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When Zach was 6 or 7 we got him his first pet, a uromastyx lizard who he named Spikey. Uromastyx lizards come from the driest, hottest and most barren parts of the world. They thrive under extreme conditions unsuitable for a lot of other lizard species.
Given our household is pretty extreme it was no surprise that Spikey thrived - even after the kitchen accident that cost him half his tail and the use of his back legs. Dude was a fighter.
Zeus and Spikey had a real love affair and Zeus would often go nose-to-nose with Spikey when we put them both out on the grass. Spikey wasn't exactly a soft and cuddly pet and I admit I wasn't head over heels for him the way I love Zeus. But he was a part of our family and had been with us a long time. He'd heard our laughter and felt our tears and now I say goodbye to him with the memory of the way he chased the crickets we'd feed him and how he'd stare into Zeus's eyes on a warm summer day.
I hate to clean. I am a slob. There. I've said it. I am one of those people who functions quite well in clutter and my office and my computer reflect my taste for chaos. Maybe it's all an excuse. Maybe I'm just really lazy. All I know is I've been staring at dust bunnies in my office so long I've named them.
I was going through some disorganized files on my mac this morning and came across an old MILO cartoon I did for my website. I knew it was old - because the Milo in the last panel was the original design of the character before I worked with Aladdin art director extraordinaire, Karin Paproki, to make Milo a bit more accessible.
So here's my updated version of the cartoon - new Milo in place of the old. It's fun to see this again!
And now....back to playing with those cute dust bunnies!
To celebrate the kick-off of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where zillions of writers around the world give up sleep and sunlight in the hopes of completing a novel in any genre - I'm creating a new series of Book-Toons that will hopefully give a kick in the pants to writers everywhere.
Inspiring words for writers - from writers.
Sometimes it helps knowing you aren't alone in the impossible task!
Thanks to a wonderful group of writers and illustrators I had an inspiring weekend as one of the presenters at the SCBWI Canada East conference this past weekend in Ottawa. I was excited to give the opening keynote which I titled, "Hansel & Gretel Never Had Deadlines: My Writer's Process Getting Lost In The Woods". Using some cartoons of mine and many examples from my own publishing journey I gave a 50 minute talk (phew!) on the benefits of writing without always knowing where it is you are headed.
Here's a little animation I created when I got home from the conference that uses my closing lines as inspiration.
"Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world."
Taking a break from the fun of writing my *new* book, which is top secret stuff that I'm having way too much fun doing because I just got a batch of notes on THE AWESOME ALMOST 100% TRUE ADVENTURES OF MATT & CRAZ from my fantastic art director at Simon & Schuster (Karin Paproki you know who you are!)
Now I have a couple of weeks to move from my comfy chair ( dog on legs included)...
To the desk chair.... where the drawing MAGIC happens! Note: magic is subjective and may cause drowsiness.
The task is to clean up some of the cartoons I've already done for the book. But even better - I've been asked to add a bunch of new cartoons, which is a blast because I get to go back in the heads of my main characters, Matt and Craz.
I'll keep you updated on the progress but for now want to share a new cartoon that I drew yesterday.
FYI: Matt and Craz are a cartoonist duo who try unsuccessfully to get their comics into the school newspaper. Here's one of their cartoons about super-smart babies who do movie reviews.
Yikes! Has it really been a year of "No Posts"? In case you're wondering - I haven't been in a caffeine induced coma, but caffeine consumption has definitely been in play!
I left the SCWBI conference last August with a permanent grin plastered on my face (and yes, the Sid Fleischman Humor Award traveled with me in-style back home where it wryly watches over me every day.)
Upon getting home I immediately sank into the post-conference funk but promised myself I would dive back into my updates. After all, I'd made a zillion new friends and this would be the perfect time to extend that friendship via my blog. But then...life happened.
I think the reason I dropped off the blog map is I immediately dove into completing my next book and being the kind of writer who takes on big tasks with gusto - all my writing energy was consumed by...(wait for it)...
Almost 100% True Adventures
of Matt & Craz
(try saying that 3 times fast!!!)
That's a picture of the full cover which I think Simon & Schuster should get a standing ovation for. The cover and the ARCs arrived in May and I've been doing the Snoopy dance ever since.
Like MILO, the new book is loaded with my cartoons and though it doesn't come out until next spring I thought it was high time to show everyone what I've been up to since going into the Blogger relocation program.
I hope to fill in some of the year's ups and downs and keep the blog ball rolling. Who knows? I may even post again before Christmas!
Phew! It's taken me a week to let it settle in. MILO won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award given out at this year's SCBWI annual conference!
Was it the most amazing weekend of my life? Come on. I rode the hotel elevator with Judy Blume and Richard Peck. Had a lovely chat with Jerry Pinkney while we ate peach cobbler. Learned that Libba Bray is a Doctor Who fan. Oh, and got honored by 1300 of the nicest, most generous kid-lit people I've ever metaphorically met.
