Archive for May 27, 2010

Fan Mail Wednesday #89: Book Dedications

I recently got a note from a fifth-grade teacher who has not only given me guidance and support over the years, she’s become a friend. She recently sent  a query about book dedications (below), and I thought it was an interesting subject, so decided to share it here. It got me thinking about all the great dedications (East of Eden by Steinbeck, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne; the Lemony Snicket dedications in the books for “A Series of Unfortunate Events”; Harry Potter #7, and many more.

Here’s A.A. Milne’s lovely dedication to his wife:

Do you have a favorite? Care to share it?

No, I guess not.

But anyway! We begin . . .


We are publishing our hard cover books and I am getting ready to have the students write their dedications.  It occurred to me that I teach them the how to’s of this process, but not really the whys.  So, I’ve done a bit of research and found out why and how dedications first began.  My question to you is, as an author, how do you decide who to dedicate each book to?  What goes into your decision?  If you have a second to let me know, I’d appreciate it.  I thought it might make for a nice connection I could share with the kids.

Hope all is well.



I replied:


I guess I’ve never really thought much about dedications, since they tend to rise up from the book itself.

For example, I know that I’m going to dedicate my next book to my wife, Lisa. It’s a book that’s taken me a long time to write, so I don’t feel like I’ve been that great a provider lately. Meanwhile, Lisa’s hard work as a midwife — all the many sacrifices she’s made for our family — has truly made the book possible. Without her support, I could not have done it. And sometimes it’s important to say those things out loud.

At the same time, that’s almost always true, and I can’t dedicate every book to Lisa. She’d get a swelled head.

With Six Innings, an important person in my life had recently passed away after a long illness. He was a children’s book editor, Craig Walker, and had taught me a lot about books and writing and life — plus we had seen a lot of baseball games at Shea together — so it felt natural to dedicate the book to him. Funny, but looking back, I assumed that I had dedicated it to my mother, since I closely connect baseball with Mom because she’s such a huge fan.

Um, sorry Mom!

I’ve dedicated books to ideas. For Along Came Spider, “For the evens, and the odds.”

For Bystander, I wrote that book with my brother John very much in mind. Amazingly, he died the day after I handed in the first draft to my editor, so he became like a ghost haunting the pages; I had to dedicate it to his memory and the two boys he left behind.

You can never, ever go wrong dedicating a book to your parents.

I’ve sometimes had someone who specifically helped me with the book, either through inspiration or assistance, so I’ve dedicated books to teachers and classrooms that I’ve visited. I’ve thanked editors and friends; I’ve noted poems and baseball teams (see: Mighty Casey); I’ve celebrated new births and ex-wives (though not at the time!); and I periodically dedicate books to my children, when the book seems like a good fit.

And lastly, with Jigsaw Jones, and 40 books in the series, I’ve gotten a little silly at times. I dedicated The Case of the Food Fight to “Hostess Cupcakes.” A little frivolous, I suppose, but beneath that I thanked a teacher, Ellen Mosher, who talked me through a couple of plot points. Her thoughts and suggestions very much shaped the story I would write, and I wanted to show my appreciation.

A dedication is an opportunity to thank someone. It’s a chance to say something nice, without the mushiness of actually having to stand there and say it. A dedication can be serious, thoughtful, sad, or funny. It depends on you, the author. In the best world, it is appropriate to the book, a beginning of sorts, cohesive with the story. It should all hang together as a whole.

But really, it’s not that complicated. The answer is in your heart.

Hey, a bloggable topic!


P.S.: I remember a dedication by Johanna Hurwitz, I can’t recall the book, but it went like this: “To Robert Redford. He knows why.”

For an interesting article on dedications, which quotes the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Dedications with this withering line, “Dedications really do bring out the worst in authors,”  click like a maniac right here.

Collecting Children’s Books by Peter D. Sieruta has a nice blog entry about intriguing dedications from children’s books.

Here’s the Mamas & Papas with “Dedicated to the One I Love.”

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Summer Reading List

Over at the Semicolon blog, Sherry offers up a diverse and deep list for Summer Reading. In her words, “52 Picks for the Hols.”

As Sherry explains:

I used to love to read the British slang in books by C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, P.G. Wodehouse, and others. It took me a long time to figure out that those kids weren’t carrying actual torches in their pockets (how?), but rather normal old flashlights. And “hols” were holidays, any break from school.

Typical, Standard Englishman.

