Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Secret In The Teapot

Let me start this week's post with an official and enormous Thank You! for all the comments made at last week's post. Wow! I appreciate all the time and energy that went into your suggestions. I have just printed everything out so I can sort through your input in a somewhat sane manner and check who you see as who. This will be very interesting!

 BTW, I can't believe I didn't list Officer Borsch. But thank you for picking up on that and adding him.

I should make very clear (and allay the fears of some) that this is all just talk at this point. Nothing is signed. We're just exploring. You know--to see if we have similar vision before moving forward.

So there will be feedback from me later - after I've dissected and digested all your comments. Meanwhile, two comments from last week had to do with "The Schneider" -- The Schneider Family Book Award -- so I want to explain that a little and tell you about my new teapot.

Yes, my new teapot.

First, let me tell you that winning the Schneider is actually a big deal to me, but it's one of those things I have trouble sharing. I just don't ever want to come across as being too big for my britches. And I'm sensitive to the fact that there are plenty of authors out there who held their breath all night last Sunday hoping to get a call from one of the American Library Association committees telling them that their book (which they put their heart and soul and a good year, or two or three or more into writing) had been selected as award-worthy.

So I was one of the lucky few who got a call, but I didn't shout this from the mountain tops or anything. Actually, I told, like, three people. But somehow I'm comfortable telling you guys.

Which says a lot about you guys, and I just want to say thanks for making me feel that way.

Anyway, here we go--what the heck's the Schneider?

Let's back up and say that if last Monday was the "Oscars of Children's Literature" (as some people call it), the Newbery would be "Best Picture", the Caldecott would be...what? "Best Animated Film"? The Printz would be, say, "Best Actor" and the Coretta Scott King award would be "Best Actress" (or whatever attributions you want to ascribe in whatever politically correct terms people now use for female lead.). The Oscars have lots more awards, but there are only a handful that get big attention.

Same in kid lit. There are 18 award categories total, and although people's attention and interest wanes after the Big Four, winning any of them is huge to the recipient. and for me, winning the Schneider Family Book Award which "honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience," had me crying happy tears.

It's just nice to have the result of your hard work and passion acknowledged.

So in all future issues of The Running Dream, there will be a blue award seal, and the super cool thing about the SFBA seal is that it is also in Braille.

Awesome, huh?

Which brings me to the teapot.

I like to buy something to remind me of life's happy milestones or accomplishments. I know I'll get a plaque to commemorate winning the Schneider, but I'm not a plaque hanger. I keep them in a bookshelf. Or behind the door. Or under the couch. And every great once-in-a-while, I'll come upon one and go, oh, yeah! Then back it goes. Into the bookshelf. Or behind the door. Or under the couch.

And I'm not going to enlarge, say, my book jacket with the SFBA seal, mat it with three layers and frame it and hang that.


But I do think it is good to remind yourself of the happy moments and savor them. So this week when I happened upon this teapot in a shop window, I knew it would be the perfect thing to commemorate the event . Blue, circular, with raised symbols, it looks enough like the SFBA seal to remind me as I pour my afternoon tea, but looks only like a (wow, where'd you get that really cool) teapot to anyone else.

It's symbolic.

A secret.

No one will know.

Except, that is, me and you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who Do You See As Sammy Keyes?

Thanks for checking in! Here as promised is the paperback cover for Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack. I LOVE this cover! I think it's a perfect capture of Justice Jack, and I think it's so Rolling Stone, the way the artwork overlaps the KEYES. My favorite paperback cover so far!

So you regular followers have now been privy to both the hardcover and the paperback artwork...and the book's not even out yet! The hardcover is slated for May 2012 and the paperback? I think it's due out in November. But the thinking ahead, working ahead, planning ahead is all necessary if we're going to stick to our schedule and have things done right.

So along those thinking-ahead lines, I've decided that you are the group to ask the BIG question:

What actress do you see as being the best screen version of Sammy Keyes?

As you know, I've been quite hesitant about this whole Sammy to TV prospect. But there is a well-established producer who is an actual fan of Sammy's (as in he's--gasp--read the books and loves her), and has been steadfastly keeping tabs with me over the years,  hoping something would eventually work out.

What became of paramount importance to me (after a sobering reality check involving what optioning 'a property' [the Sammy books] really meant) was the integrity and quality completion of the book series. Sure it's nice to have Hollywood people interested in developing your books to film, but allowing them to do so is a crap shoot. Maybe it'll come out great and help the books...maybe it will be awful and create an unshakable association.

But, once again, I met with this producer, and, once again, I came away more positively inclined about his potential care and handling of Sammy Keyes as a TV series.

