Friday, November 3, 2017

The One List Everyone Should Make

When I was a young girl, there was a list of chores posted on our family's refrigerator. It was actually more a grid than a list, and it was structured in a way that rotated the various chores among my siblings and me. Each day we'd be required to complete and check off every task in our column.

It was a good system because we alternated chores during the week, and we didn't fight about whose turn it was to do what. The floors got swept, the table got set, the dishes got done, etc., etc..

I liked knowing what I had to do, and I especially liked the feeling of checking something off. And I think maybe that chore grid is why I adopted the lifelong habit of living by the list. 

I've made lists for small tasks and big - for getting into school, finishing school; for grocery shopping, finding an agent, building a house, preparing a nursery, Christmas shopping and cards, party prep and invitations; for what I'm doing tomorrow, what I need to pack, who I need to call, what I need to fix in a book revision...the list of lists goes on and on. Lists have been my road map, my guidebook, my way to focus. I'm a "finisher," not because it's the way I am, but because I live by the list.

But of all the things I've done and tackled and overcome, I never even thought to make the most important list of all: A list of the qualities--the character traits--I wanted for myself.

There is a difference between contemplating who we want to be and actually writing it down.Writing it down makes us analyze. Writing it down helps us to commit.

Writing it down makes it official.

When we're young, the adults in our lives tell us what traits we should embody. They tell us not to lie or steal or cheat or bully or brag or hog the ball. If a child is exposed to the Bible, they're given the Ten Commandments as their guide. Scouts recite that they will be "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent." As children we are told how we should be and what to do, and for the most part we try to please the adults in our lives.

And then comes adolescence.

Middle school is the place where kids start coming into their own. They begin to question authority. That, coupled with the need to fit into a group of their peers, serves to erode the rules they've previously lived by. This can be a slow, stealthy erosion, or one that seems to knock down the barrier of Do's and Don'ts all at once. 

The strength of the pull to fit in cannot be overstated. According to the National Institute of Health the age a person first tries alcohol has continued to drop in the United States, with a rapid rise in its consumption now starting at age 10 (yes, that's 4th/5th grade) and peaking between ages 13 and 14 (the end of middle school/early high school). At that point, more than 50% of students have used alcohol or drugs.

Let's pause and really absorb that.

Half of children in the US have used alcohol or drugs by age fourteen.

These are sobering statistics, but they're real, and they're the reason Wren Clemmens - the girl who goes off the rails in Wild Bird - is only fourteen and took her first wrong turn as a lonely sixth grader, desperate to find friends. And, as edgy and intense as the book is, I wrote it in such a way that middle school librarians won't get flack for "language or content," because I believe middle school is a pivotal chance to engage tweens/teens in meaningful, future-defining discussions. A book can be hugely helpful with that, and I wanted Wild Bird to be available to kids before they're in a wrong-turn situation. 

Aside from Wild Bird being a cautionary tale, it presents the idea of crafting that most important list of all - a list of the traits you want for yourself; a considered definition of who you want to be.

As an emerging adult, I never asked myself (the kid version of) questions like...

Do you want to be someone who's afraid of the dark? Or, do you want to be someone who sends sparks out in it? (I want to be...fearless...)

Do you want to be a pull-toy to your friends' whims? Or, do you want to determine your own direction? (...a leader...)

Do you want to stay singed by the fires life puts you through? Or, do you want to be an instrument for good, forged by experience? (...strong as steel...)

Of all the lists I made in my life, I never made a list like that. I never even considered it. But looking back, I really wish that, as a teen, I'd sat down in a quiet corner with pencil and paper and given serious thought to who I wanted to become. Not who my parents or teachers expected me to be, but who I wanted to be. Because when you decide for yourself who you should be--who you want to be on the inside--that's a whole different mindset than being someone who behaves in a way that's intended to please others.

Making my own list--defining me for me--would have helped me be a stronger, wiser, kinder, better person at a younger age, and this realization is at the heart of why I wrote Wild Bird.  Wren's reluctant metamorphosis finally springs from her building her list; from her defining who she wants to be, and coming to grips with the person she had become by default.

Every synopsis/review of Wild Bird I've read centers around Wren being sent against her will to a desert camp for troubled teens and what she has to do to survive. But that's just the setting. The set up. The purpose of the story is to help the reader see that their future is shaped starting now; that it's time to figure out who they want to be.  

Because everything else--good friendships, true love, career success, a charitable heart, happiness--everything else is the result of figuring that out. 

The purpose of Wild Bird is to help teens find courage to be themselves, and fly.

As always, thanks for checking in - I look forward to hearing your thoughts. See you in the comments!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Be the Oxygen

The Wild Bird tour ended in North Dakota this week with me wrapped in a Native-made honor quilt at Turtle Mountain Community School on the Chippewa Reservation. 

It's hard to describe the emotional impact the kids there had on me.

I have never been hugged by so many middle schoolers in my life.

That was after my assembly with them. Before it, they just sat on the bleachers and stared at me in the way all middle schoolers do - with a combination of skepticism, boredom, and tightly masked curiosity. 

The truth is, I was a little anxious about going to the Turtle Mountain Reservation. As someone from "outside," I didn't want my visit or intentions to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. I was there to do what I do at all schools I visit - get kids fired up about living their best lives; about learning to take whatever life throws at them and harnessing it in a way that'll make them stronger, better, happier.

