Shameless Self-Promotion

So…I’m beginning to realize that with this whole Tempus Fugit year I’m having, it’s about to be May, and my next book, THE FAMILY FLETCHER TAKES ROCK ISLAND, is coming very soon! (Pictured below…my author copies! Huzzah!)

 

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I am beyond excited to share this story.
Now sometimes friends say, apologetically, that they didn’t buy my book, that they took it out from the library, or borrowed it from a friend instead. Let me go on the record: that’s awesome! Do NOT apologize! Share it, pass it along, take it out from the library…as long as you don’t steal it or illegally download it, I’m happy.


Here’s the thing: you can help an author in a bunch of different ways, some of which don’t involve spending a dime. And because people have asked, here are some ways to support your favorite books.
1) Pre-order it. If you ARE going to buy it, consider pre-ordering it from your local bookstore or one of the online behemoths. I’ll put links below, to make it easy.*
2) Request it at your local library. They will get pretty much any book you ask for, so make it a point to ask!
3) LEAVE A REVIEW! Seriously, this matters more than you might think. The big three are Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble (links below). It does not need to be a thoughtful, college-essay-caliber assessment of the themes and subplots. You can literally write, “Great book!” and give it five stars, and that would suffice. If you DO write a thoughtful and insightful review, you can simply cut and paste it from one site to another. (Note: some don’t let you post reviews until the book is out, others you can review whenever).*
4) Give it as a gift! If you know kids, or if you give gifts to schools, consider gifting the books you love. Most authors will happily personalize or send along extra swag like bookmarks to make it even better.

Again, don’t ever apologize for not buying my books…share them, borrow them, stick notes in them and leave them on a park bench. I’m honestly grateful and delighted to know these stories are out in the world, no matter what.
Read on, xoxoxo Dana


IndieBound for pre-ordering.

Barnes & Noble for reviewing and pre-ordering

Amazon for reviewing and pre-ordering. (Note: you cannot review until the book is officially out, even if you read an early draft!)

Goodreads for reviewing

*If you are wondering why it matters to pre-order books, or why reviews are important for things like internet algorithms and the like, I’m happy to go into it, but it’s kind of long and boring and I won’t bother unless you ask.

Hi there

I don’t blog a lot. I admit it. So if you’re looking for updates, please check my News page, and if you’re looking for links and procrastination and general brain ramblings, consider taking a look at my Facebook Author page, which is a great spot to find all of that.

However, I do occasionally have something to say, so check back here as well, if you don’t mind being disappointed.

For instance, the book I’m working on now includes a small Roman centurion who is photographed all around the United States. How did I ever come up with that, you ask??

Well…more to come on that later, (and for that matter, more on that book, which will be coming out in 2017!!!) But for now, I leave you all with this.

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In Which I Get Uncharacteristically Crafty

Those who know me will attest that I’m not a particularly handy or crafty type person. In fact I have been known to duct-tape the cuffs of my jeans, and my kids once asked, when they were quite young, “Mama, what’s that?” when they first laid eyes on an iron.

Those who know me also know I am not religious, by any traditional measure. I don’t practice an organized (or even disorganized) religion in a formal place of worship, though I do seek mystery and spirituality the the world around us, when I’m not busy seeking laundry or a missing soccer cleat or my inspiration for a book.

So as a non-crafty, non-religious-type person, it is odd that I love the holiday season so much. But I do. Long before humans put the current names on the current religious holidays, the earth turned away from the sun, and the days got colder and shorter. This changing of the seasons toward the shortest day has always mattered. The rituals of lighting candles, hanging evergreens, and singing have been human instincts long before our religions incorporated them into today’s traditions.

I love this time of year. It marks the death of the old year and the birth of the new, the start of winter and, paradoxically, the start of lengthening days toward spring. So yes, my non-religious, non-crafty self gets very excited come holiday season.

With all that said, I have one spectacular holiday tradition that I’m pretty proud of, and thought I’d share. I’m particularly proud because, while it looks adorable, it really comes from a pathological inability to throw away cute socks or good books. Also it involves no sewing (*shudder*) or god forbid…GLUE GUN. (They terrify me).

