This weekend, I had the pleasure of hanging out with thousands of English teachers at the NCTE Annual Convention.1 I’m not a fan of Vegas, but I am a fan of English teachers, and it was a fun time packed with parties and luncheons and various meet-and-greets. I was able to reconnect with authors like Shannon Hale, Cecil Castellucci, and Jennifer Holm. I may or may not have teared up when I finally got to meet Jon Szieszka.
Abrams also had me at their booth signing copies of Peter Nimble, which they were selling at cost. In a convention hall awash in free ARCs, even discounted books are a tough sell — I felt like I needed to find a way to draw passers-by, which led to this:
I had a stack of 11×17″ paper and a pretty steady line of people eager to receive crappy portraits — so much fun!
The highlight of the weekend was getting to finally meet the geniuses behind the Nerdy Book Club! Colby, Donalyn, and Cindy threw a party on Friday, and it was a blast. The NBC blog has a convention wrap-up, including a video of me doing an impromptu yo-yo show:
- The event felt very similar to ALA Annual, but with a somewhat smaller publisher presence … which actually made it easier to connect with people. ↩
A lot of friends have expressed disappointment that they were unable to attend my launch party in August. Well, good news! The fine folks at Pittsburgh’s own Penguin Bookshop are throwing a Peter Nimble book party!
The event will be on Saturday, Dec 17th from 1-3pm. There will be hot cocoa, cookies, readings, games, and more! If you live or know anyone who lives in the Pittsburgh area, please tell them to come! I’ll also be using this as an opportunity to introduce the community to my school programs — so those of you who have been dying to see some costumes and yo-yo tricks would be advised to come!
This weekend, I’m headed up to Portland for the Wordstock Writer’s Festival! I’ll be doing signings, reading, a few panels about writing for young readers (with a whole host of awesome authors). What’s more, I’m also teaching a workshop this Sunday:
This topic was borne out of a recent observation made by Mary. It came during the heat of final revisions for Peter Nimble. I was cursing how much extra work it was to tell a visually rich story from the perspective of a blind child — going through every line to make sure I wasn’t taking my own sight for granted. Mary heard my grumbling and responded with typical perspicacity: “But isn’t that what you always do? You only pick the stories that force you to write with one arm tied behind your back.”
Of course, she was right. I have never had a shortage of story ideas, but the projects I actually finish all contain some ridiculous formal hurdle that makes them insanely difficult. Why write a feature film when I can write a silent feature film? Why tell a horror story when I can tell a horror story for children? Why inhabit the real world when I can build an entirely different world from scratch?
Readers love stories that tackle hurdles, but writing them is a serious pain! Now, however, I’m starting to believe that the formal challenge is the very thing that gets me through a draft — long after I have grown bored with my plot and characters, I have this “Pet Hurdle” to keep me involved. Since then, I’ve started doodling pictures of my Pet Hurdle:
Isn’t he cute? The workshop on Sunday will walk writers through the process of identifying the Pet Hurdle in their own work-in-progress and give them some tools for turning that challenge into an asset.
It makes me wonder: if Peter Nimble hadn’t been blind … would I even have finished telling his story?
Now that the craziness of the book release has calmed down, I’ll be returning to a more regular posting schedule (MWF) in which I discuss broader subjects in children’s books.1
In the meantime, I wanted to share about my absolutely crazy week. First off, I managed to get invited to an amazing party at author Cornelia Funke’s house. I got to hang out with a slew of teachers and booksellers … as well as Newbery winning author Susan Patron.2
Even more awesome, this week I did my very first SCHOOL VISITS! I did four middle schools in two days — each group was between 300-400 kids. The presentation included candy, costumes, toilet plungers, yo-yos and, of course, Peter Nimble! The whole thing culminated in a signing at Redlands Barnes & Noble. We had a huge turnout of awesome kids at the signing! Here’s a picture of me doing a little lightning quick sketch-artistry to explain some of the story:
Also, check out this ridiculous photo from an article in the local paper about the event. I especially love how this photo features my many weak chins:
I owe a huge thanks to librarian Joan McCall and B&N’s Laurie Aldern for organizing the event. I’ve got a whole slew of signings and presentations in the coming months … check out my events tab to see the full list. Once I get a few more of these visits under my belt, I’ll be writing a post with tips about what I’ve learned presenting to schools. Until then, consider booking me in a school or store near you!
