Confession: Every time I read a review, both from trade magazines and readers, my heart hammers so hard I can't breathe. It is exactly how I felt watching my children climb the steps to the school bus on the first day of kindergarten.
If the review is good, I experience the same joyful my-baby-is-fine feeling as when my girl skipped down those same steps at the end of her first day, face shining with pride at her own independence. Look! She can carry herself into the world.
If the review isn't so good, well, that feels a lot like when my boy finished his first day of kindergarten.
Here's what happened. I spotted him in his bench seat as the bus rolled down our road, saw his face split with a grin as he spied us waiting for him at the end of the driveway, watched him stand and wave as he made his way to the bus aisle and then ... cried out with him as the bus continued right past us.
I chased that bus two blocks, jumping over decorative boulders (they're a thing) and dodging mailboxes, waving my arms like a crazy woman, screaming, "Stop! Stop! Stop!" until the bus finally did, in fact, stop, and my sobbing boy stumbled out from behind the folding doors and into my arms.
The thing is, I can't really do that with not-so-nice reviews. I mean, inside I sort of do. But outside, I just nod, try to learn from what was said and move on. (Mostly.)
Thankfully, I've only had a few negative reviews.
And reviews are starting to trickle in for A Blind Guide to Stinkville.
This Goodreads review makes me so blissfully happy that I've read it three times this morning.
My favorite part is: "Lots of great discussion about what it means to have a disability and what it means to be successful. This story was endearing and and wonderful. I can't wait to share it with others."
Publishers Weekly also read A Blind Guide to Stinkville. "Using a lively first-person narrative, Vrabel (Pack of Dorks) presents a rare glimpse of what it is like to navigate new territory while legally blind. Alice’s road isn’t always an easy one, but her journey will be inspiring to readers, especially those who have struggled with a disability."
My baby is just fine.
This is my daughter’s idea of light reading to bring along to the pool.
I remember toting Tuck Everlasting with me wherever I went when I was about twelve. It was a better, bigger-kid version of a lovie or security blanket toddlers lug around. I could open any page and dive right in as the story rippled around me.
What’s your go-to, feel-good book?
Once again, my daughter is taking over the blog.
This time, Emma is reviewing an advance reader copy of Amanda Flower's latest addition to her Andi Bogg's series, ANDI UNSTOPPABLE! The middle grade book releases (from Zonderkidz) the same day that A Blind Guide to Stinkville hits shelves, October 6. I'm thrilled to share a book birthday with my talented friend!
Here is Emma's take on Andi's latest adventure:
When I first looked at the back of Amanda Flower’s latest Andi Boggs novel, “Andi Unstoppable,” I must admit I was hesitant to begin reading. I just wasn’t sure that birding, a Civil War ghost, and gravesite vandalism could all intertwine.
However, in reading the book, I was very pleasantly surprised. Amanda Flower has managed to create a story out of several unlikely elements. Her ability to connect so many stories while continuing to stop the book from becoming confusing really is amazing. Seriously, how the heck do you manage to incorporate a search for a rare bird and a ghost story into one book? In addition to ghosts, birding, and vandalism, Amanda Flower also includes friendship drama and the always-present themes of the series: historical legends and Andi coping with the death of her parents.
I was particularly impressed with the conclusion of “Andi Unstoppable.” Throughout the book, most of the time I was pretty convinced that I knew what was going on, and of course how the novel would wrap up. But, yet again, Amanda Flower shows she is one step ahead of her readers. While reading the last few chapters of the book, I did a double take. I was shocked that my predictions were so off! The ending of this book was one I definitely had not anticipated, and was very well written.
Lastly, I always love the authenticity of Amanda Flower’s plot and characters. Nothing about any of her books is cookie cutter, which I very much appreciate. In modern middle grade writing, so many ideas are overused to the point where with some books, I just want to scream at the author to write their story, not just a summary of everyone else’s!
Whenever I read one of Amanda Flower’s books, I am refreshed at her new characters and ideas. Andi’s voice as she narrates these books is sarcastic, smart, mischievous, and compassionate all rolled into one. She’s real and authentic, with her share of flaws and strengths, and she is relatable to readers, even as the situations she goes through are not.
If you’re looking for a middle grade small-town mystery wrought with humor and kindness, or just a good book overall, it is worth your while to pick up “Andi Unstoppable.”
