Sunday, October 27, 2013

Treat, No Trick!

Okay, here's the deal. I've got 5 hardcover copies of Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls sitting on my desk. They are "turtlebacks" or library editions--which are very durable (and even more expensive than the book-jacket version of the hardcover).

I'm pretty sure everyone here knows that Night of Skulls is a Halloween adventure, so in the spirit of Sammy's favorite holiday, I'm going to sign them and give them away.


Here's the drill:

Send a picture of you in costume as one of the Sammy Keyes characters* to this e-mail address and include answers to the following questions in the body of your e-mail:
    1. What character are you? 
    2. What book is the character's from? (Or hold the book in your picture, if you want to.)
    3. Is it okay to post your picture on the internet? (Yes or No)
    4. (Yup, that's me!)
    5. Do you want to be identified? (No / First name only / First + Last Initial  / Tag me!)
In the e-mail's Subject Line put: COSTUME CONTEST

DEADLINE: Sunday, 11/3, before 5 PM Pacific time.

RESTRICTIONS: Books can only be shipped to addresses in the United States. (But that doesn't mean you can't send a picture if you just want to be part of the fun.)

WINNERS: I will consolidate all the photos (without names) and let Mark pick the 5 entries that he thinks are the best. (I hate picking because I always want to give everybody something...) 

NOTIFICATION: We will e-mail the winners before next Sunday's blog entry is posted (and ask for best mailing addresses via e-mail). 

You never know how many people are going to participate in something like this, so don't think you'll never win! And let me remind you--it's easy to dress up as Sammy. Or Casey! Have a chicken hat? You're Billy Pratt!

Hope you'll play along!  Regardless, have fun, safe, and Happy Halloween!

*Here are a bunch of costume ideas, in case you didn't see them on the Sammy Keyes FaceBook page:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Incredible Human Plateau

I've been busy helping out a friend in need. At first I thought I'd be doing one thing, but it turned out there were lots of additional things to do and ways to help, so I dove in and became a full-service friend.

I love feeling useful.

At one point my friend's mother asked, "Is there anything you don't do?" and in response I talked about my parents. How their immigrant position on Things-Needing-Doing was if you could figure out a way to do it yourself, you did it yourself.

Their approach was very "Nike", too, (and way before there was a Nike): Don't complain--just do it.

What I pondered on the long drive home from my stint as a full-service-friend was the lifespan trajectories of knowledge, ability, and means. When we're young, we're soaking up knowledge, we're gaining in ability, and we're figuring out how to pay for what we want. Our goals are all ahead of us.

As we get older, we (hopefully) get smarter, more skillful, and acquire financial balance, but at some point the benefits of what we've gained become compromised by what we're starting to lose.

They call middle age "over the hill" for a reason.

And once we're well over the hill--when we're achy and old, with wobbly legs and bad eyes--how do we apply all we've gained in life? People won't even listen to your wisdoms, and you can't really enjoy your money. Money's role becomes to make you as comfortable as an achy oldie with wobbly legs and bad eyes can be.

So where is the sweet spot? That hilltop where the view is great? That point on the graph where you've acquired skill and knowledge, and are comfortable enough financially to enjoy some of the perks of all your hard work?

My breakthrough with this mental graphing was to switch from hill to plateau. Instead of being a point, I mused, why not stretch the "spot" into a "line"? Maximize the time you're on top before you lose the ability to do the things you love to do. I started seeing that the trick in all this is to stretch that plateau out for as long as you possibly can.

So how do you do that?

Well, there are a lot of variables, of course, and everyone's situation is different, but I think the length of that plateau is largely tied to one's physical well-being. It's what allows us to still do when we finally have.

I'm not a fitness fanatic. People assume I am because of The Running Dream, but running (and now weight training) is something I do for my health (both mental and physical). I do need tricks to keep me sweating. I need encouragement, just like most people. Exercise is work. But graphing the trajectories of knowledge, ability, and means on my drive home encouraged me. Especially when I visualized stretching the plateau.

I am so gonna stretch my plateau!

They'll call me the Incredible Human Plateau!

Yeah, that's me!

I don't mind getting old. I just want to be able to put all the knowledge and skills I've worked so hard to gain to good use for as long as I can.

