Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bye For Now!

A few years ago, when it came to my attention that Sammy fans were wondering why a Sammy Keyes book hadn't come out in over a year (and that they were speculating about my possible death), I committed to writing a new post every Sunday through the publication of the last book in the series.

Kiss Goodbye was published back in September. And it made sense to keep the posts going through the tour, but now that we're back home, I think it's time to take a hiatus. My posts had become newsy more than inspired--a shift I wasn't happy with, but something that the wrap up of the series seemed to call for.

I will post when there is news. For instance, there was another meeting just this week about Sammy-to-TV. If a deal gets done, I will definitely tell you about it!

I want you to know that it meant so much to me on both legs of the tour to meet "people from the blog." I cannot begin to explain how absolutely wonderful it was to meet so many of you in person. The readership here is an extraordinary group and I feel so lucky that you have come to spend time with me every Sunday for years!

So this isn't "Goodbye" -- this is just me recognizing that it's time to take a break until something post-worthy comes along.

Meanwhile, here's waving at you!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Basement Tour

I had to remind myself several times this week that we're not doing this tour for the scenery. Interesting (or even varied) scenery is nice, but that's not the reason we're on this tour.

Which is to say that this week provided more long, wide miles of corn.

And then wheat.

And then basically barren plains.

But in the towns between, there were people, and bookstores, and stories.

Everyone really does have a story, and for a lot of the indie bookstores--some of which have been around for generations--there are stories inside them, too.

We were in the little town of Seward, Nebraska where Chapter Books sits on the corner of a small, classically American-looking square. Outside, the two-story brick building is painted a lovely red with grey and white accents. It's quite beautiful. And on the inside where the bookstore occupies the ground floor, everything looks welcoming and well-organized--a really nice place.

But then we heard about the basement! A scary basement that the employees refused to go. And that upstairs were abandoned apartments. Rumor was, they were scary, too.

So of course I begged for a tour.

And they were scary!

But also interesting.

And I could feel the tickle of stories beginning in my brain. Who were the people who had lived upstairs? Had there really been a barbershop downstairs? How, with no windows? Where did the freight elevator go? Why were there large plastic-wrapped church artifacts lying among ancient newspapers? And what was in that large heavy crate, unopened for 50 years?

I had a blast on the tour of the basement (despite rumors of rodents of unusual size) and the abandoned apartments. Just the old furniture and wash basins were enough to tickle me happy.

How can this not make you wonder?
What struck me after we left Seward was that, yes, beautiful (and varied) scenery is nice, but the cool thing about being a writer is that there are stories waiting for you everywhere, even (or maybe especially) in the most unexpected places. You just have to listen. To the people you cross paths with, to the buildings you pass through.

Who needs scenery when you're allowed into a basement?

So that's my little musing for this week. Next week wraps up the tour and I am looking forward to our last several events...and then to getting home after 8 weeks on the road. (And getting my computer fixed!) Here are the final dates:

Monday 11/3 @ 7 PM, The King's English, Salt Lake City, UT
Wednesday 11/5 @7 PM, Lyon Books, Chico, CA
Thursday, 11/6 @ 6 PM, Face in a Book, El Dorado Hills, CA
Friday, 11/7 @ 7 PM, Hicklebee's, San Jose, CA

And lastly, I noticed online that today is Jessica's birthday. As one of this blog's faithful followers and ever-thoughtful contributors, I want to send up a special cheer: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESSICA!

See you in the comments!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Week Is It? (Corny Tales from Tour)

I wish I had some exciting tour news to relay, but since last Sunday we have left Wisconsin, traversed Iowa, made it halfway across Nebraska, and what we've seen this week is much like last week.


I have so many questions about corn.

For starters, how on earth can we consume all of it? I know it's used for feed and oil and maybe liquor?

But, seriously, I'm not talking about miles and miles of's been states and states and states of corn!

I understand we're in the world's breadbasket. But holy smokes. I can't even fathom processing all that corn.

Corn aside, we've also been to some great bookstores. The thing with indie stores is that they are all different. And I guess the one that was the most different this week was the Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

The Book Vault is a repurposed bank, with three separate vaults inside that are used as speciality cubbies. There's the Mystery Vault (which pleased me enormously), the Local Vault (for local writers) and (if I remember right) the Science Vault.

There are three levels, with an open ceiling near the front door and register, and stairs that zig-zag up in unexpected places around and above the vaults. It was a bit like walking through a place with secret rooms and staircases--so cool!

A nice thing about this week was that we had our first real day off yesterday. No travel, no event, just stay put and relax (which meant reading, writing, and running...).

And why did we have a day off?