Check out Emma's other reviews here:
Kirkus Reviews has taken a look at A Blind Guide to Stinkville. I'm thrilled with the review, especially this comment:
"Most commendable is Vrabel's focus on compromise and culture shock. Disorientation encompasses not only place and attitude, but also the rarely explored ambivalence of being disabled on a spectrum."
Some reviews for A Blind Guide to Stinkville are beginning to trickle in, even though the book doesn't hit shelves until October.
Check out some Goodreads reviews:
Angela wrote: "I am SO IMPRESSED with Vrabel’s consistent pace and even-keeled writing. Alice could be barely holding it together, or the girl in the library could have just revealed something astonishing, or a new friend could be just as mean as the old friend just was… and Vrabel writes it all very matter-of-factly, like none of these things are the end of the world. No melodrama, here. No way. And that’s totally refreshing in a world of melodramatic teenagers and melodramatic teenage books."
And later, when she added, "Oh, and that Blind Guide that Alice wrote? Stories within a story are brilliant, Beth Vrabel. Add me to your fan club." THE BLUSHING WAS REAL, PEOPLE!
Ms. Yingling, another Goodreads reviewer, wrote: "This was a hopeful book about a middle grade student managing her diverse abilities with a small but devoted support system. Alice feels sorry for herself sometimes, like all middle grade students do, but also wants to show her parents how she can take care of herself. The community is vibrantly drawn and the setting adds a lot to the story."
Mrs. McGuire adds: "There's a lot going on in this excellent middle grade choice. Alice is struggling with many things in her life: albinism, blindness, a new home, a here-but-not-really mother, plus all the really lousy parts of being a teen."
And Mark notes: "The story is a good example that people are blind to many things. Alice realizes she's not as blind as she thinks."
Thank you so much for these early reviews of A Blind Guide to Stinkville! I can't wait for the book to be in more readers' hands.
To help celebrate, SkyPony is giving away ten copies of Pack of Dorks, now available in paperback! Enter here, and good luck! The paperback version includes a Q & A with me and the first chapter of A Blind Guide to Stinkville!
My son's Little League team had a tough game today. Coach told them two important things: First, that he's proud of them. Second, that you learn just as much from losses as you do wins. Maybe more. The important thing is going into the next game ready to play ball.
Boy, does that ring true in this publishing business fraught with rejection. Many of you know that PACK OF DORKS is my first published book, but not the first manuscript I've written. And here's the truth: I'm grateful my first manuscript didn't make it onto shelves. It wasn't--I wasn't--ready. I learned much from the rejections and advice from seasoned players in the publishing game. That doesn't mean, of course, that the losses there didn't sting. They did. A lot. I still feel the burn of those rejections. I feel them even more, a pricking pain under a scar, as I wait for the early reviews of my next turn up at bat--A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE.
But tonight, as he prepped for bed, my son didn't talk about the losing the game. He buzzed about the teammate who scored a home run, and how the whole team ran out to meet him on home plate.
And, though I'm biting my nails waiting to hear what readers think of the advance reader copies of A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE, I'm going to focus instead on the good that has already happened. Today, I met a girl who told me with a sweet smile that she really liked PACK OF DORKS. (Gotta say, I try to play it cool when things like that happen, but it makes my heart flutter every time. I've never scored a homerun--never even made it to base--in a real baseball game, but I've got to think moments like that feel a lot like that moment.)
My friend and fellow writer Jessica and I recently formed a writing club with second- and third-grade writers. Right from the start, our hour together is the highlight of my week. They're funny, kind, supportive and astonishingly talented.
This week, we talked a lot about description, and how important it is to go beyond what you see in creating a story for readers. In A Blind Guide to Stinkville, the main character, Alice, is blind. I learned a lot about relying on my other senses to share her experience. T
he authors in my writing club are naturals, which they proved when we challenged them to describe red without using that word or their vision. Some of their thoughts: Red tastes like cherries and spice; it feels like embarrassment; it smells like strawberries, it sounds like sirens. Isn't that amazing?
Your turn! Describe "blue."
Yesterday was amazing.
I met the most incredible group of young readers and aspiring writers at Wyomissing Public Library in Wyomissing, Pa.
The After School Club has been reading and discussing Pack of Dorks for weeks and invited me to meet with them during their last meeting. Can you imagine how my writer heart swelled as they talked about Lucy, Sam and the Pack? Such insightful, enthusiastic observations.
Take, for example, Annie, who summed up the message of the novel in four words: “Be who you are.”
