Archive for jimmy

Morning Announcements: Tuesday Is Now Wednesday, etc.

I walked into a local school recently and saw this sign:

This kind of thing happens in schools all the time. And it reminded me of something I wrote in Better Off Undead, my “cli-fi” zombie comedy for middle-grade readers (grades 4-7).

Chapter 21 is titled “Morning Announcements.” I’m tempted to share the whole thing but let’s not today. Due to construction, the principal of Nixon Middle School has good news, bad news, and some really bad news to announce . . . 

“Until further notice, the cafeteria will be moved to the gymnasium. But P.E. will go on as scheduled. Just don’t confuse the meatballs with the dodgeballs! Heh-heh. The Choir Club will share a room with the Chess Club; they will both meet in the science lab. On Tuesday we’ll follow the Wednesday schedule, except for band members, who will adhere to their Thursday schedules — but only on Mondays. Lastly, the literacy center will be closed because of the asbestos problem recently brought to our attention by Janitor McConnell’s alarming rash. Get better soon, Mike!”


On Painting Houses & Writing Books

I painted my house this late summer into fall.

The outside.

Up on the roof, high on ladders. Scraping, priming, the works. A slow process. A day here, a day there. Weekends when it didn’t rain. Physical work, too. Hauling ladders, standing braced on steep inclines, literally hanging on for dear life with one hand in some places. It took some getting used to. Not my usual line of work. 

You should know that I’m not practiced at this stuff. No one would mistake me for a handyman. Others might handle this easily, but for me it was a challenge. My own mountain to climb. But for a variety of reasons — the $7,000 estimate and some spare time (virtue of grown children) — I decided to take on this big project. I sought out different friends for advice, tips, strategies. Bought the supplies. And got started.

There were times I was absolutely frightened. Because I so did not want to become that guy with the broken back, or worse. A distinct possibility. As time wore on, I get better with the heights. Felt safer, more secure. Used to it. But never ever fully comfortable. I don’t think you want to feel too comfortable. That’s when mistakes are made. 

One day, for instance, I purchased a long rope at Lowes. Came back home, looked at it for a long time, then went back and bought a thicker rope. I tied it around my chimney, put on a borrowed harness from my good neighbor Bill, tied the rope to it, and stepped out on the steep incline that I’d been dreading for weeks. Seriously, I’d look at that spot every day and wonder: How am I going to do that without falling? I hammered a nail into the trim and hung a small red paint can from it, so I’d have a free hand to hold onto the rope. Not so bad after all. Steady as she goes. 

I very much enjoyed it. Being alone. Slowly making progress.

In many respects, it was much easier than my regular job. The key was to accept the process, take my time and do what had to be done. Slowly, patiently, carefully. I didn’t have to finish the entire house. If the windows needed to be reglazed, I’d do it. Some rotted wood? I’d patch or replace. Just do what was in front of me. Winter was going to come regardless. I accepted that I might run out of time. Miss my deadline. And that it would have to be okay. 

Doing the job, I found myself dreaming up new thoughts about the book I’ve been writing. Or, actually, not writing. Stuck, trapped, bored, angry, blocked, uncertain. Whatever you want to call it. But I’ve finished enough books in my life to know that eventually I’d land the plane. Meanwhile I was circling in stormy skies, seeking open ground. 

I got distracted for days, weeks, months. Wasted time. Uninspired. Full of doubt. Did the world really need another mediocre manuscript? But I could gradually sense a thawing. Maybe the words would come after all. Maybe I’d have something to say.

The reality that no one — or very few — will care to read the final result was and still is part of the problem for me. To work so hard and fill it all with hope, only to be disappointed is, well, disappointing.

And yet, and yet.

Here’s the thing:

There was a moment that happened to me, and it happens to pretty much anyone who paints a house. I was up on the ladder, frowning. One coat wasn’t going to be good enough. It looked okay enough, but. Then I glanced down and to the street. Two women were passing, walking a dog. Could they tell? Would they ever know, from that distance, if I only painted only one coat?

No, I decided, they wouldn’t notice. 

But I would. 

