Archive for May 31, 2012

This Morning’s Sweet Photo

A friend sent along this note . . .

“He fell asleep reading your book. I couldn’t resist a photo.”

Grumpy Answers to Great Questions: Wastepaper Prose (and Other Literary Woes)

I was recently invited to participate in Round 7 of “The Author Insight Series,” hosted by the outstanding¬†Wastepaper Prose blog.

It was exciting to get an invitation anywhere, frankly, so I went out, bought a lightweight seersucker suit, and dithered over which holiday present to re-gift.

(Little known fact: I am 51 years old and have never owned a suit. Or a watch. Carry on!)

The Insight Series is actually quite impressive. In this case, Susan sent along a list of 16 questions to 23 authors. We all answer the same questions in our own way. My way was, naturally, the grumpy way; I feel like that’s my turf.

It’s strange to experience the compare-and-contrast effect of 23 writers answering the same question. I didn’t want to lose! Didn’t want to be the one lame author limping along in last place every time, feet blistered, clutching my side, gasping for air. Everything in life is a competition, as I tell preschoolers at every opportunity, and I was determined to avoid that kind of embarrassment.

Here are the answers to Question #1: “If someone had a behind-the-scenes pass to observe your writing process what would they see?”

My writing process in a picture. Do we really need

a thousand words?

In all seriousness, across four-plus years of blogging I’ve tried to write openly and honestly about my writing process . . . without sounding too precious about it. Click here if you care about that stuff.

I was glad for the opportunity to participate. Glad to be able to bring some sliver of attention to my upcoming YA novel, Before You Go. Authors come in all shapes, shades, and sizes — all with our own fingerprint — and it’s worthwhile, perhaps even inspiring, to celebrate that variety of voices. And guess what else? There was be PRIZES and GIVEAWAYS, signed books and such, at the end of the series. Go to Wastepaper Prose and knock yourself out. Hopefully you’ll discover some new writers in the process.

Four Old Family Photos

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.

Water!

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.

Sneak Peak 2: My New Series of Scary Tales

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.

Sneak Peak #1: A Pirate’s Guide to Recess

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.