Well, because we were in Nebraska and had been (rightly) warned that nothing, could tear Nebraskans away from game day activities. Yes, the Nebraska Cornhuskers had a home game, and pity the fool who tried to compete.

So, when in Rome...

Or in Nebraska...
And it was actually great. We even watched a little of the game.

Go, Huskers!

And that, really, is the update. Next week I'll be writing you from Utah. I'm not sure where Corn Country ends, but I'm pretty sure Utah is past that boundary. But I'm also pretty sure they don't have a Book Vault.

Thanks for checking in, and for the comments you've been posting--I appreciate them more than you can know!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fields of Corn & Squeaky Cheese

Well, my laptop is terminal. I found a computer service center in Minot, ND that diagnosed it and gave me the bad news. Fortunately, I have a smart son who made me back up the whole thing before we left on the tour, so my files will eventually be available to me again, but not until after I get home from tour.

It reminds me of moving. You drag boxes and boxes of stuff with you from the old place, store it in the new place until you've got the time to unpack and find new official places to store it.

"It" being stuff you probably don't really need. Or even really want. But certainly can't part with.

Just in case.

So I'll probably get a new computer, load it up with all the backed-up files and wind up with a completely cluttered computer that I need to sort through and clean up.


When I have more time.

All this to say that I'm sorry to not have been more conversant over the tour, but I will do a little catch up here...

As of tonight, we are at the 'tag' spot. You know when you're a kid and you have to run relays and you get to the turnaround point, tag the wall or post or whatever, then charge back? Well, that's where we are. We have tagged the post. Or, in this case, an Irish inn in Milwaukee, which is located across the street from Lake Michigan. Pretty nice turn around point, especially after about 7 hours of driving today.

Working backwards, it was a beautiful drive through Wisconsin. The trees are in full fall regalia, and the farms with their red barns and silos are so picturesque. We did an event in Spring Green, WI at a small but delightful store (Arcadia Books) where the stew was delicious and the people attending were great. I gave away a lot of Sammy shoelaces! Wisconsin is known for its cheese, so we asked for a recommendation and were told to get Carr Valley cheese. So afterward on the drive to Milwaukee, we skidded into a roadside store that had that name on the building.

Cheese curds were both something I'd heard of and something that didn't sound too appealing, but when in Wisconsin...  We didn't really want to buy a full pound, though, (which was size they were selling), so the woman broke up a bag for us and sold us a quarter pound. I commented that we didn't have a refrigerator, and she informed us that cheese curds need to be at room temp when eaten. "You want them to squeak!"


Well, guess what? Cheese curds squeak when chewed. They sound like someone cleaning a window.


Guess what else? They're delicious! They taste like mozzarella sticks, only...with better texture and...saltier and...just better!


Good thing we only got a quarter pound.

Backing up to Minneapolis, we had a wild time at Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, where the store is a sort of hybrid between bookstore and pet shop. Or, maybe, zoo. They had ferrets, chickens, cats, a tarantula, cockatiels, chinchillas, fish and...well creatures I can't recall right now, but the place was bouncing with people, there to shop for books and check out the critters.

And my big visual impression of the past week (actually, almost two, sorry) is corn. Miles and miles of corn. I cannot believe the massive volume of corn that is grown in Illinois, North Dakota, Montana and Missouri. Wisconsin's got it, too. It stands 6 feet tall and is visible for miles, dried to blonde stalks. I first noticed it from the air when we flew to Illinois, pre-Puyallup. I couldn't figure out what it was until we were on the ground, driving miles and miles through it. Apparently it's not table corn. I was told it was used for other things--like oil and corn meal--and that the harvesting combine separates the ears from the stalks and strips the kernels right off. Incredible.

Randomly: We're up to three "stars" in the windshield. There's the one we picked up in Texas that looks like someone hit us with a baseball bat. Despite its size, it's minding itself quite nicely. The other two are little, and one has inferiority issues, as it's spreading across the glass, expanding its territory a little each day. Other than that, it's been pretty smooth sailing through the cornfields of the northern USA.

I've met a few people "from the blog" these past two weeks, which has been excellent and really fun. One crocheted a Penny-the-Pig for me, and now I have a little black pig on the dash, reminding me to "follow the pig!" (Something I've been known to advise aspiring writers to do.) Another made a paper flower out of the pages of a Sammy Keyes book (that had already been thrashed). And others delivered warm hugs, which has been so nice!

We have an early morning with a gym full of sixth graders tomorrow, so I'm wrapping this up here. Thank you for checking in and for keeping us company on this journey!  Have a good week, and remember: follow the pig!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sammy Keyes "Goodbye" Party

Big apologies for being over a week late with this. My PC blue-screened me, and I have been struggling to get coordinated with a new system -- the pictures have been the big problem. But here are a few from the party, and a little summary. 

