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Viewing Blog: The Indubitable Dweeb, Most Recent at Top
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An Embarrassment of Nonsense. The curious adventures of Aaron Starmer, author of DWEEB and the upcoming The Lonely Ones.
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1. Upcoming Appearances (October & November, 2014)

Updated often, so check back from time-to-time why don’t you?

  • AaronStarmerAuthorPhotoSunday, October 19, 2014: Book Court  (Brooklyn, NY) at 2pm, Skullduggery with Alex Dawson, Mikki Knudsen, Clay McLeod Chapman and Kate Milford
  • Saturday, October 25, 2014: McNally Jackson (New York, NY) at 6pm, with Jonathan Auxier, Kate Milford and Laurel Snyder
  • Monday, November 10, 2014: The Browning School (New York, NY)  at 11am
  • Saturday, November 15, 2014: Rochester Children’s Book Festival (Rochester, NY), all day (presenting at 12:30pm in the Brighton Room) with middle grade and picture book authors galore
  • Sunday, November 23, 2014: Metuchen Library (Metuchen, NJ) at 2pm, with Alex Dawson, Claire Legrand and Clay McLeod Chapman

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2. Thalia Book Club Camp

Last week I visited with the talented, friendly and inquisitive readers and writers at Symphony Space’s Thalia Book Club Camp. Was a good time had by all? Well…a good time was had by me, at least. I hope everyone else enjoyed my stories and evasive answers!

Check out the entire gang I was lucky enough to meet and click through for an account of the day. It’s a fantastic take on summer camp and I encourage any young folks in the NYC area to apply:

ThaliaBookClubCamp

And if you’re an author in the metropolitan region, do what you can to get involved!

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3. Introducing…The Whisper

It seems like only yesterday I was telling you about The Riverman. If you’re one of my Twitter followers, then it probably was yesterday. Be thankful. Because I’ve given such shameless promotions a rest.

So I can shamelessly promote this bad boy!

0714AR2

That’s right. The Whisper is in the can and has a gorgeous cover created by Yelena Bryksenkova. Do you want to hear more about it? Well…SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read The Riverman, then you might not want to read the following description of its sequel. Or maybe you hate surprises. I respect your strange decisions.

Twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary has washed up on shore. But where? It seems to be Aquavania, the magical realm where children create entire worlds from their imagination. There’s something wrong, though. The creators have disappeared and the worlds are falling apart.

All Alistair wants is to find his friend Fiona Loomis and go home. Easier said than done. Animals made of starlight, a megalomaniacal boy king, and astronauts who peddle riddles are hard enough to outwit, but they’re only the beginning.

To find Fiona, Alistair must travel from world to world. He must confront the mistakes of his past. And he must face countless monsters, including the soul-stealing stalker that some people call the Riverman, the merciless but misunderstood servant of Aquavania who refers to himself as the Whisper.

Pretty rad, right? My parents think so. If you’re one of the few to come across an ARC, then read it and sing praises or air grievances. As for the rest of you: wait until March 17, 2015. All good things…

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4. Upcoming Appearances (March to May, 2014)

Updated often, so check back from time-to-time why don’t you?

  • AaronStarmerAuthorPhotoSaturday, March 22, 2014: Books of Wonder (New York, NY) from 1-3PM, with Laura Marx Fitzgerald and Rebecca Behrens
  • Sunday, March 23, 2014: Oblong Books (Rhinebeck, NY) at 4PM, with Kari Sutherland
  • Thursday, April 17, 2014: Foxborough Regional Charter School (Foxborough, MA) from 5:30pm-8pm
  • Saturday, April 19, 2014: Easton YA Festival (Easton, PA) from 10:30am-3pm, with Josh Berk, Michael Northrop and a metric ton of YA authors
  • Thursday, May 1, 2014: Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ) from 10am-1pm
  • Saturday, May 3, 2014: SCBWI New England Conference (Springfield, MA), with Laurel Snyder and Kate Milford
  • Saturday, May 17, 2014: Rochester Teen Book Festival (Rochester, NY) from 9am-5pm, with Jonathan Auxier and assorted YA royalty
  • Tuesday, May 27, 2014: McNally Jackson (New York, NY) at 7pm, with Tony Abbott, Christopher Healy and J.A. White.
  • Saturday, May 31, 2014: Jefferson Market Library (New York, NY) from 5pm-8pm for the Kids Author Carnival, with dozens of other middle grade authors

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5. Giving Thanks for The Riverman

t-hanks

The Riverman comes out tomorrow. In the back of the book there are a handful of acknowledgements. That lists represents only a small percentage of people responsible for inspiring, creating and sharing a book like this. I’d like to thank those people again, as well as expand that list. I know I’m still missing some folks. So I’m also including these photos. You should be on there somewhere. Thank you, if I haven’t already told you, for all the small and big things you’ve done. And I mean, you:

Thank you.

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6. Upcoming Appearances (March to May, 2014)

Updated often, so check back from time-to-time why don’t you?

  • AaronStarmerAuthorPhotoSaturday, March 22, 2014: Books of Wonder (New York, NY) from 1-3PM, with Laura Marx Fitzgerald and Rebecca Behrens
  • Sunday, March 23, 2014: Oblong Books (Rhinebeck, NY) at 4PM, with Kari Sutherland
  • Saturday, April 19, 2014: Easton YA Festival (Easton, PA) from 10:30am-3pm, with Josh Berk, Michael Northrop and a metric ton of YA authors
  • Saturday, May 3, 2014: SCBWI New England Conference (Springfield, MA), with Laurel Snyder and Kate Milford
  • Saturday May 17, 2014: Rochester Teen Book Festival (Rochester, NY) from 9am-5pm, with Jonathan Auxier and assorted YA royalty

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7. Reviews and Accolades for The Riverman

riverman_reading_img

The Riverman arrives in just a few days but a few people have already read it. They’ve got some things to say, so hear them out, okay?

