Monday, June 30, 2008

Buried

I apologize for not posting this past week. I have been absolutely buried by end of quarter at work, a time-crunch on another writing project, and finishing Q&A's for the tour. (Unfortunately I have that stack of work on the left, but not the assitant to help me out.) If I haven't answered your questions yet, I promise I will shortly.

In the mean time, here are three more reviews (I'll create a sidebar for all of them this week!) and another picture from the book. Hope to come up for air very soon!

Ally is also giving away a copy of her newest Shadow Mountain YA novel, called . . . "Freshman for President." The contest ends on the 3rd of July. My family recently finished this book and loved it! My ten year old son, immediately snatched it up for a second reading. So hurry over there before her contest ends.

Two more fun reviews from these great sites you should check out!






Monday, June 23, 2008

A Sneak Peek

This week I don't expect to get a ton of blogging done, as I'm doing some pretty heavy editing for another book and also answering questions for the blog tour.

I know the blog tour doesn't officially begin until next month (which also happens to be next week for those of you without calendars at the ready.) But I had a couple of bloggers ask me if they could post a little early. And being the nice guy that I am, I said, "Why not?" Of course it had nothing to do with being anxious to see what they thought of the book.

So, if you'd like to jump into the tour a little early for a sneak peek at what's coming, you can drop by Anne Bradshaw's, Not Entirely British for her review and contest.

And you can drop by Raych's, books i done read, for a wild game of battleship, words of advice on what to tell your kids when they ask which of your books they can read, some unusual questions and answers, and a contest as well.


Thanks to both of you for taking part in the tour!


Oh, and here's another sneak peek at a picture from Water Keep. If you look really close, you can just make out faces on the trees. Can I say again, what a stud Brandon Dorman is?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Questions, Websites, and Bartimaeus

Just wanted to say how much I am enjoying all of your questions. Quite a few of them have made me laugh out loud. And I’m learning new things—like the menu at the Space Needle and the ins and outs of Battleship. Also, I’d never really considered whether or not my pets had any odd quirks. Does my fish doing the backstroke count?

Also, can I just say for the thousandth time that Shadow Mountain is the coolest publisher ever? I met with Chris, Patrick (the web specialist), and their consultant, whose name I can’t remember right at the moment, but who was absolutely incredible, to go over the plans for the Farworld website.

In my years of marketing, I’ve found that there are three kinds of marketing people you meet. Those who can’t even do what you ask them, those who can do what you ask, and those that go beyond what you’ve imagined. Shadow Mountain definitely falls into the third category. In talking with Patrick, I let him know some of the things I’d like to do with the site. I really wanted to have it integrate up to date info from me along with community involvement.

I’d like to have a special section for teachers where they can order bookmarks and posters, download classroom aids, and schedule visits. I’d like to have forums and this blog integrated in. I’d like fun extras and info about Farworld and upcoming books. I'd like to have a place where people can upload their Farworld artwork. Essentially, lots of reasons to check in often. And I’d like to be able to update it without requiring a programmer for every change.

Not only were they on top of all my requests. By they went so much further. Imagine a screen where you see a beautiful green valley and as the sun rises, tiny purple flowers rise from the ground. (Sound familiar?) Imagine the Farworld map made interactive. Imagine a site that you actually leap into. Every time I suggested something, they would flip to another screen and say, “Like this?”

Let me just say it is going to be sooooooo cool. Thanks everyone at SM!

Finally, at the suggestions of several of you during our best fantasy series contest, I just read “Amulet of Samarkland,” the first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Wow! It was so much better than I expected. Great story. Great world. Great sense of humor. I can’t wait to read the next book. Honestly the only two complaints I has—and they aren’t really complaints as much as comments—were that the footnotes got old after about the first ten, and this is a book with a twelve-year-old protagonist, but it clearly is not a middle grade book. As an adult I loved it. I think readers twelve and up will probably love it. But it’s pretty tough vocabulary for readers under twelve.

I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Perfect Fathers Day

So I had an interesting thought occur to me yesterday as my kids brought me breakfast and fun gifts. (I especially liked my eight-year-old’s coupon for a car wash. He amended it by saying that I couldn’t use it until he was big enough to actually wash the car—say twelve or so. But he’d be happy to cash it in for teaching me to play Warcraft 3.)

