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I've Been a Big, Fat Liar

Seventh Level paperback





I would like to think I’ve always tried to be as truthful and as noble as George Washington in the cherry tree parable.

Chances are, while I would have not chopped down a cherry tree – for starters, we didn’t own an axe; and oh, we didn’t have a cherry tree – I’m also no saint. I’ve told my share of white lies. I mean I had to; I’m a pleaser. I hated getting into trouble or even give someone reason to look at me ... well, that way.

So if I’d done something I shouldn’t have, I would have been one of those kids who tried to create a plausible excuse out of the weakest of circumstances.
“Did you eat the last cookie?”
“That was the *last* cookie? Aren’t there more cookies?”
You know, that type of thing.

So it pains me to have lied so egregiously over the past few years. Time and time and time again. In fairness to myself, I suppose I shouldn’t count those times when I spoke the truth as I knew it in the moment. Still, after talking to thousands and thousands of kids and telling them, “No, there will not be a sequel to The Gollywhopper Games,” I need to eat my words.

But they are delicious. The wonderful Greenwillow Books has given me the green light to write a Gollywhopper 2 and a Gollywhopper 3.


It’s daunting to try and write two more books that will live up to the expectations of all those kids I’ve spoken with and those who have sent me so many letters and emails and those who silently rooted for their choice of contestant in the first book. But I am up for the challenge.

Going Back and Loving It

Seventh Level paperback
I am very, very deep in writing mode. First draft. That means I don’t read much. I don’t want to get too entangled in the lives and emotions of characters who aren’t showing up in my book. I’ve tried before. And I’ve found I can get derailed.

Which leads to the problem I had last month. I had a long weekend getaway planned to a place with lots of downtime. And if you’re a person like me, it’s hard to separate even a mini-vacation from books. What a conundrum! What could I read that wouldn’t derail me? What could I read that might let me regain my focus on hitting the St. Louis runway again?

The answer brought me back to when I was 12, a time before Judy Blume and the YA invasion. I was into mysteries, but with no new Encyclopedia Brown in sight and having left Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys far behind, what could I read? But wait! What was on my mother’s nightstand? The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie? Interesting. And wait again! My mom owned more!

The summer between sixth and seventh grades, I consumed Agatha Christie mysteries, both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I didn’t always understand everything. Some of the phrasing and terms were a little confusing, but still, I loved them.

Soon, though, came school and friends and required reading and reading the books my friends read, and Agatha Christie faded into the sunset of my amusement.

Fast forward decades. Last month. I happened to find a Miss Marple paperback hidden away in my basement not long before that weekend. And because my voice is nowhere near Agatha Christie’s, I thought it might work. And it did.

I’d never read They Do It with Mirrors (originally titled Murder with Mirrors), or at least I don’t remember reading it. Even if I had, it would be a different experience as an adult.

I don’t think I need to write a review. We all know that Agatha Christie set many standards in mystery writing. And though the enjoyment factor will vary from book to book, any one will still be a solid read.

What I do want to say is this. We are, at least I am, very struck with all the new titles, wanting to read them, wanting to keep up with the conversations. But that weekend, there was something very wonderful about taking a breath, about stepping back and revisiting what was golden and still, pretty much, holds up. Agatha, you haven’t seen the last of me.

P.S. Read some other great reviews as part of Barrie Summy's wonderfully coordinated club, now in it's 3rd year!

Friday Five ... Going There

Seventh Level paperback
It’s finally time. It’s time I finalize my resolutions. But mine really aren’t textbook resolutions. I learned, long ago, those never work for me. Instead, I assign myself goals and tasks. Past ones that have worked well:
Eat more fruit.
Embrace the icky, tricky, and sticky.

This year, I have four measurable goals and one that promises to be more challenging.

1. Write two novels this year.
2. Revise one additional novel.
3. Ready new speeches or talks at least four weeks previous to presentation.
4. Use handweights at least once a week.
5. Go there. Put your characters in hard situations. Make them wish they only felt crummy. Risk feeling the necessary feelings the characters are experiencing. Prepare to cry and get goosebumps and feel your whole body buzz with excitement. Go there.