I still almost don't know where to start because the whole evening was like the coolest dream ever. An enormous amount of planning went into the event. We contributed what we could, but the Puyallup Library staff pulled off a night I'll never forget--full of surprises and such good energy that I know nothing could possibly top it.

We arrived at the Liberty Theater about an hour before the doors were supposed to open so we (the family band, Risky Whippet) could run through the 6 songs we were going to perform with some first-time Whippettes (who included editor Nancy, agent Ginger, RH sales rep Deanna, and seasoned Whippette and friend Carol).

The evening's house band (whose bass drum sported a Darren Cole & the Troublemakers logo) was running behind with their setup, so we went to an upstairs room where we ran through the set acoustically one time. That's all the back-up team got--but they did great when the boas and sunglasses went on and lights came up!

First, though, there was the filing in of hundreds of people, the guest book sign-in, the Sammy Keyes puzzle doing, and the handing out of free books to those sporting Sammy-style shoes....

A sort of mid-stream photo shoot with me and guests happened organically. Some have been uploaded to the Sammy Keyes Books facebook page (where we hope more pictures will appear before too long..)

After meeting people and mingling for a while, the library director, Tim Wadham, got up and made some introductions, and then it was time to see the Sammy Keyes documentary.

I wish I could tell you everything about the documentary, but it felt kind of like a dream, and then it was over. Some of the people we videoed during the Southern Loop of the tour were in it. (We sent them the footage and they used some of it, which was so cool.) It was like seeing friends pop up unexpectedly to say hi. My understanding is that some of the video they took at the party will be added to the documentary for the final cut. I'll keep you posted on the wheres and whens of being able to see it. Not sure right now!

After the documentary came the interview, which was conducted by a man who really is larger than life. His name is Walter Mayes and he has a personality and heart to match his six-and-a-half foot frame. I met him at a function in...maybe San Diego?...when I was a brand new author. I was by myself at some social thing and he came booming up to me with an enthusiasm that made me want to hold on and not let go. He gushed about How I Survived Being A Girl and was just so warm and effusive. He has a long history inside publishing and once you meet him, you don't forget him. He goes by Walter-the-Giant-Storyteller and he did a story time for little kids at the Puyallup Library the morning before the Sammy Keyes Party, which we adults all attended and loved. He did voices and sang and projected enthusiasm across the expansive library, and Mark and I are still singing his version of Wombat Stew.

Anyway, many months ago Tim arranged for Walter to be the MC at the party, and Walter conducted an onstage interview with Nancy and me which included a booming (and quite adorable) rant about why he was refusing to read the last Sammy Keyes book. (NO! I REFUSE! IT CANNOT END!)

After that, it was time for Risky Whippet and the NY Whippettes to get up and make some noise. It didn’t take but a song for the boas to be swaying and “my girls” to be having some fun. The songs we did were:
            Knock on Wood (dedicated to Sammiacs)
            Chain of Fools (the Marissa and Danny song)
            Birthday (Beatles' version, for birthday people—I had a picture in my head of a bunch of birthday people jamming around onstage with us, but the kids that came up were mostly terrified.)
            Burning Down the House (dedicated to Sammy)
            Love Comes to Town (a U2 song dedicated to Heather)
            The Sammy Keyes Song – this had a conga line break near the end of it where the Whippettes and I all came off the stage and formed a line with anyone who wanted to join in (and some I grabbed from the aisles and, uh, encouraged). The line snaked up and down the aisle and then ended in the “Sammiac mosh pit.” It was my favorite!

I was so busy that I didn’t get any of the food, but they served some of Sammy’s favorites, including mac’n’cheese with a dollop of salsa, and chocolate chip cookies. People ate while we signed books—we being me, Nancy, and Dan Yaccarino—who all inked copies of Kiss Goodbye, with Dan adding a Sammy drawing. These are so cool! I bought one each for myself and the boys, ‘cause I doubt the opportunity will ever arise again.

And we signed shoes. Lots of shoes. Clean ones, stinky ones…once that started, it was a little nuts, but also fun.

The party itself was overwhelming for me—having all those kids in Converse was awesome, but seeing people who had traveled great distances to be there was moving in a way I can’t describe. There were the people I knew, and then there were the people who know me through Sammy. One grandmother from Indiana met up with her granddaughter from New Mexico in Washington state because they have shared Sammy Keyes stories since the granddaughter was young. (She is now in college.) How awesome is that? And my cousin sent up a blanket that just blew me away--all the hardcover book jackets woven into a gorgeous throw. I just wanted to hold on to it all night.

