I disappeared this fall and even my semi-random posting became near extinct.The reason for my "now you see me - now you don't" blogging? That guy you're looking at - MILO.
After two failed (for now) starts on second books - I began something in August that soon turned into something else; a novel with my cartoons that is a journey of exploration and humor that helped me unlock doors and draw new connections to my own life through the fictitious one of someone else, MILO.
I gave myself a goal, a deadline on the end of the year to finish this funny book - and though the going was rough due to some of the unexpected emotional road blocks that pop up from re-experiencing the memory of what was - I was on track to meet my deadline (shock!).
The sudden learning that my wonderful agent Jill Grinberg was having a second baby - soon - pushed me into an even higher gear so that she could give my own baby the attention I need before her own new one is due.
And yesterday - MILO was sent off for his first read (after my wife of course) and I am proud and fulfilled to have told his story, while being able to liberate my own.
The cartoons add humor and emotion and will be scattered throughout. I'm very excited about that part - and holding my breath, counting backwards from a million, doing laundry, cleaning my office - trying not to think about when I'll hear back from Jill.
Traveling from school to school here in the CyFair school district of Houston I was thrilled to steal a relaxing minute in the cozy reading tub at the Matzke Elementary Library.
The same wonderful room also had a faux front porch complete with comfy chairs and plenty of books casually scattered within a small hand's easy reach.
Because back home I spend way too much time sitting at my desk talking to the monkeys - these last two weeks have been such a fun, eye-opening journey where I've gotten a chance to be inside wonderful school libraries, meet terrific - inspiring librarians and the kids - WOW - such amazing, bright, creative attentive kids.
I've been starting my workshops by illustrating what my brain was like as a kid - and then I use POND SCUM to help me swirl through creative blasts of writing tips using my cartoon-doodles and lots of kid-interactivity!
So here I am - watching Game Two of the Red Sox World series, feeling already wistful that after 18 schools and 36 presentations - I am left with tomorrow, the last day of my wonderful trip (just 4 presentations to go).
Tonight it's baseball and the satisfaction of having reached countless kids and being able to laugh every day while letting creativity run loopy with doodles, reading, and lots of my own Pond Scum. (speaking of which - I have never signed so many books!)
When I arrived in Houston on Sunday - Paula Morgan knew exactly how to make sure she picked up the right person at the airport. (I can only imagine what the other travelers at baggage claim were thinking!) Paula is the librarian at Sampson Elementary School and the woman who coordinated my 10 day/20 school Pond Scum blitz.
Starting Monday (bright and early) I immediately learned that the CyFair Independent School District is a unique fantastic system of schools with librarians filled with joy and excitement, which makes an author-type feel like a million bucks. I also learned that not only was I being hosted by amazing educators - but I was mingling with Librarian Royalty because these CyFairians are none other than the BOOK DIVAS of TLA and ALA synchronized book cart fame! (I know many of you have had the pleasure of seeing them in book cart action)
I am sure the video below does not do them justice - but I have seen the official Book Divas Calendar in one or two offices - and maybe I can get one as a parting gift of my author visit! Check them out - then imagine these fantastic folks are my hosts!!!
I visit 2 schools a day and do 2 presentations at each. After 4 full days I can tell you that these kids are fantastic (mostly 4th and 5th) and so full of energy and eagerness. I'm trying some new ideas and it's all been going very well (so far) and I'm having a great time integrating my cartooning and Pond Scum in a fun, interactive talk about writing and creativity.
I've got lots more to talk about - but I have to gear up for the Red Sox's last hurrah (oh, how I've been here before).
I'll post more over the weekend and report on the great food I've been eating, some more about the Horned Toad Tales list and my dinner with my Rhinestone Reader pen-pal (tomorrow night).
Monday begins my two week voyage through the Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District.
4 presentations/ 2 schools a day for 10 days! I am incredibly psyched and already fielding great emails from the kids I'm about to meet!
Tomorrow I get picked up at the Houston airport by the amazing Paula Morgan (from Sampson Elementary), who has informed me I'll be signing books late into the night in my hotel room to get ready for Day 1 of the "Pond Scum Texas Tour". (sadly it's an off-day for the Red Sox/Indians so I imagine I'll have to settle for the National League playoffs.)