Actually my wife and I don’t make such a big deal out of traditional holidays like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. We prefer to do fun gifts or dates for each other when we feel like it. Not when the calendar says we have to. We especially like going on shopping sprees the day after holidays.

Nevertheless, my kids spent the days leading up to Fathers Day asking me what I wanted them to give me. I was not only thinking about what I wanted from my kids, but what I was going to do for my own father. And suddenly a thought struck me with such force, I could barely believe it hadn’t occurred to me before.

Growing up—and even being a grown up for that matter—I’ve always wanted to impress my parents. Impress may be the wrong word. But I think you know what I’m talking about. Most of us have someone in life we want to please. It could be a parent/s. It could be a mentor. A spouse. A loved one. A boss. It’s the person we go to when we do something good and say, “Hey, look what I accomplished.”

Throughout my life, there are certain times I’ve been really excited to tell my parents what I accomplished. The big job. Publishing my first book. Buying my first house. Getting a promotion. Completing a marathon. These are the moments when you get to say, “Look! I’m not a complete screw-up after all.” All this time, I’ve just assumed those are the moments when my parents would be most proud of me.

But yesterday, I was thinking about the things I wanted my own children to accomplish, and I realized those aren’t the things I care about at all. Yes, I’ll be happy for my kids if they get a good paying job. But I’ll be much happier if they love the job they have and do it well. I could care less about how big their house is. But I care a lot about how they treat their spouse and children. It doesn’t matter to me if they follow in my footsteps and write books near as much as it matters how they treat other people.

Maybe this makes me odd, but I’m much prouder of my kids when I hear they are the ones who befriend the less popular kids than I am if they score a winning touchdown or get the lead in the play. I give my son crap for missing curfew without calling me. But I can’t help smiling (at least when he’s not around) when I find out it’s because one of the kids at his school ran out of gas and he took him to get some.

There’s a good chance my kids won’t read this today. (Come on, really, what kid reads her father’s blog?) But I save my posts in a book that they’ll probably come across one day. And when they do, I want them to know that what I want for this Fathers Day and the Fathers Days to come, is knowing that my children are the good guys (and gals) in the world.

When other parents say, “My son is a brain surgeon with a huge house and a new BMW”, I want to be able to respond with, “My daughter took care of her neighbor’s children when she was sick.” And “My son always holds the door open for people and stops to help motorists whose cars have broken down.” I know it probably sounds lame, but if I can have that, every day will be the perfect Fathers Day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Book Time

Time is a funny thing. For something so infinitely measurable, it seems to have quite a bit of flexibility. Stephen King describes this in his short story, “My Pretty Pony.” He talks about how time moves faster for older people than for children. How it slows down during something we dislike, but flies by when we are enjoying ourselves.

And how we measure time depends to a great deal on our current circumstances. When my kids were little they had no concept of an hour. Telling them we would leave to go for ice-cream in an hour left them scratching their heads. “How long is an hour?” they’d ask. Our response was something like, “Two Gummi Bears.” Or, “Two Under the Umbrella Trees.” Those of you unfamiliar with kids’ television shows of the early nineties might be scratching your own heads right now. But for our children—who knew exactly how long a single episode of Gummi Bears was—it answered their time question perfectly.

For another example, consider travel time (not time travel which is another question entirely.) If I told you I was going on a seven day trip, what might you imagine? A car drive to Ohio and back? Four or five days in New York with flights to and from? A week in Mexico? A quick jaunt to Paris?

What if you had asked someone the same question a hundred years ago? Two hundred? Back when a trip from Ohio to California was not only months long, but filled with the very real possibility of death, a four day trip might be what we’d consider an afternoon drive. Yes, it is because distances have shortened with modern travel. But you have to admit that it has also changed the way we view time. Would you even consider taking a trip that included months of slow monotonous travel? I don’t think most of us have the same kind of patience people back then possessed.

Book time is another weird variation. There is how time moves within a book. Consider that some books jump centuries in a single chapter. Others cover the formation and growth of a state, country, or even planet. And yet others may cover only a day or two in the entire length of the book. If it is handled skillfully, the reader is really not even conscious of the work it takes to either stretch two days into an entire novel, or transition from 12th century Europe to modern day Israel without pulling the reader out of the story.

