Monday, December 28, 2015
Look to the right of this post. Do you see it? Yes, the preorder links for I AM DRUMS! The CORRECT preorder links to the CORRECT edition from Clarion Books!
Yes, that's right! You can preorder your copy now from any of those outlets, and more are on the way. See the official video announcement below! Keep your eye on this page for more in the coming weeks.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
A Theory on George Lucas as an Artistic Prisoner (AKA Writing Lessons Learned From The Force Awakens)
I could rattle off random tidbits pulled out of a hat, but half of them, at best, would be conditionally true, and null in alternate circumstances.
The truth is that the only way to know if a story works is to experience it. If you enjoy the experience, it's good. If not, it's either for someone else or destined to stay in someone's desk until an estate sale long after they're gone.
That's what I was thinking after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens earlier today. The movie works so well that it's restoring the faith of millions in a franchise that has long been a running joke among its most devout fans.
Tone, action, dialogue, acting, set pieces, story. Any aspect of film you can name, this movie does it better than the prequel trilogy. But as for specifics on how J.J. Abrams has handled George Lucas's universe better than the master himself, you would be hard pressed to identify how. Narratives tend to have their own personalities, and respecting what they require in order to be successful and complete is mystifying even to the greatest of writers.
I personally think the hardest job of a writer is identifying a good story while in the drafting process. How do you know you're going in the right direction? If we're always making decisions, how do you spot when you've made a bad one before it's too late? If you're on the right track, how do you convince yourself of this so you don't throw in the towel?
I've come to believe there is only one truth about good writing: when it's good, you can FEEL IT.
I know. I sound like I'm using The Force to craft fiction. But that's kind of what it's like. Watching The Force Awakens, I could sense the presence of a cog missing from the prequel trilogy the moment the opening crawl floated across the screen. An intensity in the dialogue. A feeling of dread within the story's conflict. A sense that the actors really were who they were playing. Making that happen comes down to so much more than the order of twenty-six letters and an assortment of spaces and punctuation. You have to view the work in its entirety, and cut, edit, and paste together a holistic something that is bigger than its parts.
How do you know when you've accomplished that? You don't. You just let go and hope the end result is good enough. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it's not.
That leads me to my theory -- I think George Lucas has long been an artistic prisoner. I think he has always loved and hated the masterpiece that made him rich and famous. It's been a lucrative monster that has destroyed any and all dreams he might have achieved in an alternate life.
Making the prequels was his attempt to accept his fate as the tortured leader of one story that usurped every other script he'd written. He was forever fated to explore this world, and because it was his, he didn't want anyone else to ever put their hands on it, even when it had become clear his heart was no longer there. I don't think it was his fault, necessarily. I have an agent and editor who have given me guidance in my writing career, but no one had the power to tell Lucas his hold on the story was gone, save for a raging army of fans whom Lucas had come to loathe. I suspect that if I had written Star Wars I would have burned out managing the subsequent explosion, too.
Then, in his own words, Lucas had his "divorce" with Star Wars when he sold it to Disney. I'm sure it's both frustrating and a relief to see it in the hands of someone else, but it was the right choice. He arguably should have made it sooner.
Meanwhile, after years of having sworn off this series, I'm excited about Star Wars again.
Monday, December 7, 2015
It's the Egmont cover for I AM DRUMS. And as beautiful as it was, it's gone for a good reason.
The new cover has been finalized by Clarion Books, and it's so... freaking... awesome! I can't wait to share it, but I HAVE to because I'm setting up a cover reveal with a middle grade blog and I don't want to spoil it.
Get excited, book friends. More to share soon!
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Why the hesitation? It's honestly because it doesn't fit my work ethic. I'm propelled by the desire to write regularly and hold a finished project in my hand. Word counts? Not so much. I do enjoy keeping track of them, but 50k as a goal doesn't work for an author whose word counts are dictated by the moment the story feels over. Middle grade books tend to have with fewer, meticulously voiced and designed word counts.
But I'm jumping in again for one reason, and it's not to win. This school year (and my recent move) has been a certifiable writing killer. I've been managing a million moving parts while allowing writing to become the moving piece that gets shafted.
That's not cool, dude.
So I'm Nanowrimo-ing this year to jump start my writing again. Not writing stinks worse than a wet sock sitting out in the sun with a dead carp in it.
So far I have 1,700 words for a book tentatively titled THE HONESTY PLEDGE.
Have you jumped in, too? Be my writing buddy by clicking here.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Yeah, that's right. Today was supposed to be the day I celebrated my debut novel hitting shelves. Egmont USA had it ready to be a pretty fabulous leading title.
