Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mystery Solved!

We weren't allowed to talk about it. I guess that falls nicely under the mystery writer umbrella. After all, you're not supposed to know who-dun-it until the end of the story.

But since the 2017 Edgars were announced at a fancy-pants banquet in New York City on Thursday, I'm now permitted to tell you that I dun it. Or, at least, I helped.

I was on this year's Edgar committee in the Young Adult category. There were five of us. I was not the ringleader, and I'm glad. This was my first time serving on a committee like this and it has given me a broadened perspective (and newfound appreciation) of what goes into selecting a handful of books from the many titles submitted.

In theory I knew that there'd be a lot of reading, but...reality check: There was a lot of reading!

You wouldn't think there'd be that many young adult mysteries published in a given year...and it's true, there aren't. But publishers submit books that are thrillers, or suspense novels, or any story, really, that has some tangential mysterious element to it. So you wind up with all these books that don't really qualify as mysteries, but you read them anyway because there must be a reason they were sent in for Edgar award consideration, right?

Required reading
So...what do you do if a book is really good, but only tangentially a mystery? Should it be considered for "best young adult mystery of the year"? I sure didn't think so, so I asked several times for clarification. What definition of mystery are we using? Is a thriller eligible, even though we know the whole time who the bad guy is? Is a simple suspense story a mystery? Does there have to be a central crime?

I guess the best way to summarize what I learned is to share that there's a nominee this year that's not a true mystery. It was one of the best books, suspenseful, thrilling...but not a true mystery. And yet, it made the short list.

Having been on the other side of the process for sixteen Edgar cycles (the span of the Sammy Keyes mystery series), I would now say that - strictly for the purpose of being considered for the Edgar - I  would not want a mystery I'd written to come out in the fall. Books to be considered for the Edgar are all published within a given calendar year, so titles start trickling in early in the year when committee members have time to read-read-read. By fall, there's a deluge of books arriving, and all must be read before mid-December while the holidays and other end-of-year pressures are all bearing down on you. 

It becomes a power-read process...not something you're really hoping for as the author. You want people to savor your book. To enjoy it! To revel in the mystery and try to puzzle it together, not just power through it. 

After reading the submissions is complete, it's time to vote. And I would tell you more about that but there's the section in the Rules for serving on an Edgar committee that states "Any discussions among committee members may not be shared outside the committee."  So I'm not able to really tell you anything other than that the winner  - Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse - was very high on all our lists. We were unanimously happy with the winner, which (I've heard) is not always the case. 

The other nominees were Thieving Weasels (by Billy Taylor), The Girl I Used to Be (by April Henry), My Sister Rosa (by Justine Larbalestier), and Three Truths and a Lie (by Brent Hartinger). 

The Edgar Award "Dress to Kill" banquet is always a fun night. For each and every one I attended as a nominee for a Sammy Keyes book, I was game to fulfill that instruction the best I could...but always in a dress that was $29 or less. It started that first year (when I won for Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief) and wore a dress I'd bought for $29 at a "vintage" store. After that, the price tag of the dress I'd wear to the Edgars became a fun $29 tradition for me. And now, in addition to fun stories I have from each and every Edgar banquet, I also have one for how I found each and every $29 gown. 

"It's just an honor just to be nominated," is also very true. Especially now that I know how crazy-many books get submitted for each category. 

But let me also confess this: It's a lot more fun to win! 

And both are much more thrilling than serving on a committee. I'm glad I did it...and grateful in a brand new way for those who served on committees in years past when there was a Sammy Keyes book lurking in their mile-high stack of reading. 

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spilling Secrets

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

First, the newsy stuff:

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

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

For example: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us something about you.

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Aiming at Brave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Happy Birthday, Sammy!

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

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

How old this year?

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

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

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

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

See you soon!