Sunday, July 23, 2017

Given the Chance to Fly

In a little over 6 weeks I'll be heading out on book tour for Wild Bird. It's a (mostly) West Coast tour, and you can see the schedule on my website's new Wild Bird page. There's also an excerpt from the book there which will give you a taste of what the story's like.

Six weeks before a book comes out is when it starts feeling real. All of a sudden all that waiting you've been enduring transforms into panic about having too much to do before pub date. 

What's to do? 

Well, typically, it falls on authors to help to get the word out---to have the news about their new book be heard through the cacophony of competing sounds about other new books, and to somehow do so without being annoying or obnoxious. 

It's a difficult balance. I think it's easier if you're an artist and can entertain people with your spontaneous sketches or with visuals from your works in progress. But when what you have is a book full of only words--words that you've spent a couple of years perfecting, words that must be read from beginning to end to convey the passion and purpose of the story--well, what you can do with 140 characters on Twitter or a snapshot on Instagram or a post on Facebook is pretty limited.

But if you don't at least try, chances are your book will be launched from the nest and flutter helplessly to the ground. And if that happens, it may never regain the chance to fly because if your book is not one of the few your publisher has selected for a real media push, and your book hasn't managed to turn heads by "opening weekend," momentum will not be in your favor. There is just too much competition. Before you know it, people are on to the next season, the next thing.

It's a hard reality. A frustrating reality. So when you see authors spamming you with news about their books, don't hate them. Instead, find it in your heart to have sympathy. And if the book sounds good to you, maybe even share or re-tweet their post, or hey, place an order in support. They've worked years for this moment. It's hard to watch it go by without at least a little fanfare, even if they have to generate it themselves.

So yes. Six week from now, Wild Bird launches. There will be posts. I will try not to enter the Obnoxious Author Zone with them, but if I do, please forgive me. This book means a lot to me. I need to do what I can to give it the chance to fly.

Thanks for taking time to read this. I hope you'll check out the new Wild Bird page and read the excerpt...and maybe I'll see you on tour.

Meanwhile, see you in the comments!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sammy-opoly



Do not get too excited. This is just a mock up! There is no deal with Hasbro/Parker Brothers to actually make this.

But...isn't it fun? 

This is what comes of sitting around the dinner table with my family, discussing how Sammy's world might translate to the Monopoly board. By midnight I had obsessively mocked up a Sammy-opoly board. Typical me.

But I'm sure it could use improvement and I would love your ideas and input. If you see something missing or think of something you think would be better, speak up!

I chose how to group/place the properties by balancing value, location (proximity to one another in Santa Martina) and theme.

The  Heavenly Hotel edged out the Senior Highrise for cheapest property, but it was a tossup! 

And I love that Hudson's Porch is the most valuable property. Not Marissa's house, not the Landvogt Mansion, not East Jasmine at all...and not Hudson's house, but his porch.

I don't know about you, but whenever I play Monopoly, the most disappointing properties seem to be the ones between Free Parking (Skateboarding) and Go To Jail (Detention). They never pay off. And getting through them is such a slog. I'd rather go to jail.

Speaking of...don't overlook the little letters around the jailbird. 😉

For the 6 or 7 markers Hasbro/Parker Brothers seems to allow for special edition Monolopys I'm thinking...skateboard, binoculars, high-tops, police car, cat, catcher's mitt, horseshoe.... Other ideas? 

I've got a long drive ahead of me, and on it we'll be brainstorming Chance (Shortcut) and Community Chest (Library) cards. Here are just a few early ones:

  • Take a ride in Hudson's Cadillac. If you pass GO collect $200.
  • The Nightie-Napper strikes again, pay $20.
  • Get $50 reward for returning softball statue to city hall.
  • Cracked a safe, get $100.
  • Fell off skateboard, advance to the Hospital.
  • Heather frames you. Go directly to Detention.
  • Caught ice blocking. Slide back three spaces.
So take a gander and join the fun - give me your feedback and throw in your ideas. Let's play!

PS Like I said - we're just goofing around, but ... maybe someday!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cover Reveal! New Sammy Keyes #4-8

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I'm so excited, are you?

Covers #4-8 have been finalized, and I'm sharing them here first. 