Then there’s reading time. I Hate—with a capital H—finding myself on a plane without a book. Even if the flight is only a couple of hours, I feel completely trapped without something to read. Time seems to just slog by. I’m sure for someone who flies less it might not be such a big deal, but I feel like I’m stuck in a padded room with no source of entertainment as the seconds slowly tick by. Yes, there are occasionally movies—but never anything you really want to watch, and usually on tiny little screens like look like they haven’t had the color adjusted since 1982. I also have my MP3 player—doesn’t everyone these days—but I like music as background, not my primary entertainment.

On the other hand, I can breeze through even the longest flights if I have a good book to get lost in. I always try to keep at least a couple of books in my travel bag, so I can move from one to another if I get bored, or have a backup in case I finish one sooner than expected. Somehow having a good book to read makes me a much more patient person. It’s like time traveling for the mind.

Finally there is book time for authors. This is a really weird phenomenon that takes a while to get used to. Water Keep, which won’t hit shelves for nearly three months, first came to me nearly two years ago. I started writing it in the fall of 2006. It was accepted in the spring of 2007. Except for small edits here and there, I haven’t written anything on it for months. For me, it’s old news. I’m caught up in the excitement of writing the second book in the series. Kyja and Marcus looking for Water Keep feels like it happened five or even ten years ago.

It would be easy to be sick of the book since I’ve read it so many times. But then I get to revisit it through fresh eyes. I get to hear how much people like Kyja. Or how cool they think the Unmakers are. As I answer the questions for the blog tour, it’s almost like I’ve been transported back in time to when Water Keep was fresh and new for me. It’s how I feel when I reread an old favorite to my kids—like “Where the Red Fern Grows,” or “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Of course, I also have people tell me about things they wish I’d done better. That’s when time suddenly catches up and I go, “Well, not much I can do about that now.” But then, I can try to improve on those things in book 2.

Still it’s a weird phenomenon. Kind of like having time overlap for a while. When I go on my ten city tour to promote Water Keep, I will have already finished writing Land Keep. I will probably get an advance for book two before I get a royalty check for book one. I will be out getting kids excited about the first book in a series, while my mind is already beginning the plot details of the third book.

The good news is, I love talking about books and I also love writing books. So even though I may be caught up in this weird time vortex, I will be enjoying myself, so time won’t drag at all. Unless I get caught on a plane with nothing to read. Shudder.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

New Pics

Can't tell you how excited I was today to get the inside illustrations for Water Keep and the . . . map! I have always wanted to write a book with a map in it. I know that is a totally geeky thing. But it has just made me smile all day! I asked my publisher if I could share a couple of them with you. Not sure how clear the pictures will be in this format. But here goes.


This is the picture from the start of Part III. It will be a two page spread. Those of you who have read Farworld will know what it is. Those of you who haven't need to. :)

This is the map. It will become much more detailed as future books come out. Hint. There is an unmarked location that ties in with the picture from Part III.

So what do you all think?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

First Stop on the Blog Tour


Okay, so I know the tour doesn't officially kick off until July. And those of you who haven't read Water Keep yet may not want to read the other reviews until you do yours. But if you have and you do, I recently jetted to Hawaii for roast pork and mango smoothies. While there, Fyrefly and I surfed, ate, and talked about Farworld. She is also doing a fun book giveaway for a good cause. So feel free to drop by to Fyrefly's Book Blog and say hi.
PS Hoping I have something very cool to show you tomorrow.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The "Magic" Kingdom

What does it tell you about the last few days that it’s after ten at night and I’m just getting to today’s blog? No, it doesn’t tell you I’m a lazy goof off who just got back from Disneyland! What gave you that idea? Oops, sorry. Let me just take off the Mickey ears. Actually I’ve been busy answering questions for the blog tour. I’ve been visiting places like Hawaii, Narnia, Water Keep, and playing Call of Duty 4.

Among the questions I’ve answered include how I name my creatures, what my worst job was, and if I wet the bed as a child. Entertaining, one and all. This really is going to be a blast.

