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Random Thoughts on Reading, Writing, Life, and Books, by Author Greg Leitich Smith
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1. Pizza a Day Diet: The Backspace

The Backspace, located at Fifth and San Jacinto, was recommended to me by author Margo Rabb:

It's a relatively small space, with correspondingly limited seating.  All seats have a good view of the bar and the brick oven, though (They're bigger than they look).
I ordered the asparagus appetizer and a fennel sausage pizza and really liked both.

The appetizer came in a cast iron skillet with a fried egg, basil pesto, and prosciutto, and had a nice, earthy quality.  In the future, I fully intend to try some of their other appetizers...

The pizza's crust was somewhat soft, but it had a good chewiness and rich flavor from the slight char/caramelization.  The sauce was chunky and the fennel sausage was really amazing.  I also liked the "blobs" of mozzarella that worked better on this pizza than an entire layer would've (I suspect the effect would've been to steam the crust a bit too much).

Although their web site doesn't specify, they also do carry out, which could be dangerous...





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2. Pizza a Day Diet: Pieous

For today's Pizza a Day Diet experience, I went way out west -- nearly to Dripping Springs -- to try out Pieous with authors Brian Yansky and Frances Yansky

  
The place was packed -- and inside seating is limited to a handful of cafe tables, picnic tables, and seats at the bar.  There's more outside, though, and we didn't have trouble nabbing spots.
 
The pizzas are about 12 inches, so we ordered three: the Smoky Italian (crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, house smoked Italian sausage, and spicy onions), the White Pie (mozzarella, basil, garlic, and olive oil), and a bacon pizza.
I didn't have the bacon, but I enjoyed both of the others.  The crusts were soft but chewy, and the cheese (and sauce on the sausage) were flavorful.  The White had a rich, almost Alfredo-like taste, and the Smoky Italian sausage was also really good.  I particularly liked the hint of spiciness that you got in every mouthful.

And fans of TOFU AND T.REX will appreciate the old-school deli slicing machine:



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3. Pizza a Day Diet: Cajun Pizza Place

At first, I was a bit skeptical about Cajun Pizza Place, partly because of its relatively remote location: 183 and McNeil (aka, South Canada), but I was in the area so decided to try it. 

I ordered a mushroom, onion, green pepper, and crawfish (yes, crawfish) pizza.
As you can see, the toppings are present in abundance and evenly distributed.  The crawfish was actually really good and had excellent flavor and body (I was prepared for frozen, textureless mush) and the pizza on the whole was quite rich and tasty.  I also liked the crust: thin, crisp and flaky in a way that reminded me of the thin crust pizzas from neighborhood joints I had in Chicago growing up.

They are a bit far from me but if I'm ever in the neighborhood again, I'll definitely go back.


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4. Pizza a Day Diet: Marye's Gourmet Pizza

Marye's Gourmet Pizza Pub is located somewhat out of the way in a strip mall on Bee Cave Road in West Lake Hills and offers pizzas, sandwiches, and other Italian favorites in a new, modern setting.
I ordered a 14-inch sausage, green pepper, and mushroom pizza.
I ordered this one carry out and it took me a while to get there and get back home, but it held up well.  The crust was nicely thin with crispier edges.  The cheese was great and there's a lot of it.  The sausage was crumbled but tasty and nicely caramelized, and the green peppers and mushrooms were conspicuously abundant.  Altogether, a most enjoyable pizza.



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5. Pizza a Day Diet: Via313

Via313 offers what they call "Detroit-style pizza."  Now, being a Chicagoan and having spent considerable time in Michigan, I'd never heard of "Detroit-style pizza."

It turns out, it's not dissimilar to Chicago-style, in that it is a deep dish, with the cheese properly underneath the sauce. (This prevents the crust from getting soggy -- recently to my disappointment, I ate at a franchise Uno's and they had the cheese on top of the sauce. It was revolting. And heretical.).  Intriguingly, the Via313 pizzas are rectangular, allegedly because they were originally baked in auto parts pans, which is one of those stories that, if not actually true, should be.

Via313, which gets its name from the Wayne County (Detroit) area code, has two trailers and one brick and mortar location.  I went to the trailer at Craft Pride on Rainey Street.

