So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye!

I was lucky enough to have been able to convince the good folks here at Emu’s Debuts that my first three books were different enough from each other to qualify each and every one of them as a separate debut. And I’m sorely tempted to see just how far I can continue to push it… I mean, my next book to be published will be middle-grade nonfiction/fiction hybrid, which is totally different from a YA how-to or a picture-book biography, don’t you think? No, not really? Okay, probably not.

So, although I’ve put it off for as long as I could possibly justify (and then some), I guess the time has finally come for me to say farewell.

I published my introduction post in October of 2012, which means I’ve been here almost three years, and in that time I’ve seen quite a few Emus come and go. Despite the constant turnover due to the nature of this blog, however, one thing has remained wonderfully constant: the enthusiasm and supportiveness of the group for its members. I’m so lucky to have been a part of this blog for any time at all, let alone for such a long time and through three book releases. I think we’ve all done things we never dreamed we would (singing opera in Viking horns?) to cheer on one another’s book launches, and we had each other’s backs behind the scenes, too, for all of those burning newbie author questions like “What’s the best pen for signing?” and “Where did you get your bookmarks?” and “How do I throw a launch party?” I’ve read some truly amazing books because of my participation in this blog, I’ve learned an incredible amount about how to be a professional author, and I’ve made some great friends.

I was a software engineer before turning (back) to writing. Although I was never even remotely in competition with my colleagues in the technology industry (we were all working on the same product, after all), there was very little support to be found there. In fact, at times, it felt like quite the opposite. The programming culture seemed to be more about tearing each other down whenever possible. You’d think authors would be even more competitive given that we’re all trying to sell the same thing—books. But children’s book publishing is not that way at all.

From the international professional organization of SCBWI to its regional chapters, from our literary agency siblings to our critique groups, from our publishing houses to our marketing collectives, children’s book publishing is built on supportive, nurturing communities, and I’m fortunate enough to be a part of many of them. I value them all, but the Emu’s Debuts community will forever hold a very dear place in my heart. Thank you to all of those who worked to make it a reality before my arrival, thank you to everyone who shared their journey along with me, and thank you to those who will keep the blog going in the months and years ahead. It’s a special place, celebrating a special time, with special people contributing their time, energy, and love.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye. I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye…

goodbye.

 


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, was published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. Her debut nonfiction picture book, EMMANUEL’S DREAM, was published by Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House in January 2015. MY DOG IS THE BEST, her debut fiction picture book, was released June 9, 2015, from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. She has said she doesn’t write novels, but she may have to just so she can rejoin Emu’s Debuts someday.

Please visit Laurie at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Colleagues, Farewell, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Cover Reveal: COYOTE MOON!!

I’m thrilled to announce the cover of my debut nonfiction picture book, COYOTE MOON, to be published by Roaring Brook Press in July 2016!

 

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Isn’t the cover stunning? It was illustrated by the incomparable Bagram Ibatoulline! His illustrations are so intricately detailed that they appear photographic. I am so fortunate to have him as the illustrator of this book which is near and dear to my heart, and to be working with editor extraordinaire, Emily Feinberg!

Here’s a synopsis:

A howl in the night.

A watchful eye in the darkness.

A flutter of movement among the trees.

Coyotes.

In the dark of the night a mother coyote stalks prey to feed her hungry pups. Her hunt takes her through a suburban town where she encounters a mouse, a rabbit, a flock of angry geese, and finally an unsuspecting turkey on the library lawn.

POUNCE!

Perhaps Coyote’s family won’t go hungry today.

 

Thanks for letting me share this with you!

Happy Monday!

 

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Photo of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.

Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring).  Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  on July 7, 2015. A second book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, will follow in June 2016. Maria has both fiction and  nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website: mariagianferrari.com, or visit Maria at Facebook.

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I Flit, I Float, I Fleetly Flee, I Fly

This is my last post as an EMU.

I’ve spent two years in this group, and I’ve done some bizarre and wonderful things. I’ve sung opera in Viking garb for Adi Rule’s STRANGE SWEET SONG. I’ve made a Where Is Tommy Smythe? news video for Lindsey Lane’s EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN. I’ve photographed Flat Gladys reviewing airplane food on a cross-country flight, as well as written an Amazeballs recipe for Tara Dairman’s ALL FOUR STARS. I’ve attended Laurie Thompson’s BE A CHANGEMAKER launch, and I’ve watched her words directly influence the actions of students in my classroom.

During my time here, so many incredible books have been launched into the world. I’ve collected stories for Luke Reynolds’s THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT, Maria Gianferrari’s PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW, Laurie’s MY DOG IS THE BEST, Susan Vaught’s FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY, and Amy Finnegan’s NOT IN THE SCRIPT. I’ve cheered for Jennifer Bertman’s BOOK SCAVENGER, Christine Hayes’s MOTHMAN’S CURSE, Tamara Ellis Smith’s ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE, Kevan Atteberry’s BUNNIES!!!, Rebecca Van Slyke’s MOM SCHOOL, Joshua McCune’s TALKER 25, Laurie Thompson’s EMMANUEL’S DREAM, and Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT.

