Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dream what you want to dream; it will all be over soon.

My Portland/Vancouver, WA trip was awesome last weekend.
Launch party was awesome on Thursday.
No idea what day it is here due to the hurricane but we're all alive and the generator will get us through.
I think it's Tuesday.

Anyway, here is a recap in pictures. Many thanks to other people who took pictures while I did other things.

I came to the west coast thanks to Amy Lee and the Vancouver Community Library. Here is a picture of the (*THE*) most amazing library I've ever seen. Promise me if you're anywhere near Vancouver, WA, that you will stop in and see it. 

A panorama of just one part of the amazing Vancouver Community Library.

But before I got to the VCL, I had an awesome school visit at Mountain View High School where I talked to about 100 students who'd read my essay in Dear Bully. We talked about how to be your own superhero and stuff like that.
Groovy sign at Mountain View High School, WA. 

I was asked to VCL to talk to an audience of all ages and to present awards to winners of their annual writing contest. It was a great night, and a huge thank you to VCL librarians who made me feel so welcome, and to Amy Lee, who is a brilliant district coordinator.

Just in case you didn't catch the amazing wall in Vancouver Community Library up there^.

Talking about empowerment: My favorite thing to do on a Friday night.
Photo cred: Sara Moon
The next morning, I took off for downtown Portland with my amazing niece and her equally amazing dude. We had a waffle window waffle. I experienced a VooDoo Donut. I went to Powell's. (Like a Batcave for Badass Ninjas.)

Insert most obvious caption here. 
I said I'd dip my toe in the Pacific. And so, that was what Sunday was for.

Haystack Rock.

Amazing niece. (Photo cred: Dude's eye, Amazing niece.)

I said toe. But it was cold. A phalanx is a phalanx.
(Photo cred: Amazing niece)

Monday was another awesome school visit at Grant High School in Portland. 

Boss. Sign. Dudes.

My first-ever biscuits and gravy and grits. Paige Battle's sweet tea for photographic effect.
Epic day. Epic lunch. Best grits I ever had. 

My Only Two Pictures of the Exeter Community Library Launch Party So Far
...before I scam more off others.

One of two lovely cakes. Fantastic and homemade by a local cake maker. 

This picture is of me and my sisters. I dedicated Ask the Passengers to them
because they save me from the flying monkeys.
This was an accidental meeting in the bathroom and perfect photo op.

Random Signs 


The guest's WHAT? What does the guest own?

These two entered without comment:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Batten down the hatches, mateys.

Here comes a big storm.

And so, with it comes a postponement...

My appearance at the awesometastic Children's Book World on Tuesday Oct. 30th at 7pm has been changed to:

Children's Book World
17 Haverford Station Rd
Haverford, PA 19041
November 15, 20127pm

Stay safe and warm. 
And watch out for zombies.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Awesome Launch Week!

Thank you for everyone who participated in my awesome launch week for Ask the Passengers.

Today's Blog Tour Stop was a Fun Five questions with Chick Loves Lit.
A teaser snippet:
1. What do you normally eat for breakfast?Cereal. Something healthy, usually–granola or Cheerios or puffed rice. About once a year I buy a box of....
Thank you to all blog tour guides this week. You all rock!

Awesome Launch Party Cake.
 The launch party at Exeter Community Library last night was fantastic. Thank you to everyone who came out. Pictures to come. I didn't do all that well with the picture taking. I took a hilarious one of my sisters and me accidentally meeting in the bathroom beforehand. I took two of the cake.

That was it.

So, I will wait for others' pictures and hope they will let me use them here.

In other awesome news...

I found this in my inbox today. PW Best Books 2012: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

I'm going to sleep now for a day.

Next Stop: The Wise Owl Bookstore in West Reading, PA SUNDAY 1-3pm.

Then stay tuned for big storm updates from the east coast.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ninjas wear socks.

Librarians give the best gifts. 

And now we party

Tonight's the night.
We party down.
We celebrate Astrid's arrival into the world and eat groovy cake thanks to the Friends of the Exeter Community Library.

I was never going to have launch parties. The Vulcan in me wasn't really into the idea of making a big deal out of every book after the 15 years it took to finally have published books.
Sounds contradictory, doesn't it?
I guess it kinda is.

The best part about launching books at the Exeter Community Library is this: this library wasn't around when I grew up just up the road from it. Our closest library was pretty far away. Had ECL been there when I was a kid, I have a feeling I'd have gone there quite a bit.

Oh there are other best parts. It is in my home space, so I get to see family and teachers and friends from school. It's like a reunion without the lukewarm buffet and awkward dancing.

