Sunday, September 30, 2012


     First: I never did hear back from Karin about the IF I LIE giveaway, so I'm afraid I can't get the book to her.  It wasn't easy for me to choose a runner-up, but I'm choosing Cheyanne.  Cheyanne, congrats!  Again, please email me your address at, and I'll get the book right out to you!
     Next: I spent the weekend, beginning early Friday morning, at a writer's retreat with three of my fellow critique group members.  We stayed at Michele's house on Cape Cod - vacation home for now, all too soon to become primary residence when Michele and her husband retire and leave New Jersey.  The weekend was wonderful.  We drove through torrential rains both ways, but it was well worth it.  Aside from grocery shopping and eating (we never did make it out to a restaurant, except en route) and one lovely walk on the beach (complete with seals poking their heads up out of the water to look at us!), we just wrote and critiqued.  What a luxury, what a blessing, to have a full day to set aside all other responsibilities and just focus on our writing.  Good company, lovely surroundings, and a full day to do what we love best.  It was a treasure of a weekend, the kind I wish for every writer.  I'm tired and inspired and rejuvenated, all at the same time.  Thanks, Michele and Julie and Alice!  I love you guys!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


 Yesterday I was browsing through my new SCBWI newsletter and Deborah Brodie's name caught my eye, as it always does.  But this time, the news was that she passed away at the end of June, after a long struggle with cancer.  She was only 67.
     I first met Deborah about 21 years ago.  My son Nathan was 2, I was working on a long rhyming picture book featuring him, and I was desperate to take a class I'd read about at the New School on writing for children.  I was a single parent, and my dear friend Sonia gave me the best birthday present of all time: an offer to watch Nathan for me each week, for the duration of the class session.
     The instructor was a woman with a jolly voice and twinkling eyes named Deborah Brodie, and the first thing I learned was to ditch my dreams of having "Nathan and the Urch," or just about any rhyming picture book, published.  "Dr. Seuss is dead," Deborah told us crisply.
     I learned a lot more than that from her, but the main thing I learned is that children's book publishing is an industry and that children's book writing is a profession; neither one existed only in some magical realm.  And I also learned of the existence of SCBWI, a haven for people who want to learn to write for children and get their work published.
     When the class ended, I didn't know how to thank Deborah for opening up a new world for me, so I brought her a rose.  A few days later, I got a thank-you note at home from her.
     I followed Deborah over the years.  After over 20 years as an editor with Viking Children's Books,  most of that time as executive editor, she left in 2001 to co-found Roaring Brook Press.  In 2007 she left there to become a freelance editor, writing instructor, and "book doctor."  All along, she did her teaching on the side.
     When I read that "book doctor" announcement in an SCBWI publication, I contacted her and ended up sending her a manuscript for doctoring.  She did a very thorough and enormously helpful job, and after that we occasionally stayed in touch by email.  Yesterday, after reading her death announcement, I went back and saw that, as I'd thought, I still had a saved email from her, sent in late 2009, responding to an email I'd sent her about her new website and saying, "I'm still hoping to see your name in my 'good news' column one of these days!"
     I've been reading Deborah's obituaries.  I don't know whether anyone can count how many new authors she's discovered, how many new careers she's launched, or how many still unpublished writers there are like me that she just kindly and graciously helped to move forward.  I do know that she was a beloved figure to many, both inside and outside the publishing and writing worlds.  I read this today, from her son: when Deborah learned she did not have long to live, she said, "Why me?"  But, unlike other people who ask that question, she went on to ask, "Why have I been so blessed, with such wonderful children, grandchildren, and my life?"
     Today is Yom Kippur, a day of remembrance, and along with other people I have lost in my life, I remember Deborah.  But, of course, she was only human, and although she knew a lot, she wasn't always right.  Dr. Seuss isn't really dead.  And neither is she.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


     I posted that Karin won my book giveaway, and asked her to email me her address so that I could send her IF I LIE, but ...  silence.  Are you there, Karin?  If I don't hear back from you by this Saturday, I'll have to choose another contest entrant to send the book to.  But I would rather send it to you!  Don't be a stranger, Karin!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


