Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Harper Lee

Happy Birthday, Harper Lee!  Today she is 83.  Thanks to my friend, Waterford Public Library children's librarian, Nadine Lipman, for letting me know!  

My biggest reader's dream is that Harper Lee has several rooms full of manuscripts in her home in Alabama, just waiting to be shared with the world.

What made the month even better, was I received a package on my doorstep from my editor at Henry Holt:  preview copies of ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER.  It felt very surreal to hold the actual hardcover in my hands...

I took ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER to school to show to my first graders.  

"It's coming out on May 26," I told them.  
A few looked mildly interested.  Most just kept working on their drawings.

Then one boy raised his hand.  I got really excited for about half a second, thinking they might actually be interested in my writing process.  

"Yes?" I said.  "You have a question?"

He looked toward the windows.  "When's P.E.?"

Oh well.  Back to more important business.  

About an hour later, a boy came up to my desk.  "Mrs. Leal?  You want to hear something?" he asked.

"Of course I want to hear something," I said.

"It's really exciting."  He bounced on the balls of his sneakers.  "My book is coming out today!"  All I have to do is finish the front cover and staple it on, and it's done!"

Wow.  Things move quickly in the first grade publishing world.

Then the very next day:  "Mrs. Leal?"  The same boy sat down at the reading table with me.  "Remember when I told you I had a book coming out?"  He paused for effect.  "Now I've got three."

A triple book deal.  Maybe I should give him my agent's number... 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kicking Serious Butt on My Bike

It was a perfect day for a  bike ride.  I was all by myself and pedaling at what I thought was a pretty good clip up a monstrous hill.  Okay, it was a slight incline, but I was the only one around, so who's to know? ...Until this little kid comes out of nowhere.  He's about ten, and he's on a shiny blue bike.  

He doesn't look directly at me, but I know he's got me in his peripheral vision.  I've got the lead, but he's gaining on me.  I'm on my twenty-one speed and he's on his minus three speed, and I know I can take him.  Then something starts to snap inside of me, and I realize I want to kick his butt.  

 I know it's in the bag.  All I have to do is switch gears.  I'm mid-shift and something washes over me... guilt...shame ...I don't know--maybe just the realization that he's ten and I'm...well...over thirty.  

So I let up, ever so slightly, and he coasts by me--still only looking straight ahead ...but with a small victory smile on his face.  Maybe I imagined it, but I think I heard, Sucker...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No Video Equipment Allowed

I have been doing Tae Kwon Do for a while now, and I have my second degree black belt test coming up in a little over a week.  I'm worried about the usual... that I'll freeze up and forget what I'm supposed to do, or the universal worry, that I'll make a fool of myself.  

A couple of years ago, I took my first degree test.  It went pretty well, except for that special part that my husband caught on tape and set to music.  It was the second half of the test, and I was sparring.  I was exhausted at that point, and I got side kicked pretty hard and went down. The soft mat was feeling quite good, but I made myself get back up.  I was so happy for that part to be over, and it didn't occur to me that I'd have to relive it via videotape.  

I should point out that my husband is somewhat of a computer genius, but he doesn't always use his knowledge for good.  This was one of those times when his computer genius went to the dark side.  He made the video repeat several times in a row; I just kept falling on that mat... over and over again.  To make things so much more delightful, he added a nice cartoony sound effect.  I could hear him, on the upstairs landing, in front of his computer, laughing really hard at his creation. 
He's going to be frisked at the door of next week's test.  No video equipment allowed. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Interview with 2k9 Author, Sydney Salter

Today is the first in (I hope!) a series of interviews with my FabulousAuthorFriends.  My first interview is with fellow 2k9er, Sydney Salter.  

Sydney's recently released debut young adult novel is MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS.  I'm not sure if she actually sleeps, because her middle-grade novel, JUNGLE CROSSING, will be on the shelves in September!

I actually caught up with Sydney (virtually!) on the ferry as she was traveling to Lopez Island.  And yes, she was writing on that ferry ride...

Me:  I fell in love with your main character, Jory, from page one.  Is she based on anyone in real life?

Sydney:  While Jory is completely her own unique self, I did give her my biggest insecurity from my high school years (I hated my nose!).  Some of the things Jory does with her friends are things I did with my friends during my Reno High years.  And, yeah, I did wreck a delivery van and a wedding cake on the same day.  Except I'd only had the job for four days!