As for the point above, I believe that English charm was an aspect — just a small part overall, of course — of the appeal of Harry Potter to American readers. The unfamiliar words and expressions helped give the books an otherness that fit seamlessly with the content. I recall that when it came time for Scholastic to publish the American edition, there was some brief conversation about those nettlesome English words and phrases, concern that they might slow down (and thus, turn off) American children. The decision, correctly, was to keep the manuscript as it was on the page. I may have that wrong, and it could well be that Ms. Rowling would have insisted upon it, but there was a least a passing thought about Americanizing the manuscript, which often happens when books are taken across the pond.

It is hard to recall today, but there was a brief flickering moment when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was simply a good book, not a publishing sensation. I remember Barbara Marcus confessing to me, “We originally hoped we could sell 20,000 in the library market.”

Anyway, Sherry selects books from these categories: Picture Books, Younger Readers, Middle Grade Readers, Young Adult, Young Adult, and Adult Fiction and Nonfiction.

I was glad to see Six Innings make the list, along with these books in the Middle Grade Readers category:

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and A Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

Six Innings by James Preller

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mich Cochrane

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze by Elizabeth Enright

Galveston’s Summer of the Storm by Julie Lake

It is always a happy surprise and a great tribute to be included in these recommended lists, along with such respected company. I’ll have to go wash up, put on something nice. Maybe a sweater vest or something. Thank you, Sherry, whoever you are!

Ghosts in the New York Public Library: Who Ya Gonna Call?

The creative, awesomely fun folks at Improv Everywhere strike again — and this time, very close to our library-loving hearts.

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If you enjoyed that, here’s The Grocery Store Musical . . . Where’s Rob? . . . The Surprise Wedding Reception . . .  Subway Yearbook Photos . . . and more.

“Bystander” Named to Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Master List

“A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.”Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

A few things about Dorothy Canfield Fisher. She was not named after the Vermont State Children’s Literature Award; the Award was named after her.

Her mother’s name, spectacularly, was Flavia Camp. A name you’d expect to come across in a Roald Dahl novel. Miss Flavia Camp!

I was taken by this photograph. I love a mess of hair as a matter of personal policy. A handsome woman, strong featured. You can sense the mental toughness, the pioneer stock.

Here’s some quick biographical info (grabbed off the interwebs!) for this remarkable woman:

Dorothy Canfield Fisher (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an educational reformer, social activist, and bestselling American author in the early decades of the Twentieth century. She was named by Eleanor Roosevelt one of the ten most influential women in the United States. Dorothy Canfield brought the Montessori method of child rearing to the United States, presided over the country’s first adult education program, and shaped literary tastes by serving as a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club selection committee from 1925 to 1951. Her best-known work today is probably Understood Betsy, a children’s book about a little orphaned girl who is sent to live with her cousins in Vermont.

Though the book can be read purely for pleasure, it also describes a schoolhouse which is run much in the style of the Montessori method, for which Canfield was one of the first and most vocal advocates. The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award, named after her, is a unique award for new American children’s books, as the winner is chosen by the vote of child readers.

Anyway, why all the hub-bub about Dorothy Canfield Fisher?

I’m happy to announce that my book, Bystander, was named to the 2010-2011 DCF Children’s Book Award Master List.

First given in 1957, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award has honored quality literature for children for 50 years now.  Each spring, a committee of eight carefully selects 30 books to comprise the DCF Master List.  After reading at least 5 books from the list, students then vote for their favorite titles the following spring.  The winning author is invited to visit Vermont to speak with children about the experience of writing such fine literature for such fine people.

For a gander at an Annotated Master List, including all 30 titles, click here and explore. A lot of good books on there.

And for crazy fun, here’s something called a Prezi presentation of the list, created by Susanna Paterson. As my good friend used to say — wait, no — “What a world, what a world!”

Oh, yeah, here’s one more sweet quote by Fisher that I discovered clicking around this morning and had to share with you: “One of the many things nobody ever tells you about middle age is that it’s such a nice change from being young.

I almost completely agree.

Fan Mail Wednesday #88

Here’s a quick question I received from a reader of my 2008 baseball-themed novel, Six Innings (now in paperback — cheap!) In this case, I’ve included his last name (only) since it explains his curiosity.

hello mr. preller. i gotta ask ya who is frank ausanio? maybe someday ya can let me know. its strange to see that last name. now i’m curious… thanks and have a great day.