I ordered the Omnivore, with mushroom, onion, green pepper, pepperoni, and sausage.
I was very impressed.  The crust was crisp without being cracker-y and had that chewiness and almost confectionary quality I associate with a good Chicago-style crust (And, of course, it was not soggy). The cheese had a good flavor, as did the toppings.  The sauce was plentiful, but as you can see from the picture, did not cover the entire surface of the cheese layer.

All in all, an exceptional pizza, and I confess I approached the thing with a certain degree of suspicion...:-).


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6. Pizza a Day Diet: Little Deli and Pizza

Little Deli and Pizza is located in a mid-century strip mall in a residential (Crestview) neighborhood of north-ish Austin and, as the name suggests, doesn't have a lot of dine-in space; it does have a number of outdoor tables which were packed when I picked up my sausage, mushroom, and onion pizza.

This was another where I really liked the sausage -- it had a good, meaty texture and flavor and came in large chunks.  It's thin crust, not extremely crispy, but with enough body to support the weight of the toppings, and was satisfyingly chewy.



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7. Pizza a Day Diet: Bola Pizza

Today's pizza comes from Bola Pizza.  Actually, it comes from Thom's Market grocery store, because Bola Pizza is a home-grown Austin catering-only outfit (they'll bring the oven to you, which sounds kind of awesome) that also offers some of their selections frozen

I bought the Mushroom, one of four varieties -- all vegetarian -- available in the freezer case (Their catering menu features eleven, including some with meat :-)). The Mushroom pizza has a "crimini mushroom ragu, mozzarella, and ricotta."  Here's what it looked like out of the box:
And here it is straight out of the oven:

Judging from their web site, one of Bola Pizza's points of pride is their crust, billed as being made with a "three day, cold fermentation" process.  And I have to say, it was pretty fantastic.  Extremely thin, straight out of the oven it had a terrific crispness (Part of this might be because it was a "white" pizza, i.e., no sauce so they can go a little thinner.). The edges (is there a term for those?) were crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.


The rest of the pizza was really good, as well, with a light, flavorful, non-greasy texture.  Even better, the cheese tasted the way cheese should (not just a waxy, gooey substrate) and the mushroom ragu would be terrific by itself. On the whole, this might be the best thin-crust frozen pizza I've ever had, better than some in-store or delivery.

The pizzas are available at stores in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth.  Click here for the complete list.


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8. Pizza a Day Diet: 360 Pizza

So I came home and found this on my door from 360 Pizza:

Naturally, I had to try them (A friend had also recommended their original location). 

I ordered the 360 Supreme, with pepperoni, Rosmarina ham, sausage, onions, mushrooms, green peppers, and black olives.  I really liked the toppings on this one: they combined for a terrific combination of flavors.  The crust was also good -- New York style thin crust, not as crisp as some, but still good with a nice chew.

 

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9. Pizza a Day Diet: House Pizzeria

House Pizzeria, on Airport Boulevard, offers a thin crust Neapolitan style pizza.  I had the pleasure of having lunch there today with authors Jennifer Ziegler and Chris Barton

We ordered a sausage-and-mushroom and a pepperoni pizza.  Both were excellent, with a nice thin crust and abundant toppings.  I ended up liking the sausage a bit more than the pepperoni, but then I generally tend to prefer sausage to pepperoni :-).
Both are recommended, however.  (And the salad (not pictured) was also quite good).

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10. Pizza a Day Diet: Brooklyn Pie Co.

Just up Burnet Road from Pinthouse Pizza is Brooklyn Pie Company, which serves a more traditional New York-style pizza.  Although the place has a few tables, it's mostly carry-out, with a walk-up counter for ordering.

I ordered a gyro, onion, green pepper, and mushroom pie.  Overall, it had an agrreably crispy crust with a lot of cheesy goodness and abundant toppings.  The sauce was minimal, but sufficient for flavor, and the gyro meat could've been a bit thicker, but had a decent flavor and complemented the other toppings.



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11. Pizza a Day Diet: Pinthouse Pizza

Day 4 of A Pizza a Day Diet came from Pinthouse Pizza on Burnet Road.

