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While most of my new book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, is updated material from the original and out-of-print Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells, there is new material as well. I thought I’d share a new chapter with you on the topic of what are called “filters.” The filters you’ll read about on the Internet are a common problem—I call them action filters—but I think I’ve identified a second kind of filter that can diminish a narrative: body-part filters. See what you think. Then, while you’re at it, treat yourself to a signed print copy of Mastering the Crafthere or a Kindle copy here. Happy holidays!
I have always had a problem with “he felt” and steered editing clients away from it, but hadn’t realized that it was just one example of what are called “filters” until a reader on my blog pointed that out. She steered me to Writing Fiction by Jane Burroway. The book cites author/teacher John Gardner:
“. . . the needless filtering of the image through some observing consciousness. The amateur writes: “Turning, she noticed two snakes fighting in among the rocks.” Compare: “She turned. In among the rocks, two snakes were fighting . . .” Generally speaking—though no laws are absolute in fiction—vividness urges that almost every occurrence of phrases as “she noticed” and “she saw” be suppressed in favor of direct presentation of the thing seen.”
Burroway points out that when you look at a character rather than through a character, you start to tell-not-show and rip us briefly out of the scene or, as I see it, out of the experience of the story.
Leslie Leigh, who writes the Leslie’s Writing Exercises blog, put it well:
“Filters keep the reader from sinking comfortably into the fictional dream. One moment the reader is hunched over the POV character's shoulder, observing the world as if he is that character, seeing only what the character sees. But stumble across a "filtered observation" and suddenly the reader finds himself looking at the character instead of with the character—watching the character as the character watches something else.”
It turns out that filtering goes beyond things seen—a partial list follows.
Actually, I believe there are two kinds of filters:
1. Action filters—placing a character’s action between the detail you want to present and the reader.
2. Body-part filters—using a body part rather than the character to do the thing you want the reader to experience.
If the scene is clearly in the deep point-of-view of a character, readers don’t need to be told the character sees, hears, or smells something. When the “something” appears readers intuitively assume the POV character sees-hears-smells it.
Filters back the reader away from the character’s experience by one step because the focus of the narrative becomes the character’s action rather than the actual thing the character senses or does.
Here’s a narrative example:
Harvey heard the howl of a coyote. He went to the front door, opened it, and stuck his head out. He shivered when he felt the sting of the winter wind and ducked back inside. Then he noticed a second coyote’s howl join the first. He decided to get the shotgun from above the fireplace mantle and scare them off.
Same scene without the filters:
A coyote howled outside. Harvey opened the front door and stuck his head out. He shivered when the winter wind stung his face and he ducked back inside. A second coyote’s howl joined the first. He got the shotgun above the fireplace mantle to scare them off.
Here’s a partial list of common verbs that can create distance between the reader and the story experience:
she felt or felt like
she noticed (a very common one)
it sounded or sounded like
she was able to
A reader’s mind reacts instantaneously to word stimuli—write “cat” and an image of a cat pops into the mind. Write “cat’s paw” and an image of a cat’s paw appears in a close-up. Therein lies the filter created by using body parts to do things in a story rather than using the character. Like an action filter, this kind of filter has the reader looking at a body part rather than being with the character in experiencing the story.
If you write “eyes,” an image of eyes comes to mind: “His eyes searched wildly for a way out.”
If you use a pronoun or a name, an image of the character comes to mind: “He searched wildly for a way out.”
Literally, it’s not his eyes that are doing the searching, it is the character. If what I write has you visualizing a pair of eyes moving jerkily from side to side, is that as true an image as getting you to visualize a man turning his head rapidly as he scans the area for an escape route?
Which serves the story better? Which delivers the character’s experience? I think it’s the image of the man.
Nervous about meeting Bob, Stephanie cupped her hand and her nose smelled her breath.
Nervous about meeting Bob, Stephanie cupped her hand and smelled her breath.
Frightened by the kindergarten teacher, little Elsa shrank in her seat and her mouth sucked her thumb.
Frightened by the kindergarten teacher, little Elsa shrank in her seat and sucked her thumb.
His elbow smashed into the monster’s face.
He smashed his elbow into the monster’s face.
A tender moment:
His fingertips caressed her face.
He caressed her face with his fingertips.
Examples from submissions to my blog:
Keith stumbled. His bodyHe pitched forward
Her bodyShe lurched forward and her hands flew up.
His armHe recognized her touch.
Not all body parts in action usages are filters. It’s perfectly okay to have a body part do something that is a part of what the character is experiencing. For example,
Billy buckled his knees when Tom landed a punch on his jaw.
Nawww . . .
Billy’s knees buckled when Tom landed a punch on his jaw.
Last week I was tagged by the terrific illustrator and equally nice person, Alison Lyne, in the Meet My Character Blog Hop. Now that I'm IT let me tell you about big, white, fluffy ball of trouble. She's not the main character but she does make the story more interesting:
What is the name of your character?
Daisy. She's a rambunctious labradoodle that loves Grandpa, Little Brother and broccoli casserole.
When and where is the story set? In Grandma Mable's house, around a large, formal family dinner.
What should we know about the character? She loves broccoli casserole…. and doesn't like being kept away from the family excitement. Also her tail juuuusst skims the table….
What messes with her life? The gate behind which Grandma and Grandpa put her is a frustration. Fortunately an obliging child comes along to let her out…. so that she can get closer to the broccoli casserole
What is the personal goal of the character? Get more broccoli casserole. Also stand on hind legs and lick Grandpa.
Where can we read more about the character? Daisy appears with her entire family in The Little Kids Table written by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle, available Fall 2015 from Sleeping Bear Press!
Here's a couple of her illustrations in progress:
Next week I'll tag the lovely and talented Meridth Gimbel.
Meridth earned a BFA in illustration from BYU where she had the great good fortune to intern with Brad Holland and Brett Helquist. Currently an SCBWI member in Southern California Meridth loves anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered.You can check out Meridth's portfolio here and her blog here.
I'd love to see you at one of the events! PLUS if you are in the Andover area there is a contest you can enter for a chance to win a signed copy of REX and an original illustration. Drop off the completed entry at the Andover Bookstore.
Folks, I talk a fair amount about my upcoming book with Candlewick but I’d be lying to you if I said it was the only book I worked on that’s out this year. For lo, I helped write the introduction for another book that will be coming out this month on the 15th and it is awesome. Behold:
So I figured, why not interview the author himself? If only to give you just a taste of what the book has in store. Because you know me. I don’t write introductions for no junk. Jason kind submitting to my grilling.
Howdy, Jason. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
When I was a toddler, my mom took me to the Lyons Township District Library in the village of Lyons, Michigan (population 789). I kept reading and writing for the rest of my childhood, and I ended up studying English at the University of Michigan. After college, I spent two years working with youth groups in Peace Corps Guatemala.
In 2003, I studied journalism at New York University and I have worked as a writer ever since. Most recently, I spent five years as the publishing editor at Mediabistro, where I led the GalleyCat and AppNewser blogs.
There’s no lack of parenting books on the market these days, but your book appears to be doing something we don’t see that often. Can you give me the gist of the project and where it came from?
When my daughter Olive was born in 2010, I wanted her to love books as much as I do.
But it had been more than 25 years since I had read a kid’s book—so I needed some help. I consulted with child development experts to find out the best way to read to my daughter. Then I interviewed librarians, teachers and app creators to find the books, eBooks and apps to share with my child.
Through this research, I discovered the art of “interactive reading” or “dialogic reading.” Child development experts crafted these reading techniques 25 years ago. These simple and easy reading tricks will literally make your child smarter.
And had you written a book before? How did you hit on the best outline and format for the content?
I had written a book before, but this experience was unique. I was literally living the book with my daughter and my wife.
Over the course of writing Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age, I watched Olive change from a mute newborn into a voracious and opinionated young reader. The form flowed naturally from that growing experience. I dedicated a chapter to each year of a young reader’s life, incorporating all the books, eBooks and apps we read together during the writing process.
Whenever I learned something new from my team of amazing experts, I would immediately share it with Olive and my wife. We all grew up as the book evolved.
I could not help but notice that in the book you don’t just talk to reading specialists and educators but also teachers, librarians, and children’s authors themselves. All told, do you have a rough number of who you spoke to? How did you decide whom to speak to in the end?