It’s been an honor to participate in such important moments in my fellow authors’ lives. I’ve also had the very keen pleasure of being celebrated during my own launch week by this kind, generous, and intelligent group. I am grateful for their support and proud to call them my colleagues.

I’ll miss being part of this amazing mob of fledglings. I wish I had some wise parting words, but the truth is that life hasn’t changed since publishing my first book. I’m still teaching full time, still a mom, still a wife, still writing, still doubting what I write on some days and feeling great about it on others. GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL is out there in the world, and that’s nothing short of a dream come true. But I’m still just me, and GROUNDED is just one book in the Great Big Book Pile.

What has changed is the “I’m A Writer” conversation. You know the one I mean, because every struggling author has had it more times than they wish to count. It goes like this:

Other Person: So what do you do?

Not-Yet-Published Author: I’m a teacher. (Hesitates) And a writer.

Other Person: A writer. Really. What have you written?

Not-Yet-Published Author: (Awkwardly) Well, I’m working on a book, and I’m trying to get it published…

Other Person: (Barely resists rolling eyes)

It is the worst. People’s expressions change. They look at you like you’re worthy of pity. Like it’s kind of sad how you still have a dream. You immediately wish you hadn’t said anything about the writing, because you are a writer, damn it, and you have been one for years, but now you just feel bad about it. It’s hard to explain to a product-obsessed world that your work is legitimate, even without a finished product to show for it, and you just haven’t had your stroke of good luck yet.

I no longer have to dread that conversation. Now it goes like this:

Other Person: So what do you do?

Published Author: I’m a teacher and an author.

Other Person: An author. Really. What have you written?

Published Author: (Points to solid evidence) That book right there.

Other Person: (Clearly surprised) Oh! Wow. You know, I have an idea for a book…

So while nothing else may have changed, that has changed. I wish every hardworking writer might experience that change. It’s extremely satisfying and much easier on the old psyche.

And now, off I go into the future, whatever that may hold. Book two in the Tyme series will come out next fall, and I’m in the process of drafting book three. This year will be my seventh as a middle-school teacher. My husband and I are expecting our second child in December. Writing goes on. Life goes on.

Thank you for having me here, EMUs and friends. It has been a real privilege.

 

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Megan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, published April 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. It has garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, as well as being named an Amazon Best Book of 2015 So Far and one of the Seattle Times’ summer reading picks. Book two in the Tyme series will be published in 2016. For more information, visit meganmorrison.net

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Farewell, Thankfulness

The Aftermath

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Book Scavenger in the wild!

What a wonderful stretch of launch weeks we’ve had around here! Book Scavenger has been out in the world for a little over two months now, and in that time we’ve also celebrated the launches of Mothman’s Curse, My Dog is the Best, Penny & Jelly, Another Kind of Hurricane, There Once Was an Old Dragon, and our latest The Looney Experiment. Whew! It’s been the summer of celebrations!

And speaking of The Looney Experiment and celebrating, a big congratulations to Teresa Robeson! You are the winner of a signed copy of Luke’s new book!

So what do I have to report post-publication? It’s been a whirlwind. It’s felt like a dream. It’s been awesome and stressful and boring and humbling and probably every emotion in-between.

The sequel for Book Scavenger is officially on the schedule for next year, and so I’ve been working on it every spare chance I get. I’ve even been given an official pub date. If all goes according to plan, then you should be able to find The Unbreakable Code in bookstores and libraries June 7, 2016. Gulp. And I’ve also seen a rough sketch for the cover, which, woah! That makes it feel real. (And I’m so excited about the direction they’re going in too! The cover is going to be awesome.)

There is a definite transition you go through having your first book published, at least speaking for myself. Beforehand there were a lot of anticipatory nerves. Most of those stemmed from preparing for something you’ve never experienced before. Before last June, I’d never done a presentation for 200 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. I was freaking out about that! I knew what I was going to say, but I wasn’t sure how it would go over and what the overall experience would be like.

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Turned out it was super fun! So much fun, I’m eager to do it again!

And a launch party. I’ve attended launch parties for other authors, but never experienced my own. Would people come? Would they enjoy themselves? If people did come, would I then be totally awkward and weird having people stare at me while I tried to put coherent sentences together in an at least moderately entertaining fashion?

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At the awesome Linden Tree Bookstore, who hosted my first-ever launch party!

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And the equally awesome Book Passage at the Ferry Building, who hosted my second ever launch party!

People did come! I was truly humbled, amazed, and grateful for the enthusiasm and support friends and family showed me and Book Scavenger. And strangers!! There were strangers at my book launch parties! I was so excited, I wanted to run up and hug them and shout “I don’t know you and you’re here!!! You’re here and you’re buying my book!”