Not So Long Ago, But Pretty Far Away

Seventh Level paperback
First, please indulge me with this note:
I hope to be back in the saddle here (though my hay allergies make it hard to actually saddle up). In fact, I’d wanted to catch up, but felt overwhelmed by what I haven’t posted. Where to start? Do I move forward or look back? Today I look back. Tomorrow it might be different. Thanks for bearing with me.


Not so long ago, just after Thanksgiving, I hopped a plane for Tucson and the Arizona Library Association conference. For those of us who live through true winter climates, yeah, not a tough place to go in late November.

The warm weather (even warm by seasonal Tucson standards) couldn’t beat the energy from two great events.

At least for me – and I hope for the audience – the time speaking with three other authors  during the Authors Panel flew way too quickly. And we’d just met. Just met -- a surprising statement given the fact that Jen Ward lives a 30-minute drive (as opposed to a 3-hour flight) from me. It was great finally seeing her in person. And just as great being with Amanda Noll (who’s lovely to have dinner with), and Jillian Kantor (who I would have loved to be able to chat with longer). I’d show you pictures of us all, but I conveniently left my camera upstairs in my hotel room.

However, in the awards luncheon just before, the wonderful Shirley Berow shot this picture.

I’m with my presenter, Hannah, who is as bright as she looks. Just so you know, she loves mashed potatoes. As far as why she and her co-presenter were chosen. “Because we’re awesome!” Somehow she pulled off that line without a stitch of arrogance. If only my characters could.

And yes, I am holding my Grand Canyon Readers Award upside down. Now, I need to erase that picture from my memory banks to stop envisioning all the residents and visitors in Arizona falling from floor to ceiling like figures in an inverted dollhouse.

Another highlight was meeting
Lynne Avril, the current illustrator of the Amelia Bedelia books. It was fun talking Greenwillow business with her.

Reminder to self: For future reference, plan on spending the extra ten bucks to take the Westin La Paloma limo (fabulous hotel ... must return) back to the airport especially if you have a 6am flight. I guarantee they will not be 45 minutes late, getting you to the airport just as your plane is boarding.
(Disclaimer: The shuttle issue was no fault of any Arizona organizer. I booked it myself.)

Finally, a big thanks to Jennifer Whitt and Cheryl McCurry for their fabulous organizational skills, their hospitality, and their warmth.

Gimme Shelter (a review)

Seventh Level paperback
I don’t take many opportunities these days to read adult novels. There are way too many middle grade and young adult ones to keep my up at night as it is. But I’ve always loved good mysteries and have swayed from kidlit a bit to take in an occasional title by the writers for older people. So when Harlan Coben came out with Shelter, his first YA, it was a slam dunk that I’d dive in (forgive the mixed sports metaphors, please).

Mickey Bolitar comes to live with his Uncle Myron (one of Coben’s series main characters, a sports agent and private eye when necessary) following the seclusion of Mickey’s mother in drug rehab; even worse, after his father died in a car accident. Mickey was there. He witnessed it. Except. Except the legendarily creepy, maybe lethal Bat Lady appears when Mickey’s looking at her delapidated house, and she claims his father is still alive.

Mickey, who’s just started a new school with the type of attention no one wants, assembles a couple unorthodox friends who help him find his way as he tries to get more information from Bat Lady; also as he tries to find his new girlfriend who suddenly stopped coming to school and seems to have disappeared herself.

Like Coben’s adult thrillers, this one is a page turner that will keep you guessing until the end. Check that. I tried turning pages even past the end. And I mean it in the best possible way. Stay tuned for the sequel.

************************************************************
Thanks, as always, to Barrie Summy and her awesome book club for prodding me to think about what I read.

Dec. 7th, 2011

Seventh Level paperback
They say no good deed goes unpunished. I suppose if you look at this as a pessimist, my punishment meant me spending hours being unproductive with my own work. Um, I’m not a pessimist. But let me start at the beginning.

