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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How Book People Can Help Ferguson Youth

It's the day before Thanksgiving. As I sat down in my local library this morning to collect my thoughts and write an upbeat Thanksgiving-themed post, I found myself distracted by images from the news I'd seen last night and this morning. Images of protestors in Ferguson and in cities nationwide, including here in my own city of Boston, where 45 protestors were arrested last night. Instead of writing, I began scrolling through news feeds on my phone. As often happens during times of national crisis, natural disasters, or other all-consuming events we hear about in the news, I felt uninspired to write an upbeat blog post, and also utterly powerless. I am dismayed by this week's grand jury decision. But what can someone like me do to help? How and where can I direct my energy at a time like this?

Then I remembered I work with words, and people in the book world -- particularly in the kidlit community -- find creative modes of activism in times like these.

So I shifted my search terms and got different news, different images, and some fresh avenues of activism and hope. I'm now giving thanks today for librarians -- especially for the Ferguson Public Library -- and for kidlit activists, whether they are authors, librarians, booksellers, or readers. In the links I'm sharing below, I hope you'll see why. And if you too are feeling powerless and hopeless in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision, please remember:

1. Reading is a powerful act of empathy.
2. Libraries are sanctuaries.
3. Kids in Ferguson and elsewhere right now need stories of hope for the future.
4. Every voice matters.

A round-up of links, and things you can do:

Here is an inspiring article published on Salon.com yesterday about the Ferguson Public Library, which has stayed open even when other public places, including schools, have been cancelled during protests. An ad-hoc school was created there, and teachers volunteered to teach classes at the library. Teen events are being held. A book drive, run in conjunction with Powells Books, has generated an outpouring of donations, particularly books for young adults that focus on social activism, peace, community building, and healing from trauma.

The Ferguson Public Library is accepting donations through PayPal on its home page. I donated; it's a fast and easy way to support the library's ongoing efforts to stay open, when it is safe to do so, and provide a sanctuary for the community, particularly for young people.

Author Joelle Charbonneau started an initiative called Hope Through Stories, authors uniting in support of students in Ferguson, MO. If you're a children's book author, get in touch with Joelle about sending a signed copy of your book to the library. As Joelle puts it, "Let's show the students of Ferguson that there is hope in each and every story. They still have their story to write."

You can follow @FergusonLibrary on Twitter and learn more about what they're doing, and read an interview with director Scott Bonner.

You can buy a book online from Left Bank Books in Saint Louis, Missouri; their Angel Tree Book Drive hopes to get donations of 300 books, one for each student in Ferguson's neediest elementary school.  (Thanks YA author Fiona Paul for this news, and the link!)

You can follow #KidLit4Justice on Twitter.

Do you know of other thinks or other ways people in the book world can help out? Please share them!

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Holiday Book Bazaar in Sherborn, MA

I'm excited to visit The Writer's Loft in Sherborn, MA for the first time on Saturday, December 6, 1:00-4:00. I'll be participating in their holiday book fair with 20 other local children's book authors. This family-friendly event is free and open to the public. If you're in the area, come join us for book chats, signings, and holiday shopping, and learn about workshops and other programs going on at The Loft!

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween Book Trail

Welcome to the first top of The Cemetery Trail!

This is the first ever Halloween Book Trail, featuring your favorite YA & MG authors! This blog hop is based on the YAmazing Race with MGnificent Prizes presented by the Apocalypsies in 2012. In THIS trail, you’ll find all kinds of posts, and discover new authors and their work.

How do you play? Every post contains information that will lead to killer prizes! Books, swag, Skype sessions, locks of hair (jk, jk)! At the end of each blog you’ll find a link that will take you to the next stop in the trail. By the end, you’ll find a quiz. Now you’ll be happy you read all the posts! Submit your entry to the quiz for a chance to win a grand prize! Accuracy matters here, so take your time, or go back and refresh your memory! One quiz entry per trail. 

And thus ends the standard introduction to the trail that you will see at every way station on this trail. 

