Saturday, September 16, 2017

Popcorn, Please!

"It started with a nail in a tire."

That was the explanation a dad and his teen daughters had for why they were just arriving at the Irvine, CA Barnes & Noble tour stop for Wild Bird as I was packing up to leave.

I had someplace to be, but clearly, they knew how to tell a story. And then I noticed the dad was wearing a Wild Bird pin he'd made himself. 

I put my stuff down, and listened.

Turns out they were all three big Sammy Keyes fans. Turns out they'd driven about 60 miles - a considerable distance, especially given the region's notorious traffic congestion. And, it turns out, there are three Barnes and Noble stores in Irvine. It wasn't just the distance or the traffic that made them so late. They'd gone to the wrong two stores first.

(Hey, when you're stressed and running behind, and you've started your trip with a nail in the tire, you punch in Barnes and Noble, Irvine. You don't think there'll be more than one, let alone three of them.)

Me and my cousin's girls - my "cousin-ettes" - about 10 years ago
Me and my cousin-ettes now, during the Wild Bird tour..
Lucky for me, my presentation had run late. (As Mark would - and did - say, "Shoulda brought popcorn.") Lucky for me, I got to meet this awesome dad and his delightful girls. And after they bought copies of Wild Bird and we talked about the importance of edgy-yet-clean literature for "the kids stuck in between," talk turned to Sammy. 

Want to revive me? Start talking about Sammy like she's real. And this family knew how to do just that. 

Being on book tour sounds glamorous, but it can be exhausting. Especially when you tell your publicist you'd be happy to drive yourself to and around Los Angeles because, come on, you're familiar with the region and that's the only sensible way to approach it. Plus, everything seems doable from the comfort of your office chair. 

I tried to talk Mark out of it, but he took one look at my final itinerary and insisted on coming with me. 7 days, 702 miles, 6 bookstore events, 8 school assemblies, 1 public library, and 14 cities later I'm so glad he did. 

I enjoy in-store events because you get a chance to one-on-one with people who love your work. I love school assemblies because there's nothing better than making middle schoolers laugh when they weren't expecting to. Give me 500 middle schoolers in a hot, sweaty gym and I'm in my wheelhouse. 

But the very best encounters on tour are with people who share their personal stories with you; the quiet stories that tell you that what you do matters. Seeing what impact something I wrote from my heart had on another person's heart is a profound experience. I never, ever let the intensity of a schedule or the weight of fatigue interfere with appreciating the significance of the quiet stories people tell me. Popcorn, please! 

So as the Wild Bird tour continues, I'll look forward to sweating in gymnasiums, meeting dear friends and new ones, too, and hearing any quiet stories readers are willing to share. 

If you're interested in knowing the upcoming public events schedule, check this link.  And if you can't make a tour stop, I'll meet you back here next week. Until then, lean in and don't let go!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Help Me Start A Fire

It's Opening Week(end) for Wild Bird

If you have thought you might want to buy this book - for yourself, for your teen, for your friend, for a Christmas gift, for what/whomever - please consider buying it this week. (Unless you're coming out to see me on tour, and then buy it at that bookstore!)


Because books, like movies, get (or lose) their momentum from that crucial first week of sales/box office. 

I remember reading an interview with Oprah about her movie Beloved which put the reality of opening weekend into harsh perspective. Here's an excerpt:

Q: And then, after 10 years of struggling to get the film made, Beloved opened and Bride of Chucky beat it at the box office.

WINFREY:  I didn’t know what the hell Bride of Chucky was.  And I didn’t know anything about how the movie business worked because I was doing my daily show.  I was all excited.  I didn’t know that you only had one weekend, and then it’s over.  So,  it came out on a Friday, and that Saturday morning I got a call and they said, “That’s it.”  I got the call at like 8:30 in the morning, and by 10:30, I had my face in a bowl of macaroni and cheese.  

Sammy Keyes fans worldwide would have suggested salsa to go with that mac'n'cheese, but wow, how harsh is that? And this is Oprah - an incredibly powerful force in the entertainment world. 

Creative works need a chance to breathe. To seep into hearts and minds and move people. Unfortunately, their success - or how widespread they are viewed or read - is often linked to early lists. If your work doesn't "make box office" opening weekend, people quit breathing oxygen into it; they turn to a new spark happening over there. Years of intense work and passion and hope slowly extinguish.