     I want to thank everyone who participated in this contest and shared some of the noble actions they've seen other people take.  It wasn't easy to choose a winner, but I'm going to go with Karin, who wisely pointed out that heroism and honor are not the same thing.  They share similarities, in that both require courage and both are the opposite of taking the easy way out.  But an honorable act is one that arises from adherence to principle.  Here's Robert Frost, "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening:"
                    The woods are lovely, dark and deep -
                    But I have promises to keep,
                    And miles to go before I sleep.
     Honor is about keeping promises - to ourselves, to another person, to a community, to God - even (or especially) when we think no one is looking.  In IF I LIE, Quinn keeps her promise to Carey even though it causes her great personal hardship, and even when Carey does not hold up his end of their bargain.  I appreciate all of your comments, but since I have to choose, I appreciate Karin's thoughtful discussion most of all.  So, Karin, if you would email me your address at,  I will send the book winging its way to you!  Congratulations!  And once again, thank you to everyone who stopped by and submitted a comment.  I'll do more giveaways in the future, I promise!  And thank you, Corinne Jackson, for posting about this contest and directing blog traffic my way. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


     I am trainable, despite all evidence to the contrary.  If I try a book giveaway featuring a book I didn't like, and I get no takers, I will not try it again.  I will, on the other hand, try a giveaway with a book I DID like, because that method succeeded last time. Trial and error, folks.  If an amoeba can do it, why can't I?
     I can't remember where I read about "If I Lie," a debut novel by Corrine Jackson, but I was intrigued enough to buy it. When I read the cover flap, however, my heart sank a little.  Let's see, girl with a Marine boyfriend, caught kissing another boy while Carey is posted overseas, accused by everyone in her miltary town of cheating, but she's not cheating, but explaining why she's not cheating would reqire revealing a secret she's promised her boyfriend she would keep...  Oy.  Is this really going to be the focal point of the book - this "mystery" even an amoeba could figure out before opening to Page One?
     But, fortunately, it's not.  The Big Reveal comes fairly early on, and then the book gets down to its real business, which is the subject of honor - some of it in the military sense, some of it not.  What is betrayal, what is honor, and can the same person be capable of both?  Take Quinn's mother, for example.  What is Quinn to make of her having left Quinn and her father years ago, without a second glance, to take up with Quinn's father's brother, of all people, but then to stick by Quinn's uncle through his long and awful battle with cancer?  And what about George, the cranky old man Quinn's gotten to know through her work with the Veterans History Project, who has imparted to her as much as he could of his vast knowledge of photography, but who also took it upon himself to invite Quinn's estranged mother to her birthday party?  And what about Quinn herself, who has fallen in love with Carey's best friend but can't tell him the reasons why they either can, or can't, be together?
     The giveaway contest will run from now through next Saturday, the 22nd, at midnight.  Here are the rules: leave a comment describing the most honorable thing you have ever seen a stranger - not a public figure - do.  That's it.  So, I guess, there's only one rule, if you want to get technical.  At the end of the contest, I'll choose my favorite comment, and I will send the poster of that comment my like-new, hardcover copy of "If I Lie."  So, come on!  Start it up! 

Saturday, September 15, 2012


     Through working on my new middle-grade novel, I've been rediscovering the joy of writing. I suspect that's because, at heart, I'm really a smartass, obnoxious 14-year-old boy screaming to be unleashed on the world. I have to battle the urge to post, right here on this page, excerpts from my book-in-name-only. This is so, despite the fact that with this work in progress, I'm competely allowing my ADD to run the show, and so far the "book" exists only as a series of disjointed scenes thrown haphazardly onto the page.  So what? Ask me if I care. I love this embryonic book and it's making me happy, and I don't need your stinking rules.
     Okay, I'll just tell you the title, and no more, regardless of how much you beg. The book is called, "IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY?" and it is a loving homage to class clowns everywhere.  All of us - and we know who we are - have had that question seared into our brains during our formative years, but only a few of us - and we know who we aren't - have fought back, and won.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


     Ben Jonson, Shakespeare's rival and admirer, wrote in his commentary to the First Folio edition of the plays that the late Shakespeare's genius lay not just in his brilliant inspirations, but just as much in his tenacious willingness to revise until he got it right:

Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvil; turn the same,
(And himself with it) that he thinks to frame;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn,
For a good poet's made as well as born.
And such wert thou.

     Made as well as born.  Even him.

Friday, September 7, 2012


     As I've said before, I think A.S. King is one of the most challenging and rewarding authors for young adults currently writing.  No tricks, no gimmicks, just unflinching looks at real people with real problems.
In the words of her bio, she "is the author of the highly acclaimed EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, a 2012 ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and Andre Norton Award Nominee, and the Edgar Award nominated, 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ.  She is also the author of the ALA Best Books for Young Adults DUST OF 100 DOGS and the upcoming ASK THE PASSENGERS (October 2012).  After a decade of living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives deep in the Pennsylvania woods with her husband and children."