Some of you have already seen Runaway Elf (#4) at online bookstores...which, yes, is confusing because it isn't out yet. Don't know how or why that happened.

But you haven't seen the other four! 
I'm loving the new covers - aren't they good? You may recall from a previous post that the illustrations are by Australian artist Craig Phillips. (If you're on Twitter you should follow him - his work is amazing!)

Anyway, do you have a favorite from the new batch? Can you find the hidden numbers? (Click to enlarge image.) Some of the numbers are easy to see, and some...not so much! 

When they first came across my desk I even used a magnifying glass while searching Snake Eyes for the 7. How classic-mystery is that? They've increased the contrast a little in the final, so you (probably) won't need to do the Sherlock thing, but humor me and say you didn't see the 7(s) right away. (That, by the way, is a hint.)

This batch (#4-8) will be available on September 12th. And together with the first three they'll make up 8/18, or 4/9, or 0.444444, or almost half of the image that puzzles together along the spines. And all of them have book club/discussion questions inside. 

In case you missed last week's post, or haven't seen the flurry of giveaways I've been doing elsewhere online, I hope you'll jump in and have some fun trying to win copies of the new editions. I'm doing a Free Book Friday, Get-1-Give-1 drawing each week through summer (and probably to the end of the year if I can get organized enough to coordinate it while I'm on the upcoming September/October tour for Wild Bird).

So go find me on Twitter and Instagram (@WendelinVanD) and visit the Sammy Keyes (books) Facebook page. You can enter at all three places to increase your chances of having your name drawn. Plus you'll get to see a different "Sammy Square" each week, which is a lot of fun in and of itself. (I love how they remind me of what Sammy went through in each book.) I'll give you a sneak peek at next week's because that's what I do here, right?

And last, but certainly not least, the results of last week's blog giveaway!

(Drum roll, please...)

Psst! Did you notice the background cloth?
Randomly selected by good ol' names-drawn-from-an-actual-hat technique, the winner of two copies each of the first three new issue Sammys is...JESSICA, who identified her favorite Sammy scene as being from the pirate date from Dead Giveaway.

Can I get a chorus of "Billy Pratt!"?

Amen.

Congrats to Jessica (please email me your mailing address), and to those of you who didn't win (or didn't check in last week), we will do it again sometime! Meanwhile, try your luck over on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. 

See you in the comments!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Easy-Peasy Giveaway!

Giveaway time! If you follow me on social you know I've started a giveaway where every Friday throughout summer we draw a winner who receives two copies of a new Sammy Keyes edition.

If you didn't know that and want to join in, separate giveaways are happening:

1) at the Sammy Keyes (books) Facebook page

2) on Twitter @WendelinVanD

3) on Instagram at @WendelinVanD.


It's super easy to throw your name in the mix, so I encourage you to enter everywhere to increase your chances of winning.

And now, here, for my faithful blog followers, I'm offering up two copies of the first three Sammys - one set for you, one for a friend.  ('Cause you guys are awesome 😊.)

All you have to do is tell me your favorite scene from any Sammy Keyes book (no spoilers, please!). Describe it in brief in the comments below, and you are entered. Easy-peasy!

In addition to the six (2x3) Sammys, I'll also send the winner one of the hardcover mysteries that I received while serving on the 2016 Edgar committee (young adult category).

So enter here, and everywhere, and happy summer reading!

Next week: I'm planning to share new art from the next batch of Sammys which release on Sept 12th. They're wonderful, and the hidden numbers are super fun.

Have a great week. See you in the comments!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Girl Power

When I was a kid, "girl power" was not a thing. Girls who would rather do sports or dared to compete with guys were called "tomboys."

I was definitely a tomboy.

For me, this was partly survival. I was sandwiched between two brothers. If I was going to have any fun, I had to keep up with the things they wanted to do.

Also, nowhere in my parents' playbook was the notion of treating their daughter like a princess. They were immigrants, and in this land of new opportunity, they valued hard work, discipline, and education. I wasn't treated differently or given "a pass" on things because I was a girl. We all worked together. We all helped out. My hands were as calloused as my brothers'. Hard work knew no gender.