He always asks me who I see as various characters, and, honestly? Sammy is the Sammy in my head, and there's nobody who could fill that image 100%  Besides, I don't follow the industry. I don't know who's who, so I would LOVE your input / help.

Let's start by my telling you that the producer likes Bailee Madison and thinks in a couple of years (which is how long these things take, at a minimum) she would make a great Sammy. So what do you think? Who do you like? Not just for Sammy, but for any / all of these main characters:


Just copy the list, paste it in a comment, and write in your vote for any or all of them. I will check them out and pass them along. Thinking caps, people! If we want this to develop in a direction we like, we've got to give input while they're soliciting it.

Thanks for your comments, thoughts, and input!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hot Pink Trailer

Yes, it's true.

I lived in a hot pink trailer.

It was, as my brother would have said, "Funky-do."

And not actually hot pink, that's just what Robin and Ben, the friends who let me live in it, affectionately called it. But it was pink with black accents and if I remember correctly, cool black and white diamond linoleum.

It was long and narrow and boxy and had it's own unique smell, but there was something uber cool about it. Definitely "vintage," but, more importantly, a place for me to stay.  It was parked in the back of my friends' large, sandy lot, behind their house and amidst eucalyptus trees, and if I could use only one word to describe how I felt living in a funky-do (not-so hot) pink trailer, it would be grateful.

The challenge at the end of each of the previous posts has been to identify in which book the place (or in the case of Max, the concept) wound up. This week I'll have to tell you which book the hot pink trailer appears in because it hasn't been published yet--it's in Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack. And because I'm a big believer and remembering the people who have helped me through my life, the dedication in Justice Jack will be to Robin & Ben.

Now, if you've read the previous posts about my nightmarish living experiences, you'll recognize that this one doesn't quite fit the mold. A funky-do trailer does not measure up to dangling black widows or psycho landlords, and I would never dream of dedicating a book to someone like Max. But this brings me to the reason behind telling you these stories about places I've lived.

In writing, place can be as much a character as the people in your story. I know that many of you aspire to be published, and, as you almost certainly already know, being a writer can make for scrappy living. So what I want to encourage you with this week is the reality that hard times (and funky-do landlords and living quarters) will give you much  more to work with as far as setting and character than a smooth, easy life or a swanky apartment where the toilet always flushes and you've never had to wield a plunger or patch the roof or smash a black widow spider.

Or, for that matter, escape a man who thought you were his long lost Athena.

So if you're someone who's going through a tough time, chin up! Just think of all the material you're collecting! There are so many things in my books that come from life off the smooth lane. And they include so many things I know how to do because I had to figure them out or do them to 'survive'. Many I cursed or hated or asked myself why me?  But now that I have survived I have those real life experiences (and funky-do places) to draw from. Sammy is Sammy because I didn't lead a smooth-lane life. Scary times, hard times, strange people, scrapes with the law...all of it gives you character which can't help but transfer into your characters.

So take notes. Take pictures. Remember the smells and the sounds and the pain. Get through the dark days of your life and then use them to make your own light.

It's the only way you can look back and smile.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Narrow Escape

I have a little trepidation about sharing this story with you because it's the only time where I've (quasi) fictionalized an actual situation for one of my books and didn't change the name of the main antagonist.

His name was Max.

With that simple statement, I know that some of you are already on to which one of my books he wound up in. And if you are, I hope you're screaming, "Oh my God!" because, yes, Max and Max are frighteningly similar.

It started innocently enough. A room to rent in a new condo for only $100 / month.

Including utilities.

I was a college student trying to make it on a very tight budget, so I really wanted this room and was very excited when I got myself an interview.

Did it matter that it was a single man renting out the room?

Uh, yes.

But he was old! (Sixty at least. Maybe seventy!) And he was well mannered (and clean shaven), stylish (for an old guy), professional (he ran his broker business out of his home), and very pleasant.

Obviously harmless!

In exchange for such a reasonable rent he said he would appreciate it if I could answer the phone as his "secretary" on occasions when I was home and he had errands to run. Also, perhaps I could play tennis with him.


Yes, there was a clubhouse with a gym and courts. He was a member. He'd get me a membership, too.


Also, he liked that I was into healthy eating, and wondered if perhaps I could help him learn to prepare tasty vegetables.

No problem!

He offered me the place on the spot. It was definitely too good to be true, but there it was, true! I wrote him a check and moved in that weekend. And for the first month, everything was amazing! He'd even take me out to lunch once a week to "catch up."

It was like living with a cool, old grandpa. One who could still play tennis!

Then one lunch he began talking about the untapped power of the mind. An interesting subject, until the conversation veered into the moving of objects with your mind. He believed, given enough concentration, one could bend spoons with their mind and he had, he claimed, actually done it.