I ordered an "artisanal sausage," green pepper, and mushroom pizza, with a side wedge salad.  The trust was a traditional thin crust (not ultra-thin, like a Neapolitan) and had a slightly bread-like texture with a good body and taste that was not, in fact, bready. 

The artisanal sausage was quite good (I'm beginning to think that the art of sausage-making is making a comeback, which I attribute to the fact that readers of TOFU AND T.REX are coming into their own in the restaurant business :-)).  The cheese and the sauce were well-balanced and flavorful.

And, of course,they're a brewpub with some excellent selections...  

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12. Pizza a Day Diet: Salvation Pizza


Day 3 of this iteration of Pizza a Day Diet was at Salvation Pizza!  They have two locations: one on 34th Street (around where Dragon's Lair was back in the day) and a new one on Rainey Street.  Because I'm a parking masochist, I went to the Rainey Street location (they also do delivery, but not to where I'm at). That said, I didn't encounter difficulties parking -- there's a public parking lot nearby and there were actually spots in front of the restaurant (although I went during off hours).

The place was crisp and clean, in one of the newer buildings close to the Town Lady Bird Lake.
I ordered a 14-inch sausage, onion, and mushroom pizza.  It came really hot out of the oven -- the cheese was nicely gooey and you could almost see the steam rising from the marinara.

The sausage came in nice large slices and had excellent slightly spicy Italian sausage flavor without any greasiness.  The onions were al dente (the way I like them), as were the mushrooms.  So, too, were the chunks of tomatoes in the sauce.  The crust was of the ultra-thin variety, with a crisp edge and chewy bottom.  Like St. Philip, they also feature "white" pizzas without a marinara, which I am anxious to try next time.







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13. Pizza a Day Diet: St. Philip

Today's pizza came from St. Philip, a pizza place with the look and feel of a sushi bar, which seems appropriate, since it's by the same folks responsible for Uchi.  The pizzas are all thin crust, and they give the option of "traditional" sauce and "white."  The latter apparently means there is no tomato sauce at all, which is just wrong :-).  Although I'm slightly curious about it...

I had the House Meatball, which features "ricotta, grilled onion, garlic, basil, [and] chili flakes."


The pizza itself hit the mark on all four of the Very Important Pizza Criteria: crust, cheese, sauce, and toppings.

Crust was nicely textured, with a good level of chewiness and it stood up to the ingredients without getting soggy.  The sauce had a good flavor and was proportional with the cheese - neither overpowered the other and the combination had an elegant subtlety.

And the meatballs were fantastic (and they also sell them as an appetizer).  I might go back just for those.


The only thing I wasn't totally crazy about was the basil -- yes, they added a nice color and texture and flavor, but I kind of object to leaves on my pizza as a matter of principle --  they end up looking wilted and sort of look like the thing has been sitting under a tree in a windstorm.

Still, very, very good, and with reasonable prices and excellent, friendly service -- and I'm curious to try some of their more exotic offerings.

Oh, and did I mention they have their own bakery?




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14. A Pizza a Day Diet: Gino's East

A few years back, when Cyn was teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults residency, I decided to conduct a culinary experiment: a comparison (and blog report) of various pizza joints around Austin during the course of about ten days.  I also made a couple pizzas of my own.

The rules were these: aside from a dinner salad prior to the pizza, my meals were pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  For the record, the first time I did it, I lost five pounds; the second time, two and a half.

Here's the inaugural post from 2009:  A Pizza a Day and Other Weird Activities.  To view the entire 2009 line up, just click the "pizza a day" label.

I tried this again January 2015, but posted only to my Facebook account (I'll probably reproduce the posts here soon).  So, this summer, as Cyn heads off to the summer residency, I decided to try it again, with a whole new pizzeria lineup.  (The number of pizza restaurants in Austin has expanded dramatically in the past six years).

And, tonight, I started with the Austin incarnation of Gino's East, one of the great trifecta of Chicago deep dish pizzas (Uno's, Gino's East, Lou Malnati's).

The restaurant just opened and they don't have delivery or carry out yet, but the actual place is charming: a long narrow Sixth Street establishment, with a bar along one side, brick walls and cast iron chandeliers.