Be who you are.
I love it! (Annie, by the way, also drew the spot-on picture of Grandma on her balcony above. Notice that she even got the sandals right!)
Other observations included that “Wolves made Sam and Lucy friends.”
We talked about other aspects of the book, including the word epiphany, used when Lucy and her mom talk after meeting other families with children who have Down Syndrome.
“She’s not all that different from me, is she?” I said. “Not really, I mean.”
“Sounds like you had an epiphany today. It means you realized something important. You know what? I had the same epiphany.” (Page 197)
One boy, Jack, hoped that someday he’d have an epiphany about which word April shouted out in the cafeteria that got her in so much trouble.
I loved the enthusiasm in the room as we talked about writing, about diversity, about storytelling and about their lives. (They’re in the middle of the dreaded standardized testing week and were pretty jazzed about the bonus recess.) I also, I must say, loved dining on Grandma’s famous peanut butter and Nutella popcorn.
Many thanks to children’s librarian Joie Formando for pulling together such an incredible group and allowing me a chance to participate.
Sometimes my husband will say, “Oh, I had such a bad dream.”
And I’ll sympathize, because I, too, had a bad dream. I have nothing but bad dreams. Because he is a gentleman, he’ll ask me to share my bad dream first.
“Well, one of the children was missing,” I’ll say.
“That is bad.”
“Yes, but when I went to look for him, I heard a baby crying. I went into our basement, only it wasn’t our basement. It was cold and dark and full of cement. Cement walls, cement floors, even a dark cement ceiling. And there in the middle was a baby. Somehow we had a baby and forgot about her. There she was, left alone in the basement forever, just waiting for us to find her. And then there was a fire and I started to choke and then I woke up. What was your dream?”
Long pause. “I was late for work.”
My bad dreams are epic, harrowing, terrifying. And they’re pretty much all I have. Either I sleep soundly, no dreams. Or I nightmare. Nuclear disaster, complete with melting faces? Check. Last day of school and realize I never made it to that one class? You bet, but I’m also being chased by a murderous clown and, oh, yeah, totally forgot my locker combo. Paralyzed on the floor as water trickles in, unable to move and about to drown? Yuppers.
I don’t know why this happens to me. I’m a happy person. I don’t (think) I overstress about stuff. *Shrugs.* I’ve just always had crazy bad dreams.
So can you imagine what it was like a couple nights ago when I had an honest-to-goodness great dream? I was going for a stroll on a beautiful tree-lined street. Out of nowhere, this little Shetland pony pranced (I mean it! Pranced!) up to me. She was shaggy and brown and had huge round eyes. She wanted me to be her friend. So I took her reins and we walked together. Okay, skipped. Did I mention? I was eight years old again.
It was glorious and amazing.
And then I woke up, quick as if someone had poked me in the forehead.
Because my son was poking me in the forehead. “I’m thirsty.”
For a second, I was mournful. My first good dream! Ever! For a glass of water? Seriously!
But by the time I had tucked him back to his own peaceful slumber, I realized he had probably done me a giant favor. Because I’m pretty sure that Shetland Pony was about to turn on me. It was looking a little bitey.
What's the craziest dream you've ever had?
My daughter is big on making lists.
We just got back from an amazing vacation to Disney World and Universal, and every night, she’d ask the same question: “What was your favorite (fill in the blank)?”
Maybe it was rides, shows, dinners, desserts, parks or even mode of transportation.
I’ve got to admit, there were a couple times when I said, “Enough with the lists! Let’s just enjoy the moment!”
But, inevitably, we’d get right back to ranking our days.
The funny thing is, none of our answers were the same. Her favorite roller coaster? Dragon Challenge at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Go Hungarian Horntail!). My son’s? Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, Disney World. Mr. Vrabel? Space Mountain in Epcot. Mine? Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios, Disney World.
She couldn’t get enough of the high-speed rides. I loved the 3-D shows. My husband loved the service provided at the different parks. And my son? After a particularly rough New England winter, he was all about the sunshine and swimming pools.
Each of us had spectacular vacations, but for vastly different reasons.
I think that’s a lot of how we read books, too. Some of us love characters. Or maybe the author’s voice. For others, it’s all about that plot, ‘bout that plot, no … never mind. We each get something different out of the same piece of literature. But with a little imagination, everyone experiences something magical.
What hooks you as a reader?
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with some third-graders in my hometown. They asked amazing, wonderful questions. One that threw me for a loop, however, was, “Why Henry?”