Pudd’nhead Books here in St. Louis put out a call for help when it came time for them to move across the street. This store was responsible for allowing me to have lunch with the likes of Jennifer Donnelly, David Wiesner, Michael Buckley and Jon Scieszka. Even if they hadn’t, I’m a volunteer sucker. I went in one morning to help box up the children’s section. There I saw about a dozen copies of The Emerald Atlas.

 I was immediately struck by its cover. Surrounding the beautiful, lush landscape that included three kid jumping rocks to cross a raging river was a border of an old-time map. Together, total intrigue.

“Is this any good?” I asked Melissa.

She didn’t hesitate. “Really great.”

And after about an hour of packing many, many covers, I walked out of the store with that one.

As is my style, I let it sit on my bookshelf for a couple months. Then one day, I was running out the door to some appointment or another and I needed to grab some reading material. My hands touched The Emerald Atlas and I got lost for hours in the first adventure in the series.

The first scene is particularly haunting. Kate, the oldest of her gnome-expert brother Michael and her defiant, feisty, pick-a-fight sister Emma, is given a locket by her mother on Christmas. Just as we see her loving her life, people come barging into their house and as the three kids get spirited away by a man in a tweed coat, her mom makes Kate promise that she’ll keep her brother and sister safe. Later, her mother says to her father, “I told Kate we’d all be together again. I was lying.”

The kids, we find quickly, move through a series of orphanages until they land at a last-chance place in Cambridge Falls, a city that no one has heard of and in a building without any orphans except them. As they explore the building, they happen upon a book that allows them to time travel. When they encounter a beautiful witch about to drown a kid in the river, their dangerous, mysterious adventure begins. It's one that could change the course of history for the people of Cambridge Falls and for themselves as well. Book #2, hurry!

As always, this review exists in conjunction with Barrie Summy’s book review club, the first Wednesday of each month. Thanks again, Barrie!

Seventh Level paperback

I looked at the drop-down thesaurus attached to my word processing program (WordPerfect for those keeping score) to make sure the word floored was appropriate to the headline here. The synonyms included shocked, stunned, taken aback, cold-cocked, decked, dumped, knocked down and leveled. No, no, eight times, no. But there was another... blown out of the water. Close enough.

About a month or two ago, I was talking to a local bookseller who suggested I really might want to come and hear Patrick Carman speak at the store’s event. His book, Floors, was one she recommended alongside mine. If that’s not an enticement, nothing is. Except maybe really good cookies. Or cake.

I came. I listened. I bought. I read. Then I had to write Patrick Carman to find out when book two (of three planned) would be available. I felt like a kid, impatient for late next year. Yes, this read was that great of a ride.

Ten-year-old Leo Fillmore and his father live among the jumble in the basement of the Whippet Hotel, acting as its caretakers. This is no ordinary hotel. Built by eccentric Merganizer Whippet, each floor -- consisting of only one suite of rooms -- is an experience. The first floor we get to see up close and personal is the Pinball Room. Not only does it have 23 pinball machines lining the bedroom, but the entire floor is a “Pinball Machine, with giant molded pinball bumpers that doubled as couches and chairs, all of them lit up with bright lights and springs. The slanted floor was covered in lights and arrows and circled numbers, just like a real pinball machine. At the far end of the room was a hole as big as a tire, which had a flipper on each side.” Not only does this look like a pinball machine, you need to watch out for the giant balls that come barreling through.

To that, add other ingenious floors, a host of weird hotel guests, an annoying pocket-sized robot, a hotel totally falling apart, a developer who’ll stop at nothing to get the large plot of New York City land on which the small hotel stands, the owner who’s been missing for 100 days  ... and especially the series of boxes, instructions and clues our hero, Leo, receives in order to save the hotel, his dad’s job and their home.

I often have books signed to give away. And I almost did the same in this instance, but something stopped me. I had Patrick Carman sign this one to me. It was the right decisions. This is one for the bookshelves.


As always, my reviews are in conjunction with the lovely Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. Check out others here.

Seventh Level paperback
It’s the first Wednesday of the month which means it’s time for Barrie Summy’s Book Review Blow-Out. It’s been a bit since I’ve attended. It’s been a bit since I’ve posted anything. But I hope to be back more regularly to everything.

