Monday, November 28, 2016

WHAT LIGHT...Go Yonder

A little over a month ago, my new book came out. I was so thankful my publisher organized a tour for me because my favorite part of being an author is meeting readers. In this post, I want to share with you a research trip I took while writing the book, but first I'll share some pics from the tour that were a result of finally...finally!...finishing WHAT LIGHT.

The first stop on my tour began as perfectly as I'd hoped. I had a great school visit, and then gave a talk at a local bookstore where I saw my book's floor display for the first time. So beautiful!


After spending a full day speaking and meeting people, signing books, and taking selfies, there can be a lonely adjustment period. So even if it's late, I often grab a dinner and read before going up to my room. This time, I noticed John Cho sitting at a nearby table, but I didn't want to interrupt his dinner. And then Kal Penn joined him, and I...well...come on! So I told them I just started a book tour and would love to get a photo if it wasn't an inconvenience. But those two were so cool, and said they were huge readers, they invited me to join them for dinner. How cool is that!?

(It's very cool.)

Throughout the tour, the school visits were incredible. I'm so grateful that I continue to get asked to speak about the serious issues in THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, and I love discussing how much fun I had writing THE FUTURE OF US, but it's been so nice to also talk about the uplifitng aspects of my new book. And schools used its setting to create some very festive art for my visits!



Schools also used the concepts of forgiveness and reaching out to others for projects, like writing encouraging thoughts...


...and words of kindness on thematic art hung throughout the library.


Bookstores got into the theme, as well. Many offered hot cocoa (with the WHAT LIGHT hot cocoa packets my publisher provided), to be stirred with candycanes like Sierra does in the book.


All of that was wonderful and made me feel great. But it was still all about the students!


So about that research trip...

The idea for WHAT LIGHT came from a newspaper article about a family that lives seventeen hours to the north of me, but for one month a year, they turn this local lot...


...into this Christmas tree paradise!


The idea of having two homes during the year, one on a small lot selling trees while living in a trailer, and the other living in a house on hundreds of acres of farmland, intrigued me. So I headed seventeen hours to the north!


I visited the Hopper Bros. farm and received a tour by the owner, Dennis (who makes a cameo in my book as the owner of the other tree lot in town). Before I went on my research trip, I read a few books on growing and selling Christmas trees so I could ask specific questions instead of merely getting a feel for the basics.



Something that makes me feel like a professional author is when I don't write interesting details I've learned that won't add to the feel or progress of the story. But I learned so much! And while I didn't use the majority of what I learned, the mere confidence I gained to write about people who live this life most definitely made it into the book.

I visited two other Christmas tree farms while in the Pacific Northwest, and sometimes things that I saw inspired scenes.


I also visited a Christmas tree farm tradeshow going on that weekend. My namebadge didn't list a farm or company. It said: author. And you don't walk around a tradeshow telling people you're writing about their business unless you do it. So I did!


It just took me more years than I expected.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Buckeye to Lone Star

When I landed in Cleveland, Ohio last week, I zoomed straight to the house used as Ralphie's in A Christmas Story. I took a tour of the place previously, as seen here, but this time I just wanted to get a couple shots with it as a background for my soon-to-be released Christmas story.



In earlier trips to the area, I never got to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but this time I was determined to change that. So I did! And I got to see one of Slash's hats...


and Bruce's outfit from his Born in the U.S.A. album cover...


and the scribbled lyrics to Jimi's originally titled "Purple Haze Jesus Saves".


But in beweent the Christmas house and the hall of rock, I visited Holy Name High School in Parma Heights.


They were a lovely bunch of nicely dressed students.


And they had some of the best questions. There were questions about character motivation, my own take-away from my books, and even a request to try to get Selena Gomez as some dude's prom date.


Then I had snacks and further conversation with 13 students. (The number 13 was just a coincidence...they said.)


After Ohio, I took a brief breather in California, then it was back on a plane to Texas. There, I visited several very nice art museums in Fort Worth, featuring artists I've studied a lot recently, like Thomas Cole.


That evening, I met up with the organizers and fellow authors to kick-off the Mansfield Book Festival Mellow Mushroom. Here I am with Daniel Jose Older and Christina Diaz Gonzales with our cupcakes (provided by Creations Baking Company).


The first presentation I went to was for Kid Chef Eliana. She is an incredible presenter...


and a delicious cook! I had her book Cool Kids Cook: Fresh and Fit signed for Isaiah.