PRESS REVIEWS

  • Wall Street Journal:  ”…an ominous awareness of loss flows all the way through Aaron Starmer’s riveting and sophisticated novel for younger adolescents…There is plenty of surprise, though, and it resides in almost everything else that happens in this emotionally complex tale…The story of what follows…unfolds with disarming naturalness, yet every page feels so carefully written that, although we can’t predict what will take place, we feel certain that the author knows exactly where he is taking us.”

TRADE REVIEWS

  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review): “Lines between reality and fantasy blur in this powerful, disquieting tale of lost children, twisted friendship and the power of storytelling.”
  • Booklist: “In this dark, twisting tale, readers are never sure if Fiona’s story is true or not, and they won’t want to stop reading until they find out…this magical tale is sure to please readers of urban fantasy, and with its theme of missing children and changing friendships, it will be perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint, too.”
  • School Library Journal: ”This novel built of stories yields nightmares…This writerly, chiaroscuro book is replete with the portent of violence, and thick with ideas about the psychological need for stories, all while questioning the ability of stories to redeem the tellers. Readers will find themselves confronted with deep, unanswered questions regarding the relationship of collective imaginary worlds to reality, the evolving nature of memories and friendships, and the unknowability of people. Those ready to explore darker realities will devour this book.”
  • The Bulletin of the Center For Children’s Books (recommended): ”Somewhere between Holly Black’s Doll Bones and Nova Ren Suma’s 17 & Gone in audience and tone, this blend of magical realism and mystery blurs the line between reality and fantasy, setting up a creepy unease that both disturbs and propels the reader forward…the deliciously tangled web of a plot defies categorization.”
  • Publisher’s Weekly (pick of the week): ”Starmer explores the relationship between creation and theft, reality and fantasy in this haunting novel…the novel’s strength is in the pervasive aura of unknowing that Starmer creates and sustains.”
  • VOYA Magazine: “The Riverman contains plenty of boisterous action—mischief nights with “eggings”—and dialogue peppered with enough “greasy farts” talk to entertain middle schoolers. Alistair, Fiona, and Charlie are memorable characters. The amazing Fiona-controlled Aquavania where chocolate-chip-mint ice cream covers the ground will also delight fantasy readers. But this story also incorporates deeper story threads ripe for exploration…There is a lot to ponder and recommend in this unusual tale.”

BLOG REVIEWS

  • Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 Blog (at School Library Journal): “As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best of 2014…Once everyone’s read it, I’m going to have SO much more to say. A good book does that. It gives your tongue wings. The Riverman may creep you out and make you want to hide under the covers for a good long while, but just TRY to set it down. Can’t be done. And that is what I look for in a book.”
  • The Off-Topic Blog of Kurtis Scaletta: “Like When You Reach Me and BreadcrumbsThe Riverman is about real people with real problems who find a twist in their reality. And like those books, I would find it deeply engaging even without the fantastic angle. It is the nuanced, believable children dealing with mundane crises that make it a great book.”
  • Smell of Wine and Cheap Perfume: “I not only burned through this one, but wanted to start reading again immediately as soon as I was finished.”
  • Great Imaginations: “The Riverman is at once an entertaining fantasy, a coming of age tale, and scary glimpse of what can happen when one is stuck in one’s own head for too long.  With dark, dry humor, and a smart protagonist, The Riverman is a book that will be stuck in my head for a long time to come.”
  • A Reader of Fictions: “Do you have a vast imagination and love to think about the worlds it could create? Do you like middle grade novels that will creep you out and make you think? If yes, then you need The Riverman in your life, I promise.”
  • Reed Reads Book Reviews: “The story unfolds slowly and beautifully, the reader never sure of where it is going. When I reviewed Aaron Starmer’s The Only Ones, I said it was “weird, in the most literary way.” After reading his second book, I can say that Aaron is one of the most creative children’s writers out there. There is nothing formula about either books.”
  • Hidden in Pages: ”This is an incredibly engaging read and very hard to put down…This is a truly unique book and I really enjoyed it.”
  • Bibliomantics: “Sure on the outside the novel seems like a book about a boogie man that children need to fear, but it goes so much deeper than that, exploring the flawed nature of memories…and even more so about how the unbelievable stories people tell themselves in their own imaginations are merely coping mechanisms to deal with the world at large.”
  • Three Storey Books:  ”Aaron Starmer brings us on a dark, atmospheric fantasy adventure that deals with friendship, belief, love and all of the challenges these bring to a 12 year old boy. Not your typical coming of age story, The Riverman is infused with a sense of foreboding and more questions than answers as Starmer’s exceedingly well crafted characters lead us on Alistair’s well meaning, insightful journey into what could be either a menacing alternate reality or the mind of girl trying to make sense of fear and abuse.”
  • Cougars Book Blog: “The Riverman is odd and intriguing, suspenseful and absorbing. Middle school readers, as well as juvenile and YA fiction readers of any age, will not be able to put this down.”
  • Lust and Coffee: “This book is a page turner. Every chapter is so tense that I really wanted to finish it in one night, but my eyes wouldn’t compromise.”

SELECTIONS

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8. 99 Inspirations for The Riverman

99Luftballoons

Over two years ago, before The Only Ones came out, I did a countdown of 99 things (books, movies, art, places, etc.) that inspired it. It was a fun way to revisit some stuff I was actively thinking about when I wrote the book, as well as some stuff I didn’t realize influenced me until I had some time to reflect.

Well, it’s 99 days until The Riverman hits shelves and I figured, why not do it all again? So, without further ado, here is my list of #99inspirations that I’ll be counting down daily on Twitter. This doesn’t represent all of my favorite things (sorry, no bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens here), though it does include some stuff that I truly love. And hopefully it sparks some conversation about the stuff you love and the stuff that leaks into your creations.

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9. 99 Inspirations for The Riverman

99Luftballoons

Over two years ago, before The Only Ones came out, I did a countdown of 99 things (books, movies, art, places, etc.) that inspired it. It was a fun way to revisit some stuff I was actively thinking about when I wrote the book, as well as some stuff I didn’t realize influenced me until I had some time to reflect.

Well, it’s 99 days until The Riverman hits shelves and I figured, why not do it all again? So, without further ado, here is my list of #99inspirations that I’ll be counting down daily on Twitter. This doesn’t represent all of my favorite things (sorry, no bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens here), though it does include some stuff that I truly love. And hopefully it sparks some conversation about the stuff you love and the stuff that leaks into your creations.