And yes, I’m stalling because this will be an incomplete book review of what promises to be a fun, fast-paced start to an exciting, creative, illustration-packed series. I’ve known the author, Greg Fishbone, for a number of years as part of a critique group and as founder of the Class of 2k7 (where I was a member until I found my first book wouldn’t be published until ‘08). As I said in the lead-up to my interview with him on the Smack Dab blog (look for the interview tomorrow), Greg has to be one of the most creative, hardest-working people I’ve ever been privileged to meet. So it’s not surprising that he’s taken on the entire galaxy, and a very cool contest, with The Challengers – the first book in The Galaxy Games series.

I agreed to be part of his blog tour which also meant I scored an ARC of the book (yay!) just days before a quick trip to Arizona. I got on the plane, unloaded the book and my iPod and settled in to read. About 3/4 of the way there, I started talking to a newspaper reporter and our conversation lasted into the airport. You know what’s coming ... One baggage pick-up and rental car ride later, I realized The Challengers was again sailing through the air, this time eastbound to Orlando in the seat pocket of 15F. Even though it had barely been an hour since I deplaned, and even though I could tell them exactly where the book was, I was told that IF they found it, I wouldn’t get it back for 2-3 months. I groveled to the wonderful publicity person at Lee & Low who graciously sent me another, but that copy is still somewhere in the postal system and my ordered hardcover hasn’t come in yet either.

(Finally ... Here Comes the Review)
And that’s all a crime because I left our hero, Ty Sato, in a precarious position and I NEED to know what happens ... which is a really strong statement in a book review. And maybe that’s all you need to convince you to take a look. But while I’m here, I’ll set you up with a bit of plot.

Two things happen on Ty’s 11th birthday. 1). His mom forgets an 11 year old will be mortified when a clown shows up at his birthday party. 2). His Japanese cousins have named a star after him. The latter sounds cool enough, but it ends up being more disastrous than #1. The star, TY SATO, is suddenly hurtling toward earth with enough force that it could destroy our planet. And our hero’s name is plastered all over the world in the most negative manner. Lucky for everyone, the world will not come to an end, but Ty is enlisted by M’frozzo from Mrendaria for a galatic challenge that promises to be out of this world. Literally.

GIVEAWAY TIME!
I can’t wait to get my hands on the book again. And I’d hold a contest about which reaches me first – the ARC or my call from Pudd’nhead Books that the hardcover is in – but let’s make it simple. Comment here or at the Smack Dab blog or at my Facebook page or on Twitter (please include @jodyfeldman and #tysato) by October 15, and the lucky name I draw will win a copy of The Challengers. Double your chances by including your favorite galactic element (you can pretend if you don’t have a favorite). And if I do finally get the ARC, you can double your double chance because I’ll give away both copies.

That's all. Except read The Challengers.
And go see more reviews ...




The Most Important Structure

Seventh Level paperback

I came home from NYC to find my front yard transformed from this ...


to this ...


After the OMG moment, my first thought: The neighbors must be happy to have the junkyard vanish. My second: What’s that little pyramid? (It's the white spot in the lower left corner above.)


It turns out that this little tent, as I said in my last post, was the most important structure yet built at my house. The floor refinisher told me yesterday, that when they removed the tarp from the front yard, they also uncovered ...


I’m happy to report by the next day, one of the bunnies had gone, one was still in the nest and the third was lounging in the shade of the lean-to. An hour later, they had hopped off, and I’ve since seen them in the brush by the backyard.

A huge thanks to the floor guy for noticing and understanding that the bunny babies (their eyes were still shut when he first saw them) might need some shade in this brutal weather.

NYC Wasn’t All About the Food

Seventh Level paperback
Then again, the food is always a major part of my travels. But in and around the eating, there was much stuff to do including ...

My first visit to the U.N.
Here’s where the General Assembly meets.


Then it was time to cross town.
I’d seen people in movies hit golf balls off third floor tees, and apparently they did that at Chelsea Piers.

(This is not me, by the way.)