I should have done that, shouldn’t I? That would have been kind of awesome.

The nerves do subside with a little experience. I did my first Skype visit with a book group at a San Francisco library recently. I was a kind of nervous beforehand, but not as nervous as I’d been before my other events. And as soon as I saw those kids on my computer screen, I was excited. And in a state of awe–these were kids who read my book! What a trip.

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Hearing from readers has been the coolest part of the debut experience so far, hands down. Young readers, adult readers, teachers, librarians, and booksellers . . . Having people take the time out of their day to reach out and let me know they enjoyed Book Scavenger, that they are glad it exists in the world, that they are happy to have spent some time with these characters I sat with for 12 years . . . I don’t really have the words to describe how that feels. The closest word I can think of is GRATITUDE.

I’m so very grateful to be on this journey.

 

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger has been selected as an Indie Next Kids’ Top Ten Pick for Summer 2015, an Amazon Best Book of 2015 So Far, and one of five books chosen for the Publisher’s Weekly Best Summer Reads 2015, among other accolades. A sequel titled The Unbreakable Code will be published in 2016, followed by a stand-alone middle grade mystery in 2017. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and worked in publishing for over a decade before becoming a children’s book author. More information can be found about her and her books at jenniferchamblissbertman.com and bookscavenger.com.

 

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An Interview with THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT editor Jacque Alberta

And for the grand finale of our week of all things LOONEY, we caught up with Zonderkidz Senior Editor Jacque Alberta about Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

Here’s a little reminder about this wonderful story, from Luke’s web site:

Atticus Hobart couldn’t feel lower. He’s in love with a girl who doesn’t know he exists, he is the class bully’s personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad has just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, a 77-year-old substitute English teacher with uncanny insight and a most unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there’s more to Mr. Looney’s methods than he’d first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the truths within his own name, he finds that his hyper-imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe—just maybe—discover that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.

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And without further ado, here’s Jacque!

Tam: What was it about THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT that made you want to acquire it?

Jacque: It hooked me in the first chapter. Atticus’s character felt so relatable and real—a kid who is very withdrawn publically, but has this amazing internal voice and humor. And the journey of finding the courage to be who he really is—to risk putting himself out there—is done so well. I immediately felt like this was a character and a story I needed on my list, because Luke’s story is not only really entertaining, it also has a storyline that can help readers see how they too can overcome what feels impossible to face in their own lives.

Tam: What do you love most about Mr. Looney?

Jacque: He is that teacher we all wished we had. He’s a substitute, but he puts all of himself into the job, and even takes the time to notice what Atticus needs—something no one teacher has ever done before. His giving Atticus his signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite things about Mr. Looney—helping Atticus really see who he is and what he can do means more than a book that is likely worth a lot sentimentally and monetarily.

Tam: And then of course I need to ask, what do you love most about Atticus? 

Jacque: Atticus has a great voice, and is such an appropriately wise soul. He is insightful in many ways, but still a teenage boy who probably secretly still likes fart noises a little bit too. And his journey from a kid who can barely speak in class to becoming the spokesperson for a group of students at the end is a fantastic one. I also loved that even though he does mature a lot in the book, he never totally loses the humor he had at the start—his fart-noise contest with Adrian toward the end was great!

Also, I loved Atticus’s list of what guys should and shouldn’t do in middle school!

Tam: It is always so inspiring and enlightening to learn a little about the behind-the-scenes editing process.  Can you give us some insight into how you approached editing this book?  What was it like to work with Luke? 

Jacque: Actually, the editing on this was one of the easiest processes I’ve had in a long time! The manuscript that was submitted was quite clean—and Luke was fantastic with revisions and rewrites. Most of what we worked on was making sure Atticus’s journey toward courage felt natural, so that the reader can see the gradual awakening after meeting Mr. Looney, and then how Atticus regained that confidence after Danny’s attack. And also debating over fart jokes and the like …

We also tried to keep up with the developing news over Go Set a Watchman, as To Kill a Mockingbird is so central to the storyline. When it was announced the precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird would be coming out, we had to scramble to change references to Harper Lee’s publishing story in real time, knowing our book was going to the printer before Go Set a Watchman would be in stores and the storyline known.

Tam: Who do you see this book appealing to? 

Jacque: My hope is that middle-school boys will find the book and enjoy the story, and see some of themselves in Atticus. And I think girls will enjoy it as well, as Atticus is just a wonderful character—and there’s a nice love story of sorts with Audrey Higgins to help balance the fart jokes JI also hope all readers leave with a sense that what is inside you matters … even if middle-school you feels like only other’s outside perceptions matter.