I hoped that the party would be a night for everyone to remember—I had no clue how unforgettable it would be for me.  Enormous thanks to Tim Wadham and the Puyallup Library for everything they planned and arranged—not just for the Sammy Keyes Goodbye party, but for the entire Festival weekend. It was awe-inspiring, and a shining example of how a library can so positively impact its community. I’m still shaking my head in wonder

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Puyallup, Part 2: Friday

(Still Mark here – Wendelin is

still having major computer issues and is now transitioning from her Dell to a Mac.  She’ll post tour updates soon, but in brief: it’s been great so far and we’re in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho at the moment, getting ready to go on a trail run.  What a gorgeous place!)

Friday in Puyallup was a bit of a reunion.  It’s always wonderful - in a slightly surrealistic way - when you’re a long way from home and familiar people show up.  Colton and Connor were at the hotel when we awoke, as was Nancy (all having arrived at a somewhat more civilized hour the night before).  We went for Thai food and caught up, then our dear friends Dan and Carol arrived, having flown in that day.  We hung out that afternoon, then went down to the Puyallup High School auditorium for that evening’s event.

As part of the Puyallup Book Festival (of which the Sammy party was the crown jewel) there were three or four other book-related events that weekend.  One was the 2nd Annual Jim Taylor Un-Lecture (in honor of a beloved local teacher & musician).  The theme this year was Teens, Books, and Rock & Roll.  The presenters were myself and two other YA authors (Jordan Sonnenblick and Kevin Emerson – both also drummers as well!) and the guest of honor was Michael Shrieve – the original drummer for Santana – who performed that famous and riveting drum solo during Woodstock only a few weeks after his 20th birthday.  (Check it out on YouTube if you haven’t seen it – it’s amazing.)  We each got up and talked about how music informed our written work, then Michael took the stage and played a drum solo, followed by him speaking about how he started in the professional music business at such a young age.  I knew he was a wonderful musician, but I had no idea he was such a good story-teller as well… what a treat that was!

In our family we have a tradition that after a gig we always go to a Dennys, and if you stretch the rules a little, this was a gig of sorts (okay, I played a musical demonstration on the cajon as part of my presentation).  So the five of us (Wendelin, Nancy, Colton, Connor, and I) piled into the corner booth at the nearby Dennys and refueled on coffee, pancakes, potatoes, bacon, and eggs as we unwound from a very cool day.

Stay tuned…

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pre-Puyallup Party Problems (Part Primo)

(Mark here.  This story is too big for one blog post so we’re breaking it up and I’m going to write the first part because Wendelin is busy fighting with her computer at the moment…!)

Before we could attend the events in Puyallup, we had to GET there.  Easier said than done, if you get a crazy idea that in the middle of a road-trip tour you should trade in your book-wrapped minivan for a jumbo-jet and fly to Illinois to present at not one but two different conferences (in different parts of the state) as well as throw in a few school presentations and an in-store signing.  Right before the most important event of the tour.

First, we arrived in Puyallup, parked our van in Tim’s (the Library Director’s) garage, and then (after a quick tour of the venues, which got us excited for the following weekend) hopped a plane to Chicago.  In theory.  In reality, this was the day the nut-job set fire to the air traffic control center outside Chicago.  Meaning we got to camp at SeaTac for most of the day, but we eventually arrived in Chicago.  The conference (Anderson’s YA Festival) went wonderfully.  Highly recommended to Educators/Librarians/YA Fans in the Midwest.  Then we visited a school in the area, and had a nice in-store at Anderson’s Books.

Then we hopped on a hopper (what else?) and hopped down to Springfield for the Illinois Reading Council’s annual conference and a couple more schools.  That conference was also very cool, as we presented both as a couple and individually.  Everything went well until we arrived at the Springfield airport for our hop back to Chicago, where we were to catch our flight to Seattle that evening (Thu) to arrive in time for Friday’s event (centered around YA books and music) and of course the main event – the Sammy Keyes Goodbye Party on Saturday.

In brief, we were dropped off at the airport only to learn that ALL flights from Springfield to O’Hare (Chicago airport) were cancelled.  And flying to Seattle via other nearby cities was also off the table for various reasons (believe me, we tried!).  So in a desperate move to catch our Chicago-to-Seattle flight (leaving in 3 hours) we commandeered a taxi to take us halfway across Illinois (a 3.5 hour drive) in an effort to make our schedule.  Talk about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!  We informed our intrepid driver we were in a screaming hurry, and apparently he took us at our word.  We probably averaged 80 mph that trip, including a brief but intense downpour that had freeway traffic slowing to 20 mph simply because you could barely see the road.  (Don’t tell Wendelin - because she’s still recovering from the stress of that trip - but we hit triple digits more than once.)  We came screeching up on two wheels and as I handed the driver a tip I said, “Promise me just one thing… that you won’t drive like that on your way back to Springfield.  I want you to get home alive!”

