new systems, and a good deal of cursing.)
  • Review books in progress as they are set into type, proofread, corrected, and proofread again—as many times as it takes to get it right.
  • Eat lunch (occasionally dinner).
  • Meet with designers to talk about the illustrations for picture books and the possibilities for jacket art for novels.
  • Prepare presentations of my books for meetings with sales and marketing and publicity; slightly different presentations for meeting with librarians or teachers.  Always, always, always trying to explain the particular strengths and wondrousness of each book.
  • Go to meetings—prepare for meetings, follow up after meetings…
  • Talk on the phone with agents and authors and colleagues (and, okay, my mother).
  • Prepare a case for new books I’d like to take on—a written estimation of why the book is great, who will love it, who will buy it, how we’ll pitch it in-house and out-of-house, long term plan for the author, how much revision the book requires, and create a p&l (profit & loss statement) with some supportable guess of how many we’ll print, how many we’ll sell, what the costs to the company will be and what the potential profit might be.
  • Negotiate the terms for new contracts with agents.
  • Meet with authors, agents, and foreign publishers.
  • Talk with other editors about the difficulties that come up; ask and offer advice about how to handle things; generally kvetch about the things out of our control; offer congratulations or commiseration as needed.
What I rarely, if ever, do in the office:

  • Read.
  • Edit.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Best and The Worst of Being An Editor

Post #2 from Nancy! I hope you enjoy the inside peek into what being an editor means, and also what it takes to be one. I'm thinking I may be able to twist her arm for answers if you have questions you're dying to ask. (No, you can't ask her who Sammy's dad is.) (And yes, she does know.) So put your questions in the comments and I'll see what I can do. Anyway, here's Nancy!


That sounds like fun…

This is what most people say when I tell them I’m an editor of children’s books.  And I usually reply, Sometimes.  But what I’m thinking is, You clearly have no idea what I do…

And how would they?  It’s such a behind-the-scenes job.  I suspect they think I sit around and read all day.  (Sadly, no.)  Or that I wield a red pencil and correct spelling and grammar.  (Happily, no.)

It’s my job to find books for my company to publish.  I work with authors and illustrators to revise and shape a book until it’s the best it can possibly be.  And then I’m the book’s main advocate in-house—explaining to the sales and marketing teams why I think it’s a spectacular book that will be perfect for a particular audience.  There’s more, but that’s the heart of it—finder, fixer, cheerleader.

It might also be part of my job to think that the word fun isn’t all that descriptive.  Sometimes being an editor is thrilling. More often: satisfying. And frequently: crushing.

Everyone approaches the job differently, but here are the highs and lows for me:

The best.

  • I love the moment of discovery.  The moment when I’m reading a new manuscript and think, yes.  Yes, this is wonderful.  Yes, we can publish this well.  Yes, people are going to love this.  I feel like I’ve got a delicious secret—no one else knows yet how spectacular this book is.  But they will.  Oh, they will!  And I get to tell them.

  • Whenever anyone—any one—says they love the book too.

  • The company I keep.  I get to work with creative, passionate, dedicated people.  Both the authors and illustrators and my colleagues in the office.  Everyone cares about books.  Everyone’s trying to bring something good into the world.

The worst.

  • When I’m the only one who loves a book.  Sometimes I’m a fan base of one.  Which is frustrating in the particular and also makes me doubt myself in general.

  • And worse than that—when no one seems to care.  I can work for years on a book and be really excited about it, and the book comes out and the reaction is…meh.  Indifference can feel worse than outright dislike.

  • I am never done.  I will never be caught up.  There is always something more I could do, should do, would like to do to spread the word about a book.  Always someone I should have called to check in on.  Always some chapter or scene that might have been better had I studied it a sixth time, or seventh, or eighth, and suggested a small change.

  • My reading time is not my own.  I should be reading submissions or the competition or the other books on our list.  Reading for pleasure has become a guilty pleasure.

  • It is really hard to know if I am doing a good job.  There’s no completely objective way to measure your success.  Sometimes books do well with very little input from me.  And sometimes I knock myself out for a book and it still doesn’t work.  Here’s the rub—when a book sells well or gets stellar reviews, it feels only right and just.  Of course it’s doing well—it’s a great book and the author created something wonderful.  When a book fails, it feels like my fault.  Some books haunt me.  Did I pick a not-so-good one?  What could I have done differently?  What might I still do to turn things around?