One of the most entertaining while educational presentations I've seen was Nathan Hale's discussion of his "Hazardous Tales" series. Is there any better combination than hilarious and historical? I mean, if Nathan and Eliana did a program together, that would unbeatable!


I gave a keynote presentation, which is always fun (though slightly intimidating when other authors are present), where I got to get rid of more packets of my What Light hot chocolate in exchange for questions.

That was followed by a panel about social media with Julie Murphy and Kelsey Macke. So this pic, I guess, is Murphy, Mac and Me!


Friday, September 09, 2016

Fall 2016 Children's Books

Scrolling through the Publishers Weekly Fall 2016 Children’s Books issue, these are the soon-to-be released and recently released middle-grade and teen novels that most grabbed my attention:


Insert Coin to Continue by John David Anderson. Bryan Biggins wakes up to find that his life has become a video game.

It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett. Six friends cross into a dangerous fantasy world while taking part in a game of live-action roleplaying.

Lost in Ghostville by John Bladek. When someone kidnaps all the ghosts in town, including his grandmother, Trey races to save her spirit.

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth. In this time-travel tale, Emma is on the crew of both her school production of Hamlet and the Globe Theater’s original play.

Polaris by Beth Bowland. Aaron unwittingly initiates “The Game,” in which his hometown is the playing board and its residents are the players.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. Nadia sets out to solve the mystery behind the memory purge her town imposes every 12 years.

The Adventures of a Wimpy Superhero by Tim Collins. A teen’s diary chronicles his attempts to be a superhero.

How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You by Tara Eglington. Aurora doesn’t want her first kiss to be with a guy she can’t stand, her co-star in a play.

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín. In this tale blending horror, fantasy, and folklore, every teen must spend a day being hunted.

League of Archers by Eva Howard. A girl on the run after being accused of killing Robin Hood leads her League of Archers in a search to find the real killer.

Dreidels on the Brain by Joel Ben Izzy. In this novel of growing up Jewish, Joel tries to survive Hanukkah 1971 in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

The Row by J.R. Johansson. Riley wants to uncover the truth about her father, a convicted serial killer, before his execution.

The Romantics by Leah Konen. The story of a boy’s tangled love life is narrated by Love herself.

More Than Magic by Kathryn Lasky. The daughter of TV animators and a character in one of their cartoons team up to save the day in both of their worlds.

The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee. A teen uses her extrasensitive sense of smell to mix perfumes that help others fall in love.

The Missing by J.R. Lenk. In 1890 London, a teen who witnesses the goings-on of ghosts helps keep the peace between the living and dead.

The Library Book: Curse of the Boggin by D.J. MacHale launches a series set a place where no one knows how stories end, and stories you can’t finish might finish you.

The Best Man by Richard Peck. Archer’s beloved uncle marries another man—Archer’s favorite teacher.

Into White by Randi Pink. When a black teen’s prayers to be white are answered, her journey of self-discovery takes unexpected twists.

Threads by Ami Polonsky. An American girl finds a note with a desperate plea for help from a girl stuck in a Beijing factory.

And Then the Sky Exploded by David A. Poulsen. When a boy learns his great-grandfather helped build the A-bombs dropped on Japan, he wants to make amends.

Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production by Sarah Schauerte Reida. In this series debut, a girl makes monster movies starring a creature from the local woods.

One Was Lost by Natalie Richards. On their senior camping trip, teens wake up to find some kids missing and four dolls dressed like them acting out a murder.

The Telling by Alexandra Sirowy. Multiple murders occur that are eerily similar to the dark stories Lana’s late stepbrother used to tell.

Sticker Girl by Janet Tashjian, illus. by Inga Wilmink, launches a series about a girl whose sticker collection comes to life.

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos. A teen sabotages the reality TV show that is making a mockery of her family’s life.

Sometimes We Tell the Truth by Kim Zarins. Teens tell stories on a class trip bus ride in this retelling of The Canterbury Tales.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

WHAT LIGHT: Cover Design

I want everyone to read my next book. That would be awesome for so many reasons! But I'll be plenty happy if the only people who read it are the people who want to read a story exactly like the one I wrote. (Although, I think the world would be a much better place if everyone did read it, which I feel morally obligated to say.)

So the most important job of a cover is to grab the attention of people looking for a story just like the one behind the cover. A good title helps, too, which is why I'm glad we settled on what we did rather than those...other ideas of mine.