So what is this magic? A picture book advent calendar! This began when I realized that:

  1. We owned a ton of holiday/winter themed picture books
  2. They didn’t get much attention the rest of the year
  3. My kids were starting to move on to chapter books but I wasn’t willing to give these up
  4.  I have a lot of unmatched tiny socks for absolutely no reason

A bunch of years ago, I decided to take the holiday books out of circulation the rest of the year, hiding them away in my closet (not with the rest of the Christmas stuff, since I need them on December 1st, and I definitely DON’T need to be rifling through boxes of ornaments and stockings at 11:30 pm on November 30th, thanks for asking). The first few years we didn’t have quite enough books, so I borrowed a few from the library or from friends. But luckily or unluckily, truly gorgeous holiday classics keep being published, and while I try to be disciplined about picture books (since my kids are teenage-ish now), sometimes I have to add a new one. Anyway, I keep them in a pile in my room, and bring them down once the day’s sock has been opened.

Here are the books:

 

 

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While there are lots of good ones, some of the favorite titles are:

  • The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
  • Olive, The Other Reindeer
  • The Polar Express
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (duh)
  • The Shortest Day
  • A Child’s Christmas in Wales
  • Little Tree
  • The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree
  • Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve
  • Night Tree
  • All the gorgeous Robert Sabuda paper art pop-up books

I should also note that, as a God’s-Greatest Hits kind of family, where we celebrate both Jewish and Christian traditions, most of these books trend toward the secular, though there are a few really lovely ones (like One Winter’s Night by Diane Dillon) that tell the Christmas story in a way that allowed me to cover the facts without making me too uncomfortable with the religious aspects.

As pictured here, I took twenty-four tiny little baby socks and mittens, a piece of ribbon, and some clothespins, and set them up on the wall.

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I typed up the book titles, printed them out, and cut them into little strips that could be tucked into the socks. Some days I also tucked in a marble, a tiny eraser, a chocolate, or some other little treat. (But not all days…because kids, like dogs, are easily trained, and after a few disappointed looks when “only” the book came out, I backtracked.)

Some titles correspond to specific days — we have a wonderful book called The Shortest Day, all about the solstice and the traditions that have surrounded it, from the druids to modern day — and that one gets read on December 21st. The Night Before Christmas, of course, is in the last sock. The Nutcracker, on the years we’ve gone to the ballet, is on that date. But otherwise, I just shove them in there.

My big grown-up kiddos still get excited when the familiar titles come out. Sometimes we have to delay a reading because of homework or late night hockey, sometimes the teen listens with one ear while checking his phone, but regardless, the tradition is still going strong. And I love revisiting these books, and seeing the tiny socks each year. Especially because no glue gun was required.

ALSO!

As mentioned above, we are Jewish and Christian, and so celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. While there is always more hoopla for Christmas, I will add that I also have amassed a rather wonderful collection of Hanukkah books, and the top ones do come out on the eight nights of Hanukkah. (Though there are no socks. Sorry about that).

A few favorite Hanukkah books, for those who might want them:

  • Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
  • The Hanukkah Guest
  • A Light in Every Window

 

Happy solstice season, however you celebrate!

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Yom Kippur at the Beach

Some lessons learned from a day at the beach

I’m not what you’d call a practicing Jew, what with being married to a lapsed Catholic and considering bacon and lobster two of the world’s best foods. But I am Jewish, and our family (like my fictional Fletchers), does our best version of God’s Greatest Hits — menorah in front of the Christmas tree, Passover Seder complete with Easter Peeps, and so on.

But the High Holy Days are tough. If you don’t attend synagogue there is not a lot to do at home to mark these most holy of days. We dip apple in honey for a sweet new year, and have talked about trying to add in our version of Tashlich, where you go to a body of water and cast in your sins, so as to start the new year clean. But even so, we go to school, we go to work, and keep living our very busy everyday lives. And yet, there is something about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, these two holy days, that make it hard to stick to business as usual.

So I went to the beach.