And I realized, of course, that I was going to put on that second coat. The entire house. The walls and the trim. And with that decision, the job got a lot bigger. And more satisfying. 

Yes, I thought, painting is a lot like writing a book — even if no one reads it.  

$1.00 Offer for Jigsaw Jones from Scholastic — It’s the “BOOK of the WEEK”

TEACHERS, EDUCATORS: Scholastic has made this its “Book of the Week” — we shot videos, did an interview & live reading, I even put on my cleanest dirty shirt! — and it now sells for ONLY $1 if you order by Monday, December 5, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. Not a terrible idea for teachers, grades 1-3, who want to buy a gift for everyone in the class (which gets expensive). 

I’m grateful to the many folks at Scholastic who helped make this happen. Thank you!

UPSTANDER: Listening to the Audiobook

Here’s something I’ve studiously avoided until now — I’m actually listening to one of my own books on audio, borrowed from the library via Libby (though you can buy a copy if you prefer). Normally the idea of that gives me hives. But Upstander is read by a talented voice actor named Caitlin Davies and, to my relief, she does an incredible job conveying tone, pace, meaning, all the while somehow managing to “voice” a wide array of characters.

That’s a curious sidenote, btw: how many characters have spoken dialogue in this book? I’d never considered that before, never added them all up, but it must be more than 20.

Let’s see . . . I’m curious. There’s Mary, Jonny, Chrissie, Alexis, Chantel, Griffin, Cody, Hakeem, Mrs. O’Malley, Mrs. Williams, Ernesto, Mrs. Brown, Drew, David, Eric, Dez, Vivvy, Officer Goldsworthy, Sinjay, Tamara, Beatrice, Azra, Jamilah, Football Player #1.

I was wrong. Caitlin was required to give voice to 24 different characters.  And she does it far, far more masterfully than anything I could have stumblingly mustered.

This listening experience once again underscores the basic truth of publishing: it takes so many people to make a book & put it out into the world. These folks are dedicated, serious, and talented. Art directors and copyeditors, administrative assistants and production managers and, yes, even professional voice actors who can take a text on the page and make it come alive. Thank you, most especially, Caitlin; you are very good at what you do and I’m grateful for that. I’ve actually enjoyed the book so far. What a relief. But I’m only halfway through, so — NO SPOILERS PLEASE!

NOTE: Upstander is a prequel/sequel to Bystander. It begins before the Bystander timeline and then overlaps it in the second half of the book, offering a different perspective on a few “tentpole” scenes while also wandering down new avenues as well. It is not required that you read Bystander in order to enjoy Upstander. There’s no preferred order. However, I think that reading both would be pretty cool. As I have come to think of it, not a longer story, but a larger one. Thanks, as always, for stopping by!

Thankful for a Thousand Different Reasons

I’m lucky in a thousand different ways. I realize that. And one of those ways is that I get invited to participate in children’s book festivals. Rochester, Chappaqua, Hudson, Princeton, Morristown, Thousand Islands, Warwick, all over. Best of all, sometimes I even get invited back.

The continuity becomes part of the experience for organizers, authors, and attendees. I used to think that people would get tired of seeing the same authors and illustrators sitting behind tables — it’s important to bring in fresh faces, diverse talent — but there’s a particular beauty to the familiarity. The kid who you saw last year, or two years ago, coming back for another book, another conversation. But this time reaching for a title that’s a little longer, a little older. Or maybe just completing a series, finding that last book for the autographed collection.

Last time in Chappaqua, a familiar face strode up to the table. A good-looking kid, clear-eyed, sturdy & athletic, still wearing soccer gear, still smiling. He knew me and I knew him. “You’re back!” I said. He grinned. There had been a few meetings over the years, now stretching out across the wide pandemic. I was grayer, he was taller. His mother asked, once again, for a photograph. And in turn I wondered if she had kept any of the old ones.

A week later, she sent these along with a brief note: “Below are the photos from the Chappaqua book fair that you requested. It was amazing to see you again, and I loved talking to you as always.”


Like I said, I’m a lucky guy.

P.S. Hey, my friend, if you ever do start that soccer blog, please let me know. I’d love to read your work for a change!