Archive for November 30, 2010

So You Want to Write a Novel

I’m running out the door for a local school visit, but wanted to pass along a pretty great video.

It is frighteningly true: I’ve had similar conversations many times. I even mentioned the phenomenon in a recent interview, the shocking amount of people who want to skip the “writer” stage and proceed directly to “author.”

The video was made by David Kazzie, who blogs at The Corner.

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Fan Mail Wednesday #100! (Monday Night Edition)

Letters are great, but I especially love it when they include photographs.

Check out Bianca and Thomas from the wilds of New Jersey!

Their letters included a stamped, self-addressed return envelope, and I replied this way:

Dear Thomas & Bianca:

Thank you for the kind letters. I was especially glad to see that you included a photograph. I suppose if I was that good-lucking, I’d be handing out photos, too.

You’ll see that, as requested, I enclosed a signed bookplate. I’m sorry to say that I don’t actually have a supply of my own fancy bookplates to send out; I should probably get that done one of these days. I’ll have to add it to my “to do” list. I’m relieved that you “don’t mind one bit” if I have sloppy handwriting. Because it really is true: thank goodness I can type!

Thomas: No, I don’t do the illustrations. I’m a writer, the boss of the words. I think if you continue to improve as a reader, you might wish to try my book, Along Came Spider. It’s a little longer than Jigsaw, and the characters are older, but it shouldn’t be too very hard to read.

Bianca: Ack, no, I don’t live anywhere near the sea, even though the name of my town, Delmar, means “of the sea” in Spanish. However, in English I think it means “landlocked!” I have three children and they do read most –- but not all –- of my books.

I received a warm letter from your teacher, Ms. Kingsley. She sounds really, really nice. My parents are from Queens, NY, and so is Ms. Kingsley, so we kind of have that in common. And we both love Brooklyn, too. Oh, yeah, one last thing. She says you are GREAT KIDS and I believe her.

Keep up the good work. Keep reading, keep working hard in school.

My best,


Art for Sale: Sylvie Kantorovitz Wickstrom

My friend, the lovely and talented and confusingly-named Sylvie Kantorovitz Wickstrom . . .

. . . who was born in Casablanca, raised in France, and ended up in Albany, NY . . .

. . . where she has not only illustrated numerous children’s books . . .

. . . but has also continued to ply her craft as a fine artist . . .

. . . pretty good, right? I think her head might still be in France. I mentioned up top that Sylvie was confusingly named. Look at the book covers. She used to go by the name of Sylvie Wickstrom. Then she changed it to Sylvie Kantorovitz. She’s fun that way. We’re all waiting to see what name she’s going to come up with next. I’m quietly rooting for Sylvie Ishkabibble — just to further confuse the marketplace.

Sylvie just opened an Etsy site, where you can see (and purchase!) some of her original work for very reasonable prices. I just thought I’d give her a shout out. You know, use the powerful platform of to promote some beauty in the world.

NOTE: Greg Ruth, the illustrator of A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, also offers many original pieces of art for sale. Just click here!

Thank you, thank you very much.

Interior illustration, chapter 2, The Haunting of Charles Dickens, by Lewis Buzbee.

My Interview in Bangkok (sort of)

It’s never a good sign when a reviewer confesses that he’s “not into children’s books that much.”

Basically, I get to read them out of necessity, mostly with my students. Such is the case with The Case of the Vanishing Painting by James Preller, the 25th booklet in the Jigsaw Jones Mystery Series which I read with one of my thirteen year old Thai students.

The blogger in this case is a Bangkok-based, Romanian-born writer, journalist and educator named Voicu Mihnea Simandan. And he actually turned out to be better than okay. He gave the book a thumbs-up:

The story is well-written and is likely to keep kids glued to its pages. When a painting goes missing, Jigsaw Jones and his partner, Mila Yeh, try to find out who stole it. As Parent’s Night approaches and the painting is needed for the art exhibition, little detective Jones tries hard at eliminating the usual suspects. Of course, the “thief” is the last person you’ll ever expect. As with all books for children, all’s well in the end and everyone’s friends with everyone again.