What satisfies:

  • Figuring it out.  Sometimes I’ll be editing a book and know that something feels off or doesn’t ring true.  And pinpointing exactly what’s making me feel that way, and then seeing a way to fix it, is incredibly satisfying.  Like solving a puzzle.

  • Even better than that is explaining to a writer or an artist that something feels not-quite-right, offering a potential solution, and having them come back with an even better solution.  Then I get to feel both helpful and inspiring.

  • Saying it well.  There are millions of small reasons I love a book, and it’s hard to distill that love into a few sentences that will explain to someone who hasn’t read it yet why it’s special.  Hitting upon the right way to talk about a book so that others get excited too is important.

  • Finding the right words.  Creating jacket copy for a book is a challenge.  You have to explain enough of the plot to draw readers in, but not give away too much.  And you have to do that in a way that gives readers the feel of a book.  Is it funny or suspenseful or goofy or heartbreaking… 

I’m suddenly realizing that the same wisdom I hear from writers applies to editors too—you have to enjoy the process.  You can’t live for the results—for the sales or the reviews or the outcome.  That part is mostly out of your control.  What you can control is the doing.  And if you enjoy being in the middle of a big, complex, knotty puzzle, and finding a way to make it all come together, then yes—being a children’s book editor is thrilling and agonizing and satisfying and, on especially good days, fun.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Please Welcome My Editor!

I'm very excited to announce that for the next few weeks you will have the rare opportunity to read posts from someone I've been mentioning here at the blog for years--my one and only editor, Nancy. This week she shares how we met, and next week she'll supply a glimpse into what being an editor at a major publishing house actually entails. So without further ado...heeeeeeere's Nancy!



Wendelin asked if I would make some guest appearances on her blog, talking about what an editor’s job is and how I go about it. 

So I thought I should start by telling the story of how we first “met.”  I say that in quotes because we didn’t meet in person for years after we started working together.  (I work with many authors and illustrators I’ve never met.)  No, I truly meet authors in the same place any reader does—on the page, in their stories, through their ideas.

I first met Wendelin in the pages of How I Survived Being a Girl.  I distinctly remember reading this on Amtrak, riding from New York to Boston.  I remember laughing at the daring exploits of Carolyn and her brothers as they spied on the neighbors and dug up someone’s yard. I remember my heart nearly bursting as Carolyn’s crush dangled a gift in front of her—and then put it back in his pocket. And I remember grumbling with frustration at the long and rambling sidetracks Carolyn went off on as she told her story.  I remember the manuscript being heavy

Now, Wendelin and I disagree on the length of this first manuscript.  I acknowledge that the balance of evidence is on her side (since she still has the original document).  But this is my post, and I remember the book being just ridiculously long!  Carolyn’s narration would be tripping along nicely and then she’d veer onto a side road and spend pages ranting about something, and then finally, finally come back to the main story.  Don’t get me wrong—a lot of these meanderings and musings were hysterical.  But the sidetracks kept interrupting the flow of the story—I’d find myself skimming and skipping ahead—yeah, yeah, but what happens next?

And so I wrote to Wendelin and said I liked her story but would she please cut it in half.  If she was willing to try, then I’d read it again. 

I may have been nicer about it than that, a smidge more encouraging, but not much.

I stand by the advice.  Cutting a story that severely forces a writer to choose.  To pick out the events and the details that are truly essential.  To decide which of the many plot threads are bedrock, and which can be chipped away without damaging the whole.  Once you know the true heart of the story, your can figure out which details amplify that meaning, and which ones distract from it.

Also, it’s important for me to know if a writer can revise.  (Not everyone can.)  And it’s good to know if a writer is willing to cast a critical eye on their own work and re-think, and re-imagine it.  Willing and able—a successful writer needs to be both.

So—decent advice, iffy delivery.

I believe it’s Wendelin’s husband, Mark, I have to thank for actually convincing her to revise the book and send it back to me.  Did he somehow sense that I really loved this story, meanders and all?  Did he just want to give Wendelin some encouragement to keep trying at this thing she loved?  Whatever the reason, I thank you, Mark, from the depths of my heart.

I have to say, this story makes me queasy.  It ends well.  Wendelin did revise the book.  She didn’t cut it quite in half, but she did tighten and focus the story brilliantly.  I loved it.  I published it.  It was the first novel I acquired on my own—a huge milestone for any young editor.  And Wendelin and I have now worked on thirty (and counting) books together.  We are an awesome team.  So when I think back on the terseness of my first letter to her—how glib I must have sounded—I feel a little ill.  She could have easily crumpled that letter and never responded.  And I would have missed out on the most rewarding editorial relationship of my career.  And on meeting one of my dearest friends.