I spoke with more than 50 different experts during my writing process. I asked all the questions that I had as a parent or that I had heard from other parents.
For instance, when local parents debated how much screen-time was appropriate for toddlers, I contacted child development experts and neuroscientists to get an expert opinion. It was so amazing to have these experts to guide me every step of the way.
Once Olive could voice her own opinions, I let her interests shape the book as well. When she developed a love of comic books, I reached out to the wonderful folks at TOON Books to find out how to nurture that interest. When Olive got into cooking, we shared the Julia Child cooking app with her. When she obsessed over Disney’s Frozen, I created a whole bundle of new stories to share with her: http://www.born-reading.com/born-reading-bundle-for-disneys-frozen/
One of the things I really liked about the book was the amount of attention given to screen time, particularly when it comes to the youngest children. In our day and age it seems like the wild west in terms of shiny rectangles (as my brother-in-law calls them). Did you initially expect this to take up as much time in your book as it did?
Oddly enough, I first envisioned my book as focused entirely on digital reading and the shift to a new kind of reading. My own reading and writing is mostly digital now, and I imagined my daughter would spend lots of time with these new devices. My wife totally disagreed and wanted to be more cautious.
Once I started exploring the research (and lack of research) into the benefits of digital materials for kids, I realized that I had to caution parents as well as share new kinds of reading. Thanks to the experts I interviewed, I learned how to moderate my daughter’s time on devices and how to make sure she has the best experience with the tablets and smartphones in our house.
These devices can be very seductive, but my wife and I worked together to create a more healthy relationship with technology.
In the course of your research, did you hit on anything that surprised you?
The art of interactive reading was by far my best “discovery.” Many librarians and teachers are trained in these awesome interactive techniques, and they are more than willing to share them with parents.
I was shocked that nobody ever told me about these techniques as we prepared for Olive’s birth. These interactive reading techniques should be taught to parents as they leave the hospital with a newborn. Reading can truly change a child’s life.
Ahoy! Just want to let you know . . . MAX HAS A FISH by the super-funny Wiley Blevins and illustrated by ME! (I changed my name to 'ME!') comes out tomorrow!
This was an incredibly fun book to work on. The story is wonderfully simple (this post probably has as many words in it as the book does) and silly.
Max loves his pet fish--it can swim, eat, and even blow bubbles. But Max is disappointed to learn that his fish can't dance. Whatever will Max do? Find out by getting this fun and fast-paced Level 1 story! $3.99 (yes, just $3.99 for this much awesomeness)
Below are a couple of my favorite illos from the book. More to come!
I'm planning on posting some process sketches and other stuff about the book soon.
The sequel to Knight Time written by Jane Clarke and published by Random House. Knight School is now in all reputable stores!
On the first day of school, their daddies helped them get ready.
"I'm not scared!"
You will have to buy the book to see what Little Knight is pointing at!!
Knight Time is also being published in a new smaller hardback format with a cuddly Little Dragon for Christmas 2012. A new friend for Percy Pig?! I am currently working on a new picture book with Random which is taking me off in a very different direction. You could definitely describe the style as mixed media-ink,watercolour,gouache,felt tip pens, coloured pencil, wax crayon.....my desk has been very untidy these last couple of months! On the theme of Knight Time...I have been asked along with the author Jane Clarke to do a workshop in London for the SCBWI in early 2013 talking about how we created the story and characters for the book. Hope you can make it. I will give more details nearer the time.
I am really pleased to finally be able to give you a little peek at my latest book. One Little Baby written by Richard Dungworth is due for publication on January 3rd 2013. Thanks to Lucy, Louise and Goldy at Puffin for doing such a great job and to Richard for his beautiful text.
Oh the previews are here, they’re here, they’re here,
The wonderful previews are here
Time to go out, go out, go out,
Go out and order a . . . . beer? No, no . . .
From that catchy little tune (working on it) I hope you realize that preview season is upon us yet again. Time to sit down and hear what is in store for the future. Will 2013 completely and utterly stop any and all supernatural romances dead in their tracks (which is to say, are vampires finally over?)? What picture book idea will spontaneously manifest itself at two entirely different publishers without rhyme or reason? And what, the heckedy heck, is up with fuzzy blue giants? Why are they so awesome?
Yes. It’s finally happened. The pandering. The blatant self-promotion. The self-satisfied mugging. You thought I was insufferable when I wrote my ALA Editions textbooky thing a couple of years ago? Brother, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen my fiction side in action.
So it is that we begin today’s Harper Collins Preview at the Greenwillow table. As you may recall, Harper Collins is one of those publishers that allow you to sit at their tables, eat their bagels and muffins, and hear their editors tell you face-to-face about their upcoming season. Sure, they could do a boring PowerPoint to a big room, thereby saving themselves some sanity, but the fact that they take the time to talk to us in this intimate fashion makes them one of the better previews in town. It’s the personal touch that counts, y’know? Plus I’m far more likely to remember a book when the editor has taken my questions about it firsthand than if I’m dozing in a big audience with a bunch of other folks, later desperately trying to remember why one teen novel with a flowy gown on the cover is different from another teen novel with a flowy gown on the cover when it’s time to do my ordering.
In any case, the clock is ticking, there are books to be discussed, so we begin with Greenwillow.
Actually we begin with me. They didn’t. I’m just mucking with the order of presentations here because I’m so pleased to announce my pretty little Giant Dance Party picture book. It comes out on my birthday (April 23rd), and isn’t THAT a lovely present to receive? Brandon Dorman is the illustrator behind it, and a nicer fella you couldn’t hope to find. You may know his book covers on everything from Savvy to the more recent Goosebumps novels. As you can see, the title is self-explanatory. The tale follows young Lexy, a girl who can cut a rug better than most her age. That is, if she’s dancing for her parents or herself. Put her onto a stage and you might as well be staring at a frozen ice pop in the shape of a young girl. When Lexy decides the answer to her problem is to teach rather than perform, she finds that no one wants to have a kid as her teacher. No one, that is, except a herd (is that the best term for it?) of benign furry blue giants. All seems to go well until the day of their recital when Lexy discovers that maybe she’s not the only one with stage fright problems out there.
Don’t let the cute nature of the cover fool you. Is it cute? Yeah. Guilty as charged. But there are some slammin’ moves to be found inside and, as I may have mentioned in a previous post, this is the first picture book I have encountered that includes krumping. I kid you not. Expect me to come up with some kind of video to accompany this soonish. Suggestions are welcome. I’m slightly stumped since Dan Santat created the world’s greatest dance-related picture book trailer three years ago for Tammi Sauer’s Chicken Dance. More to come about this in time.
And there are apparently other books coming out in 2013 as well! Did you know that? I was stunned! For example, they have decided to republish the original picture book edition of Amelia Bedelia for one and all to see. Not an easy book, mind you, but a full picture book sized title with all the art reproduced full and some in-depth backmatter at the end. And you know I love me some backmatter. I guess the success of the young Amelia Bedelia picture book series gave the idea the extra push it needed. In any case, look for this soon.
Speaking of the younger version of AB (Amelia Bedelia), the new title coming out in the spring with be Amelia Bedelia’s First Library Card. Otherwise known as the picture book hundreds of children’s librarians will be using for first-time library users visiting their branches. In a new twist, they’ve also noticed that those early chapter book Fancy Nancy books have been doing rather nicely. As a result, you can expect some early chapter books of young AB as well. It makes me think that if these also sell a whole world of possibilities opens up. What if they did longer Nate the Great or Cam Jansen books? What if they made an Amelia Bedelia middle grade novel? Or teen! Lord knows I’d pay good money for an Amelia Bedelia supernatural romance novel. A penny to anyone who gives me a serviceable plot to go with it.
Shadow boxes. There is nothing cooler on this globe than shadow boxes. I’m sure there are art students in colleges across the country that would agree. Yet for the most part you don’t see them used in children’s books all that often. Sometimes here and there, but it’s not consistent. In Stardines Swim High Across the Sky we definitely see some in action. A kind of follow up to Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger, this is yet another wordplay rich book of poems by Mr. P. The particular draw, however, is how Ms. Berger chose to do the art. But why describe the style when I can simply show you?
Caldecotty! Best of all, you’ll get to see a display of this art at ALA in Chicago this coming June.
