Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Tamara Ellis Smith asked me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Here's Tamara's  post  on Kiss the Earth , a blog she shares with author Sharry Phelan Wright.  How can you not love a writing blog that is named after a line in a poem written by the poet and zen master Thich Nhat Hanh?
I met Tamara in a unusual way.  When Neil Armstong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me first came out I found a commercial on YouTube from a boy who had read the book. It was amazing. As an author, there is nothing better than watching a commercial about your book that was written and acted by a fifth-grader. The boy had long curly hair that bounced when he spoke.  At the time I was starting Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace.  I was so inspired by the boy in the YouTube commercial that I gave the main character, Elvis Ruby, the same long curly hair. It became Elvis's trademark.  I wrote to the teacher to thank her and got a lovely email back from the boy's mom, who also just happened to be a middle grade book author. So that's how we met. Talk about a small world. Recently Tamara announced that she had received a two book deal with the publisher Schwartz & Wade!  Her first book, The Marble Boys, comes out in August 2015. 

Here are the questions from the blog tour.

What am I currently working on?

I'm working on a  middle grade novel. The main character is a girl who believes she has a certain psychic power and she doesn't want it at all. The girl has a very strong relationship with her grandparents and I'm really enjoying writing about that part of the story. She is twelve. There is a fourteen year old boy who seems to like her.  This is my first story where there may be a little bit of a romance.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That's a difficult question.  When I'm working on a story, I'm not thinking about genre. My first book was historical fiction. The next one had a tiny bit of magical realism. This one seems to be somewhere between a fantasy and magical realism. One thing they all have in common is that there is always a misfit, a character who clearly doesn't belong. My stories always involve them navigating relationships and having them trying to find their way.

Why do I write what I write?
 I never intentionally set out to write middle grade, but I have noticed that most of my characters are somewhere between the ages of ten to fourteen. I love reading middle grade books. They are fun, often philosophical and always filled with hope and promise. It is such an important time of growth, where kids are taking their first steps into an adult world yet they haven't lost their childhood abilities to imagine and to wonder. 

How does my individual writing process work?
 I wish my process was more of a process. I'm in awe of writers who say they can write outlines or that they always start a certain way. For me, every book is different. It usually starts when I think of a character and then think about how the character would interact with other people. I try to get to know my characters before I even begin to write. Normally I start thinking about them while I'm finishing up a book.
Each book comes out a different way. Neil Armstrong is My Uncle was all about this angry girl. Once I had her voice down, I was able to write. She was loud and determined -- so it was easy to let her run with the story. 
For Hiding Out at The Pancake Palace, I had to write pages of back story before I could understand what was happening. In this current book, I'm writing out of order. When I see a scene, I write it. I'm trying to make sure I understand what the main character is really after. The good thing about writing out of order is that I already have how the story will end.
One thing I know for certain is that I hate first drafts. I love revision.

 Next up on the tour:

Katia Raina 

Katia writes poetry and novels for young adults, while pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I met Katia when she asked to interview me for her blog after my first book came out. By the time the evening was over, we were friends. When it comes to writing, she is fearless. I've learned so much from her. 
Katia has already posted her answers to hop on over to her wonderful blog and see her reply.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Jake celebrates HUM!

Jake is convinced that if you listen hard to a daisy you will hear its secret hum. That's because he's spent the last few months listening to me gush about Tracy Holczer's truly amazing middle grade debut, "The Secret Hum of a Daisy."            
Today HUM goes out into the world!  Congratulations HUM!  And congratulations Tracy!

To find out more about Tracy and her lovely book here's the link to her website.

When we're not listening to daisies here in New Jersey, we will be doing a happy dance to celebrate the special day.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Jake Celebrates the Paperback Release!

The paperback for Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace is out in the world!   Jake cannot control his excitement. Here he is celebrating in that crazy Jake way.

Actually Jake seems to really enjoy books.  He was the first to unwrap my author copies (and he did this while we were all out of the house).  When I got home, the box was opened and all of the copies were transported to Jake's favorite spot under the stairs.

Alas. This wasn't the first time he's done this. He enjoys paperbacks but he's been known to nibble on a hard cover too. Jake likes to sink his teeth into a book. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace is in Paperback: April 10th


As an author, I'm beginning to notice things about book design that I never saw as a reader. 
Check out the paperback version of Hiding Out At the Pancake Palace.
Notice the information you get from the front cover. At the top is a one sentence teaser that tells what the book is about (I did not come up with this clever one liner.). They also managed to get the "an NPR Best Book of the Year" placed in the top left corner. At the bottom of the cover, there's the title of my other book so that the reader can make that connection. 
And then there are the lovely images. The sunglasses hint that someone is hiding (and they make the book look fun!). Even the blueberries are there for a reason. In Aunt Emily's Pancake Palace and in the Pinelands of New Jersey (where the book takes place) blueberries are important. And how can anyone resist the yummy stack of pancakes with the gooey font of the title melting right over them?   

In the back of the book there's a longer description to give the reader a better feeling for what the book is about and some quotes from the reviews. Sometimes when you put a lot of text into a small space it looks overwhelming.  But not in this case. That is because the quotes from the reviews are served up on white plates with a fork right next to them!  