It’s a fragile thing, this business.  Luck plays a big role.  And occasionally, rarely, if you are a truly lucky editor, then the stars align, and the kind husband intervenes, and you meet…Wendelin.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An Apology to GWAATP

There was a point in the series where I made Nancy promise me there'd be no more pink Sammy Keyes books. I think it was after Hollywood Mummy came out. (An early version was pink.)

The poor boys who read the series complained. Pink! No! You're killin' me! they said, and I agreed and discussed the gravity of the situation with Nancy and we agreed--no more pink books! Sammy and pink belong in opposite universes.

Like Sammy and that pink angora sweater!

And yet, 10 books later, here we are, looking at the very pink artwork for the paperback version of Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City. 

I might have protested more than I did (it was really just the raising of a little white flag) if I didn't like the cover so much. And pink seems so appropriately Vegas. Plus, all the menfolk in my family seem to think the artwork is awesome .

So, sorry Guys Who Are Allergic To Pink--I guess you'll have to read the hardcover.

The paperback artist is Karl Edwards, in case you've forgotten / didn't know, and I like the way he works. He's very generous with preliminary sketches, giving the art team at Random House lots of options, and he seems to have a lot of patience with all of us. I like him. Here's an example of some of the Elvi he submitted in the early stages. Varied, and very funny!

And now, switching from art to text, I'm so happy to report that I've reached the "payoff" phase of Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise. Yippiddiy-dappidy-dooo-ooo-oooh! It's all coming to a head, and watch out, world, here she blows!

I was hoping to keep it to 250 or 275 pages, but no, we'll be at 300 before we're back in port. I should be able to tell you next week if I keep up this full speed ahead.

Meanwhile, I'll see you in the comments. I hope you enjoyed the sneak peek at the art--thanks for checking in!

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Detour Through London

So all day yesterday I avoided the spoilers surrounding Oscar Pistorius's semi-final run. I didn't expect him to make it to the finals, but I wanted to see the race for myself without already knowing how it ended.

And I didn't want to take all day waiting to watch a 45 second race!

So from the scheduled time for the race until 11 PM last night I kept checking in. I saw bits of women's volleyball (very cool), women's waterpolo (brutal), women's marathon (the winner was the one who fell at the water station!) equestrian competition (I have no idea what to look for), diving (I don't get why athletes choose a sport where years of training come down to the size of a splash), and the women's gymnastic vault competition (I would feel tremendously sorry for McKayla Maroney but her demeanor [concentration aside] and apparent sportsmanship is very off putting).

I couldn't spend the day watching horses jump or rain fall on runners. I have a book to finish. So I had the TV on in the next room (because Oscar's racing wasn't broadcasting when it was supposed to). and kept an ear out. At one point "carbon fiber" caught my ear and I raced next door in time to see one of NBC's little athlete spotlights about OP. And then nothing. For hours.

The race finally broadcast at 11 last night and for me the highlight wasn't the outcome, but the exchange of bibs. That, and knowing that Oscar's participation in the Olympics will inspire so many people.

Next week, back to books! I have pictures to share and Sammy Keyes updates. But this one's for Oscar. What a guy!

PS Besides Oscar, Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas are a couple of my favorites. Let's hear yours!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Short Killer Cruise Update

Sammy's getting to know her dad. She can't call him Dad 'cause that's too weird. But it's been interesting. And really hard to not slip up about him around the house.

Of course Mark knows who he is, but the boys don't.

That's right--my own kids don't know who Sammy's dad is.

But when something happens in the story that I want to talk about, or I just want to ask Mark something about plot, I tend to forget that they don't know. And since it's summer break and they're around, I've almost blown it several times.

Anyway, that relationship has been very interesting to see unfold. It's the mystery that's got me a little crazed. To track things I've made two spreadsheets -- one to organize where which character Sammy interacts with (or sees) is when and where, and the other to track the basic events and what times they happened. And since there are 14 big decks with countless public areas on this cruise ship and 14 characters to track, I've really needed to go back and get organized before moving on.