If you've stumbled across this post in error (or in horror) and have no idea who I am, here's a bit about me!

I write YA novels featuring globetrotting teens and international intrigue. I guess you could also call them travel mysteries. My first book, TOKYO HEIST (Viking/Penguin, 2012) is about a teen manga fan who goes to Japan to hunt down some missing van Goghs, and gets entangled with the Japanese yakuza in the process. 

My second novel is an investigative thriller called LATITUDE ZERO (published in July of this year, also by Viking/Penguin). It's about a girl named Tessa Taylor who causes a massive bike crash on a charity ride while "bandit riding" with her bike racer boyfriend. The crash leads to the death of a hot young pro-cyclist from Ecuador, whom she happens to know because he and her boyfriend once raced on the same team. Tessa struggles with grief and guilt  . . and then finds some clues that suggest the cyclist's death might have actually been a murder, caused by somebody else. Going undercover as a volunteer for a bicycle advocacy group, Tessa travels all the way to Ecuador to uncover the truth. With the help of her bike mechanic friend, Marisol Vargas, she races to solve the crime before she becomes the next victim. 

My third book, BLUE VOYAGE, takes place in Turkey, and will be out Fall 2015.

And now, for my Halloween-themed post to kick off the Cemetery Trail!

No pressure or anything. 


Okay. I confess. I may not be the best person to kick off this blog hop. See, Halloween and I aren't really the best of friends.

We have Issues. Big Issues.

As far back as I can remember, I was the queen of Lame Costumes. Costumes that somehow missed the mark, elicited confusion, or inadvertently caused bodily harm to others. 

When I tried to make my costumes out of stuff around the house, or cardboard, they ended up falling apart as soon as I got out the door. The year I was an owl, all my magnificent paper feathers fluttered off my Hefty bag skin, leaving a trail of construction paper and a kid dressed up as, well, a Hefty bag. Another year I was a gypsy, with a crystal ball that promptly shattered, and since it was cold that year and I wore a ski jacket, I just looked like a kid in a ski jacket.

When I tried to accessorize, I chose poorly. One year I was a hobo. I wore a tattered sports coat, baggy pants, shoes with split soles -- all good -- but I carried my trick or treat bag, a kerchief, tied on the end of a fishing pole. This pole then stabbed people in the face or eye every time I said "thank you" and turned to go. One elderly man lost his eyeglasses because of my hasty move with said pole.

"So what are you supposed to be, anyway?" people asked me at a sixth-grade party, puzzling over my white tunic and cape and white face makeup. I think I was Indecision that year, torn between ghost and vampire, fusing my two ideas last-minute and pulling off neither one of them.

Meanwhile, my younger sister was the Halloween Queen. She had the most creative ideas. Like a robot that actually had a circuit board that lit up, which she actually engineered herself at the tender age of six. Another year she was a eucalyptus tree, wearing her koala backpack. She emitted a vague eucalyptus odor, and I believe she had healing properties and could stop coughs from ten feet away. Another year she and a friend went as half-cheerleader, half-football player, each of them vertically divided from their face makeup all the way down to their footwear. She thought of the best disguises and pulled them off effortlessly.

As I got older, my costumes only got worse. I gave up Halloween for a bit in high school, after a disastrous experiment with red food coloring as hair dye (think blood dripping down face). Then I tried again in college, at a party. "So what are you supposed to be, anyway?" people asked me. "A Shadow of my Former Self," I replied, feeling abstract and witty as I fluttered my gauzey sleeves. I guess a bunch of people dressed up as Blank Stares that year, because that's mostly what I remember.

I have, however, come to realize where I am best at the art of disguise. Not on Halloween night, but in the pages of my books. I think I had the most fun in coming up with costume ideas in LATITUDE ZERO, where my heroine must go undercover and dress to avoid attention from spies and stalkers. Most of the time, she's successful, even when she has to plunder Ecuadorian crafts markets and her host family's closets to find clothes to alter her appearance. I've come to realize I really do love the art of the costume, but I'm best without the pressure of one night a year to pull out all the stops -- and I'm better at using words to dress up my characters. This realization has taken the pressure of Halloween off of me, after all these years.