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10. Things Teens Are Into These Days

 

Happy_days_motorcycle_richie_fonzie_1977

Times have changed. Members-Only jackets and Z Cavaricci pants are out. Sock hops are few and far between. The kids don’t buy the latest Mister Mister cassingle down at the Sam Goody. So what are they into? Well, for the last two years, I’ve been hanging where teens hang, researching their behavior, their likes and dislikes and so on. I’ve been learning, friends, and now I’m passing on that knowledge to you. Why? So you can write Young Adult novels that will be timely and will resonate with the youth of today. Cool? Cool.

Here it is, a list of Things Teens Are Into These Days:

  1. Lists
  2. Worrying about whether everyone will notice the ketchup stain on your shirt
  3. Getting wasted
  4. Listening to music, alone, in a dark room
  5. Procrastinating on chemistry homework
  6. Sitting next to a phone, tapping fingers nervously, waiting, waiting, waiting
  7. Not getting wasted and feeling superior to the teens who are getting wasted, while being a little curious about what being wasted is like
  8. Ennui
  9. Driving down dark country roads, a little too fast, with the windows open
  10. Walking four abreast down a sidewalk, laughing, and oblivious to the fact that other people are trying to pass you
  11. Corn chips, in a variety of shapes and flavors
  12. Telling people that you love them when you don’t really love them
  13. Definitely keeping secrets
  14. Being uncomfortable with your parents’ sex lives
  15. Body dysmorphia
  16. Attempting to grow facial hair
  17. College guys
  18. Practicing dance moves in the mirror
  19. Kissing the mirror
  20. Yelling at the mirror
  21. Seeing your parents pull up in the Subaru and sighing because they’re your ride home
  22. Frenching
  23. Movies with crossbows in them
  24. Saying, “oh yeah, I do that all the time,” when you haven’t done that even once
  25. Coming up with band names that are not good band names
  26. Telling it like it is
  27. Parties where a guy pisses into something he shouldn’t be pissing in
  28. Pajama bottoms
  29. Figuring out exactly where your crush is going to be at a certain moment and then lingering in that spot and nodding hello when your crush walks by and then walking away
  30. Knowing that while some jocks are jerks, some are actually really nice and smart people
  31. Believing that you’re a nerd when you’re not a nerd, not really, or at least you won’t be in a year or two
  32. Chuck Taylors
  33. Running at inappropriate times
  34. Young musicians who are the object of your parents’ loathing
  35. Old musicians who are the object of your parents’ affections, but you totally discovered on your own
  36. Boners
  37. Gym teacher impressions
  38. That kid who’s kinda your friend but has a pool and it’s June already so you laugh a little louder at that kid’s jokes
  39. Thinking Ayn Rand is a good writer
  40. Playing cards on Friday night with the same group of friends because that’s what you prefer doing and there’s nothing wrong with that
  41. Spontaneous eating contests
  42. Creative touchdown celebrations
  43. Audrey Hepburn
  44. TV shows where people brag a lot
  45. Living in Eastern Standard Time but sleeping on Mountain Standard Time
  46. Complaining that there’s never anything to do in this shit town
  47. Hating to gossip, but having to at least tell someone that crazy story you heard about what that girl you hardly know did with that guy you don’t know at all
  48. Nunchucks
  49. Drinks the size of which would be deemed illegal under the Bloomberg administration
  50. Huey Lewis and the News

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11. Win an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of The Riverman

RivermanBanner

I have a confession.

I want you to read my books. Shocking, but true. For years, I’ve told people that I write these things for the sole purpose of creating such a big demand for paper that we have to deforest Saskatchewan. And while we all hold our grudges against Saskatchewan, I haven’t been completely honest. Because, yes, I also want you to read these things.

Before you curse me under your breath and plan your revenge, please put it all in perspective. I’m not asking much. 5-15 hours of your time, maybe? If you live to 100 (and I know you will, because you eat yogurt and take spin classes and look stunning for your age), then at most you’ll have spent .0017 % of your life with my silly little stories. Considering that a recent study showed that, on average, we spend 8% of our lives flossing, then I think you can spare a tiny fraction of a percentage, right?

And once you read my book, you know what will happen? You will tell five friends about it, who will tell five friends, and so on and so forth, until the book is sitting on the desk of the director of the FBI and I’ll be up on charges for running a pyramid scheme. But it will all be worth it.

So, in an effort to get this chain of events started, I’m offering a signed advance reading copy (ARC) of The Riverman to one person (or sentient being). What is The Riverman, you ask? Here’s a teaser:

riverman coverTo sell a book, you need a description on the back. So here’s mine: My name is Fiona Loomis. I was born on August 11, 1977. I am recording this message on the morning of October 13, 1989. Today I am thirteen years old. Not a day older. Not a day younger.

Fiona Loomis is Alice, back from Wonderland. She is Lucy, returned from Narnia. She is Coraline, home from the Other World. She is the girl we read about in storybooks, but here’s the difference: She is real.

Twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary is her neighbor in a town where everyone knows each other. One afternoon, Fiona shows up at Alistair’s doorstep with a strange proposition. She wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into a clearly troubled mind. For Fiona tells Alistair a secret. In her basement there’s a gateway and it leads to the magical world of Aquavania, the place where stories are born. In Aquavania, there’s a creature called the Riverman and he’s stealing the souls of children. Fiona’s soul could be next.

Alistair has a choice. He can believe her, or he can believe something else…something even more terrifying.

Every culture has a magical river story. Some rivers promise the pleasures of eternal youth, while others promise the paradise of eternal salvation. The Riverman promises a more exhilarating alternative. Dive into this book and you may never resurface.” – Jack Gantos, Newbery Award-winning author of Dead End in Norvelt

Like When You Reach Me and Breadcrumbs, The Riverman is about real people with real problems who find a twist in their reality. And like those books, I would find it deeply engaging even without the fantastic angle. It is the nuanced, believable children dealing with mundane crises that make it a great book.” – Kurtis Scaletta, author of Mudville, Mamba Point and The Winter of the Robots.

