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Authors in Support of Ronald McDonald House Charities

I had the privilege of participating in an event at the Little Book House in support of the important work performed by Ronald McDonald House in the Capital Region. Having long been on the receiving end of their generous giving, I was only too glad to be there.

Five other local writers — all new to me — were very, very impressive: debut author Emma Kress (Dangerous Play); debut author E.L. Shen (The Comeback); YA debut author Jennifer Dugan (Hot Dog Girl); Janine Cammarata (The Puzzle Quest series); and Michael Burns (Nervous Rex). There’s something about a debut author that touches my heart, all the talent and innocence and excitement right at the moment before the publishing industry grinds them down to dust! Local teachers & librarians, please look out for those books.

Special thanks to Nancy Damato for spearheading this lovely event. Also, thank you to Susan Novotny of The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, for hosting us with charm and grace. 

This Saturday, 11/6, You Can Zoom Into the Rochester Children’s Book Festival — from Anywhere — and It’s Free!

A FREE VIRTUAL EVENT

The Rochester Children’s Book Festival goes VIRTUAL this Saturday, November 6th for a full day of FREE panel discussions and readings with a diverse assortment of children’s book writers and illustrators.

I’ll be staggering around in Room 2 at 2:00pm, moderating a (hopefully!) lively and (hopefully!) entertaining conversation about chapter books and series writing with Michelle Knudsen, Laurie Calkhoven, and Judy Bradbury. See below for a full list of participating authors and events.


         

         

You can also order signed book from all participating authors through the festival website.

REGISTER NOW by clicking this link and following the instructions.

Here’s the schedule for the day:

 

10:00 AM

ROOM 1

Read To Me Corner – Picture Book Stories Read By The Author

Annette Dunn

Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Unseld Robinson

ROOM 2 

Picture Books: How Are You Feeling? Coping With Emotions

Heidi Stemple

Jane Yolen

Susan Verde

James Howe

 11:00 AM

 ROOM 1 

Graphic Fiction: Drawing Demonstration  (Interactive – Pencil And Paper Required)

Frank Cammuso

Steve Ellis

Brian Yanish

ROOM 2 

For Our Younger Book Lovers: Stories and Songs (Interactive)

Iza Trapani

Tiffany Polino

Margaret Pence

12:00 PM

ROOM 1

Fantastical Fantasy for Middle Grade Readers

Vivian Vande Velde

Sheela Chari

Bruce Coville

ROOM 2

Historical Fiction – Fact and Fiction Storytelling

Keely Hutton

Elizabeth Falk

Susan Williams Beckhorn

Marsha Hayles

1:00 PM

ROOM 1

Diverse Themes in Middle Grade Literature​

Alex Sanchez

MJ and Herm Auch

Leslie C. Youngblood

ROOM 2

How Authors Use Poetry and Verse To Tell A Story

Linda Sue Park

Joseph Bruchac

Nikki Grimes

2:00 PM

ROOM 1

Picture Books: Fiction and Non-Fiction

Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Kevin Kurtz

Mylisa Larsen

ROOM 2

Get Hooked on Chapter Books: Mysteries, Non-Fiction, and Humor

James Preller

Laurie Calkhoven

Michelle Knudsen

Judy Bradbury

3:00 PM

ROOM 1

Doing It All: Writing and Illustrating Your Books

Jeff Mack

Frank Cammuso

ROOM 2

How Picture Book Authors and Illustrators Work Together​

Peggy Thomas

Kathleen Blasi

London Ladd

Yuko Jones

4:00 PM

ROOM 1

How To Write Non- Fiction That Middle Graders Want To Read​

Ronny Frishman

Rose O’Keefe

Andrea Page

Sally Valentine

ROOM 2

Read To Me Corner – Picture Book Stories Read by the Author

Mylisa Larsen

Yuko Jones

Kathy Blasi

THANK YOU

FOR SUPPORTING THE ARTS

IN THESE CHALLENGING TIMES!