     Here is our interview:


 *Minor Spoilers Included!* 

 1. Astrid sends her love skyward to anonymous airplane passengers out of desperation, but eventually she figures out that she has more in common with them than she’d ever realized. She’s pinned in place just as much as they are. None of Astrid’s questions that she floats out to the passengers ever get answered, but maybe it’s the questions themselves that matter, huh? What is it you’d want your readers to “ask the passengers?” 

 Yours are detailed questions, so I’m going to try and give detailed answers. (I love detailed questions. So, thank you.) I want to clarify something before we get started on this answer. Astrid isn’t really asking the passengers questions. It’s very important to note that Astrid is sending her love to the passengers. And not really out of desperation, either. My characters tend not to be desperate. Usually, they are practical people who are dealing with questions the way we all ask questions.

 So, the short answer is: I don’t want my readers to ask the passengers anything. But I do want my readers to see that giving love to random strangers is a good way to approach life. In the case of her loving people in her life who treat her poorly—turning the other cheek, if you will—this is another message of tolerance and love that I very much want to come through in the book.

 Astrid does pose questions to the passengers, but really she is asking herself the questions. So, yes, the questions do matter when it comes to those parts. But the sending of love matters more. I do love the idea of Astrid being pinned in place. This is true. For all of us. Except that we can choose to unpin ourselves. And so, Astrid, through her soul-searching will learn to unpin herself from the misconception that we all must be pinned.

 So the long answer is: I would like readers to ask the passengers (themselves) how they can unpin themselves from their beliefs. This doesn’t mean we have to do a 180 and become other people…but it does mean that maybe acceptance and tolerance and understanding would be a more attainable goal if only we asked ourselves more questions vs. knowing all the answers.

 2. I found it interesting that you chose to begin the book at a point when Astrid and Dee had already gotten past the baby steps of their relationship and Astrid had accepted the fact that she liked kissing another girl. Did you ever consider moving your starting point back a little, back to when Astrid hadn’t ever done anything more to explore her sexuality than wonder about it? 

 This is a very short answer. No. I think it’s shown quite clearly how this relationship came about and how she feels about it. The questioning wasn’t something she did before the relationship started. Only after. That’s mentioned several times in the narrative. Also, I find a lot of backstory upfront is a really marvelous way to bore readers.

 3. So. Frank Socrates. Astrid really has to look far, far beyond the inaptly-named Unity Valley to find a functional adult, let alone a mentor or a role model. Has it been your experience that small towns can really be as deadly as all that? Or is it adults in general that so routinely fail the teenagers around us? 

 I think you and I must see role models differently. ☺ Frank Socrates is not the only role model Astrid has. Not even at a stretch. Sure, she talks to him because of his role in her Humanities class, but in real life, she has a teacher, many friends and students and even her parents as role models. Sure, her mother is a horror show, but her mother also teaches her things like all mothers do. Even not-so-great ones. Her father is very supportive. He may be stoned all the time, but he’s still a very close ally to Astrid and it’s very helpful to her.

 I think Unity Valley is a perfect name for Unity Valley. The inhabitants there are all very happy living in the world they live in…as long as everything there fits into their idea of what Unity Valley represents. I didn’t think the town was “deadly.” I think it was small-minded and gossipy. I think any town that runs on that much gossip is a sometimes-scary place to be. Especially if you have a secret.

I think some adults fail teenagers. The biggest way, and my personal pet peeve, is the adult who thinks all teenagers are dramatic and despairing. They roll their eyes when the word teenager is even spoken. They think all teens are doing things with some urgent, hormonal, melodramatic emotion and forget that some teens have already lived through more than some adults have.

I think adults underestimate teens a lot. I think they are in protect mode long after teens have heard or seen the things that adults want to protect them from. I think there is a general disconnect, for sure. But not adults fit into this box. And not all teens do, either.

4. Astrid’s friends Kristina and Justin don’t fit into the boxes people put them in, but they’ve done a very credible job of pretending that they do, while secretly pursuing their own lives. Do you think it’s possible to choose to live a lie and yet still be relatively well-adjusted? Why or why not? 