This next book is a bit of a riddle: How do you resist a tiptoeing bear? Answer: Why bother? Anything big that tries to be small and quiet is instant picture book gold. In Tiptoe Joe by Ginger Foglesong Gibson (illustrated by Laura Rankin) a bear in sneakers highs himself hence on sneaky sneakered feet. The book’s a simple cumulative tale with readaloud potential. Put it on your preschool readaloud radar then.
Harper Collins is the publisher that seeks out self-published authors of picture books more often than other publishers I’ve seen. And since old Pete the Cat has paid off very very well for them indeed (catchy songs are ALWAYS a plus) it seems natural that they’d take everything a step further and look into self-published apps/ebooks that convert to the picture book format. That apparently is the case with Axel the Truck: Beach Race by J.D. Riley, and illustrated by MY illustrator Brandon Dorman. What’s interesting about this book is the fact that it’s more of an easy book than anything else. Perhaps the first self-published app turned easy book out there. Interesting.
All I will do for Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes is write down some of the descriptive direct quotes the editors tossed about when describing the easy book. Ahem.
“The great American novel in I Can Read form.”
There you have it, folks. Need more be said?
Now it’s cover art comparison time!!!
Of the two I think I prefer Jeff Baron’s upcoming I Represent Sean Rosen. And not just because of the Christoph Neimann art either. The kid just seems more appealing. Basically, this is just your average story about a kid hitting it big. Like The Toothpaste Millionaire but without the business angle. You see, Sean Rosen is a kid with a great idea, but he’s not gonna tell you what it is because clearly you’d steal it. Whatever it is, it’ll change the entertainment industry. Sean decides to sell the idea to Hollywood instead but runs into the problem of not having an agent. The solution? Meet fake agent Dan Welsh (one trip to the fridge will tell you where Sean got that name). Author Baron’s a playwright himself, so he’s been working up some “podcasts” of Sean’s. Podcasts/YouTube videos. Here’s the first.
Anna Was Here by Jane Kurtz is a PK middle grade novel. Those of you in the know will be aware that PK = Preacher’s Kid. And frankly, I don’t see a lot of those. We see a lot more army brats in a given year than preacher kids. Wonder why that is? In this case, the story is about Anna’s move from Colorado to Kansas (I was this close to writing Cansas). Even more interesting is the fact that the book discusses without fanfare a family where the Bible is just a regular part of the day to day. Apparently not in a strident way or anything either. Just a way of life. We’ll check it out.
New series, new series! Now this preview happened pre-Sandy, but you just know that had it happened afterwards this next book would have had an evident tie-in. The Lightning Catcher by Anne Cameron (all similarities to The Lightning Thief title-wise or the lightning bolt letters on all the American Harry Potter book jackets are strictly coincidental, you betcha, uh-huh, uh-huh) is the first in a four book series. In this debut young Angus is whisked to The Exploritorium for Violent Storms. Turns out his parents are two of the world’s greatest living lightning catchers, keeping the world safe from wild weather. When the parents are kidnapped, that’s when the rubber meets the road. It follows in a definite trend of weather-related middle grade novels like Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner and The Storm Makers by Jennifer E. Smith, but to name but a few.
I’ll be eschewing most of the YA stuff today, as per usual, but I will say that I’m thrilled to see the eleventh book in The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney is due to come out. Slither is the first book in the series to be told from the p.o.v. of one of the creatures. Fans will be happy to hear that Rimalkin is in it but sad to hear that Tom is not. FYI: The movie is definitely slated to come out in October of 2013! It’s called Seventh Son and will star folks like Julianne Moore (Mother Malkin!), Jeff Bridges (when he isn’t working on The Giver, apparently), and Ben Barnes a.k.a. Hot Prince Caspian as Tom Ward.
That’s enough from Table Four. Onward to Table Five with big time folks like Barbara Lalicki, Rosemary Brosnan, Tara Weikum, and Erica Sussman. I see that at this point in my notes I’ve turn philosophical, writing stuff like “In many ways previews break down to a variety of people telling you all kinds of stories.” Oh aye?
First up, the book Adam Rex was tweeting about long ago when it was first arranged. His first collaboration with Neil Gaiman. Chu’s Day follows a sneezy little panda and the havoc he creates thanks to an itchy nose and distracted parental units. Apparently it was inspired by a trip to China, and indeed if you see an F&G or final copy of this book you will encounter a jacket photo of Gaiman with a panda on his lap. Rex, insofar as I can tell, has never done pandas much before. But back in early 2011 he did a series of posts where he drew different types of pandas (seen here and here and here and here). Now you know why.
You can read the real reason Gaiman wrote the book here (long story short, he’s trying to get printed in mainland China for once). And there is, naturally, a book trailer. As Rex says of it, “Fun fact–Gaiman wasn’t available to make this video, so I played him wearing a Neilsuit a la the British ‘pantomime’ tradition.”
I’m sure the process was very much like the old Black Books skit. Dylan Moran even looks like Gaiman (though Rex, happily, has few similarities to Manny).
You know, go to enough of these previews and you begin to get a sense of which editors you really trust. The ones that crank out books you can’t get enough of. Rosemary Brosnan fits that category. Often I’ll compliment someone at HC for a book and then find it’s one of hers. You may know her best from editing Rita Williams-Garcia’s marvelous, miraculous One Crazy Summer. Well, hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen. The sequel, P.S. Be Eleven, is due out this May. As Rosemary said, she can’t stop smiling about it. And, she pointed out, she signed Rita up for it long before the first book won those four shiny shiny medals that now grace its cover. Kudos to Ms. Rita, it’s more than a little daunting to follow-up any book that got as much attention as her first did with a sequel of any type. In this book anyway Delphine is tall, dad is betrothed, there are crushes, Panthers, and a 6th Grade dance. The jacket, as you can see, matches the art of the paperback edition of the first book. And yes, folks. Number three is in the works.
You’ve gotta kind of respect a middle grade novel that begins with the heroines convinced that they’ve just watched their guidance counselor killing someone only to find that she was merely making pickled beets. Sophie and Grace have their own spy club in The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittshcer but beets or no beets there is indeed something sinister going on. The sequel is already slated with the title Tiara on the Terrace.
Here’s some more exciting reissue news, particular for those of you looking to get some summer reading paperbacks on your shelves. All the Ramona Quimby books are about to be repackaged with interior and exterior art by one Jacqueline Rogers. Eight titles in all, they’re coming out simultaneously in hardcover and paperback just in time for Ms. Cleary’s 97th birthday. And if these catch on they may do the same with other Cleary titles too. An excellent idea. High time we had some new art.
I was surprisingly taken with Ms. Tui T. Sutherland’s novel this year. I don’t know if you read Ms. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire which Scholastic put out, but for a talking dragon novel it wasn’t too shabby. Now she’s got a book out with HC called The Menagerie which she wrote with one Kari Sutherland. In it a boy moves a small Iowa town and, once there, finds a griffin cub under his bed. Turns out there’s a magical menagerie in the town, and the boy must find the other griffins and uncover a big time mystery.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai will indeed be out in paperback this January (I’ve already ordered my copies) and as we speak she is working on a second book. Meanwhile Molly Moon and the Monster Music, the sixth and final Moon title, by Georgia Byng is out this March, and should be well-timed with that MM movie in the works.
Now a flip around and a walk to Table 1. Here we have the good mistress Alessandra Balzer and sweet mistress Donna Bray. And Jordan Brown, of course. He’s not mistress of anything.
Mo Willems is back, baby! Not that he really went away but while his Elephant & Piggie books have been consistently primo, his picture books have merely been amusing. All that may change with the publication of That is NOT a Good Idea! In it, Willems stretches himself a little further. Becomes a bit more subversive and strange, but in a thoroughly good way. Channeling himself some Hilaire Belloc we have a silent film inspired presentation. Fox (or is it a wolf?) meets chicken. Chicken meets fox/wolf. Romance and possibly dinner (eek!) ensue. And all the while you’ve this steadily increasing Greek Chorus of chicks pooh-poohing the characters’ decisions. I’m thinking big time readaloud potential on this one. Can’t wait to see the final product.
Bob Shea returns as well with Cheetah Can’t Lose. In it an overly self-confident, not to mention obnoxious, cheetah finds himself at odds when he crosses two adorable little kittens. Hilarity, not to mention Shea’s copyright customary sympathy for bullied bullies, ensues.