So, if you like my work, if this book seems like it would be of value to you or someone you know, if you think it's important for teens to have relevant books that are "real" yet clean - and, of course, if it's within your means - please "vote at the box office" this week. (And if you love the book and want to help stoke the fire, tell your friends, and review it online.)

Thank you for your support - some of you have been fanning the flames of my work all along. I can't tell you how much that means to me.  

Order Wild Bird wherever books are sold.
IndieBound  / Amazon / Barnes &  Noble

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Long View

Another priceless treasure landed in my in-box this week. Here's a little excerpt...:

I'm here on behalf of my fiancée. She's a huge fan of your Sammy Keyes book series--she has almost the whole series, library-bound. She's from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and has been reading your series from before Katrina hit the area. The books have remained by her side through that disaster and many others she has faced in her life. She's the strongest woman I know and reading your series has been very important for her.

This letter made me realize that taking the long view - moving forward with persistence, staying true to vision and purpose despite marketplace fads - does eventually return rewards beyond measure. I can't stress enough how much I appreciate that my editor and publisher enabled me to reach the conclusion of an 18-book, nearly 20-year series. Not all editors or publishers are willing to take a view that lengthy.

When the first Sammy Keyes book was published, I tried to figure out how to get on Oprah. I wasn't the only one - every author wanted to be on Oprah. I think authors drive their in-house publicists mad with all their enthused suggestions. My publicist at the time told me something really wise. She said, "You don't want to be on Oprah. You want a long, slow build. You want a sustainable career."

Of course I didn't agree. I didn't see how the two were mutually exclusive. Taking the long view takes confidence that you'll get another chance after this book. It takes patience. Back in 1998, I wasn't long on patience. I wanted things to happen now.

The long view is way easier to get perspective on from the far side. You know, after you've traversed twenty years and have a sustained career to analyze. It's almost impossible to truly take the long view when you're at the beginning of your career because you don't know how things are going to go.  And it feels almost like cheating to look back on a successful career and say, See? This is what happens with steady, consistent effort. You have an awesome career without the catapult of Oprah. You built your catalog without the distraction of a blinding spotlight. You got to hunker down and focus on the work, not the trappings. 

It's taken twenty years, but my publicist was right - I didn't want to be on Oprah. Sammy might not have become...Sammy.

My purpose for the Sammy Keyes series went far beyond forays into clever sleuthing. Sure, I love a good mystery. Good mysteries are awesome! But the larger picture of Sammy's purpose is what sustained me across the series and through twenty years of writing about her. It's what kept me going back, full of enthusiasm - not just for the next mystery - but for the next chapter in Sammy's life. It was about her evolution. About her learning to calibrate her moral compass. About her character, her strength.

If you're looking for girl power, I've got 18 kick-ass books for you. 

But in the marketplace, what happens is, people need to figure out where to shelve, how to categorize, and how to summarize.

For Sammy, that became "mystery" (clever sleuth) and "series" (of little literary merit).

And since there wasn't a contract for 18 books and there was no guarantee that all 18 would be written or published, there was little talk (other than from me) about the larger picture. 

But the larger picture is the key reason for the series. To instill the notion of nurturing individuality and internal strength in young readers - and yes, especially girls - is of such greater value than assembling the pieces of a clever puzzle. Yet breaking out of the "mystery" and "series" molds seemed, ironically, a more and more remote enterprise as the story unfolded and deepened. Would any critics / reviewers ever read from beginning to end and understand what was going on here? 

After reading one or two, most probably assumed they knew the drill, and now with 18 books to catch up on and a deluge of new works to review each season the answer has became, more and more clearly, probably not.

And yet...I get mail. Like the letter from the fiance. And it reinforces that in the long run, the long view does pay off. A letter like that makes me teary with gratitude: You read. You understood. You felt her. She helped you believe in yourself. 

Now that the series is complete and all 18 books are available without having to wait for the next installment to come out, I'm hopeful that a whole new generation of readers will discover and devour these books, and that they, too, will see Sammy as a friend who helped them face the troubles and roadblocks in their life. I'm looking forward to their letters. And their kids' letters.

Look at me. I'm taking the long view. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Bryce" & "Juli" Weigh In On "Wild Bird"

It was in August seven years ago when Flipped came out in theaters. It was an exceptional experience. Many of you have already heard the tales, so I won't repeat them, but for those of you who haven't, track down a copy of the anniversary edition of Flipped and read the thirty new afterward pages to get a sense of what went on behind the scenes. From meeting Rob Reiner (who directed the film) for the first time to why the movie was set in the 50s and 60s when the book was written as a contemporary story, to the how the movie has expanded the audience for Flipped - there are some good stories there!