 That’s a great question. I don’t know. If I look at my work over the last 20 years, most of my adult characters who are hiding or lying are pretty messed up. So I guess I think that if your inside knows the truth and your outside hasn’t quite come to terms with it, that can cause a lot of problems in a human being. That said, most of the people I know who have been through what Astrid (or Justin and Kristina) has been through were hiding it while they lived in their small towns and could only come out once they left. They are all very well-adjusted. Kristina and Justin do what they do to get by.

You bring an interesting phrase into this question, also. You say living a lie. In the book, Kristina tells Astrid that she was lying, when really she was questioning…and it was none of Kristina’s business until Astrid was ready to tell her. Questioning isn’t lying. Not fitting into a pre-defined box is not lying. It is what it is. And no one can label anyone else’s experience. In the case of being gay in a place where you will not be accepted, these people are not lying. They are enduring. This, to me, is a completely different thing.

But in general (not relating to sexuality-boxes at all, I mean) I think people who are averse to living in reality have a hard time. Sure, they can get through normal everyday tasks. No one at the grocery store cares whether you are living some decades-old lie about your childhood or something that once happened to you, etc. But I do think that those people will have a very hard time in any intimate relationships—both friendships and long-term romantic relationships. I think a keen sense of reality and a willingness to face it and live in that real world is always a plus.

5. Funny thing: according to your characters, they don’t like to be put into boxes, and according to your interviews, neither do you! What’s your earliest memory of someone trying to put you into a box, and how did that work out for all concerned? What techniques have you learned since then that help you to avoid being pigeonholed? 

 From the moment we are born we are boxed. Girl means something. (Pink?) Boy means something. (Blue?) I was mistaken as a boy for a lot of my childhood due to my pixie cut and comfortable and practical clothing. This actually still happens from time to time because I firmly believe that some people judge gender from the waist down. (I wear men’s jeans and boots, mostly.) But pigeonholing? Still happens. All the time. I mean, it’s just human nature to want to define things so that we can better grasp things based on past definitions we already have loaded into our cranial hard drives.

 My publishers have to market my books. So I am now called a “young adult author” and I am not one. I’m just an author. I write for all age groups. But this is what I am called. There isn’t anything we can do about it in this 24/7 news cycle world, I don’t think. The media is now built entirely on these boxes. So the best way I avoid being pigeonholed is…I don’t watch TV, I don’t read much media and I stay away from most filler-type-articles. It’s a little like watching the Olympics on mute. That way, I can enjoy the amazing talent of athletes and ignore all that chattering, boxing-people nonsense. So, I will always be pigeonholed, but if I avoid watching the pigeonholing, then I don’t really know about it.

Thanks very much for this interview! It was fun.

     Thank you a thousand times over, Amy!  For me, it was so much more
than just fun.  I continue to learn with each interview I do that awesome
authors can also be awesome people who are generous with their time
and advice and willing to pay back some of the help they got when they
were first starting out on this long road to a writer's life.  And from this
particular interview, I learned that even a huge fan and careful reader (me)
 can see things entirely differently than the writer (A.S. King) and fail to
understand much of what she's trying to get across.  The moral, I think, is
 that reading is an interactive process.  What the reader brings to the table -
her own life experiences, biases and expectations - will color what lessons
she derives from a book.  I've thought about it and decided that this is a
good thing.  It's all part of the magic and mystery of literature.
     A.S. KING, YOU ARE INCREDIBLE!  I hope you have a fabulous
book tour (details on her website)!
     And, fellow readers,  awesome pleasures await you if you follow her
blog and, who knows?  maybe even join her posse!
     Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Case of the Disappearing Day

   So.  Yesterday, September 1, I was awake for 5 of the 24 hours, and during those five hours of consciousness, I knew exactly what it felt like to be 150 years old.  Call it flu, call it a virus, call it whatever you like; for me, the day never happened.  Is this what it feels like to cross the international date line in the forward direction?  How very strange.  Does this make me a day younger now?  It definitely did me a favor re: calorie consumption.  This morning I woke up returned to human form, and my first thought was:  I'M ALIVE!!!
     So I started my day grateful.  And I'll share something else I'm grateful about.  This week I've decided to put aside my heavy, heavy historical YA novel because, for right now, it's just too hard.  There will be a time when I'm ready to move forward with it, but now is not that time.  Now, I decided, is my time to have fun writing.  So: a humorous MG is the current plan, and my creative juices have been flowing, and I've been making myself laugh, which is always a good sign.

     Sometimes, when you hit a roadblock, a change of direction is exactly what's needed, don't you think?