Well, almost. Because now I have a child, who starts planning for Halloween in April, and who'd love for me to make him a home-made costume. But I know better. I will not inflict the same curse of the costume on my offspring. That's why I order his costumes from Target.

For the next stop on the Cemetery Trail, visit KATLYN DUNCAN, at http://katlynduncan.blogspot.com/2014/10/HBT14.html

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Boston Teen Author Festival 2014

Next stop: Boston Teen Author Festival! This will be my third year at BTAF, and it's been exciting to watch this amazing event grow every year. On September 27th, 25 YA authors will converge on the Cambridge Public Library for a day of panels and book talk. There are giveaways, signings, a zany Q&A session with all the authors, and this year -- for early arrivals -- there will be a free writing workshop! If you're a YA fan in the Boston area, and if you're a teen in the Boston area, we'd love to meet you! 


I'm thrilled to be part of this "Criminal Minds" panel -- check out my partners in crime!


Friday, August 1, 2014

Where I'm Going, Where I've Been . . .

With apologies to Joyce Carol Oates for playing with the title of her classic short story (which has nothing to do with the actual content of this post), I thought I'd take a moment to catch up here, since I seem to be everywhere but on my own blog these days! I'm mostly busy ferrying my young son to various summer activities and amusements, but in between, I've managed to work on revising my third book, Blue Voyage, and to get out for some fun Latitude Zero events. I've also left a few signed copies of Latitude Zero (and Tokyo Heist) in my wake, so if you're interested, you can pop by any of these Boston-area stores or give them a call -- they'll happily ship signed copies.

Where I've Been . . .

So since I last posted, I've been to . . .
  • Buttonwood Books (Cohasset, MA). This was such a fun panel event with writing pals A.C. Gaughen (The Lady Thief), Leah Cypess (Death Sworn), and Wendy Wunder (The Museum of Intangible Things). We had a great crowd, at least half of which were teen girls! This made us SO HAPPY. It is hard to get kids out to bookstore events in the summer -- believe me, we know we're competing against the beach and any number of activities. (We might kind of want to be at the beach ourselves). But these girls came out on a gorgeous evening, asked really sharp questions, and were just an absolute pleasure to talk with. So were their moms. Thanks, Buttonwood, for a great event!! (And a few signed copies of all our books can still be found there!) 
    Buttonwood Books panel (L-R): Wendy Wunder, me hanging on A.C. Gaughen's every word, A.C. Gaughen, and Leah Cypess. (Thanks Kevin Gaughen & A.C. Gaughen for letting me swipe your instagram shot; please don't sue me!)
  • Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, MA). Guerrilla booksigning. They kindly let me sign their stock and didn't ask me for ID. So signed Latitude Zeros are there for the taking! (Well, buying, not taking. You know what I mean).
    Signed copies at Brookline Booksmith! Bonus sticker! So cool!
  • Barnes and Noble (Burlington, MA). Guerrilla booksigning. Quite a few signed copies there, in the "New Teen Fantasy and Adventure" section, front and center!
    Keeping good company at Barnes & Noble!
I've also been lurking about online, and can be found on these excellent blogs, both of which offer giveaways of a signed Latitude Zero -- in case you're strapped for cash, you can swing by and take your chances here!
  • I Am a Reader. I'm guest posting about research and novels that inspired Latitude Zero, and there's a giveaway on there for a signed copy.
  • Gina Damico's blog. My author pal Gina has a brief interview with me, in which I talk about Latitude Zero (shocker!), as well as coffee, the national bird of Ecuador, and SpongeBob. If you're sick of hearing me yak about Latitude Zero, at least do yourself a favor and swing by Gina's blog and read it, all the archives, in its entirety, yes I'm serious, because it's brilliant and funny (just like her novels) and I guarantee it will leave your head in a different place when you stop. (And that's a good thing).
Where I am going . . . 