Not wanting to be impolite (or closed minded) I asked if he could demonstrate.

He could not, he said, and it frustrated him greatly because he had done it, knew it could be done, yet could not repeat it.

A little red flag went up, but I swatted it back down. This was just a case of an old guy with a dream-memory that seemed real. Who doesn't have those?

But there was a shift happening in the household. I started noticing him watching me. I sensed he was thinking things he wasn't saying, and he appeared out of nowhere on several occasions, really startling me.

Then he asked me for a picture of myself. I had headshots. He wanted one, but wouldn't say why.

Yes, it creeped me out, but rather than move out, I hid the pictures behind the cork board I had pinned to a wall in my room above the desk.

Then came our weekly lunch. I didn't want to go, but I did anyway, and that's when the weirdness escalated: In a previous life, he told me, the great love of his life, Athena, and he had been torn apart. He'd been traveling through the ages, life after life, in search of her and at long last he had found her back. He gazed at me through his glasses, held my hand and told me that he was beside himself with joy.

I was his long lost Athena.

What do you say to THAT?

I withdrew my hand, assured him that I was NOT his long lost Athena, that I had no recollections of previous lives whatsoever, and that there was no future US.

I should have walked out of the restaurant and abandoned all my stuff at the condo, but he had driven, it was too far to walk, and he seemed to have accepted my rejection with grace.

But the minute we got back to the condo I started packing. Because if a deluded old guy thinks you're his long lost love from a previous life and he's been wandering eternity in  search of you, what is the logical next step so that your lives re-sync?

Simultaneous death.

I locked my door, and was shaking as I packed my things. And as I yanked the cork board off the wall, I discovered that my pictures were missing.

He had found them.

Behind the cork board?


I looked around for a camera, but at that point, I just wanted OUT. So I gathered what I could carry in one trip, abandoned the rest, and made my escape.

And years later, still grateful to have survived, I put him in a book.

What book?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Locker Room

Happy 2012 to all of you!

I have a couple of other subjects I kinda want to write about, but I did promise I'd get back to the mini series I'd started before the holidays. So, channeling my editor, I will try not to take too many asides before getting to the point of this mini series. (A point which does exist, believe it or not.)

Not that I'll share the point at this juncture, because then what would be the purpose of telling these stories? You'd already know the point.

Which you may well already anyway.

But asides aside, the journey to the point takes us to a two month span where I was between places to live. It covered, not coincidentally, the same span of time when I was unemployed.

If you go to school and work at a school, those summer months can be tricky.

So yes, I was a college student, and the way I pieced together paying for college was by being the PE teacher at a private elementary school across town. I scheduled my classes around my job, and reported to work daily (because at the time physical education was considered to be a vital component to a child's development).

This school is now a pricey private school with an upper school, a lower school, headmasters and mistresses and rich clientele galore. At the time, the rich kids in town all went there, but--aside from its setting near a golf course in an exclusive part of town--it didn't look like much. Especially the "locker room" which was located across from the sports fields at the lowest point of the property. The "locker room" was more like a large shack with a tiny office, a modest-sized room which housed the PE equipment, along with a few toilets, sinks, and showers.

Well, it may have been modest (and musty and drafty), but at the end of the school year, I was allowed to keep the keys to it as I'd volunteered to paint the office over the summer. It's not like they had anything to lose my letting me keep the keys--there was nothing of any real value inside the building. Especially not to headmasters and mistresses and people who are accustomed to vacationing in Paris.

Or to me, even.

No, the value to me was the building. After all, it had a toilet and a sink and a shower...and exercise mats to sleep on.

All I needed was a sleeping bag and a pillow and presto, I'd save myself 2 months of rent.

The theory of this was excellent. The reality, not so much. I had a bright blue car (my own doing), very distinctive in its ugliness, and although I could drive it off the pavement and around behind the building, hiding it back there was suspicious in and of itself.

And although the locker room had lights, which was nice, it also had windows so people outside could see the lights on and wonder, why are there lights on in that shack? And hey--what's that distinctively ugly car doing tucked away around the building?

Plus, during the day, there were gardeners. And...people. I didn't know who they were, or what business they had at the school. But they'd drive past in their Mercedes and I'd wonder, Why aren't you in Paris?

So I stayed away during the day (which was harder than it might seem and a lot less fun than it should have been) and lived by flashlight at night.

And I worried the whole time about getting busted.

And fired.

I should make clear here that I did have other options. Looking back I wonder, Why didn't you just go home? But I wanted to be independent and this was the manner in which I approached independence. Besides, if I had gone home, I would never have fictionalized the core of this experience and put it in...what book?

That's your question for the week!