J Ausanio

I replied:

Dear J,

There’s a story behind that name, and now you’ve given me a reason to tell it. About five or six years ago, I was playing in a men’s hardball game in Kingston, NY. We had traveled over an hour to get to the game, coming from our jobs as carpenters and accountants, lawyers, troopers, and children’s book authors. We played under the lights. At that time we were part of the Capital District Senior Men’s Baseball League, in the age 38-and-over division. My team was the Pirates and we were good; we were playing (“versing?”) the Hummingbirds, traditionally one of the strongest teams in the league.

It was a close, well-played game, and we were down by one run in the final frame. The Hummingbirds brought out their new closer — he stood 6’1,”  weighed two hundred well-muscled pounds, and threw really, really hard. Word was he could still touch 90 on a good day. From my spot on the on-deck circle, it looked (alas) like a good day. He grunted when he pitched, which was unsettling to say the least. I had heard some talk about him before, this was Joe Ausanio, a former Major League pitcher who had played for the New York Yankees in parts of the 1994 and 1995 seasons. I later looked up Joe’s career statistics: He went 4-1 lifetime, appeared in 41 games, threw 53 innings, and struck out 51 hitters. Nearly a batter an inning, a very impressive statistic. However, Joe Ausanio surrendered 58 hits including far too many home runs (12), and walked 28 batters with a career ERA of 5.57. Not quite good enough to stick.

In other words, Joe was very aggressive, challenging hitters for better and for worse. And he had control problems, too many walks. The difference between succeeding in the Major Leagues as opposed to “failure” — in quotes, please — is razor thin. Joe later told me that he struck out five future Hall-of-Famers in his brief time in the Big Leagues. He would not bother to add my name to that illustrious list.

It was an honor to step into the batter’s box to face him. And a little frightening. I was determined to compete.

First pitch: fastball on the outside corner, a called strike. Wow, great location, I barely saw it. I stepped out of the box, gave myself a pep talk, stepped in again. Next pitch, same result. The bat never moved from my shoulder; the ball was on me too quick. Okay, the count was 0-2. No way was I going down looking. I choked up, reminded myself, fast to the ball, fast to the ball.

Joe Ausanio wound up, dropped down, and threw a sidearm curveball. A laredo, as David Cone used to call it. It started at my head and fell off the table, landing in the lower outside zone of the plate. I swung blindly, wildly, and missed the ball by as much as a ball could be missed. And I mean that mathematically. It would have been impossible to miss it by more than I missed that pitch. I was outmatched and outclassed by a former New York Yankee. No contest. None.

And I didn’t mind in the least. It was a privilege.

After the game, the two teams hung out around the coolers, had a beer and some laughs, talked the game over. It turned out that Joe Ausanio was a great guy, likable, modest, born in Kingston. At the time, he worked in some capacity with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (as they were called at the time), still hoping to catch on with a team. Joe still had his fastball, he said. Yes, I nodded, he still had his fastball.

Needless to say, the Hummingbirds won the game. Joe struck out the next batter, but then something wonderful happened. My teammate and friend Ron Smaka drove a line drive into RF for a clean single. Ausanio was stunned; this kind of thing did not happen often. He struck out the next batter and the game was done.

When I wrote Six Innings, I had to name 24 players, plus coaches, parents, friends, etc. I remembered Joe Ausanio — it was a lifetime experience for me, though I did hit against another former Major Leaguer in a tournament, an older guy who used to pitch for the A’s back in the ’70s, with somewhat better results — so I decided to use his name in my book. He’s a minor character on the opposing Gas & Electric-sponsored team. During a tense moment in the game, Ausanio throws a guy out at the plate with a rocket from center field. Here’s the scene (pages 102-103):

Ausanio fires from shallow center, the ball skips once on the grass to catcher Travis Green.

“Hit it! Hit it! Slide!” a cacophony of voices cry.

Scooter slides. Green catches the ball and sweeps the tag across Scooter’s cleats.

“Out!” the home-plate umpire yells.

In that instant, everything freezes, a DVD on pause, then explodes into action. Both teams, the fans, the coaches — shouting, cheering, hooting, protesting — every emotion galvanized at once, a kinetic charge of energy rising up through the five layers of the earth’s atmosphere, their cries and dreams climbing from troposphere to exosphere, soaring into the velvet void of deepest space. A roar that happens on Little League fields every day, in every town, city, state, and country all over the world, from Logansport to Osaka, San Cristobal to Little Rock. The sound the game makes when it is played passionately, with young hearts.

My best, and thanks for asking. Are you related to him?


Kirkus Reviews “A Pirates Guide to First Grade”

“Good fun, me hearties!”Kirkus Reviews.