People ask me when another one of my books is going to be adapted into a movie, and my answer is that it's not right to get greedy. Flipped was turned into a feature film by the director of The Princess Bride for goodness sake. And he wanted to do the film because he read and loved the book.

Hello? He read and loved the book!

It would be bad karma to want more.

One of the fun and also unexpectedly wonderful things about the Flipped book-to-movie experience was meeting the cast of the film. The "kids" were all so nice and down to earth and patient. We had a premiere where, for two showings, they stood with guests for hours, smiling and taking individual pictures as people filed into the theater. They were such troupers!

Premier night, the thing that also struck me about Callan (Bryce) and Israel (Garrett) is that they're funny. Like, really funny. I have lots of pictures of Callan mugging for the camera. They're hilarious, but they're gonna stay in my vault. Seven years later he's not needing to see them pop up around the internet.

What I will share is that since Flipped came out, Callan's been in lots of projects, like I Am Number Four, The Great Gatsby, Blow Your Own Trumpet, and Hacker to name a few. If you want to see the full list of what he's been up to, check here.

Madeline's been busy, too, working on such projects as Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Haunting Hour, Scandal, Blink, with multiple other projects completed just this year. In all our communications, she's kind and upbeat and focused on her faith and doing good. Check out the full list of her projects here.

Stefanie Scott, who played Juli's best friend (Darla in the book, Dana in the movie) was really busy with A.N.T. Farm after Flipped and has lots of other projects completed. Very impressive!

Israel, Stepfanie, Madeline, Callan - an awesome bunch!
And Israel Broussard, (who played Bryce's best friend Garrett) has also been in a bunch of stuff - including Fear the Walking Dead - and is starring in Happy Death Day, which my son (the one who loves "funny horror films") is dying (h-hm) to see. It releases on October 13th (a Friday) and you can learn more and watch the trailer here.

For all of them, Flipped was one of their early projects, and seven years later, Callan and Madeline were both kind enough to make the time to read and blurb Wild Bird. I love what each of them had to say (see opening graphic), and it means a lot to me that the book resonated with them.

So this month brings a sense of nostalgia (how could seven years have gone by since the Flipped movie came out ?!?) and optimism for the future. Wild Bird comes out on September 5th and I can't wait. Years in the making, it's finally almost here and I'm hopeful that everyone will have reactions similar to Callan's and Madeline's.

For more information about the book, click here.

Fly, Wild Bird, fly!

Thanks for checking in - see you in the comments!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

This Is My Why

Where did you get the idea for this book? is a common question authors get. Usually, authors relate an anecdote of some sort. Or share an epiphany. Or confess to having read something in the news that sparked the basis for their story. (Florida authors seem particularly adept at this.)  

I do fumble about for adequate answers to share with people who ask, but the question I  wish they'd ask instead is Why did you write this book?

The why is so much more important.

It's actually everything.

Why did I spend years of my life thinking about, researching, plotting this story? Why did I obsess over word choice, balance, message, accessibility, theme, resolution, heart? Why did I put myself in this world, endure this character's agonies? Why? Why? Why?

For Wild Bird, the answer comes down to reflection. Reflection on how seemingly insignificant choices can set us off in a slightly wrong direction, which, over time, can land us in a place we never intended (or wanted) to go.

Reflections on the importance of friendships in shaping our direction.

Reflections on the questions we should ask ourselves when we're young. The ones that will help keep us moving toward where we dream of being. The ones that matter most.

When we're young and under the guidance of parents and teachers, we're given rules. Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not cheat. Think about the 10 Commandments -- it's simply a list of things you should not do. The rules we're given when we're young become our de facto moral compass.

But then adolescence happens and peer pressure (or curiosity or defiance or...) can lure us away from the things we've been taught not to do. Having friends, being is a powerful force, one against which rules alone cannot compete. Our moral compass finds a new true north - peer acceptance.

It has helped me, I think, to see adolescence again through the eyes of a classroom teacher. I've seen my own youthful mistakes repeated by my students. I recognize the pressures and emotions and remember the agony of being that age. 

I taught high school for 15 years, and for many of those years I also worked two nights a week at the continuation high school, helping at-risk kids get through school. These were teens whose choices had betrayed them. And beyond getting their GED, most had no clear direction. They were young souls already lost. 