Anyway, in honor of spending way too many hours at the land Mickey built, I thought I’d post about how everything I know about writing I learned at Disneyland.

Start on Main Street. Don’t give me flashbacks, dream sequences, or flowery descriptions. Put me on the road to a great story and give me something I want to follow.

The best cruises include plenty of laughs. Laughter is a great way to keep me interested.
Why do so many stories have a comic sidekick? Because laughter breaks up the tension, makes me like the characters, and gives me a change of pace. But please, come up with something better than the backside of water.

Immerse me in your world. Walt Disney hated to see a cowboy walking through Tomorrowland or a yodeler in Adventureland. That’s why he built tunnels under Disneyworld. When I was in Frontierland, I watched a mayor stump for election in front of the saloon, rode a steam ship past Indian villages, and listened to a band of fiddle/banjo/guitar playing fools while I gnawed on a giant turkey leg. Give me the sights, smells, and sounds that make your world real for me.

Don’t ever, ever, ever, let me get bored—even when you are trying to move the story along. Yes, I need to get from point A to point B. But keep me entertained. Disneyland has thousands of storylines. You need a bare minimum of three per novel. And preferably more.

Thrills are key but setting makes it all come together. Yes, the tower of Terror is scary. But why? Just down the road apiece is a ride with a bigger drop and a faster ascent. Why is it not as scary? Because you scare the bejeebers out of me before I even get on the elevator with the creepy rooms, weird sounds, and the whole Twilight Zone story. By the time I start going up in the elevator, I am primed to scream my head off. Never create a setting just to make a place. Use every scene to create the mood you need.

Bring back favorite characters, but keep the story growing. I love Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s my all time favorite ride. But I have to admit, I was pretty darn excited to try out the new Finding Nemo submarine ride. In a series, book two needs to keep the story growing and be bigger and better than book one. But don’t jettison the old favorites.

And finally, Dole Whip is the food of the gods. I don’t know for sure how that relates to writing, but I think I ate my weight in Dole Whip. Ummmm.

So what writing or reading tips have you learned at a Disney park?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hi from D-Land!

Hey everybody! I know I've been a little quiet lately. That's because we are all out in SoCal, soaking up the sun and spending a little one-on-one time with Mickey Mouse. (Okay, I admit it's a little more like 20,000-on-one time. But we're having a ball.)

It looks like most of you have received your ARCs by now. A couple of you joined at the last minute and I didn't get you into the first mailing. Those will go out early next week. If you joined the tour any time before last week and haven't received your ARC yet, please e-mail me so I can check on it.

A few of you also had questions about the blog tour which I will try and answer.

1) Can we post a review before the tour on Goodreads or Librarything? Yes. Feel free to post a review on other sites. Any publicity helps.

2) Do we need to wait until our review to run the contest? No. You can start your contest anytime. In fact, Anne at Not Entirely British, is running her contest now.

3) How do we get our second (contest) ARC? If you want to send it out personally, I will have it mailed to you. Otherwise, just send me the name and address of the person it goes to. I will take them all over to Shadow Mountain for mailing about once a week.

4) When should we send you our questions if we are doing a Q&A? Anytime after you've read the book? I've already done a couple of fun ones.

Also, I wanted to give a shout out to Ally Condie, author of “Freshman for President.” We are reading it as a family right now and having a ball with the story of 15-year-old Milo Wright running for president of . . . the United States. Very, very funny and good. I’ll let you know when we finish it.

Thanks again and I'm looking forward to getting back into the blogging groove and hearing more about how you liked Farworld next week. Until then, "Ears to you!" Raising a Buzz Lightyear cup of soda.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes When You're Busy Washing the Woodwork

I felt a little like Cinderella this last weekend. The one who is scrubbing bedpans while her stepsisters are at the ball—not the one who meets the prince and dances the night away. Friday through Sunday all of my fellow Shadow Mountain fantasy authors were at BEA (Book Expo America) in Los Angeles, doing book signings, meeting cool authors, attending dinners etc. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have my first book out yet, I was left home.

The analogy even goes a little farther, because my fairy godmother even made me a beautiful new gown for the ball. It’s the cool book cover over on the right of this blog. And it is as beautiful as any gown I could wish for. The kind of sucky thing is that in this version of Cinderella, the gown went to the ball without her and was snatched up by other dancers. (Okay this whole analogy is starting to sound a little creepy even to me. But you get the point.)