I think adults will love it too, as there’s something about middle school that never leaves us. And the journey Atticus takes is one that everyone has to take at some point—deciding who we are, what we want to become, and taking the brave leap to make that us known.

Tam: And, finally, is there anything else you would like to add? 

Jacque: Hmmm … Only that I loved working with Luke, and hope this book becomes a huge bestseller for him, because it’s a fantastic story by a fantastic person and author.

Well, that’s just about the truest truth ever spoken. Luke Reynolds is SUCH a fantastic person and THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT is SUCH a fantastic story! Comment below and you’ll have a chance to win a signed copy of Luke’s debut middle-grade novel!

Or, if you just can’t wait for your copy (we definitely can’t!), click any of these links to purchase THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT now:

AmazonBooks A MillionBarnes and NobleIndieBound

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Jacque Alberta is a Senior Editor for Zonderkidz as well as Blink, the general market YA imprint of Zondervan—and while she loves reading and editing new books, her favorite part of the job by far is interaction with authors. Jacque joined Zondervan in 2004, and over the years has worked on a variety of kids’ products, from picture books to storybook Bibles and juvenile fiction, but YA is one of her true passions. A graduate of Calvin College (with an English major, naturally), she lives in Grand Rapids surrounded by piles of good books, as well as a very cute (and equally naughty) wire fox terrier named Tucker.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch

A Looney Interview with Author Luke Reynolds

I bought, read and loved Luke Reynolds’ debut book, THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT. Robert Looney reminded me of my high school government teacher, Arnold Brix – brilliant but weird. Or is that “weirdly brilliant”? Whatever! It’s a personality type guaranteed to capture the minds and hearts of adolescents. Naturally, I had some questions for the author. (Writers always do.)

You dedicate your book to Robert Looney (for faith), to John Robinson (for hope) and to your wife Jennifer Reynolds, for love. I understand that Mr. Looney and Mr. Robinson were your teachers. Could you give some more details about Mr. Looney— i.e. when he was your teacher? Did he, too, use offbeat teaching methods? How did he influence you?

These two teachers—Mr. Looney and Mr. Robinson—are two of the most remarkable people I was fortunate to know and learn from. I had Mr. Robert Looney when I was a fifth grade student at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Windsor, Connecticut. The real Mr. Looney had wild hair and endless energy, and the thing I remember most about him was when he stood on a chair during our first class session, held up the dreaded spelling textbook in his hand, and then proceeded to toss it into the trash. My friends and I were enthralled. That year, Mr. Looney led us through his self-titled FLAIR writing program, in which we crafted all kinds of stories, poems, and essays.

During college, when I was learning to be a teacher myself, Mr. John Robinson was my mentor teacher. John spoke about literature and writing with so much energy and love that I thought he would burst. His passion translated to his students and I found the two great passions of my own life: teaching and writing. I still correspond with both my inspiring teachers. The Looney Experiment exists because of their model, their passion, and their core beliefs.

I admire your use of similes! A few examples: Atticus’s teacher’s face “stretches out like she’s about to blow painful bubbles.” When she’s angry at Atticus, who’s afraid to speak in class, for not presenting his report, she looks at him “with eyes like the points of nails.” Shy, self-conscious Atticus pretends “My voice is like thunder.” His discomfort amuses the class bully: “a smirk grows like bacteria across Danny’s face, threatening to take over all the skin that remains.” Do you feel similes are particularly useful in writing for this age group? Why?

Similes feel really natural when I write. It’s the way my brain works. I love similes because I feel like they give layers of character and meaning to my book. I can only hope readers of The Looney Experiment feel similarly!

I rewrote a lot of the metaphors to try and keep them fresh and authentic. I owe MASSIVE gobs of gratitude to my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. The Looney Experiment went through many drafts and Joan offered incredible counsel and ideas for revision. She gave me expert advice on how to keep the metaphors fresh and vivid. I also thought the character of Atticus Hobart—with his wildly active imagination—would be a huge fan of writing with metaphor as a lens through which he viewed the world!

When Atticus’s imagination takes over, he has inner dialogs with various people and objects (i.e., Robert Frost, his gray baseball tights, a sports commentator, Audrey Higgins) are funny and insightful. Did you start out using this technique?

The book did start with this technique in the first draft—and through all 11 versions, it kept the dialogue of intangible objects or long-dead (or non-existent but created) people would have conversations with Atticus. This was certainly the most FUN part of writing this novel. I kind of just let Atticus do his thing.

LOVE your description of Mr. Looney, who subs when his teacher goes on maternity leave: “. . . his sagging, crinkled skin looks like it’s going to fall right off his face and go sliding down his body until it hits the floor in a big puddle of soggy, soppy, old-person flesh.” Did you imagine this physical description right away? Or did you tinker with it throughout your writing process?

This was one of the original lines of the first draft. I realized that Mr. Looney had to be old—it had to seem to 8th graders that he should be in a nursing home rather than a classroom. When I read this part aloud to people, they half-laughed and half-gagged, and I thought: that’s just about the reaction I am hoping for.