Okay, it was a little bit more than that. First I decided to take a digital fast, staying off of social media, email, and even my phone, trying instead to just…be present. I didn’t make it a work fast, because I am writing a new book, and it is very very difficult right now, and I wanted to be open to thinking about it without adding the agitation and stress of breaking my own rules. So without my phone, in that quietness, in that stillness inside my head that wasn’t very still at all, I went to the beach.

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It was so, so, beautiful. It was heart-hurtingly beautiful, so perfect that somehow I couldn’t relax into it right away.

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I arrived there with a chair and a blanket, thinking to lie down under that endless blue sky and let the sun and air wash over me. But it was too beautiful to stay still, and I started walking, just to be MORE there, more present, with my feet in the sand and fast-licking salt water, my back baked hot in the sun, my ears filled with the screech and wheel of the gulls. And as I walked, I found myself unable to stop thinking about writing, and about the story that was fighting to get out.

So I offer up these lessons, on writing and on life, that came to me.

 

I. Sometimes you think it will be easy, and it’s not.

I found a treasure first thing — a whole and intact sand dollar! — and assumed many more would follow. It was the only one I found.

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II. Sometimes there is no clear path and it seems like too much trouble to pick your way through the rocks, and the ocean seems very far away.

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III. Sometimes in the middle of your clambering there are big rocks that stick up above the rest that look tremendously fun to climb. But once you get up there, it’s much harder to take the next step. You find yourself slowing, having to backtrack, moving farther from your goal.

 

IV. Sometimes after climbing up and backtracking off the big rocks three or four (or five or six) times, you figure out that just because they are fun to climb doesn’t mean they will take you where you want to go. You learn to hop along on the smaller rocks and pass the large ones that don’t take you anywhere.

 

V. And you learn: if you just hop from rock to rock, looking only at where to put your feet, and not at the distance to travel, it’s amazingly quick, and surprisingly fun. Suddenly, you are there.

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VI. Sometimes you are brave and wade into gross water and stick your hand under a big rock, hoping for treasure, and find nothing. Rewards are not guaranteed, even when you do everything right.

 

VII. Sometimes it is so beautiful, and no matter how you long to grab that beauty with words or photos you can’t, and all you can do is gaze out and be grateful.

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L’Shanah tovah, all. No matter how you celebrate this turning of the seasons, whether it is with back-to-school notebooks or apple in honey, I hope it is a very sweet new year.

And So the Shortest Day Came…

Yesterday my son broke a rather expensive glass candlestick. He broke it by kicking a soccer ball at the dining room table, so there wasn’t much room for ambiguity here. He pretty much nailed the sucker.

But let me back up.

Almost nineteen years ago we were given these hand-blown, Vermont-artisan candlesticks as a wedding present. They are quite tall, and elegantly simple, and (as could be intuited from the fact that they are tall, elegantly simple, and handmade), fragile. But I have a stern policy that beautiful things are to be enjoyed and lived with, day in and day out, and so these candlesticks sat on our table for all these years. Until last winter, when I broke one.

I broke it. (Not with a soccer ball). Not the kids, who play all sorts of insane ball or projectile-based games around the table. Not the cats, who despite our best efforts at training leap up and knock over vases of flowers with stunning regularity. Nope, I broke it myself while rushing to clean up the table.

Turns out that elegant simplicity doesn’t come cheap. It would be in the low three figures to replace the candlestick, and we just didn’t have it to spend. So I put away the single one and placed a row of unbreakable, if uninteresting, votive candles on the table. Funnily enough, it was not a case of out of sight, out of mind. I really missed my old candlesticks. There was something about their shape, the length of clear glass, the height of the candle burning tall and lovely. But on the scale of problems in our house, let alone our world, this didn’t even rate. I put it out of my mind.

Then last month we happened to be in a small town in Vermont for a hockey tournament. (You can guess where this is going). It happened to be the town where the artisan glass-blowing Vermonter was plying his trade.

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Reader, I bought another candlestick.

As the days of November got shorter and shorter, I was so happy to be sitting in the early darkness with my family by the light of our old familiar candle holders. I appreciated their beauty anew, and the rest of the family agreed.

That was around five weeks ago.