Mr. Simandan  did not mention the book’s send-up of Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, so I thought I would: There’s a loopy, swirling, incense-burning, shawl-wearing substitute art teacher named Ms. Nicks:

Our whole class filed into the art room.

“Yuck, what’s that smell?” Bobby Solofsky complained.

Joey Pignattano blushed. “Maybe it’s me,” he admitted. “I think I stepped in something on the way to school.”

“It’s not you, Joey,” Mila said. “It’s that.”

Mila pointed to a wisp of smoke rising from a clay dish. The dish was in the palm of our substitute art teacher’s hand.

“Jasmine incense,” Ms. Nicks warbled. “It soothes the spirit and improves creativity.”

A few moments later:

“Center your energies,” Ms. Nicks whispered.

“Does that mean ‘sit down’?” Eddie Becker asked.

“I think so,” I replied.

Anyway, I digress. It turned out that Mr. Simandan was impressed by my Fathers Read project — it’s coming soon, promise! — and sent along a terrific photograph. He’s a gifted blogger and book lover with a lively mind, so he asked if I’d be willing to do an interview.

You can read it in full by clicking here. Our conversation rtouched upon my writing process, blogging, school visits, astral physics (no, not really), and we even discussed the future of reading:

VMS: Everyone seems to believe that children no longer read and, with the availability of affordable e-readers, many believe that, sooner or later, children will no longer want to hold books in their hands. Please comment.

JP: I’m not too worried about reading, per say, though I suppose that sustained attention for longer works might be in some danger. Maybe, I’m not even sure about that. I accept e-readers as a natural fact. Things change. I just downloaded some songs to iTunes, for example, and I grew up loving “albums.” But it’s still music, you know. However, however. I do very much believe in the value of THE TANGIBLE OBJECT, whether it’s a CD or a paperback book. I think there’s a relationship to the book that can’t quite be replaced by an e-reader.

My good friends have a daughter, Lucy, who spent this entire past summer carrying around Twilight in her hands. She read it over and over, the book was frayed and dog-eared, it was used, handled, and so obviously loved. I think the book expressed something essential for Lucy, it became part of her self-identity. She was the girl who carried around that book, a Twilight fan, and on some level she wanted the world to know that fact. Again, e-readers are fine. You want to read the new Michael Connelly novel, an e-reader might be the perfect choice. But I think we’ll always need some real books in our lives. We attach to them easier. They seem to mean more.

I should also add what I often say. Books are furniture. I can’t imagine a house without them.

Thanks, and so on and so forth

I came across this quote on a school visit during some down time. I loved it immediately and copied it down:




— Theodore Roethke

Confession: I did a little digging and could not find the source for this quote, or even confirm its attribution. But who cares!

I’ll tell you why I love it. I live a modest life, a little dull, probably. I’m a cliche: three kids, the house in suburbia, soccer practices in the minivan, etc. It’s so . . . ordinary. And I guess I once suffered from the image of “writer” as someone who lives an adventurous life, travels to exotic places, experiences big things, has important friends. And maybe, at times, fleetingly, I wished I lived that amazing life. But that’s the thing: I do. I already do. I have three children. A beautiful, loving, caring wife. Good friends. A house! I could go on and on. That’s enough material for a writer, the everyday fabric of our lives. It’s enough for anyone. We just have to absorb it, appreciate it, stand before it as if front of an alter and revel in the awe of it, this ordinary miracle, life.

So I’m thankful today, as a writer, father, husband, brother, son, neighbor, earthling.

And also: I’m grateful to you folks for stopping by here, of all places, in this cluttered world. I appreciate it. Just today I had to double my costs to up the giga-somethings to host this blog’s steadily growing traffic. Craziness.

* Thanks, too, for the folks who sent in photos for my Fathers Read project. It’s coming in December, promise! I’m so happy about this, it feels absolutely right, and really hope it contributes in some small, positive way to make the simple statement: Reading is a guy thing. We need male role models to sit down with a book and be counted. Please, keep sending in those photos.

* You can vote in “The Kiddo Awards” for A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade in the category of Best Illustrated Book of 2010. Greg Ruth did the illustrations. I sooo don’t want to come in last place.

* Harriett Levy offers a special holiday message of love. And I have to say, I loved this video about nine different ways.

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Almost forgot . . .