Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What do you think of this cover?

Here is the cover for Vanished: True Stories (originally "Tales") of the Missing, due out in January through the Scholastic Book Club. (It will hopefully also be available in bookstores, but that Scholastic division has not made that decision yet—maybe I'll circulate a petition.)

The book comprises the stories of seven people who disappeared, some of whom were not heard from again; I blogged a bit more about it earlier this spring. Based only on that information, what is your opinion of the cover design?

I'll be curious to see if anyone has the same first reaction I (and my wife, separately) did. Be honest—I am comfortably used to criticism. And I will share my take shortly.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A library with muscles

After the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators panel I sat on last month, the Coordinator of Youth Services from the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut, came up to me and shared fun news.

As I understood it, inspired by Ross MacDonald's art for
Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, the library commissioned him to create the centerpiece images to promote their summer reading program. The theme is "Super Readers Summer."

For something else super, compare the endpaper of
Boys of Steel with this first drawing:
All images courtesy of (and not to be used in any way without permission from)
Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, and Ross MacDonald

Monday, May 25, 2009

Winter Words

In December, I had the privilege of being one of four authors on a panel at the Fairfield (CT) Public Library, as part of Winter Words, a daylong annual conference aimed at aspiring writers. The podcast of that panel just went up:

This was the best panel I've been on to date, in terms of chemistry among the panelists, quality of questions asked, and spontaneous humor generated. Anyone interested in books would be interested in what my fellow authors had to say, yet if an hour is too long to commit to, here is one of many ways to take a shortcut...the approximate times at which my answers begin:

7:20 why I write and why for children
12:49 anecdote that gives one reason why I continue to write for children
19:37 where I get character ideas
26:41 am I in a writers' group
28:29 my research/writing process
34:42 a little joke
38:40 how I come up with original ideas
44:25 who my heroes are
52:58 what I am working on now
55:26 audience question: do we or does publisher pick book titles
58:36 audience question: how important are reviews

Again, this is not to say that my answers are any more engaging than anyone else's.

If, before I listened to the podcast, you'd asked me how many times each of us spoke during the panel, I'd have said four or maybe five times. I was surprised that it was at least double that. Now I have a greater appreciation for how much can be packed into an hourlong panel.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The woman behind "The Man Behind 'Boys of Steel'"

Note the placement of those quotation marks. If it read "the woman behind the man behind Boys of Steel," then I'd be referring to my wife (who edited 18 drafts of the book and is name-dropped in the dedication). Here I am referring to Barbara Heins, a longtime writer for the Greenwich Time.

She kindly interviewed me in October. And today, she kindly informed me that at last night's Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism Awards for 2008, her article about Boys of Steel won first place in the category "arts and entertainment article in daily newspaper with a circulation under 21,000."

"I thank you for sharing your story in such an engaging way that my peers thought of it so highly," Barbara humbly wrote me, but of course it wasn't me rambling but rather her listening and writing that earned her this distinction.

Yet being even the smallest part of someone else's journey to an award feels about as good as winning an award yourself. Congratulations, Barbara!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Young authors in Ohio

On May 14 and 15, I was the guest author at the 32nd annual Young Authors' Conference in Wooster, Ohio (also home to the annual Buckeye Book Fair, the state's largest).

Six hundred elementary and middle school students participated. Each had written (and in most cases also illustrated) their own books, fiction and nonfiction. Some of their books reminded me of books I made when I was in school—though mine were less slick, written on lined paper with a cover made of wallpaper scrap. Other books I saw at the conference were hardcover, coolly bound by a company in Kansas—I don't believe that option existed when I was a kid!

Thursday evening, I spoke in a gorgeous building they called a chapel but which looked like an auditorium.

The audience was some of the student authors, their parents, and often, their younger siblings (all of whom were quite patient for an evening event not aimed at them). Afterward, one parent came up to me for advice. She had taken a children's book writing course and wants desperately to try to publish—yet she is desperately afraid of rejection. I mean on the verge of tears desperately, with her husband nodding along near her as she emphasized her fear. I asked what she is more afraid of—trying and failing, or never trying and therefore never knowing if she would have succeeded. She is going to try.

The next morning, I spoke twice to groups of 300 each time, then signed a whole lot of books, a fraction of which was on display when I arrived:

Many of the kids asked me to also sign their custom-made books, which I would not do. My name doesn't belong on their hard work! I was happy to sign another sheet of paper (usually the cover of the event program) for them. Besides, they all got a pre-printed bookmark with my signature as well.

Sorry for the creepy blanked-out faces of the children, but you understand.

The event went so well that I volunteered to recommend other writers for the 33rd annual and beyond.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Warm front from Houston

At the end of March, I made my first trip to Houston. This week, I received a packet of feedback from the students and staff of one of the schools I visited there.

Some of my favorite comments:

"Maybe someday we will become friends and get coffee and talk about our ideas and write a book together."
— C, age 10
[I often say exactly this
—that perhaps some of the students I talk to now will one day become my fellow authors.]

"I found it quite shocking that you enjoyed Superman enough to write a book about his creators. I never knew one person could get rejected that many times."
— J, age 10

"Tell your family I said hello."
— M, age 9

"I deeply enjoyed the lecture you relinquished upon our minds. Before your talk I would give up on anything I couldn't perfect in 3 or 4 tries. You have inspired me to keep on trying and never give up, your generosity will never escape my now enriched soul of my willing to keep trying."
— A, age 10
[Three or four tries...he obviously knew about persistence before I showed up.]

"I laughed so hard my heart hurt."
— V, age 10

"You are definitely in my top 5 of heroes."
— J, age 9
[I would be the last person to call myself a hero for anything I've done, but a comment like this is, of course, beyond humbling. Most of all, I wish I knew who the other four are...]

"If Superman didn't give up then I'm not going to, either."
— a different J, age 10

"It was thoughtful for you to come all the way from Minnesota..."
— A, age 9

[I live in Connecticut. I have never been to Minnesota.]

"The school librarian read [Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman] to our class before you came. It really shows that it doesn't matter how old, smart, or popular you are—you can make a difference."
— W, age 10

Possibly my #1 favorite of the bunch:

"Your speech has opened a new door for me. Who knows, maybe you'll see me when I become a physician. All I know is if I achieve my goal you'll be the first person I contact apart from my family and friends. No promises though."
— K, age 10
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