This is as good a time as any to point my Los Angeles friends to TWO upcoming signings that I’ll be doing next week:
I will be at the famous Mrs. Nelson’s Books & Toys on Friday the 23rd at 5pm in conjunction with another school visit. And the following day (Sept 24), I will be at Chevalier’s Books in Los Angeles from 1-3pm. The store is on Larchmont in Mid-Wilshire. For my LA friends, I urge you to please, please, PLEASE come to the Chevalier’s signing. Seriously, what else are you doing at 1pm on a Saturday?
And finally, I’ve picked winners from the Peter Nimble t-shirt giveaway! The winners were selected from anyone who wrote a Peter Nimble review on Amazon, Goodreads, or B&N.com before August 31. Here they are:
Karissa Eckert – “A creative world, interesting plot, and wonderful characters make this a book that is fun to read and hard to put down.”
Nicola Manning – “A wonderful story that quickly grabs your attention with delightful characters one becomes fond of right away.”
Joceline Foley – “Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is a classic hero-on-a-quest novel, yet it manages to be anything but predictable and boring. The archetypal characters are fresh, funny, and smart.”
Aislynn Thompson – “The author did a fantastic job of weaving all the various stories of each character together – from the evil kind, the lost princess, the mysterious desert with the thieves, the crows, the missing children … all of it was woven together into a story that I couldn’t put down!“
Francine Kizner – “Peter Nimble is a fun and exciting adventure story that brings a fresh voice and perspective to children’s literature. It’s enthralling, funny, and very entertaining.”
I’ve contacted the winners — congrats, gang!
I’ve had a number of people ask about buying Peter Nimble t-shirts. For those interested, you can grab one for $20 (this includes shipping). The shirts are hand-printed on American Apparel 50/50 tees. Please specify size (XS, S, M, L, XL) whether you want green or blue. Click below to pay through paypal, or contact me directly to mail a check.
I’m sure regular Scop readers are getting sick of all my recent publicity-style announcements about Peter Nimble. In that spirit, I am going to restrain my gushing about last week’s book launch party to the footnote at the end of this sentence.1 Instead, I want to focus on one question that came up during the Q & A from blogger/teacher Monica Edinger.
Monica wanted me to discuss how I had patterned my narrator after the narrator in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan.2 Though flattered by the comparison, I didn’t agree with her point. I wasn’t able to sufficiently respond to her at the event, but I did follow up with an email, which I’ve excerpted below.
My Three Reasons that the Narrator in Peter Nimble Is Different than the Narrator of Peter Pan:
Barrie gives his Narrator a special vocabulary. If the digressions of Peter Pan indicate that the Narrator is spinning his tale, his language enforces it. More than once, Barrie uses opaque terms that have no grounding in the real world. A perfect example of this would be Mrs. Darling’s “kiss,” which never really gets explained. That’s because there is no explanation beyond its offhand use. Unlike the teacherly essayists of the 18th century (and, I would argue, Peter Nimble’s Narrator), Barrie’s Narrator isn’t interested in sharing/defining this special vocabulary with his readers.
Barrie’s Narrator sentimentalizes childhood. While Barrie isn’t afraid to let his child characters get a little bloody, he still maintains an infatuation with their innate innocence reminiscent of the Romantics. Even in calling Peter Pan “heartless,” there is a sense of longing in the Narrator’s voice … children are to him pure in a way adults will never be. I would argue that in the Narrator of Peter Nimble, we may find affection toward our young hero, but never adoration of the level that Barrie uses for Peter Pan… the Narrator of Peter Nimble, for example, would never suggest that Peter or Peg contains something special that adults like Professor Cake do not.
Monica was kind enough to respond. While she agreed with my above points, she also thought I was ignoring one major similarity in our writing — specifically how both our narrators are able to move between character perspectives. I’ve reprinted Monica’s excellent response below (with some minor edits).
Monica’s One Gigantic Reason That I’m Wrong:
When reading Peter Nimble I noticed the omniscient narrator as a character, breaking through here and there to explain things … I became extremely aware of this sort of narration due to Philip Pullman.3 Philip speaks of his narrator as a sprite, a character who can flit all over the place. I did think you did that as did Barrie … isn’t your narrator in that tradition of being able to be in different places, inside the minds of different characters, etc.? This is what Philip finds so fascinating about the omniscient narrator and me, too.
And just like that, I’m forced to completely reverse my opinion on the subject! Going through the book, I realize that a narrator that shifts perspectives is a pretty rare thing, and other than Barrie, I can’t think of another early author that does it. Well played, Ms. Edinger.
And she’s not alone! This very same topic came up last week in an interview with author Kate Milford … and my response was similarly dense.