Flash forward to yesterday. It was the shortest day, the winter solstice, the day in our natural calendar that has given rise to so many of our religious and spiritual beliefs. As a New Englander, I deeply feel the pinch of the dark on these shortest days. It can be hard to maintain optimism and energy when faced with encroaching darkness. The solstice is a favorite day for me; a day that reminds me that even though winter is just beginning, even though we have months of snow and ice and cold ahead, we are turning back toward the sun. The days are getting longer.

I was celebrating yesterday, to use that term in a grossly inaccurate way, by shlepping through the grocery store and, lord help me, Marshall’s, buying food and searching for last minute presents. I was not in a pleasant mood. It was in Marshall’s, next to a display of pithy-statement-wielding barware, that I received a phone call from my son.

There were tears. (His). There were questions. (Mine). There were assurances of love. (Both). And promises of payment. (His. Well intentioned, but I happen to know the state of the bank account).

I wasn’t that angry, really. After all, what was the point? It was broken. Being angry wasn’t going to help un-break the glass. He was already distraught. Being angry wasn’t going to make him realize he screwed up. Even as he’s telling me, gulping a little, and sniffling, a small part of my mind was already thinking: this would make a kind of funny story. I obsess about a candlestick for a year, then it gets broken a few weeks after I bite the bullet and replace it. Okay, it wasn’t actually that funny, but still.

I drove out of the strip mall, having not found the last few presents I needed, bummed about the candlestick, and full of the low-grade frisson of rush and stress that accompanies the it’s-Sunday-and-laundry-and-a-seven-o’clock-hockey-game-and-presents-and-did-I-seriously-forget-milk-dammit.

As I waited for the light to change there were two individuals on either side of the road, a man and a woman. They were bundled in coats and boots, young-ish, and each held a cardboard sign that read: “Homeless couple. Just trying to get off the streets for the holidays. Please help if you can. God Bless You.”

I live in a pretty small town, and while there is poverty here, most of it is tucked out of sight. These people looked a lot like everyone else here, except for the signs. I sat in the line of traffic, waiting to make a turn, and the light changed before I could really process my thoughts, which were something like this: Do I have any cash in my wallet? They look so normal. Is she wearing Ugg boots? I know there’s a heroin problem in town. I wonder if that’s it. God I wish they could go home. I wish they had a home to go to. By the time I had found my purse (on the floor under a case of clementines) the light had changed. I made the turn and they were behind me, out of sight. But not out of mind.

I turned into the driveway of the empty bank next door, and parked. Sure enough, my wallet had limited cash. (Probably a quarter of the cost of the candlestick that was in shards on the table). I pulled it out and walked through the empty parking lot toward the women. Next to her the line of cars still sat, everyone on their phones or dealing with their radios or maybe, like I had been, trying to process how to help, how they could possibly help, in a moment before the light changed.

I handed her the money and wished her the best of luck. I wanted to ask if she had anyone to call. I wanted to give her the phone number of the shelter in town, or find out if she needed to see a doctor. I didn’t do any of those things. I handed her the money, and looked at her for a second, rather than looking away. Then I got back in my car, which was full of food and a few more unnecessary presents, and looked out at the fading daylight.

It was not yet four o’clock and it was already getting dark. The shortest day was upon us.

I went home and we unloaded the groceries, we cleaned up the glass, we made it to hockey and back, then we lit the menorah and said the Chanukah blessings and stared at the flickering candles and the gleaming Christmas tree lights as they danced in the darkness.

The candlestick is well and truly broken. So much is, in our world. But this shortest day reminded me again (and it seems I need so many reminders), how to cherish what I am lucky enough to find whole and intact.

Happy Solstice, all. Here’s to longer days ahead.

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P.S. The title of this post came from the Susan Cooper poem, The Shortest Day. I have linked to it before, as it is one of my favorites. But here it is again, for any who want to read it today. http://www.revels.org/index.php/store/cards-gifts/shortest-day-cards/#product[this]/0/

 

We Need Diverse Books (of course)

Well, I might have just cried a little bit at the video below.


