A series of unusual events

It’s been an interesting few weeks. It started on my birthday when I found out that Junot Diaz curated a list for Audible and recommended The Jumbies. That was a pleasant surprise. A further surprise was when he posted a recommended list of authors on Facebook and tagged me.


Naturally, I said thank you.

Junot response

A couple of weeks later, a friend tagged me on Twitter to say that Winston Duke was spotted reading The Jumbies, and she sent me a couple of photos.

Then my husband found the video on YouTube. (It’s a TMZ clip.)

Duke responded, so I told him about the sequel.

Duke response2

I also got an email recently stating that a civil rights activist who is the subject of my next work of nonfiction (details to come), would be reading my manuscript this week.

Seems like plenty, yeah? Until I got on my flight to Trinidad this morning, on my way to Bocas Lit Fest, and the woman who sat next to me was Anya Ayoung-Chee. We had a brief chat. She’s lovely.

That’s a whole lot of Caribbean (mostly Trinidadian) goodness packed into a short span.

So…it’s been an interesting (and quite unusual, but very enjoyable) few weeks.


A boy and his books

I love to evangelize about books to children. Usually this happens during school visits. I add slides of books I’m excited about in my presentation. And sometimes it happens during signings. But mostly it happens in my house to my children. My daughter is an avid reader, my son is less so. But I keep trying with him. Book by multi-award winning author who also wrote Spider Man? Chapters are too long. This one has an imaginary cat! It’s too sad. Everybody’s talking about this one, and it has Legos on the cover. Nope. Typically, I read aloud to him to get him into the book, and then let him go off on his own to finish. Typically, he abandons the book after a few chapters, then goes back to his old faves: Minecraft How To books or anything by Tom Angleberger. I’m happy he has books he loves but I keep trying to expand that reading palate.

Back in May when Laura Ruby’s YORK came out, my mother, who was staying with us at the time, started reading it. The following week I was at the Queens Book Festival and a kid came to my signing line with his mom. She had a copy of THE JUMBIES clutched in her hand. “She’s right there! She’ll sign the book for you! I’m going to get it. You’re going to like it!” she declared. The kid was not biting. So I asked him what he was interested in. He liked puzzles and games. I mentioned that Karuna Riazi was somewhere around, signing THE GAUNTLET. And then I told him about YORK, which my mother had finished and could not stop talking about. I wrote down the titles so that he could go find those and read them. He was thrilled.

A few days ago I had the chance to start YORK, got a few chapters in and then decided to start over, reading it aloud to my son. Once again, he didn’t seem to be paying attention. But last night, he told me that he was making a puzzle like the Morningstarrs for his sister to solve. He was inspired, he said. I asked if he was ready for me to read some more to him. He said, okay. In the language of this particular eleven year old boy, this is the highest of praise.

Kate Messner’s THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME is next up. The geocaching adventure that Zig undertakes–and that gets him into trouble–might interest my adventure-loving boy. I finished it last week and loved it. But as I’ve learned, what I love and what he loves is often very different. I’ll keep trying, though. Everyone doesn’t have to love every read. There are books out there for every reader even if it takes some searching.

Related: if anyone is interested in slightly-read but otherwise brand new books, let me know. My kid has a pile in his room. They’re all great. Someone out there is going to love them.


On launch day for The Jumbies, I’d like to thank…

Jumbies cover small-gifMy mother, who totally believed me when I said I was going to grow up and be a writer at the wise old age of 3, and whose unwavering support is just the most amazing thing I can ever imagine. I have no words for how grateful I am.

My father, who proofreads and gives notes, even while I’m eating. Even when I just get off the plane. Even if I’m like Dad, I’m asleep! Also, he will take me out for doubles and coconut water as soon as my foot touches T’dad soil.

My husband, who has to deal with all my emotional stuff (somebody give that guy a hug) and who is always positive about what will happen next, and who stocked up on my favorite candy bar so I would never run out, and who does so many little and amazing things, that I cannot possibly list them all.

My daughter, who gives the best hugs, and thinks it’s cool that I write, and is very curious about what I’m working on, but has become a very good literary critic, and is not afraid to give her opinion.

My son, who has declared I am his favorite author even though I don’t write about origami yodas and there are not enough battles in my books.

me elise marieMy agent, Marie Lamba (right), who believed in this story and in me, and gives really good advice, and excellent notes, and is really fun to hang out with, and can hold her liquor.

My editor, Elise Howard (left), who is so sharp and insightful and awesome, I can’t even believe she liked this book enough to buy it.

My editor, Emily Parliman, who loved this book from the beginning, and believed in my ability to make it excellent down to the very last word. She also wrote an excellent teacher’s guide.

