A friend sent along this note . . .
“He fell asleep reading your book. I couldn’t resist a photo.”
Busy day yesterday, as I drove down to CitiField (300 miles round trip) with Gavin and Nick to catch the Mets. My attendance record stands now at 0-3, and each game fairly abysmal. This is the price I pay, I tell myself, for being in attendance for Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, when the Amazin’s won it all and later went on The Ed Sullivan Show to sing, “The Impossible Dream.” Oh well, my boys were happy. It was a sweltering day, the sun beating down on our heads, and I spent more than $40 on water at the park.
Anyway, I wanted to post two photos yesterday for the holiday . . .
My father served in the Air Force. This photo was taken during his basic training in Tennessee, 1944. He wrote on the back of the photo, presumably sent to his parents in Queens, NY: “Here I am all dressed up. My hat is on cockeyed. Don’t I look independent?”
My brother Bill, the second oldest in the family, served in Vietnam. I figure this shot for somewhere in 1967-68. I remember when he was over the there, and the body counts on the nightly news, a little boy wondering, hoping. When he came home, I ran and jumped into his arms.
When you warm up the old scanner, it’s hard to stop. This is from my sister Barbara’s 8th-grade graduation from St. Frances de Chantel in Wantagh, NY. Back in in June, 1965, when the number one songs for the month were: “Help Me, Rhonda,” The Beach Boys; “Back in My Arms Again,” The Supremes; “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” The Four Tops; and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” The Byrds.
Music was really, really great when I was a kid. And it was about to get even better. (I think 1967 was the best year for music in the 20th century, since you asked.)
I used to be two years old. Go figure. This is from April, 1963, and I’m next to my sister Jean, age 5, going on 6. She was something with those straight bangs. On school visits, I’ll sometimes joke that there are no photos of me, because nobody bothers taking pictures of Kid #7. There’s truth in that, of course, but I’ve found some scattered old photos, too. Usually I’m standing next to somebody else, or a brother’s new car. These photos have become my small treasures.
Last month I handed in the manuscript for the first book in a new series — my first since Jigsaw Jones. Though Jigsaw is still around, with many titles still available, I haven’t consistently written new books in that series for the past six years.
In the intervening time, I’ve published hardcover books, a first for me, in picture book format (Mighty Casey, A Pirate’s Guide for First Grade) and for older readers (Six Innings, Along Came Spider, Justin Fisher Declares War, Bystander, and Before You Go).
I haven’t written specifically for what was once my core readership, the grades 2-4 crowd. I needed to step away, explore different things. But now I’m back, writing 80-page chapter books for exactly that age group. And I have to tell you, I’m absolutely in my comfort zone with this new, evolving series — my “Twilight Zone” for younger readers.
Here’s a sample page 1 from my first draft, scribbled out on a yellow legal pad (as if my usual practice):
Kind of messy, right? Not sure you can read this. Lots of interesting changes/revisions/improvements on the fly. I gave the sister an early line of dialogue, then to the side, later, asked myself: “still sleeping?” Brought “Our new home” up into the first paragraph, deleted words and phrases, etc.
Last week I received the copyedit in the mail, which I reviewed over the phone with my editor, Liz. So now that same section looks like this:
The ring, I learned as I wrote, figures large in the story. There is a power to it. So during revision I made sure to get it into that opening scene, underscoring Kelly’s relationship to it, giving it, in other words, its moment.
I was grateful to receive positive feedback from my publisher, since the first book in a new series can be tricky. You make many decisions that you’ll have to live with for the length of the series. Jean Feiwel sent me a note, “I love love love this book.” That was good day. I was not asked to make any big changes, just light revisions. In another month or so I’ve receive the galleys, with the corrected type set in a carefully-selected font, exactly as it will appear in final book form, and with it the opportunity for another round of tweaks, improvements. The artwork will come in within the next two weeks — and there will be a lot of it. That’s exciting. I can’t wait to see what the (super-talented, surprise) illustrator does with the story. All the while, I’m writing the second book of the series, which is due in another month.
The series, tentatively titled “Shivers,” will launch in the summer of 2013.
EDIT: Now called “SCARY TALES.”
Starting a new series presents many challenges, the thrill of creating something brand new. Hopefully this will be the beginning of something great. That’s always my dream going into a job, “Maybe this one will be great.” I don’t think I’ve gotten there yet, but I keep hoping.
We are not interested in creating a formulaic set of stories, stamped out by a factory. We want each book to stand alone, featuring different characters and different settings. Again, in this sense, I am inspired by Stephen King and “The Twilight Zone” (and yes, I own the complete series on DVD), which rather than one type of story, featured a comprehensive variety of sub-genre, including science fiction, horror, social satire, fantasy, ghost stories and countless variations. My hope is that across a number of books we’ll be able to accomplish something similar in terms of scope and content, while still maintaining a signature fingerprint. When a reader opens a “Shivers” book, he’ll know that he’s about to get strapped into the roller coaster, taken for a wild ride, and returned back safely again — hopefully screaming, “Again, again, again!”