There are a lot of good and important causes out there, but I can’t think of many nearer and dearer to my heart than the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

What began as a social media uproar due to the lack of diversity in a major publishing conference’s lineup, has morphed into a full-fledged movement for change. Major media outlets (School Library Journal), big name authors (Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Grace Lin, to name a few), established nonprofit First Book and publishing houses are partnering to put real effort to the idea. No longer is it an amorphous “I’ll-tweet-about-it-because-I-care-but-hey-it -won’t-really-change-anything” feeling.


Now there is a partnership with First Book to get diverse books into classrooms; now there is the Walter Dean Meyer Grant and Award program to recognize excellence in diverse books; now there are toolkits teachers and librarians can access to help promote diverse books in schools. There is a famous and sometimes overly-used quote by Margaret Mead: “
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Right now, in front of me, this is happening.

 


THINGS ARE HAPPENING. Things are happening because writers and readers called BS on a homogenous and unrepresentative book panel, and instead of just complaining about it they decided to change things.

So they need some money (not surprisingly). If any of you were feeling really bad that you didn’t get me a birthday present, feel free to wander over to the We Need Diverse Books fundraising campaign and drop a Ben Franklin, and Andrew Jackson, or whoever the heck is on the other bills. You couldn’t invest in a better cause. (And you can be off the hook for any Xmas/Chanukah present you were thinking of getting me too).

 

P.S. If you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, you may want to hear what this guy John Green has to say. He know a little bit about writing for teens.

 


Thank you!

I’m Tagged in a Blog Hop (Or, “You throw one kidney bean in one purse, and look what happens”)

As previously mentioned, I don’t blog regularly anymore. (Actually that implies I used to blog regularly, instead of at rather more frequent random intervals, but allow me the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia). HOWEVER. When the talented and hardworking Catherine Egan sent a runner on horseback, waving a banner with the royal colors of my house*, asking to be tagged in a blog hop, I said yes. After all, I owe her. Her purse was the recipient of a kidney bean that few from my overly-enthusiastic lunch gesticulation at the NESCBWI Conference last spring. Bonds forged of such moments are not easily broken.

*In honesty, she didn’t send a REAL horse and rider, but she did send an email that involved a vivid description of one, such that I felt like I owed the darn horse hay and a rubdown, as well as of course compensating the rider for riding so quickly. Which just goes to show you she is a VERY TALENTED WRITER.

Catherine writes emotionally complex, engrossing fantasy stories where vivid characters must fight for their lives and the lives of those they love. She has just released the third and final volume in one fantasy trilogy, called The Last Days of Tian Di, and is in the process of working on her NEXT fantasy trilogy, for Knopf, which will start to appear in 2016.

I, in contrast, write funny middle grade books about boys, smelly soccer cleats, and cat barf (among other things). I was obviously honored and delighted to be even tangentially, via-kidney-bean-ily, connected to Catherine’s writing. So I groped my way back to my blog, and here I am.

And without further ado, for all who want to know…drumroll please…MY WRITING PROCESS!! BEHOLD THE AWESOME!!!

 ———

What are you working on?

Several things, all simultaneously, and not particularly well. But specifically today, I am working on revisions for the sequel to The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, tentatively titled, A Fletcher Family Summer. The sequel follows the Fletcher family to their summer vacation on beloved Rock Island, an island thirty miles out to sea where everything stays the same. Except this year, all sorts of things are changing, and the boys need to figure out how to deal with the the changes both in themselves and in the place they love.

When I’m not working on that, I’m working on a few other projects, including another middle grade book set on a farm up in Maine, and two different young adult contemporary stories that are banging on the inside of my brain trying to get out.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahaha! Oh wait, you really want an answer? My mistake. Sorry. ERM… *clears throat*

Well, in many ways, it doesn’t. I mean, it’s a family story about a group of siblings in a loving home who have everyday highs and lows. There is no incredible premise that just breaks free of anything done before.

