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Monday, June 18, 2012


In the wild . . . Barnes & Noble!
So TOKYO HEIST was officially released into the world last Thursday!

That morning, my brother-in-law sent me a video of a NASA rocket launch. I watched the lift-off, mesmerized, a lump in my throat. It was the perfect video for that morning. I felt like I really was sending my book out into the world -- with the aid of a highly trained crew -- and now all I could do was squint at it in the distance and hope for the best.

I wrote the earliest scenes of what would become this book back in the fall of 2004. The book sold in 2010. It's been a long journey, and a great one. (You can read more about my road to publication in a post I wrote for the Apocalypsies blog last week). So the book's release week was an emotional one for me, and it's been an ongoing celebration ever since. Here are some highlights!

Launch Day
I spent the morning trying to keep up with the amazing volume of well-wishers on Twitter and Facebook and email. I made what has become my daily trip to the post office to mail prizes to giveaway winners. I did a couple of blog interviews. In the afternoon I went to one of my favorite bookstores, Brookline Booksmith, and asked if they had any copies I could sign. They did! The books had just arrived, and were brought to me fresh from the box. I got to put autographed copy stickers on them. What a thrill! In the afternoon I hung out with my son at the park and tried to unplug for a bit. It felt good to do something grounding, even though mentally, a part of me was up there in the sky with my book, orbiting.

Launch Party
Saturday afternoon was the launch party at Newtonville Books, another one of my favorite local bookstores. We had a great turnout -- a nice mix of family, friends, fellow writers (several Apocalypsies!) and people I did not bribe or strong-arm into coming. In other words, some people off the street! I was most delighted to see kids -- actual teenagers and some pre-teens -- coming into the store. We had around 20 I think. It's been a dream of mine to see more young people come to author events like readings and book launches, so I was beyond happy when I peeked out of Mary's office and saw so many people under 18.

Oh, and my amazingly talented editor from Viking, Leila Sales, was also in the audience! The icing on the cake! I was so thrilled that she could come share in this special day.

The store owners, Jaime Clark and Mary Cotton, could not have made me feel more welcome, and they graciously let my partners in crime vandalize -- uh, I mean decorate -- the store. Fellow Apocalypsie Gina Rosati did an amazing job stringing up yellow crime scene tape everywhere, which makes me wonder about her pre-author life. Perhaps she worked in law enforcement. Perhaps she has a checkered past. We put out Japanese candies (these were quickly devoured!), swag, and a raffle for some door prizes: gift bags with Japanese goodies. My friend and fellow author Julie Wu handed out red paper fans.

After being introduced, I talked for a bit about key support people in the audience, like my husband, my family, and my writing group buddies. I explained why I chose to hand out paper fans to celebrate this book birthday. I love the Japanese tradition of giving out fans for births and birthdays, and I love the symbolic idea of the base of a fan as a birth, or beginning, and the "spokes" of the fans as all the directions your life can take, the roads, the possibilities. It's a great metaphor for writing as well. Where does a story begin? How do ideas develop and become more complex? What holds the whole construction together? I've been reflecting a lot lately about my book's support structure: my husband, extended family, friends, critique group partners, etc, not to mention my entire publishing team. My goal was to sputter out my profuse thanks without crying, and somehow I managed to do so!

Then I read from the book for a bit. (By the way, choosing what to read aloud from a mystery is really, really hard! You can't easily skip around, as people will miss key information and won't know what's going on, or you'll be giving too much away. I spent a lot of last week agonizing over passage selection!)

During the Q&A session, I got a lot of great questions, including some from people I did not know, and one stunningly intelligent question from a young lady in the front row. "Why did you choose to start the book in Seattle?" she asked. That's a really great question to ask a writer -- we ask ourselves this question all the time -- because deciding where to start is so difficult and so important. Those opening scenes have to do so much heavy lifting. And with this book, I definitely wrestled with where to begin. So I was happy to be asked this question.

After the talk, I signed some books. Can I tell you? So. Much. Fun. I got to speak personally with just about everyone who came. I signed books for lots of kids. Some were gifts adults were buying to give to aspiring writers or budding artists. I love the idea of books as gifts, and remember what it felt like to be a young aspiring writer myself and receive an autographed book with a few encouraging words.