Mr. Looney doesn’t fit into Atticus’s description of the four types of teachers. (I taught middle school for a year and they rang true for me.) Please summarize those four types for those who haven’t yet read your book. Which type best describes you?

Sure! The four types that Atticus describes are: 1) the Non-nonsense teacher (tough and could pummel your heart with a pinky). 2) The “Everything is Magical Teacher” who begins with a glow of positivity but rapidly descends into chaotic attempts to take back control because everyone is going ABSOLUTELY CRAZY! 3) The nice teacher who also is stern and whose class is pretty interesting. 4) The “I don’t give a darn about you” teacher. I  hope I am in the category of the third teacher with a mix of Mr. Looney’s zaniness thrown in, but my students could answer that question much better than I can!

Atticus is also dealing with his critical and distant father moving out. As he mulls over what he, his mom, and his brother might have done to cause his dad to leave, he wonders: “I can’t figure out what’s worse: having a crappy dad who doesn’t really like you much or not having a dad at all.” This is just pitch perfect! Have you had your own students talk with you when their parents separated or divorced?

 This is a huge issue for many of my students, and many do want to write and talk about it. For whatever reason, middle school seems like a time when parents choose to separate, so these students are grappling with intense and confusing emotions. I am in a public school system, so I can’t give these students a big hug and tell them that everything is going to be okay. We don’t always know how, but it will. And I remind them that it’s always good to talk things through with people they trust, to journal about it, to ask for help. The truly courageous always ask for help.

Mr Looney tells the class the one thing he’s learned in 47 years of teaching is: “We are most afraid of ourselves.” How did you as a writer come up with this?

I think this came right up out of my own heart. When I look at the situations I’ve been in throughout my life.  I think I am most afraid of myself. Deep down, it’s not all the outward stuff and obstacles—it’s the inner stuff. I love what William Faulkner said about this in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “The young man or woman writing today has forgotten about the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

Mr. Looney defines courage this way: “Courage is the ability to keep going no matter how hard life feels. How did you come up with such a simple, eloquent definition?

I used to admire protagonists who performed amazing acts of heroism. I thought they had the market cornered when it came to courage. But when I became a teacher, my views began to change (and that notion was positively crushed when I became a dad). I saw the students had courage when they faced really tough obstacles at home, but kept trying.  And when, for a few years, I was a stay-at-home father in England, I saw that there was certainly no glory in that enterprise. There was no fanfare for a diaper well-changed or a tantrum skirted. I thought of those who fight unsung battles everyday (far tougher than mine), and began to see courage as the choice to keep moving forward when everything within and around you just wants to stop.

Mr. Looney’s only formal assignment is that the class read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus loves the book and is thrilled to learn his mother named him after Atticus Finch. What part did Harper Lee’s book play in the development of your debut novel?

Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird epitomized quiet courage. He makes the right choice and he keeps moving forward even though everyone thinks he’s doing something crazy—looney—and pointless. I loved that idea—the notion that courage can be doing anything that others say doesn’t make sense, but you know deep down it does. For Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, the stakes are pretty high. So I wanted to change the stakes and show how the same kind of courage is evidenced when, like my character Atticus Hobart, we keep moving forward—with whatever hope we can muster—in our own small worlds and in our own lives.

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Looney Love

Looney ExperimentAtticus Hobart, the protagonist of The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds, has a lot on his mind (that tends to happen when you have an imagination that works on overdrive). Bullies. Teachers. His dad. And, of course, Audrey Higgins.

Audrey is brave, assertive, and everything Atticus thinks he isn’t—and he’s crazy about her. In celebration of The Looney Experiment (and especially of Atticus and Audrey) the EMUs are sharing stories about our own crushes, loves, and romantic entanglements. Read on. It gets juicy!

Tamara Ellis Smith
In second grade I developed a crush on Jimmy Henricks.  (I know, I know, but I THINK I am remembering his name correctly!) I can’t recall, now, what it was about Jimmy that caught my attention. He had long eyelashes, I remember that, but I don’t remember much else…except that he played the violin.  So naturally I wanted to play the violin.  I begged my parents to let me play—which they agreed to—and I began to take lessons at school. I was never very good at it, but boy did I love those half hour sessions when I got to leave the classroom WITH Jimmy to go to our lesson down the hall to make beautiful* music together!

*Jimmy made beautiful music. I made sounds.

Debbi Michiko Florence
When I was in the first grade, I was extremely shy. I hated recess. I was at a new school and had no real friends yet. One recess, I was so upset I started to cry. I remember a teacher’s aide walking me from the yard back to the classroom. As we walked, we passed a boy who was the son of my mom’s friend. We’d met briefly. When we walked by him, he said, “Who hurt her? I’m going to get him.” I don’t think we ever talked after that, and I can’t really call it a first crush, but I thought it was sweet. And I finally stopped crying at recess and made friends after that. I think his comment made me feel less invisible.

