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.

Pie, Sneak Peeks, and Giveaways

I’m sitting at my computer and eating pie for lunch, which is a completely appropriate thing to do when it’s the day after Independence Day and you still have seventy-five percent of a homemade pie sitting in your refrigerator. In such a situation, eating pie for every meal is both responsible and practical. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

This piece of pie may be one of the most exciting things in my life right now, but some other exciting things have been happening too. MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT’s publication date is only 2 months away, and the final files have been sent to the printer, which means that it is now too late to fix that giant mistake on page 174 where, for several paragraphs, all of the characters turn into red pandas. (Actually, have you seen a red panda? Those little guys are ridiculously cute. Maybe this wasn’t such a big mistake after all.)

I’ve also nearly finished revising VNHLP book 2 (which does have a title, though I think I’ll hold off on sharing it for a while longer). Here’s a weird fact about the publishing process: Since it can take a year or more between the time when a manuscript is finished and the time when the book is published, authors can often write an entire second book before their first book hits the shelves. By the time MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is released, I’ll be working on copyedits for book 2 and starting to write book 3. In other words, I’m already planning the end of this trilogy when almost no one has gotten a chance to read the beginning of it yet. Weird, right?

So I thought I’d catch you up by sharing a sneak peek of a few things you can expect to see over the course of the books.

In MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, you will find:

  • an enormous carpetbag filled with cucumber sandwiches
  • unscrupulous gentlemen traveling on a train
  • a cabin boy dressed up as a beet
  • a pirate wearing a feather boa
  • plenty of sheep dancing the hornpipe
  • a picture postcard of some grumpy Victorian children on vacation
  • more hidden pirate treasure than you can shake a stick at
  • and a gargoyle who is fond of Shakespeare but really prefers Keats.

In VNHLP book 2, you will find:

  • the memoirs of a gargoyle
  • a floating bookshop and magic dispensary
  • a rather aggressive flying harpsichord
  • an enchanted cutlass
  • an explanation (finally) for all of those dancing sheep
  • far too many explosions
  • the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom
  • a secretive group of evildoers
  • and a pirate who prepares his chocolate mousse with just a hint of gunpowder.

I haven’t written the third book yet, so I’m not quite sure what you’ll find in it. Maybe you could leave a comment letting me know what you think should be in book 3.

One final piece of business: The fabulous team at Harper Children’s is holding a giveaway of 20 advance copies of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT! You can enter the giveaway through Goodreads.