The pizza itself was outstanding: the corn meal crust was rich and had a thin bottom with structural integrity that stayed crisp and didn't overwhelm with breadiness. The Gino's East crust is traditionally my favorite of the deep dish pizzas, and this did not disappoint.
I ordered the "Gino's Supreme," with sausage, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers.  The sausage was plentiful, with large flavorful chunks.  The cheese was nicely gooey but not overpowering, and the vegetables were likewise plentiful.  The tomatoes were just a tad sweeter than I typically like, but were a nice contrast to the richness of the crust, and also accommodated the red pepper flakes. 

In sum, it wasn't quite the same as the original, but very good nevertheless.  And the best part?  Leftovers!




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15. Austin Author and Illustrator Signings: TLA Annual Conference 2015

Welcome librarians, publishers, and book lovers of all kinds!!

This week, the Texas Library Association holds its annual conference here in Austin!

Cynthia will be signing the books in the TANTALIZE and FERAL series, and I will have a special preview and cover reveal for BORROWED TIME on Wednesday (see below)!

Here's a list of signings by other awesome Austin authors and illustrators (collected this year by Christina Soontornvat).  (Note that times and locations are subject to change):

Wednesday

Jessica Lee ANDERSON: Overlooked Books booth, 2 pm - 3 pm

Chandler BAKER : Disney-Hyperion booth, 1 pm - 2 pm

Chris BARTON: Author Signing area 2 pm - 3 pm
Author Signing area , 3:30 - 4:30 pm

Anne BUSTARD: Author Signing area, Aisle 6, 11 am - 12 pm

K.A. HOLT: Author Signing area, 3 pm - 3:45 pm

Bethany HEGEDUS: Author Signing area, 10:15 am - 11 am

P.J. HOOVER: Tor Books booth, 11 am - 11:45 am
Overlooked Books booth, 2 pm - 3 pm

Jacqueline KELLY: Author Signing area 110:30 am - 11:30 am

Susie Kralovansky, Pelican Books booth, 12 pm - 2 pm

Nikki LOFTIN: Author Signing area, 1 pm - 2 pm
Perma-Bound Books booth, 3 pm - 4 pm

Mari MANCUSI: Sourcebooks booth, 3 pm

Corey Putnam OAKES: Overlooked Books booth, 10:15 am

Liz Garton SCANLON: Simon & Schuster booth, 3 pm

Cynthia Leitich SMITH: Author Signing area, 11:30 am - 12:30 pm

Greg Leitich SMITH: Author Signing area, Aisle 4, 2 pm - 3 pm


Thursday

Salima ALIKHAN: Pelican booth, 11 am - 1 pm

Brian ANDERSON: Overlooked Books booth, 2:30 - 4 pm

Paige BRITT: Author Signing area, 2 pm - 3 pm

Anne BUSTARD: Publishers Spotlight booth (#1757), 3 pm - 4 pm

Jeff CROSBY: Pelican booth, 10 am - 12 pm
Holiday House booth, 9 am -10 am

Shelley Anne JACKSON: Pelican booth, 10 am - 12 pm

Lindsey LANE: Overlooked Books booth, 1 pm - 2 pm

Jeanette LARSON: Overlooked Books booth, 10 am - 11 am

Cynthia LEVINSON: Peachtree booth, 11:30 am

Corey Putnam OAKES: Sourcebooks booth 1:30 - 2:30 pm

Liz Garton SCANLON: Overlooked Books booth, 11 am

Friday

Chris BARTON, Author Signing are, 9 am - 10 am

Susie KRALOVANSKY, Pelican Books booth, 9 am - 11 am

Marsha RITI: Pelican Books booth, 9 am - 12 pm

Brian YANSKY: Candlewick Books booth, 10 am - 11 am

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16. 2016 Books by Austinites

 Here's the preliminary list of trade picture books and novels scheduled for publication from Austin authors and illustrators next year!  And click the link for previous years' books by Austin authors and illustrators!


Middle Grade/Tween

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: DO ALL THE GOOD YOU CAN, by Cynthia Levinson (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins 2016)

UNTITLED NOVEL, by Jo Whittemore (HarperCollins 2016).

CROSS MY HEART, by Mari Mancusi (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster 2016).

TO CATCH A CHEAT, by Varian Johnson (Arthur Levine/Scholastic, Spring 2016).