Author friend Julie Wu, cooling off the hot display!
Funny, how there's an endless learning curve to this process, and I'm constantly feeling like a beginner. When I arrived at the store to start setting up, I asked where the copies of my books would be displayed. "We're just flapping them now," I was told. Flapping? I nodded, staring blankly. During the signing, I got it. They put the book flap to the page where you should sign, so it's fast and easy to open. Oh. Flapping. Got it. 

Break it up, ladies!
At some point during the signing, fellow Apocalypsie A.C. Gaughen witnessed a fight over the last remaining copy. Cops were brought in to break it up soon after she snapped this picture. (OK, I'm kidding). But we really did sell all the copies! (And yes, one of the ladies pictured here, battling Gina Rosati, is eesteemed author Randy Susan Meyers! I'm so flattered Randy would threaten to throw a punch for a copy of Tokyo Heist!)

After the signing, some of us went next door to a Chinese restaurant for drinks and appetizers. Nothing glamorous, just easy. It was so nice to kick back there and celebrate with friends and family.

At the party, it was fun to notice the wide span of YA reader! Here are some actual, authentic teenagers:
 And here are my youngest and oldest readers!
YA: not just for teens!
There were even a few lobsters eager to get their claws on Tokyo Heist.
Lobsters love YA too!
After the Launch
Festivities continued at my house that night, celebrating with immediate family. We had a smorgasbord of Japanese and Russian food. (Pickles, beets, and sushi! Yum!) And we capped the evening by saying the Shehechayanu, which is a Jewish blessing recited when performing an action for the first time, or offering thanks for new and unusual experiences (we figured a book launch fit that category). It's basically a prayer of gratitude.

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the launch or was there in spirit. And thank you to everyone who's been following this blog and the count-down to the launch. Your support and enthusiasm for my first novel has carried me along, and is deeply appreciated.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tokyo Heist Gallery #4: Realm Lovejoy

Welcome to Week 4 of the Tokyo Heist Art Gallery! 

Violet Rossi, the young sleuth in Tokyo Heist, is a manga fan and an aspiring artist who secretly works on a graphic novel called The Adventures of Kimono Girl.

In the spirit of Violet, for the past three Tuesdays I've been featuring illustrations by artists to watch out for. These professional artists have donated their time and talent to illustrate a scene, character, or image from the novel, and to answer questions about their creative careers. I hope you'll check out their websites and see more of their exciting work. The past three giveaways are over, but if you missed any of the art and interviews, you can always go back to the past Tuesday posts and get acquainted with Ming Doyle, Rich Lee, and Niki Smith.

I want to thank everyone who's stopped by to enter a contest or just to check out the art and the artists! I love reading the comments people have left, and the different responses people have to the art. And a huge thank you to the artists. It's been so much fun to see their interpretations of the book and to learn about their creative processes and influences. I'm not a visual artist -- I draw passable stick figures -- but artists really inspire me, and it's been a blast curating this virtual gallery all month!

And so. This week is the final exhibit in this virtual gallery; the novel hits shelves this Thursday! (By the way, be sure to check out the exclusive premiere of the Tokyo Heist book trailer at YA Books Central! Screen time starts Tuesday June 12, 12:00 noon EST)

Today, I'm welcoming Realm Lovejoy to the gallery. She's a triple-threat: an author, an illustrator, and a video game artist. The daughter of a Japanese ex-monk and an English teacher from Rhode Island, she was born in the mountains of Nagano, Japan, and later moved to Washington state. Her work combines Eastern and Western influences. I've been stalking her art online for two years now, so I'm thrilled she's come by today.

Realm has brought along her illustration of Kimono Girl the heroine in Violet's graphic novel. Here it is!
Illustration by Realm Lovejoy

I love the energy of this drawing! It wakes me up every time I look at it. I like how she's wielding a paintbrush like a sword, and her determined expression. The idea of fabric spilling from the paintbrush is really fun too. And the off-the-shoulder outfit makes me think of Grecian statues, of the muses . . . though my sense is this muse is one who inspires by doing. Overall this picture makes me think about the combination of joy and persistence that's involved in making art, whatever one's medium might be.

And now, here's my interview with Realm!

Q: Tell us about your illustration. Why did you choose to draw this image? Can you describe your process for us?
A: I thought the idea of "Kimono Girl" was super cute and immediately imagined a picture of Kimono Girl spilling kimono prints from a paintbrush with really bright colors, much like the colors on the cover of Tokyo Heist. Once I got the idea, I started sketching until the drawing became solid.