The day started out with a tour of the middle school, which was once the reservation's high school. The hallways are painted with vibrant scenes depicting Chippewa legends, and every mural has a plaque explaining the scene. At each hallway turn there is a new scene reminding students of their heritage. I took pictures of all the murals and legends so I could take my time studying them on my flight home. 

My tour of the school included stops in classrooms that had projects and decorations based on two of my other books - Flipped and The Running Dream - titles that were studied before my visit and Wild Bird's release. I saw very creative "prosthetic legs" made out of duct tape, cardboard, pipes and such, and doors decorated with trees and chicks and typography art. 

I also got time with the book club students who had written me last year - the ones who put this whole visit in motion. These kids are now high school students, but got permission to attend the assembly and a special luncheon because of their role in my visit. They each received a copy of Runaway, courtesy of a middle school librarian in Oklahoma who wanted to contribute to the occasion and open up communication between schools. (Yes, awesome.)

But my favorite parts of the school day were the moments right before and right after the assembly (those hugs!). 

To begin the assembly, the student body was addressed by the leader of the Northern Lights drum group. He explained that the drum group was there to play an honor song - something that would signify respect that I had traveled such a long distance to come to their community. 

I was not expecting to get teary eyed during their performance, but I did. There were no words to their song, just rhythm building and ebbing along with vocalizations, which created a powerful surge of emotions. It was spellbinding and moving and powerful.

And then I had to pull myself together and talk to the kids. 

I don't "pitch the book" when I do school visits. I tell stories. And I do it in a way that keeps in mind what it was like to sit on a hard bench for nearly an hour while some adult talks at you. I try to forget that there are adults in the room, and just go for it, striding back and forth, jumping around, using funny voices, acting more than just a little crazy. 

My philosophy is that if students are engaged and like the story, they will get the message behind it, and that message will stick. I have different stories for all my books, and some books have several. The one I like the best about Wild Bird (which is the story of an at-risk girl sent to a desert therapy camp) has to do with starting a fire with just friction. 

In all the camping and backpacking I've done in my life (and that's been a lot), I'd never started a fire with just friction. Since this is something Wren (the protagonist in Wild Bird) must do, well, I had to do it too so I could write those scenes authentically. 

Like Wren, I used the bow-drill method. Like Wren, I discovered it takes a lot of effort/energy to start a fire with friction. Your arm gets tired, you break out in a sweat, and when you finally have a tiny coal, there's no guarantee you'll be able to transfer the coal successfully and coax it into a flame.

So I tell the kids (in a very animated way) how I had three false starts at getting the coal into the "nest" of dry grass (which is supposed to ignite and light the kindling that's inside the wood structure you've built to create your fire).

On the fourth try, I tell them, it hits me that Oh, yeah, oxygen. Fires need oxygen. 

So I huff and I puff on the little coal inside my nest and I can see sparks taking hold. I can see smoke rising. And as I'm doing this, it hits me that this is a metaphor for life. And that it's also just like being in middle school. 


When we're young, just starting out, just figuring out who we are and what we want, little sparks happen inside us. And what we need is to find people who, instead of stomping out the spark, are willing to add oxygen to it; people who will help us turn our sparks into flames that burn long and hot and bright. 

We need to be the oxygen for each other.

We need to feed the sparks.

From the hugs I got after the assembly, I think the kids heard me.

I know I heard them, too. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Popcorn, Please!

"It started with a nail in a tire."

That was the explanation a dad and his teen daughters had for why they were just arriving at the Irvine, CA Barnes & Noble tour stop for Wild Bird as I was packing up to leave.

I had someplace to be, but clearly, they knew how to tell a story. And then I noticed the dad was wearing a Wild Bird pin he'd made himself. 

I put my stuff down, and listened.

Turns out they were all three big Sammy Keyes fans. Turns out they'd driven about 60 miles - a considerable distance, especially given the region's notorious traffic congestion. And, it turns out, there are three Barnes and Noble stores in Irvine. It wasn't just the distance or the traffic that made them so late. They'd gone to the wrong two stores first.

(Hey, when you're stressed and running behind, and you've started your trip with a nail in the tire, you punch in Barnes and Noble, Irvine. You don't think there'll be more than one, let alone three of them.)

Me and my cousin's girls - my "cousin-ettes" - about 10 years ago
Me and my cousin-ettes now, during the Wild Bird tour..
Lucky for me, my presentation had run late. (As Mark would - and did - say, "Shoulda brought popcorn.") Lucky for me, I got to meet this awesome dad and his delightful girls. And after they bought copies of Wild Bird and we talked about the importance of edgy-yet-clean literature for "the kids stuck in between," talk turned to Sammy. 

Want to revive me? Start talking about Sammy like she's real. And this family knew how to do just that. 

Being on book tour sounds glamorous, but it can be exhausting. Especially when you tell your publicist you'd be happy to drive yourself to and around Los Angeles because, come on, you're familiar with the region and that's the only sensible way to approach it. Plus, everything seems doable from the comfort of your office chair. 

I tried to talk Mark out of it, but he took one look at my final itinerary and insisted on coming with me. 7 days, 702 miles, 6 bookstore events, 8 school assemblies, 1 public library, and 14 cities later I'm so glad he did. 

I enjoy in-store events because you get a chance to one-on-one with people who love your work. I love school assemblies because there's nothing better than making middle schoolers laugh when they weren't expecting to. Give me 500 middle schoolers in a hot, sweaty gym and I'm in my wheelhouse. 