But obviously that's not what happened. Amazon still has it listed as releasing today, and you can still "preorder" it so it can not show up two days later, even if you have Prime shipping.
I promised myself I would only be sad for five minutes this morning, then I would get over it and move on with my day. That worked in tandem with the rush of teaching a class of nine-year-old maniacs that quickly became the focus of all of my brain power.
As insane and stressful as teaching can be, it also effectively distracts you from any and everything that might be wrong.
But now I'm on my way home and back to wondering how many minutes of sadness I must endure before I get over this nonsense feeling.
My book will come out next year, and it will be something very special, but the truth is I'm just not cool with that sometimes.
Sometimes you can understand why something happened and really not blame anyone, and still want to shout how much it sucks.
Maybe five minutes isn't long enough. Maybe you can't force a time limit on sadness.
I'm going to look at my big box of forsaken Egmont ARCs and realize that that version of the story will never see the light of day, and I will know that that's okay, because an even better version is on the way next year.
Until then, I can lay in a bed of Egmont ARCs and cry until my wife tells me to stop being a baby because I have more important things to do.
Then she'll probably give me a hug because she does understand.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
The Clarion Books version is coming out in September 2016. That's much further away, but I promise the final book will be worth the wait. The team at Clarion has been amazing and we are working together to make something really special.
I'm thrilled people are ready and excited to read the book, and I'm sorry it won't be ready for you sooner.
To all who have pledged their support, thank you for sticking with me through this odd journey.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
This has been a good, but exceptionally busy summer. That's mostly a really good thing!
I went to ALA in San Francisco, my first visit to the area since I was three years old. It's a beautiful city with almost perfect weather -- Californian friends warned me how cold SF can get, and as a humidity hater I found the nighttime breeze wonderful. It didn't hurt that we had negative twenty temps in Chicago this past winter to properly define what cold means, either.
I met my editor, Anne Hoppe, in person, and enjoyed a great lunch with her and my wife. Unless you live in New York, publishing relationships are often phone call/email/Twitter based, but I've found that shedding a few extra dollars to meet face-to-face with important people who believe in your book is more than worth it. I also got to meet Clarion's publisher, Dinah Stevenson, who oversees an amazing list of authors.
I was also able to track down several former Egmont USA employees who have landed elsewhere, including my former editor and publicist. It's great to see everyone doing so well.
As inconvenient and bananas as my publishing journey has been at times, I'm lucky to have crossed paths with so many talented people.
Some ARCS I nabbed:
I'm currently reading HOODOO by Ronald L. Smith. The setting and atmosphere is amazing, and the story is an excellent slow burn. Certain parts remind me of THE LAST APPRENTICE with a depression-era Alabama backdrop.
I also nabbed Shannon Grogan's FROM WHERE I WATCH YOU, Marieke Nijkamp's THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS, and Sarah J. Schmitt's IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH. I can't wait to read these.
I met many of my fellow debuters as well. Sarah McGuire (author of VALIANT and fellow Egmont USA brethren) was just as charming in person as she is on social media, and the same can be said of Bryce Leung and Kristy Shen, whose LITTLE MISS EVIL I am dying to share with my fourth graders.
It has been admittedly hard to adjust to being a member of the Sweet Sixteens debut group -- I was very comfortable as a Fearless Fifteener, and there's an odd identity crisis that happens when your release date (or in my case, publisher) changes and you get bumped back a year. But it was made all the more easier after our fun meet-up. Once again, it's worth it to meet people in person. Victoria J. Coe and Dana Elmendorf are particularly excellent people, and I wish I could have chatted longer with others who were there.
I know I've missed a few people I met at ALA, so please don't be offended if I failed to mention you. I assure you I was charmed by your personality and demeanor, and will add you to this post as soon as I dig the memory out of my unreliable brain.
I've also hosted three out of four writing workshops at Magic Tree Bookstore in my hometown of Oak Park. They've been a ton of fun, and attendance is steadily climbing! Next week is the last session, and I'm going to have to decide whether or not it's feasible to continue these once a month during the school year. That's a huge commitment during the insanity of the teaching year, so I'm still mulling this over.
I'm saving further thoughts on San Francisco itself for another post. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Any time the news talks about vaccines, it talks about autism. The level of misinformation varies, but it almost always comes up.
Social media is the same way -- bring up vaccines in a status update, and someone will chime in, guns blazing, about the "autism epidemic."
It gets really tiring.
For that reason, I have a simple request of anyone on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or whatever platform you prefer. I'm not asking you to stop your attempts to link vaccines and autism in children despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I know with many of you that's a lost cause, and you've likely already branded me, inaccurately, a sheep brainwashed by the government.
