Tag Archive for Columbine

Times Article, Columbine, Picture Book Countdown, and Some Vacation Photos

It’s Tuesday the 21st, and I’m back at the desk, working under a deadline. I have to admit that I’m not in Full-On Blogger Mode — it’s like I’ve forgotten how — but here’s what’s up exactly now.

I’m still stunned by yesterday’s cover article in The New York Times, written by C.J. Chivers.

Photo: Tyler Hicks.

A tense, dramatic, tautly-written account of an ambush in Afghanistan, it struck me as such a different kind of article than I remember seeing before. Maybe I’m wrong, but my sense is that after years of regulations that attempt to control war coverage, perhaps now there’s a new openness about war reporting. Could that be true? Regardless, this article signaled to me that there was a shift of some kind. I applaud this article, the courage of the reporter, and the Times by putting this story front and center, above the fold on page one. It’s too easy to forget that we’re at war, that young men are killing and dying, that there’s a cause and a cost. By all means, read the story.

I did a school visit recently, where I spoke with approximately 400 6th-grade students. In part, I focused on my upcoming book, Bystander, which centers on bullying and its effect on five main characters: Dylan, Griffin, Mary, David, and Cody. The idea for the opening scene was inspired by a piece of information I picked up on Columbine and ketchup packets. If only for myself, I needed that allusion echoing through my book. When I asked the students if they’d ever heard of Columbine, only two hands were raised. I guess that surprised me. After all, that event changed our schools forever. Just the other day I was in an elementary school when they had a “lock-down drill,” you know, because there’s “a wild animal loose in the school.” I imagine my second-grade daughter, Maggie, picturing a deer skidding through the halls, like a clown in socks.

Anyway, this new book, Columbine by Dave Cullin, is at the top of my reading list. The cover designer for the book, Henry Sene Yee, recently posted a detailed account of how he arrived at that remarkable, understated, haunting cover. Fascinating.

On a different note, Elizabeth Bird at Fuse 8 continues to deliver great content at a reasonable price (free). She’s been counting down the top 100 picture books of all-time (based on a readers’ poll), and if you haven’t gotten over there, it’s a real treat.

Art from Virginia Lee Burton’s, The Little House.

Elizabeth isn’t just providing another tired list, she’s doing research, showing artwork and videos, clips from reviews, and personal commentary. It makes you want to go back and read those books all over again; and in some cases, discover the few that somehow fell through the cracks.

Lastly, a few shots of Canyon de Chelley, Navajo land, in Arizona near the New Mexico border, another one from Taos Pueblo, one from Mesa Verda, and a couple of shots of people who came along for the ride. It was a great vacation/adventure.

Bystander: Revising Galleys

I’ve been messing with the “second pass” galleys for Bystander (Fall, 2009). These last corrections are minor, twenty pages can go by untouched, and these last changes won’t be reflected in the ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) that go around to reviewers, etc.

So I warmed up my scanner — a new toy for me — and decided to give a blow-by-blow of a minor revision through four separate stages. Of course, there were many more stages of doubt and second-guessing (I mean: revision!) that happened before I sent the book out. To me, it’s an uncountable process.

Part of me thinks: No one cares, this is all too self-obsessed. But the other part of me loves process, the journey, and thinks that maybe somebody else does too. If  you think this is a worthwhile thing for me to do with this blog, let me know.

FROM THE FIRST DRAFT that went to Feiwel and Friends editor, Liz Szabla:

SECOND DRAFT. You’ll note two changes: 1) I felt that the prairie dog reference, though okay for a kid from South Dakota, was wrong for Eric, wrong for Long Island. I felt that he wouldn’t think to make that comparision. 2) I cleaned up that last sentence, he’s no longer “racing,” because that was the wrong word; there’s now the specific “gap in the fence”; and overall it’s just a little leaner and better, IMO.

FIRST-PASS GALLEYS. Here we see the manuscript set into type. I still disliked the sentence, “. . . those Meercats on TV.” Somewhere in there I changed it from “TV” to “Animal Planet,” went singular rather than plural. But a new concern entered, or more likely I began to listen to an old concern: Was the image too contemporary, ephemeral. Would it date the book? “Meerkat Manor” wasn’t going to last on TV forever. Maybe in five, ten years people won’t be as conscious of meerkats as they seem to be now. And like the prairie dog image, even a meerkat simile seemed too much of a reach. You’ll see below my hasty script, where I’m fooling around with more localized comparisons: “a rabbit in the field, hawks in the sky, snakes in the grass.” Searching for something that might work.

SECOND-PASS GALLEYS. I spoke with Liz on the phone. What you see below is the scribblings I made before I spoke with Liz, and then the result of that conversation. First, I was still hating that sentence: “He was nervous, like a meerkat on Animal Planet.” I tried to come up with some other images, and scribbled below: “and watchful, like a small animal in dangerous woods.” That wasn’t a proposed sentence so much as the kind of image I was grasping for, a frightened chipmunk sort of thing. Not working.

At that point, I solved it the way so many of these things are solved. Because often when a sentence gives you this much trouble, it’s a sign that maybe it should go away completely. I crossed it out and wrote “NO” on the side of the page. On the phone, Liz and I looked at it and agreed. We already saw he was “tensed,” saw that he was watchful. I didn’t need a simile; what I needed was to keep this boy on the run — because the bad guys are coming. We lose the distracting simile, which I never got right, and move on to the next sentence: “Then he took off without a word.” By cutting we didn’t actually lose anything; and we gained pace, forward movement.

FINAL NOTE: You may notice that I flip-flopped on that last line, “was long gone,” or the simpler alternate, “was gone.” Liz and I both thought about it, talked about it, that extra word “long,” and decided to reinstate it.

And that’s one glimpse into a late stage of the revision process.


This is a reference I’m not sure many will get, but it’s something that I had to put into the book. To me, no discussion of bullying, regardless of how seemingly benign the form, can take place without a recognition of Columbine as an extreme result. It’s always there, that vision of what could happen if good people — the bystanders — don’t act. The two shooters in that massacre, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were originally victims of bullying. This is a common scenario, “the bullied bully,” widely recongized in the literature. So many targets go on to target someone else in a cycle of hurt and intimidation. Anyway, Harris and Klebold were once severely humiliated when they were splattered with ketchup packets. When I came across that while researching Bystander, I knew I wanted to use it  somehow — so my book opens immediately after it happens to another boy, and the book’s protaginst, Eric Hayes, sees him running, running. Because even though my book does not go the extremes of Columbine, it’s a haunting scenario that remains forever present, like a ghost in the room, a reminder and a lesson we dare not forget.