But the very best encounters on tour are with people who share their personal stories with you; the quiet stories that tell you that what you do matters. Seeing what impact something I wrote from my heart had on another person's heart is a profound experience. I never, ever let the intensity of a schedule or the weight of fatigue interfere with appreciating the significance of the quiet stories people tell me. Popcorn, please! 

So as the Wild Bird tour continues, I'll look forward to sweating in gymnasiums, meeting dear friends and new ones, too, and hearing any quiet stories readers are willing to share. 

If you're interested in knowing the upcoming public events schedule, check this link.  And if you can't make a tour stop, I'll meet you back here next week. Until then, lean in and don't let go!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Help Me Start A Fire

It's Opening Week(end) for Wild Bird

If you have thought you might want to buy this book - for yourself, for your teen, for your friend, for a Christmas gift, for what/whomever - please consider buying it this week. (Unless you're coming out to see me on tour, and then buy it at that bookstore!)


Because books, like movies, get (or lose) their momentum from that crucial first week of sales/box office. 

I remember reading an interview with Oprah about her movie Beloved which put the reality of opening weekend into harsh perspective. Here's an excerpt:

Q: And then, after 10 years of struggling to get the film made, Beloved opened and Bride of Chucky beat it at the box office.

WINFREY:  I didn’t know what the hell Bride of Chucky was.  And I didn’t know anything about how the movie business worked because I was doing my daily show.  I was all excited.  I didn’t know that you only had one weekend, and then it’s over.  So,  it came out on a Friday, and that Saturday morning I got a call and they said, “That’s it.”  I got the call at like 8:30 in the morning, and by 10:30, I had my face in a bowl of macaroni and cheese.  

Sammy Keyes fans worldwide would have suggested salsa to go with that mac'n'cheese, but wow, how harsh is that? And this is Oprah - an incredibly powerful force in the entertainment world. 

Creative works need a chance to breathe. To seep into hearts and minds and move people. Unfortunately, their success - or how widespread they are viewed or read - is often linked to early lists. If your work doesn't "make box office" opening weekend, people quit breathing oxygen into it; they turn to a new spark happening over there. Years of intense work and passion and hope slowly extinguish.

So, if you like my work, if this book seems like it would be of value to you or someone you know, if you think it's important for teens to have relevant books that are "real" yet clean - and, of course, if it's within your means - please "vote at the box office" this week. (And if you love the book and want to help stoke the fire, tell your friends, and review it online.)

Thank you for your support - some of you have been fanning the flames of my work all along. I can't tell you how much that means to me.  

Order Wild Bird wherever books are sold.
IndieBound  / Amazon / Barnes &  Noble

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Long View

Another priceless treasure landed in my in-box this week. Here's a little excerpt...:

I'm here on behalf of my fiancée. She's a huge fan of your Sammy Keyes book series--she has almost the whole series, library-bound. She's from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and has been reading your series from before Katrina hit the area. The books have remained by her side through that disaster and many others she has faced in her life. She's the strongest woman I know and reading your series has been very important for her.

This letter made me realize that taking the long view - moving forward with persistence, staying true to vision and purpose despite marketplace fads - does eventually return rewards beyond measure. I can't stress enough how much I appreciate that my editor and publisher enabled me to reach the conclusion of an 18-book, nearly 20-year series. Not all editors or publishers are willing to take a view that lengthy.

When the first Sammy Keyes book was published, I tried to figure out how to get on Oprah. I wasn't the only one - every author wanted to be on Oprah. I think authors drive their in-house publicists mad with all their enthused suggestions. My publicist at the time told me something really wise. She said, "You don't want to be on Oprah. You want a long, slow build. You want a sustainable career."

Of course I didn't agree. I didn't see how the two were mutually exclusive. Taking the long view takes confidence that you'll get another chance after this book. It takes patience. Back in 1998, I wasn't long on patience. I wanted things to happen now.

The long view is way easier to get perspective on from the far side. You know, after you've traversed twenty years and have a sustained career to analyze. It's almost impossible to truly take the long view when you're at the beginning of your career because you don't know how things are going to go.  And it feels almost like cheating to look back on a successful career and say, See? This is what happens with steady, consistent effort. You have an awesome career without the catapult of Oprah. You built your catalog without the distraction of a blinding spotlight. You got to hunker down and focus on the work, not the trappings. 

It's taken twenty years, but my publicist was right - I didn't want to be on Oprah. Sammy might not have become...Sammy.

My purpose for the Sammy Keyes series went far beyond forays into clever sleuthing. Sure, I love a good mystery. Good mysteries are awesome! But the larger picture of Sammy's purpose is what sustained me across the series and through twenty years of writing about her. It's what kept me going back, full of enthusiasm - not just for the next mystery - but for the next chapter in Sammy's life. It was about her evolution. About her learning to calibrate her moral compass. About her character, her strength.

If you're looking for girl power, I've got 18 kick-ass books for you. 

But in the marketplace, what happens is, people need to figure out where to shelve, how to categorize, and how to summarize.

For Sammy, that became "mystery" (clever sleuth) and "series" (of little literary merit).

And since there wasn't a contract for 18 books and there was no guarantee that all 18 would be written or published, there was little talk (other than from me) about the larger picture. 

But the larger picture is the key reason for the series. To instill the notion of nurturing individuality and internal strength in young readers - and yes, especially girls - is of such greater value than assembling the pieces of a clever puzzle. Yet breaking out of the "mystery" and "series" molds seemed, ironically, a more and more remote enterprise as the story unfolded and deepened. Would any critics / reviewers ever read from beginning to end and understand what was going on here? 