The 4 day conference featured keynote speeches from kid-lit greats like David Smalls, whose graphic memoir Stitches took my breath away. Jon Scieszka and Libba Bray made me laugh. Bruce Coville made me think. Gary Paulson made me glad I don't have any desire to race the Iditarod and Laurie Halse Anderson gave me the courage to let my words be bold and true.
I had no idea how much I needed to be surrounded by writers and illustrators and the people who love them. Working in my basement with just my dog as company I have been adrift for too long without the nourishment that comes from like-minded introverts; inmates all let out of the asylum at once!
My Milo meeting Norton Juster's Phantom Tollbooth Milo.
Eeesh! I am embarrassed by the time lapsed since my last post - but to be fair, I have been hunkered down (with Zeus in my lap) working to finish the first draft of the "new book" which is due right about...NOW.
This is a really bid deal for me and I am still hyperventilating from the news (and it's been a few days since I heard). The list of past winners is beyond amazing and it befuddles my wee brain to think that I am in the company of Lisa Yee, Donna Gephart, David LaRochelle, Gennifer Choldenko, Sara Pennypacker, Allen Zadoff - but most humbling, is the man who received the first honor, the amazing Sid Fleischman. Wow!
What makes this extra sweet for me - not only was I able to combine my text with my cartoons, but MILO tells a very personal story. It's the story of loosing a parent when you are young and the ways a young adolescent goes about trying to remember his mom, even through the fog that has settled inside him. It's a heart-warming story, and yes, I've heard some tears have been shed reading it.
But I'd always set out to write this book with a sense of humor leading the way - and to have that side of me, and Milo recognized proves that I was able, in my own way, to highlight that a painful life event doesn't have to wipe away the funny parts. It truly can be a tandem dance between the sadness and the laughter because that was always my own experience...and now it's Milo's too. Thank you so much SCBWI for honoring the funny and heart-felt part of me that is MILO.
It was a wonderful fall night - not too chilly and not yet rainy, which was good because I had to schlep a lot of stuff from my car into Paragraphe bookstore in Montreal.
Eyeball brownies! And lots of them!!
It was so nice to share the night with author/friend PJ Bracegirdle, whose 2nd Joy of Spooking book, "Unearthly Asylum" was also celebrated. Seems we both have the Montreal goatee thing going on (but his mustache tips are waxed!)
Paul reading from "Unearthly Asylum"
Members of the Montreal Goatee Society
Friends came out to help us celebrate and it was so nice to get the chance to chat (even briefly) with all of the people who wanted to support us. Thanks to you all!
Tuesday, MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAIN FREEZE had it's real-live book birthday and I couldn't just sit on my butt at home. No siree, I had to have visual proof that the book was actually IN bookstores. Besides, I was too excited to actually stay home and write and so I drove downtown and hit the trio of book sellers there.
First up, Indigo books - a huge chain of stores in Canada. I went to their "flagship" downtown Montreal location. This was my very first stop and I was filled with excitement...anticipation... and ultimately, DISAPPOINTMENT!
Like Old Mother Hubbard, I went to my bookshelf, careful to follow the alpabetical path to the "S" names. To my horror - "Silberberg" did not exist. I quickly accessed one of their nifty search kiosks and what I found was...."zero available in this store". Oh, fortuna how low you have spun me!
Lucky for me - another chain store was just up the street. And so, hat in hands, I trudged off to visit the equally huge Chapters bookstore (owned by the same company as Indigo I might add).
I walked into the basement level kids' section with trepidation. But what did I see? The familiar BLUE COVER and white lettering! Eureka - MILO EXISTED!
Now I'm usually a shy guy - but there I was gleaming at the bookshelf, camera in hand, and it wasn't long before a helpful bookseller asked if I needed anything. I told her I needed to wish my book a Happy BookDay and she eagerly obliged!
I recently wrote about being a Facebook newbie, and to be honest I'm still pretty green when it comes to poking, friending and deciding whether I want to comment on someone else's decision to like "Big Bang Theory" or "100 things I never want to eat".
Still as all my writer friends continually urge me - Facebook is just one of many places we need to put our best word forward and shout about our books, school visits, favorite book stores and what we had for lunch (tuna sandwich, very tasty). I know everyone is hungering to know what is happening in my oh-so-exciting life, which really boils down to doing a lot of laundry and asking the dog if he needs to pee.
But with a new book about to be published I have to face the reality that we writer-types have to do whatever we can to tell anyone with ears that we have a new book coming out. So here I go: MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAINFREEZE is being published by Aladdin on September 14th. For all you BEA attendees, drop by the booth and pick up an ARC. Tell them, Alan sent ya!