Just the other day I went and reviewed one Michelle Markel’s remarkable picture book bio called The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau. Well the woman is keeping busy, now coming out with Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. Aside from the cool nonfiction picture book subject matter (Yiddish Clara went on to lead the longest walkout of women workers in American history) the illustrations are by none other than Melissa Sweet. And Ms. Sweet, aside from winning a Caldecott Honor for A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, won a Sibert last year for the fantastic Balloons Over Broadway. In this book she’s worked in time cards and sewing into her art. I can’t help but wonder if with the rise in interest in strikes (the folks in Wisconsin and Chicago come to mind) we’ll be seeing more of these union-centric titles in the coming years. It just makes sense.
“This is our Core toe book, I like to say.” As a mom of a toddler I admit that I now view with great interest any and all picture books that adapt nursery rhymes and simple songs into a written and illustrated format. And quite frankly This Little Piggy by Tim Harrington fits the bill. It starts with the usual five and their mildly disturbing desire for things like road beef and then goes onto the second foot as well. Why on earth have I never heard of anyone doing that before? The other foot! It’s obvious when you say it. By the way, as more toes get involved they seem to have a lot more occupations to work with. In some cases they’re selling hotdogs (what IS it with the meat and these hungry piggies?). And in the vein of the aforementioned Pete the Cat there will be an accompanying song with this online. Clever piggies. Of course, I should probably mention that Tim Harrington is the lead singer of Les Savy Fav and you can see what he looks like here. Sort of a pseudo-celebrity. I tell ya, man. Eventually everyone comes to my world. Eventually.
“Little Women with wings featuring Tinkerbell’s little sister.” I keep beginning these write-ups with quotes but c’mon. Can you blame me? And I admit that though I love Julia Denos (the illustrator on these books) I wasn’t really sold until I saw the author. The new Fairy Bell Sisters series may be more of the fairy same, but the author is Margaret McNamara a.k.a. former Harper Collins editor Brenda Bowen. Donna Bray then whipped out her history chops by quoting the great long dead editor Ursula Nordstrom. “If I can resist a book, I resist it.” Ooo. Well played, madam. Ratchet it all up another notch and we were told that these books echo classics and act as gateway drugs to books like The Secret Garden and Little Woman AND they’re great readalouds to boot. Geez o’ petes. If you’re gonna sell librarians on a new fairy series, you may as well pull out all the stops, eh?
Jarrett Krosoczka is convinced that this little blog o’ mine (I’m gonna let it shine) was the first place to debut the cover of his upcoming Platypus Police Squad series opener The Frog Who Croaked. I told him I just lifted it wholesale from Barnes & Nobles. Okay, so there are a lot of reasons to love what’s going on here. I think it’s fair to say that you guys are just as sick of the nursery rhymes-meet-noir detective novel style books as I am. Sometimes I feel like we see one a year. There’s just too much faux noir out there. I’m sick of it. But buddy cop children’s books? Dude . . . I can’t think of any. So it is that we get “Frog and Tad meets Law & Order” (I usually leave all the “meets” until the end of this post, but this one I could resist including here). In his first full-length novel Krosoczka presents a heavily illustrated tale of a hotshot rookie and a grizzled old timer as they fight crime. Said his editors, “It marries his love of buddy cop films with his love of platypuses”. Sold. There will be four books in the series altogether and please note that the hotshot rookie on the cover is pulling a boomerang out of his black leather jacket. Suh-weet.
My notes at this point read “Jenny Lee – writes for Shake It Up”. But I don’t know what that means so I Google it. Ah ha. Shake It Up. A television series that has so far run from 2010 to 2012 on the Disney Channel and is about the following: “Two Chicago teens attempt to realize their dream of becoming professional dancers by landing spots on a popular local show.” Gotcha. Well, in any case we see a couple television writers crossing over to make children’s books but they tend to write for adult fare like The Daily Show. Elvis and the Underdogs was sold as marrying literary quality with fun. Fair enough. Benji, our hero, is a sickly kid whose best friend is a male nurse. Naturally, he’s bullied quite a bit and in the course of things gets himself a therapy dog. A 200-pound Newfoundland of a therapy dog named Elvis with the personality of Fraiser Crane (he was supposed to go to the President of the United States, thank you very much). So there’s that and a mystery as well. Oh, and the dog talks. I think you had me at Fraiser Crane, anyway, though.
As titles go, my favorite this season (from Harper Collins anyway since I still think Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is mildly brilliant) has gotta be The Girl from Felony Bay. Now THAT gets a person’s attention! Written by J.E. Thompson and set in rural South Carolina (so hand it to fans of Three Times Lucky) the book was described as “Carl Hiaasen rummaging through Margaret Mitchell’s closet”. In this book a dad is framed so our heroine and her buddy have to go through some serious Southern heritage to clear his name.
Editor Jordan Brown could sell you flaming cheese in Hell. The man is just that good. So good, in fact, that I have to put my guard up when he starts talking because otherwise this preview will turn from a sane and sober What’s Coming Out Next Year into a wild free-for-all encapsulation of Jordan Brown’s Greatest Hits. In this particular case we hit upon Kevin Emerson (The Lost Code)’s The Fellowship for Alien Detection. As Brown tells it, this middle grade novel is sci-fi for non-sci-fi readers. In this book two kids travel about with some folks who investigate possible alien sightings. Brown called it a Men in Black type book that will please many a Joss Whedon fan.
With The Laura Line I am very pleased to see the return of Crystal Allen. Her debut with How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba Sized Trophy was an excellent middle grade a year or two ago (I recall reading it on a plane and having a flight attendant grill me about what it was about). Allen is one of the very few authors out there writing about contemporary middle grade African-American kids. In this particular book our overweight protagonist is convinced that she is about to be humiliated. Her teacher has just organized a field trip to the slave shack that sits on her property. I don’t know much more about it, but you can bet that this will be one of the first books I read for next year when I get my hands on it.
Sidekicked by John David Anderson was described as “A mash-up of what you’d get if you asked Louis Sachar to write an Avengers novel.” Which, naturally I now want to do. In lieu of that plan, this book is about a kid who develops super powers but ends up being super sensitive as a result. It’s a clever idea. We’ll see how the final product tackles this not-often-seen metaphor.
There would be lots of ways to sell Director Chris Columbus as a co-author on a book like House of Secrets. The smartest way for this particular book? Goonies. Yeah, break out the Goonies connection (he wrote the screenplay) because secretly that’s what every children’s librarian secretly wishes they could find in a book. Alongside co-writer Ned Vizzini (no stranger to the movie world himself what with his It’s Kind of a Funny Story hitting the big screen a year or so ago) House of Secrets is the first of a three book series that promises a new installment every spring. It follows the Walker family and its three kids consisting of an eldest boy and two younger girls. Sorta like The Emerald Atlas, I guess. When their surgeon dad moves them into a creepy house in San Francisco, they discover that they are part of a secret legacy. Add in some giants, witches and skeleton pirates and you have, what they were calling, “An American Cornelia Funke”.
Finally, one of the cleverest sequel titles I’ve seen. Did you like The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom? Me too. I just keep meaning to review that puppy. Well, hopefully I’ll be able to do so before I read The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, due out in April. Can I just praise that title a little more? I mean, how smart is it to reference The Princess Bride like that? Very smart. The book series would certainly be enjoyed by Princess Bride fans, that’s for certain, so by invoking the name you do yourself many favors. Plus, from what I can tell the cover sports all four princes. I remember the kids really were upset that only two princes made the front cover of the first book with the other two princes on the back. This time, all four. Awesome.
Next table, Table #2. With the honorable Katherine Tegen, Maria Modugno and Molly O’Neill presiding.
Yep. All I really need to say about that. It’s Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson and editor Katherine Tegen had the idea for the book four years ago when it was Mandela’s 90th birthday. Now it’ll be out in time for his 95th. Considering that he and the aforementioned Beverly Cleary are both celebrating their 90-something birthdays with HC books, those crazy kids should have a joint birthday party. (Now imagining what the guest list for a Beverly Cleary/Nelson Mandela birthday party might consist of.)