After reading one or two, most probably assumed they knew the drill, and now with 18 books to catch up on and a deluge of new works to review each season the answer has became, more and more clearly, probably not.

And yet...I get mail. Like the letter from the fiance. And it reinforces that in the long run, the long view does pay off. A letter like that makes me teary with gratitude: You read. You understood. You felt her. She helped you believe in yourself. 

Now that the series is complete and all 18 books are available without having to wait for the next installment to come out, I'm hopeful that a whole new generation of readers will discover and devour these books, and that they, too, will see Sammy as a friend who helped them face the troubles and roadblocks in their life. I'm looking forward to their letters. And their kids' letters.

Look at me. I'm taking the long view. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Bryce" & "Juli" Weigh In On "Wild Bird"

It was in August seven years ago when Flipped came out in theaters. It was an exceptional experience. Many of you have already heard the tales, so I won't repeat them, but for those of you who haven't, track down a copy of the anniversary edition of Flipped and read the thirty new afterward pages to get a sense of what went on behind the scenes. From meeting Rob Reiner (who directed the film) for the first time to why the movie was set in the 50s and 60s when the book was written as a contemporary story, to the how the movie has expanded the audience for Flipped - there are some good stories there!

People ask me when another one of my books is going to be adapted into a movie, and my answer is that it's not right to get greedy. Flipped was turned into a feature film by the director of The Princess Bride for goodness sake. And he wanted to do the film because he read and loved the book.

Hello? He read and loved the book!

It would be bad karma to want more.

One of the fun and also unexpectedly wonderful things about the Flipped book-to-movie experience was meeting the cast of the film. The "kids" were all so nice and down to earth and patient. We had a premiere where, for two showings, they stood with guests for hours, smiling and taking individual pictures as people filed into the theater. They were such troupers!

Premier night, the thing that also struck me about Callan (Bryce) and Israel (Garrett) is that they're funny. Like, really funny. I have lots of pictures of Callan mugging for the camera. They're hilarious, but they're gonna stay in my vault. Seven years later he's not needing to see them pop up around the internet.

What I will share is that since Flipped came out, Callan's been in lots of projects, like I Am Number Four, The Great Gatsby, Blow Your Own Trumpet, and Hacker to name a few. If you want to see the full list of what he's been up to, check here.

Madeline's been busy, too, working on such projects as Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Haunting Hour, Scandal, Blink, with multiple other projects completed just this year. In all our communications, she's kind and upbeat and focused on her faith and doing good. Check out the full list of her projects here.

Stefanie Scott, who played Juli's best friend (Darla in the book, Dana in the movie) was really busy with A.N.T. Farm after Flipped and has lots of other projects completed. Very impressive!

Israel, Stepfanie, Madeline, Callan - an awesome bunch!
And Israel Broussard, (who played Bryce's best friend Garrett) has also been in a bunch of stuff - including Fear the Walking Dead - and is starring in Happy Death Day, which my son (the one who loves "funny horror films") is dying (h-hm) to see. It releases on October 13th (a Friday) and you can learn more and watch the trailer here.

For all of them, Flipped was one of their early projects, and seven years later, Callan and Madeline were both kind enough to make the time to read and blurb Wild Bird. I love what each of them had to say (see opening graphic), and it means a lot to me that the book resonated with them.

So this month brings a sense of nostalgia (how could seven years have gone by since the Flipped movie came out ?!?) and optimism for the future. Wild Bird comes out on September 5th and I can't wait. Years in the making, it's finally almost here and I'm hopeful that everyone will have reactions similar to Callan's and Madeline's.

For more information about the book, click here.

Fly, Wild Bird, fly!

Thanks for checking in - see you in the comments!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

This Is My Why

Where did you get the idea for this book? is a common question authors get. Usually, authors relate an anecdote of some sort. Or share an epiphany. Or confess to having read something in the news that sparked the basis for their story. (Florida authors seem particularly adept at this.)  

I do fumble about for adequate answers to share with people who ask, but the question I  wish they'd ask instead is Why did you write this book?

The why is so much more important.

It's actually everything.

Why did I spend years of my life thinking about, researching, plotting this story? Why did I obsess over word choice, balance, message, accessibility, theme, resolution, heart? Why did I put myself in this world, endure this character's agonies? Why? Why? Why?

For Wild Bird, the answer comes down to reflection. Reflection on how seemingly insignificant choices can set us off in a slightly wrong direction, which, over time, can land us in a place we never intended (or wanted) to go.

Reflections on the importance of friendships in shaping our direction.

Reflections on the questions we should ask ourselves when we're young. The ones that will help keep us moving toward where we dream of being. The ones that matter most.

When we're young and under the guidance of parents and teachers, we're given rules. Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not cheat. Think about the 10 Commandments -- it's simply a list of things you should not do. The rules we're given when we're young become our de facto moral compass.

But then adolescence happens and peer pressure (or curiosity or defiance or...) can lure us away from the things we've been taught not to do. Having friends, being is a powerful force, one against which rules alone cannot compete. Our moral compass finds a new true north - peer acceptance.

It has helped me, I think, to see adolescence again through the eyes of a classroom teacher. I've seen my own youthful mistakes repeated by my students. I recognize the pressures and emotions and remember the agony of being that age. 