I will, however, respectfully ask you to stop talking about autism like it's an epidemic to be feared and destroyed. People with autism (and the families that love them) deserve better than to have their personalities equated to a zombie outbreak.
I'm sorry autism scares and confuses you, but that really is something you need to work on at the end of the day.
That is all. Like I said, it's a short post.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
The end of a school year means a lot of things -- more writing, more reading, more parenting and preventing my son from destroying the house.
For the first time ever, I'm putting together a summer reading list. These are books I am planning to read rather than suggestions for you, the reader, but if you have read/will read any of the below mentioned works feel free to comment.
1) MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia
I actually just finished this one, so I guess I'm cheating a little, but I'm including it since I technically read it during the "season" of summer. It's a nice companion book to both of Mark Vonnegut's memoirs (EDEN EXPRESS and JUST LIKE SOMEONE WITHOUT MENTAL ILLNESS ONLY MORE SO) in that it discusses schizophrenia in very real terms.
Schizophrenia awareness has been almost destroyed by Hollywood. My biggest gripe with the film "What About Bob?" is the joke "I'm a schizophrenic, and so am I." Most people equate it to multiple personalities, even though that's not even slightly accurate.
Zappia does something amazing in that she gets you to understand in concrete terms how it feels to be in the middle of an episode. Then, she shows you how frightening it is to not even know if and when you will travel down the rabbit hole again. There's an ongoing guessing game as to what is and isn't real, and its intent is not to be heady or psychedelic so much as representative of how awful and uncontrollable schizophrenia can be.
2) THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING by Krista Van Dolzer
Also just finished this one. Its concept sounds bananas, but it's pretty impressive in practice. And there's a lot of subtext within the culture shock and prejudice that's crystal clear on the page.
By the end of the book, it's kind of impossible not to love the character, Takuma.
3) THE WATER AND THE WILD by K.E. Ormsbee
This is my current read at the moment. I've been meaning to read this one ever since it hit shelves. Besides being the nicest writer on the planet, Kathryn writes wonderful fantasy prose. I've been sorely falling behind in reading middle grade fantasy lately -- this has been a nice return to it.
Trees, magic, and realistic portrayals of panic attacks. Yay for Kathryn!
4) FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar
I started this one right before report cards, edits, and lots of huge projects got in the way. The opening was pretty good -- I think readers will like this one as long as they aren't expecting HOLES 2.
5) NONE OF THE ABOVE by I.W. Gregorio
I've had this one on my to-read shelf since ALA Midwinter. Ilene was extremely friendly when I met her in person and I can't wait to finally dig into this one! If you pay attention to her Twitter feed you'll see this subject is right up her alley.
6) DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE by Lance Rubin
This book has an amazing cover. Google it if you haven't seen it yet, because I'm writing too fast to do that for you and paste it here. Another book with a neat concept and a lot of great prose behind it.
7) THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY by Stephanie Oakes
I think books with books on their cover are neat. Yeah, I'm a dork.
I also love the idea of this book, and look forward to dipping into its dark, dark story that requires a comma to separate its double-darkness. I'm not entirely familiar with the whole story of THE HANDLESS MAIDEN, but I find the story's hook fascinating all the same.
Some other books I want to read this summer:
ZEROBOXER by Fonda Lee (because Fonda is cool and zero gravity fighting is all-around awesome)
TROPIC OF SERPENTS by Marie Brennan
BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly (because how can I not read a book named after my favorite Beatles song)
VALIANT by Sarah McGuire (because I'm so happy Lerner is supporting her!)
THE ISLAND OF DR. LIBRIS by Chris Grabenstein
There are so many more -- perhaps I will add to this list in the coming weeks.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
I hung out with about ten kids today at Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, talking about characters of all kinds and temperaments. It was incredibly fun, and a great way to branch out into my local literary community.
Thank you to Magic Tree Bookstore for hosting, to the kids who came, and the families who brought them. There is already talk of some summer sessions and/or camps.
I also have a scene about Ramses the Wizard ruining the front door of a suburban home. A wicked good time!
Did I mention my first read-through of LUNCH BOX is almost done? *fist pumps*
Monday, March 30, 2015
But it's not worth it, and I need to be long-winded to tell you why, so...
Thursday, February 26, 2015
It started off with a sore throat last week. Then it turned into a fever, and a whole bunch of other stuff that all culminated into what I can only describe as "extreme chest pains and shaking arms and legs" that woke me in the middle of the night. It's not fun to wake up with no idea why your body is miserable and out of control.