Ahoy, lubbers! Here’s the first review for A Pirate’s Guide for First Grade:

“A little boy with pirates on the brain navigates the first day of school. Narrating in a vigorous piratespeak, he takes readers through his day. “Then in the galley, I mashed me choppers on grub and drowned it with grog.” It may come as no surprise to learn that school comes as a bit of a letdown: “ ’Twas good enough for lubbers, I suppose. But where’s me treasure?’ ” he asks his teacher, “Cap’n” Silver,” at the end of the day, and she obliges. Ruth matches the narration with striking line-and-watercolor graphics, surrounding his hero (who sports a skull-and-bones athletic jersey) with sepia-and-white pencil renderings of pirates (and a parrot) who silently kibitz on his day. Pirate-addled readers will dance a jig; press-ganged kids will be happy for the glossary. Good fun, me hearties. (Picture book. 4-7)

I’m not sure about “press-ganged,” this might be an advance copy that hasn’t had the final proofread. Or maybe it’s just a word or phrase I don’t know.

That said, I agree. The book is good fun and Greg Ruth’s illustrations are great.

UPDATE: You know what they say, ignorance is Jimmy! Author Kurtis Scaletta explains the meaning of a “press gang” in the comments section. Arrr.

Books for Boys: A Tribute to “William’s Doll”

“William wanted a doll.”

And so begins Charlotte Zolotow’s classic picture book, William’s Doll, illustrated by William Pene Du Bois. Published 38 years ago, and dedicated to Billy and Nancy, it is still relevant today — and very possibly moreso.

This title has been on my mind a lot lately, and comes to mind whenever the discussion turns to “books for boys.” Somehow the collective thinking about boys and reading has become muddled, to the point where “boys” has become a code word for “reluctant readers.”

I’ve talked about this before, here and here and here and elsewhere, and I don’t wish to repeat myself endlessly. Except to paraphrase Walt Whitman: Boys are large and contain multitudes. I find it unsettling, even disturbing, when I come across lists of “books for boys” that offer all the usual standbys: bodily humor, nonstop action, cars and trucks, sports, violence, and so on. You know, the kinds of stuff all boys like.

Imagine such a list for girls. Would it offend you?

And now imagine all the great books, and important thoughts, that would be missing from such a list. Because the nature of such lists is reductionist and simplistic and full of stereotypes, a narrowing of what children are and what children can become. Girls and boys.

Yes, for sure, I am strongly on the side of a teacher or parent who longs to turn a reluctant reader onto books. I can understand the desire for something sure-fire, a book that will turn the trick, unlock the door, open up the world of reading. But once that door has been pushed open, let’s not forget that boys can be sensitive, thoughtful, dreamy, mild, frightened, lonely, tender, loving, sad, and a thousand more things. It’s not just farts and firetrucks.

When my oldest son, Nick, was sick with leukemia, we struggled as parents. It was tempting to give him things, do things for him, make the experience easier and more enjoyable. In short: spoil him. After a spinal tap, how do you not buy that kid a lollipop? And a DVD of whatever he wants. So we did. But not always. My wife Lisa once said one of the most profound things about parenting I ever heard. Talking about this subject, she reminded me: “We’re not only trying to take care of a sick boy — we’re trying to raise a healthy adult.”

I think that applies to boys and reading.

So let’s look at this book, William’s Doll. To me, the best illustration is on the first page, before even the title page. You know, the page we hurry past on our way to the story. It’s a picture, we will learn, of William and Nancy from next door. Nancy is holding a doll. But if you glance quickly at that illustration, look at it from a distance, it is a portrait of every young family in the world. Father, mother, and child.

“He wanted to hug it

and cradle it in his arms

and give it a bottle

and take it to the park

and push it in the swing

and bring it back home

and undress it

and put it to bed . . .”

His brother and the boy next door did not approve.

William’s father brought home a basketball instead.

He practiced a lot

and got good at it

but it had nothing to do

with a doll.

William still wanted one.

So his father brought home an electric train. With similar results.

One day his grandmother visited. William proudly showed her the basketball and his new train. He also expressed his desire for a doll, explaining, “My brother says it will make me a creep and the boy next door says I’m a sissy and my father brings me other things instead.”

His grandmother listened attentively.

“Nonsense,” she said.

She bought him a doll. I love the detail in this description, the clicking of the eyes. It reminds me of my mother’s Shirley Temple doll (not that I ever played with it!).

The doll had blue eyes

and when they closed

they made a clicking sound

and William loved it

right away.