 

Chapter 5, UPSTANDER: An Excerpt

It’s not a simple thing, selecting the right excerpt to share. So many factors to consider. The selection can’t be from too late in the book, too riddled with spoilers. But you don’t want the isolated excerpt to mislead the reader into thinking, Oh, so that’s what the book is about! Because, obviously, it’s about so much more. This is but one chapter out of thirty-eight.

When reading aloud to large groups, I tend to go with two options: 1) Something funny, or 2) Something dramaticI think curious fans of Bystander might particularly enjoy Chapter 11, which details the origins of Griffin and Mary’s relationship. But I didn’t go with that here. Instead, we’re early in the book, a look into Mary’s home life. Is that the heart of the book, where our main character is more witness than participant? An innocent bystander watching the struggle between her brother and her mother? 

Sigh. Who knows.

Will six people even read this? Instead of “Who knows,” maybe I should have typed, “Who cares!”

The chapter below is just a taste of the writing, I guess, and some of the themes explored in the book. It’s a domestic scene, centered around a kitchen table. And that does feel right for many of my works of realistic fiction. I’m fascinated by closely observed moments that take place in families, the literature of the kitchen table.

It is summer, school is soon to begin, and Mary makes the mistake of entering her own home . . . 

 

5 [marshmallows]

Walking home, Mary resolved not to think about Griffin Connelly. That boy had jangled her nerves. We have a connection. Yeah, right. She looked forward to popping a marshmallow—or, okay, three— into her mouth. Not at the same time, of course. Eating marshmallows always helped bring her world into balance. Namaste, Mary thought, grinning to herself. She imagined a chubby marshmallow, with little stick arms and legs, doing yoga. Downward dog, maybe, or meditating. That might be funny to draw. Ohmmmm. If she could think of a clever caption, it might even be a cartoon: the mindful marshmallow.

Mary kept a secret stash of marshmallows in the back of her bottom dresser drawer. The big, extra-fat ones they sold at Stewart’s for s’mores. Marshmallows were Mary’s weakness. But, seriously, that wasn’t the best way to express it: a weakness. It’s not like Mary wolfed down an entire bag in one sitting. It wasn’t a problem; she wasn’t in a marshmallow crisis or any- thing. Mary knew that sugar was super bad for you— everyone saw the same videos in health class—but a couple a day wasn’t going to kill anybody.

Mary then made the strategic mistake of opening the front door. Home sweet home.

Her mother’s voice came from the kitchen, sharp and urgent, “Are you high right now? Just tell me.”

“Jesus, Mom, no!” Jonny shot back.

They were fighting again. It felt as if the air in the house was crowded with charged particles. Mary could sense the electrons and protons ricocheting off the furniture like steel balls from a shotgun. The muscles in her lower neck tensed and tightened.

“You’re lying—” her mother shouted.

“Hi! I’m home!” Mary called out in her sunniest voice. It was as much a plea as a greeting: I’m home; you can stop now, please. Mary heard the rattling of dishes in the sink, the scraping of a chair across the floor, but no greeting in response. She waited, slipped off her sandals. This is ridiculous, she decided. I’m in my own house. I live here.

“If you love me, you’ll stop.” It was her mother’s voice, raw with emotion.

“I told you. I’m not using,” Jonny retorted.

Mary stood at the entranceway to the kitchen. Her mother leaned against the counter, arms crossed, scowling. Jonny sat at the table, cereal floating in a bowl of milk. He wore an unbuttoned cardigan sweater. Yes, in August. The rules of this particular contest: no punching, no kicking, just words. Winner takes nothing. Jonny tapped a spoon in agitated rhythm on his right thigh. That was his giveaway. The way his eyes darted and his body vibrated with pent-up energy. The muscles of his jaw tightened from clenched teeth.

“Don’t come in here, May,” Jonny warned, not looking in her direction. “Mom’s acting like a crazy person again.”