For everyone else - be forewarned: I am on a Milo mission and even though I am usually a pretty reserved guy, I will stop at nothing to mention him. Heck, Milo's even got his own Facebook profile. So if you need a new friend who is 13 years old and has a passion for Freezies - check him out there! You'll not only get to know him - but you'll also meet some of his friends.
I may not win the award for most frequent blog posts - but I do hope to snag a blue ribbon when it comes to having great guests drop by for a little one-on-one chat. Jill Murray is not only a friend and fellow Montreal author she is also the voice and code behind the wonderful kid-lit writer site Y-Eh!
Jill's first YA book, BREAK ON THROUGH was followed by the recently released RHYTHM AND BLUES, a "thoughtful and glittery young adult novel about a teenage girl's quest for - fame, love and self-identity". I loved this book and think Jill has this amazing sixth sense for capturing the voice of her main character, Alya.
I was lucky to get some time with Jill, who not only is rumored to make her own ice cream - but is busy getting ready for a big trip to do research for her next book.
And now - without further ado - give it up for Jill!
Jill: Wow. The applause is deafening.
Me: I know. If a blog article was posted in the woods would it make any sound?
I recently went on my family's annual trip to Maine, where not only was I greeted with spectacular scenery...
kayaking at sunset
But I also had a package waiting for me that looked like this:
Seeing a Simon & Schuster logo on it could only mean one thing: I was finally getting to hold a copy of my MILO ARC!!! I knew the ARCS existed - I just hadn't actually held one yet and let me tell you in case you haven't had the pleasure of seeing an advanced reader copy (ARC) of the book that you spent the past year and half slaving over - actually getting your paws on a facsimile of what your real book is going to be like is better than a year's worth ofs'mores(which we indulged in aplenty while in Maine!).
MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAIN FREEZE (the full title) tells a very personal story for me and being able to share the book with my family was especially meaningful because the book tells the story of my mom's death when we were all kids. I was so proud to be able to have my sister read the book while we were in Maine (yes, she loved it - though tissues were used).
Here's a shot of my sister Debbie and me posing with the newly arrived book.
The week was beautiful and I was able to NOT write at all, which was hard for me because I always feel like this escape into the beauty of the Maine Coast should be a "writing retreat" for me. In truth, it is a writing retreat because I am letting my brain toss and turn all the ideas of my new book while I kayak, bike ride, and relax with a good book.
It's getting pretty real. Milo's publication date is actually something concrete to me and not some distant date that has no meaning. Still - September is just far enough away and no one wants to start thinking about that season that comes after summer. (Shhhh...pub. date is Sept. 14) But I've got the date circled on my calendar!!
Also want to give a shout out to Fuse8 over at School Library Journal, who not only gave Milo his first review - but it's a pretty GREAT one at that! (Thanks, Betsy!)
So summer is sizzling and Milo's just doing what he should be doing...hanging out!
I have always marveled at the people who can point easily to the perfect days in their lives and say without pause, "That was the best day." I mean, I'm a writer. Ask me to point to a miserable day and I can deal out a dozen or so in a heartbeat.
But the game has changed because I now have that day, that PERFECT DAY, etched forever in my brain-box. It all began with a weekend trip to New York to visit with my editor, Liesa Abrams, at Aladdin. Apparently there were people in her office who had read MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAIN FREEZE and wanted a chance to meet me. Cool, I thought. I'll just drive down from Montreal and take Milo with me on the one condition that I control the radio.
The weekend fun was kicked off by walking from our hotel through Times Square on our way to meet Liesa and her husband for a matinee of AVENUE Q. Times Square always smells like a hot summer day so it felt normal to be bombarded by the sights, sounds and smells of a 92 degree, humid summer Sunday.
After Milo and I sweated through clean shirts and baked under the July haze - we got to the theater and sat through the hysterical musical. Everyone says the puppets are "so racy" - but even Milo thought the show was kind of tame. I guess that's what watching so much SOUTH PARK will do to a kid's brain!
Had a lovely dinner with Liesa and James and as super-fantatstic as that Sunday was, it was just the precursor to the Monday that was to come. First I had to check-out of my hotel and though I had a minor freak-out that I'd lost my passport (found after a frantic search through the suitcase that then fell apart) the morning began slightly less humid and with a vente iced latte, so all was good.
Milo and I arrived outside the Simon & Schuster offices and he was immediately awed by the building.
We went inside and rode the elevator to the 4th floor. Stepping off the elevator the first thing I saw was this wall of M
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But I can now officially let loose with the news that the book has been sold to the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. I also got word that Milo will be published in Thailand and Israel too. I wonder how they say "Freezie" in Hebrew?
I can't wait to share the international covers online, but that won't be for awhile. Not that I'm in a rush to see how awesome they'll look...