RED MOON RISING, by K.A. Holt (McElderry/Simon & Schuster, 2016).

BEYOND THE RAILS, by K.A. Holt (Chronicle, 2016).

DINOSAUR BOY SAVES MARS, by Cory Putnam Oakes (Sourcebooks, February 2016).

Young Adult

HIGH SCHOOL HORROR STORY, by Chandler Baker (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, Winter 2016).

Picture Books

CARROT HAWK, by Chris Barton, ill. by tbd (Hyperion, Spring 2016).

WHOOSH!, by Chris Barton, ill. by Don Tate (Charlesbridge 2016).

EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S DUELING WORDS, by Donna Janell Bowman  (Peachtree, TBD)

STRONGMAN, by Don Tate (Charlesbridge, Fall 2016).

SUPER TRUCK, by Chris Barton, ill. by Troy Cummings (HarperCollins 2016)

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17. Texas Book Festival 2014

The 2014 Texas Book Festival is over -- and, as usual, what a great event!  Varian Johnson, Jennifer Ziegler, and I had a blast on the "Capers, Cons, and Catastrophes" panel moderated by Anne Bustard. 
Anne Bustard, me, and Jennifer Ziegler
Here are some more pics from the weekend's events:

In the Green Room (cw from left): Anne Bustard, Me, Jennifer Ziegler, Varian Johnson, Varsha Bajaj, Nikki Loftin, Cyn

Erszi Deak, Carmen Oliver, and me at the Texas Monthly breakfast
Jo Whittemore and me in the Green Room

Me and Cyn before #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel
Me, Varsha, Cyn and Trent Reedy at the Saturday night party
Me and Lindsey Lane

Donna Janell Bowman photobombs Carmen Oliver, PJ Hoover, and Cyn

Many thanks to all the organizers, volunteers, and sponsors! 

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18. Japanese American Legal History

This is sort of a throwback Thursday (#tbt) kind of thing:  A few years back, I penned a handful of essays on Japanese American Legal History for an earlier version of the Cynthia Leitich Smith Children’s Literature Resources; now, revised (slightly), they are available on my web site!

Being of Japanese and German descent ("hapa"), I originally wrote these essays out of a concern that, to the extent that the history of Japanese Americans was known, such knowledge focused almost entirely on the Internment, at the expense of other aspects of the societal and legal regime that affect, and have affected, Japanese Americans.
  
Although the essays include case cites, they are intended to be readable by a general audience. :-).

Here's the link to the splash page.

Japanese American Legal History (General) discusses immigration and naturalization issues, as well alien land laws.  Japanese American Legal History (The Internment) discusses the World War II internment of Japanese Americans and the related Supreme Court cases. Finally, Japanese American Legal History (Enemy Aliens and Habeas Corpus) discuss other legal aspects of internment and treatment of enemy aliens and habeas corpus generally.

For more general information on Japanese American history, check out the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

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19. Reviews/praise for LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN

My editor just sent me this fantastic review of LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN from Publishers Weekly!

"In this gleefully absurd tale, Smith (Chronal Engine) unfurls a series of alien-inspired hijinks at a space-themed motel on Florida’s Space Coast...Arnold’s skillfully drafted spot cartoons give this offbeat story a lively layout and match Smith’s light and breezy tone, grounded by the occasional serious moment. The result is an engaging, humorous look at humans learning that they’re not alone in the universe."

--Publishers Weekly

And check out these awesome blurbs!

"Aliens, government coverups, bionic limbs, kooky scientists, luau pigs, conspiracy theories, and mysterious patio furniture—I don't know about you, but these are the things I look for in a great story. Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn has all of them, plus a huge dose of humor. Read it and enjoy, but be warned: You may never want to eat roast pork ever again."

—Matthew Holm, co-creator of Babymouse and Squish

“Here is a story for everyone who has ever wondered if that brilliant green light was a UFO.  It's for everyone who has ever imagined living on Mars. In short, it's for everyone who has ever asked the question, 'who am I, really?’  Read it, then make your reservations at the Mercury Inn.  Just don’t be alarmed if you find an alien in the refrigerator."

--Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor author of The Underneath

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20. #DiversifyYourShelves with Diverse Books by Diverse Texas Authors [updated]


The recent #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DiversifyYourShelves campaigns got me thinking about the remarkable Austin and Texas youth literature community.  I thought I'd highlight some of the diverse books by diverse Texas authors.  So here's the novel/chapter book edition.

Note that while some of the books feature "diversity" themes and plot lines, in other cases, diversity is reflected in the characters and the circumstances of their environments.

Note, too, that unless otherwise identified with a key code (see below), the book is young adult, traditionally 12+, but in some cases 14+.

Key code:
tw = tween (10-14)
mg = middle grade (8-12)
cb = chapter book (7-10)
gn = graphic novel

Jessica Lee Anderson
BORDER CROSSING

Varsha Bajaj
ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD (mg)

Shana Burg
A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS (mg)
LAUGH WITH THE MOON (tw)

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
FAT ANGIE

Bethany Hegedus
TRUTH WITH A CAPITAL T (mg)

Varian Johnson
THE GREAT GREENE HEIST (mg)
MY LIFE AS A RHOMBUS
SAVING MADDIE
RED POLKA DOT IN A ROOMFUL OF PLAID

Lynne Kelly
CHAINED (mg)

Cynthia Levinson
WE'VE GOT A JOB: THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN'S MARCH (mg)

Diana Lopez
CONFETTI GIRL (mg)
ASK MY MOOD RING HOW I FEEL (mg)

Guadalupe Garcia McCall
UNDER THE MESQUITE
SUMMER OF THE MARIPOSAS

Dia Reeves
SLICE OF CHERRY
BLEEDING VIOLET

Benjamin Saenz
LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTERS
SAMMY AND JULIANA IN HOLLYWOOD

Alex Sanchez
SO HARD TO SAY
RAINBOW BOYS
RAINBOW HIGH
RAINBOW ROAD

Cynthia Leitich Smith
FERAL NIGHTS
FERAL CURSE
FERAL PRIDE (forthcoming)
TANTALIZE
ETERNAL
BLESSED
DIABOLICAL
TANTALIZE: KIEREN'S STORY (gn)
ETERNAL: ZACHARY'S STORY (gn)
INDIAN SHOES (cb)
RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (tw)

Greg Leitich Smith
LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN (mg)
CHRONAL ENGINE (mg/tw)
CHRONAL ENGINE: BORROWED TIME (forthcoming) (mg/tw)
TOFU AND T.REX (mg/tw)
NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO (mg/tw)

Tim Tingle
HOUSE OF PURPLE CEDAR

Jo Whittemore
D IS FOR DRAMA (mg)
FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF  (mg)
ODD GIRL IN  (mg)

Lori Aurelia Williams
SHAYLA'S DOUBLE BABY BROWN BLUES
WHEN KAMBIA ELAINE FLEW IN FROM NEPTUNE
BROKEN CHINA
MAXINE BANKS IS GETTING MARRIED

Jennifer Ziegler
SASS AND SERENDIPITY (tw)
ALPHA DOG (tw)
HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR (tw)
REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS (mg)



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21. It's LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN Release Day!

I am delighted to announce that LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN is now available at bookstores everywhere!  It's the comedic story of three friends at a motel in Cocoa Beach and what happens the day after a space shuttle launch is scrubbed due to the appearance of a UFO over Cape Canaveral!

“In this gleefully absurd tale, Smith (Chronal Engine) unfurls a series of alien-inspired hijinks at a space-themed motel on Florida’s Space Coast…Arnold’s skillfully drafted spot cartoons give this offbeat story a lively layout and match Smith’s light and breezy tone, grounded by the occasional serious moment. The result is an engaging, humorous look at humans learning that they’re not alone in the universe.”
Publishers Weekly  (For the complete review, click here)


“The Mercury Inn…shelters a colorful cast of characters…in a plot that twists and turns like a roller coaster through the engaging setting. The book design and spot cartoon art with a retro space-age feel work well with the wacky characters and situations of this enjoyably beach-y sci-fi escape.”
The Horn Book

“The quirky setting and diverse characters add originality.  An accessible and whimsical read, this should have wide appeal.”
School Library Journal

Head on over to Cynsations for an interview and giveaway!