Katheryn Fitzmaurice returns with the middle grade novel Destiny, Rewritten. In it, a girl named after Emily Dickinson hides a secret desire. Though her mom would love her to be a poet, what she REALLY wants to do is become a romance novelist. Um . . . that is awesome. She then goes in pursuit of a lost book and finds ways to stand up for herself. The book is set during Poetry Month, which is clever, and includes a series of one-sided letters written by Emily to Danielle Steele. The good Harper Collins folks did send a copy to Ms. Steele to let her know about this book but as of this preview had not heard back. Pity. It’d be a helluva blurb.
Big news here! At long last the Septimus Heap saga is reaching its end in a grand finale with Fyre! Every single character of significance will make an appearance in this last book, clocking in at 544 pages if Amazon is to be believed, 750 pages if the preview is. Can’t say which one is true, but it’ll be complete, you can bet on that!
New illustrator alert! When shopping for a new artist of picture books, it can be a good idea to hand them a classic text and see what they do with it. So when newbie Mike Austin was given The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown, the results were a fresh new approach. Now he does a helluva monster. Now you probably already know Mike from over at Blue Apple Books where he’s done work on A Present for Milo and other stuff. Monsters Love Colors is his first Harper Collins title. One has to wonder if there will be an app for it as well someday. Who knows?
If you think 123 Versus ABC looks very Adam Rex you’re not alone. As far as I can tell, that’s a good thing. We need more Rexian art out there. Plus, let’s face it, this is a remarkably good idea for a children’s book. Written and illustrated by Mike Boldt, this eyebrow-rific title shows what happens when numbers go to war with letters. “They’re refrigerator magnets come to life.” Note to self: Buy refrigerator magnets for child. Those things are awesome.
See, the thing about Fancy Nancy is that she’s ain’t half bad. As a librarian you always have this instinctual gut-reaction when you see one of her books. Your innards want to say they’re just cheap pinkness meant to lure in unsuspecting little girls. But the doggone things have substance, and that kills me. They are written well and the art is lovely each and every time (at least, if it’s Robin Preiss Glasser actually doing it). The newest FN title is Fancy Nancy: Fanciest Doll in the Universe. When Nancy’s younger sister puts a permanent ink tattoo on her fancy doll’s previously fancy tummy it is not a happy household. Yet when the time comes for Nancy to pick her doll out of an identical line-up, guess who doesn’t have any difficulty? Sounds like it would make a perfect companion to Barbara McClintock’s Dahlia. Love that book. There is also a new addition to the Fancy Nancy early chapter book series, Nancy Clancy, Secret Admirer.
One final table to go and it sports Anne Hoppe and Phoebe Yeh.
Now first and foremost, here’s a book that I could have easily have passed over had I but thought it was that most unfortunate of literary genres, the eco-thriller. Something about the very term screams “didacticism” to me. Fortunately, Jinx by Sage Blackwood has been read by a couple folks I trust and though you could conceivably slap that moniker on it, it’s so much more. The first in a trilogy, the book is recommended to fans of Angie Sage, though Anne said the writing adhered more to Diana Wynne Jones. She also said it had “The best first chapter of anything I’ve published.” All I care is that it sounds like a good companion to The Mostly True Story of Jack, has a villain called The Bonemaster, and contains were-chipmunks. Honest-to-god were-chipmunks. Love.
From the author who brought you The Princess Curse a year or two ago comes Merrie Haskell’s next standalone middle grade title Handbook for Dragon Slayers. According to her editors, Haskell’s strength lies in her ability to conjure up complex girls coming of age and determining what their role in society will be. Noted.
At this point Phoebe Yeh mentioned that 2012 was a hard year for great authors. We lost two, Maurice Sendak and Jean Craighead George, almost simultaneously. As such, we’re seeing some of their books coming back into print where once they were gone from our shelves. In terms of Maurice two books of his are due this spring. One is a reprint and one a new title never seen before. The older book is the Caldecott Honor winner The Moon Jumpers. Apparently the art for this was still available so they re-separated it and reshot it to get the full effects. Sendak even signed off on the proofs before his death.
The other title is Sendak’s last book (or perhaps penultimate if that nose book ever comes out from Scholastic) and one of his most personal. Called My Brother’s Book, it focuses on Sendak’s older and much beloved brother. Tapping into the man’s deep and abiding love of Blake, this is being marketed as an adult title but is recommended to those high school teachers who do work with Shakespeare as well. There are, I should note, more than a few Shakespearean references inside.
The Jean Craighead George book is a new picture book by the name of A Special Gift for Grammy. George was apparently in the middle of two picture books when she died.
Next up, one of the best pushed and marketed books I’ve seen in a while. When KidLitCon was held at NYPL this year there was a moment when I saw a young man really talking up and pushing copies of this next title at my attendees. I’m not certain if that young man was a Harper employee or author Eric Kahn Gale himself but whoever it was it got my attention. Right off the bat we were told that this is a controversial little sucker because it’s a book that in the course of its story outlines how one goes about becoming the perfect bully. In this tale a kid who is bullied decides to handle the situation on his own. Told through both journal entries and the aforementioned bullying rules, the book taps into some serious black humor. They mentioned Jack Gantos as a possible comparison. Apparently Gale wrote the book after meeting with some of the bullies of his own youth only to find they’d grown up to become nice and decent people. I like to call that The Facebook Effect. It’s the moment when a person who made your life a misery in school Facebook friends you. We talked about this a bit in a recent Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL. Good stuff. In any case they’re going all out for this book, giving it a 3/4 jacket (something they haven’t done for a title since Walter Dean Myers and Monster).
Next up, a guy who was in the same screenwriting program at Columbia as my husband. I don’t know Mr. Soman Chainani myself but Matt tells me that he was a very nice guy and did often speak about this book of his being published with Harper. The School for Good and Evil sounds like nothing so much as Wicked with a twist (and less Oz). Two best friends are kidnapped and sent to different schools. One is a school for evil and the other for good. Thing is, they sort of get the wrong schools. At least that’s what I gathered from the cover. Still a little unclear but it looks fun.
Next up, a book that will make for an excellent nonfiction companion to Simon & Schuster’s Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story is one of those stand up and cheer books, but good for kids with Broadway dreams. Raised in Iowa with a dad that didn’t want him to have a life on the stage (then died of cancer), Alex had his chance to live his dream thanks to older siblings who were willing to do extra jobs to help him out. And as luck would have it he really did have a chance to become Billy Elliot on Broadway. Then, on the first night of his performance, he hurt himself and needed therapy to recover. Happily he returned and all was well and these days he performs with the New York City Ballet.
Here’s a tip to publishers: Want me to want a book instantly? Do as How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids by Thomas C. Foster did. All you need to do really is get Kate Beaton, the woman behind the wonderful Hark, A Vagrant webcomic, to do the jacket. I will buy anything she touches. Seriously. Love love love love this.
I eventually got almost all the references, even the Lord of the Flies one, but the lion still stumps me a little. Suggestions on that one are welcome. Best I could come up with was Pyramus and Thisbe.
Not entirely certain how a Zits illustrated novel by syndicated cartoonist Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman could be YA (they’re suggesting ages 13 and up?!?). Pity since if it were middle grade (like the actual comic strip) you could add it to the trend of syndicated cartoonists writing books for kids in 2012 (The Odd Squad and Timmy Failure respectively). Maybe there’s some sex and stuff in it? The mind boggles.
That, as they say, is it. Except . . . .
On with the Meets!!!
“The Natural History Museum meets Tim Burton” – Not sure if someone said this or I made it up myself (I suspect the former) but that’s a description of Carin Berger’s work on Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky
“Storm Chasers meets The Mysterious Benedict Society” – The Lightning Catcher by Anne Cameron
“The Artist meets Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” – That Is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
“Life is Beautiful meets The Walking Dead” – That’s actually my description of it, but I don’t think I’m too far off. That’s for The End Games by T. Michael Martin
“13 Reasons Why meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” – Wild Awake by Hilary Smith
“Ender’s Game meets Hogwarts in space” – Vortex by S.J. Kincaid
“Roald Dahl meets Lemony Snicket meets Gregory Maguire” – The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
I have been working with Bloomsbury on a series of 4 educational books all about 'Dealing with Feelings'. This involved illustrating many slightly frustrated or anxious faces! The books are written by Nicola Call and Sally Featherstone. Here are some of the happier images....