Next week I'm off to NYC!!!! I'll be at the Jefferson Market Library on Wednesday August 6, 6:00 PM, in the Teen Author Reading Night. Here's the line-up:

Patty Blount - Some Boys
E. Lockhart - We Were Liars
Elisa Ludwig - Pretty Sly
Diana Renn -  Latitude Zero
Lindsay Ribar - The Fourth Wish
Amy Spalding - Ink is Thicker Than Water
Mary G. Thompson - Evil Fairies Love Hair

If you're near NYC, come out and join us!

(Um, is anyone actually in New York City in August? Anyone? Anyone? . . . .)

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Odyssey Bookshop Odyssey

This past weekend I had a fun road trip out to one of my favorite independent bookstores: The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA!

On the two-hour drive from Boston--I purposely took the longer, scenic route--I started to contemplate how despite my penchant for writing about far-flung travel, this trip to the Odyssey represented a kind of homecoming for me.

My alma mater, Hampshire College
In the 1990s I went to college at nearby Hampshire College, in Amherst. I lived in South Hadley one summer when I had a job that kept me in town between semesters. And the Pioneer Valley--home to the five-college consortium of Hampshire, Amherst, UMass, Smith, and Mount Holyoke--was where I spent much of my time learning to be a writer. I was an English Major, not a Creative Writing Major, but I wrote countless stories in college; while some kids hit the gym or the hiking trails for stress relief, I holed up in my dorm room and pounded out story after story. And I was a voracious reader in college, even outside of work for my classes. I haunted all the local bookstores and libraries, and spent hours discussing books with some of the smartest readers I've ever met -- friends I have to this day, with whom I bonded over books.

I hadn't been to the Pioneer Valley for about ten years, when I went there once for a bike ride and whizzed past my old life at high speeds. I really haven't spent any significant time there since I graduated college. So as the winding roads and lush rolling hills led me into Amherst this weekend, I felt a swell of mixed emotions. In college, I'd been filled with uncertainty. I'd had a tenuous financial aid package and a hefty part-time work schedule that made my existence there semester to semester quite precarious. I'd had a huge course workload; I doubled up on classes and graduated in 3.5 semesters to save money. I'd had fierce ambitions to write but crippling anxiety about how to realize those ambitions. I was too scared to take creative writing workshops and share my work with teachers and mentors who could have helped me along. I imagined I was taking the safe route, majoring in English and starting a path to grad school and to becoming an academic, but in fact I'd been embarking on a dead-end road for me: a path to unhappiness in grad school and highly uncertain job prospects in academia. I'm sure my fear and my impulse to play it safe set my writing goals back a decade, at least.

I arrived early for my event and spent some time walking around my old campus, remembering what it was like to be there at various stages of my college career. If I had to do it all again, I would have taken those creative writing workshops and availed myself of the abundance of talent in the five-college area. I would have been open about my writing ambition and made more connections. I would have turned my dreams into concrete goals much sooner. But I have more peace of mind than regret. I think the learning environment at Hampshire, and the culture of the five-college area, did help to form me as a writer. And I remembered, powerfully, how by the time I graduated, I had the goal to return some day to one of the area bookstores (now not in such abundance, sadly) as a published author.

So when I walked into the Odyssey Bookshop, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction. It's wonderful when life gives us chances to loop back into time and reconnect with a goal. It really has been an Odyssey for me to get back into that store after all these years.

I had such a marvelous time talking about YA fiction with my fellow panelists, talented authors Terra Elan McVoy (IN DEEP) and Gillian Murray Kendall (THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS). Thank you, Odyssey--and the wonderful audience who came out on a warm July night--for making me feel at home!
Terra Elan McVoy, Me, & Gillian Murray Kendall

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Launch Week(s) Recap

Cake for the launch party Racing bib design by Renee Combs
It's been a fun couple of weeks launching LATITUDE ZERO! The kickoff was July 3, publication day. I celebrated with a party at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. I admit, I had some misgivings about throwing a launch party the day before a national holiday, prime vacation time. Misgivings swelled when the threat of violent thunderstorms caused the city of Boston to move its scheduled July 4 celebration to July 3! Now I had to compete with fireworks, the Boston Pops, and the Beach Boys, the headline act of the city's celebration! Who would choose to spend a warm summer evening at a bookstore when they could be out by the Charles River?