A boy, who happened to be named Henry, wanted to know why one of the not-so-nice guys in PACK OF DORKS was named Henry.
As I paused to think about it, I realized that what I was currently writing also had a Henry. And one of the first books I ever wrote (and which was, frankly, terrible awfulness that I shouldn’t have subjected to anyone) had a Henry in it, too. I felt a little lame admitting it, but I just told him, “I really like the name Henry.” And it’s true. I do. It’s a cool name.
I’m currently reading TUCK EVERLASTING, one of my all-time favorite books, to my son. We’re digging into the storyline, wondering what we would do if we could live forever, why Tuck believes this is a curse and Jesse a blessing, and what lengths we would take to protect the spring.
*Break to sigh over Natalie Babbit’s awesomeness.*
TUCK EVERLASTING was my fifth-grade teacher’s read-aloud book. Mrs. Deaner had the most amazing reading. I never failed to fall deeply into whatever she read. Even better were the depths we’d dive into when discussing the books she read to us.
For TUCK EVERLASTING, many of those discussions involved Babbit’s use of names. Did she just randomly pick names that she happened to like, or, in this novel of sparse but important words, were the names themselves symbols?
The more I thought about the names, the more my little mind was blown by Babbit’s wordsmithing. (I know, I made that word up. I do that sometimes.)
The Stranger was all the more frightening because he was not named. He was the unknown, the scary what-if that the Tucks—and then the reader—fretted over.
And maybe Mae was too permissive (in a “Mother, may I?” manner). But at the same time, she was as constant as the month of May’s flowers, and just as full of promise and hope, despite the coming decay around her.
Tuck, her husband, buries his fears and pushes down his dreams so as to better handle this “curse” upon his children and spouse.
And Winnie Foster? She and her family have unknowingly cared for, or fostered, the secret of the wood for generations.
*Another moment to bask in Babbit’s genius.*
So I’ve been hard at work (aka eating sugar, downing coffee and relentless checking Facebook) plotting and drafting a new book. This one focuses on a character introduced in A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE (check it out! It has its own Amazon page already! Squee!). I love the ideas swimming through my head for this book, and can’t wait to launch into the writing.
But first I have to figure out the basic details. First up, naming these characters!
That’s where you come in, patient and loving readers. Some names I know I’m going to pack with power and symbolism. I’m going to need more sugar and coffee and time to come up with those. Maybe even some Cheez-its.
But there are lots of other characters in mind with names like “floppy hair boy in the back of the class” and “gross ear-wax-eating girl* in second row.” Then there’s “cute girl on the bus,” “homely girl who loves to quilt” and “tough boy with dollbaby eyelashes.” These guys need actual names.
So hit me with them. Here’s your chance to choose a name for a future book. Got a favorite name? Want to see it in a book? Put it in the comments below!
I’ve started and restarted this blog entry about a dozen times. But, for maybe the first time in my life, words have failed me.
Nothing can properly sum up how incredible the past few days have been for me.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet with young writers in my hometown, including third-grade students at York Catholic school, and second- and third-grade students at Paradise Elementary School in my hometown.
The cherry on top was sharing the first chapter of PACK OF DORKS and signing copies of the book at Glatfelter Library. Can you imagine? This is the same library that I would go to each week as a child, filling up a tote bag with Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary books, entering short story contests and dreaming about someday having my name on a cover. This feeling I’m having? While I can’t do it justice in words, it’s one I hope everyone has a chance to experience during their lives. Because it totally rocks.
Thank you to everyone who stopped by. It means so much to me.
I loved answering young writers’ questions about writing, being an author and journalist, and going through the publishing process.
And check it out! Mrs. Gross’ third-grade class also wrote reviews for PACK OF DORKS! I promised I’d post their comments on my website (which led to a lot of “We’re going to be famous!” cheering). So here you go, Mrs. Gross’ class!
From Jacob: “I love Pack of Dorks because it was funny cool and outstanding. Also, at the end, there was a twis(t). … The Pack of Dorks and Lucy were going to let Becky be in their group. Or will they?”
From Zoey: “I feel that the book makes me happy because I think I would give this book a five star rating because I like this book. It was remarkable! … It is a good story about Lucy and Sam doing gymnastics and karate.”
From Austin: “I loved the book through all the sereios (sic) and funny parts. My favorite part is when Becky asks for a chance with Lucy.”