I taught high school for 15 years, and for many of those years I also worked two nights a week at the continuation high school, helping at-risk kids get through school. These were teens whose choices had betrayed them. And beyond getting their GED, most had no clear direction. They were young souls already lost. 

In education, we focus on helping our students complete the steps necessary to move forward toward careers. It's our job. But if I were back in the classroom now, I would pause that and ask my students to answer one life-defining question:

Who do you want to be?

Not what career are you after, or what position do you want to hold, but what kind of person do you want to be? What characteristics do you want to embody?

Because everything else in their lives will spring from a thoughtful defining of that.

So the why behind Wild Bird comes from reflections on the power inherent in defining our who. If we're able to define our who when we're young - if we're able to make our decisions by that guide - attaining happiness and fulfillment has a much better chance than if we let the pressures around us push and pull us in directions we never intended to go.

Wild Bird is the story of a girl who, at fourteen, is already defensive, bitter, angry, and lost. Her parents don't understand what went wrong. How did this happen?

It happened by degrees. The compass shifted. And, unfortunately, Wren's not alone. Nobody wants to end up where she did but a lot of teens do. And I don't claim to have all the answers - not by any stretch - but maybe changing the question can help teens consciously choose their direction. Maybe it can give them the strength and conviction to stay on the path they want for themselves. 

This is my hope for Wild Bird.

This is my why.

(Wild Bird will be out on September 5th. If you'd like to read a short excerpt, there's one here.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

In Search of Juli Baker

I've been getting a flurry of letters regarding Flipped from readers in Vietnam. 

I also learned that the Flipped movie was #5 at the box office in Korea last week. The movie was released in the US in August 2010, but hey, if you missed it here, you can catch it in theaters now in S. Korea. I don't know if the audio is translated, or if there are subtitles. Either way, how fun would it be to watch the movie in a theater there?

Why is it showing there now? I have no answer for that, either. The translated book has been available in Korea since 2005 (and through two different publishers) so maybe the success of the book has led to the showing of the film? 

Or maybe Flipped is just slowly making its way around the Pacific Rim.  I know that it's big in the Philippines. Some of my most passionate fans are from the Philippines. One teacher in particular is always ribbing me online about writing a sequel to the book. No explanation as to why I haven't written one is sufficient. He is relentless, but in a cute and humorous way.

Which brings me back to Vietnam. Last week I received an email about Flipped from a teen there. The letter was sweet and funny, but it also posed some really interesting questions and thoughts - ones that I want to share with you.

Let me set the stage by saying that the letter writer is a teen boy/young man, of sixteen. He points out that he was born in the same year that Flipped came out. He has watched the movie, read the book and "checked everything about Flipped and you and your books on Wiki and every fanblog."

So this isn't a simple case of 'When's the sequel?' He did his homework. And yet, he is not satisfied with knowing the whys of my not having written one. He summed it up by stating "The only thing that's sadder than a bad ending is an unfinished happy ending."

I want to grab him by the shoulders and say, No! Not true! How can you say that? An open-ended happy ending is...wonderful. It's full of hope and dreams and possibility! It makes you feel...alive. Like the future is yours to create!

He confessed to being a little obsessed with Juli Baker. Actually, what he said was, "I HAVE A CRUSH on your Juli Baker character. And I really hope that my girlfriend in the future would be someone like Julie." (LOL + 3 smilies.)

Do you love this guy, or what? I know I do.

But then his letter went deeper. Actually, a lot deeper. I am going to quote it here because any explanation or condensation of what he said won't do justice to his actual words. Please keep in mind that English is not his native language. 

It has been more than 15 years since you wrote “Flipped”. The world has change a lot since 15 years. Iphone, Internet appears, buildings are built. People start to looks at the phone’s light more than to meet other people in the proper light. And I start to wonder: “Is any girl like Julie really existed in this 2017 world?” And if that girl‘s really existed then what will she do? Will “the 2017’s Julie” keep climbing to another Sycamore tree? Or she would climb on top of some abandoned building to feel the world instead? Or somehow she would give up and just be normal to the world- the world with Ipod, Facebook,… ? Or ”2017 Julie Bakers” still be iridescent in her own freaking way?

    Okay, if you didn't already, now you love him, right? These are great questions to ponder. These are reflections on our world and how we interact with one another.

    Are things so fast and fleeting and on-the-surface now that we don't spend time truly knowing each other, let alone ourselves?

    Are we losing our iridescence?

    I need a tree to climb. I want to be wrapped in the arms of nature and think. No iPhone buzzing, no computer interrupting. I want to reflect on love and loss, tides rising and falling, and how no matter how far apart we live, we're really all neighbors looking to share a sunrise.  

    Sunday, July 23, 2017

    Given the Chance to Fly

    In a little over 6 weeks I'll be heading out on book tour for Wild Bird. It's a (mostly) West Coast tour, and you can see the schedule on my website's new Wild Bird page. There's also an excerpt from the book there which will give you a taste of what the story's like.

    Six weeks before a book comes out is when it starts feeling real. All of a sudden all that waiting you've been enduring transforms into panic about having too much to do before pub date. 

    What's to do? 

    Well, typically, it falls on authors to help to get the word out---to have the news about their new book be heard through the cacophony of competing sounds about other new books, and to somehow do so without being annoying or obnoxious. 

    It's a difficult balance. I think it's easier if you're an artist and can entertain people with your spontaneous sketches or with visuals from your works in progress. But when what you have is a book full of only words--words that you've spent a couple of years perfecting, words that must be read from beginning to end to convey the passion and purpose of the story--well, what you can do with 140 characters on Twitter or a snapshot on Instagram or a post on Facebook is pretty limited.