A note on AUTHORS AND SELF-PROMOTION. The topic is always a hot button and the discussions go on and on. But I thought I'd share how this trip came about.
Last spring I discovered (in other words - Googled) that Pond Scum was one of 12 books to be selected for the Horned Toad Tales List. Google pointed me to the Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District outside of Houston and by digging around (ie. reading the press release) I found the name of one of the media specialists involved and called her to just say, "Thanks!"
In the course of the conversation that made both of our days - Paula asked if I do school visits. I said, yes. She asked if I thought I might do a "few" schools in her district. I said, yes. And the next day I was booked for my 20 school book tour.
All this is to say - I always thank the teachers, media specialists, librarians who suggest Pond Scum to students - and I have been booked numerous times simply for saying "thank you". It's not the reason I reach out - it's just a natural reaction.
So reach out and say "Thanks". It's a nice thing - and sometimes results in your eating real Texas Barbecue for lunch on Monday.
And I couldn't be happier about it. Emily Osment, who plays Lilly on Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana" is going to play Melissa, the main character in my movie. She is such the perfect choice for this role of a smart, head-strong teen, who wants to connect with her father.
In DADNAPPED, Melissa has to compete for her father's attention with Tripp Zoome, a fictional teen character who is the "star" of her dad's action/spy books. Once a bunch of teen fans take her father as a goof - it's up to Melissa to find a way to get him back.
I can totally see Emily playing the part and am so glad about her choice to "be" Melissa.
In other news: I've had lots of requests for links to these two animations - so here ya go!
As I sit staring at my backyard where several leaves have the nerve to change colors already - I have good news.
My Disney Channel movie (no, not High School Musical: The Musical) is in pre-production, which for any non-film folks out there means the director and his minions of hard-working crew folk are on location in Utah gearing up for the actual shoot which will happen starting mid-October.
WOW! I'm very excited that this idea I had over 10 years ago is now (numerous rewrites later) actually getting made. Sadly, the title DADNAPPED has to change and I'm resigned to it, though have no good alternative title yet.
They might still need extras - so if you're in Utah, check it out!
On the writing front: I've just sent my amazing agent Jill Grinberg five chapters of something "new" and top secret! I value her input and hope to be able to tell everyone about it soon.
And - I'm gearing up for my big Texas trip, which is also scheduled for mid-October. I'll be visiting the CyFair school district for two solid weeks of author-silliness, and with the exception of missing my family, it promises to be a blast!
When someone who reads your book reaches out to say "hi" it's always a wonderful feeling. When that person writes to tell you that she and her friends are part of a summer reading contest called "Name That Book" and that she wants POND SCUM to be the first book that her club is going to read - well, then you go crazy and want to know exactly how the meeting was, etc.
Kendall asked my permission to hand out a "biography" of me at the meeting and she worked hard to write a wonderful piece. Not only did I hear that the first meeting was great (and apparently included quality pool time) But Kendall's mom served dirt cake and gummy worms to go with the book - and they sent me this picture of the whole bunch reading the book. And as a writer - these little connections matter so much and I'll tell you - it doesn't get better than this!
The Rhinestone Readers (pictured above!) have made my summer! Thanks girls!
A bonus to the whole thing: when I found out in what part of the country the girls lived I realized I am already visiting the Rhinestone Reader's school district this fall - and you know what? Whether their school is on my tour or not - I told Kendall I want to meet her - and I've been in touch with her mom and guess who's coming to dinner? Me!
And thanks to this wonderful photo - I have absolute proof that Pond Scum isn't just a "boy's book" and that it's waterproof!
It is now Monday morning and not being the voracious speed-reader that my son is (who finished the book late Saturday afternoon and handed it to me with a sly but sad grin) I am only 160 or so pages in. Savoring is my style and so as I trek Southern California on a business/crazy Comic-Con adventure - I am reading and smiling at my own pace.
But FRIDAY NIGHT...ah, what a magical evening my family and I had. Being in Boston we had many choices to make and I had a list of parties to attend, all cross-referenced by time, location and "what if it rains"?