I went to the ER, where I was asked all the typical questions. My favorite was "have you been using recreational drugs?" I'm a middle grade author, and fourth grade teacher -- do I sound like a recreational drug user to you? They have to ask that question, of course, so no hard feelings.
There was only one person by my bedside, checking me out. Then that one person attached me to an EKG, and like flipping a light switch there were suddenly six to eight people around my bed, pushing me into another room, and a doctor explaining that things were moving fast because they found something "abnormal in my EKG" that may or may not be a sign I was having a heart attack. Until they knew for sure, they had to treat this as a worst-case scenario.
And I was thinking, "What gives, heart? I'm only thirty-five, and I treat you pretty well. I get clean bills of health at my regularly scheduled physicals all the time!"
It turned out, thankfully, that I was not a thirty-five-year-old having a heart attack, but a guy who'd been fighting a particularly brutal virus that had caused inflammation in his heart. This sort of thing was pretty rare, but it could happen to anyone -- even someone in their twenties. A full recovery was expected as long as I took it easy and stayed under surveillance in the ICU for a few days before recovering at home.
And I was thinking, "I have kids showing up on Monday, and PARCC tests next month, and a three-year-old who needs to be taken to daycare, and I didn't even take the freaking garbage out before heading over here tonight!"
But that's not how it works when your body needs to heal, so I stayed put and listened to people who know better than I do. Now I'm at home, hoping all my big life things hold together for a week or two until I get better.
Random health things happen. For about an hour and a half I was worried I was dying of a heart attack, but I wasn't, and I'm okay. That's how things are sometimes, and they can be managed with the support of loved ones.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Yes! I went to ALA Midwinter and had a great time grabbing ARCs, trudging through snow, and meeting editors, Fearless Fifteeners, and other librarian folk. I got to hang out with some Egmont people, including my former editor, Jordan Hamessley, who I'm thrilled to say landed a new job with Adaptive Studios.
There were a lot of nice people with encouraging words about my current situation -- Sara Grochowski from the Hiding Spot, Ilene Wong (I.W. Gregorio), and Fonda Lee. Ilene and Fonda shared a wonderful panel with Sabaa Tahir, Adam Silvera, and Nicola Yoon.
I made several connections with marketers and editors who ended up interested in I AM DRUMS, adding to the huge list of people who've shown an interest in publishing it. Things are looking up.
Despite all the awesomeness, Tuesday ended up being pretty terrible. It was my wife's birthday, and as sweet as it was to call her from school so my entire fourth grade class could serenade her with the Happy Birthday song, I ended up working almost all night (so did she), and we put off celebrating until later in the week. That was totally unfair, and bad husbanding on numerous levels.
Something else happened. For the first time, the news that I AM DRUMS was orphaned actually hit me. I knew it before then, for sure, but Tuesday was the first day I realized that as bright as things look, it is entirely possible for it to fall into a black hole and never make it onto shelves. I hadn't really let myself believe that in the days prior.
I ran a spelling bee at my school. After months of prepping the kids, forty students competed to be the spelling bee champion, and it all went great. I'm currently dealing with the red tape registering our champion for the county bee, but whatever. I had fun, and the end result was worth all the stress of taking it over in the first place.
EDITORS AND MORE EDITORS
As bad as the blues are hitting me lately, it's important to remember that A LOT of editors have come through for me, asking for either second looks at I AM DRUMS if they had seen it previously, or even asking for it out of the blue.
I truly believed that I AM DRUMS was living in a vacuum up until now. I didn't think anyone knew it existed other than my family, agent, and editor. It turns out there are people in the publishing industry already talking about it, even though it wasn't slated for release until fall, and now no longer has a release date at all.
That's kind of crazy, and a nice wake-up call for me and all my silly writing worries.
A SHORT STORY?
I just might have a short story almost ready to go. It was originally an idea for a picture book, but it's looking like I might have a nice little work of flash fiction (or a little beyond flash) worth shopping around to some literary magazines.
That's all. Until next time...
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Monday, January 12, 2015
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Friday, January 9, 2015
Thursday, January 8, 2015
It seemed wrong to give up on account of that, though, so I decided to draw a happy, smiling face. We need more of those. It slowly morphed into a reflection on the cold weather.
I hope you enjoy it...
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Monday, January 5, 2015
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Saturday, January 3, 2015
Friday, January 2, 2015
It's called FEARLESS FRIDAYS, and it will feature many of us, during our debut year, facing our greatest fears and posting about it on the Fifteeners blog on a Friday.
Since I'm an El ride away from Sears Tower (nope, not Willis) it makes sense that I should face my awful fear of heights. The results are entertaining, I think...