I guess the good news is that Shadow Mountain took 250 ARCs to the show, and they were gone before the end of the first day. With all the free books available, that really says something about the cover. So yay!

Meanwhile, back in Utah, I figured I might as well get out and do some work. So Jen (my wife) and I took ARCs, mouse pads, posters, and bookmarks out to twelve stores. It was actually kind of fun seeing how different the responses of store employees were. Some were thrilled to death and others looked like we were the postman dropping off a batch of junk mail. We even came up with a little grading system.

F—The only F I am going to give is there store where we walked in at a few minutes after seven and no one was there. The entire store was empty. Finally we checked the back office and realized the store had closed at six and some guys were cleaning the carpets. Um, you might want to lock the front door maybe?

D—Manager or CRM not at store. No clue who I am, who the publisher is, or what an ARC is. Repeats this phrase over and over as I hand him all the goodies. “Okay, I’ll give it to the manager.” Fortunately I only had one of these. I really tried everything I could to get him excited, but he looked like he hated anything to do with books. Which begs the question, “Dude, why are you even working here?”

C — These employees at least seemed to look interested. They politely took the book and glanced at the cover. I couldn’t get any conversation going about school visits, book signings, or the like. When I mentioned Shadow Mountain there was no recognition. Mention of Fablehaven got a small spark. They seemed to understand generally what an ARC was.

B — There was actual interest here and recognition of some sort. They definitely knew what an ARC was and were interested in reading it. They recognized either me or the publisher. They liked the goodies and promised to put them out. They thought there were several people in the store who might want to read the book. There was interest in having me do events with them.

A — These were the best ones. And fortunately there were more of these than any other. These people knew exactly what an ARC was and practically snatched it out of my hands. When I mentioned Fablehaven their eyes lit up. The loved the poster and promised to get the mouse pad on the office computer where everyone could see it. Several of them knew exactly who I was from my other books and couldn’t wait to start on this one. (This won’t be the case at most stores outside of Utah, but it was still fun.) They were excited to talk about school visits and book signings. They told me what had worked well in the store previously and gave me suggestions for working with them. I came back from these almost forgetting I wasn’t at BEA.

So what did I learn? Several things actually. (If you aren’t into book marketing jargon, stop reading now. This is the kind of stuff that bores most non-authors to tears.)

First, I am going to make up some new business cards with information about school visits, books signings, best ways to reach me etc. They best store managers asked for that right away. I may even make up a little flyer talking about my school presentations. Many of the stores got excited as I outlined what I present to schools.

Second, a few stores know who Shadow Mountain is. But nearly everyone recognizes Fablehaven and The Wednesday Letters. I could tell that several store employees were wary when I first showed up. Typically ARCs come in the mail. But once they realized I was with a publisher they knew and saw my book, they opened right up. I found that phrases like, “My publisher would normally send this out, but I like to meet you person,” helped a lot.

Third, know the name of the person you are coming to meet and try to make sure they are there when you come. There is a huge difference between meeting a manager or community relations manager and just dropping by on a bunch of employees. While we did meet several employees who were excited to see us and promised to get our materials to the right person, the managers were always excited and involved. I will make appointments from now on instead of just dropping by.

Fourth, explain what an ARC is. Not everyone understands that this is an advance copy of a book coming out. I actually had one nice salesperson try to ring it up while I was talking. I need to make sure they understand that the final product will be a hardback with illustrations and that an ARC is not proofed.

Last. I need to get a clean clear pitch that I can give in less than a minute. It explains who I am, who I am with, why I am there in person, and what I can do for the store. Starting with the right pitch makes all the difference in the world. It was clear the assumption was that I was some schmoe out peddling a book he printed up in his garage. I don’t think they get a lot of drop ins from authors, so letting them know I am coming in advance and why I am there would probably go a long way.


Well that’s it. I guess I’ll get back to work. I still have to finish sweeping out the chimneys and washing the dishes before those ugly step sisters get back. But I hear a rumor that if I clean the drapes really well, I might actually get to see some inside illustrations today. Now where are those helpful little mice?