And come on out to BookPeople at 2 pm on June 14, for MIDDLE GRADE MAYHEM, when Jennifer Ziegler and Varian Johnson join me at a party celebrating all our new middle grade releases! We promise lots of mayhem and shenanigans!  And, quite possibly, an alien from outer space!



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22. Middle Grade Mayhem! LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN; REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS; and THE GREAT GREENE HEIST event report!

Varian, Jenn, me, and out little green friends.  Photo by Dave Wilson.
Yesterday was joint launch party for LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN; Jennifer Ziegler's REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS; and Varian Johnson's THE GREAT GREENE HEIST!

In addition to a photo booth with inflatable little green men, we did a reader's theater of scenes from each of our books, complete with costumes.

The refreshments table was semi-thematic and included fruit and cheese and vegetable platters from Whole Foods; wine, water, and Tang; "wedding" cake;and chocolate chip cookies made by Nikki Loftin!  Thanks to everyone who came and bought books -- your support meant a lot to us.

Me, Jenn, Varian, and moderator Tim Crowe, performing from REVENGE OF THE FLOWER GIRLS (Hence the red hair :-)).  Photo by Dave Wilson.
Jenn, Varian, me, and Tim Crowe during Q&A.  Photo by Dave Wilson.
Varian wears the little green man glasses. Photo by Dave Wilson.
At the signing table.  Photo by Dave Wilson.
The refreshments table.  Photo by Dave Wilson.
Wide angle view of the assemblage.  Photo by Dave Wilson.
Nikki and Cyn.  Photo by Dave Wilson.
Signing Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn.  Photo by Dave Wilson.
Many thanks to everyone who pitched in and/or helped out:  Tim Crowe was sublime as Master of Ceremonies (a role he also plays in Round Rock's annual Sam Bass shootout); Anne Bustard, Debbie Gonzales, Lindsey Lane, and others were masterful supervising refreshments; Cyn was irreplaceable (but you knew that already); and BookPeople was, as always, outstanding!

Thanks also to everyone who helped carry stuff in; set up; and break down!  And to those supported us by coming and buying books! 

Awesome photos above are by Dave Wilson of Dave Wilson Photography.  Go check out his portfolio!

And see the event report on Cynsations!

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23. WIFYR 2014!

The view from the Waterford School, site of the WIFYR workshops
Cyn and I are just back from WIFYR 2014 -- the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference run by the awesome Carol Lynch Williams, where we each led an Advanced Novel workshop.

My workshoppers took me out to lunch
 In the mornings, we led workshops, critiquing manuscripts, and giving and reading writing exercises.  The afternoon was filled with speeches by various faculty members, panels of authors, editors, and agents, and a keynote (this year, by James Dashner). 

Cyn and I taught it two years ago and we were delighted to be asked back -- it's one of our favorite events of its kind and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in working on their craft.  This year, workshop faculty included Ken Baker, A.E. Cannon, Cheri Pray Earl, Lisa Mangum, J. Scott Savage, Shawn K. Stout, Carol Lynch Williams, Cyn, and me.  Editor/agent faculty included John Cusick, Kristin Ostby, Michelle Witte, and Amy Jameson.

Here are some pics of the event:

Me and food at Barbwire and Lace

John and Kristin
Me during one afternoon session on Voice

Cyn and I during the signing
Ken, John, Jeff
Carol and Cyn

Cyn and me and the goat that tried to eat her dress
My assistant -- Stephanie the Awesome -- decorated the room with dinos and lgm
Some of my class
Me and Allosaurus.  Because we had to go to the Natural History Museum of Utah.

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24. TWEENS READ 2014

Last weekend, I had an awesome time being a panelist at the Tweens Read Book Festival, held at South Houston High School in Pasadena.  In all, more than 1700 tween readers showed up to hear keynotes by Jacqueline Woodson and Margaret Peterson Haddix, as well as any three of five panels of authors.  For the complete list, click here.