The teachers. To look into their eyes and thank them for what they did for me? Wish I could do that every day.

The family. And this year, my sisters, especially. My sisters are the coolest people in the galaxy and they've always supported my insane dreams.

The friends. More support. More love.

It's all good, these launch parties.
All good.

If you need info, go to my website and check out the invitation on the home page.


You can just click that link or let this snippet coax you further:
Astrid Jones endeavours to protect her sister from the flying monkeys. Vera Dietz (Please Ignore Vera Dietz) has angry monkeys in her head. How can we best protect ourselves from these monkeys?  
I think the truth pretty much protects you from everything. And so, the truth will protect you from the flying monkeys, whether they are swooping in from the outside or whether they are hanging out on the inside. (Additional flying monkey info: Pretending to know a thing is probably the most powerful flying monkey lure in the galaxy. Know-it-alls are covered in flying monkeys.)

I'll be back tomorrow with one more blog tour link and then sometime over the weekend, I'll make sure to get a photo blog of Portland/launch week together.

Rock it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Your Safety is Our Priority

Sending love to Allentown, PA at 1:30am
No way can I recap my Portland trip yet.

I had a Chicago O'Hare delay that had its own delay and I didn't get into my bed until about 3am last night.
But it was kinda cool, too.
I met a woman and she wasn't feeling well and she was traveling alone and when we started chatting at PDX and realized we were both heading to Allentown through O'Hare, we teamed up a bit to make sure she got home okay. We talked a lot. Talking to [safe] strangers is really good, you know? You learn what other people's lives are like and you see your own in a different light.
Anyway, we got in late.

So it's DAY THREE of the blog tour and I have two links to share with you today.
And some other stuff to say.

First, here's a review from Jenny over at Forever Young Adult. Here's a snippet of Jenny's fantastic review to make that link more enticing...
If every person in this world were free to be who they were meant to be, to love who they were meant to love, to worship, to dance, to laugh, and to be silent, there would be equality. The opposite of freedom is fear, and fear is what keeps people captive.

Second, here's STOP THREE on the Blog Tour at FYA.  I'd really like you to click on that link because it's a cool interview. Jenny always makes me feel like she gets me, and that's because Jenny and the ladies at FYA um...get me. Anyway, here's a small snippet of that interview in case you need coaxing...
All negative creeps please report to gate 2B for boarding the biggest honking plane you ever freaking saw. Am I right? Shit. If we tried to actually gather all the negative people in one place, we'd need the place to be continent-sized.

So here's my other stuff to say.

I've been thinking about how people love to label and compartmentalize things. I saw this sign at the airport and realized that it should be a t-shirt and all humans should be required to wear one. Because we are all screeners.

If you can't see this picture, then you're not going to get this blog post.

Do you know those people who have to tell you the race/gender/physical description of the person in the story they're telling you?

"This black guy pulled out right in front of me today!"
"I went to see a lady doctor."
"I was talking to this fat girl at the DMV."
"I overheard two lesbians talking about their upcoming trip to Ireland on the plane today."

Those people have always been around. No doubt.
But now, we have these PC okay-to-say descriptions we affix to things. I'm not really okay with PC okay-to-say descriptions because they are still descriptions. Why would I care that the guy who pulled out in front of you was African American? Does it really change the meaning when you change the word from "fat" to "overweight?"

Look. I've had to give a physical description to a police officer before--right after I got robbed at gunpoint. No problem. Facts are facts. The cop got the facts.

But you get the after-the-fact story.
I could say, "Some black guy robbed me at gunpoint."
I could say, "Some white guy robbed me at gunpoint."

But the fact is: I was robbed at gunpoint. That's all you need to know.

The screening we do unconsciously as humans really says stuff about us. I know racists. I know how racists talk. Even in polite company, they can't hide it because they see color. And so, they talk color. 

Screening is natural, yes. It is a very natural thing to notice that someone is a certain color or to note gender or a limp, or maybe cool blue hair. That's fine. But here's the hiccup. Most people who note these things out loud are not just noting a difference. Most people have already run their screening data through their brain and their brain has been programmed to define. We are humans. We define things. Before us, there were no butterflies in boxes with their wings pinned down.

We do this with books, too.

My books have a lot going on in them.
Most books have a lot going on in them.
To look at a book and pull out one adjective to describe it is akin to looking at a human with a lot going on--say, David Letterman--and slotting him into a "gap in front teeth" box. Sure, it's convenient. And if I had to describe him to a police officer, I'd mention the gap in his teeth. But other than that, I'm pretty sure I'd just let David Letterman talk and let people decide for themselves what he's really made of.

