Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hope, Heart, and Making a Difference

The original cover 
Here's the thing about being a teacher: You're the one left behind. I'm not talking about pay structure or professional status, I'm talking about being left behind by the students. 

Each year teachers ready their classroom, prepare their strategies, devise fresh ways to enrich the curriculum and seed knowledge, then greet a whole new crop of kids, who for nine months will grow stronger and smarter with the care and feeding of considered education. And then, in a buzz of summer break excitement, those students will dash out the door, and out of your life. And you will likely never have a definitive answer to the question all teachers ask themselves: Did I make a difference?

I know this because I did this cycle for fifteen years.

I didn't teach at the cuddle-kid level, where intrinsic rewards can come in spurts of little hugs and tearful goodbyes. I taught high school. Semester courses. Six of them each semester for fifteen years. Somewhere between 28-33 kids per class. Let's call it an average of 30 k/cl. 

When I multiply 6 x 30 x 2 x 15, I get 5,400 students. Some of these took  more than one of my courses, so let's just round down and say approximately 5,000 kids came through my classroom during my tenure as a teacher. I poured my heart and soul into making school fun and educational, into making kids feel like my room was a safe haven--a place they belonged. I ran myself ragged in the pursuit of excellence, especially after I became a mom. I was on my feet all day and lost weight to a point where people thought I was anorexic. I wasn't, I just wasn't taking care of myself the way I was taking care of everything else. 

The new cover
And at the end of fifteen years, I looked back and wondered ... had it been worth it? 

Had I made a difference?

Because, really, that's the reason we teach.

My novel Runaway had been an idea long before it became a book. And the reason it took me so long to begin writing it was because I didn't know how to end it (and I won't start a book unless I have an ending in mind). 

In case you're not familiar with Runaway, it's the journal of Holly Janquell, a girl who runs away from bad foster care shortly after her teacher, Ms. Leone, gives her a journal in an effort to help Holly "turn the page." 

Suddenly, Holly's gone.

And Ms. Leone has no idea what's become of her troubled student. 

I had the basic plot for the book. And I knew where I was going, just not how to end it.

And then one day I was out on a run and the idea for how to end the book hit me like a bolt of lightning. I know exactly where it happened. No, the earth isn't charred there, but it did get sprinkled. The idea hit me so hard that I stopped in my tracks, gasped at the emotion of it, then started crying. Right there in the middle of my run, I got all weepy and overwhelmed and, you know, spastic. 

Because if what happens at the end of Runaway were to have happened to me as a teacher, I would have bawled my eyes out. In the very best, happiest of ways. 

And no, I'm not going to spoiler it here!

Runaway was first published in 2006. The reason I'm bringing all this up now is twofold: 

First, authors experience a thing similar to teachers. We write stories, they go out into the world and we have no idea if the story we poured our heart and soul into has had its intended effect. Did readers understand what you were trying to say? Did they feel it in their heart? Did it make them think? 

The teacher letter
Did it make a difference to anyone? 


Because, really, that's the reason we write. 

I have gotten some beautiful, heartfelt letters from teen readers over the years. But this week, eleven years after Runaway went out into the world, I got a letter from a teacher. (See sidebar.) What he wrote made me weepy-happy because it tells me that yes, he understood. Yes, he felt it. And yes, it made a difference.

The second reason I'm bringing this up now is because we have finally completed the Runaway book trailer. Faithful readers of this blog know that it's been in the works for, what? Eight or nine months? Introducing a trailer after a book has been out for so long is not normally done, but we wanted to do something to celebrate the new cover and help Runaway find new readers. Not that a 90 second trailer should take nine months, but when you watch it, you'll better understand why it did. (Yes, that's the Los Angeles River.) (Oh. And a little trivia: The place where you'll see Holly in the bushes writing in her journal? The path right beside it is where I had my stop-in-the-trail moment.)

So, I will link to the trailer, but before I do, I have a request: Sometime soon, tell the teachers who have made a difference in your life that you appreciate them, and why. This is not hard. They are out there. Teachers love Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Find them. Post to their wall. Send a direct message. Something. It may be just what they need to find the strength to go on in their career. 