Until I publish something that's illustrated (no...just checked...I can't say anything yet), one of the most exciting parts of having a book in production is seeing the cover. Or different versions of a cover. With What Light, I saw five potential cover designs. I went back and forth between two designs, but when I showed all five to a couple of people, they chose a different one. So I showed them to a few more people (authors, librarians...), but none of them agreed with me, which was the entire point!

What they kept landing on, whether they knew the premise of the book or not (I wanted both perspectives) was this...


And I liked that one, but I didn't love it. When they told me what they liked about it, I understood where they were coming from, but I imagined myself giving a PowerPoint presentation at a school or library, excitedly showing the covers of Thirteen Reasons Why and The Future of Us, and then casually putting up my latest offering.

How could I tweak this cover to become the cover I would choose? Thankfully, it was winter, and as I was strolling downtown, I came across this poster in a store window...


I snapped a photo of it and emailed it to my publisher and editor. I'll admit, I did not do the best job in telling them how I thought the image of the girl would be enhanced by adding light "flares" or "bursts" or "shimmers" or whatever I called them. And their casual response echoed that I did not describe my vision well enough to convince them.

So I had to show them.

To repeat myself, thankfully, it was winter. That meant I didn't have to climb into the garage attic to fetch a string of Christmas lights, I could simply untangle them from the tree! Then I pulled up the original design onto my laptop, which has a reflective screen, plugged in the lights, and snapped a photo of the cover that included reflected light flares/bursts/shimmers.


And I emailed them this...


Now they understood, and they sent back this...


Thank you, Theresa Evangelista, for working on this cover, which I absolutely love! It represents a book exactly like the one I wrote.

If you'd like to know what What Light is about, or pre-order it, here's a link!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Read Up, Greenville

Greenville, South Carolina. When I announced I was going there to speak at a teen book festival, people piled on the praise for how beautiful it was. And...they were right! The first thing I did when I arrived was head to the most recommended spot, Falls Park.


The morning of the conference, I strolled their Farmers' Market.


Beautiful. Cozy. And the conference itself? Amazing, for so many reasons!

This was the first Read Up, Greenville festival, and I have no doubt it will continue on. It needs to! These teen book festivals are popping up around the country, keeping people inspired to read at a critical time in their lives.

Thankfully, I get to be inspired, too!

I got to hear a keynote from Holly Goldberg Sloan, an author who's also written some great screenplays.


I finally got to hear the powerful presentation of Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely for their book, All American Boys, after following their travels online for the past year.


I also had the opportunity to sit on a keynoters panel with the three previous authors because I gave the first keynote of the day.


When not speaking myself, I heard some other great panels. Something I thoroughly enjoy about YA panels that I rarely see with other authors is the back-and-forth dialogue and camaraderie among the panelists. One of the best examples occurred at this conference with Jessica Brody, Susane Colasanti,Stephanie Perkins, and Will Walton. I'd met Jessica and Stephanie at various events over the years, and they're always a couple of the authors I most look forward to seeing. It was great to see Will again after meeting him a couple years ago right after he sold his debut novel, Anything Could Happen. And now I got to buy a copy and get it signed!


But I'd never met Susane before, and was a little intimidated because she's basically royalty when it comes to YA love stories, and I happen to have one of those releasing in a couple months. So to find out she was hoping I could spare an advance copy of What Light? So! Frickin'! Cool!


Another very fun and informative panel featured people who work at Penguin Random House Audio. We also got to hear from a couple actors who narrate for them, Kirby Heyborne and January LaVoy. One activity requiring audience participation prompted Jason, Brendan, and I to give our best impressions of happy cows.


That evening, the speakers were treated to a great meal, hosted at the beautiful bookstore, M. Judson Books. There, I was fortunate enough to sit beside and chat with the super-smart-but-makes-you-feel-smart-too Jennifer Lynn Barnes, an author I somehow haven't crossed paths with since shortly after her first book came out.


That evening, as everyone was winding down, some of us stayed up late in the hotel lobby. There, something happened that never even crossed my mind as a series of words I could one day string into a sentence: I got a tarot reading from Maggie Stiefvater.


Other incredible authors at this festival, all of whom I hope to see again in the very near future: Aisha Saeed, Beth Revis, Brendan Reichs, Carry Ryan, Cassie Beasley, Jessica Khoury, Maya Van Wagenen, Megan Miranda, Nova Ren Suma, Renee Ahdieh, Ryan Graudin, Terra Elan McVoy, and Tiffany Schmidt.