But on the other hand, what if you asked a baker, “what makes your cake different from everyone else’s cake?” I mean, the ingredients are mostly the same…there are variations of course, but whether you are going vanilla or chocolate or mocha buttercream frosting…hmmm, what was I saying? Oh right! No matter how you flavor it, you will be making something with eggs and butter and flour and so on. Every once in a while someone comes along and does something insane with bacon or molecular gastronomy or squid ink, and that’s really exciting and thought-provoking, but mostly we want our cakes to fall within a fairly predictable pattern.

The same is true with most stories. But with stories, and cakes, the difference is in the nuance and the execution. In my books, I wanted to create something like the books I grew up loving, books like All of a Kind Family and The Melendy Quartet. I wanted to match my genre, but at the same time, by making the Fletchers a more unusual family, I wanted to mix it up.

Mostly I wanted to take the evergreen family stories that I love and update them in a way that allows more kids and parents to find themselves in the pages.

Why do you write what you do?

I am not someone who struggles to come up with ideas. Indeed, I have a whole list of SNIs (Shiny New Ideas) that pop up when I’m writing and beg me to spend some time with them.

So what do I write? I write the stories I have to write. I write the ones that won’t leave me alone. I write the ones I want to read so badly that, since no one better will do it, I have to write them myself.

What does your writing process look like?

Trench warfare. Only cleaner and with better snacks.

Okay, that’s a lame answer. But it is ugly…I am not the most organized person* and juggling life, work projects, writing deadlines, new writing projects, and so on can utterly floor me. But I am a huge fan of outlines and  lists (OH HOW I LOVE TO CROSS THINGS OFF OF LISTS).

When starting a new project, I write an in-depth 20-30 page chapter-by-chapter outline that teases out the internal and external arcs of the characters and the plot. This allows me to be sure that the basic shape of the story works before I’m off and writing, and it means that if I wander off and write myself into a swamp**, I can check the outline and get back on track.

Then, when it’s time to revise, that’s when the lists come in. (LISTS! I LOVE YOU!) It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of revision, so I break it down into as many single listed items as possible, then, methodically work through, crossing them off as I go (YAY FOR CROSSING THINGS OFF OF LISTS)! I do this several times, moving uncrossed-off items from the old list to the new, until I think the draft is ready.

I also have extraordinary critique partners who read every draft, every painful revision, every dithering question and crazy tangent, and help keep me on track. Those people deserve serious cake.***

*This is an understatement.

**This is a metaphor. While there are some swampy bits not too far from my house, I don’t wander in while writing. Usually.

***I have no idea what the cake is all about. I think I’m hungry.

——–

So, now that I’ve gotten all THAT out of the way, I get to tag another writer! And I am choosing my fellow Nancy Gallt Literary Agency middle grade maestro, Isaiah Campbell, whose book The Troubles of Johnny Cannon just came out and is taunting me from my TBR pile.* For those of you who don’t have revisions due, I urge you to go grab this one…and to see what Isaiah might have to say about his writing process on his blog next week!

*Soon, my preshussssssssssss. SOOOOON.

WINTERKILL, or The Book I Didn’t Write But am Proud of Anyway

Almost four years ago, in October 2010, I exchanged emails with another writer I found on the Absolute Write writers forums. For those who don’t know, the Absolute Write online forums are a huge and helpful, if slightly daunting resource, for aspiring writers. Whether you’re writing picture books or poetry, memoirs or thrillers, that website has online discussions where hundreds of writers and would-be writers can share advice.  Anyway, I was writing for young adults, and another author, with a random screen name, reached out to talk about finding critique partners. I offered to read for her if she ever needed it, and a month later a short story arrived in my inbox.

That random screen name turned out to be one Kate Boorman, and since that date four years ago she and I have exchanged literally hundreds of thousands of words, back and forth and back and forth between Edmonton, Canada, where she lives, and New England, where I’m located. While we both started out writing paranormal Young Adult — think mermaids (for me) and reincarnation (for her) — our writing paths diverged and she began writing creepy alternate history while I tried my hand at a book for younger kids.

