Caroline Carlson

In Which I Have Turned Into a Tortoise

Okay, I’m not actually a tortoise. (Too bad; tortoises are cute and they don’t have to meet deadlines.) But I’ve been feeling a little tortoise-like lately because I’ve been writing the third and final book in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series, and it is sloooooow going. Yesterday, for example, I wrote 200 words. On a normal writing day, I can write five times that much. On a really good writing day, I can write ten times that much. 200 words is about a page–and it took me almost three hours to write that page. See how I’m starting to sympathize with my hard-shelled, land-dwelling reptile friends?

But I’m learning that every book has its own personality and its own pace. My first book moved quickly, and I loved it right from the start. My second book moved almost as quickly, but it took me a long time (and lots of revisions) before I loved it. This book, my third, is moving anything but quickly, but the good news is that I love it already. I may not be writing at my usual pace, but the words I’m writing are exciting and fun, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next in this story. I’m finally wrapping up Hilary’s adventures on the High Seas, and while I know I’ll miss all the characters desperately when this book is finished, I’m excited to give them the grand and glorious ending they deserve.

A few items of business: First of all, I’m going on tour with some of my favorite authors! We’ll be in Baltimore tomorrow (Saturday, November 16th) and in Philadelphia on Sunday the 17th and Monday the 18th. Check out my Events page for more details. I lived in both Philadelphia and Baltimore for many years each, and I can’t wait to be back! Even if you can’t make the tour, I hope you’ll read the new books written by the authors I’ll be touring with: Parched by Melanie Crowder, Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick, The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, Genie Wishes by Elisabeth Dahl, Sunny Sweet is So Not Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann, and The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff.

Right after I get back from Philadelphia, I’ll be flying to Miami for the Miami Book Fair. I’ve never been to Miami before, so I’m pretty excited. I hear that everyone there wears bathing suits all day, every day, so I’ll do my best to fit in. Do you think it would be weird to wear swimming goggles to an author panel? Anyway, goggles or not, I’ll be doing some school visits in the Miami area and talking on a panel with my author buddies Jeramey Kraatz (The Cloak Society) and Christopher Krovatin (Gravediggers). The panel is open to the public; it’s on Saturday, November 23rd. I hope you’ll come see us if you’re nearby!

The other utterly thrilling piece of news is that Magic Marks the Spot was reviewed in last Sunday’s New York Times book review section! I love the Times and grew up with parents who read the book review section every Sunday, so it’s hard for me to imagine a bigger honor than this. You can read the review here if you’d like. It’s part of a larger children’s book review section which includes great coverage of lots of other books that I’m now dying to read.

I may not get too many more words written while I’m traveling around the country, but I’m looking forward to coming out of my tortoise shell for a little while to meet readers and see some friends. And I am especially looking forward to having some pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving when my travels are over.

 

Halloween Tips from the VNHLP

If you’re stumped for Halloween costume ideas this year, don’t worry–you can dress as your favorite character from the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates! All you’ll need are a few common household items, a winning smile, and a big sign with your character’s name on it that you can wear around your neck (’cause if your friends haven’t read the book yet, they won’t have a clue who you’re trying to be).

To dress as Hilary, put your hair in a braid and wear big hoop earrings. Carry a bag with a gargoyle’s head poking out. When your neighbors ask if you’d like some candy, say, “A true pirate would never refuse such a generous offer!” Remember to share your loot with the gargoyle.

To dress as the gargoyle, wear grey clothes. Put your hands behind your back and hop around on your knees. When your neighbors ask if you’d like some candy, say, “No thank you, but do you have any spiders?” Encourage people to scratch you behind the ears.

To dress as Miss Greyson, wear a long skirt and a high-necked blouse. Stick a golden crochet hook in your hair. When your neighbors ask if you’d like some candy, turn up your nose and insist on cucumber sandwiches instead. Wonder aloud whether it is entirely practical to wander the streets at night in search of unhealthy foodstuffs.

To dress as Admiral Westfield, wear a blue coat with shiny buttons. Pat your friends on the head and tell them to run along and be good. When your neighbors ask if you’d like some candy, grab the entire bowl and run away while laughing in a villainous manner.

To dress as Claire, wear an itchy gray dress and a green cardigan embroidered with a dancing sheep. Don’t forget to be dramatic. When your neighbors ask if you’d like some candy, avoid the Swedish Fish.

To dress as Jasper Fletcher, wear a big pirate hat. Try your best to look dashing. When your neighbors ask if you’d like some candy, offer to hand their candy out to all the other children in the neighborhood. When everyone’s had their fair share, take whatever’s left and bury it in a hole marked with an X.

To dress as pretty much any other character, carry a big plastic sword and say, “Arr!” a lot.

Notes on a Book Release

As you may have noticed if you’ve come within a thousand miles of me in the past two weeks, MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is officially on sale! I am very happy about this, because now a few more of you will understand what I am talking about when I go on at great length about spider-eating gargoyles. Even more happily, I have been starting to hear from brilliant individuals with excellent taste who’ve been reading the book, or who’ve spotted it on bookstore and library shelves. Thank you all so much for being excited about MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, for reading it, and for recommending it. I hope it makes you laugh at least once!