    But if you don't at least try, chances are your book will be launched from the nest and flutter helplessly to the ground. And if that happens, it may never regain the chance to fly because if your book is not one of the few your publisher has selected for a real media push, and your book hasn't managed to turn heads by "opening weekend," momentum will not be in your favor. There is just too much competition. Before you know it, people are on to the next season, the next thing.

    It's a hard reality. A frustrating reality. So when you see authors spamming you with news about their books, don't hate them. Instead, find it in your heart to have sympathy. And if the book sounds good to you, maybe even share or re-tweet their post, or hey, place an order in support. They've worked years for this moment. It's hard to watch it go by without at least a little fanfare, even if they have to generate it themselves.

    So yes. Six week from now, Wild Bird launches. There will be posts. I will try not to enter the Obnoxious Author Zone with them, but if I do, please forgive me. This book means a lot to me. I need to do what I can to give it the chance to fly.

    Thanks for taking time to read this. I hope you'll check out the new Wild Bird page and read the excerpt...and maybe I'll see you on tour.

    Meanwhile, see you in the comments!

    Saturday, July 15, 2017


    Do not get too excited. This is just a mock up! There is no deal with Hasbro/Parker Brothers to actually make this.

    But...isn't it fun? 

    This is what comes of sitting around the dinner table with my family, discussing how Sammy's world might translate to the Monopoly board. By midnight I had obsessively mocked up a Sammy-opoly board. Typical me.

    But I'm sure it could use improvement and I would love your ideas and input. If you see something missing or think of something you think would be better, speak up!

    I chose how to group/place the properties by balancing value, location (proximity to one another in Santa Martina) and theme.

    The  Heavenly Hotel edged out the Senior Highrise for cheapest property, but it was a tossup! 

    And I love that Hudson's Porch is the most valuable property. Not Marissa's house, not the Landvogt Mansion, not East Jasmine at all...and not Hudson's house, but his porch.

    I don't know about you, but whenever I play Monopoly, the most disappointing properties seem to be the ones between Free Parking (Skateboarding) and Go To Jail (Detention). They never pay off. And getting through them is such a slog. I'd rather go to jail.

    Speaking of...don't overlook the little letters around the jailbird. 😉

    For the 6 or 7 markers Hasbro/Parker Brothers seems to allow for special edition Monolopys I'm thinking...skateboard, binoculars, high-tops, police car, cat, catcher's mitt, horseshoe.... Other ideas? 

    I've got a long drive ahead of me, and on it we'll be brainstorming Chance (Shortcut) and Community Chest (Library) cards. Here are just a few early ones:

    • Take a ride in Hudson's Cadillac. If you pass GO collect $200.
    • The Nightie-Napper strikes again, pay $20.
    • Get $50 reward for returning softball statue to city hall.
    • Cracked a safe, get $100.
    • Fell off skateboard, advance to the Hospital.
    • Heather frames you. Go directly to Detention.
    • Caught ice blocking. Slide back three spaces.
    So take a gander and join the fun - give me your feedback and throw in your ideas. Let's play!

    PS Like I said - we're just goofing around, but ... maybe someday!

    Sunday, July 9, 2017

    Cover Reveal! New Sammy Keyes #4-8

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    I'm so excited, are you?

    Covers #4-8 have been finalized, and I'm sharing them here first. 

    Some of you have already seen Runaway Elf (#4) at online bookstores...which, yes, is confusing because it isn't out yet. Don't know how or why that happened.

    But you haven't seen the other four! 
    I'm loving the new covers - aren't they good? You may recall from a previous post that the illustrations are by Australian artist Craig Phillips. (If you're on Twitter you should follow him - his work is amazing!)

    Anyway, do you have a favorite from the new batch? Can you find the hidden numbers? (Click to enlarge image.) Some of the numbers are easy to see, and some...not so much! 

    When they first came across my desk I even used a magnifying glass while searching Snake Eyes for the 7. How classic-mystery is that? They've increased the contrast a little in the final, so you (probably) won't need to do the Sherlock thing, but humor me and say you didn't see the 7(s) right away. (That, by the way, is a hint.)

    This batch (#4-8) will be available on September 12th. And together with the first three they'll make up 8/18, or 4/9, or 0.444444, or almost half of the image that puzzles together along the spines. And all of them have book club/discussion questions inside. 

    In case you missed last week's post, or haven't seen the flurry of giveaways I've been doing elsewhere online, I hope you'll jump in and have some fun trying to win copies of the new editions. I'm doing a Free Book Friday, Get-1-Give-1 drawing each week through summer (and probably to the end of the year if I can get organized enough to coordinate it while I'm on the upcoming September/October tour for Wild Bird).

    So go find me on Twitter and Instagram (@WendelinVanD) and visit the Sammy Keyes (books) Facebook page. You can enter at all three places to increase your chances of having your name drawn. Plus you'll get to see a different "Sammy Square" each week, which is a lot of fun in and of itself. (I love how they remind me of what Sammy went through in each book.) I'll give you a sneak peek at next week's because that's what I do here, right?

    And last, but certainly not least, the results of last week's blog giveaway!

    (Drum roll, please...)

    Psst! Did you notice the background cloth?
    Randomly selected by good ol' names-drawn-from-an-actual-hat technique, the winner of two copies each of the first three new issue Sammys is...JESSICA, who identified her favorite Sammy scene as being from the pirate date from Dead Giveaway.