So since last week, I've been rewriting day and night, updating my spreadsheet after each chapter. I've got 2 chapters to go before I can move forward. It's taken me all week to almost get back to where I left off. I've added quite a few scenes in the process and shored up a lot of the structure, so I feel pretty good about that. And today I wrote the dream sequence (have you noticed that Sammy has a wild dream in every (?) book?). Those are always fun and have begun to feel like 'tradition' to me. 

I know this isn't a very inspired post, but please understand that of all the things I should be doing (laundry, dishes, vacuuming, responding to sorely neglected correspondences, paying bills, watering my plants, getting groceries, eating...) I'm writing this post.

To rank above eating?

When you're as hungry as I am right now?

I think that sums you guys up.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for being you.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Panic, Uncertainty, Dread, and Bald Spots

It took me over 200 pages, but I think I'm finally getting to know the (new to the series) characters in Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise.

Which means I'm having to go back to the beginning before I'm even at the end because I didn't know them when I started and now that I do...well...things have changed.


But it's like I can't fully structure the story until I know the characters' motivations, and I can't fully understand the motivations if I don't know the characters.

And I can't get to know a character in 50 pages!

Well, unless I'm fashioning them after someone I know.

But then they always morph into their own person anyway.

Who do they think they are!

Also, I hate books where a bunch of characters are introduced and you can't really keep track of who's who so you start to gloss over names and pretty soon you don't care who's who. The book becomes a big blur of characters and if it's a mystery you just hope they all get killed off quickly so you don't have to endure glossing over their stupid names any more.

This story has that potential, and since the new characters are all from the same (dysfunctional and very rich) family (the Kensington Family, if you must know) it could get very confusing as to who's who. In other words, I could be writing a book I would totally hate, so I'm having to come up with ways to creatively (and not that obviously) remind the reader who's who.Thankfully, Sammy is good at giving people alternate names. What would I do without her?

Anyway, the point is, I now know these Kensingtons and I'm back at square one, totally ripping up the pages of what I thought was pretty close to final draft and I'm not even done with the rough and the book was due three weeks ago!

So hair is ripping and doubts are creeping and Mark is trying to calm me down, telling me that this is what I always go through when writing a book so why am I panicking?

Panic, uncertainty, dread, bald spots...apparently it's all part of the process. After almost 30 novels you'd think I'd recognize this, but I refuse to believe it has to be this way! If characters would just let themselves be known earlier, if they would quit being so coy and elusive, if they would come out with their inner selves already and not make me have to dig so hard, it would save me so much time and hair pulling!

But no. It's always the same.

Damn Kensingtons.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rewarding a Life of Good Reactions

I'd said in a previous post that I wanted to talk a little about Jack Gantos, this year's winner of the Newbery (given to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children"). That's Jack on the left there with his winning book Dead End in Norvelt, starring a lad named...Jack Gantos.

If you've been following recent posts you know that I attended the American Library Association's Newbery banquet a few weeks ago and was in stitches over Jack's acceptance speech. He tied the day he learned of his history-making historical novel's win of the Newbery to events that occurred on that day in history. Events such as the birth of John Hancock in 1737, and the signing of the International Opium Convention in 1912.

Obviously a date rich in significant historical events.

He also shared facts from his own personal history, and this is where I grew in admiration of Jack Gantos the person--I'd already held him in pretty high regard as an author.

See, Jack Gantos was a felon.

Yes, that's him again on the left.

(He's not the only Newbery-winning felon, he was quick to point out. Such layers of intrigue with this prestigious award!)

His crime?

He was young and stupid and got caught sailing hashish into New York. (His autobiography, Hole in My Life, recounts the whole ordeal if you're interested.) He spent a year and a half in prison and during that time he became a writer. (Again, the autobiography explains how he did this.) At the Newbery banquet he told of exiting the prison on his release date and mentioning to a guard that he was going to be a children's book writer.

The response?

Good luck with that.

There's a lot to be learned from the life and times of Jack Gantos, but what I find most compelling is what's at the heart of his story.

Good people can do bad things.

Smart people can do stupid things.

Life is rarely smooth, and can be cruel and unfair.

But what really matters in life is not what you've done wrong, or the stupid mistakes you've made or how unfairly you've been treated...what matters is what you do in reaction to those things.

I chose this concept as one of the core themes of The Running Dream because I believe it's at the heart of a happy life. And I think Jack Gantos is a living embodiment of this. From felon to librarian darling, from the gray-bar hotel to the gold-stickered book, Jack is living a life he's earned through good reactions to bad things...and we all love him for it.