As we ran through the airport we were notified (via text alert) that our flight to Seattle had been delayed.  Which was actually a good thing, as we were cutting it real close and nothing is worse than killing yourself to get there only to miss the flight by 5 minutes.  So we waited in O’Hare for a few hours, then finally boarded the flight back to Seattle.  Tim and his wife Penny (both nominated for sainthood after this) picked us up at SeaTac and took us to our hotel in Puyallup.  Where our sons and Nancy had arrived earlier that evening from California and New York, respectively.  (We were SUPPOSED to all meet up at the airport and ride in together…ha!)

So we arrived at 3:00 a.m. Friday morning (5:00 to us, coming from Central time) and hit the sack for a few hours of sleep before prepping for that evening’s event.

More to come…

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Place Holder

I know some of you are waiting for a report on the party, but my regular computer blue screened me today (of all days!) and I am not able to put one together. I am hoping to get it fixed tomorrow. Sorry!!

Monday, September 29, 2014

North Loop Week 2 Highlights

(I'm a day late, but it's not my fault! The hotel had internet problems last night and I couldn't post this...) (And it's short, too. Sheez. But I hope you like the link and picture.)

This has been a wild week. Mostly because we agreed to fly to Illinois to do two conferences in the middle of a plenty-crazy-enough road trip tour.  So we drove up to Seattle to drop off a bunch of Sammy Keyes Party stuff, left the van behind and flew from Washington to Illinois. A direct flight, but getting here was still the hard part. Still, despite the efforts of the guy who set fire to an air traffic control facility near Chicago, our flight was only delayed 6 hours, not cancelled like a lot of other flights.

Anyway, we may be in Illinois, but we’re very excited about the Sammy Keyes Party happening in Puyallup in 6 days. (Six days!) We had the opportunity to tour the Liberty Theater where the party will take place—it’s really great! And the stage has a section in front of it that is crying out to be a Sammiac mosh pit. (High-tops unite!) They will have lots of chairs where you see tables now, and tables and chairs in the back. It’s going to be a great time! Here’s a little “party trailer” they’ve put together. Love all the graveyard stuff, and Mark cracks up every time he sees me looking over the bushes. Remind me not to be a ham with cameras rolling, okay?

That’s it for now. I hope to have lots of fun stuff to share next week. Wish you could all be at the party!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

North Loop Week 1 Highlights

The first week of the Northern Loop tour is complete, and there have been some really great moments.

For example, imagine walking into a bookstore and seeing this display. The closer you look, the more detail you see--they've even identified the various awards the books have received--talk about doing your homework! And the header is so cute!

A display like that just puts you in a good mood. And then the people arrive.

Best of the best:: meeting Sammiacs.

I'm not sure if it's cool to identify them, so I will leave that to them in the comments. But nothing makes me happier than meeting y'all in person.

Other happy moments:

      • Having reunions with booksellers who have been hand-selling Sammy Keyes books since Hotel Thief.
  • Having some of my former students show up with their children. Wow.
  • Having family travel distance and converge to see the "he said, she said" thing -- like they haven't seen enough "he said, she said" at Thanksgivings? Pass the gravy!
  • Having long-time friends do the same.
  • Booking people! 
  • Signing a Sammiac's first pair of Converse. She got them in 7th grade. She's now 23. They were spray-painted, too!
  • Receiving a box of "Kiss Goodbye" t-shirts from a librarian. Hello? Or, really, holy smokes! They are awesome! (And I will give a few away as prizes at the Sammy Keyes Goodbye party in Puyallup.)
So we are off to a good start, and are looking forward to more next week. If you haven't already seen the full tour schedule, you can find it here (with the exception of one last-minute addition, which is Anderson's Bookshop in Downers Grove, IL on 9/29). Please let us know if you can make any of the dates.

That's all for now. This travelin' fool needs some sleep! Thanks for checking in--I'll look forward to seeing you in the comments!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Land of Vanishing Time & Sapce

I have this bad habit of filling up time I don't really have. Like, I'll get a dandy idea and think, Yeah! I've got time for that! But then that Dandy Idea winds up taking Way Too Much Time (because, you know, you need to do your Dandy Ideas right). Before I know it I'm chuga-chuga-choo-chooing into the Tunnel of Vanishing Time where dark forces rob you and leave you with unfinished Dandy Ideas and unpacked suitcases.