I think we should do that with books, too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Launch Day Linkage

I'm in PDX airport. I ate greasy eggs for breakfast with those yummy NW sausages. (Still not as awesome as Irish sausages, but close.)

Me, eggs, sausages. Listening to funky Beastie Boys on the PDX PA system.

Today's blog tour stop is over at Mundie Moms, where they asked me a few questions about Ask the Passengers. I'll give you a teaser so you are more likely to click on that link...

What do you hope your readers take away from Astrid's story? 
I think every reader takes something different from every story, so I can only tell you what I took away from it as I wrote it. In order: Love is more important than everything. Boxes are for cereal, not people. Everyone is going through something. Socrates was boss.

I want to post this before I get in the air, so I'll see you all on the other side.

Thank you, as always, for your awesome support.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Launch Day Eve: Inspiration

Tomorrow is launch day for Ask the Passengers and I'm west-coast launching the book tonight at Powell's Books Cedar Hills Crossing. Come! Bring friends!

I was asked by the kind and benevolent Book Smugglers to write some content for their blog about my inspirations and I wanted to share it with you on Launch Day eve. I wrote a post about love, mostly. I think the most important thing about Ask the Passengers is that it asks/challenges the reader to stop labeling everything and look at the important parts of life. Labels confine you. They confine the people you meet to your own limited boxes. But not everyone can meet that challenge. A lot of people need labels. It keeps things tidy for them. 

Food for thought: 

Labeling people so they can fit into a box 
really only confines the labeler. --Me, today.

And so, here is the piece I wrote:

First, My Personal Writing Influences

My biggest writing influence is Kurt Vonnegut Jr. If one looks at his entire body of work and its scope and reach and ability to tell the truth in so many different ways, it’s easy to see the reason I love him. He didn’t seem to give a hoot about who liked what. He didn’t write himself into a box where he was expected to crank out the same story or even genre every time. He was always telling a deeper story. His stories urged readers to use critical thinking skills—to read between and underneath and overtop of the lines. For me, each of his books, every time I reread them, is like a fortune cookie inside of a fortune cookie inside of another fortune cookie. Sometimes, with pictures. Sometimes with space aliens who appear out of nowhere and communicate only by farting and tap dancing.

I’m guessing that a lot of readers didn’t get Kurt Vonnegut. I’m also guessing that most times, he was fine with that.

My favorite Vonnegut books are God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Eliot Rosewater is my hero)Mother NightBreakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five. Although, I can’t say I have a least favorite. I do tend to read Breakfast of Champions a few times a year as brain sorbet.