William’s father was upset. “He’s a boy!” he said.

And so the grandmother must patiently explain to her son:

“He needs it,” she said,

“to hug

and to cradle

and to take to the park

so that

when he’s a father

like you,

he’ll know how to

take care of his baby

and feed him

and love him

and bring him

the things he wants,

like a doll

so that he can

practice being

a father.”

I highly doubt you’ll find this book on a list of “books for boys.” It’s probably too sissyish. No, instead we’ll give them books about trains and basketball.

ENDNOTE: A song based on the story, with lyrics by Mary Rodgers and music by Sheldon Harnick, was included in the bestselling album, “Free to Be . . . You and Me.” In 1974, it was turned into a television special. According to producer Marlo Thomas, ABC fought to have the song dropped from the show. She recalled: “They wanted William’s Doll cut, because it would turn every boy into a homosexual.”

True to her ideals, and (importantly) armed with enough marketable power to win this battle, Ms. Thomas refused to comply, and the song remained. Somehow civilization was not destroyed — by this show, at least.

Click here for more on the sources of Charlotte Zolotow’s inspiration for this story, which was based on personal experience as a mother and wife. Commented Zolotow: “I wrote it out of direct emotional sorrow.”

“Versing” Replaces “Playing”

Maybe you’ve heard this:

“Who are you versing today in the Little League game?” Justin asked.

Or maybe this:

“I was versing some kid in China on Madden ’10!” Sammy said.

What we’re hearing, of course, is a new usage of the word “versing” instead of “playing.”

Have you noticed?

I think it’s fine. I’m not a purist. Language lives, it writhes and shifts, you can’t pin it down. I haven’t put it in a book though, and that’s got to change. Maybe I’ll find a way to stick it in my current novel, in an exchange of dialogue.

Here’s a brief blog entry, “Averse to versing” on the topic over at The Edited Life. She writes:

This is heebie jeebies, nails on a chalkboard kind of stuff for me. And I didn’t get where it was coming from until I started watching them “verse” each other on the Wii. For example, in the Shrek SuperSlam game, the announcer says, “Shrek versus Donkey!” Instead of thinking of versus as a preposition, the kids were hearing it as a verb.

I must interject this aside:

“Surfing the web” has become synonymous with “wasting time.” But when I selected this topic for today’s blog entry, I knew it would drive me into the dark waters of the internet. So I dived in, gladly. I clicked and followed links and there I was, suddenly, reading some stranger’s blog — a woman named Gwen — and her reflections of her mother who passed away a couple of years ago. It was direct, it came from the heart, it felt true. I enjoyed those “time-wasting” minutes, like talking a daily walk in the forest behind the house. You never know what you might find, or think, or feel, during these times off-task. There’s value in it, I truly believe that. Yes, I have work to do, and a deadline, but there’s always time for a walk in the woods!

I first came across “versing” — or first noticed it (big difference) — when Grammar Girl asked this question on Facebook: “Have you heard kids say “versing” to mean “playing,” as in “who are we versing the week”? Two people below say their kids use “versing” this way. Apparently it’s derived from the use of “versus” to describe a game, as in “the Bears versus the Bulls.” I’m wondering whether it is widespread or regional.”

The range of responses was pretty interesting, some examples:

“Never heard of it.”

“The 10 year olds in the Philadelphia suburbs say it.”

“My 19 year old Colorado gamer (Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) has used it for years. And I have been correcting it for years. I thought it was just him.

“My 11yo says it all the time, and I’m constantly correcting him and making him say it correctly. (I may need to apologize to him, however, since I accused him of making it up out of laziness!)”

“Texas: OW OW OW MAKE IT STOP!!! I”m going to tell all my [borrowed] children — nieces/nephews/babysitters — that they will be BEATEN if I hear this from them. And if I were still teaching, ditto.”

Two Years of Bloggy Goodness

Two years of blogging! I am now a statistical freak of nature. During that period, I’ve neglected my kids, my wife, job, hygiene, dog, pets, laundry and more. But I’m still blogging. And that’s what matters!

I’ve shared my responses to 87 pieces of fan mail, interviewed a countless number of luminaries (countless? read: too lazy to count), and documented the release of Six Innings, Along Came Spider, Mighty Casey, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Secret Skeleton, and Bystander. In the next two months, two more books will hit the shelves: Justin Fisher Declares War! and A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade. It’s been fun sharing these experiences, and more, on the blog. I’ve also enjoyed the creative outlet, having a place to log these varied thoughts, observations, and enthusiasms.