We met in person when Kate came east for an SCBWI conference two years into our online friendship. Her husband’s advice: “Take a photo of her license plate and email it to me before you get in her car!” But there was no need for fear: I was only weird in the ways Kate already knew about. I should mention that Kate is nearly six feet tall, blond, and quite amazing looking. I am five feet three inches, if my hair is puffy. This is us together, though not standing up, as it is hard to get us both in the frame:

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Kate and I signed with our agents around the same time, and sold our first books around the same time. Each milestone was shared and celebrated. Every setback involved phone calls and virtual cocktails. Sometimes we refer to each other as Amos and Boris, after William Steig’s wonderful picture book about a whale named Boris and a mouse named Amos who become best friends, though they will always live far away from each other.

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We dealt with hard family stuff as well as hard professional stuff together, and through it all we kept sending pages upon pages back and forth, through endless drafts and constant revisions.

“Do you have time to read this one scene?”

“HELP ME FIX THIS!!!”

“Okay, what about this?”

“OMG I HATE THIS STUPID BOOK”

“Hmmmm….”

These are subject lines of our emails back and forth. It should be noted that I was writing about four silly boys and cat barf and Kate was writing about a gruesome secret history and bravery and kissing. But it never really mattered. Somehow we could still offer useful advice, or at least a listening ear.

Today Kate’s book WINTERKILL comes into the world. It is awesome. It’s for young adults (though I personally think that the beautiful writing and awesome world-building work for adults as well), and it’s a creepy and gorgeous alternate history about western expansion gone terribly wrong. While I didn’t write a single word of this book, I did get to watch it be born, from a rough first draft to a beautifully designed and edited (HOLLA AMULET!) final product. So I get to be proud of this book, in a way. Not in an “I made it!” way, but in an “I know the author and I helped!” kind of way. Which is really stinking cool.

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Kate is working on the next book in the WINTERKILL series, and I’m working on the sequel to THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER. She’s still got kissing and murder and spooky creepy things, and I still have cat barf and boys. And we are still sending emails back and forth, page after page, day after day:

“What do you think?”

“WAIT WHAT IF…”

“I can’t do this! ARGH!”

Writing is largely a solitary business, and I’m awfully lucky to have found a whole community online, so that there are a number of talented, sympathetic, super-smart friends all around the country who offer help and amusement as needed. But most of all, I’m lucky that an incredibly tall writer from Edmonton emailed me all those years ago. Happy book birthday to WINTERKILL, and its amazing author! Here’s to the next 1,000,000,000 emails!

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IMG_6386 Sadly, we are in Las Vegas, not Paris. Next time…

 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher Launch Party, or SHENANIGANS

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Me and Jabberwocky Bookshop owner Sue Little

Wow. That’s about all I can say about the glorious, wonderful, amazing, ridiculously fun, delightful launch party on Sunday. Just…wow.

It starts with the fact that I live in a great place with not one but two great independent bookstores. The event was at Jabberwocky Bookshop, a particularly special place with truly wonderful staff, an eclectic and interesting collection of books, and a huge children’s section. Also, it’s next door to a bakery that specializes in whoopie pies. Nope, I’m not making that up. If you don’t know what a whoopie pie is, then first of all, I’m sorry, and second of all, head over to Chococoa’s website and see what you’ve been missing. (And yes, they ship).

 

Me talking. Probably about cat barf.

Me talking. Probably about cat barf.

I was beyond touched and delighted at how many friends, old and new, showed up to celebrate with me. It’s a busy time of year (are there any times of year that aren’t, really??), traffic was epic, and yet childhood friends, author friends, and countless others all made the schlepp to be there.

For those who got stuck in traffic or couldn’t come, I’m sharing my remarks and some photos here. And I will keep posting new signings and appearances on the website as they come up. But today, on launch day, I am mostly just so grateful and delighted to give the family Fletcher its push into the world with such a great crowd.

Here’s the text of the speech I gave — and I am using that term loosely — in case you missed it and want to know what it was all about.

The common wisdom shared with all aspiring writers, is “write what you know.” Well, that and “consider getting an IV drip of coffee.”

So I went ahead got the IV drip, and…wrote about a family with two gay men as parents and four adopted boys.

It seems like I didn’t follow the rule, because what do I know about gay dads or adoption. Heck, I don’t even know about brothers.