What’s the moral of this story?
Never trust a writer to talk about his own book. He’s an idiot.
- Holy crap, it was AMAZING! We had about 90 people show up … which is a lot more than they had chairs for! I got a chance to meet so many wonderful readers, and reconnect with old friends. We gave away Peter Nimble t-shirts to everyone who asked questions. There was also a birthday cake, which was delicious! (I even forced the people to sing “happy Birthday” to me!) The biggest treat of all was that my father, who had just had emergency surgery in DC, checked himself out of the hospital that morning so he could show up and surprise me — I may or may not have cried upon seeing him. For those interested in seeing some pics, you can go here, here, or here. Also, Adam Silva did a great rundown of the event here. ↩
- I have a well-documented love for Peter Pan. Betsy Bird outlines a few Barrie connections in her School Library Journal review. Also, I talk about the relationship between one of my main characters and Wendy Darling in this interview with Bookpage Magazine. ↩
- Yes, she is on a first-name basis with the man! For those who are interested in the subject of the “sprite” narrator, I’d advise you to check out Monica’s very-excellent post on the subject here. ↩
The first time I visited New York as a young adult, there was just one bookish attraction I wanted to see. It wasn’t the statue of Alice Liddell in Central Park. Nor was it Patience and Fortitude outside the NY public library. No, what I wanted to see was the world-famous Books of Wonder bookstore! Up to that point, I had never been inside a store completely dedicated to children’s books — and what a store it was! To this day, I always make a point of stepping inside to lose myself for an hour or two.
This fact is among many reasons that I am immensely pleased to announce that on August 11, Mary and I will be at Books of Wonder for a Peter Nimble Launch Party!
I cannot stress how much I would love to pack out this store! Bring a million friends! There will be games, readings, giveaways of awesome t-shirts, and snacks! Please note the awesomeness of that last fact. Snacks, people! Take it away, Andrew:
Please come by and say hello! It’s going to be an awesome time. As for my besties on the West coast, details coming soon on a big LA signing event at the end of August!
After a brief and incredibly productive hiatus, I’m back in blogger mode!1 This last week was an exciting one, as it officially marked the debut of Peter Nimble. Well, pre debut.
Every year the American Library Association holds an annual conference wherein a million librarians descend on an unsuspecting town.2 A post about ALA is basically a post about hanging out with amazing authors, librarians, editors, and illustrators. Instead of name-checking all the swell people I spent time with (save that for Twitter), I’ve decided to write a post about the five things I learned from my time at ALA:
1) Always Wear a Name Tag
For many years, I have considered myself too cool for name tags. In the same way that I refuse to run across busy streets (why run when you can walk slow and scowl?), I also refused to wear name tags. This changed at ALA. As I was about to pocket my name tag, a woman beside me saw it and exclaimed “You’re taller than I thought you’d be!”3 This woman was author Jo Whittemore, and she promptly introduced me to the Texas Sweethearts author clan. Within seconds, I was on my way to lunch with a half-dozen YA novelists who had plenty of good advice for a nervous newbie. That never would have happened without the name tag.
I also noticed that wearing a name tag seems to improve conversation. I forgot to wear it to a few events, and those were the same events where small talk stayed small — never really moving beyond “Where are you from?” and “Oh, the humidity!” I realize now that the purpose of a name tag isn’t to help identify yourself on a handshake, but to help five minutes after the handshake. It allows the person talking to you to casually glance down and remind themselves who you are … and the less time they spend thinking “What’s his name again?” the more time they can spend actually having a real conversation.
2) Ugly Ducklings Abound
I had a chance to to talk with a number of authors and illustrators about how their careers started. More than a few of them had published in obscurity for years before hitting it big. Some were trapped on the midlist. Others had their aquiring editors change jobs, leaving their books orphaned at the house. A few were even dropped outright. This really hit home when I heard Brian Selznick talking with Horn Book editor Roger Sutton. He alluded to a frustrating period during which he could only get hired to draw biographies of dead presidents. From that dark period came Hugo Cabret — a book that changed both his career and (arguably) children’s literature. This was but one of probably a dozen stories I heard with the same trajectory.
This is a good reminder for me as I’m about to send a book I love out into the world. This industry can be a real crap shoot. Sometimes great books can fall through the cracks. Sometimes terrible books are huge hits. The key thing for a writer is to keep believing that the greatest story they will ever tell has yet to be written.