There was a prickly edge to his voice, like razors strung across wire. His hair looked oily and uncombed. His pale skin appeared nearly translucent, except for the dark circles under his eyes. Mary thought, Don’t pretend I’m on your side. I’m not your ally, brother. I’m not on anyone’s side.

“I don’t even recognize you anymore,” her mother said. “This isn’t you, Jonny. It’s not you.”

“Oh, Jesus, here it comes,” Jonny muttered, the spoon rat-a-tat-tatting against his leg. He raked a hand through his hair.

Mary’s mother stepped toward her only son, palms open. “You’ve got to listen to me, Jonny. We can’t go on like this.”

Jonny flicked the spoon into the cereal bowl, splashing the milk. The spoon bounced and rattled to the floor, hitting his mother’s leg. “I’m trying to eat one bowl of cereal in this insane house,” he roared. “So freaking what? I slept late. Lots of people do. Besides, I have a stomachache. It hurts. I probably have an ulcer. Do you even care? Besides, what temperature do you keep it in here? I’m freezing!”

“It’s set at seventy-two degrees—”

“It’s too cold. I get the chills living here. It’s ridiculous, Mom. I’m nineteen years old. I party a little bit. A regular, normal amount. It’s one of the few things in the world that actually feels good. That’s my big federal crime, Ma? That I go out with my friends?”

“Your friends,” her mother scoffed. She brushed the thought away with a wave of her hand.

“Yeah, my friends.” Jonny rose to his feet, his movement sudden and alarming. “Real people who actually care about me.”

Mary stood paralyzed, watching it all. They had forgotten she was there. She had become invisible in her own kitchen.

Mary’s mother stepped back. She brought a hand to the side of her head, trying to collect her thoughts— or to keep them from exploding. With obvious effort, she adopted a softer voice. More soothing, calmer. “Jonny, please, listen to me. Please. You need help. I think you have a prob—”

“Oh no. No, no, no. I’m not going back to that place,” he said.

Her mother held out a hand, patting the air. “Okay, okay, just . . . sit . . . okay?”

“You can’t make me. I’d rather die than go back to Western Winds,” Jonny replied. He sat back down. Swiveled his head, stared coldly at his sister. “Good luck when I’m gone,” he said. “It’ll be just you, Mom, and the Garden Gnome in this demented house.”

The Garden Gnome was Jonny’s nickname for Ernesto, their mother’s boyfriend. Ernesto was short and paunchy, and he wore a scraggly, elfish beard. Not his fault, but those were the facts. Mary stifled a grin. She caught herself and flashed a time-out sign with her hands. “Stop,” she said. “Just stop.”

She crossed to the refrigerator. Grabbed two clementines, checked her phone, looked from her mother to Jonny. “I’ll be in my room,” she announced. “Headphones on.”

This Fancy Chart Explains the Intersecting Timelines for BYSTANDER and Its Prequel/Sequel, UPSTANDER

Everybody loves a fancy chart, right? It gives any project gravitas. 

This one visually explains the intersecting timelines for my books Bystander and Upstander

So here we go, fresh from the Chart Factory in Gloversville, NY . . . 

And if perchance that makes no sense to you, know this:

The timeline for Upstander (coming May 11th) begins before Bystander, but ends at the same time, at the same basketball game (which was clever, I thought, and, hey, still think). 

About halfway through Upstander — page 112, chapter 21 — the story catches up to the first chapter of Bystander. From that point on, the world of those two overlapping novels gets bigger, richer, deeper. Maybe even better!

Anyway, that’s what’s going on with this follow-up book. 

 

         

BOTH TITLES WERE NAMED JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTIONS.

Rough Sketch of Jigsaw Jones from “The Case of the Cat Burglar”

This guy . . . 

 

Rough sketch by R.W. Alley for the upcoming book, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar (Fall, Macmillan, 2019).