The marketing/publicity team at Algonquin YR who were really behind this book and wanted to include my ideas in making it a success including Craig Popelars, Lauren Mosely, Kelly Bowen, Emma Bowen, Emma Boyer, Debra Linn, Michael Rockliff, Krestyna Lypen…

…and especially Eileen Lawrence, who is so much fun, and looks out for me, and retweets/favorites EVERYTHING! And Brooke Csuka, who basically pimped me out to every event this spring, and who has helped to generate so much buzz about this book, I am literally floored. I mean, Essence magazine? You guys!

Brunson Hoole, who reviewed page proofs and has most likely kept me from making a fool of myself (and is probably cringing at the grammar and mechanics errors in this thank you note).

Jumbies_cover_v2Vivienne To, who did the artwork for the cover, which is haunting and beautiful and exciting all at once.

Carla Wiese, who did the jacket design, which is fantastic not least because that font is pretty much perfect.

Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, who saw a very early, and very rough draft, and gave notes, and were encouraging, and have been great friends throughout this journey.

Karen Halpenny, who read a later draft, and had excellent notes as well, and who also brings me cookies, and hot chocolate, and bike locks.

@moonb2 who read and enjoyed The Jumbies, and was one of the first people who reached out to me about it online.

@mrschureads who made The Jumbies first ever Vine! And wore a Jumbies sticker on his shirt to school one day.

Summer Edward who has supported my work through Anansasem and who got me in a twitter chat with one of my favorite ever Trini authors, Lynn Joseph!

Laura Pegram of Kweli journal, who along with Aurora Anaya-Cerda are hosting one of The Jumbies launch parties at La Casa Azul this Thursday

Everyone at Watchung Booksellers for hosting the first launch party today and for being supportive since my first novel, Angel’s Grace.

swag picMary White of Mary White Studios who made the douen dolls that I’ll be giving away today and Thursday, and the reading owls with the covers of both my books on them.

Janel Livingston, who assisted me professionally this spring, and helped ordering swag, reaching out to schools and bloggers, doing all the episodes of the jumbies video field guide, and basically doing all the things I just didn’t have time for.

The cutie pies in the video field guides: Alyssa, Adam, Junior, Maciré, Kevin, Khephren, and Kobie, and their moms Tricia, and Natasha.

All the SJC women, the MMH Krewe, and my local librarians (including Arlene Saharaie and the entire BooksNJ team) for your friendship and support.

JLG sticker pinThe Junior Library Guild for honoring The Jumbies as a Junior Library Guild Selection. I will wear that pin everywhere!

And of course, all the kids who are reading and enjoying The Jumbies.

I am surely forgetting some other people, who I hope will forgive me.

Thanks all. You can go back to reading now.

kid reading jumbies

An ever-changing process

Writers are asked about how they work all the time. Probably because writing’s such a struggle for all of us, we look wherever we can to learn better ways to get things done, to motivate ourselves, and produce better stories. Every time I’m asked that question, I answer differently, because every time I start a new project, I have a new process.

AngelsGraceMy debut, Angel’s Grace was written longhand in a black marble notebook on my commute to and from the city. Once I had enough of it written down, I switched to my laptop.

While writing Losing Faith (still unpublished, and probably always will be) I rewrote the entire manuscript from scratch after I had completed several revisions. Actually, I was forced into this method after I lost all of the files. I recovered from the horror of it all by remembering that Gabriel Garcia Marquez once lost his notebooks for a story and had to rewrite it, and when he found the original notes, the stories were pretty much the same.

My new middle grade, The Jumbies, is inspired by a Haitian folktale and went through several plot versions, none with any method, outline, or specific plan. Almost every time I restarted with a new plotline, I did so without looking at previous versions. I just kept starting over until one of them stuck.

Every picture book plot I’ve written has come into my head fully-formed, then I spend months or years fiddling with the language. As yet, none of these have been published either, but I have high hopes for the last two. In both of those cases, I made dummy outlines so that I can see how the book lays out, and concentrate on the all-important page turn.

The new outline

The new outline

True to form, my new story (still untitled) has it’s own process. I’m outlining it on a long sheet of craft paper. I had specific plot points (hi/low points) that I wanted to hit, and I wrote chunks of notes to correspond to each one. Over the last few weeks, I’ve gone back in to doodle and add snippets of ideas. My daughter read the outline and gave me a drawing of the opening scene as my mother’s day gift. She also wrote me a note with an offer of help.

This time, I really feel I’m on to something. Not just because I love how the story is coming together, or that my 11 year old thinks it’s great, but because I’m a visual thinker, and I don’t know why I haven’t tried this before. So maybe this is my process. Of course if history is any indication, the next time it’ll be something else again.

Selfie, w/ outline

Selfie, with outline