Christine Hayes
When I was about five years old, my mom would often bring me along when she visited a close friend of hers. That friend had two little boys: Reid, also five, and Travis, a year or two younger. Though the memories have blurred around the edges, as memories do, I remember that we played Bionic Man and Woman, The Rescuers, and many other grand games of pretend. One particular day we decided to a little kissing, just to see what it was like. Later, I fessed up to my mom and told her, “Reid kissed me.” Naturally, when she asked where (as in cheek? lips? elbow?) I answered, “In the closet.” I’ll never forget my first crush on dreamy, five-year-old Reid what’s-his-name! :)

Elly Swartz
My first crush was a boy my family knew. The romance was short and sweet. One day he kissed me underwater at the JCC pool. I immediately popped out of the water, ran over to my mom who was playing cards with her friends and told her that Jimmy had kissed me. She smiled. I then promptly jumped back into the pool. And, that was the start and finish of our romance. 

Janet Fox
My first crush was a boy named Peter. We rode the bus together in 5th grade, and he sat across the aisle. We talked, we talked, we…talked. Then I moved halfway across the country. All I remember about Peter was that he was tall and had dark hair. Oh, and the man I married a bajillion years later (not Peter)? Tall, with dark hair. 

Adam Shaughnessy
My first crush was in first grade. Her name was Jean Kelly. She was awesome. I seized every opportunity to spend time with her. I even befriended her brother, Kevin Kelly, so I could be around Jean more. I’d visit his house all the time and I was always disappointed when Jean wasn’t home. It drove me nuts that Kevin kept denying even having a sister!

It took me another year before I understood that two people could have the same last name but not be related. Oops. Anyway, Kevin had neat robot toys so it was cool.

Hayley Barrett
I’m a dawdler and a dreamer and was always late for school. When I was in fourth grade, I developed a crush on a classmate. (He shall remain nameless because I still live in the same town.) Anyway, I decided to reveal my crush by leaving a mushy note in his desk. I wish I could remember what it said, but I do remember that what-have-I-done, flop-sweat, sleepless night. I launched out of bed like a rocket the next morning and RACED to school, arriving even before the teachers. I yanked that note right out of his desk and he never knew. I still feel relieved. Whew!

Megan Morrison
My entire adolescence was a daisy-chain of (mostly) unrequited crushes. I didn’t fall in the kind of love that matters until I met my husband, and I had mostly given up believing that it would happen for me… but not quite. There was a part of me that still believed in the fairy tale, and that part of me was awake and alive the night I met him, in a bar in New York City. He wore a Voldemort t-shirt. I wore Weasley Is Our King. We talked Harry Potter and drank beer and were giddy with the at-first-sightness of it all. A couple of years later, just after we both finished reading book seven in the Harry Potter series, he proposed. We were at a vineyard with all our geeky friends, and the celebration was epic. In fact, our engagement made it into a book – HARRY, A HISTORY, written by our friend Melissa Anelli.

Has this compilation of the EMUs’ greatest love songs put you in the mood for love? Then pick up The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds. You’ll fall head over heels, guaranteed! You can find it at your nearest independent bookseller by visiting indiebound.org. Or find it at any of the following booksellers:

Barnes & Noble | Amazon BAM

Better yet, if you comment on this or any other post this week you’ll be entered to win a signed copy!

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Luke Reynolds’ The Looney Experiment – An Ode to Teachers

Welcome to Day Two of the EMU’s Debuts launch party for Luke Reynolds and his charming new middle grade novel, The Looney Experiment. If you haven’t already snagged a copy of the book for yourself, or for the nearest young reader in your life, I’m pretty sure you will Looney Experimentwant to by the end of this launch week. Yesterday, Megan introduced some of the looney things we’ve done in our pasts. Today, we’re stepping into the shoes of Atticus, the protagonist of The Looney Experiment, and to the teacher who impacted his life so profoundly, Mr. Looney. We’ve blown the cobwebs out of our memory noggins to reflect on the teachers who helped to shape each of us.