    Can I get a chorus of "Billy Pratt!"?


    Congrats to Jessica (please email me your mailing address), and to those of you who didn't win (or didn't check in last week), we will do it again sometime! Meanwhile, try your luck over on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. 

    See you in the comments!

    Sunday, July 2, 2017

    Easy-Peasy Giveaway!

    Giveaway time! If you follow me on social you know I've started a giveaway where every Friday throughout summer we draw a winner who receives two copies of a new Sammy Keyes edition.

    If you didn't know that and want to join in, separate giveaways are happening:

    1) at the Sammy Keyes (books) Facebook page

    2) on Twitter @WendelinVanD

    3) on Instagram at @WendelinVanD.

    It's super easy to throw your name in the mix, so I encourage you to enter everywhere to increase your chances of winning.

    And now, here, for my faithful blog followers, I'm offering up two copies of the first three Sammys - one set for you, one for a friend.  ('Cause you guys are awesome 😊.)

    All you have to do is tell me your favorite scene from any Sammy Keyes book (no spoilers, please!). Describe it in brief in the comments below, and you are entered. Easy-peasy!

    In addition to the six (2x3) Sammys, I'll also send the winner one of the hardcover mysteries that I received while serving on the 2016 Edgar committee (young adult category).

    So enter here, and everywhere, and happy summer reading!

    Next week: I'm planning to share new art from the next batch of Sammys which release on Sept 12th. They're wonderful, and the hidden numbers are super fun.

    Have a great week. See you in the comments!

    Saturday, June 10, 2017

    Girl Power

    When I was a kid, "girl power" was not a thing. Girls who would rather do sports or dared to compete with guys were called "tomboys."

    I was definitely a tomboy.

    For me, this was partly survival. I was sandwiched between two brothers. If I was going to have any fun, I had to keep up with the things they wanted to do.

    Also, nowhere in my parents' playbook was the notion of treating their daughter like a princess. They were immigrants, and in this land of new opportunity, they valued hard work, discipline, and education. I wasn't treated differently or given "a pass" on things because I was a girl. We all worked together. We all helped out. My hands were as calloused as my brothers'. Hard work knew no gender.

    In school, I was different from my peers, and it made me uncomfortable around them. Girls had Barbies, fashion sense, and pop culture crushes. Me? I could beat every boy on the playground in the 100 yard dash.

    What I wish for my young self is that I'd grown up in a time when my mom - or my teachers or my Scout leader or my librarian or anybody - would have known how to articulate the notion of "girl power." The words, the concept, the discussion of the value of being true to yourself would have helped me embrace who I was, rather than try to conceal my differences. Because all kids want to have friends. All kids want to fit in. All kids are afraid that their differences will ostracize them. Back then there wasn't a movement to empower individuality.

    Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm in the process of delicately updating all 18 books of the Sammy Keyes series as the new covers roll out in 2017 and 2018.  (You can read about that process here if you're interested.) Next year will mark 20 years since the first title (Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief) was published, and the truth is, I hadn't read that book (or any of the books I've written) since it went to press. So I was a little concerned that the actual edition I held in my hands wouldn't compare to the romanticized version I held in my head.

    The delightful surprise (and relief) for me has been how Sammy is even better than I remember. She really is, in the wonderful words of Sue Grafton, "feisty, fearless, and funny," but more than that, she is unique. She is herself. Despite all the pressures against it, she is true to herself and the things she believes.

    And in revisiting the books, I'm understanding better why the impassioned young women who come to my signings with sacks of Sammys have the same message for me:  Sammy empowered them to embrace themselves and pursue extreme goals. In short, Sammy gave them girl power.

    I didn't set out to write girl power books. Sammy was just a kid - like any kid - struggling to figure things out. She was me and you, our fears and frailties, flaws and strengths, stumbling through life for truth, trying to find her way, and in doing so, somehow helping us find our own.

    It is still mind-boggling to me how much I have learned and grown from a character I created.

    Looking back, I can see that my being an outsider influenced the creation of her as an outsider, which, in turn, helped kids who feel like outsiders see that their uniqueness is a strength; that it's okay to be different; that it's okay to be strong. But it has gone beyond my wildest dreams to see the empowering impact that Sammy has had on young girls.

    Today, "girl power" is everywhere, and it fills me with joy. When I was in New York for the Bank Street College of Education award, I had the privilege of meeting a huge Sammy Keyes fan and her son. They have read the entire series together three times and are starting on a fourth go-round. 

    It turns out that this Sammy fan / mom - Julie Kerwin - is also the founder of iamElemental - a company that makes girl-power action figures. Their motto is "Play with Power" and their action figures are named after power "elements" like Creativity, Ingenuity, Curiosity.... I have Logic on my desk - she's awesome!

    So if you're looking for something for girl-power play, I encourage you to check out the iamElemental line of female superhero toys. Smart, fun, and empowering.

    I also exclaimed "Hallelujah!" when I first saw Strong is the New Pretty. Anyone looking for a book to encourage young girls to embrace themselves should check this one out. The pictures are gorgeous, the quotes will make you laugh and cheer, and the opening essays before each section are truly inspiring. And if you're a grown woman, reading it will make you want to go back and be a girl all over again....and this time do it your way.

    It's important that we promote the idea to girls that it's okay to be feisty and fearless, that it's okay to be different - to be unique - and that strength is beautiful. 