Me:  Do you have a special writing place?

Sydney:  I work at a messy table in my living room, overlooking my bookshelves, while gazing out at my neighbors walking their dogs.  I also love to write away from home--at the bookstore, a noisy cafe, a ski lodge...Writing under deadline often means writing in creative locations.  Yesterday I revised a chapter on the ferry boat to Lopez Island, Washington on my way to visit my brother's family.

Me:  How do you manage your writing day?

Sydney:  I race my two daughters to school, peek at a few emails, and then dig into writing or revisions until the end of the school day.  If I'm working on a first draft, I aim to write about a chapter a day and I try to write seven days a week.  If I'm revising, I try to work just five days a week.  I also meet my writing group at our local bookstore once a week for tea, chat, and a bit of critiquing (although I don't share my work until I've completed an entire draft).

Me:  Do you remember the first story you wrote?

Sydney:  My mother saved My Fish Book, a nonfiction picture book I created as a child, but I really don't have other early stories.  I still cringe at the awful story I wrote in a creative writing class after college about professional football-playing brothers.  Shudder!

Me:  What is one book that you hope your own children will read?

Sydney:  I always resisted my mother's reading suggestions, so I've been reluctant to recommend books to my own daughters.  I just want them to love reading!  I do try to read books that they love so we can talk about them together.  And we have a large selection of books to choose from...I rarely say no to adding a book to our collection.

Me:  Do you have a mentor?

Sydney:  Oh, wouldn't that be so nice?  I have friends who have been with me since the beginning when our writing group met in the bookstore's children's section so our preschoolers could play (we've now happily graduated to the cafe area).  Every few weeks I meet another group of writers for dinner.  My agent also gives me a lot of support, and my editor makes herself available, too.  And, of course, I have my online friends from the Class of 2k9!

Me:  I love hearing stories about "The Call".  Can you tell us what that was like?

Sydney:  My agent called me while I was in the airport waiting to board my flight to the SCBWI Conference in LA.  I loved sharing my good news with so many writers!  My husband flew out for the weekend and met me in the hotel bar with champagne.

Me:  Can you describe your works-in-progress?

Sydney:  Right now I'm revising another humorous YA called SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK.  It's about a girl who has broken up with five boyfriends over the past year, so she's afraid to risk falling in love again.  But, of course, there's this guy... The girl also has to deal with the repercussions of having her grandmother, a famous advice-columnist, move in with the family for the summer.  If all goes well, it should hit the shelves in 2010.

Me:  You have a second book coming out soon.  Is it anything like MY BIG NOSE?

Sydney:  My second book is a middle-grade novel called JUNGLE CROSSING.  It's a coming of age story about a thirteen-year-old girl who reluctantly travels to Mexico with her family on vacation, intertwined with an ancient Mayan story about a royal girl who is stolen, enslaved, and must find her way back home.  Both books share a sense of humor and themes about family relationships.

Many thanks to Sydney Salter for stopping by The Backstory.  So drop by your local bookstore and ask for MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS.  I think you will be drawn in, just as I was, by her great voice and sense of humor.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Going on a Bear Hunt

I'm always afraid I'll forget, so I write down what they say on stray Post-it notes and in the margins of my teacher plan book.  

We were back at the first grade reading table with another non-fiction book which seems a bit ironic, since such great fiction comes out of our non-fiction book talks.  The books were open to a picture of a large brown bear.  

"Once my dad shot a bear," my favorite fiction talker said.  "Right in the butt."  (I let him keep going, because it was getting good...)  "I think it was in North Carolina."  He leaned back in his chair, thoughtfully.  "Or maybe it was at his house, 'cause there are all those woods back there."  (Tons of bears in the woods of suburban Connecticut!)  

Then, since he had our attention, I think he was starting to have regrets that he hadn't claimed to be the one to have shot the bear.  So he upped the ante:  "I've been in training for a BB gun," he said.  "A shock gun."  Then, just in case we were unclear about the "shock gun"..."The shocking pellet has a message that it sends to the brain and it tells it not to come back."

I'm not really a gun person, but that shocking pellet idea sounds kind of cool.  I might have to get me one.