male-teacher-cartoonMs. McCauley was my third-grade teacher. She was the no-smiles type of teacher who left a lasting imprint on my life. You see, I was a slow-as-molasses type of reader when I was little. So slow that it made reading not fun. But Ms. McCauley realized something was wrong. Turned out, only my right eye read. The left one did nothing, causing the whole reading process to slow way way down. She taught me how to strengthen my eye, my reading and ultimately, my love for books. Thank you, Ms. McCauley!     Elly Swartz

red-crayon-pencil-clipartMy first through third grade teacher, Mrs. Knight, is definitely the teacher who sparked my creativity. As long as I did my homework in math and science, she would let me sit at my desk and write stories until my fingers fell off. Mrs. Knight even staged readings in “The Circle” (which was actually a square and still to this day gets me in an Inception-like rabbit hole of “what in the heck did this misnomer mean?!?!”), and kept our books in the classroom library. I will forever remember Mrs. Knight, and wouldn’t be here today without her.     Jason Gallaher

green-crayon-pencil-clipartMy favorite teachers were both band teachers: Mr. Jacobus in junior high and Mr. Duffer in high school. Mr. Jacobus helped me develop a love and appreciation for music. With his encouragement I discovered a drive to set goals and improve as a musician. In high school, Mr. Duffer exposed us to an impressive range of composers and taught us to dream big. Under his guidance we won several competitions and learned not to be afraid of a challenge. I will always be grateful for the incredible gift of music they nurtured. It continues to shape my life in unexpected ways. Case in point: those early band days are providing inspiration for my current work-in-progress!   Christine Hayes

red-crayon-pencil-clipartTeachers often told me that I was good at writing, but I never really felt like I had any particular talent for it. Writing finally came alive for me in middle school when—believe it or not—we got to diagram sentences! Our teacher, Mrs. Lysdahl, showed me that language could be logical and fit together like pieces of a puzzle as well as being beautiful and creative. It delighted me that it could be both of those things at once, and the exercise appealed to both sides of my brain. I loved finding particularly beautiful and/or powerful sentences and then analyzing them, taking them apart to see what made them tick. It somehow brought the “hard” part—being creative—back down to earth for me, and made it seem less like a magical talent that you either had or didn’t have and more like a skill that I could really master if I worked hard enough.   Laurie Ann Thompson

green-crayon-pencil-clipartMr. Arkle taught 12th-grade honors English and blew my mind when he assigned us an E-Prime essay. At that age, I already loved to write, but I always did it quickly, with abandon. E-Prime demanded that I choose each word with care. It opened my eyes to the power of being deliberate. It also taught me what it meant to edit; I spent hours searching through that paper and eliminating tiny slips and weaknesses. Two decades later, that assignment and its lessons remain vivid in my writing mind. Thank you, Mr. Arkle.   Megan Morrison

red-crayon-pencil-clipartTwo teachers come immediately to mind. And they are husband and wife!  Scott Kalter and Sydney Long.  Scott was my 6th grade teacher in a tiny 4 room schoolhouse. His energy and passion were anything but tiny though.  As an adult looking back, I think what he taught me more than anything was the art of active listening: Scott’s focus on each student, and his genuine interest in what each of us was thinking (and hoping and fearing) made all of us feel…real. I know he made me feel that way—like I was a vital part of a community; like I mattered as a unique individual but had a necessary place, too, in the whole.  Sydney was my junior high and high school chorus teacher. Her energy and passion were enormous too. And as an adult looking back on my time with her, I think what she began to instill in me was a work ethic. In specific, she nurtured a process that asked her students to trust that hard work, constant practice, and always striving for better would result in, not only a stellar product, but a magical one.

It took me a long time to fully take in Scott and Syd’s lessons, but in hindsight I truly think they planted critical seeds in me. They also became dear friends, who helped me through some rough times in my young adult life and who, I am grateful to say, officiated at my wedding. They are a critical part of my life today, and I love them both.  Tam Smith

green-crayon-pencil-clipartIn 3rd grade my teacher Mrs. Weber had us all write poems. She didn’t tell me, but she sent mine into the town newspaper…and they published it. I can still see my mom’s face, and feel the surge of happy surprise. And the pride. And I resolved to become a writer. Thank you, Mrs. Weber!!!      Janet Fox

red-crayon-pencil-clipartI feared math class with all my heart. Teachers tried, but I was frozen. In 6th grade, my classmates and I were tested for an advanced algebra class. I passed. I was tested again. I passed again. Here’s why: There weren’t any numbers on the test. If A equals B and B equals C, then… I had no problem with it.      When algebra started, I could barely keep my head above water. As friends aced tests, I struggled. Finally, my teacher had had enough. The night before a big test, she kept me after school and worked for hours with me until I could solve the equations.

The day after the test, my teacher, as was her custom, made the class guess who got the highest score. Name after name of the best math students went by. Finally, she tossed the test on my desk and said, “It was Hayley.”

