Sunday, May 24, 2009

Double Celebration!

That's my dog, Chi, taking her first look at C Lee McKenzie's awesome debut YA novel Sliding on the Edge. It came in the mail on Friday! Lee and I are writing buddies and have been for years. Our books launched in the same month! It's so wonderful to see our books side by side.
And yes Chi, if you're good, I will read it to you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Book Launch Party!

They sure know how to throw a launch party at Monmouth Junction Elementary School. I had a blast. (Sorry, I'll stop with the space puns one of these days)
The party began with the 5th grade classes. We talked about living in the sixties, the moon walk and what it meant to the world. We also talked about how when you're a writer, you get to name a book character after your older sister (who also happens to be one of their teachers).
Then we listened to a sample of the audio book of Neil Armstrong is My Uncle. It was the first time I heard it. Very cool.
I was showered with cards and good wishes. And they made a book mark! I'll show you that in my next post. Don't you love the poster and rocket drawing?
I met a girl who dressed up as MaryBeth Grabowsky (a book character in NAIMU) on Book Character Day, another who shared the same birthday as my book, and I got to talk to all the children who sent me notes and drew me pictures after reading the ARC.
Then it was onto 4th grade where the party continued. Those 4th graders asked great questions about writing and reading.
I signed books! It took a moment to make that mental switch from the librarian, who generally frowns on book writing, to the author who was about to sign her own book for the first time.
It was a great day!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Blossoming Mystery

When I got back from my book launch party, I found this beautiful bouquet of flowers on my front porch. The card had a very nice note but wasn't signed so I don't know who it's from. I called the florist, who said "this happens all the time" They need to get permission from the florist where it was ordered who needs to get permission from the person who sent it before they can release that information. They said it could take days.
Thank you beautiful bouquet flower sender. I hope to learn your identity soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's Launch Day!

Today is the day my debut novel "Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me" goes out into the world.
I thought I'd be filled with butterflies, but instead I'm strangely calm. I suspect the butterflies will make their appearance later when I'm celebrating with 80 4th and 5th graders.
The launch party is with my sister, a 5th grade teacher who also happens to have a character named after her in my book, and the 4th and 5th grade classes in her school.
I feel like I know these kids. They've written me letters. They've read at least part of the ARC. They know the story. One girl even dressed up as one of my characters for Book Character Day! (btw, if you have silky hair, a matchy matchy outfit and 13 Barbie dolls, you too can dress up as MaryBeth Grabowsky)
We're watching part of the Apollo 11 moon landing. We're going to figure out what sound a slinky really makes (I played with a slinky for hours trying to figure it out. Of course it was all in the name of research.) I'm reading a chapter. It's time to party!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Weekend Surprise

Check out the gift I got from my amazing critique group. It came in the mail today. It's a commemorative Apollo 11 collection of stamps, pins and a patch. My favorite part is the1969 postcard from the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center Stamp Club. It has that space-age 1960s look. I can almost imagine it in the hands of Muscle Man McGinty.

It's been a great week, filled with so many warm wishes and even presents. I am overwhelmed by the kindness of my friends.

Yesterday I introduced Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle to a group of homeschooled nine to eleven year olds. It's the book they'll be reading for next month's book club. What a bunch of smart kids. When one talked about writing a story from the pov of Freddie Mercury, another identified my use of and gave me the definition for "onomatopoeia", and the third recited the history of the slinky, I knew I was in over my head.
We meet again in a month after they read the book. I can't wait to hear what they think.

Three more days till book launch!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sliding on the Edge: Interview with C Lee McKenzie

When you're reading, do you ever find yourself talking to the characters? That's how I know a book is truly special. C. Lee McKenzie's YA novel Sliding on the Edge is talk-to-able. Okay, I admit it. A few times, I even shouted. But what else can you do when you're watching a character mess up big time and you know the stakes are high, as in matter of life and death?

When her mother abandons her, street hardened teenager, Shawna Stone, is forced to give up her life in Las Vegas and move onto a horse farm with her equally hardened grandmother, Kay Stone. These two have major secrets. Shawna battles her inner demon, a "Monster" who urges her to cut herself and whispers of suicide. Kay's secrets deal with her marriage and her son. A doomed horse, a drifter named Kenny and a handsome farm hand complete the cast. Watching these characters unravel makes for a compelling read, but the real joy comes as they begin to rebuild, proving that even the most battered of humans can find safety and hope through the healing power of love.

