Sunday, March 31, 2013

Writing and IlIustrating for Young Readers

Well just reached the halfway point in the tour. And let me say I have so much respect for teachers who do this 24/7. I am so exhausted after a day of assemblies. But at the same time, there is something so exhilarating about meeting so many amazing readers. The world is in good hands going forward.

I'm working on a longer blog with lots of fun details and things I've learned that I will post in the next couple of days. In the mean time, I wanted to mention an amazing conference I am taking part in this year. This is the most hand-on conference you will ever take part in. We are talking five days of hands on small group work with a dedicated instructor who is also a successful author in the genre you choose, combined with afternoon classes by some amazing teachers. Here is a blurb about it. Check out the link for more info.

Continuing its tradition of providing helpful instruction from published authors and illustrators as well as presentations by industry professionals, this year’s conference features a keynote address by Utah's Poet Laureate Lance Larsen, workshops by national authors Matt Kirby, Martine Leavitt, Sharlee Glenn, A.E. Cannon, Carol Lynch Williams, J. Scott Savage, Cheri Pray Earl, Kris Chandler, and illustrator Steve Bjorkman. New this year: a full novel class with Mette Ivie Harrison and day-long mini workshops covering a variety of topics including an accredited teacher course, publication for the discouraged writer, and screenwriting. Afternoon-only registration is also available. This year editor Alyson Heller (Aladdin Books),  agent Ammi-Joan Paquette (Erin Murphy Literary Agent), and agent Steven Fraser (Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency) will present at the conference.

Another exciting event this year is the WIFYR Second Annual Writing Contest and Award. The prize is $1,000 and this year, in addition, the winning manuscript will be considered publication with Familius.

For more information, go to

Sunday, March 17, 2013

An Air Keep Tour Update

Even though I've actually been on the Air Keep tour for two weeks now, this will be the first week of doing a full five days on the road. Previous to this, I did three days and a conference, then four days and a day off due to a school break. So I thought it might be fun to give you an idea what the tour schedule will be like from here on out.

This afternoon, I flew to Idaho Falls. In a kind of funny twist, I was sitting in the terminal when a hand dropped on my shoulder and a deep voice said, "Hey you're in my seat!" I was sort of freaked out until I turned around and saw Brandon Mull, author of Fablehaven, Beyonders, and Candy Shop Wars grinning down at me. Turns out we were on the same flight.

Once in Idaho Falls, I got my rental car and drove to my hotel. Tomorrow morning, I will get picked up by the community relations manager from the local B&N at 8:00. She will take me to four different elementary schools where I will do my assembly (about 45 minutes including set up and tear down.) The last assembly usually ends at about 3:00.

School visits are a blast. I've had people say, "I'd hate to do that many school assemblies." But to me it's such a rush to get kids excited about reading, teach them about how to make up stories, and inspire them to find their own inner magic. Kids are just so amazing and they almost always treat you like a rock star. At 3:00 on Monday, I'm done for the day.

You would think that doing school visits from 8:30 to 3:00 wouldn't be that tiring. But you have to remember that it's very much a performance. You are working so hard to entertain and teach anywhere from 200 to 500 kids at each school. By the time I get back from doing the school visits, I just want to go back to my hotel and fall into bed for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, we do the same thing. Then Tuesday night, we do a book signing at the store. that starts at 6:30 and goes anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on the turnout. People ask all the time if my hand cramps up with all that signing. The truth is, that I am having so much fun, that it doesn't bother me at all.

If the school visits are a chance to feel the excitement of the kids, signings are a chance to hear from parents about how thrilled they are that their kids are that psyched about buying a book. It's really a joy to have a mom or dad tell me, "My son never asks for books. But he came home jumping out of his skin, saying "Mom, we have to go to the bookstore tonight.'" I'm always afraid that parents will be ticked about having to wait an hour or more to get a signed book or poster. But that is never the case.

One thing I try to make sure of is that I spend a little quality time with each person that waits in line. I know I have to keep the line moving, and I don't spend five or ten minutes with one person. But while I'm signing a book(s) or a poster, I absolutely want each person who came to feel special. This may be the only time a kid gets to talk to a "real author," and I want it to be memorable.