Intrigued? I wish I had enough copies to shower them from a building Henry Sugar-style, but alas, I have but one to spare. For now, at least. And what do you have to do to get it? Here are the rules.

To enter to win a copy of The Riverman, you must:

  1. Write a comment, any comment, on this blog post.
  2. Live in the USA and possess the ability to receive US mail.

That’s it. I’ll pick a commenter at random, assuming there’s more than one commenter. And I’ll mail that moderately lucky person the book. Contest closes on Thanksgiving (November 28), because…why the hell not?

If you’d prefer an e-copy, try your luck at NetGalley. And if you’re a good reader, then go on and add the book to your Goodreads shelf. It will all help the cause, which is sharing a story. Beats deforestation.

Thanks!

 

UPDATE: A WINNER HAS BEEN CHOSEN! (using Random.org)

Commenter #14 (aka Mark) will receive a signed ARC! Well done, Mark. Your commenting skills have served you well.

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12. The Winter of the Robots by Kurtis Scaletta

winteroftherobots

I was about 10 years old when my brother and I went to see the original Back to the Future. It may seem like a relatively harmless movie, but it warped our minds. Not due to all the Oedipality, mind you. No, it was because we returned home convinced we could build a time machine. Out of a model train. All we had to do was get it chugging, zap it with an electric current, and bingo, bango, next stop Mesozoic Era. Of course, a few hours later, tangled up in wires and scratching our heads, we learned that our goal was a bit too lofty. But it was a pleasure to have those warped minds, if only for a short while.

Young readers of Kurtis Scaletta’s latest novel, The Winter of the Robots, will find their minds similarly warped. It’s a book where kids build robots that battle each other, and it will surely inspire tinkerers and dreamers to build similar robots in their garages. And maybe a few industrious young folks will actually accomplish their goals, but I suspect most will simply muse over the possibilities. Sometimes that’s equally fun.

Kurtis Scaletta has a voice. In the marketplace of middle grade fiction where there are far too many coattail riders, it is refreshing to stumble upon an author crafting distinct stories that are personal and nostalgic, but also contemporary and slightly magical. Scaletta specializes (at least for now) in tales of boys who live in worlds that are almost like ours. But there’s always a slight bend in those worlds. A town where it always rains. A boy who is like catnip to deadly snakes. An invasion of glowing fungi. In the case of The Winter of the Robots, it’s those kids building those robots, obviously. These things aren’t walking, talking C-3POs. They’re more of the Battlebots variety, but they’re also more sophisticated than what most adults are capable of creating. They’re programmed to react in clever ways, and if the book is about anything, it’s about reactions.

There are any of number of things that inspire reactions in the main character, Jim. The attention of a smart and attractive girl. The emotions that arise when that girl starts dating the school tough. The exploits of a mischievous but loyal sister. The mysteries of a rough-and-tumble family. The yo-yo-ing friendship with a brilliant boy who has lost his father.

Jim is a good kid but, like any kid in the throes of puberty, some of his programming is a bit faulty. His reactions run the gamut from foolish to callous. At the same time, he’s trying to negotiate the reactions of others, most importantly those of his father. This relationship is a small part of the story, but an essential one. Jim’s father has a temper and the tiniest things can set him off. Since his father has been programmed to attack (verbally, at least), Jim has programmed himself to defend. It’s what Jim is best at, but it requires deception and flight more often than not. He needs to find an even better way to deal with this, his biggest of problems.

So while the tinkerers and dreamers will be drawn into the book by the robots, it’s the kids who are constantly on the defensive who will find the strongest emotional bond with it. And while it might warp some young minds into believing that garage robotics are as easy as Legos, it will also remind some young minds that relationships can be as hard as anything in life. There are no easy answers about how best to deal with human reactions, but Scaletta provides something as important: the hope that as we all grow and learn, our reactions will change. Unlike robots, we can reprogram ourselves.

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13. The Riverman, a Novel

It’s been almost two years in the making, but I can finally reveal more about my latest book, The Riverman. It won’t officially bust out into the world until March 2014, but a few advance reader copies have escaped their cage and if you find one, hogtie it and read it, then shout your opinions about it from the mountaintops (or from a blog or social media platform of your choice).

For the rest of you, here’s a teaser:

“To sell a book, you need a description on the back. So here’s mine: My name is Fiona Loomis. I was born on August 11, 1977. I am recording this message on the morning of October 13, 1989. Today I am thirteen years old. Not a day older. Not a day younger.”

Fiona Loomis is Alice, back from Wonderland. She is Lucy, returned from Narnia. She is Coraline, home from the Other World. She is the girl we read about in storybooks, but here’s the difference: She is real.

Twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary is her neighbor in a town where everyone knows each other. One afternoon, Fiona shows up at Alistair’s doorstep with a strange proposition. She wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into a clearly troubled mind. For Fiona tells Alistair a secret. In her basement there’s a gateway and it leads to the magical world of Aquavania, the place where stories are born. In Aquavania, there’s a creature called the Riverman and he’s stealing the souls of children. Fiona’s soul could be next.

Alistair has a choice. He can believe her, or he can believe something else…something even more terrifying.

And here’s a blurb from the inimitable, incredible, award-hoarding author of Dead End in Norvelt, Hole in My Life and the Joey Pigza series:

“Every culture has a magical river story. Some rivers promise the pleasures of eternal youth, while others promise the paradise of eternal salvation. The Riverman promises a more exhilarating alternative. Dive into this book and you may never resurface.”Jack Gantos

And here are the cold hard facts:

The Riverman was edited by Joy Peskin. It is represented by Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. It will be published on March 18, 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers, a division of Macmillan. Without these dedicated and talented people, it would not be the book that it is. In fact, it would not be a book at all.