In fact I have one sister. I know nothing of the wild rumpus that four brothers would involve. But that one sister of mine — she and I are really close. We have inside jokes and fights and we can still make each other laugh with a single word. (like Shark bird). And recently her family was reading The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher aloud. And they stopped partway through, saying: “this book is like reading Dana’s life. I swear I’ve heard half of these stories!”

And they are right. Because while I might not have four boys, I have two kids of my own now, (who are also here — Hi Noah and Izzy!), and wow, the stories come fast and thick. I don’t have to be too creative to come up with some of the craziest stuff in the book.

So in this book, there are ridiculous stories from the Kirbys, the Levys, the Ringels, and many of my longtime friends as well. In fact, some of the best stories had to be cut, because my editor felt that “that couldn’t really have happened.” (Usually because it was too dangerous. But yep. They happened. Welcome to the 70s.)

So yes, I wrote what I know. I wrote the kind of family I have, even if we look a little bit different on the outside. For instance, I thought my sister was incredibly cool, the way Jax thinks of Sam. I had a robust imaginary life, not unlike Frog. I was miserable in school for a while, kind of like Eli.

Now, I realize that every family has its own challenges and triumphs. And a family with two dads and four adopted biracial kids definitely has experiences that I do not know.

But rather that worry about that, I decided to write about what I do know: a family where the love is obvious, cat barf far too common, the details how the family arrived on this planet together matters much less than whose turn it is to clean the litter box.

That’s my family, and probably a lot of yours too.
Thank you again for being here. I really hope you like the book.  As many of you already know, Random House recently bought a sequel, so I am spending this summer once again deep in the mischief, mayhem and general shenanigans of the family Fletcher, and I couldn’t be happier.

Here are a few more photos of the signing. Thanks to all who snapped away! I was far to discombobulated to even think about a camera!

Signing. With my ham of a son in the background. At least he's not giving me bunny ears in this one.

Signing. With my ham of a son in the background. At least he’s not giving me bunny ears in this one.

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Notice my upside-down left-handed writing. Makes not smudging difficult!

So that was my book launch: dear friends from as far away as Ireland and as close by as next door; beloved family from Canada, Maine, Boston, and beyond, and a wild rumpus of kids making it all fun.

 

Here’s to summer. Here’s to books. And here’s to family and friends that make it all wonderful!

 

Two readers back at home, camped out with their new books

Two new readers back at home, camped out with their new books

 

Me and My Blog (a Tragi-Comedy)

I waste spend a lot of time on social media. If you want to find me I am yapping away most days on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and so on. I post compelling articles on the need for more diversity in children’s literature, or reviews of books that I’ve adored. I also find myself posting photos of tiny turtles on strawberries because honestly, who wouldn’t?? (Also it’s the commentary on this one that totally slays me. “YES OF COURSE I TRIED BALANCING ON IT JENKINS THIS IS NOT MY FIRST DAY AS A TINY TURTLE INVESTIGATOR” *dies*)

And I have all kinds of things that I think about blogging about. Books, current events, humorous moments from my life (Did I ever tell you about the time our cat Amos got stuck up a tree for three days and a cage-fighting animal-rescue volunteer roped in to rescue him?? Or about how I went to a book conference and flung a knife and a kidney bean into the purse of the woman lunching next to me?)

But somehow I never quite write the blog posts. I want to. I think about it. But I never really get to it. And I feel lousy about it, not because people are clamoring for them, but because I like to write and have things to say, and this seems like a pretty good place to say them.

However. When I wrote my big list of 2014 resolutions, Write More Blog Posts was not on there. Fact is, I have books to write, and work to do, and kids to feed and pay attention to, and cats to get out of trees, and kidney beans to fling. I AM A BUSY PERSON, AS YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE. Better that I write more books and less blog posts, I think.

So really, this is a blog post to say that I don’t write a lot of blog posts, which frankly, is a bizarre use of my time and probably really boring to read. In closing, then, I will urge anyone looking for more frequent randomness from me to check out the links above. And because I am grateful for anyone who wants to check this site out, here. Have a baby turtle with a strawberry. You’re welcome.

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