This is to say that Tour starts in 2 days.

This is to say that the van is packed to the gills and there's not a suitcase in it.

This is to say that Dandy Ideas take not only more time, but more space than one might anticipate.

One of these Dandy Ideas was making large puzzles for the Puyallup Sammy Keyes party. I'm happy to say that they are done, and they are mounted, and they are packed, and (especially) they are awesome!

I will not list the things yet unfinished, or share my TO DO list. You have vanishing time of your own to deal with.

I wish you could all be at the party. I could see you swooping in with answers to these mega puzzles. They would be completed in fifteen seconds! So, hm, maybe it's a good thing you can't all come. These puzzles took too much time to have them completed by a swarm of Sammiacs in fifteen seconds!

If you can't come to the party, you might want to stop reading right here. I will see you right here next week, when I give the first Adventure Report from the northern loop tour.

If you are going, newsflash! I've learned that Dan Yaccarino, the illustrator for the hardcover Sammys will be at the party and will draw a "Sammy" in each of the Kiss Goodbye books sold that night (if you want him to). AND since Nancy (my editor) is also going to be there (and singing backup with our band, tee-hee!), I've asked if she'd be willing to sign the books (if you want her to), and she has agreed . So that would be the author, illustrator, and editor all in one place, scribbling in books. Sounds pretty collectible to me :-)

One last thing because I thought was really nicely done: A Prezi presentation from a school in Puyallup getting kids interested in going to the party. It's fun--just click through it.

Thanks again for all the wonderful comments last week. I felt surrounded by friends who understand, and that's a really great way to feel!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

It's Finally Time

We have been building up to this coming week for a long time, haven't we?

And now, in a curiously sudden way, here it is: In two days Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye will be released.

How can this be so hard for me to believe?

A librarian in the SF Bay Area has been rereading the series in preparation for Kiss Goodbye, and she's been sending me her comments and favorite bits from each book. It's been great to be reminded of past episodes, and heartwarming to hear her reaction to books and scenes and even stand-out sentences.

So this week I thought it would be fun (and, selfishly, good therapy for me) if you would leave a comment stating your favorite(s)--line, scene, book--it doesn't matter. Short or long--it doesn't matter. I would love it getting your thoughts.

And thank you, my blogger friends, for checking in--some of you every week for years now. I hope you enjoy Kiss Goodbye. It's finally time.

PS For those of you who are not on Facebook--and I know many of you are not--here is a link to a news article I know you'll enjoy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Long Live The Princess Bride

We attended the wedding of a couple of friends this weekend. It was an outdoor ceremony on a storybook perfect day.

The bride wore a summer dress, the groom, a white shirt and jeans. Per dress code guidelines, lots of guests wore shorts and flip flops.

The soon-to-be-wed couple mingled and attended to details, and when the ceremony was underway, they walked across the lawn together toward the "altar" .

The altar was a puzzling structure. It seemed a little...awkward, and I though it was a tall stack of hay bales covered by a shiny fringed cloth...until it blew over.

Definitely not hay bales, but...what was it?

Why was it even there?

No matter. The structure was re-erected and the bride and groom approached the altar, where the minister was waiting.

The minister began with a traditional opening, but when he got to the word marriage, we all shook out an ear because we'd distinctly heard, "maawidge."

Then the groom interrupted the barely-begun ceremony, and both he and his bride-to-be skedaddled behind that altar-contraption-not-hay-bales-thingee. After a few minutes of assorted undergarments flying into the air, the two reappeared in Princess Bride attire--she as Buttercup, he as the Dread Pirate Roberts.

All of us burst into whoops and clapter (=happy clapping). They didn't have to announce what characters they were--we knew immediately. And with that change of costume came a fully formed sense of surviving obstacles and misdirection and Fire Swamps and Rodents of Unusual Size to get to each other.

To be together.

It struck me how neat it is--and powerful--that fictional characters can have such a strong and bonding impact on our real lives. How something as simple as a costume change can bring with it such a flood of understanding and happiness and romance.

Long live The Princess Bride!

And may our friends live happily ever after.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Undercover With Sammy Keyes

Me, channeling Sammy, hiding in the bushes in "Santa Martina".
It was quite a weekend with the film guys, who flew in from Seattle to get footage for the documentary they're doing about Sammy Keyes and (more broadly) why books we read in our tween and teen years matter.

At first I didn't really get why they wanted to go to "Santa Martina" -- it's a fictional place, despite being inspired by a real city. I tried to explain that the Heavenly Hotel in the Sammy Keyes books doesn't look anything like the hotel it was inspired by. Nor does the Senior Highrise. Or the police station. Or any of the places Sammy frequents. I was sure the Docu-Dudes would be very disappointed.