I think the thing I learned the most by reading Vonnegut’s body of work was that a writer didn’t have to do just one thing. That freed me as a writer. I never once felt like I had to create something similar to a previous book. This means that sometimes fans of my last book might not like my next. It means that some readers don’t get some of my books. I’m entirely okay with that.
Second, Things That Influenced Ask the Passengers
I am fascinated by love.
I met my soul mate when I was 17 years old and I defended that fact for many years as the adults (and fellow students) in my life waved off the mere idea of my knowing what love even was at 17 years old.
But love isn’t that complicated.
Love is simple.
And I knew it.
And 25+ years later, I am still sharing my life with my soul mate.
In Ask the Passengers, Astrid Jones has a lot of love. And like many people her age (17) she would like to find love, too. Except that she’s very confused about a lot of things. Because she thinks she might love a girl…and she’s a girl. And that’s complicated in her town and in her family and in her society and in her world.
But it really isn’t. Love is love. Nobody can tell me it isn’t. Nobody can tell me that my love is more important, real or relevant than another person’s love. Sorry. Can’t do it. But a lot of people try to box love. They categorize it. They label it. They connect it to sex. Because everything in our world is connected to sex now, isn’t it? But love is love. It just is. And all this boxing and categorizing complicates something that isn’t all that complicated on the inside—in our hearts.
Socrates & Philosophy
I was introduced to basic philosophy about six months after I met my soul mate. I was a senior in high school when I first read Plato’s Republic and we dissected The Allegory of the Cave. I was fascinated.
Then, in college, I took my first philosophy class and learned the history of philosophy. And frankly, it annoyed me. It was Zeno who annoyed me the most. Zeno is most famous for his theory that motion is impossible. I won’t bore you with the details, but the basic idea was: since time can be infinitely chopped up into little pieces, then nothing is really moving because in each little moment, everything is standing still, and so, motion is impossible. Zeno was certainly not the first or last philosopher to explore motion. His own theory was in response to the theories that had come before his.
And it annoyed the crap out of me.
It annoyed me because motion is possible and, well, why are we wasting time talking about a guy who said something so silly?
In other words: why are we complicating something so simple?
In the 20 years that followed that philosophy class, I’ve read a lot of philosophy texts and when I read more about Socrates, I really fell for him. The guy was rad. Sure, he had some weird ways of thinking, but he questioned everything. He tried to get people who thought one way to think another. He urged people to open their minds and consider alternatives. He challenged people.
So, when Astrid Jones explores philosophy during her time of questioning, she has that same mix of love and hate I experienced when I was first introduced to philosophy. On one hand, Zeno infuriates her because he seems to be complicating something simple. On the other hand, Socrates and his need to question everything and open minds helps her open her own mind and see the world the same as The Allegory of the Cave, and in so doing, he helps her realize that very simple fact—no matter what the shadows in the cave say, love is love.
If you read the first part of this post, you know I admire writers who defy categories and labels and boxes. I respect the wide reach of universal themes and characters that can speak to anyone so long as the listener is listening.
And love is like that, too.
Because I met my soul mate as a teenager, my life has been influenced by love. My work has been inspired by love. Sometimes, things can’t be dissected and analyzed. Sometimes things can be simple and just be. That’s how I live my life and that’s how I write my books.
Ask the Passengers is my homage to love. It’s my homage to Socrates, who, down to the second he drank the hemlock that killed him, urged us to be open-minded and free in our thinking. And, like all of my books, it is a homage to my literary hero, because if Kurt Vonnegut’s books taught me anything, it was to be myself, even if it means that some people mightn’t quite agree or understand.
“Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.”—Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Today's launch week awesome post brought to you by Slatebreakers! Thank you ladies for seeing outside of the box! 


After a discussion with the audience and a few booksellers at Powell's tonight, I want to add this. 

Labeling people so they can fit into a box 
really only defines the labeler. --Me, tonight.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Writer’s Middle Finger Part Six: (Communication is a writer's best friend.)

This is you. You are part of a machine. 
My middle finger is sore. I am pretty sure I am developing arthritis and that’s the first place it hit. My middle finger. On my right hand. It’s sore every single morning when I wake up.

What a timely metaphor for this post! What better way to start off the Writer’s Middle Finger Part Six. Because this post is about the long haul—the reality of an author’s career. The juggling, the ups and downs and the changes we go through as we grow into older-but-wiser writers.  

This is the sport.

Last year, my editor sent me an email after we’d discussed a recent editorial letter. In the email, she wrote, “Thanks for being such a great sport about revisions.” To which I replied, “I’m not a great sport. THIS IS THE SPORT.” I stand by that. Writing is a job. It’s not an easy job. It requires a skill set that grows as the job continues. Revision is a huge part of that skill set. It is the sport. And like athletes, we have to do our part to train, to compete with ourselves, and to learn every technique we can to improve. Revision, then, is the vehicle that many writers both adore and dread. It’s part mind-blowing learning experience/part soul-sucking responsibility.  

Stet: how we keep our middle finger in shape.

Because those around me are getting to know what a writer’s life is like through my experiences, they hear me talk about revision a lot. The #1 thing that civilians ask me these days is: So, do you have to do everything your editor tells you to do?

If you are a writer, you know the answer is no. If you are a writer, you know that there is a glorious word that looks like this: STET. But sometimes as writers, even if we’ve developed our skill set to a place where we think we have the job nailed, we forget this. Here’s a recent scenario:

I sent the finished first draft of a book to my (kind, intelligent and awesome) editor in February. Pretty nice first draft. I was happy with it, beginning to end. Editorial letter #1 arrived in April. No problem. It was long, but my editor is all about long letters—mostly because she is incredibly thorough in her explanations, which I find helpful.

Interrupting myself to say: Please, please do not equate long editorial letters to a lack of quality in your own work. Editors are all different. I have seen lamenting tweets and blog posts that go something like this: OMG! My ed letter is X pages long! That’s a page longer than last time! I must be getting worse. No no no no no. No. No. Okay? No.

Anyway. I returned the revised manuscript about 1.5 months later. Important fact that will bite me in the ass later in this story: I returned the manuscript with no detailed letter to outline why I did or didn’t take certain suggestions. I do not know why I did this. I think I was just confident with the revision and didn’t think anything needed to be said.