It really feels nice to be useful.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Finding My Inner Fiona

The interesting thing about being a writer is that over time you realize how much the characters you create give back to you.

How much they teach you.

It's an odd realization, because you're the one who created them. It's not like an actual child whose life you initiate, who goes on to absorb the world and then reinvigorates your life with new knowledge and ideas. Everything a character is - on the page - is something you put there.

And yet...

I have learned so much from my characters.

It's astounding, really, how much I have learned from my characters.

Being a writer makes you define what you think. It makes you explore your views and those of others. It makes you face your sense of life and either redefine it, or support it. You move your fictional people around in heroic ways. And although all credible heroes are also flawed, those flaws are forgiven in the end because the hero's intentions, their direction, their purpose is ultimately good.

I have learned much from Sammy Keyes about determination and friendship, about compassion and forgiveness. From Holly in Runaway I've learned about survival (and I don't mean all the stowing away and living off abandoned movie theater popcorn). From Rusty in Swear to Howdy I've learned about courage and holding on with all your might. From Nolan in Shredderman I've learned to look at the root of hate and ask myself why? Why is this person so mean? From Juli and Bryce in Flipped, I've learned to have patience...with myself and with others...and I've learned that a parent's role is to lead by example.

These are all main characters, but it is not the protagonist in The Running Dream who serves as a model for me at this time. It's the best friend, Fiona.

I'm not at liberty to say anything more, but for those of you who look for my posts every Sunday night, please forgive this tardy entry. Know that I haven't been slacking. Far from it. I've been very busy, finding my inner Fiona.

I've learned so much from Fiona.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Literary Pumpkin Patch

I am between trips, so today's entry is a little photo journal of the special lunch Central Middle School hosted for me when I visited them last week in Oklahoma. Those of you who know me (and Sammy!) know that Halloween is my favorite "holiday" so you can imagine how giddy I was when I saw all these painted pumpkins and decorations on display at the school lunch tables.

There was Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway...

Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise....

Then Night of Skulls, front and back...

And the Curse of Moustache Mary!

 They did some "stand-alone" titles too! Like Flipped (book and movie versions)...

And The Running Dream...

Swear to Howdy...

Confessions of a Serial Kisser...

And The Gecko & Sticky!

So much work went into putting these table decorations together ... and I don't know about you, but painting even one of these pumpkins would have been a monumental effort for me!

Then there were skits, put on by faculty and kids, including 3 different "Sammys". I wish I had a picture of the three women who played the Bandito Brothers from The Gecko & Sticky. They were dressed up like the characters (in full mariachi regalia, plus mustaches) and were hilarious! "Ms. Krockle," the fierce science teacher from The Gecko & Sticky, was also present (played by the assistant principal), as was Elvis.

This school really knows how to make an author's work "come alive" for the students, and I feel so lucky to have my books as part of the whole Central Middle School Experience. As a kid, how could you not want to read when teachers dress up as Bandito Brothers (Bandita Sisters?) or your teacher walks out with an Elvis swagger and gives you a taste of what the story's about?

I wish I could have magically transported all those pumpkins home in my carry-on, but I'm glad I've got pictures to remind me what a special place CMS is, and how lucky I am to be part of that school experience.

Thanks for checking in--see you next Sunday (and, of course, in the comments)!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Little More from Oklahoma

It's been an interesting few days in Oklahoma, and we've been going non-stop. By we I mean me and a few other authors: Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray), Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts. And Laundry. And Homework) and Sonia Gensler (The Revenant).

The thing about children's book authors is that they're nice. (Well, most of them are, anyway, and all of these were.) And it was fun to get to know each other a little bit and spend time together.

We all participated in a conference, but also did assemblies and presentations at schools in the towns that were hit by tornadoes. Between school visits we toured places where houses and stores used to be, and heard stories from kids and teachers about where they'd been and what they'd seen and how frightening and devastating the experience was.

To the left is an image of what the gym at Highland East School school looked after the tornado. Yes, that's the basketball hoop, upside down. "Loud and terrifying" was the way the tornado was described by most people, which is probably an understatement if you were part of the group gathered in the gym.

I'm getting picked up to travel to Edmond, OK to do two more days of visits, so I'd better pack up! Just wanted to check in with a little more info--see you in the comments!