By the way, those blueberries that are on the back cover are also featured in the beginning page of each chapter.

Thank you Square Fish for making the book look so delicious and for the time, talent and care you put into the design.

The paperback comes out on April 10th!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Toy Trains and a Farm

Here's a video of the toy farm that my mom (who is 87) set up at her place in New Hampshire.  The trains belonged to my mom's dad.  Many of the farm figures did too--although over the decades she added to it.  Every year when I was growing up, we set this up around the tree. Some years were more elaborate than others. One year we had train tracks that went around the entire house. You had to step over them every time you went into a new room. The Christmas tree in the center of the farm is one of my favorite things. It was made during the Great Depression from old scrap metal from a World War I fighter plane.You'll see a thanks at the end of this to my brother and his friend. They're the ones who set up the train board so my mom could arrange her farm. The video was made by my niece.  Enjoy!

Hope whatever holiday you're celebrating is special! Good health and happiness in the new year! 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Yes. I Was Nervous at The Brooklyn Book Festival

I was a panel moderator at the Brooklyn Book Festival. It was called "A Great Big Beautiful World" and was filled with star-studded authors.
In the picture on the left is Sonia Manzano, actress, author of 2013 Pura Belpre Honor Book The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano  and Sesame Street icon. Sonia was the first Maria on Sesame Street and she wrote for that program too.
Next to her is the award-winning and Emmy-nominated screenwriter (of films like Daddy Day Care and The Shaggy Dog) Geoff Rodkey. Geoff is the author of the extremely funny adventure series, The Chronicles of Egg.  
On the far right is Katherine Applegate, the 2013 winner of the John Newbery Medal for the years most distinguished contribution to children's literature. Katherine won for her beloved book, The One and Only Ivan
I'm the one in the crazy-colored scarf. The picture was taken moments before the discussion started.
Here's what I was thinking when the picture was being taken:
The average person runs at about 8 miles per hour (random fact that I know because besides being a writer, I'm also a librarian-and librarians are fountains of odd trivia and random facts)
The location of the Brooklyn Book Festival is about 120 miles from where I live in South Jersey (Google Maps)
Subtract three miles from the average running time because I'm an out-of-shape, middle-aged person. (I'm being generous about my running abilities but let's go with it)
Add in a few hours because I'm not familiar with the borough of Brooklyn and at some point I'd get lost.
Add in a few more hours because even though I've lived in Jersey for seven years, I'd get lost there too.
Estimate that due to adrenaline I could keep running until I got home
And the answer is:
38 hours
That's how long it would have taken for me to be sitting in my living room if I started running for the hills (or in this case the Pinelands of New Jersey).
38 hours is not long at all.
To say I was a awe-struck and nervous about being in the company of such amazing authors, who are creative and talented in so many ways, was an understatement. 
There was no need for nerves.
It turned out to be great fun.
Sonia Manzano gave thoughtful insightful answers.
Goeff Rodkey made the audience laugh.
Katherine Applegate was witty and charming.
Middle graders, who were in the audience, asked most of the questions.
And I'm glad I stayed.

The picture was taken by my editor Nancy Mercado, who is the one who got me the panel moderating gig  (thanks Nancy!) 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Book Tour at Albert Music Hall

If you want to hear music in the Pinelands of New Jersey, go to Albert Music Hall.

There's nothing like it anywhere. Every Saturday night, musicians gather to perform oldies, folk music, country, bluegrass and songs that celebrate the Pinelands' unique culture. It's not only locals who enjoy the music. People from all over visit Albert Hall. Folk music legend Pete Seeger performed there twice.
The musical tradition started way back in the 1950s when two brothers, Joe and George, held gatherings at their deer farm. Joe played a washtub bass and George played the violin. The gatherings got so popular, they moved to a building in Waretown.  When that building burned down, the music continued in a parking lot. Since the 1990's Albert Hall has been located right next to the Frederic Priff Elementary school.
In Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace, the musically-gifted boy, Elvis Ruby and his musically-challenged friend, Cecilia find their way to Albert Hall.
Since this is one of the places that the book characters go, I thought the book should take a tour too.
Last night, Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace visited  Albert Music Hall.

Below are some pics:

Here's the book hanging out in the parking lot outside of the Hall.  The violin is borrowed from one of the performers.

When you first go into Albert Hall, you're greeted by the volunteers at the gift stand (everyone who works there is a volunteer. The place is filled with people who care about music and about preserving the folklore and culture of the Pinelands.  You can feel their dedication as soon as you step inside)

On the other side is the snack bar. One of the characters in Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace raves about their pies (featured in the picture below).  There are cakes, coffee, and hot dogs too. You can sit in the back of the auditorium, listen to the performers on stage and enjoy some great food.

Forgive the quality of the picture below. But this is the stage and auditorium at Albert Music Hall.

One of the most unique features of Albert Music Hall is the Pickin' Shed. This is a separate building where anyone can bring in their instruments and play.
Normally this place is packed with people. Last night, the music was great.

 Here's the outside of the Pickin' Shed. On summer nights they open up the doors and the music spills out.

For more info about Albert Music Hall, check out their webpage.  By the way, if you ever do decide to visit, admission for adults is only five dollars.
Thank you to all the volunteers last night who were kind enough to pose with my book.