In school, I was different from my peers, and it made me uncomfortable around them. Girls had Barbies, fashion sense, and pop culture crushes. Me? I could beat every boy on the playground in the 100 yard dash.

What I wish for my young self is that I'd grown up in a time when my mom - or my teachers or my Scout leader or my librarian or anybody - would have known how to articulate the notion of "girl power." The words, the concept, the discussion of the value of being true to yourself would have helped me embrace who I was, rather than try to conceal my differences. Because all kids want to have friends. All kids want to fit in. All kids are afraid that their differences will ostracize them. Back then there wasn't a movement to empower individuality.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm in the process of delicately updating all 18 books of the Sammy Keyes series as the new covers roll out in 2017 and 2018.  (You can read about that process here if you're interested.) Next year will mark 20 years since the first title (Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief) was published, and the truth is, I hadn't read that book (or any of the books I've written) since it went to press. So I was a little concerned that the actual edition I held in my hands wouldn't compare to the romanticized version I held in my head.

The delightful surprise (and relief) for me has been how Sammy is even better than I remember. She really is, in the wonderful words of Sue Grafton, "feisty, fearless, and funny," but more than that, she is unique. She is herself. Despite all the pressures against it, she is true to herself and the things she believes.

And in revisiting the books, I'm understanding better why the impassioned young women who come to my signings with sacks of Sammys have the same message for me:  Sammy empowered them to embrace themselves and pursue extreme goals. In short, Sammy gave them girl power.

I didn't set out to write girl power books. Sammy was just a kid - like any kid - struggling to figure things out. She was me and you, our fears and frailties, flaws and strengths, stumbling through life for truth, trying to find her way, and in doing so, somehow helping us find our own.

It is still mind-boggling to me how much I have learned and grown from a character I created.

Looking back, I can see that my being an outsider influenced the creation of her as an outsider, which, in turn, helped kids who feel like outsiders see that their uniqueness is a strength; that it's okay to be different; that it's okay to be strong. But it has gone beyond my wildest dreams to see the empowering impact that Sammy has had on young girls.

Today, "girl power" is everywhere, and it fills me with joy. When I was in New York for the Bank Street College of Education award, I had the privilege of meeting a huge Sammy Keyes fan and her son. They have read the entire series together three times and are starting on a fourth go-round. 

It turns out that this Sammy fan / mom - Julie Kerwin - is also the founder of iamElemental - a company that makes girl-power action figures. Their motto is "Play with Power" and their action figures are named after power "elements" like Creativity, Ingenuity, Curiosity.... I have Logic on my desk - she's awesome!

So if you're looking for something for girl-power play, I encourage you to check out the iamElemental line of female superhero toys. Smart, fun, and empowering.

I also exclaimed "Hallelujah!" when I first saw Strong is the New Pretty. Anyone looking for a book to encourage young girls to embrace themselves should check this one out. The pictures are gorgeous, the quotes will make you laugh and cheer, and the opening essays before each section are truly inspiring. And if you're a grown woman, reading it will make you want to go back and be a girl all over again....and this time do it your way.

It's important that we promote the idea to girls that it's okay to be feisty and fearless, that it's okay to be different - to be unique - and that strength is beautiful. 

Because the girls who will go on to change the world are not the ones who conform to it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Dark Cloud

During lunch with a former student this week, the conversation turned to depression. She shared some personal stuff and then apologized for going into such depth about her life, her family, and that Dark Cloud that's so good at creeping in to block the sun.

In a rare moment of candor I told her that I knew the Dark Cloud well. 

Everyone thinks I have the perfect life, I explained, and I do. I have a great marriage, two amazing sons, we live in a slice of heaven, I have over thirty books in print, two have been turned into movies, strangers tell me how much my work has helped them in their life, and I'm healthy.  

And compared to the way my life used to be? Wow. I know I've got it good.

So what could I possibly get depressed about?

But that's just it. Depression can defy logic. And trying to reason it away is usually futile.

Also, it's not the same for everyone who suffers from it (or bouts of it), so the remedy - or battle plan - to defeat it is going to be different for different people. The chemistry of the brain is way too complex to prescribe universal solutions.