I was lucky to read very early versions of this story and knew it was special from the first draft. C. Lee McKenzie is my writing buddy. She's smart, has a great sense of humor and is my go-to person for critiques and advice. Before becoming a full-time writer, Lee worked in academia. She has degrees in linguistics and inter-cultural communication and she's lived all over the world.

So far, our talks have been virtual, but someday Lee and I plan to meet in person and go walking through the California mountains that she calls home. Lee's hobbies are hiking and yoga, so this east coast couch potato is going to have to get in shape to keep up with her.

Here's my interview with Lee.

So Lee, we've been writing buddies for year and have talked A LOT about the trials and tribulations of getting published, but tell me about the good stuff. What's your favorite part about writing?

I thought about your question for a long time and came up with all kinds of favorite parts, but realize there's only so much time and space for this kind of rumination. In no particular order, here are three things I like about writing:

It's a portable, invisible activity. I can write anywhere, anytime without anyone knowing that's what I'm doing. I can be on a plane or at a party, but inside my head I'm noting conversations, manners, interactions. I hope that doesn't sound like I'm spying. I don't think of it like that, but if anyone I know reads this, I'm probably going to hear about what I've just said.

I also love the writers I interact with. They are so creative, so supportive, so the kind of people that I enjoy being in touch with.

The first flash of an idea is the most exciting part of starting a story. I love those first drafts with all their glitches and terrible prose. I liken it to what a sculptor must feel when he spies the perfect piece of stone or wood. Inside is something to coax into existence so others will be able to enjoy or react to it.

What was your favorite childhood book?

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Stockton, was the best teacher I ever had. And I really mean that. I'll never forget those afternoons when she read Mr. Popper's Penguins aloud to us. That is still my all-time favorite kid's book, but I think a lot of that has to do with Mrs. Stockton.

What made you write YA?

I didn't set out to write YA books. I think that snuck up on me. I was writing all kinds of things and suddenly there were Shawna and Kay (my main characters in Sliding on the Edge) talking to me and telling me their stories.

In Sliding on the Edge, you use a duel pov in a unique way. The main character, Shawna, is written in the first person present tense and the grandmother Kay is written in the third person past. How'd you come up with this and why?

Shawna has a rotten past that she needs to leave behind her and when the story begins, she has no future. There is nothing except "now" for Shawna and she has no one she can rely on except herself. I couldn't write about this girl except from her pov in present tense.

Kay spent her youth in the 50's and believed that decade's promise of rewards for hard work and good intentions. At sixty-four her past is regret-filled and she no longer expects anything from the future. She's older with a lot of memories. She lives with the ghosts of those no longer in her life, and that includes her younger self. She is past tense and the more traditional third person pov suited her.

You've moved around a lot and lived in so many interesting places, Hong Kong, San Diego, Laos, Long Island. Did that help you when you wrote about Shawna's adjustment to a new place and a completely different life?

Probably. Not being in one place long enough to fit in when I was young always put me on the outside. For a long time, I felt I was in a very difficult position, then I realized I had a great chance for watching and listening because no one paid any attention to me. What better way to glean writing tibits?

For a native Californian, which place was harder to get used to, Long Island or Laos? (This Long Island girl is very curious)

Well, Long Island was a challenge. You're a clannish group out there. I did make two friends, but still they were suspicious of this Californio. When I was there, we had some kind of 'wild' reputation on your island. I think surfing films had a lot to do with that. Laos? Piece of cake. I was a curiousity at first (blonde, blue-eyed), but the people there didn't hold my different looks against me for very long. They did, however, laugh at me and my miserable attempts at Lao. I couldn't hear those tones let along reproduce them correctly. After a few embarrassing tonal mistakes, I'd resort to pointing.

So it seems that Laos was easier. Hmmm.

What inspires you to write?

I don't know. I just can't imagine not doing it. I guess if pressed, I'd say there are so many stories to tell that I suppose I'm inspired by the opportunity to put some of them down for readers to enjoy.

C. Lee's book is published by Westside Books and is coming out this month. I can't wait to read the final version of her debut YA novel. For more about C Lee, check out her website