From Kristen: “My class read the book Pack of Dorks. I think it is a wonderful book! I would give it 5 stars because the author used remarkable words like magnificent, and she also had a lot of funny parts in the book.”
From Piper: “My best part in Pack of Dorks was the end when everyone got together and become a Pack of Dorks. Beth Vrabel, you’re the best author I know!”
From Evan: “I think Beth Vrabel did a good job with having good words in it and having ending marks. ... I like it as good as the I Survived books.”
From Jayden: “The funniest part was when Lucy split her skirt. How did Beth Vrabel come up with this stuff? Pack of Dorks is the funniest, I mean funniest, book I ever read!”
From Cameron: “I think that the book Pack of Dorks is a 5 star book because I like the funny parts. I hope she makes a second book with the same characters in it.”
*Don’t worry, Cameron! DORKS IN LOVE will come out in Spring 2016!
From McKenzie: “My favorite part of this book is that Lucy cares about her friend Sam, and always sticks up for him.”
From Adam: “I funniest part of the book was when Lucy started taking karate and she really didn’t want to. I think Beth Vrabel did a good job of expressing the characters and making pictures in the reader’s head.”
From Reagan: “I read the book Pack of Dorks and loved it because of the humor, friendship and characters.”
From Bryan: “I really liked how the author wrote at the end of the story how they made a pack.”
From Valerie: “At the end of each chapter, she kept us hanging and we wanted to read more. When we finished the book, we wished we had just started.”
From Logan: “I would give it 5 stars because in the end of the story, Lucy and Sam made a Pack.”
From Henry: “Pack of Dorks is good example of how kids can bully and what you should do about it. My favorite part was when Lucy and Sam got a predator (like a wolf) for their report.”
From Leah: “I thought it was excellent because the author put many details.”
From Blake: “I love Pack of Dorks because it’s entertaining and makes me happy in bad times.”
From Ainsley: “I liked when Lucy and Sam went to the wolf sanctuary and learned about wolves for their project.”
From Saige: “If you read it, you might not want to put it down.”
From Wyatt: “I liked the story because it was funny and cool. But what I didn’t like was the yucky kissing.”
*Note to Wyatt: I promise, no kissing in DORKS IN LOVE!*
From Ashlyn: “I love this book because I think it is cool that Lucy cares about her friends.”
From Luke: “I like when Sam does flips because it is cool.”
When I was 10 years old, I won second place in a short story contest at my hometown library.
One week from now, the same library is hosting my book signing.
*Pause to contemplate the awesomeness of life.*
If you’re in York County, Pa., I’d love to see you! I will be signing copies of PACK OF DORKS 11 a.m. Jan. 10 at Glatfelter Library.
I’m even more excited to meet with the Young Writers Club 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8. Maybe someday they’ll be able to say “When I was 10 years old, I met with an author at my local library. Twenty-five years later, I’m meeting with young writers there.”
I also have the incredible opportunity to meet with second- and third-grade writers at an elementary school in my hometown. I cannot wait to talk with them … and maybe embarrass my niece and nephew, who attend the same school.
What an incredible way to kick off what is sure to be an amazing year! THE BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE releases this fall, and DORKS IN LOVE (the next book in the PACK OF DORKS series) will be on bookshelves in Spring 2016.
In the meantime, I’m pushing myself as a writer and taking on some exciting projects. I’ll let you know more about these as soon as I can!
Check out this announcement from Publisher’s Marketplace:
Beth Vrabel's THE BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE, in which a blind girl with albinism advocates for her future and faces her mother's depression by digging into her paper mill town's past, featuring a farting guide dog poser and a nippy albino squirrel, again to Julie Matysik at Sky Pony Press, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2015 (corrected), by Nicole Resciniti at The Seymour Agency.
I cannot wait to share this story with you! I love Alice and hope you will, too.
Friends and family will be quick to point out the from-life aspects, as I, too, grew up in a paper mill town and, while not visually impaired myself, I know quite a bit about visual impairments.
Here’s a bit more about the upcoming middle-grade book:
THE BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE
Life in Sinkville stinks.
Even worse than the putrid stench pouring from the town paper mill is newcomer Alice’s life since moving to the little South Carolina town. Here, Alice’s blindness and albinism stand out so much that her ancient Shih Tzu, Tooter, is mistaken for a Seeing Eye Dog.
Before Stinkville, Alice, age 12, didn’t think albinism—or the blindness that goes with it—was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. And life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville.