Finally, here’s the cover, designed by Beth Clark and illustrated by Yelena Bryksenkova:

riverman cover

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14. School Visit: Learning Community Charter School of Jersey City, NJ

DWEEB

Do you see that picture? Seriously, folks, do you understand the ridiculously awesome thing you’re looking at there? Click on it for closer inspection. That, my friends, is the blood, sweat and tears of three classes of 5th Graders at LCCS in Jersey City, NJ. These kids were kind enough to not only read DWEEB, but also create some amazing artwork based on the book. You are looking at movie posters! Cereal boxes! Comic strips! Character profiles! And hamburgers of all shapes, sizes and dimensions! Amazing? You better believe it.

I had the distinct honor of visiting these young readers and artists last Thursday. They welcomed me into their school with kindness, questions and pizza. A special thank you goes out to the teachers and staff who invited me, especially Ms. Litman, a friend from the days of yore. LCCS is a wonderful school with kids so smart and audacious that they are demanding a sequel to DWEEB (Random House, are you listening?) and a 150-million-dollar movie based on the book…starring them:

LCCS kids

P.S. One of these kids was wearing a Keith Richards T-shirt. He should probably be cast in the role of Elijah.

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15. Hoboken Public Library Book Festival: Saturday, June 8

HobokenBookFestival

For years, I’d been hoping that my hometown of Hoboken would hold a book festival. Of course, I could have organized one myself. But such things require gumption, which is usually in short supply after a day of writing and chasing freelance projects. Luckily, the Hoboken Public Library has bucketloads of gumption, and they probably also have some sort of mind-reading technology, because they’ve taken my idea and run with it. They’re holding their inaugural book festival to kick off the summer and I will be there reading, signing and selling The Only Ones and DWEEB. Here are the details:

  • When: Saturday, June 8, 11am-5pm (my readings: 11:15am-1:00pm; signing and selling: 1pm-3pm)
  • Where: Church Square Park in Hoboken
  • Who: Me! and these other wonderful local authors.
  • How: By hook or by crook

I hope to see you all there!

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16. Tachair Bookshoppe Reading: Sunday, May 19

TachairBookshoppe

For years, Jersey City, a place with a population of nearly 250,000, didn’t have an independent bookstore. Tachair Bookshoppe filled the void last year and is already a fixture in the downtown community, a place where you can go to read, drink coffee, catch a musical performance, and see paintings from local artists. Tachair is Gaelic for a meeting place and I hope you will meet me there for some readings from DWEEB, The Only Ones, and (possibly), The Riverman.

  • When: Sunday, May 19 at 5:30 PM
  • Where: Tachair Bookshoppe at 260 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ
  • How: Drive or take the PATH train to Grove Street and walk northwest on Newark Avenue until you reach 2nd Street
  • Why: Because it will be fun!

This world needs more places like Tachair. Like them on Facebook for even more information. And please come out and support them…and me!

 

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17. My Admittedly Biased Holiday Book-Buying Guide

What to read, what to read?

There are a ridiculous number of books out there. It’s beyond intimidating. It is to me, at least. I’m not a particularly fast reader. I linger. I soak in the language and the story. I give up on a lot of books, not because life is short but because some books are damn long. And boring. I read from the bestseller list occasionally, and I check off a few cultural touchstones. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn √ The Fault in Our Stars by John Green √ Life by Keith Richards √ Rin-Tin-Tin by Susan Orlean √ A Song of Fire and Ice Vol. 1-3 by George R.R. Martin √√√ But most of the time, I flounder. I hardly ever know what to read next.

Sometimes I force noble projects upon myself. Read some classic mysteries, try some Booker Prizer winners, delve into some epic poetry from East Timor–you know, that sort of thing. I don’t always enjoy it. So recently I tried a different tack. I decided to go local. By local I mean I focused on books by authors I personally know, have met in my online social media adventures, or have heard about through the gossipy cabals that secretly rule children’s book publishing. I was so glad that I did.

Below I will share some of the engrossing and oft-overlooked middle-grade and young-adult books that I have enjoyed during the last few months. You can find their plot summaries anywhere, so I’ll focus on a few thoughts and feelings these books stirred in me. Perhaps it’ll inspire you to buy one or two for your friends, family or self. I realize this humble post won’t generate tons of sales for the authors, but if I can help at least one of them become a rich and ruthless media mogul with the ability to make and break men with a snap and a whistle, then it’s all worth it. So, without further ado…

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford. I knew of Kate’s book before I knew of her. That cover! A man with fire for hair! Burning fairgrounds! Miscellaneous creepiness! When I met Kate, I had to apologize. “I’ve been meaning to read that book,” I told her. She was kind. She didn’t say, “Well then get to it, Champ! I need more money for bourbon.”  (Or perhaps she did say that–details are hazy). In any case, when I did get around to reading the book, I was greeted with an elegant slice of Americana. A headstrong girl learns to ride a very difficult bike while finding time to challenge the devil himself. Automata, demon dolls, guitar pickin’ contests, what’s not to like? The book has received the inevitable comparisons to Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes but I like to look at it as historical fiction run through a hand-cranked nightmare projector. Yes, it’s world building, but it’s also world restoration–wiping the mud off the weird bric-a-brac and giving it new uses. Kate has two companion volumes currently out: the novella The Kairos Mechanism and the just-released The Broken Lands.

Trapped by Michael Northrop. I’ve tossed back a few beers with Michael in my day. A fine lad with a gregarious laugh. He’s also the creator of a remarkably taut and realistic thriller. Growing up in the snowbelt of upstate New York, I know a thing or three about blizzards and the existential yearnings of suburban youth from cloudy communities. I also know more than enough about survival–we did, after all, have a “Survival Unit” in my seventh grade science class. So I can tell you that when Michael traps a bunch of teenagers in a snowbound high school, his details are spot on (n.b. Michael only traps fictional teenagers in snowbound high schools…as far as I know). I was expecting melodrama. What I got was far more surprising. Michael’s latest, Rotten, will be out in the spring and stars a rottweiler named Johnny Rotten. I just hope there’s a “never mind the bullocks”/neutering joke in there.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. Nova is truly a friend to all writers (as her never-ending and always-fascinating blog series attests) and one of the most dedicated authors of young adult fiction out there. Her lyrical, haunting tale of ghosts and sisterhood and the recklessness of rural youths is unlike anything on the market. In a way, you could call it a romance, but it’s not the girl-meets-swoonworthy-monster-man treacle we’ve all tired of. It’s about the romance of power, of being a big fish in a small pond (or reservoir, in this case). It’s about the twists of love and jealousy that bind together and choke families and small communities. It’s about 350 pages long. Nova’s new novel, 17 & Gone, is on the horizon. I’ve read the first chapter. Beautiful, scary stuff.