Turns out the evening was beautiful and cool and the choice of where to go was then easy - to Cambridge and their Hogwarts Square party. Yes, the Harvard Yard itself was taken over by muggles, magicians, wizards and curious onlookers. The very spot where even I attended a graduation was decorated in a swirl of twinkled lights and a stage where DRACO AND THE MALFOYS then HARRY AND THE POTTERS played to an enthusiastic, singing dancing fan base.
My 13 yr old son, dressed in Death Eater robes had a blast - singing outloud and even "dancing" (slightly). We didn't know the songs - but it seemed everyone around us did - and all those "Save Ginny Weasly" t-shirts were so cool.
My own favorite song-lette that was repeated often: "Hagrid is fun to hug/ Hagrid is full of love/ Just don't get stuck in Hagrid's beard!"
I know they played all the songs everyone who knows them would want o hear - and the last song had people jumpng up and down and cell phones glowing in the air - the excitement was surreal and wonderful!
10pm then off to get ready for the book release. The Harvard COOP was offering the huge discount - and the line-up was massive. Harvard Square had many great options of booksellers (CURIOUS GEORGE, NEWBERY COMICS, et al) and I mean no slight to any of them by saying we chose the HARVARD BOOK SHOP (I wanted to go independant and our choice couldn't have been better.)
Costumes were everywhere: two of my faves, the Snitch Girl and the giuy who was "Hogwarts".
Inside, my son found a comfy spot to read -
Activitives inside included drawing your own petronus, tarot reading and lots of wonderful store employees with stacks of trivia cards, who seemed to spot groups of bored people and swoop in with questions.
It was orderly (Okay, there was almost one fist fight with some dude who was drunk - but that was it). They had people pre-pay and then as midnight got closer, we were seperated by groups to different locations. Our goodfortune (M-Z) was to have the line outside the store at their "Platform 13 and a half" which meant it was fun to just be able to watch everyone and enjoy the cool air. It was a wonderful, perfect, outdoor magical evening; exactly the memory I wanted to savor and one I hope my son will always remember.
It is a special time growing up with these books - and at the stroke of midnite (well, about half an hour later for us) he eagerly received his piece of History (that's his arm) - then opened the book and started to read.
Do you ever feel like you'll never be able to write a cohesive creative sentence again? Or that it was a fluke - a HUGE mistake that some editor or agent actually liked your work (and maybe even published it!)
Been having a few of those days this week - ready to toss in the towel and see about going into something safe and stable - as soon as my application at Dunkin' Donuts goes through.
So - I'm away from Montreal - in Boston, visiting my wife, who has a summer job here. My son is with me and we enrolled him in a cool cybercamp thing where he's learning FLASH animation and me, I drive him there then sit in Starbucks, or in the wonderful Wellesly town library and fret about being a hack!
This morning I was in Starbucks, actually making a little progress - headphones on, listening to the Garden State soundtrack (again). But two women are talking at a table next to me and the spiteful beast in me wishes they would go away! Go talk somewhere appropriate - not in a coffee shop!
But as soon as the soundtrack ends - I eavesdrop (duh!) - and they are talking children's books. And then I see it - a paperback copy of POND SCUM is on the table. Now, this is too weird, I think. I must say hello to these two perfect people.
Hello, I say. That book there. Pond Scum...I wrote that.
The woman to my right jumps up and says, "I'm Kit Blundo!" (Kit Blundo is the Manager of Individual Giving of REACH OUT AND READ - the organization I donated 300 books to last spring and a person I have never met, but corresponded with. )
A delightful conversation ensued - reminding me that some higher power out there (or up there or in there) wants me to write. I signed the copy of my book to the other woman's son and hugs were shared all around.
If ever I needed a boost - today was that day - and it came so simply and with such humor that I have been smiling all day long.
Note to Higher Power: Thanks for the lift - next time I see you, iced lattes are on me.
That's our dog, Zeus staring out at the view I got to have for seven incredible days... but that was then and now...
I'll admit - its' nice to be back and if I get to post twice this month I will far exceed my expectations! It's Summer and it's Book Two's turn for my as much of my attention as I can give it. In Maine I was able to sit staring at the ocean and feel the cool morning breezes while turning out pages every day! Every day! I love when that happens, when the book takes more than a few tinny baby steps and begins to show off a little leg!