3) Stay Humble
Related to the above lesson, I noticed how much of an impression it makes when a successful author hasn’t lost sight of the fact that they were once merely aspiring. This lesson was perfectly illustrated when I had the privilege of eating dinner with Abrams authors Tom Angleberger and Jeff Kinney.4 Jeff is a HUGE author. He’s pretty much ruled the publishing industry for the last few years. When he met both Tom and I, he asked us the same question: ”What was it like when you got the call saying you were going to be published?” It was clearly a go-to question for him, and one that speaks to his character. For him to ask other authors about “the call” not only graciously indicates that he considers us his peers, but also acts as a reminder that all the Wimpy Kid success he’s enjoyed is actually just gravy. The dream-come-true part of his life has nothing to do with bestseller lists, merchandising, or feature films … it is simply that he got to be published at all.
4) Don’t Tell Lauren Myracle Anything
One night at a party, a woman with whom I had been chatting mentioned that she thought I resembled Seth Rogen — not the most flattering comparison I’ve ever gotten.5 Even worse, my wife hates Seth Rogen, and she often uses his name as a sort of shorthand to describe all that is wrong with mankind. I mentioned this unfortunate comparison to YA author Lauren Myracle at the Newbery Banquet. Lauren is not one to pass up this sort of information (by “this sort of information,” I mean information that will allow her to mock you), and she promptly brought it up to the whole table — at which point I was forced to sit through a serious debate over whether or not the comparison was apt. Then she started bringing other people into the mix. For the rest of the night, I had strangers coming up to tell me I looked like this actor. The highlight was when an older librarian tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was “Steph Rogaine” …
I have a henceforth enacted a “Don’t tell Lauren Myracle anything” policy; I would advise you all to do the same.
5) Librarians Love Free Crap
This weekend marked my first ever Peter Nimble signing event! Before the big night, a few experienced authors warned me that signings for debut authors can be humbling — nobody knows you, so why would they want to wait in a line to talk? This is probably true, but none of these authors knew that my publisher had armed me with a secret weapon: free crap!
The above picture is of the special eyeball tote that Abrams was giving away with copies of Peter Nimble. Within about thirty seconds of the doors opening, I had a line around the corner – all eager to get a bag. Here is a picture of my first ever signature for librarian and blogger @Jenbigheart:
The second day was even better, and we ran out of ARCs after 20 minutes! Even after the books were gone, people were running up to the booth asking about the eyeball bags.
Never again will I doubt the power of SWAG. Speaking of, for those of you who missed out on scoring a free copy of the book, know that I will be doing a ton of Peter Nimble giveaways this month, so stay posted!
- While I cannot promise that I will never take breaks from blogging, I can promise that I will only take breaks in order to write new books for you to read — as was the case this month. ↩
- I think the actual number was something under 30,000. But still, that’s a lot of ladies in glasses. For a video-look at the weekend, check out Travis Jonker’s post here. ↩
- I get this a lot. Apparently I look short in my headshot. ↩
- Tom’s kindness to me on this trip cannot be understated — he is truly a Gentleman among men. ↩
- For the record, the most flattering comparison I’ve gotten is “they guy who plays Darth Maul” … which I’ve gotten repeatedly. ↩
This last weekend was the LA Times Festival of Books. I have somehow managed to live in LA for many years without ever attending. This year, however, I find myself actual in the publishing industry … so I decided to check it out.
The day got off to a nice start when I met and had lunch with picture book legend Laura “If you Give…” Numeroff, who is absolutely delightful. Among topics discussed was the story of how she obtained an original piece of art from Stuart Little!1
I also had a chance to meet up with writer and frankenblogger Matt Cunningham, who runs the Literary Asylum.2 Like myself, Matt is a screenwriter transitioning into publishing. He is also an incredibly nice guy. After walking the campus a few times, we stopped to watch Lisa Yee’s presentation on the Target Stage3
Today Lisa was reading excerpts from the American Girl books she wrote. Usually I would have no interest in hearing about a girl book, but Lisa’s book also involves an awesome scene with monk seals … and she was kind enough to bring along visual aids:
I very recently became involved with a group called the LAYAs (Los Angeles Young Adult Authors). While my book is technically middle-grade, they were more than willing to welcome me into the fold. This included participating in a trivia show on the YA Stage. The event was moderated by author Cecil Castellucci, who solicited book-related questions from authors earlier in the week.4 There I am in the middle, playing for “Team Holden”:
This is quite literally the finale of the show. Mike Reisman (Team Holden) is squaring off with Kami Garcia (Team Scout) in a tie-breaking lightning round. Tragically, our team lost. Even more tragically, we lost on a question that I wrote:
All of these major children’s authors wrote books set in England. One of them, however, actually grew up in America. Who was it?5
a) E. Nesbitt
b) P.L. Travers
c) Frances Hodgson Burnett
d) AA. Milne
I’m pretty sure this means my new LAYA friends will never talk to me again.