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill. I remember reading a fantastic early review of this book and since Kelly was someone I followed on Twitter, I thought I should check it out. I read the first chapter online and…gulp. This is the brand of middle-grade fiction that most people don’t know exists: dark, risky and intellectual. The set-up seems typical enough: new boy in town, mysteries to uncover. But when the perspectives start shifting and things get botanical and pagany, you realize you’re reading a story about the gnarly roots underneath, and not just the literal type. It’s a modern folk tale, but not in a jokey or revisionist way, which means it has guts to spare (as well as some tree sap). Kelly’s new fairy tale, Iron-Hearted Violet, is also getting great buzz.

The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody. Matt and I met when we were both debut authors, in the long ago year of MMIX (I’m pretty sure they only used Roman numerals back then). He told me that he was working on a book inspired by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and featuring time travel, monsters in the closet and dinosaurs. I was obviously intrigued. When I finally had the chance to read the finished product, I was thrilled to find a yarn that was both pulpy and dripping with Victorian ambiance, a rip-roaring adventure of the old mold. If they make a movie of it, they should resurrect Ray Harryhausen to do the special effects. In case you haven’t heard, Matt’s Super is now out. It’s a sequel to his delightful anti-superhero tale Powerless.

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. I don’t know Andrew, but my agent recommended I check out one of his latest. The cover promises some sort of steampunky or sci-fi adventure, along the lines of this or this. But it’s not really like those other books at all (at least I don’t think it is). It’s a psychological horror tale, about how trauma lays waste to our worlds. People are undoubtedly calling it dystopian fiction, but that’s not accurate either. What’s disintegrating here is not society, but the mind. And the book has one of the most spectacularly tense openings of anything I’ve read in years. Andrew’s sequel, Passenger, just hit shelves. Not for the faint of heart or stomach I bet, but riveting I’m sure.

Bigger Than a Breadbox by Laurel Snyder. I’d been meaning to check this one out for a while, ever since I noticed it was being published around the same time as The Only Ones. But I lollygagged, and Laurel beat me to the punch by reading my book first and writing a lovely review of it. So I immediately went out and got a copy of hers. I fired through it in three evenings and found myself nostalgic for my early reading experiences. I was weened on the junior versions of magical realism like The Indian in the Cupboard and Laurel’s book certainly lives up to that tradition. But its real magic is its plainspoken and intimate portrayal of a family falling to pieces and it made me remember what I’ve always truly cared about in fiction: emotion, confusion, difficult questions that don’t always have answers. I’ve never met Laurel, but I’ve learned through her Twitter feed that she’s working on a prequel of sorts. If it’s as poised and well-crafted as this one, I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, we can all pick up her picture book The Longest Night when it arrives in February, right before Passover.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. I sat next to Rob at the Collingswood Book Festival in October. He was passing through, on his way north to join his wife for their wedding anniversary, and he only had a couple of hours to meet his fans. He was greeted by an enthusiastic class of local 5th-graders who were reading this debut novel and were desperate for the author’s autograph. He signed a few dozen copies and prepared to hit the road. I trusted the kids’ endorsement, so I also had Rob sign a copy for me as he left. I read the book a few weeks later, by candlelight during the Hurricane Sandy blackout. I understood immediately what made him such a rock-star to these kids (and to their teacher). Rob has written an ideal book for the classroom, a story about a variety of children with conflicting perspectives and motivations, about mistakes, about the importance of forgiveness and understanding. It’s a thoughtful tale and he continues it in his second book, Mr. Terupt Falls Again. Assign this one to your fourth or fifth grade class and you’re sure to have hours of discussions.

So there you have it, my admittedly biased holiday book-buying guide. Each of these novels is available in paperback, so they can be had for less than ten bucks. Stuff a stocking, why don’t you?

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18. School Visits!

Speaking to students for “Read Across America Day”

Whenever I attend a book festival, people invariably ask me the same question: “Do you ever do school visits?”

I do. I do indeed.

Like many authors of children’s literature, I find that the best way to share my love of books is to talk about them with curious young readers and enthusiastic teachers. But how would people know this about me? Because, until now, I’ve barely mentioned the fact on my web site. Well, it is a fact, my friends. And if you’re a parent, a teacher, an administrator, a librarian, an independent bookstore owner, or anyone else who’d like to arrange for me to visit your local school(s), then please drop me a line. I am available for any or all of the following:

  1. Presentations — Give me 40-60 minutes, a podium, and a whiteboard/screen with a digital projector and I will do my darndest to keep a cafetorium full of kids not only awake but enthralled by pictures of me in footy pajamas and tales of inspiration, embarrassment and poisonous snakes. Please note: unless contractually obligated to, I will not enter the room to the tune of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
  2. Readings — I will happily read passages from DWEEB, The Only Ones, and even the soon-to-be-published The Legend of Fiona Loomis. These passages may involve humor, intrigue and/or a character named Chet.
  3. Q&As — This is always the easiest way to connect with inquisitive students. They can ask me almost anything about my books and my life as a writer and I will answer honestly, only occasionally uttering the phrase: “Wouldn’t you like to know, tough guy?”
  4. Workshops — Does your English class want to discuss and practice writing and revision techniques? Learn about the publishing industry? Cook some top-notch enchiladas? I’m there.
  5. Signings — If you have a local bookstore on board, I will definitely stop by to sign and sell inventory and meet readers one-on-one. Be warned, though. My handwriting is abysmal and still haunts the nightmares of my middle-school teachers.
  6. Skype Talks — If you don’t have the time or resources, an alternative to an in-person visit is a virtual pow-wow. Quick. Easy. Fantastically futuristic.