I am dodging bullets in the way of freelance jobs that threaten to bring my crawling book to a halt. But what can we do? Bills need payin' and I do enjoy to eat a meal now and again.
Hey - how many of you zip over to JacketFlap just to see who was "recently on"? Come on? Fess up. I've now added that click to my frequent Amazon, and Google procrastinating clicks. Try it - it's fun. Easy. And then you can go back to work, I promise! And if you haven't signed up - rush right over now and become part of the publishing network.
Speaking of which - I was just over there on JacketFlap and the blog being highlighted at the moment (how come it's never my blog when I click over?) was David Lubar's "Gadfly in the Ointment". He's so funny and his observations...well, very David Lubar.
Last week he linked to a post that all kid writers MUST read - it's from Kate Messner's blog and it's a real pick-me-up from a 7th grade teacher and writer. Go look!
In related news: I got me a new laptop!!! Yay! The black macbook is my companion for my upcoming LA trip. It's so sleek and fun. Apple you have my heart once again.....
Tomorrow I'm off for a week of Writing and Wresting (everyone join in:...."ahhhh!"). All "job" projects are on hold - and it's me, my son, our dog and my new Macbook - and a week at our favorite cabin on the coast of Maine.
I'm already picturing the porch that overlooks the water and my setup, where I'll write everyday! BOOK TWO calls loud and clear and I am forging forward with ideas that seem disjointed and odd - but I secretly know they'll all tie together. (or maybe there's that job at McDonalds....)
Above is a Brain-Doodle that wanted to jump out and become part of the BOOK TWO story.... I think he'll fit in perfectly!
Man, I wish I had a name like that. Mine has all those bouncing syllables and stuff. His...simple bookends. Now we all know Mr. Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF - which was a wonderful read and I enjoyed it for all the praise-worthy reasons.
BUT - having just finished I AM THE MESSENGER I have to stand up and cheer - and hand out recommendations to anyone looking for a mysteryious, thoughtful, deeply funny first person narrative. I don't pretend to be a "reviewer" so I'll keep my horn-tootin' to this:
Read it. All the way to the last words that gave me chills.
On a related note: I didn't READ it. I listened to it on a car ride my son and I took last weekend to New Hampshire and back. Both myself and my 13 year old were captivated by the story that features a 19 year old deadbeat of a main character and a coffee drinking dog and a mystery involving 12 playing cards.
I drove him to and from school all this past week so we could listen to the chapters - we drove in silence as the story continued to hold us and make us laugh and smile...and think. We finally finished the book in our driveway - and since the main character Ed is a cabdriver - there was something fitting about it.
Read it. Or listen to it, which for me was a delight because Mr. Zusac is Australian and the actor who read the book was an Aussie giving the flavor of the story with his accent. (I love an Australian accent - and this guy was great!)
It hits me everyday. At every book sale or kid's letter to me, or new review (this one is my favorite of all times I think).
But what has really made me smile in that 1o year old, beaming-proudly way is this: I am part of the SCHOLASTIC BOOK FAIRS. I still remember getting those wonderful newsprint sheets that get sent home so we can check the little boxes next to the books we'll get. I remember it all - the joy of choosing my own books, the anticipation... and then getting the books handed out and then rushed home to be devoured.
I'm now on that sheet of newsprint. And the kid in me can't wait to get home and tell me all about it - hoping beyond hope to check as many boxes as I want!
My second book is knocking on my brain and the only way to deal with it is to write as much as I can in between the ridiculous jobs I have and other tasks that are pulling me in a zillion directions. (Alas - I do believe this is called "life" and I accept the challenge with a smile )
That said - this BOOK TWO is taking many forms - and one of my brains (for I have many) is drawn to drawing. I find I am making headway in my journey through little doodles that keep popping into this brain and then appearing on paper.
It's quite fun actually - and I marvel at the connection of mind/subconscious to the writing process. It's fascinating what happens when the brain store closes and all the employees go home. Ideas...snippets...sounds....and PICTURES.
Though posting is hard these days - I hope to keep sharing doodles as I write on!