Usually after the signing, I go back to my hotel and get ready for an early morning flight to the next city. In this case, the next city is Boise, and there is no early direct flight. So after Tuesday night's signing, I drive to Twin Falls and spend the night there. Early Wednesday, I'll get up, drive to Meridian, just outside Boise, and do four more schools Wednesday and Thursday. I'll do another signing in Meridian Thursday night, four Boise schools on Friday, and a signing Friday night.

Saturday, I fly back home, spend a day with the family, and do it all over again on Sunday.

Busy? Oh, yeah. Tiring? Definitely! But it's also a total blast. Over the next couple of weeks I'll share some of the emails I get while I'm on tour. A lot of authors think touring is all about selling your books. While it's true that I will sell a lot of books (At least hopefully; that's what pays the bills), these visits are so much more than that. There really is something magical about inspiring a love for a reading in a boy or girl who has always looked at books at just more homework.

Check back in a couple of days, and I'll post some pics of the different events that I do, the messages I share, and responses from the people I meet.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Day One of the Air Keep book tour

Hello from sunny St. George Utah. For those of you who haven't been here, it looks a lot like this.

And a lot of it looks like this.

Although there is a lot of this

I spent most of my day doing this

Here's how the first day of the tour started out. I flew out of Salt Lake Sunday afternoon. The flight from SLC to Saint George is one of those where you have barely taken off before they are telling you to put away your electronics--which kind of stinks since the only books I brought were e-books. Then you are stuck desperately trying to find something to read in the in-flight magazine.

When I got in, the woman at the car rental counter apologized that they needed to replace my original car with this.

I was like, apologize? I'm all over that. Until I got in and saw this.

Now don't get me wrong. I grew up driving a stick. I love sports cars. And this one is a kick to drive. But I haven't driven a stick in probably 20 years. I'm going, "Wait, what's that third pedal for?" And the only thing worse than stalling a car, is stalling a muscle car. Because you rev the engine trying to keep from stalling, the people next to you think you are trying to be impressive, and then you stall the car and they drive away and laugh. Majorly embarrassing.

Well, eventually I figured out the stick, so that was okay. Then I panicked for a while, thinking I had left the VGA adapter for my laptop back at my launch party. But it turned out it was just put back in a weird place. And I had a delightful time hanging out at the home of these awesome people.

I'll be perfectly honest. Staying anywhere other than a hotel can be really draining when you are doing a bunch of school visits. After three or four school assemblies in a row, you mostly just want to fall into a soft bed for an hour or two. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Fortunately Julie has done plenty of school visits, so as soon as she saw me drag in the door, she pointed to the bed and told take a nap.

As far as the school visits themselves, they were great. Julie and her sons came to the first assembly and when it got done, she asked, "Are they always that loud?" Yep. Pretty much. There's nothing like a gym full of kids excited about writing and reading. I love it! Really the only tricky thing was that the school visits were really close together: 12:45, 1:30, and 2:30. Since my assembly is normally 40-45 minutes that means I really had to fly.

Fortunately I had a great helper from  Deseret Book. Lexie was awesome. She packed up my magic bag ( I start with a magic trick) while I took down my laptop, then directed me straight to the next school. Tomorrow will be four schools. But I'm actually really good with that. The more schools I can fit in, the more I feel like I'm accomplishing for the publisher--and the more kids I get to see.

Finally ended the day at Benja's Thai restaurant. I didn't go with anything too spicy, opting for Chicken Satay and Cashew shrimp. One of the things I'm trying to do on this trip is eat more healthy. Eating out as much as I will be, it's easy to pack on the pounds quick. For lunch I had an egg white omelet with lots of veggies. Also, on the advice of Tyler Whitesides, I'm trying to drink a lot more water. Tomorrow night will be my first signing of the tour. 6:00 at the St George DB. I'll let you know how it goes!

I thought it would be fun to end of of my tour posts with an e-mail I get from a student. Here's today's.

"Thank you for coming to our school today (red mountain elementary school) and telling me about the four things to write a book.  It helped me understand how I can make my books better."