For fans of process, here’s another example of how the story moved from first draft to copyedit:
The copyedited version, which arrives after many revisions by me at home before it goes to the publisher, represents the first edited response from my publisher. Again, this sample shows a light touch by the folks at Feiwel & Friends, thank goodness. Note the circles around “Liam.” We commonly refer to this as an echo. Sometimes when we use a word too many times over a few sentences, or when, in this case, the paragraphs open in the same way. Doesn’t mean it must be changed, just that it should be looked at, considered, before it is changed or not. Alert readers will also note that I changed “‘Hello,’ he called” to “‘Hello,’ he bleated.”
A little lamb, lost in the wilderness.
Have a great Memorial Weekend, everybody. And please remember why we celebrate it. Be grateful to the uniformed men and women who have served our country over the years.
Avast, ye scallywags! Greg Ruth is currently illustrating the sequel to A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, in which we take it out to the playground and introduce fierce Captain Molly.
Look for A Pirate’s Guide to Recess (Macmillan) in the summer of 2013.
A quickie today. A boy named Dominik wrote a brief whisper of a letter, and concluded with a sentence that cracked me up.
My favorite scene in every book is when the case ends.
I told him I often feel the same relief. Okay, sure, I know what he meant, that moment of satisfying resolution when the detectives get their man. But substitute “book” for “case” and it reads differently.
I like it when the letters include artwork.
Hey, thanks for your typed letter, the terrific drawing, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Well played, young man!
I’m glad you liked The Case of the Haunted Scarecrow. It has one of my favorite moments in it, when Mila figures the suspect might have printed his name in the shirt. After all, moms and dads do that for kids all the time when they go to camp. So Jigsaw checks the shirt and says, “We’re looking for a kid named Eddie Bauer.”
For blog readers, here’s the scene where Mila and Jigsaw investigate the mysterious scarecrow . . .
Mila fumbled with the shirt collar. “My father’s a neat freak,” Mila jabbered. “He organizes everything. He even writes my name in the back of all my clothes.”
Mila smiled. “Look,” she said.
I craned my neck to read the label. “We’re looking for a kid named Eddie Bauer.”
“That’s the clothing label!” Mila said. “Read the other name.”
I read the name that was printed on the marker: Buzzy Lennon.
I looked up into the trees. There were hardly any leaves left. The sky was crisp and bright. Halloween was next week, then Thanksgiving, then the frozen days and nights of winter. I turned to the front door of the sad, old, silent house. “Let’s see if the doorbell works,” I said.
The door slowly opened with an eerie squeak. Mrs. Rigby’s small, red-rimmed eyes blinked in the sun.
“Yes, what is it?” she asked.
I got the name of the old lady who lived alone in the house from a song by The Beatles: “Eleanor Rigby.”
I appreciate your idea for a different ending. And you are right, that would have been smart. Too bad that Buzzy was so lazy -– he’d rather cheat than do an honest day’s work.
It was nice hearing from you. Keep on reading those books!
When you are an author, and if you are lucky, kids send you letters. Some are formulaic, an assignment; others go deeper and seem more genuine. And some letters chip away at your heart — and you try to answer the best way you know how.
I won’t share the full letter here, or my reply. But read this . . .
To mix things up, I thought I’d run a “Fan Mail Wednesday” piece on an actual Wednesday. I think it’s good to keep readers off-balance. So, here’s a good one. I only wish I could share with you the name of the letter writer, it’s just one of those perfect names that authors like me love to steal.
Thanks for your wonderful letter, I really enjoyed it. I don’t hear from many students who write in cursive –- I thought it had gone the way of the dinosaurs. These days I sign my books in print, because I assume that most kids can’t even read cursive.
Smart that you picked up on Joey’s eating. There are many characters in the Jigsaw Jones series, 40 books, 250,000 words. I try to make each character complete – an individual. I do that by trying to give each one a few distinct traits. Joey is a little goofy, sweet-natured, and he often takes things too literally, like Amelia Bedelia (as when, in The Case of the Rainy Day Mystery, Jigsaw tells him to “put a tail on Bigs Maloney”). But the real key to Joey is his enthusiasm for food. He eats fast, and usually has a crumbled Oreo in his back pocket.
Art by Jamie Smith from The Case of the Rainy Day Mystery. Sadly, it looks like Scholastic has let this most excellent book go out of print. I dream of getting the rights back for these neglected books, and republishing them myself. I know I could sell ‘em.
So, hmmm, some people think you are weird. Maybe you are a different, I don’t know. But there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m often bored when I meet super-normal people, you know what I mean? I think it’s our quirks and oddities that make us interesting. And believe me, everyone has a little bit of weirdness inside. We’re human beans, after all; it’s our differences that make the world go round.
Anyway, as we travel through life, we eventually find and attract the right kinds of friends –- the people who like us for who we are. If someone thinks you are weird . . . so what. You don’t have to “not like them,” but I do recommend not paying much attention to that kind of thinking.
Be yourself, H_____. Thanks for your kind, well-written letter. You made me happy, and I think you’re terrific. My best,