Q: What kind of work do you do as a professional artist? What does a typical week look like for you?
A: I work full-time at Valve as a concept artist and a 3D artist for video games. A game I particularly worked on a lot was Portal and Portal 2. I work Monday through Friday, eight hours a day. In my free time, I work on illustrations for my novels (which I write) and I have one graphic novel project going on as well.

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I've got a YA sci-fi on submission, a YA four-book urban fantasy series near submission, and a graphic novel in the works.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
A: Ever since I was a child, I was drawing and writing. I knew before I graduated high school that I wanted to go to college for art and get a job in the field.

Q: How did you go about pursuing art as a career? What kind of education did you have to become an artist?
A: I went to DigiPen Institute of Technology, interned at Nintendo, and then went to Valve, where I still am today.

Q: What artists have influenced you?
A: Tezuka Osamu! He has inspired me ever since I was a child with his graphic novels.

Q: What inspires you?
A: "What if?" questions seem to be the seed of all my ideas.

Q: What is the most challenging part of working as an artist? And the most rewarding part?
A: I think the most challenging part is that it takes a lot of time and practice to be good at art. You have to seek the right teachers and get criticism to help move your skills forward. The most rewarding part is getting to see your vision materialize and to be able to show others the world you've been imagining.

Q: Do you have any advice for young people who are considering a creative career?
A: Practice lots and seek criticism and apply it. Also [for visual artists], do study fundamental art such  as life drawing, anatomy, and lighting. Having the basics down is what's going to set you apart from the others. I see a lot of young artists make the mistake of focusing too much on technology and software. That's important too, but never forget the backbone of art that's been around since the ancient days.

Thanks so much for dropping by, Realm! Good luck with your many projects in the works!

Here's where to find Realm online and to view more of her work, including sneak peeks of her graphic novel CLAN:
Realm's website
Realm's blog
Twitter: @realmlovejoy

Oh, but wait . . . remember that final Gallery Giveaway I mentioned? Here it is!

This week, to celebrate the launch of the book, I'm offering two prize packs:

PRIZE PACK #1: A tote bag with Realm's Kimono Girl illustration on one side and the cover of Tokyo Heist on the other. It contains a blank sketch journal, with Realm's Kimono Girl picture on the cover. AND Tokyo Heist swag -- crime scene tape, bookmarks, a paper fan. AND a signed copy of Tokyo Heist!

PRIZE PACK #2: A print of Realm's Kimono Girl print, signed by Realm. AND Tokyo Heist swag (crime scene tape, signed bookmark, paper fan).

Click on the Rafflecopter thingie below for instructions on how to enter:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Monday, June 11, 2012

TOKYO HEIST Launch Week Begins!

We have three winners for last week's Tokyo Heist Gallery Giveaways:

BRAIDEN A. has won the eComic In Maps and Legends by Michael Jasper and Niki Smith.
LAUREN B. Won the signed print of Niki's Tokyo Heist-inspired illustration.
MALVINA B. Won two ARCs from Viking/Penguin.

All three winners also get a bundle of Tokyo Heist swag.

Congratulations!! You'll be hearing from me soon. And HUGE thanks to all of you who entered the contest and helped to spread the word about it, or even just popped by to see last week's featured artist.

Tomorrow I'll introduce you to the final artist in this four-week series and do one last giveaway.

So this is an especially exciting week for me because TOKYO HEIST hits shelves this Thursday, June 14. (Ahhhhhhh! I can't even believe I just wrote that sentence!) It's been a long time coming, and I'm so excited to finally be able to celebrate its release, see it in stores, and hear from real readers out there in the world.

There are lots of TOKYO HEIST events, giveaways, and interviews going on this week, online and live; here are some highlights of launch week!

MONDAY 6/11: My group mystery writers' blog, SLEUTHS SPIES & ALIBIS, kicks off Tokyo Heist Celebration Week today with a week-long giveaway and special features related to the book. They also hauled me into our Interrogation Room, which I survived (whew!) You can read the transcript of my interview on Thursday 6/14.

TUESDAY 6/12: The TOKYO HEIST BOOK TRAILER (yes! there is one!) will premiere at the blog Young Adult Books Central. (Their Tokyo Heist giveaway of epic proportions continues, by the way . . . ); You can also swing by First Page Panda, read the first page of the book, and enter a giveaway there too!