In education, we focus on helping our students complete the steps necessary to move forward toward careers. It's our job. But if I were back in the classroom now, I would pause that and ask my students to answer one life-defining question:

Who do you want to be?

Not what career are you after, or what position do you want to hold, but what kind of person do you want to be? What characteristics do you want to embody?

Because everything else in their lives will spring from a thoughtful defining of that.

So the why behind Wild Bird comes from reflections on the power inherent in defining our who. If we're able to define our who when we're young - if we're able to make our decisions by that guide - attaining happiness and fulfillment has a much better chance than if we let the pressures around us push and pull us in directions we never intended to go.

Wild Bird is the story of a girl who, at fourteen, is already defensive, bitter, angry, and lost. Her parents don't understand what went wrong. How did this happen?

It happened by degrees. The compass shifted. And, unfortunately, Wren's not alone. Nobody wants to end up where she did but a lot of teens do. And I don't claim to have all the answers - not by any stretch - but maybe changing the question can help teens consciously choose their direction. Maybe it can give them the strength and conviction to stay on the path they want for themselves. 

This is my hope for Wild Bird.

This is my why.

(Wild Bird will be out on September 5th. If you'd like to read a short excerpt, there's one here.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

In Search of Juli Baker

I've been getting a flurry of letters regarding Flipped from readers in Vietnam. 

I also learned that the Flipped movie was #5 at the box office in Korea last week. The movie was released in the US in August 2010, but hey, if you missed it here, you can catch it in theaters now in S. Korea. I don't know if the audio is translated, or if there are subtitles. Either way, how fun would it be to watch the movie in a theater there?

Why is it showing there now? I have no answer for that, either. The translated book has been available in Korea since 2005 (and through two different publishers) so maybe the success of the book has led to the showing of the film? 

Or maybe Flipped is just slowly making its way around the Pacific Rim.  I know that it's big in the Philippines. Some of my most passionate fans are from the Philippines. One teacher in particular is always ribbing me online about writing a sequel to the book. No explanation as to why I haven't written one is sufficient. He is relentless, but in a cute and humorous way.

Which brings me back to Vietnam. Last week I received an email about Flipped from a teen there. The letter was sweet and funny, but it also posed some really interesting questions and thoughts - ones that I want to share with you.

Let me set the stage by saying that the letter writer is a teen boy/young man, of sixteen. He points out that he was born in the same year that Flipped came out. He has watched the movie, read the book and "checked everything about Flipped and you and your books on Wiki and every fanblog."

So this isn't a simple case of 'When's the sequel?' He did his homework. And yet, he is not satisfied with knowing the whys of my not having written one. He summed it up by stating "The only thing that's sadder than a bad ending is an unfinished happy ending."

I want to grab him by the shoulders and say, No! Not true! How can you say that? An open-ended happy ending is...wonderful. It's full of hope and dreams and possibility! It makes you feel...alive. Like the future is yours to create!

He confessed to being a little obsessed with Juli Baker. Actually, what he said was, "I HAVE A CRUSH on your Juli Baker character. And I really hope that my girlfriend in the future would be someone like Julie." (LOL + 3 smilies.)

Do you love this guy, or what? I know I do.

But then his letter went deeper. Actually, a lot deeper. I am going to quote it here because any explanation or condensation of what he said won't do justice to his actual words. Please keep in mind that English is not his native language. 

It has been more than 15 years since you wrote “Flipped”. The world has change a lot since 15 years. Iphone, Internet appears, buildings are built. People start to looks at the phone’s light more than to meet other people in the proper light. And I start to wonder: “Is any girl like Julie really existed in this 2017 world?” And if that girl‘s really existed then what will she do? Will “the 2017’s Julie” keep climbing to another Sycamore tree? Or she would climb on top of some abandoned building to feel the world instead? Or somehow she would give up and just be normal to the world- the world with Ipod, Facebook,… ? Or ”2017 Julie Bakers” still be iridescent in her own freaking way?

    Okay, if you didn't already, now you love him, right? These are great questions to ponder. These are reflections on our world and how we interact with one another.

    Are things so fast and fleeting and on-the-surface now that we don't spend time truly knowing each other, let alone ourselves?

    Are we losing our iridescence?

    I need a tree to climb. I want to be wrapped in the arms of nature and think. No iPhone buzzing, no computer interrupting. I want to reflect on love and loss, tides rising and falling, and how no matter how far apart we live, we're really all neighbors looking to share a sunrise.  

    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!