Hey - just read that Sarah Mlynowski's new book, "Gimme A Call" was snapped up by Delacorte for a release sometime in 2009. Sarah is the YA author of the trilogy "Bras and Broomsticks", "Frogs and French Kisses", and the soon to be released "Spells and Sleeping Bags".
Now I don't know Sarah, but next Monday she is one of five authors participating in the Young Authors Workshop sponsored by the Montreal Jewish Library. The other authors who will be giving workshops for the 5th -6th grade kids are Eva Wiseman, Kathy Kacer, M.C. Millman, and moi.
The best part about the two days is I get to meet and schmooze with other authors. Any chance I'm given to leave the dungeon and actually converse with live beings is a plus - but when I get to chat with writers....it's PLUS X PLUS SQUARED!
I've given workshops - but never within this environment. It's a two day thing (different kids each day) and we'll be doing two workshops a day for an hour and a half. I'm having a blast brainstorming ideas to try out with the kids and hopefully no one will spitball me!
If anyone has some great writing exercises they want to share - I'm all ears!
This Saturday if you're in the Houston area, specifically the Cypress-Fairbanks burb - then you just have to drop in at this Barnes and Nobles.
The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School System is celebrating their second annual Horned Toad Tales list by having their school librarians and media specialists read excerpts from the selected books every hour.
And what books are on this list of recommended reads for kids in 3rd - 5th grade? Take a look!
And yes....(blush-blush) Pond Scum is hopping around with the toads (much better than sleeping with the fishes)!
Thanks Horned Toad Tales committee - and have a blast this weekend!
On this thoroughly yucky Montreal day - a few musings:
#1: The Disco Mermaids contest rocks! The prizes are the coolest - but it's the submissions of celebrity book titles that give my procrastination props! (love reading what people have come up with so far)
#2: If it doesn't stop snowing soon I'm going to go a tad nutso. It's APRIL! Flower buds and songbirds should be outside my window - not icicles and slush. IT'S JUST WRONG!
#3: Thank you to everyone who viewed my new BOOK TRAILER and linked it or shared it or did things with it that I'd rather not know about! PR is the hardest part of this job - and without the help of friends who are strangers, and the strangers who are becoming friends - book awareness can be about as futile as the spring that hasn't yet sprung!
#4: Lastly - on a real and tragic note - I am filled with sorrow and confusion over yesterday's Virginia Tech shootings. It was just last Sept. that a Montreal school was rocked by a smaller, though no less tragic shooting - my heart is full and my head filled with questions. (sigh)
When writing comes about as slowly as the spring that, in Montreal, arrives some time about June - I turn my WADD-(writer's-attention-defecit-disorder) to playing with Flash and making little toons that soothe my savage beast - and then drive it a bit nutso.
To shift a mood o'mine that could be a tad funky - all it takes is the opening strains of Red Clay Rambler's rendition of Spike Jones' "Pal-yat-chee" and I'm a-smilin'.
Medusa be damned! Writing is a multi-tasking nightmare when it comes to juggling the different heads needed to make it through each creative day. Disco Mermaid Eve wrote about her own split personality disorder re. her own writing projects - a daunting mind-altering task if ever there was one.
I too need to talk myself down from the ledge as I try and stay focussed enough to keep one of the many heads in line. Writing-The-New-Book-Head wants to delve into character work. Mr.Time-to-Look-For-Work-Head needs to write some emails to clients past, present and future. The Head-Of-A-Thousand-Naps begs to doze off for just a minute or two. And my Marketing Head of Doom knows there's no time like the present to try and get attention for POND SCUM's paperback release.
Therapy has helped. Sugar hasn't. My attempts to stay focussed work for ten or fifteen minutes until the next head begs for attention. I grew up in an anxiety-riddled world filled with early loss and later neglect - so it's no wonder I've created a work life that is just as insecure and anxiety-filled (that's what the therapist says anyway!)
Still, we creative types trudge on, head(s) held high with the hope and desire that with all these disparent voices ringing always inside us - a truth shall emerge that is both satisfying to an outside world as well as a unifier inside, giving all the heads something to hold up together....for a moment or two, until it's time for a nap, a new chapter, another job, or even a blog post that gives them all something to feel good about.