WEDNESDAY 6/13: I'm guest posting at the Apocalypsies site, talking a bit about the road to publication, and am also at The Writing Life x3 where I'm honored to be part of the Juggler interview series. Swing by and find out my juggling secrets!

THURSDAY 6/14: LAUNCH DAY! If you hear screaming from the direction of Boston, Massachusetts, that would be me. When I'm done screaming, I'll be popping by the Lucky 13s site (group of 2013 debut authors) for an interview.

SATURDAY 6/16: LAUNCH EVENT. If you're in the Boston area -- or anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard and you feel like a road trip -- we're partying at Newtonville Books, 10 Langley Road, Newton Center, MA. 2:00. Reading, signing, Q&A, Road to Publication stories, Japanese candy, door prizes.

Giveaway Roundup:
Here are some TOKYO HEIST-related giveaways going on this week:
Sleuths Spies and Alibis
Young Adults Books Central
Hobbitsies book blog (ending soon!)
GLITTER Magazine
First Page Panda (starts Tuesday)
Right here! (last Gallery Giveaway, starts Tuesday 6/12)

New Review!
The Examiner gave Tokyo Heist five stars!

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tokyo Heist Gallery #3: Niki Smith

Welcome to Week 3 of the Tokyo Heist Art Gallery! 

Violet Rossi, the main character in Tokyo Heist, is a manga fan and an aspiring artist. She's almost never without a sketchbook. Art is how she makes sense of her world.

In the spirit of Violet, every Tuesday leading up to the June 14 launch of Tokyo Heist, I'm featuring illustrations by artists to watch out for: comics artists, illustrators, graphic designers. They have donated their time and talent to illustrate a character or an image from the novel, and to answer some questions about their creative careers. I hope you'll check out their websites and see more of their exciting work! If you missed Rich Lee last week, click here to see his art and interview. If you missed Ming Doyle two weeks ago, click here to see her art and interview.

Today I'd like to introduce you to Niki Smith, a Cleveland-based comics artist and illustrator. Her work has won numerous awards, and she was a finalist in Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga competition. She illustrated a digital comics series called In Maps and Legends (written by Michael Jasper), which has been described as a "world-spanning fantasy comic mixed with science fiction and steampunk." She also illustrated the eBook Formatting Comics for Kindle and Nook (by Michael Jasper).

Here's Niki's illustration inspired by Tokyo Heist:

Illustration by Niki Smith
Niki's illustration took my breath away when I got it. It perfectly captures my concept of Violet as a dreamer and a Japanophile. I love the cormorant with the tie around its neck (you'll find out how that works in the book, if you don't already know about cormorant fishing), and it's fascinating and thought-provoking to see that image superimposed on the sun from the Japanese flag. This picture makes me think about how easy it is for Violet -- or for any of us -- to romanticize another culture. What happens when fantasies about a place or a culture collide with reality?

And now, here's my interview with Niki!

Q: Welcome to the Gallery, Niki! Please tell us about your illustration. Why did you choose to draw this particular image from the novel?
I really loved the recurring imagery of cormorant fishing, and I knew I wanted to work that into the piece. Japan plays such a huge role in the book, as do setting and culture, so I brought in the iconic flag, with Violet looking into the distance a she takes it all in.

Q: Can you describe your process of creating this illustration?
A: The illustration was done entirely digitally, in PhotoShop and MangaStudio.

In Maps and Legends, Niki Smith & Michael Jasper
Q: What kind of work do you do as a professional artist? What does a typical day look like for you?
A: I'm a comic artist, and like Violet, I definitely have some manga influence in my art style. I also freelance design book covers. I release my comics digitally, through apps and as ebooks, so much of my day is spent bent over a computer.

Q: What work are you most proud of?
A: SOME DID REST, a graphic novel pitch that resulted in a fellowship from my county. This allowed me to spend time in China last year doing further research, and I'm still hoping to find the right publisher for it.

Highwater, a graphic novel by Niki Smith
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I'm currently working on HIGHWATER, a comic about floods, the loss of a sister, and coming out. Oh, and it takes place in Germany! I'm planning to serialize it starting this summer.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
A: I always enjoyed art -- drawing animals, copying cartoons. It took me until college before I realized there was no reason I couldn't draw a comic of my own.