But I was reminded this weekend that, just as characters we develop often spring from people we have crossed paths with in real life, so does setting. And setting can be very much like a character. It gives life to your story, and gives character to it as well. It doesn't have to be true to it's inspiration. It just has to help you create your story.

After I saw the crew was actually excited about the places I took them I began to relax about it. And in a funny way, it felt like we were Sammy and Friends, cruising the streets of Santa Martina, even hiding in the bushes.

So Sammy's world is "captured" now, as the Docu-Dudes like to say. And it was very interesting for me to get a new perspective on the old inspirations. It was also a little mind boggling to look around and realize that these ordinary locations are now familiar to readers around the world--something I never imagined when I wrote Hotel Thief.

The documentary will be about Sammy, but in a broader sense, it will also explore wider themes--about the importance of books and reading, about world-building and shaping your own world, about beginnings and endings (happy and otherwise). The team asked me some great questions and also interviewed a journalist who has covered my career for the past 14 years. They tell me he had a lot of really great things to say, which I'm curious to eventually see. And after witnessing the artistry of the videographer, I am starting to get the picture--these guys aren't messing around. I'm also starting to believe--this is going to be awesome!

The film will debut at the Sammy Keyes party on October 4th, and then their plan is to do the indie film circuit with it, submitting it as a "short". After that it'll probably be available online. You know you'll be the first ones to know!

One last little thought. While we were standing across the street from the "Heavenly" taking in how the hotel had been ruined by a fire, it hit me that Sammy had said in Hotel Thief that if she ever saw a fireball across the way, she'd know that Madame Nashira's cigarette and finally made contact with her hair (shellacked to unnatural heights, as is her style).

It gave me pause. And in a world gone meta, I can't help thinking that's exactly what happened.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sneak Peek

I just received a finished copy of Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye in the mail and was very happily surprised to open it and find custom endpapers! I am attaching a snapshot of them, but they are way better in person, and there's more on the backside of the turning page. It's hard to believe the book will be in stores in three weeks (and two days, but who's counting, right?).

Meanwhile, the Sammy Keyes documentary guys are going to be here next weekend. It's almost certain that I'll have a bad hair day, but I'd trade that for a good-word day in a heartbeat. I have complicated thoughts about Sammy. I hope I don't come off sounding stupid or crazy. I'd much prefer others to talk about the importance of the series, but there's no backing out now.

And the birthday "tiaras' for the Sammy Keyes Party have arrived, so if you're coming to the party for your birthday, let us know--we will make a fuss over you!

That's all for now. I should have lots to share next Sunday after the Docu-Dudes leave. As always, thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I was cleaning a cabinet...well, actually, I was looking for something and that turned into cleaning a cabinet...when I came across a crossword puzzle I made when Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief first came out.  I thought, Awww, and then I thought, Hey! I know some people who would have fun with this! (Uh, you?)

Sorry it's not one of those cool, interactive crossword puzzles. The process is print, apply pencil.

But finding the puzzle got me thinking...

(Yes, danger ahead!)

On the Southern loop of the tour we participated in the Alabama Book Festival, and my favorite thing about the event was this enormous crossword puzzle they had on the grounds. Anyone could go up and marker in an answer, and people milled around it all day.

(It didn't hurt our enjoyment quotient that our book titles were part of the puzzle.)

Anyway, I hit on the idea that it would be fun to do something similar for the Sammy Keyes Party, so I spent a lot of time today trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Which I think I have, I think I have, I think I have.

It won't be as "installed" or as big as the ABF puzzle, but my plan is to have three sections, each with clues from groups of six Sammy Keyes books. So the first one would be Hotel Thief through Hollywood Mummy, etc. I think it'll be a super fun thing for people to do in between other stuff that'll be going on.

And for those of you who are not on Facebook, we posted a fun little snippet of our SK Party band practice the other day. It's just us goofing around, and there's no bass, so don't expect it to be anything other than goofy. And, yes, this gives away one song. It was impossible to guess, I know, but to me it's "so Sammy!" (Burning Down the House, by Talking Heads.) Thank you for all the great song input last week--I loved seeing your choices.

All for now! Have fun with the puzzle, and thanks again for checking in!

Sunday, August 3, 2014


We've been recruited!

The 'we' is the family rock band. Which (for those of you who are uninitiated) sounds epically dorky, I know.

But we're not!

We're actually pretty good.

And we'll be playing a few songs at the Sammy Keyes Party on October 4th. (There'll be a house band that night and they'll lend us their gear which is epically nice, as any musician will tell you.)