And while you're at it, tell your parents. Or your kids. Tell the people who matter that they matter, and why. 

Because, really, that's what we all live for.

And now, here's the RUNAWAY TRAILER. Please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please send light and love out for others to catch. This story is all about hope and heart and making a difference. Help it find its way to the people who need it. 

As always, thanks for stopping by. See you in the comments!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

There's a Turtle on My Title!

This week I received my author copies of Vietnam's edition of The Running Dream. I love my foreign editions. They're fascinating. I may spend more time marveling over them than I do the original book when it's finally something I can hold in my hands. By then, I've been over the manuscript dozens of times and figure there can be no surprises. 

That's not always the case. 

Sometimes the surprise is good - as in Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye, where there was the absolutely wonderful surprise of the fancy endpages. 

And sometimes the surprise is not good - as also in Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye where the dedication page was (and is still) missing. 

Usually, though, it's a matter of receiving the book, admiring it for a a little bit with the feeling of immense gratitude that it's finally, finally a real book, and then getting back to work.

The foreign editions are different, because everything about them is new and fascinating and mysterious. And the idea that I'm holding a book that I wrote but can't read gets me every time!

Sometimes the editions arrive and the art is a complete surprise. For example, when I received copies of the French translations of Sammy Keyes, I was shocked to see that Sammy's name had been changed to Sara Kay. 

Who the heck was Sara Kay?

And why make her look like an angry Nancy Drew?

My agent assured me that the foreign publishers understand their marketplace better than we possibly could and to trust them. I have learned to do that. The Sammy Keyes books have done well in France, so maybe a girl with (what seems to be) a boy's name wouldn't fly in their market. 

Sometimes the foreign publisher gets cover approval from the author prior to publication, which was the case with this Vietnamese version of The Running Dream. And I did do a double-take about the art. With the framing trees and the starry feel, it seemed to be art more representative of Flipped.

So I asked my agent about it, and she relayed my query to the publisher in Vietnam, who replied with this explanation: Our keyword is "dream". We show a healthy girl sleeping peacefully, as if after a fierce struggle. It's like a dream within a dream of Jessica.

They also said they felt the artwork would do well in their market, so I'm trusting that it will.

Some other interesting details about the Vietnamese edition: The title, “Đường đua của những giấc mơ,” translates to something like “Race Track of Dreams,” and the book comes with a nifty star-shaped bookmark. Each chapter is labeled "Chuong" which translates to (big surprise) "Chapter," but it's the section headings that I haven't been able to figure out. I think this is because the "a" used in "PHAN" has a special symbol over it. Or a combination of marks. 

The translations I've come up with are "Chalk" or "Phase." I'm pretty sure neither is correct because in analyzing the language, there are a variety of special symbols (and combinations of them) put on letters that change the meaning. The one (or combination) over this "a" looks like a turtle going to the left. There's also a turtle heading to the right on "ket" below "PHAN." (I'm sure these 'turtles' have nothing to do with slow and steady winning the race, although I'm applying my own symbolism anyway!)

So, see? It's fascinating. And that I can't read a word of it makes it even more so. 

If you have any knowledge of the Vietnamese language, please share with us in the comments. And if you know anyone who'd be interested in the Vietnamese translation, here's a link.

Thanks for checking in. Here's to happy surprises landing in your mailbox. Looking forward to chatting with you in the comments!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spastic and Weepy

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's contest. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, to ask for your favorite quote or  scene, but it  made for a really wonderful week for me. There was such a range of favorite scenes, and I loved each and every comment. 

As promised, I put all the entries in a hat- - a hat that some of you may recognize from the Sammy Keyes Goodbye party - and the name I drew was...Yusa! So congratulations, Yusa! Send me an e-mail with your snail mail address and I will get your box packed and sent.

Now on to this week - I'd like to invite you to New York! Or, more practically, I'd like to invite those of you in the New York City vicinity to come to the Bank Street College of Education's Children's Book Awards ceremony. I was stunned to learn that it was open to the public, so if you're interested, you can just show up! 