So there you go. Every school and situation is different, but I can adjust to your needs. Just contact me and we’ll hammer out the details. The only thing I require is that your students read, or start reading, at least one of my books. It makes the experience much more enjoyable for everyone. And, let’s be honest, you’re not inviting me to your school to show off my tap-dancing skills. (Or are you?)

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19. Another Smattering of Reviews for THE ONLY ONES

A few months ago I did a rundown of reviews for The Only Ones, culled from a journey deep into the wild and wooly internet. I even called upon the blogosphere to help me spread the word. Well, the word is spreading and the word, my friends, is the bird. Here’s ten more recent reflections, including some quotable lines. Enjoy:
  1. Easy Reading Damn Hard Writing (vaguely spoilerish): “Starmer’s really accomplished something here, and this book is definitely one of my favorites that I’ve read so far in 2012.” “Such a lovely book.” “A+”
  2. The Allure of Books: “Seriously. The cleverness, originality and imagination of Aaron Starmer staggers me. The Only Ones might be odd. It might be hard to completely process it all. But it is an incredible story.”
  3. Reed Reads Book Reviews: “A book for readers that love the unpredictable. A book for readers that constantly ask themselves questions and make predictions as the story turns and twists in a non-linear way. A book for readers that appreciate beautifully written and lyrical story telling.” “4.5/5″
  4. Evanston Public Library Loft Blog: “Starmer bends convention to explore deeper questions about the nature of fate, time and belief.”
  5. Read Listen Love (includes giveaway!): “It intrigued me from the first page, constantly surprised me and had fantastic characters.”
  6. Mabel’s Fables Bookstore Raves and Faves: “This book is like a sci-fi take on Lord of the Flies — so basically, awesome.”
  7. Kiss the Book: “The story is unique and captivating and twists and turns in unexpected ways.” ”ESSENTIAL.”
  8. Crunchings and Munchings (spoilers): “Aaron Starmer, I admire your guts.” N.B.This isn’t the most positive review, but it’s an interesting one just the same.
  9. BPLD Teen Blog (spoilers): “And what happens next is simply amazing!”
  10. Northshire Bookstore Reviews: “Truly a gripping story with mysterious elements which are beyond earthly explanation.”

I also stumbled upon a couple of discussions

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20. Ohio River Festival of Books: Friday, April 20

Oh, the mighty mighty Ohi’. It runs from the Alleghen’ to the Mississip’, skirting the edge of West Virginny and good ol’ Ketuck’ along the way. No, I’m not wanting for  vowels. This is how I speak when I speak of rivers. Conversely, when I speak of canals, such as my beloved hometown’s Erie Canal, I add vowels (the correct pronunciation is thus ee-rye-ee, my friends). Things have gotten folksy here and you’re just going to have to get used to it.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Ohio River. About halfway along it lies the city of Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington is a special place for me because it’s where my sister and her family have lived for more than a decade. And over that last decade, I have visited for summer idylls and autumn holidays and winter spelunking adventures. This spring, I return for a book festival. The delightful organizers of the Ohio River Festival of Books have been kind enough to invite me to speak at a couple of local middle schools, and to meet readers and sign books. Here are the details:

  • What: Book selling and signing
  • Where: Big Sandy Conference Center. Huntington, West Virginia
  • When: Friday, April 20, 6:30-9:00 PM
  • How: Any which way you can

So if you live in tri-state region of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, please stop by and say hello!

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21. Of Guns and Children’s Books

The old refrain: we’ve seen this before and we’ll see it again.

Some disturbed individual buys a bunch of guns and murders a bunch of people. The media falls in love with the story. We endure some rounds of punditry. A few people change their minds on the issues of gun control and mental healthcare, but most of us stand firm in our opinions. Then, after a few days, we move on, until another wayward soul takes some shots at another awful legacy and we all say, “we’ve seen this before and we’ll see it again.”

I rarely address current events on this blog. I almost never mention my politics. But I feel the need to address the issue of guns and gun violence. Don’t worry, I’m not here with boatloads of links and statistics and I don’t think I’m qualified to offer viable solutions. I’m only going to talk about how this issue relates to my life and my writing.

I’ve never owned a real gun, or even fired one. Although I lived a free-range childhood that involved plenty of squirt, rubber dart, and cap guns, my parents didn’t allow firearms in the house. Even BB guns were off limits. If I wanted to shoot an air rifle, I had to arrange a clandestine meeting in the woods with a friend who owned a pump-action Daisy. During one such meeting, I ended up with a welt on my cheek, the result of poor safety precautions and an opportunistic ricochet. “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” indeed.

Six or seven years later, when I was studying in London, a lone Englishman at a party full of Americans approached me and asked how many of us were carrying guns. I laughed at the absurdity of his question, but he wasn’t joking. Not only did he believe that all Americans owned and carried guns, he also assumed that we did so when we traveled.

A year after that, on New Year’s Eve, I was in a nearly empty pizza parlor on Bleecker Street when a group of teens in puffy coats entered. They didn’t attempt to order. They just stood amid the tables, eyeing up the cashier. When one teen unzipped his coat, I saw a pistol tucked in his waistband. The cashier knew what was about to happen; he placed his hands flat on the counter and didn’t budge. After a tense minute or two, one of the teens finally said, “not worth it,” and they walked out.

A few years later, in rural upstate New York, I attended a 4th of July party. In lieu of fireworks, the host pulled an Uzi from his impressive gun cabinet and proceeded to shoot a few dozen rounds into the air. I don’t know if he was the legal owner of that Uzi, but I doubt it. I left the party shortly after the entertainment.

Guns haven’t played much of a role in my life of late, except when it comes to my writing. These days, I write books about kids. Because my books are about kids, they’re sold to kids. In my books, some of the characters wield and shoot guns. Those characters are all kids.

During the editorial stages, I have been asked to remove plenty of swearing and kissing from my books. It’s a business decision more than an artistic one. Certain libraries and book-buyers refuse to buy anything in the middle-grade market (i.e. fare for ages 9–12) that features a few hells and a little frenching. And yet, I have never been asked to edit out a gun or an incident of gun violence, even when a 12-year-old character is the perpetrator of that violence. The powers-that-be are okay with all that.