I knew I then had a month or more to work on the first draft of the next project. June was great. July was gearing up to be even greater. I was writing 4k words a day. But as July arrived, I saw the shadow creeping up behind me. I knew the second editorial letter was coming, so I wrote faster. I was like a human cup of espresso. Until it arrived.

Oh God.
Oh no.

Something was wrong with the second editorial letter. My editor didn’t seem to understand my book as much as I thought (assumed) she did. She had some great points about pacing, yes. She had some great points about secondary characters and all sorts of other stuff, but she seemed to be suggesting insane things for my beloved main character.

Here’s where my skill set exploded. Kaboom. Reduced to brain shrapnel. It’s like that moment when your husband of 20 years asks you if you want relish on your hot dog when you have never in 20 years eaten relish on your hot dogs. (Okay, we don’t eat hot dogs, but you get it.) It’s that moment when you feel severely misunderstood. Lost. Alone. Think boats without paddles. With rapids.

I tried to continue writing the first draft of the new book for two days, but I really only thought about the letter and came to this conclusion: I didn’t think I could make the book my editor seemed to want.

My editor is probably the smartest, savviest, coolest person I know. We work well together. She gets me. She gets my books. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I didn’t want to write STET that much. I didn’t want her to think I was ungrateful for all of her thoughts and ideas. I didn’t want her to think I was somehow becoming “difficult.” Maybe she’s right. Maybe she wants me to be more commercial or more normal and less weird. Maybe she doesn’t like my middle-finger Dirk-and-Sally-free writing anymore. Shit. Shit shit shit.

Why did I think this would get easier?
Photo cred: My kid.

I lost motivation. On the new book. On the revision book. On pretty much everything. I didn’t even want to swim. I drank more than usual. (Don’t worry. It wasn’t that much.) I read and re-read the letter. I tried to figure out how to say yes to all of her suggestions and still keep the story I'd written. I tried to figure out what I would say to her when we finally talked about the whole thing. I had to postpone our first conversation because I didn’t have anything to say. I was blank. Completely frozen. I am really good at finding solutions. It’s my thing. It is the sport. I enjoy it. But I couldn’t find solutions this time. I didn’t know what to do.

My agent suggested that I write a letter detailing why many of the suggestions weren’t working for me. (Oh look. What a smart idea. My agent is a genius. I am a writer. He asked me to write something about what I was feeling.)

That letter cleared everything up. My editor understood my main character better. She understood why I couldn’t do many of the things she suggested. She told me to go ahead and ignore huge parts of the editorial letter, which I have to admit was hard for me because I don’t like ignoring things—especially another person’s hard work. In the end, we laughed about the misunderstanding. I lamented that the whole thing could have been avoided had I not caused the problem in the first place.

By now, if you’re reading carefully, you know what the problem was. Remember that very important fact up there? The fact that I hadn’t sent a detailed letter to my editor with the first revision? Yeah. All this brain shrapnel and freaking out and frozenness was because I didn’t communicate. Me. The master communicator. Did. Not. Communicate. And communication, especially during revision, is a very important part of the writer’s skill set.

Hindsight: It’s like candy corn for breakfast. (Really awesome, but seasonal.)

As I write this, I am involved with many different types of publishing professionals. I can tell you this for nothing: The ones who communicate honestly and effectively are my favorites. 

Why my middle finger is sore

In real life, my middle finger is probably sore from using my computer away from my roller ball mouse more often these days. Or maybe I’m just hitting that age where body parts get sore.

Metaphorically, I am happy to report that my middle-finger books—soon to number four published—have been increasingly well-received, with reviewers often noting that they are different or original. No, I am not driving a swanky car yet, but I didn’t get into this to drive a swanky car. I got into this to make snowflakes, and I am making them and they are beautiful and I love my job, even though sometimes I forget how to do it properly. I wouldn’t love my job if I wasn’t able to write what I want to write.

My middle finger is not an angry middle finger. I don’t want yours to be either. Not when you point it at made-up writing rules, or when you point it at yourself, or when you point it at the internet, or when you point it at an editorial letter. This middle finger business isn’t about being pissed off. It’s about knowing what you want as a writer. It’s about blocking out all the noise. It’s about being true to yourself.

My middle finger is very very sore today. When one of my kids has a sore finger, they want a Band-Aid or ice or something to make it stop hurting. Me? I’ve never been so happy about a minor discomfort. It’s a constant reminder that it’s working.

If you didn't get the snowflake reference or the Dirk and Sally sentence, you can find links to Writer's Middle Finger posts 1-5 by clicking on this link.