- Garth Williams is a favorite of mine; he was also a major touchstone for the art in Peter Nimble (more on that another day!). ↩
- I’ve got an interview coming there soon … you’ve been warned. ↩
- Fun fact: Matt is a Batman fanatic, and he acted as Lisa’s resident expert for her newest book, Warp Speed. ↩
- I should also mention that she was just last week hired on as the children’s editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books — congrats, Cecil! ↩
- The answer is Burnett, by the way … a fact I know only because of my smartypants wife. ↩
I am not the biggest fan of Twitter. I can only get work done when my internet is disconnected, and the idea of a “community” that requires constant input is both daunting and distracting. Still, a few months ago I signed up … and quickly discovered that I am the worst Twitterer in the world.1
Case in point: last week I wrote the following message –
With hindsight, I can see that this is a bit, shall we say … desperate? At the time, however, I was simply thinking “Gee, people post these kinds of messages all the time and then get a zillion followers — I want a zillion followers!” I hit “tweet” and waited for success.
So how many new followers did I get?
Zero. None. Not even a spambot. In fact, I lost a follower.2 If there’s a moral to this story, it’s something about how I should never again be allowed near a computer.
Despite the shattering of my fragile ego, there has been one big upside to using Twitter: I’ve made connections with a number of interesting people in the children’s book world — people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. For example, Deer Hill Elementary teacher Mike Lewis reached out and invited me to contribute a video to his school’s annual Read Your Heart Out Day (warning: contains me in pajamas).
Another example is Share a Story – Shape a Future 2011. This is an annual literacy event hosted by a variety of children’s book bloggers. My involvement was slightly accidental. A few weeks back I answered a call for photos of writers’ notebooks from teacher-blogger Sarah Mulhern. I sent her a few photos of my old journals. Little did I know what I was getting into. You see, Sarah’s “author notebook” post is a part of a massive event that includes dozens of teachers/librarians/writers/book lovers all over the world. The theme this year is “Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy,” and each day will tackle a different topic:
MONDAY – The Power of a Book
TUESDAY: The Gift of Reading
WEDNESDAY: Unwrapping Literacy 2.0
THURSDAY: Keeping School from Interfering with the Gift of Literacy
FRIDAY: Literacy: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Once I figured out (through Twitter, of course) what this event was, I asked if I could join the fun. The coordinators are nice people and said “dive in!” I’ll be posting related pieces this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. In the meantime, check out posts about “the power of a book” at The Book Whisperer and Reading is Fundamental.
As some of you know, I attended my first ever American Library Association (ALA) conference this weekend in San Diego. I’d been warned that the Midwinter conference is more about closed-door awards deliberations than hobnobbing. Still, there was some hobnobbing.
Abrams brought out a few authors with forthcoming books1 and were kind enough to let me join the fun. We ate a bunch of food at a bunch of restaurants with a bunch of librarians and booksellers — all of whom were delightful people. Even better, I learned a brand new joke from blogging librarian Stacy Dillon:
Another highlight included getting drinks with Travis Jonker and John Schu, both of whom were kind enough to meet with a total stranger and give sage advice about how to run a book blog. The other thing they did was talk about all the exciting free books they had gotten while wandering around the floor. This led to me spending several hours, shuffling between booths, trying to figure out the difference between a free book (called an “ARC”) and a not free book (called a “Stop, thief!”).
At the end of the day I had collected exactly zero ARCs. Why? Because I am a big chicken. During an event titled “A Special Afternoon with Neil Gaiman and Nancy Pearl,” Mr. Gaiman spoke of the English as having “a pathological fear of public embarrassment.”2 I’m pretty sure that characterization extends to Canadians as well. At least it applies to me, which explains how I spent five hours in the Land of Free Books without getting so much as a brochure.
On the following day, I forced Mary to join me so she could gather ARCs on my behalf. Not my proudest hour as a husband. But hey! Free books!
The last big event of ALA Midwinter was the Youth Media Awards ceremony, which began very early Monday morning. Sadly, I was unable to attend. I’m told it was a rollicking good time. For a list of winners and honorees, you can check the ALA’s twitter feed, or better yet Betsy Bird’s lively rundown.
Now go away. I’ve got reading to do.