At home, Mom’s depression clouds everything, and Dad is barely around. Big brother James plots to make Alice and her blindness the ticket back out of town. As soon as he can show Mom and Dad that Alice can’t cut it on her own in sunny South Carolina, the sooner they’ll be back in Seattle.
But when her parents check into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She’s going to show them—and herself—that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Sinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town’s stories and write the essay by herself.
The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time.
A Blind Guide to Stinkville is a contemporary middle grade novel.
I worked with a group of young writers yesterday, focusing on developing believable, unique characters.
We started off talking about characters in our favorite books. Percy Jackson, Ron Weasley, Melody Brooks, Garfield the cat were among some mentioned. I loved how different these beloved characters were from each other. Even cooler was the way the students described them. They could’ve been describing their best friends.
After that, we moved on to creating our own characters. We used a list of attributes and a questionnaire to get to know our characters, and we talked a lot about how to show and not tell those traits. Pretty soon, the students were describing their own characters just as intimately.
I loved listening in as they sketched out their characters. “She’s pretty,” I said about one’s drawing. “Love the posh clothes.”
“Yeah,” the student said. “But she’s not very nice. She’s sort of a mean girl. Right now, anyway.”
To another, I said, “I like her style.”
“She doesn’t let other people decide what she wears or does. Other kids call her weird, but she’s a great artist,” the student said. “The only thing she’s scared of is heights.”
I think it might be one of the coolest part of being a writer, when these figments of your imagination take shape and grow. Ask my poor, patient daughter who comes home every afternoon right as I'm finishing that day's writing. "How's Noah?" she'll ask, naming the protag of my work in progress (WIP).
"He's struggling right now," I might say, and then blab on for about a half-hour.
I know a lot of writers start of with a plot device. Their stories are seeded in the idea of the plot and the characters come from that.
I'm the opposite. First I think of a character. Over the course of weeks or even months, I think about that "person," what makes him tick and how he'd react to different situations. And then I (hopefully) find my plot.
But everything hinges on the character.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with my son that morning.
"Who's your favorite character in Pack of Dorks'?" asked my 8-year-old son.
"Will he be in your other 'Dork' books?"
"I think so."
Long pause. "You write them. Isn't it up to you?"
But the thing is, I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen to these characters I love so much. I have an idea, of course, but they tend to surprise me. They make their own decisions and, too often, their own mistakes. They surprise me all the time.
In my WIP, I recently ended up writing a scene I never saw coming. I know! That sounds absolutely insane, right? But I was planning one set of actions to transpire and out of no where, another character barges it. The scene ended up being pivotal: Suddenly the motivation for everything else the characters have done up until that point is cystalized. The WIP wouldn't work without the scene that I never planned to happen.
And that's, for me, when a project actually starts to feel like a story. The characters tell their own stories.
So you tell me, who's your favorite character?
And writers, are you plot driven or character driven?
I'll be signing copies of PACK OF DORKS 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at Barnes & Noble in Canton, CT, as part of the Holiday Book Fair!
It's a fun night, including storytelling by Canton's fantastic teachers, a talent show by students and amazing musical performances.
Can't wait to see you there! For now, I'm off to work on my drawing off that origami wolf (people (*ahem, Emma*) have said it looks more like a pointy-toed llama.
When I was little, I had this recurring fantasy that I’d wake up one morning and be awesome at gymnastics.
I’d be able to do back handsprings into front handsprings and then a twisty thing and finish with a kick that sent my foot up past my ear.
The fact that I had never taken a gymnastics lesson had absolutely no bearing on my belief that one day—any day—this awesomeness would kick in.
I knew exactly what I’d do: At recess, I’d head out to the blacktop like it was any other day. While everyone else clamored to the monkey bars or the slide line, I’d casually stretch a little and then—BAM!—go Mary Lou Retton on their butts.
Everyone would gather round. Mouths would drop. And then—cheering that could be heard for miles. I’d be hoisted onto the fourth-graders’ shoulders (I was in second grade when this fantasy began). The gym teacher would beg me to lead class for the remainder of the year.
“Not one lesson?” he’d ask as I humbly shrugged in front of my minions.
Sadly, this never happened.
(I was able to work in an awesome gymnastics scene into PACK OF DORKS, but it didn’t work out nearly as well for the character involved.)