My panel was called "Houston, We Have Problems," and featured six authors in a lively discussion of science fiction for tweens:  

Greg Leitich Smith - Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn
Stu Gibbs - Space Case
Jennifer Brown - Life on Mars
Will Alexander - Ambassador
Jessica Brody - Unforgotten
Matt London - The 8th Continent

Check out some pictures:

The students gather for the opening keynote

Jennifer Holm, Jennifer Ziegler, Varsha Bajaj

Megan Frazer Blakemore, Kirby Larson, Jenni Holm, and me

Me and Bruce Hale, with Jonathan Auxier (background)

Authors gathered onstage for introductions

Matt London, Jessica Brody, Jennifer Brown, and me

Signing stock

Natalie Lloyd, Varian Johnson, Jennifer Holm, Jennifer Ziegler, Varsha Bajaj

Cynthia Leitich Smith and Jacqueline Woodson

Megan Frazer Blakemore, a South Houston Trojan, and me
Many thanks to all the organizers, sponsor, and volunteers, especially Blue Willow Books!

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25. Texas Book Festival Children's and YA Panels



Texas Book Festival is October 24 and 25, 2014!  

I am delighted to announce that I will be presenting LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN on the panel "Capers, Cons, and Catastrophes," (Sunday, at 130-230 in Cap. Ext. E2.026) with Varian Johnson and Jennifer Ziegler!  (There may be mayhem :-)).

Below are the other panels featuring children's and YA authors.  

Note that there's also ongoing programming throughout both days in the Children's Activity Tent and the Read Me a Story Tent!  For the complete schedule, click here.

Panels featuring Austin authors are in italics.

SATURDAY

10-1045
Grandfather Gandhi
Location: Family Life Center (1300 Lavaca)
Authors:
Arun Gandhi
Bethany Hegedus

10-1045
Choose Wisely
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Lauren Miller
Trent Reedy
Stephen Graham Jones
Moderator:
Vanessa Lee

10-11
YA and not so Y.A.
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.012
Authors:
Claudia Gray
Melissa de la Cruz

11-1145
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Michelle Knudsen
Steve Brezenoff
Moderator:
Sean Petrie

12-1
#WeNeedDiverseBooks
Location: The Sanctuary at First United Methodist Church (1201 Lavaca, enter from Lavaca St.)
Authors:
Tim Tingle
Jacqueline Woodson
Andrea Davis Pinkney
Pat Mora
Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Moderator:
Don Tate

12-1
Tomás Rivera Award
 Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Susan Goldman Rubin
Duncan Tonatiuh
Moderator:
Jesse Gainer

12-1
Guys Read: True Stories
Location: Family Life Center (1300 Lavaca)
Authors:
Jon Scieszka
Nathan Hale

1215-1
Hazardous Tales
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.016
Authors:
Nathan Hale

1215-115
Survival 101
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Lindsay Cummings
Rick Yancey
Dayna Lorentz
Moderator:
Sarah Pitre

115-215
Do You Believe in Magic?
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Natalie Lloyd
Annie Barrows
Nikki Loftin

230-330
Adventure is Out There
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Michael Fry
P. J. Hoover
S.S. Taylor

230-330
Poetry for YA
Location: Family Life Center (1300 Lavaca)
Authors:
Jacqueline Woodson
Isabel Quintero
K. A. Holt

245-330
Frank Einstein
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Jon Scieszka

345-430
Katherine Applegate
Location: Family Life Center (1300 Lavaca)
Authors:
Katherine Applegate

345-445
Eyes on the Prize
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Deborah Wiles
Duncan Tonatiuh
London Ladd
Moderator:
Sharon O'Neal

SUNDAY
11-12 Sun
Beginning, Middle, End: A Trio of Trilogies
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Adam Gidwitz
Edward Carey
Deron Hicks

1215-115
Design Decisions: Children's Illustrators At Work
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.028
Authors:
Patrick McDonnell
Lane Smith
Tad Carpenter
Divya Srinivasan
Carolyn Dee Flores

130-230
Capers, Cons, and Catastrophes
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Jennifer Ziegler
Greg Leitich Smith
Varian Johnson

130-230
Unfinished Business
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.028
Authors:
Meg Wolitzer
Lindsey Lane
Adele Griffin

245-340
Tony DiTerlizzi
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.028
Authors:
Tony DiTerlizzi
Moderator:
Suzanne Wofford

245-345
Growing Pains
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.026
Authors:
Andrea Davis Pinkney
Varsha Bajaj
Mariko Tamaki

3-5
At-Risk Summer Movie
Location: Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004
Authors:
e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

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