I’ve managed 455 posts over that period, which averages to nearly 6.7 posts a day! This site has had 60,763 visits, 133,425 pageviews at 2.20 pageviews per visit, and 43,442 “unique” visitors. And my mother doesn’t even own a computer.

No, I don’t know what that means, either. Does it make me popular or not so much? No idea.

But I do know I’m grateful to everyone who has stopped by to check it out. And I’m especially grateful to my Nation of Readers who swing by on a semi-consistent, or even once-in-a-while basis. Thank you.

I mean it: I’m looking at you.


Here’s a few of my greatest hits, soon to be released on 8-Track Tape!

The Charles Chips Man

What Is a Book for Boys?

Bullying: When I Stood By and Did Nothing

Snow Blow Love

The Lynda Barry “Distraction”

An Open Letter to President-Elect Obama

What’s In a Book Cover?

Baseball, This Invisible Thread

Revising on the Run: A Work In Progress

In our continued mission to pull back the curtain on the creative process — without, hopefully, going overboard on the me, Me, ME business — I submit the following:

Every writer works differently, and often individual writers might use different approaches for each book. There’s really no formula beyond: git ‘er dun.

While I recognize the value of blasting out that first draft — it’s time to turn on the faucet, not tinker with the plumbing — it’s not really how I work on a longer piece of fiction. I will take that approach for a scene, or for as long as the energy carries me (best, handwritten on a notepad). I’ll knowingly write sentences that are pure garbage and not fret in the least. Because it’s about riding that forward push of story while that fickle mistress, Momentum, has my hand.

Here’s a picture of what that’s like. You hang on and know that it will all come crashing down at any minute, so you try to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

But unlike some authors, I constantly circle back, fuss, reread, rest, and tinker — while I try to push the book closer to its conclusion. Maybe that’s not an advisable habit, I can’t say. (Cleaning as you cook, I guess, as opposed to my wife’s glorious mess in the kitchen.) In the best world, I tend to revise and write simultaneously. When it works — Six Innings, Bystander — the typical revision process is quick and painless. Other times, I’m just a mess all the way through and need to be saved by my editor, most recently in the case of Along Came Spider. Thank you, Shannon Penney.

Ultimately, I know this: No reader cares how you got there, the only thing that matters is the printed  page.


I don’t sleep well. Insomnia. The engine revs, the car’s stuck in neutral. So two nights ago I groggily scribbled some words in the dark of night, ideas for improving little scenes that were previously written. Here’s that scrap of paper:

Can you read it? That, folks, is my lefty scrawl. From a prone position, middle of the night, sleepy. Not that wide awake is much better.

Again, this is a YA novel, with characters around age 16. I’ll quickly take you through it.

“Hey you,” that’s promising

NOTE: There’s a conversation between two boys, analyzing a text message from a girl. I had the idea of tagging “Hey you” in front of the message, and adding some conversation (hopefully humorous) about the potential meaning of “Hey you” as opposed to, say, “Hi” or “S’up.” Jude’s friend, Corey, sees “Hey you” as a very promising sign of great import.

Tree — butt-ugly — umbrella

nothing can keep out the rain

NOTE: There’s a large, old, ragged maple next to the main character’s house, keeping it in shade. It’s a minor detail. As I’ve gotten farther into the book, this tree has taken on unexpected metaphorical responsibilities, and I felt I needed to insert another reference to it earlier in the text (it gets chopped down in the end, to let in the light). These quick notes remind me to have Becka, the main girl in the story, comment on the tree’s ugliness; to have Jude, the boy, convey that his mother — worried about sunlight fading the rugs, among other things — thinks of it as an umbrella; and Becka to reply, matter-of-factly, “Nothing can keep out the rain.” Typing that just now, I wonder if I should change “rain” to “weather.” Mostly, I have to be careful with this, keep a light touch, and not turn this into Big Meaningful Tree.

– you have green eyes

NOTE: I simply decided that Becka has green eyes. Actually, last night on a separate scrap of paper at 3:00 AM I wrote this sentence:

And then the word came to him: turquoise.

Finally, there’s this:

– why are you so sad?

– downturn to your mouth, when you are thinking.

NOTE: I haven’t written this scene yet — it’s actually on today’s “to do” list. I want Becka to recognize the unspoken sadness in Jude, that buried darkness he carries around. Of course, it’s part of what attracts her to him, his sensitivity and depth. That she sees it in Jude, a detail that most others miss, indicates they might be right for each other. It also serves as a tool to pry open his secret.