The past few months have brought some nice accolades for CITIZEN SCIENTISTS, each of which makes me proud and very, very grateful. Thank you to the teachers, librarians, scientists, reviewers and children’s book lovers who make these awards happen …
It was awarded an AAAS/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books (Hands-On Science category). You can read more about this award and all the 2013 finalists here.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) named it an Orbis Pictus honor book. You can read about the Orbis Pictus winner, the Orbis Pictus honor books, and more NCTE Recommended titles here.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) included it on their list of Outstanding Trade Books for Students K-12. Access the complete list here.
The New York Public Library included it on their 2013 list of 100 Titles for Reading & Sharing. You can see that complete list here.
The second Jasper John Dooley book LEFT BEHIND by Caroline Adderson and illustrated by me is now out and about with a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus:
After Jasper John Dooley's beloved Nan goes on vacation without him, he goes pththth.
It feels just like when the air leaked out of his beach ball. At school the next day, he writes a story about a snake that gets stepped on a lot. The story is so long that it needs staples, but he accidentally staples it to his stomach. That eventually somehow necessitates a full 28 Band-Aids, since it just keeps feeling like the air is escaping from his sad body, possibly through the staple holes. Jasper and best friend Ori, who is given to prefacing his statements with, “The thing is...” (a phrase that neatly captures his amiable take on the world), try to build a cruise ship out of leftover lumber, not altogether a success. Ori gets a bit bossy. A final trial comes when Jasper gets to bring home the class hamster for the weekend but accidentally loses it in his house. As in Jasper's first outing (Star of the Week, 2012), nothing truly compelling happens, but the concerns of this early grade schooler are so aptly, charmingly and amusingly depicted that it's impossible not to be both captivated and compelled. Clanton's simple black-and-white illustrations feature skinny bodies, oversized heads—and lots of smiles.
Early chapter book or read-aloud, this effort will leave its audience with lots of smiles, too. (Fiction. 5-8)
I find it funny that the second book got a starred review when the first was called STAR OF THE WEEK and did not. Either way both are very well written stories and a good choice for boys who are just starting to read chapter books (girls too!). I'm now in the midst of working on the third book, which just happens to be my favorite of the lot so far.
I’m just messing with you. No, I’m not going to actually review my book here. I’m not going to wax rhapsodic over the hidden meanings lurking behind the mysterious cupcake on the cover. I’ll refrain from delving deep into how Lexy’s emotional journey with the giants is just a thinly disguised metaphor for U.S. / Russia relations between the years of 1995-2004 (it isn’t, for the record). I won’t even talk about the twist ending since spoilers make for interesting, if sometimes heartbreaking, reviews.
No, I’ll just talk instead about how happy I am that publication day is here at all. And how pleasant it is to share that day with my buddy / pal / illustrious illustrator Brandon Dorman. I’ve had a couple chances to present the book so far (including one disaster that I’ll get to in a moment) and here is what I have learned.
1. It is possible to read this book to 3-year-olds thanks in large part to the pictures.
This is true. The text is bouncy, which doesn’t hurt matters any, but when one is dealing with very small fry it is also mighty helpful when you have eye-popping visuals on your side. And let me tell you, kids like the art of Brandon Dorman. More than that, they love it.
2. It is possible to read this book to 4-year-olds thanks in large part to the mentions of dances.
I have discovered by reading this at a couple daycares that if you teach kids jazz hands, interpretive dance, the twist, and the chicken dance in the course of reading this book, they don’t get bored. As a children’s librarian I was always the storytime reader whose peripheral visual would zero in on the single kid out of thirty that looked bored. This flaw in the programming has carried over to reading my own book. If one kid is bored I suddenly get this manic tinge to my voice and everything becomes a little more frantic. Be warned, easily bored children. I’m gunning for you.
3. Etsy is the creator of and solution to all of life’s woes.
I learned this truth when I constructed a necklace out of Caldecott cover Shrinky Dinks. To make the necklace I wanted something that featured fuses (as a nod to the name of this blog). So what do you do when you get such an urge? You go to Etsy and search for such a thing. In the case of my book presentations I decided I wanted blue furry boots. So I type “blue furry boots” into Etsy and what do I get? Something even better. Blue furry rave legwarmers. Oh, they’re the pip. Here’s what I look like talking to the kids in ‘em.
Dance for me, little children. Dance, I say!
They are also very easy to snuggle, if snuggling is what you want to do.
4. When you decide to go to a bookstore you’ve never visited before, give ‘em your phone number. Beforehand.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are TWO bookstores in Brooklyn called Powerhouse? As of Saturday, I did not. And thus begins my tale of woe.
I think there’s a general understanding out there that authors have at least one bad author experience tale they can tell. But that experience, as important as it may be, is not usually their VERY FIRST BOOKSTORE APPEARANCE. Because, you see, on Sunday I knew I was speaking at Powerhouse. So I Googled it, got the address in Dumbo, and merrily traipsed over there. The poor staff was cleaning up from an event the previous night and had no clue what I was talking about. Still, they were very nice and helpful and though they didn’t have any copies of my book I just figured folks might order it. Mind you, “folks” was a pretty optimistic term to be using in my head since nobody was there. I mean nobody. Little tumbleweeds would have been my audience had I spoke.
After giving it some time I packed up, the clerks apologized, and I went home. Mildly mortifying that no one in Brooklyn came to see me, but it was 11:30 on a Sunday morning. Not ideal.
And I would have proceeded in my merry little bubble for whole weeks at a time had I not gotten an email the next afternoon that made it very clear that I had gone to the wrong Powerhouse. That there are, in fact, TWO stores out there with the same name. Two. Not one. Two. And my lovely publicist at Harper Collins had even gone so far as to send me a link to the event with the address front and center. An address that was not in DUMBO at all but Park Slope.
So apparently (and this is where I sink into a puddle of 100% sheer uncut mortification) folks DID come to my event. Folks I like. Folks I would want to see. Folks who would want to see me and who failed to do so because this doofus author merrily went to the wrong friggin’ store.
What have we learned here today, children? Even if a publicist sets everything up for you, give the store your cell phone. All this would have been solved if the store had had my info and had given me a ring. There are other lessons of course (actually READ what your publicist sends you might be right up there) but you can bet I’ll be contacting all my future store appearances with my cell # right now. Yup yup yup.
I revisted a novel of mine with unexpected results. This time I was touched by the characters and what happens to them in a way I hadn't been before. Was it me just getting older and sappier, or does the narrative really have the capability of doing that? Just what does this story do for readers? And does it do enough of whatever that is to make it worth paying for?
Gundown is a thriller, and it is speculative fiction in that it takes place a few years from now and there are things in the story that haven't happened (yet). Other than that, it’s grounded in today’s reality.
I've done some rewriting, retitled it, created a new cover design, and I’d like to find beta readers who can give me feedback. I just don’t know what/how to think about this book anymore (one reason there's no blurb here).
I've tried marketing it as a thriller and as an issues novel. Where do its best chances lie in its present form? How to present it, or should I just let it rest?
I can email to you a PDF, a Kindle file, or an .epub (Nook and other readers) file. All I ask is that you read it as a reader and give me your reactions—perhaps in review form or whatever you’re comfortable with. I’m not looking for line editing, but any notes you have are welcome. More than that, I'm interested in a dialogue with readers about how to think and talk about it.
In the tradition of FtQ, I’m posting the opening page to see if there are any takers (yes, there's a poll). But today you’ll also be able to read the rest of the chapter. Your comments will be welcome.
The opening page of Gundown.
Jewel wove through the lunchtime crowd that filled the plaza beside the Chicago River. A breeze reeking of car exhaust swirled around the skyscrapers, but she liked its soft touch. She imagined she could feel the spring sun turning her mocha skin a shade darker.
The Wrigley Building clock said she had time to do a little window-shopping, so she headed up Michigan Avenue for Water Tower Place, not that she could afford anything in the boutiques there.
Two white dudes slouching against a gun store smacked kisses her way. A green stripe ran down the center of the blond’s buzz-cut hair, and a red do-rag decorated the smaller guy’s shaved head—he cupped his crotch and puckered at her. Ugh. She picked up her pace, her miniskirt riding high. They pushed off from the store and swung into step on each side of her.
Green-Stripe crowded against her. His sour stink assaulted her, and the skin on her arms goose-bumped. He said, “Hey, Brown Sugar.”