I try to shake my Dark Cloud by running away. Literally. I know exercise is good for health and fitness, but my real motivation is mood elevation. Can I just say this? I don't love running. I love the result of running. I love the way it calms me down, lifts me up, makes me ready to tackle the things I have been putting off. 

It's all about the endorphins.

I also escape in my writing. 30 novels (8 chapter books) in less than 20 years is the output of a woman possessed; one preferring to create worlds where good can triumph than face off with her own demons. When I'm absorbed in the production of pages, the Dark Cloud stays a safe distance away.

Also of benefit is the simple act of "ditch digging" - the chores of life. If I can get myself up and moving when the Dark Cloud is hovering, I can bat it away. But getting yourself up and  moving when it's upon you is hard. Why bother with chores? I don't feel like going for a run. No, I don't want to answer the phone, the front door, my email. Nothing seems worth doing, and the less I do, the less I feel like doing. It is hard to break that cycle. 

I never, ever talk about this except with Mark, who helps me get up and get going on the things that will chase the Cloud away. I dodge and weave my way through life, and pretty much manage to keep the darkness at bay. And I don't want to acknowledge the Cloud to others because...well, everyone has things they're dealing with, and I have, you know, everything.

But there you have it:  Like many people, I struggle with a powerful and persistent Dark Cloud. And the reason I'm sharing this with you now is because that former student gaped at me when I shared it with her and said, "You have no idea how much better that makes me feel."

She seemed so...relieved. She laughed out loud. She shook her head. She smiled a warm, radiant smile. 

Her reaction made me realize how much we can help each other, just by admitting it. Twenty minutes in the weight room may not work for you the way it works for me, but maybe a hike through the woods will. Or maybe you've tried sweating it away, or writing it away, or scrubbing it away, and it's still there, dark and foreboding, and you just can't shake it. Maybe it's time to seek professional help.

I am not a doctor, and I don't claim to understand the intricacies of brain chemistry, depression, or even mood swings. 

I just want you to know that you're not alone. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Just a Hater

There will be haters. And with the anonymity of the internet serving as barracks, they will shoot freely with their negativity, aiming to hurt you, but willing to settle for knowing they got to you. 

This week I saw that there was a 1-star rating on Goodreads for my upcoming YA novel, Wild Bird. Goodreads reviews can be tough. The majority of people there take their reading very seriously. They are stingy with their 5s. 4-stars is a compliment. 3-stars is really good. But a 1-star? Those are much rarer than 5-stars.

You can get a 1-star on Amazon if someone's book wasn't delivered on time (like that's the author's fault?). Not the case on Goodreads. Most reviewers are there for a legitimate love of literature and have more class than to give a 1-star rating unless they have real issues with a book....and then they'll usually voice those in a review.

There was no accompanying review on Goodreads for the 1-star rating of Wild Bird. And since this is a book that's really only available to reviewers and select educators at this point (because it won't be out until September 5th), I was puzzled.

And then I realized that this same "reviewer" had given all my books--and pretty much only my books--1-star ratings. And that they'd all been rated on the same day.

Ah. A hater.

What did I do to deserve this hate?

I have no idea, and it doesn't matter--I was immediately over it.

Creative people are usually sensitive people, and it's easy to get to us. Especially when our creations are from the heart. It takes me two, maybe three, years of of research, writing, and revising to finish a YA novel. Yet with the split-second tap of a touch pad, someone can give your book one-star and feel that they are in a position of power. Or equal footing. Or that they are somehow a player.

My creative friends: these people are not players. They are not in your court, on your field, or swimming in your pool. They are benched. Their lives don't work to a point that they resort to this to make themselves feel better. How sad is that? How pathetic is that?

So don't give them that power. Don't let them infiltrate your thoughts. Don't even bother to ask who or why. The who is easy: a coward. And the why will never make sense coming from the thoughts of an illogical or hateful mind. Don't waste your time.  

Also, you will lose if you engage. Maybe you can get their profile removed, but they'll just come back as a different fake user, with a different fake profile, and a different fake photo. 

So don't give them your energy. Go back to the creative work you do. Keep driving toward your mission. You have a purpose, a direction, a contribution to make. They have hate, cowardice, and, almost certainly, little to show in the way of actual accomplishments.

Turn your back, walk away, and pity them. 

Hate is a terrible way to live.