Q: How did you go about pursuing art as a career? What kind of education did you have?
A: I went to the Cleveland Institute of Art, but I don't think you need to go to art school to be an artist. The most important thing is to create, create, create. Make contacts, surround yourself with people who inspire you, and be open to critiques.

Q: What artists have influenced you?
A: Some of my favorite comic artists are Takako Shimura, Dave McKean, Kiriko Nananan, Jillian Tamaki, Becky Cloonan, and Jen Wang.

Q: What inspires you?
A: I love people-watching.

Q: What is the most challenging part of working as an artist?
A: The loooong hours. When you're getting started (and even when you're more established), comics are often a labor of love. You have to be able to dedicate yourself to finishing a story. You can't get bored after three pages and start something new.

Q: What misconceptions do you think people have about artists or the artistic process?
A: A lot of people underestimate the amount of time that goes into design or illustration, and as a result they'll severely underestimate a piece's worth.

Q: What were you like in high school? 
A: Definitely "artsy." I spent all of my time in my school's photography room. My friends and I (re)watched every Disney and [Studio] Ghibli movie we could find.

Q: Do you have any advice for young people who are considering a creative career?
A: Art school can be great for teaching you technical skills, but make sure you're also preparing yourself for a career! Network, do internships, figure out what opportunities are out there. It's up to you to take those steps. Too many people graduate and haven't prepared themselves for what comes next.

Thanks for coming by, Niki!

Here's where Niki lurks online:
Niki's website
Niki's blog - lots of work samples here!
Twitter: @niki_smith

BUT WAIT -- there's more! It's week 3 of the TOKYO HEIST gallery, so we have THREE prize packs in store, for three winners. Each prize includes TOKYO HEIST swag (crime scene tape, signed bookmarks).


Niki is giving away an eBook of IN MAPS AND LEGENDS.

Here's a summary:
IN MAPS & LEGENDS - written by Michael Jasper, art by Niki Smith
Kaitlin Grayson is an artist who finds herself compelled to carve a map that covers all four walls of her window-less spare room. One cold night, a disheveled man named Bartamus bursts into her apartment, claiming that only she can save his dying world.

For Kait, things like this happen in the books she illustrates so often, she feels like she knows what will happen next. But she couldn’t be more wrong when she and her friends step through her map and charge headlong into another world.

In Maps & Legends is a world-spanning fantasy comic mixed with science fiction and steampunk. This special edition collects all nine issues of this digital-only, full-color miniseries.

2. A signed print of Niki's Tokyo Heist-inspired illustration.

3. Courtesy of Viking/Penguin, two ARCS of great books coming out the same day as TOKYO HEIST, 6/14. They are: MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE, by Natasha Friend, and THE UNFORTUNATE SON, by Constance Leeds.

To enter this giveaway, click on the Rafflecopter thingie below ("Read more") and follow the directions!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Monday, June 4, 2012

News, and Gallery Giveaway #2 Winners

Two winners have been selected for last week's Gallery Giveaway!

Que M. won the signed copy of TOKYO HEIST and swag.
Molly N. won the signed print from Rich Lee, and TOKYO HEIST swag.

Congratulations! You'll be hearing from me soon. And thank you to all who participated in last week's giveaway and dropped by to meet the talented Rich Lee!

I'll be introducing you to a third artist tomorrow and running a third giveaway.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of other TOKYO HEIST giveaways still going on elsewhere: YA Books Central and Hobbitsies: A Book Blog.

Incredibly, there are just ten more days until the book is officially out in the world! Some lovely reviews of TOKYO HEIST have come out recently:
Hobbitsies: A Book Blog
The Reading Date
Manga Maniac Cafe
and . . .
a review from Susan Carpenter in The L.A. Times! Whoa!

This was also a huge thrill . . . a big box of Tokyo Heists arrived the other day! The book is no longer a computer file, or a paperback ARC, but a finished, corrected, hardcover book! There's been a lot of screaming and dancing in my house lately.

Well, mostly. That's my little boy with his legs in the air. He's either flipped from happiness or completely underwhelmed and just focused on his headstand technique. I suspect the latter.
The cat, at least, seems pleased.

Have a great Monday everyone! Back tomorrow with Week 3 of the Gallery!

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