She wanted to say “I’m not your sugar,” but no, just keep going. Staring straight ahead, she said, “There’s a cop back there.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Murphy.”
Wishing she wasn’t wearing high heels, she broke into a run and darted between a couple holding hands.
Striding through the gray trudge of pedestrians along Michigan Avenue, Jake puzzled over why the U.S. attorney general wanted a meeting with him. Sure, she had her hands full, but she had an army of agents—the FBI, DEA, U.S. marshals. What could she want from a hired gun? He’d thought he was done with government work since he quit, but he couldn’t say no—not after the president had called and hoped out loud that he could help..
A tiresome clump of a half-dozen gang jerks swaggered toward him with cocky menace, semi-automatic pistols dangling in their hands. The gangbangers blocked most of the sidewalk, forcing people to step off the curb or sidle along a building front. Jake locked his gaze onto the eyes of the tall kid in the center and walked straight at him.
The kid kept his cool as they came together, but one stride from colliding he dropped his gaze and sidestepped. Never slowing, Jake cut through.
He focused on what he knew of the attorney general. He’d heard from his old contacts in Justice that Marion Smith-Taylor was honest and devoted to the law, and that she hated the under-the-table deal-making of politics. He had, too . . . once upon a time.
• • •
Do-Rag flashed past Jewel and then stopped a few feet ahead, arms spread wide. A hand grabbed at her elbow from behind. She jerked free, cut around a woman with a stroller, and then ran back toward the cop. “Murphy!”
Green-Stripe caught her arm and yanked her to a stop. He swung her to face him and leaned close. “You need somethin’ to relax you, chocklit, and I’m it.”
She yanked free and spun. His partner stood waiting for her.
They grabbed her arms and hauled her backward toward an alley. She pulled with all her strength, but couldn’t tear free.
Thirty feet away, Murphy stood and stared at her.
She cried, “Murphy?”
The punks dragged her into the alley; her call ricocheted from concrete walls. “Help me! Somebody! Hey!”
Glances flicked at her from the throng on the sidewalk and then skittered away. See no evil, don’t get involved, stay safe; she’d done the same a thousand times.
Now what she had to do was live through this.
• • •
A scream cut into Jake’s thoughts. Ahead, two scruffy punks pulled a young woman into an alley. A reflexive impulse to go to the rescue tried to come up . . . but a policeman was headed her way. Let the cop deal with it.
The woman’s cry came again. “Murphy!” The officer, a wide man with multiple chins, halted at the alley entrance and gazed at the action.
Jake reached the alley and stopped a few feet behind the cop. What the hell, he could spare a minute if needed.
The shorter punk held the woman’s arms from behind while the blond with a stupid green stripe in his hair ripped her shirt open. She wasn’t wearing a bra.
She yelled to the cop, “Murphy! Murphy, it’s me!”
Quick, smooth, Clothes-Ripper slipped his hand inside his Bulls jacket, pulled out an automatic pistol, and gave the officer a screw-you smile. He didn’t aim the gun, just held it ready.
How would the uniform handle it?
The cop moved on, hands clasped behind his back as if out for a stroll in a park.
There was a time Jake would have chewed the guy out for not doing his duty.
The kid replaced his pistol and unzipped his pants. A cry from the woman shriveled into a wail. “Murphyyyy.”
The cop didn’t look back. People flowed past, unseeing, as if they wore blinders.
Jake looked north toward his waiting appointment.
Back into the alley.
The woman staggered her attacker with a kick to his leg. He slapped her, and then had to dodge a knee aimed at his crotch. Girl had guts.
Jake sighed, stepped into the alley, and drew his .45 Colt automatic from the holster under his windbreaker. He pulled the silencer from his pocket, twisted it on, and settled into a marksman’s stance.
The punk holding the woman saw Jake, and his grin O’d toward a shout. Jake couldn’t allow a warning; the one with the gun was fast. Jake’s bullet stopped the kid’s yell in his mouth and slammed him back. His hands didn’t know he was dead and pulled the woman on top of him when he fell.
Jake shouted, “Freeze!”
The tall one spun toward Jake. He jerked his gun out of his jacket as he yelled, “You’re dea—”
Jake shot him in the heart. The kid staggered back, looked down at his chest and then up at Jake, his eyes wide like a scared little boy. His knees buckled and he collapsed, his gun clattering on the pavement.
A familiar rush of nausea hit Jake. He swallowed the sick feeling and focused on the mechanical rhythm of removing the silencer and stuffing his pistol into his holster.
The woman scrambled to her feet. Clutching at her torn top, she stared at the mess that had been her attackers, then at Jake. A strong face: ice-blue eyes, a dark scar curving down from high on her cheekbone.
He turned his back on her and stepped into the mindless herd. His thoughts went back to his meeting.
What did the attorney general want him for?
Would he give a damn?
Could he give a damn?
• • •
Jewel trembled, the scar on her cheek throbbing as though it remembered old trouble. She breathed deep and settled herself down. Her mama had always said, “In this world, you got to be hard. Ain’t nobody there for you but you.” Hallelujah, Mama.
She’d been lucky this day. She had to thank the guy, even if he was white—Mama’d taught her manners, too. Jewel hurried after him, trying to arrange her torn top into decent coverage, but one tit or the other kept falling out. Great, now she had to walk down Michigan Avenue with her boobs on display. And wouldn’t they love it back at the office.
She ran to the mouth of the alley and spotted her rescuer slicing through the crowd. She really should get back to her job, but, hell, he’d pretty much saved her brown ass. She shouted, “Hey!” No response.
He crossed the street. She hurried after him; damn, the man could move. The crossing signal switched to “Don’t” as he entered the Chelsea Hotel.
Jewel ran for it.
If you want to read Gundown and give me feedback on it, please email me with the format you want (PDF, Kindle, Nook etc.). Many thanks for your help and advice.
Full disclosure: I published this novel under the title We the Enemy. While reader reviews are strong, it hasn't thrived. I'm hoping Gundown is a better read.
I'm it! Elizabeth Rose Stanton tagged me! And not only me but also Jennifer K. Mann (check out her blog tour post HERE). So apparently Beth is not only ridiculously talented as an artist (I might be a wee bit jealous of her knack for thinking of unusual and brilliant things) but is also quite fast. If you have not yet come across her book Henny then you are in for a treat. The book is funny, curious, and also quite sweet. It is just the sort of book I wish I had made.
.On to the questions!
What am I currently working on? I am not so patiently awaiting the release of my next picture book REX WRECKS IT! which comes out at the end of September. It is about Gizmo the robot, Wild the monster, and Sprinkles the unibbit who all like to make fantastic creations out of blocks. And then there is Rex the t-rex. He wrecks EVERYTHING! I suppose I'm not currently working on the book itself but I am beginning to work on how to introduce Rex to the world. THAT requires a lot of work because (as previously mentioned) Rex wrecks EVERYTHING!!!
I am currently working on a number of projects. I'm just finishing illustrating the fourth Jasper John Dooley book which is called YOU'RE IN TROUBLE. Great title, yes?! It is my favorite of the JJD books. Caroline Adderson is an amazing writer.
I am also putting the final touches on a picture book I've been working on with Simon & Schuster called SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY (set the bar rather high with that title).
AND I am starting on final illustrations for a second Max book by Wiley Blevins which involves an egg. It works out perfectly because baby ducklings are currently hatching in my studio!
That little guy on the right hatched today!
With a couple of projects coming to a close I am also now exploring a number of new book ideas. They involve such things as dragons, robots, pigs, narwhals, monkeys, and evil mutant potatoes.
Why do I write what I write? I don't have a choice! Not that I want one. I have all these images and stories bouncing around my noggin trying to get out. My mind would explode if I didn't try to get them out somehow. And that is a scientific fact. It happened to a rhino named Marty. It wasn't pretty.
Also, I love to entertain kids! Doing school visits is the best. When I see kids laughing because of what I've written or when they ask questions about my characters or want me to draw pictures for them . . . it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction. It makes me want to keep doing this as often and for as long as I can.
How does my writing/illustrating process work? When it is working . . . it goes something like this . . .
1. I have a brilliant one-of-a-kind idea that I can't believe came to me. (Most of the time I eventually realize that the idea has either been done before or wasn't near as good as I originally thought.) These ideas can come anytime and anywhere. But for the most part I find them when out for walks, in the shower, or when procrastinating daydream-style.