The visit to Katz’s Deli in the Lower East Side meant a stop at the Tenement Museum where for the first time, “tenement sweat shop” wasn’t just a term to me. It was amazingly sad how many things and people and work stations they could cram into a 325 square foot apartment.


As for the lunch conversation I alluded to in the previous post, it was with one of my editors. We discussed exciting stuff, the details of which I hope I can discuss soon, but only when possibility becomes ultra-high probability. For certain, though, up at Greenwillow, they were getting ready to ship out (to the printers) the paperback version of The Seventh Level, new cover and all. Exciting in its own right. Yes, I’ll share ...


Right after that, I took a cab downtown to hear my agent's verdict on the latest revision of The Deep Downstairs which ,heretofore (didn’t know I could speak legalese), I'll refer to as Hopeful Next Book until I find its proper title because DD’s not it. As always, other things will need to change, but my agent felt it was in good enough shape for the time being. Yay!

The last night there, I got to see the Tony-winning Book of Mormon. With tickets so hard to come by, I didn’t care I was in the last row. Then again, the last rows of Broadway theaters are like a mid-row of others.

Without much sleep, I came home to this ...


... which is, hands down, the most important structure my construction team team has built. I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow.

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Appearances

2010
February 18-21
Writing Retreat
San Antonio, TX

March 21
Midwest Booksellers Association
Spring Meeting
Left Bank Books

May 7
Branson Children's Literature Conference
Branson Intermediate School
Branson, MO

May 15
6:30 pm
Children's Book Week Event
Pudd'nHead Books
Webster Groves, MO

May 25
Skype Session
Children's Lit Students
University of Central Washington

June 1 - 4
8 Middle Schools, Sarasota School District
6th & 7th Grades,
One Book Starbooks Program

July 26
Skype Session
Children's Lit Students
University of Central Washington

2009

March 7, 2009
3:00 pm
BookSpring (formerly RIF) VIP program and signing
BookPeople
Austin, Texas

April 1, 2009
Beth Yeshurun Day School
Houston, Texas

April 2, 2009
2:00 pm signing, Author’s Area
Texas Library Association
Houston, Texas

April 16, 2009
Mid-Rivers Council IRA
Main Street Books
St. Charles, Missouri

April 23, 2009
West Clayton Elementary School
Clayton, North Carolina

May 30, 2009
11:00 am
10th Anniversary Celebration
St. Louis County Library, Headquarters

September 13, 2009
St. Louis Art Fair
12:45 pm
Reading with Ridley Pearson

October 3, 2009
Missouri Literary Festival
Springfield, Missouri

October 6, 2009
Southwest Middle School
Manchester, Missouri

October 7, 2009
3:15 pm speaking
4:30 pm signing
Missouri Library Association Conference
Columbia, Missouri

October 10, 2009
The Big Read
St. Louis, Missouri

October 13-23, 2009
15 Schools, Northeast Independent School District
San Antonio, Texas
October 13 – Redland Oaks Elementary
October 14 – East Terrell Hills and Camelot Elementaries
October 15 – Wilshire and Serna Elementaries
October 16 – West Avenue and Harmony Hills Elementaries
October 19 - Wilderness Oak Elementary
October 20 – Castle Hills and Dellview Elementaries
October 21 – El Dorado and Clear Spring Elementaries
October 22 – Fox Run and Regency Place Elementaries
October 23 – Colonial Hills Elementary

November 5, 2009
Mini-Skype Session
4th & 5th Grade Book Clubs
Patton School
Arlington Heights, Illinois

November 10, 2009
Skype Session
Children's Lit Students
University of Central Washington

November 16, 2009
Mason Ridge Book Club
St. Louis, Missouri

December 1-4
8 Elementary Schools
Frisco, TX
December 1 - Rogers and Fisher Elementaries
December 2 - Curtsinger and Robertson Elementaries
December 3 - Spears and Shawnee Trail Elementaries
December 4 - Bledsoe and Smith Elementaries

December 6, 2009
3:30 pm - 5:30 pm
MICDS Book Fair
Barnes & Noble
Ladue, Missouri
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