Should they be okay with all that, though? I don’t know. I hope they should be, as long as I’m doing my job as an author, which I believe is to provide an engrossing story with compelling characters whose motivations are relatable a

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22. Introducing for the First Time…

Guess what?

I’ve been holding my tongue for a few months now. Makes for awkward ice cream eating, but a man is supposed to suffer for his art, right? Thankfully, I’ve finally been given the greenlight to Paul Revere it through the cyber-streets hollering: New books are coming! New books are coming!

That’s right. My latest tales have found a home at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf said about the deal:

Joy Peskin of FSG Books for Young Readers has acquired world English rights to Aaron Starmer‘s Riverman trilogy, about a girl who claims she is visiting a parallel universe, where a nefarious being called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. The first book in the trilogy, The Legend of Fiona Loomis, will be published in winter 2014, followed by The Quest of Alistair Cleary in winter 2015 and The Myth of Charlie Dwyer in winter 2016. Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich did the deal.  

Of course, I’m ridiculously excited by these developments. And I hope (I’m pretty sure, actually) you will dig these books. I hesitate to tell you much about them right now, but I can say that the first one, titled The Legend of Fiona Loomis, is the most personal and realistic thing I have written, while also being the most fantastical. A contradiction? Maybe not as much as you would think.

Let the record show that a few incredible people are fully responsible for this happening:

  • Nova Ren Suma, author of the luminous novel Imaginary Girls, was beyond kind when she vouched for me and my writing. As advocates for artists go, Nova is without peer. And good god can she write the breath out of a room.
  • Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management is more than an agent. Honest, impossibly well-informed, and unrelenting in his support of his clients, he’s one of the people who’s daring the book industry to live up to its potential. I’m not sure how he treats his mortal enemies, but he’s a great man to have on your side.
  • And finally there’s Joy Peskin, editorial director of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. When I first spoke to her about the project, I was astounded by her contagious enthusiasm and by the way she understood my story better than I did. Her reputation for shepherding projects that are both daring and entertaining cannot be exaggerated, but it’s her uncanny insight into storytelling that will truly guide The Riverman Trilogy from scrappy beginnings to a shiny spot on the bookshelves. Do you have a better editor? I’m not sure that you do.
So there you go. A new day, some new books. I’ll be updating you about the writing and revision progress and with other news as it comes in. In the meantime, to give you an idea of the tone, plot and themes of the first book, The Legend of Fiona Loomis, I ask to listen to Daniel Johnston’s Some Thi

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23. Free Signed Copies of THE ONLY ONES!

In less than four weeks, the paperback version of The Only Ones hits shelves. It’s hard to believe my odd little book is almost one year old. Soon it will be talking and walking and before I know it, I’ll be bailing it out of jail after it gets caught spray-painting Turk 182 on a highway overpass and…oh boy…I’m getting a little teary-eyed just thinking about it…

But that’s all in the future. For now, we celebrate. And in that spirit, I’m giving away some signed hardcover copies of The Only Ones. Want one? Well it’s ridiculously easy to get one. Here are the requirements:

  1. You have to be able to read. Sorry toddlers. Sorry Jerri Blank. But to get a free copy, you have to click here and read a PDF of the opening chapter.
  2. You must have a blog. And after you’ve read the opening chapter, you must post a link to that chapter on your blog. You must also post this picture of the cover and a link to buy the book (I prefer Indiebound). I won’t hate you if you write a few words about what you read, or if you embed this book trailer or that book trailer, or if you provide a link to this page…but that extra stuff is entirely up to you.
  3. Finally, you should email me and let me know you’ve done these things. Of course, you should also provide me with an address where I can send the book. I can send it to you, to a pal, to a school, to a library–anywhere, as long as it’s in the U. S. of A. and can accept U.S. postal deliveries.

That’s it and that’s all. If you don’t have a blog, why not read the opening chapter anyway? Don’t cost nothin’. Perhaps you’ll like it and you’ll want to help spread the word. Then we can all take to Twitter, take to Facebook, take to the streets, for crying out loud. No one takes to the streets anymore. Let’s bring that back.

I’ll be giving away copies as long as supplies last. If interest is rabid enough, I might replenish the supplies, but there’s no guarantee of that. So get it while the gettin’ is good. And thanks for doing your part.

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24. Princeton Children’s Book Festival: Saturday, September 8, 2012

Guess what? I got into Princeton!

Wait a minute, though. Before you go shining up a class ring for me and calling Goldman Sachs to tell them they’ll have a new CEO in a few years, I should probably qualify that statement. I wasn’t invited to Princeton the University. I was invited to Princeton the Children’s Book Festival.

Which, of course, is even better!

Here are the details:

Saturday, September 8, 2012
11am–4pm
Princeton Public Library
65 Witherspoon Street
Princeton, NJ 08542 

I’ll be hanging out in the Purple Tent, signing copies of DWEEB and The Only Ones. We can chat about The Riverman Trilogy, maybe talk some sports or movies, and perhaps solve some of the world’s problems. Hope to see you there!

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25. Collingswood Book Festival: Saturday, October 6, 2012

Apparently, this week is Banned Books Week. I’ve never participated, but according to Wikipedia, it’s a week when children dress as Holden Caulfield and parade through streets lined with illiterate PTA members who pelt them with rotten tomatoes. It all culminates in a barn dance, where a bespectacled college comp lit major stands on a bale of hay and shouts, “You know who also banned books? Stalin!” And then an animatronic Stalin descends from the rafters and the Caulfields and the PTA members join together to smash the commie robot to smithereens.

Now, if you’re a book lover (as I’m sure yo are), you could participate in such festivities this weekend or…you could come visit me and a whole bunch of other great NY/NJ/PA authors at the Collingswood Book Festival. Here are the details:

Saturday, October 6
Haddon Ave, Collingswood, NJ
10AM-4PM: I’ll be signing and selling copies of DWEEB and The Only Ones
2PM: I’ll be on a panel called Reaching Out to Young Adult Readers

I attended the 2010 festival and it was a beautiful day in a charming town full of friendly people. I’m expecting more of the same!

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