Some of the songs will have Sammy-fied lyrics, and all are dedicated to certain characters. would be fun to have you guess the songs. Although there are probably hundreds of songs that would apply. And probably no one'll guess the ones we're doing. But still, it would be fun to put it out there for your guesses, if you want to play along!

To narrow things down, we are a rock band. Not much bubblegum pop happening here.

So pick a song you think fits...

1) Marissa + Danny (as in her not being able to break away from him)
2) Sammy! (as an everyday girl stirring up trouble!)
3) Lucky Me to Sammiacs
4) Heather's Explanation (you will never get this!)

We'll also be doing Beatles' Birthday for the people who are coming for their birthday (so you need to let us know if that includes you), and the revamped (and greatly improved) Sammy Keyes song (full version+conga line dance break!).

Also, I'm super excited because I've got two Random House peeps who've agreed to sing backup! The purple boas are coming out!

So why aren't you coming to this party?

Oh, I know. Distance. Cost. Time. I do understand!

But play along and guess some songs. It'll be fun to see what matches you make!

As always, thanks for checking in--see you in the comments!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sammy Keyes Documentary

Sammy's Swoopy Skatepath?
There's a Sammy Keyes documentary being planned. Not a movie, a 20-minute documentary about why Sammy Keyes matters.

The person behind this is also the person coordinating the Sammy Keyes party on October 4th in Washington state, where the documentary will premiere. This is his vision and since he has a doctorate in children's literature and has been enthused about Sammy since Hotel Thief came out in 1998, I think it's okay to trust him with explaining what regular readers here already know--Sammy Keyes matters!

Anyway, there'll be a little docu-team coming here in mid-August to get a bunch of footage, and in preparation for that Mark and I ventured into "Santa Martina" to get some possible inspiration-location photographs.

Is there a Senior Highrise?

A Heavenly Hotel?

A St. Mary's Church?

A swoopy sidewalk around the mall?

Or the basement in Snake Eyes?

What about the it as described in Night of Skulls?

Well, yes and no.

After our picture taking tour, what struck me most was how an author's imagination fills in space and creates a renovation of reality. Something sparks an image in the writer's mind, and then it builds from there. And when you revisit the original inspiration you find  it's been dwarfed by the picture you've built around it.

The Heavenly Hotel, for example, was based on an old rundown hotel that had some faded pink trim. From that came the HEAVENLY with its pink neon sign and mirrored stairwells.

The point of the documentary is not primarily to document the places Sammy's world was fictionalized from, but rather to explore the contribution of the series. Genre fiction is often marginalized, and Sammy Keyes is considered genre fiction. A mystery series. And really, what can a mystery series contribute besides entertainment?

Recognition for the substance of Sammy Keyes has felt like a battle over the years. "Mystery series" seemed just too big a barrier for people in literature circles to see beyond.

Maybe it's because we've come to the end of the series that it can now be assessed as a whole body of work, not just "the next Sammy Keyes". Maybe this is an unexpected benefit of having reached the heart-wrenching end. I'm just grateful that someone has taken the lead on putting into words--and on film--why Sammy Keyes matters.

Because you know what? She does.

As always, thanks for checking in. Looking forward to seeing you in the comments!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tour Schedule, Northern Loop

Drum roll, please!

After months of planning we have northern loop Road Show dates ready to share! So if you're in...

North Dakota!
 or Utah!

...check the roster for a stop near you!

I want you to know that we did everything we could to get to the places people requested (and some of those were definite sidetracks from logical routing, but in the tradition of this "Goodbye" for Sammy Keyes, that seemed more than appropriate).

On the roster you'll notice the Puyallup Book Festival. This Festival has two exciting days planned. 

The first one (Friday, 10/3) is billed as "An Evening of Teens, Books, and Rock 'n' Roll." Mark will be one of the featured YA authors, and it looks to be an awesome event with Santana drumming legend Michael Shrieve.

The second night (Saturday, 10/4) is the Goodbye Party for Sammy Keyes (aka Sammy-con!), and the plans for the night keep getting better and better! I will post about it separately, soon!

For now I'm going to leave you with our "War Room Map" which has been taped to the wall of our office since we started planning the first loop almost a year ago. (Green squares were the Southern Loop, orange is the upcoming Northern Loop.) I've really come to love this map. Our son pointed out that the roads look like arteries and veins and capillaries, and they give it the feel of being alive. Creepy, maybe, but I think it's cool.

Putting together this tour was tons of work, but now that we have our stops, dates, and finalized route, I'm excited for September, and especially excited to find out...who's coming to see us?