The awards are broken into three categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

This year they have 3 winners in the Non-Fiction category - one for younger readers (Ada's Violin) and two for older readers (March and Sachiko).

When Green Becomes Tomatoes won in the Poetry category, and The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones won in Fiction.

Each award recipient will give a short talk (5-10 min). I've been told that, so far, Susan Hood, the author of Ada's Violin and Leigh Walton, the editor of March will be there to accept, as will Julie Fogliano, author of When Green Becomes Tomatoes.

I'll be there, too, for Lincoln Jones!

The wonderful thing about being recognized for you work is...well, that your work has been recognized. It's really nice validation for all the sweat and tears you poured into creating your story.

The unnerving thing about being recognized for your work is...well, that you have to talk about your work. How do you boil down the essence of what took years of your life to create? How do you explain why it's important without sounding, you know, self-important?

Some people are good at this. They're eloquent and at ease. Me? I'm spastic and weepy. Even when I've coached myself into believing it's going to be a breeze - and even if I have to speak for only 5-10 minutes - somehow I turn spastic and weepy.  

I've been told that it would help reduce my level of s tress if I had a few tried-and-true speeches that I could pull out and use. But I'm terrible at delivering speeches from the page. It feels so stiff. I've witnessed lots of other authors deliver do it to great effect, so I don't know what my problem is. I recognize that I'm the creator of my own anxiety, but even if I had some tried-and-true speeches that I could deliver well, it would feel like cheating. Every event is different. Every audience is different. And every time I think about what I want to say - what would be most appropriate for that particular audience - it turns out different.

Anyway, thinking about what I want to say - and convey - in the 5-10 minutes allotted for me to speak at this awards ceremony, I realized that for this book and this audience, I needed to go where I have never gone before. 

Which means I'm starting from scratch.

I'm not going to go into detail here. I'm just going to show you one picture from the slides that I'm putting together. 

Yes, that's me (many years ago). 

Yes, that's a pipe wrench in my hand. 

What does this have to do with The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones?

More than you can possibly imagine.

The rest I'm saving for Bank Street.

If you've read through to this point, you are probably one of my faithful readers. So if you're also someone who lives near New York City and has been wanting to get your collection of books autographed, here's your chance: Following the awards ceremony, BSCE is having a booksale/signing, So come. Bring your stacks. I will make sure they get signed. 

And don't worry - I'll leave the pipe wrench and coveralls at home. 

As always, thanks for stopping by. See you in the comments!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Flipped Audio GIveaway

There's a lot of stressful stuff going on here this week. It has me in a time crunch...but there's always time to give away something, right?  

So...who wants Listening Library's newly released Flipped audio book? 

It's six CDs in a nifty case and it's been awarded an  AudioFile Magazine Earphone Award, which means that Tara Sands (who voiced Juli's parts) and Ryan Gesell (who did the voice of Bryce) are amazing in this...and they are!

Closing things out on Disc 6 is the new bonus material, which addresses demands for a sequel, and shares some behind the scenes stuff about the book-to-movie experience. 

Since I wrote that part for the anniversary edition like a long letter to my readers, Listening Library thought it would make sense to have it narrated by, well, me, which I wrote about back in November.

I was afraid to listen to that part, but today I finally did. And you know what?

I made myself laugh a few times!

So that's a good, right?

If you want to enter the drawing, all you have to do is leave a comment at this post (below) where you share one of your favorite scenes or a quote from ANY of my books. It doesn't have to be long or fancy--just tell me what made you laugh, cry, think, whatever. If you have two favorites, leave two separate comments, but no more than two entries per person. It'll be fun for me to see what resonated with you, so please do enter!

Deadline is midnight (PST) on Friday, March 10th. I'll print the comments, cut them into strips, and pick a winner "from the hat." The winner will be announced right here next weekend and I'll get that person's mailing address afterwards via email. (Due to shipping complications, USA residents only, sorry!)  

Oh, and you know me -- I'll cram the box full of an assortment of signed books, and I'll make sure that a copy of the Flipped anniversary edition is among them.

Thanks for checking in and for playing along. Good luck, and I'll see you in the comments!