Writing my book is a blast...when I'm actually writing it! In other words, procrastination time! Who remembers High School fondly? Okay - you three people are excused from class. For everyone else (self included) I created a little toon that marches to the beat of a different accordian.
In my case it's what sits at the base of my computer: three monkeys and the found object they protect. Writing is a mysterious process; one which baffles me and thwarts me at every turn. Still inside lurks this "thing" that wants out and if I listen hard enough and stop worrying voices from overtaking me, I can become quiet and remember the story I started that wants me back.
The monkeys urge me. The MU key begs me to dive without fear, trusting the words will be there to cushion the fall. It's a small step. But discovering I want to write again fills me with hope.
Florida and I go way back. I worked there. Lived there. Vacationed there. Helped my in-laws move after the hurricanes there.
Add to that the first sighting of a certain paperback book bearing my name!
Yup. I just got back from a 10 day escape from Montreal's winter. We figure once you get past February's wicked hump - spring is only a scant 4 months away up here where it starts getting warm in June!
It was a great trip that began as a solo romp with my son - where we spent 3 exhausting days playing at my old stomping grounds of DisneyWorld (yay, Tower of Terror!) I got to have dinner with old friends (thanks again Diane for the travel mix-tape!). Then off to south Florida where my wife joined up at her folks and we gorged on fried fish and chips. While at my in-laws we took an afternoon trip to a bookstore and there I had the pleasure of discovering my PAPERBACK on the shelves of Barnes and Nobles.
I am thrilled (of course!) And after finding the book properly shelved - we immediately turned the book to show the cover, which I urge everyone to do!
Okay. Anyone who knows the Steve Martin classic "The Jerk" will recognize that enthusiastic line. And anyone who doesn't, put on your stupid hat and go rent it!
A box arrived at my door the other day - and recognizing the return address and obvious girth - I knew it was a bof o' books: namely my books. The sight of POND SCUM paperbacks filled me with that great feeling which comes to all of us insecure types, which plainly is: "I really did sell a book." I suspect that this feeling stays with us no matter how often it happens (and hopefully I'll be able to tell you that's true when next I get published).
Anyway - I'm thrilled and scared because the paperback version represents the real litmus test. Now affordable, will POND SCUM find its audience? Will stores stock it? Do new reviews even exist?
I'm truly not sure how an author writes new things when the head gets so bogged down in trying to get a book "out there". But I'm thrilled to find out!
Pond Scum (the paperback) will be in stores March 1st - so mark your calendars!
The cold has settled in, which creatively I find inspirational. Since I spend most of my time locked away inside (my house and my brain), the record-low temps appeases my guilt about never leaving the house. Add to that the constant care of our new puppy (Zeus) and I have sealed the deal on becoming house-bound forever.
This leads to creative relaxation - no pressure to roam away from my wonderful workspace (except to take Zeus out, which we've got down to a near-science). In this head space I am stumbling upon new ideas and bursts of words on new and old projects. My movie with the Disney Channel has been well-received (so far) and the new projects I am working on flow nicely.
Still, as any readers of these ramblings know, writing is a world of uncertaintity and in that I take the same kind of solice as I do with the cold weather. Trapped by choice in a career of unknowns feels oddly safe. And as I stare at the ice outside I know I am doing exactly what I am meant to do with my life: Stay nested; Stay warm; Stay creative; Walk the dog.
Wow - are we really into a whole week of a new year and I haven't posted any sort of HUZZAH or NEW YEARS GREETING?
My procrastination has followed me from one year's failed resolution to another and I swear I should stop trying to be the guy I'm not (that would be the one who imagines that he will post every day about the writing process with great wit and insight). Truth is: it's just ME again; the guy who wants to finish his second novel and get his movie made and make funny BOOK-TOONS and post sporadically about why he hasn't posted.
I have post traumatic stress about posting - and I'm not afraid to admit it.
On that note - I feel I've blabbed enough to constitute an actual "post".
ps: Wednesday night I'm going to the first "mixer" of Writer and Illustrator types here in Montreal that's being put together by a library person who wants to create a "network". I'll let you know how it goes after I see what kind of snacks they serve!