nose in books

I’ve been researching the new WIP like a fiend, but will lift my face out of the musty library books briefly for this update.

Happy Belated Father’s Day to all. We had a grand time – hung out with our dads, feted BH, called G (dad to daughter’s #1 & #3), and ate massive amounts of barbequed chicken and strawberry shortcake. I baked the shortcake, much to the puzzlement of my family which so rarely sees me in the kitchen. #1 Son and Jess, daughter #2, made BH feel very proud and paternal. If you want to make your dad laugh, send him here.

A couple of teachers have written to tell me that SPEAK made it into their school’s yearbook as one of the students’ favorite books. This feels very nice. Even better is the fact that Best Books is now a yearbook category. Maybe there hope after all.

Summer solstice is coming up this week. When I lived in Denmark, it was a night of great parties and amazing bonfires. Might have to recreate a little of that here in the Forest.

If any of you are bored out of your skulls, see if you can track down a copy of the diary and sketches (1762-1780)of Lt-general Archibald Robertson. I think the formal author names are Robertson and Henry Miller Lydenberg. There is a microfilm copy at SUNY Oswego, but I would like to find a hard copy to borrow so I can photocopy and blow up some of the sketches of New York in the time period of the WIP.

One more thing. I tried to watch TV yesterday. Miami Ink, to be precise. I enjoy tattoos and the stories behind them, but I wanted to find the directors/editors of the show and through them to the sharks. They stretch 5 minutes of story-telling into half an hour by repeating things over and over and over again. One guy, about to ship out with the Navy, wanted a koi fish to remind him of his son. OK, let’s leave the fact that they never explained the fish=son connection alone for a sec. They told us that he was getting the “koi fish for his son” seven freaking times before the artist even fired up the machine. ARGH!!!!!!!!!!! My brain was shrinking by the second.

Most television sucks.


The funeral and family stuff filled up all of Saturday. The pastor was an 80-year-old woman; the perfect choice for my Aunt Janet. I think I want an elderly woman with a crinkly smile and slightly shaky hands to stand in the pulpit when it’s my turn to go. (Which, btw, I have scheduled for sometime in the the mid 2050s.) After the service we trooped back to my cousin’s house and caught up with each other and laughed a lot. That’s how our family deals with pain – we laugh at it. Don’t get me wrong. There have been a lot of tears shed over her death, moments of absolute rage and sorrow. But now we have to keep going, and we might as well do it with a smile.

Spent yesterday reading letters and journals written during the Amer Rev. These didn’t have anything to do with the incidents I am focusing on in my book. I was reading them for language, looking for phrases and words which people in the time period were comfortable using, and which I can appropriately use in my story. I have a lot more of that in front of me today.

I also finally unpacked the last of my boxes of books from the move last summer. I can’t afford the bookshelves I want yet, so for the time being, they are laid out on the floor, watching me type. It was so nice to see some of them again. I missed them.

Yeah, I’m strange like that, but it works for me.

Aunt Janet’s advice & picture book news

See, the thing about my Aunt Jan was, she didn’t have much patience for moping. “Knock it off and get to work,” I can hear her saying. So I have to stop. Right. Now. Don’t get me wrong, I am still very, very sad about her death. But I am afraid she’ll haunt me if I don’t live the way she taught us, which means hard work, laughter, and integrity.

So back to work.

I’ve talked about my writing process here a couple of times. For my new novel, I am approaching it a bit differently. First, it is historical fiction, so it has to be grounded in actual events. That means I have to know what the heck I am talking about. (Which is why I am reading myself blind right now.) It also means I have to work from an outline from Day One. So as I am researching and finding the nuggets that I want to include, I am also building an outline for the book itself. This feels good. Right now the outline is very rough. I am psyched about filling it in.

The sketches for my new historical picture books have been arriving. I LOVE THEM!!! They are brilliant and funny and I wish, I wish I could show them to you right now, but if I do, the publishing gods will frown. As the book moves farther along in the publication process, I’ll keep you updated. As soon as I can share things like the title and peeks at the art, I will. (I think we’re shooting for a Summer 2007 publication date.)

PS – Here is what made me smile this morning. A little birdie forwarded a link to a teen’s blog, to an entry where she wrote that she was supposed to be studying for her Chemistry Regents, but she was reading CATALYST instead. ::grinning::

PPS – Thank you so much to everyone who wrote with such kindness and support yesterday, especially those folks who asked that their screened comments remain screened. Much appreciated.

A desperate student question & a couple calm ones

Katie writes: I have a few more questions to ask you. If you could, please answer these as quickly as possible. Do you have any idea of how many copies of “Speak” were sold? Thank you so much!! If you could, please post the answer on your web site. I’ll be looking for it.

It shocks me to admit this, but SPEAK has sold more than one million copies in paperback, and about 80,000 copies in hardback in the last six years. In other SPEAK news, the movie is up for a Writers Guild of America award, which is a huge honor to Jessica, Annie and Fred, the powers behind the film.

Leah writes: I’m 15 years old and I’m in the ninth grade. I have a few questions for you. I am writing a book myself, and I’m wanting to publish it when I’m through. I know I have the talent and the skills to make it far. I love writing and I’m very creative with it. I want to know what I have to do to publish a book and if there are any sponsors I can send my book to. I don’t know a lot about publishing and how to make the book known or what is required so I need help from someone who knows what they are doing. Laurie Anderson is one of my favorite writers. I love her books more than anything. I have read a lot of them and I have a collection of them at home. A teacher told me it doesn’t matter what age you are so I’m assuming I can publish a book at this age? Anyway. Please if you could find some way to respond. Hopefully in the journal on the website.

I suggest you head to a library and start researching the business side of being published. Or, you can surf to Harold Underdown’s sitehere are the basics. It does not matter how old you are. If you write a book that is of a high enough quality (or has a great marketing hook) you will probably sell it. However, it could take a very, very long time. You have to be patient and determined.

Cynthia writes: We watched the DVD the other night! My husband joined us after it started and he liked it too! I especially liked how you wrote Speak as though you were a 14/15 yo girl. The nuances? were right on. The way girls…teens treat each other in school…all the non verbal stuff that’s hurtful.
Oh I …we were wondering why the all the writings on the walls weren’t included in the movie? We thought that they were important to the story.
In the book Melinda confides in her art teacher but in the movie it’s her mother. Why? Lastly, I wonder what became of Andy. If you could write a sequel what would Melinda’s sophomore year be like?

I did not have control over the script, although I think the screenplay writers made good choices. If they put the entire book on the screen, it would have lasted something like ten hours. If you read my book CATALYST, you’ll see a mention of Melinda in her sophomore year. In my mind, she’s going to be fine.

We took my mom out to see Chris’ swim meet last night and she was able to stay through the whole thing, which was awesome. The Mexico team won hands-down. The divers were excellent. I usually cringe or cover my eyes when the divers compete, but these boys knew what they were doing, plus it was clear that they were having fun. A good evening all around.

I have to take half a day to deal with correspondence that is piling up about this spring’s school visits. Although I love visiting schools, I am looking forward to my sabbatical from them. For every day actually spent in the school, there is usually at least another full day of correspondence and preparation, in addition to travel time. I know I will miss seeing students and talking to teachers, but my writer self is desperate for a steady string of uninterrupted weeks during which I can focus on books.

We have no kids this weekend, so I will spend it swimming in books about the Revolution. George Washington is my home boy.