    Because the girls who will go on to change the world are not the ones who conform to it.

    Sunday, May 28, 2017

    The Dark Cloud

    During lunch with a former student this week, the conversation turned to depression. She shared some personal stuff and then apologized for going into such depth about her life, her family, and that Dark Cloud that's so good at creeping in to block the sun.

    In a rare moment of candor I told her that I knew the Dark Cloud well. 

    Everyone thinks I have the perfect life, I explained, and I do. I have a great marriage, two amazing sons, we live in a slice of heaven, I have over thirty books in print, two have been turned into movies, strangers tell me how much my work has helped them in their life, and I'm healthy.  

    And compared to the way my life used to be? Wow. I know I've got it good.

    So what could I possibly get depressed about?

    But that's just it. Depression can defy logic. And trying to reason it away is usually futile.

    Also, it's not the same for everyone who suffers from it (or bouts of it), so the remedy - or battle plan - to defeat it is going to be different for different people. The chemistry of the brain is way too complex to prescribe universal solutions.

    I try to shake my Dark Cloud by running away. Literally. I know exercise is good for health and fitness, but my real motivation is mood elevation. Can I just say this? I don't love running. I love the result of running. I love the way it calms me down, lifts me up, makes me ready to tackle the things I have been putting off. 

    It's all about the endorphins.

    I also escape in my writing. 30 novels (8 chapter books) in less than 20 years is the output of a woman possessed; one preferring to create worlds where good can triumph than face off with her own demons. When I'm absorbed in the production of pages, the Dark Cloud stays a safe distance away.

    Also of benefit is the simple act of "ditch digging" - the chores of life. If I can get myself up and moving when the Dark Cloud is hovering, I can bat it away. But getting yourself up and  moving when it's upon you is hard. Why bother with chores? I don't feel like going for a run. No, I don't want to answer the phone, the front door, my email. Nothing seems worth doing, and the less I do, the less I feel like doing. It is hard to break that cycle. 

    I never, ever talk about this except with Mark, who helps me get up and get going on the things that will chase the Cloud away. I dodge and weave my way through life, and pretty much manage to keep the darkness at bay. And I don't want to acknowledge the Cloud to others because...well, everyone has things they're dealing with, and I have, you know, everything.

    But there you have it:  Like many people, I struggle with a powerful and persistent Dark Cloud. And the reason I'm sharing this with you now is because that former student gaped at me when I shared it with her and said, "You have no idea how much better that makes me feel."

    She seemed so...relieved. She laughed out loud. She shook her head. She smiled a warm, radiant smile. 

    Her reaction made me realize how much we can help each other, just by admitting it. Twenty minutes in the weight room may not work for you the way it works for me, but maybe a hike through the woods will. Or maybe you've tried sweating it away, or writing it away, or scrubbing it away, and it's still there, dark and foreboding, and you just can't shake it. Maybe it's time to seek professional help.

    I am not a doctor, and I don't claim to understand the intricacies of brain chemistry, depression, or even mood swings. 

    I just want you to know that you're not alone. 

    Saturday, May 20, 2017

    Just a Hater

    There will be haters. And with the anonymity of the internet serving as barracks, they will shoot freely with their negativity, aiming to hurt you, but willing to settle for knowing they got to you. 

    This week I saw that there was a 1-star rating on Goodreads for my upcoming YA novel, Wild Bird. Goodreads reviews can be tough. The majority of people there take their reading very seriously. They are stingy with their 5s. 4-stars is a compliment. 3-stars is really good. But a 1-star? Those are much rarer than 5-stars.

    You can get a 1-star on Amazon if someone's book wasn't delivered on time (like that's the author's fault?). Not the case on Goodreads. Most reviewers are there for a legitimate love of literature and have more class than to give a 1-star rating unless they have real issues with a book....and then they'll usually voice those in a review.

    There was no accompanying review on Goodreads for the 1-star rating of Wild Bird. And since this is a book that's really only available to reviewers and select educators at this point (because it won't be out until September 5th), I was puzzled.

    And then I realized that this same "reviewer" had given all my books--and pretty much only my books--1-star ratings. And that they'd all been rated on the same day.

    Ah. A hater.

    What did I do to deserve this hate?

    I have no idea, and it doesn't matter--I was immediately over it.

    Creative people are usually sensitive people, and it's easy to get to us. Especially when our creations are from the heart. It takes me two, maybe three, years of of research, writing, and revising to finish a YA novel. Yet with the split-second tap of a touch pad, someone can give your book one-star and feel that they are in a position of power. Or equal footing. Or that they are somehow a player.

    My creative friends: these people are not players. They are not in your court, on your field, or swimming in your pool. They are benched. Their lives don't work to a point that they resort to this to make themselves feel better. How sad is that? How pathetic is that?

    So don't give them that power. Don't let them infiltrate your thoughts. Don't even bother to ask who or why. The who is easy: a coward. And the why will never make sense coming from the thoughts of an illogical or hateful mind. Don't waste your time.  

    Also, you will lose if you engage. Maybe you can get their profile removed, but they'll just come back as a different fake user, with a different fake profile, and a different fake photo. 

    So don't give them your energy. Go back to the creative work you do. Keep driving toward your mission. You have a purpose, a direction, a contribution to make. They have hate, cowardice, and, almost certainly, little to show in the way of actual accomplishments.

    Turn your back, walk away, and pity them. 

    Hate is a terrible way to live.