Lots of people, it turns out! Though I couldn't deliver fireworks or even hum the national anthem, we had great turnout!

I talked about how writing this book was so different from writing TOKYO HEIST, and what inspired it. I read for a bit, and answered some really excellent audience questions. Then I got to sign copies and eat some of that fabulous cake pictured above!

Here are some other pictures from the party:

With my street team: authors A.C. Gaughen, Erin Cashman, Kerri Majors, and Gina Rosati!
Me, with the fun racing bib designed by Renee Combs--finally 070314 is a reality!
Local cycling celebs: a former pro cyclist (on left) and the founder of VeloVelo (right)

So I have to tell you about the guy in the third picture, above. That's Carlos Vivas, a former professional cyclist from Ecuador. (Also a former Mr. Universe winner; he went into bodybuilding after retiring from cycling). I met Carlos after I'd written the entire book, when someone alerted me to the fact that he worked as a mechanic at my local bike shop. I'd been shopping there for years and never knew it! Carlos and his wife Carol both read late-stage draft of LATITUDE ZERO and vetted it for Ecuadorian references, Spanish usage particular to the region, and cycling mechanics. They were incredibly helpful. It was great to hear Carlos's real-life story of how he came into cycling, and the similarities to my main character, Juan Carlos, were eerie!

After the launch party, my family and I went to Seattle, my hometown, where I did two events: one at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, my favorite mystery-themed bookstore EVER. I spent some time hanging out with Amber, the amazing children's bookbuyer there, who made sure I left with an armload of reading material for my vacation! (Seriously, Amber is one of the most well-read people I've ever met, and you absolutely must check out her Agatha Christie blog, My 52 Weeks with Christie--she's reading one Christie novel a week!) The other event was at Third Place Books, and my parents were in attendance! I had a lot of fun meeting mystery fans and cycling fans at both stores!
Me with Amber, children's bookbuyer extraordinaire!
From there, it was on to an actual VACATION. We took the train from Seattle to Portland, which felt so adventurous even though it was only a four-hour trip; I really miss traveling, which can be tough with a small kid, and this whetted my appetite for serious travel again. We then drove to Cannon Beach, on the Oregon Coast.
Cannon Beach, Oregon. Paradise!
I spent a few days relaxing there with family, and I finally found time to do a little cycling myself -- beach cycling, that is, on the sand!
I had never tried this before. It's a fun low-tide activity to do on Cannon Beach. It was easy enough to learn, but a bit more of a workout than I'd anticipated. Let's just say I don't see racing this way in my future! (Nor do I see beach biking as the subject of my next book!)

While on vacation, two rather amazing things happened, proving my theory that if you want good things to happen, get out of town -- ideally to somewhere with weak wifi! (And then when you get good news, it will be EXTRA exciting!) First, an essay of mine got published on the Huffington Post. It's one I'm particularly proud of, about gun violence in YA fiction. You can read it here.

Then I learned that LATITUDE ZERO is a Junior Library Guild Selection!!! This is astounding news, worthy of even more exclamation points than I just gave it. I've seen the Junior Library Guild distinction printed on many covers of books I admire, but didn't fully understand what it meant until I looked at their website. Basically, a committee chooses a select number of children's titles two seasons each year and licenses hardcover rights for their book club. These titles are then available to thousands of libraries nationwide. It's a big honor, and I'm so thrilled and so grateful that this book may find a wider audience of young readers as a result.

A big thank-you to everyone who has supported the LATITUDE ZERO journey thus far, whether it's by attending an event, buying the book, getting it from the library (or requesting it), spreading the word, following my online blog tour, or expressing interest in the book in any way! Everything that readers do helps nudge the book a little farther out into the world!

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