The closest I came to this was teaching myself how to do a cartwheel. To be considered for the cheerleading team in second grade, each girl had to perform a cartwheel during try-outs. I could barely handle a somersault.
For weeks prior, I sadly sat around and thought about cartwheels and the shame that would befall my family if I were the only daughter not accepted on the cheerleading squad. (I was prone to dramatics.) This wallowing was in lieu of actually attempting cartwheels.
The day of the try-outs, Mom woke me up before heading to work and said if I didn’t know how to do a cartwheel by the time she got home, we’d skip going all together. “So maybe you could practice?” she suggested.
I headed to the basement and did a hands-on-the-floor-legs-spasm-half-jump thing. “This is never going to work,” I told myself. “I am the worst cartwheeler in the world.”
This allowed me to luxuriate in the idea that I’d fall and break my shoulder attempting to do a cartwheel. The cheerleading judges would be so heartbroken over their cruel and unnecessary standards and instantly accept me onto the team, where I’d top each pyramid since my weakened shoulder would allow no other position.
After a few more minutes, I tried again, this time keeping my legs a little stiffer. And fell into a heap. “I can’t even do a stupid cartwheel. Everyone else can, but I can’t even do this. I’m so stupid!”
More hateful fantasies, this time involving the judges laughing at me.
Another attempt. Sprained fingers. Hollow heart.
Filled with anger, I tried again. This time, when I tried to wallow, a little voice whispered that I did have some decent speed that time. Instead of hating myself, I thought, “Maybe if I kept my arms stiff…”
I tried again, right away before that voice shut up.
Crumpled heap o’ tiny Beth.
I hopped up and tried again. Not awful, that voice whispered.
You can see where this is going, right?
It took a few hours—and a lot of self (har har) cheerleading—but I did a cartwheel. And went to try-outs, where angels sang, light flooded my head from the sky, other second-grade cheerleaders begged for me to be instant captain, and cheerleading judges held up perfect tens.
Actually, that year the judges decided to keep everyone who tried out.
So why I am telling you all of this? I have no idea.
But I’m at this rough part of the story I’m working on. The story isn’t flowing yet, and I feel like one the kindergarteners I work with as I struggle to get the words onto the page, stretching out and doubting each word.
So I’m at this awkward point—a seven-year-old in the basement, crumpling with each cartwheel attempt. I can listen to the voice that tells me I’m stupid and unoriginal and tapped out. Or I can lean into the whisper that’s suggesting tightening up this phrase, adding definition to that character, and just finishing one more page.
Obviously I’m currently listening to the third voice that says “write a babbling blog post to dodge actually continuing writing.”
Have you heard about PACK OF DORKS?
Just kidding, patient and understanding friends. Of course you have! I’ve pretty much been a babbling mess about it for the past year.
Those of you have read PACK OF DORKS, have you heard the book?
Audible released an audio version of the book, and it. Is. AMAZING! (Click here! You can listen to a sample.)
The talented narrator, Cassandra Morris, brings Lucy’s story to life. I know what happens in the story—I was sort of there the whole time—but I still found myself laughing, cringing and cheering Lucy along. (Sidenote: It’s a super strange thing to hear the voice in your head with your ears.)
To get the word out about the audio version of PACK OF DORKS, I’m giving away three free downloads through Audible! Huzzah!
To enter to win your free copy, write a comment below. I’ll count your entry twice if you include a link to a review or rating you’ve given for PACK OF DORKS. That review can be anywhere—a blog, on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, your indie bookstore or anywhere else you’re so inclined. I’ll pick a winner next week.
Congrats to Jessica, Lucky Day and Jennifer!
I counted commenters on Facebook and on this site in a drawing for an Audible download of Pack of Dorks. I'll email you the codes!
Holy Lollipop Farts!
I'm overwhlemed with the love and attention friends, family and readers are showering on PACK OF DORKS!
Check out this amazing Q&A about PACK OF DORKS in The Huffington Post! Journalist Mary Pauline Lowry calls it "pitch perfect."
*Grins!* (While you're at it, check out Lowry's incredible new release WILDFIRE! We share a book birthday.)
I also love this review by El Extrano Gato del Cuento. Viva Manada de raritos!
Right now, I'm listening to the amazing Audible version. Check out a sample here. The talented narrator, Cassandra Morris, is a spot-on Lucy. Believe me, I know what happens in the story. But I'm still listening away as it comes alive in a whole new way for me.
Stay tuned! I'm planning a giveaway of audio books!