On sale at Grand Central Station, for goodness' sake!

On sale at NYC’s Grand Central Station, if you can believe it. (I could not.)

So far, the best part of having a book out in the world has been meeting and talking to readers. I’m sure every author thinks she has the nicest, smartest, funniest, best-dressed readers of all, but I am happy to report that the kids and adults I’ve met over the past few weeks have been even nicer, smarter, funnier, and better dressed than most. They’ve asked great questions and made wise observations. They’ve been remarkably talented at talking like a pirate. And they haven’t once made fun of my penguin hat.

VCFA alums at Wellesley Books

Vicious scallywags at Wellesley Books

I started my book-signing adventures at Wellesley Books in Wellesley, MA, and then flew down to Washington, DC, to spend time with amazing readers at Politics & Prose, Hooray for Books!, and Stratford Landing Elementary School. I hadn’t done much public speaking before this month, and I hadn’t been in an elementary school since I was about 11 years old (which was a while ago), but all the kids, booksellers, and teachers made me feel wonderfully welcome, and I had a great time. I also got a chance to catch up with friends and family along the way.

Speaking to a great audience at Politics & Prose

An audience of rapscallions at Politics & Prose

Now I’m home again, working on book 3 in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series. I don’t always love to sit down at my desk and write, but I have to admit it’s been lots of fun to get back to work after spending so much time away from home. I’ll be doing some more traveling throughout the fall (you can check my events page for details), and I’d love to see you and talk about books!

Salty seadogs at Politics & Prose

Salty seadogs at Politics & Prose

Oh, and if you’d like a signed copy of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, you can still order one from my local indie, the Penguin Bookshop. (Just mention in the comments of your order that you’d like your copy signed.) You may also be able to find pre-signed copies at the Penguin or B&N at the Waterfront in Pittsburgh; at Wellesley Books, the Concord Bookshop, Porter Square Books, or the Harvard COOP in Boston; or at Politics & Prose or Hooray for Books! in DC/Alexandria.

Taking Humor Seriously

(originally posted at Through the Tollbooth)

In a fantastic post on the Pippin Properties blog last month, author Kathi Appelt told the story of how she came to write her new, humorous middle grade novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. When a friend encouraged her to write something funny, she says,

“My first reaction was Huh? Why funny? What was significant about funny? And furthermore, could I even write something funny? Besides, who takes funny seriously?”

Now, I’m happy to report that loads of people are taking The True Blue Scouts seriously, and it’s earned a slew of starred reviews. Kathi herself goes on to say in her blog post that she’s glad she didn’t let her early fears of not being taken seriously hold her back from writing the book. But her post struck a chord with me because her fears are so familiar to me. I write funny books (or at least I try to make them funny); am I doomed never to be taken seriously?

I think my fears and Kathi’s come from the widespread cultural assumption that if something is fun, it can’t possibly also be good for you. But I refuse to believe that funny books are the sugary, artificially colored cereals of the literary world; I think humor can be nutritious, and it can help young readers to grow just as strong as more serious offerings can.

Here are just a few of the reasons why I think humor is well worth taking seriously:

  • Humor engages readers. All readers—particularly reluctant young readers—need to find an entrance into a story, a way to connect with the words on the page. For some readers, humor can provide that entrance. Readers who can’t find more serious books that speak to them may be pulled into reading funny books instead. Over the years, I have come to love all sorts of books, including many that are serious and sad, but as a kid, I adored funny books more than anything; they were the books that made me a lifelong reader.
  • Humor can facilitate social critique. In books for children, writing about social and political issues runs the risk of coming off as didactic, overly earnest, or dry. But humor lets writers comment on these same issues from a slantwise perspective. Through parody and satire, writers can make serious points in a fresh and clever way. (Take, for example, the pointless and never-ending “caucus race” in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Then live through an American election cycle, and compare and contrast!) Because humor takes a bit of the edge off of tough or controversial issues, it can allow us to delve more deeply into those issues than we might be able to in a serious book.
  • Humor can give you a new way of looking at everyday things. One way of crafting a good joke is to examine a normal, commonplace object or situation from a different angle. One of my favorite examples of this comes from the late, great comedian Mitch Hedberg, who said, “An escalator can never break—it can only become stairs.” When you read a lot of humor, you start to look for the little bits of hilarity all around you; you start to think more critically and imagine more freely.
  • Humor makes people happy. And ultimately, I can’t think of anything better than that.

Signed Copies

I’m very excited that my great local independent bookstore, the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, PA, will be selling signed copies of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. You’ll be able to find the book in the store, but if you don’t live nearby, you can order a copy from their website and I’ll sign it for you! Thanks to everyone at the Penguin who is doing the tough, wonderful work of running a small store and providing great reads to the community.