2. I draw and write my idea out. I carry sketchbooks and pens with me ALWAYS. For me it is as necessary as having my license, keys, or pants . . . I fill up oodles of sketchbooks trying to work out the format for an idea, making notes about jokes I want to include, and mostly drawing the sort of character I want over and over again. I create little storyboards in my sketchbooks super quickly. It doesn't matter at this stage if it looks all that pretty. It just needs to get out.
3. I use Photoshop to compile sketches into a working dummy once I've fleshed out the character design, story sequence, and feel I want to go for.
4. Time for an editor to take a look? (Fingers crossed!)
5. HOORAY! The book will be published with ____________. Now comes a bunch of back and forth and revisions. I'll usually end up doing a number of new dummy books. This is when Photoshop is most helpful for me. It allows me to quickly explore and create revised illos.
6. HOORAY! HOORAY! I finally have approval to do final art. WAIT! NO! I DON'T WANT TO DO FINAL ART! Final? Can't we talk more about all of this. Maybe somehow the final illustrations can do themselves. Okay, fine. I'm going to do this. Time to buy and borrow loads of audiobooks and get to it.
7. After many light nights . . . submit!
8. A final few revisions and then it is time to wait for proofs and then for pubication.
9. Time to do it all again! HOORAY!
I'm afraid I'm not nearly as fast as Beth. But I have managed to tag one AMAZING person! Brooke Boynton Hughes. I believe someday that name will be a household name. She has a style that is truly hers and it is lovely. Her post will be up a week from now!
I'm also trying to tag Frank Dormer. The chase has just begun so I'm still hopeful, but even if I don't catch him . . . you should still check out his work. It is awesome.
My new book Python hits the book stores next month and just look what my wonderful publisher has created for me, especially the item at the bottom of this picture ... diecut bookmarks. And on the reverse of the bookmark are facts about snakes - including pythons of course! Awesomely excellent is Walker Books Australia.
The other two items (book cover and a photo of me!) are from the sales conference that I spoke at a little while ago and they too will accompany me as I am chit chatting about Python!
I was absolutely delighted today to attend the official opening by the lovely Governor of NSW, Prof. Marie Bashir of the Sydney Story Factory and the first Australian Martian Embassy and Gift Store (who knows, there might be a Martian Embassy in some other planetary system). And part of the official opening was the launch of the anthology - I Met a Martian and otherstories for which I wrote a piece. Every aspect of the anthology was donated including the stories editing, cover design, illustration, typesetting, paper and printing.
As one who believes in the power of story and creativity and how they can change lives I was absolutely buzzed to jump on board (sometime last year) and write my Martian piece. Now don't expect to read it here. You need to go buy the book! But I will let you know that it is a description of a Martian (Martianous martian). There are stacks of stories from other creative folk including Deborah Abela, Jaccqueline Harvey, Markus Zuzak, Sophie Masson, Melina Marchetta and Markus Zusak.
What is the Sydney Story Factory: The Sydney Story Factory is a not-for-profit creative writing centre for young people in Redfern, Sydney. Our volunteer tutors offer free help to write stories of all kinds, which are published in as many ways as possible.
Find out lots more about Sydney Story Factory at the website ... and also have a look at the short film called Measuring Up. This is a glorious initiative.
I checked Amazon the other day for new reviews and found one for The Summer Boy. It’s interesting to see the commonalities when a few have accumulated. See what you think.
I read this book in two days. I had to find out who the murderer was, how the young lovers survived, and how the various characters were going to deal with all the triumphs and adversities of their summer. It's a tale of friendship(the long-lasting kind), love, hatred, deceit - all told through the lens of a long, hot Texas summer. I felt like I was right there with them, sweat and all, while trying to do the right thing and grow up all at the same time. Highly recommend it for a good summer read, or a mid-winter read if you need the reminder of summertime!
An entertaining page-turner about teenagers coming of age in Texas. Two Dallas city boys -- rancher wannabes -- hire on as summer help on a ranch near Kerrville in the hill country. As they learn the ranching trade and lifestyle, they also face the challenges of emerging manhood, young love, sexual discovery, a dysfunctional family, and, well, a murder or two. The author adroitly portrays the adolescent awkwardness and angst of his protagonist, Jesse, and also his grit and courage. Jesse begins the summer as a naive boy, but arcs into a young man by August. His love interest, Lola, compels as a sensual teenager challenged by her own emerging sexuality, her abusive mother, and her lecherous uncle. She also grows through the summer,as her competitive spirit spurs her to become an independent young adult in spite of her over-controlling mother.
I read this book because I enjoy Mr. Rhamey's writing blog, "Flogging the Quill," in which he advocates for high tension, precise writing, and compelling action to motivate the reader to turn the page. "The Summer Boy" does exactly that. I couldn't stop turning the pages until the end.
I've read several of Rhamey's books, and one thing I love about them is his genre-bending style. In "Summer Boy" he gives us a murder mystery, a teen romance, and a coming-of-age story, all woven together with effortless skill. Rhamey has created a believable cast of characters--some heroic, some disturbed--whom readers come to really care about, plot twists rich with lethal pitch forks and black widows, and all of it supported by a back-drop of real-life Texas ranch experience--like how to prepare cactus for cow consumption during dry spells.
The main character Jesse's crush on Lola brought back my own teenage longings--minus the murder--without being sappy. A pleasant surprise was that Jesse's evolution over the course of the novel emerged not only from his encounter with first love and ranch life, but also from his challenging relationship to the jealous and dangerous ranch foreman, Buddy.
I read Rhamey's novels quickly, shaving off sleep time in order to finish them. "Summer Boy" was no exception. Highly recommended!
A warm and engrossing tale of growing up--Texas style. You'll find yourself rifling through the pages, as you sweat through the oppressive Texas heat along with Jesse, a young man struggling to survive his summer job as a newly hired ranchhand in 1950's Texas.
Jesse's journey to discover who he is as a man, and find his place in the world, is complicated by his budding relationship with a young woman, Lola, who he can't keep his eyes off of, a dangerous loose cannon of a co-wor
I apologize for the recent radio silence, folks. There’s something goofy in the state of Fuse 8. For one thing, I can’t seem to comment on my own posts. Most peculiar. I will assume that this is just a passing fancy of the blog and that all will be well and good from this day forward. Onward then!
This year, as some of you may know, I eschewed plastering myself with fake tattoos in favor of instead impaling myself with Shrinky Dinks at the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet. Shrinky Dinks: The classy choice. I did this because I was tired of picking clumps of multicolored skin off of my arms in airports, but if we want to get to the real reason behind the reason I can sum it up in three words: Becky Quiroga Curtis. More specifically, Becky Quiroga Curtis, the Children’s Book Buyer and Event Coordinator of Books & Books (also known as one of the only reasons to visit Miami). This is a woman who takes her love of children’s books and turns it hardcore. Oh, you think you love picture books? Really? Enough to have them tattooed onto your arm?!?! Just one arm, mind you. In any case, you can see how she convinces artists to draw on her arm here and you can see a feature on her at the Scholastic blog On Our Minds here and an older PW article on her here. You can also enjoy a slew of posts showing the tattoos if you follow the Becky’s Arm tag. Hard. Core.
By the way, folk. A bunch of you signed up to get cool PDFs of my Top 100 polls, yes? You may be wondering where the heck those PDFs are, yes? Well fear not. I have it from on high that they are almost done, looking good, and you should see them within the next week or so. Stay tuned, faithful readers!
On the One Hand: The recent news that Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan is being turned into a film is fantastic and I am very excited indeed.
On the Other Hand: The book is being turned into a screenplay by . . . . Stephenie Meyer. Hubba wha?
So I was looking at the very cool Spring 2013 Sneak Preview provided by PW, which offers a glimpse of some of the upcoming books next year. Fun stuff. And as I look I note several things of interest. The most notable is by far the fact that Yuyi Morales has a book coming out called Niño Wrestles the World that features a kid dressed as a Mexican wrestler . . . I’m beyond thrilled. Oh, and then there’s this little picture book coming out with Greenwillow called, um, Giant Dance Party. And who is it by? Well let’s see here. . . could it be by me? I do believe it could be. *smile*