We both triumphed that day. It wasn’t the end of my math troubles, but it did crack the ice of my fear a little. I could no longer believe that understanding was impossible. My teacher, Miss Kalogeris, did that.   Hayley Barrett

green-crayon-pencil-clipartWithout a doubt, my favorite and most inspiring teacher was my fifth grade teacher, Miss Mellion! She was an artist, fresh out of college, and full of energy. Every month we’d have an artist of the month featured, like Winslow Homer, or Mary Cassat, or Degas, and we’d learn about their lives and art. Her mother was also a teacher in CT, so we had a penpal program, and we even got to meet our penpals one time on a field trip to a museum. She was also a vegetarian, and taught us all about nutrition, and the food groups, and although I didn’t become a vegetarian until many years later, she definitely influenced me. I recently found her address, and am planning to write to her. I hope she still lives there since I’d love to hear from her! She was very encouraging about my writing, and I think she’d be proud to know that I’m now an author too.  Maria Gianferrari

red-crayon-pencil-clipartMy fondest teacher memories can be traced to two special educators. When I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Gentry took a special interest in me. Or, rather, she made me feel special. While I was an average student in general, I stood out in Language Arts, and I was her star speller. I collected the most gold stars for winning the classroom spelling bees. Despite my shyness, she encouraged me to compete on the school’s UIL spelling and poetry teams, which completely converted me to Language Arts geek.

My sophomore English teacher, Mrs. P., was equally important. She insisted that we write in journals every day, which became therapeutic for me during some tough teen times. Somehow she recognized a spark in my writing, and was always encouraging me to think bigger and to do more. It’s probably too late to track her down, but I would love for her to know that I took her advice. Donna Janell Bowman

Bravo to Mr. Looney, who inspired Atticus! And Bravo to all teachers around the world.

What you do matters!

school-chalkboard

Comment on any post this week for your chance to win a copy of THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

Buy a copy of The Looney Experiment from your favorite independent book store, or consider one of these fine merchants:

Amazon, BooksaMillion,Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

 

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Living Life Looney ~ Let’s Welcome THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT!

First order of business: To announce the winner of Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT launch-week giveaway. Congratulations Rachel, you’re the lucky winner! To claim your fabulous reward, please e-mail Penny directly at penny.klostermann@gmail.com – and do it soon, or a dragon may swallow you. 

And now, drumroll please… We’re kicking off yet another fantastic EMU debut! Last Tuesday, Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel hit the shelves – and this week, we’re celebrating!

THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT is a remarkable book. Here’s a little about it, from Luke’s web site:
LOONEY EXPERIMENT coverAtticus Hobart couldn’t feel lower. He’s in love with a girl who doesn’t know he exists, he is the class bully’s personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad has just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, a 77-year-old substitute English teacher with uncanny insight and a most unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there’s more to Mr. Looney’s methods than he’d first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the truths within his own name, he finds that his hyper-imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe—just maybe—discover that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.”

Mr. Looney knows – and so does Luke Reynolds – that being true to yourself takes a special kind of courage. To honor that courage, we EMUs have looked back on our own lives for moments when we have lived life “Looney” and taken personal risks in order to be true to ourselves.

Janet Fox confesses that her biggest Looney leap…

VCFA“was when I decided to go back to school for my MFA in writing (from Vermont College of Fine Arts). Why looney? I had a teenage son, a husband who traveled all over the world, and no income to pay for those two years. My sweet friend Kathi Appelt said, “Do it. The money will follow.” Well, it did: my dad, who I thought had only enough left to live on, gave me a legacy gift that covered the whole thing. Bless you, Dad. Bless you, Kathi. And – leap of faith!”

Carole Gerber lived life Looney when…

OhioState“I left a secure teaching job to return to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio State. At that time, the job market for journalists was flat. Fortunately, I received a graduate assistantship that paid my tuition, and I earned a small stipend writing press releases for the OSU Department of Communications. Thanks to the contacts I made and the experience I racked up, I was also able to find a job in my field immediately after graduating.”

 

Jason Gallaher tells his tale of a recent risk…

Brony2“The biggest risk I took to be true to myself actually happened just a few short weeks ago at our annual EMLA retreat. In front of all my writing sisters and brothers, I finally came out of the closet as a Brony—a grown man who watches My Little Pony—by wearing an adult-sized My Little Pony onesie (it was of Rainbow Dash, for those of you familiar with the show). I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, and now I can express my Brony ways with pride! Neeeeeeigh!!!!”

Penny Parker Klostermann reflects on making her Looney dream a reality…

There Was an Old Dragon cover“I think taking the leap into getting published was my Living Life Looney. I dreamt of it for years but made excuses for not being true to my dream. I know that had a lot to do with fear. Probably the biggest step I took was sending my work to my now critique group when they were searching for a new member. That was scary but it made me feel like I was taking a serious step. After being accepted I knew I’d made a commitment to other writers and not just to myself. There was no looking back!”

 

Laurie Thompson knows that going for what you want can feel pretty Looney…

ThisIBM“When I was in college, one of my best friends got an internship at IBM. When I heard about what she would be doing there, I was so jealous. I hadn’t planned on going on an internship that semester, but it sounded like the perfect job. I called directory assistance to get the manager’s home phone number, and called him–at home on a Sunday–to tell him how much I wanted the job and why I’d be the perfect candidate and to beg him to consider hiring me, too. He refused to look at my resume or check my references or anything. He said that anyone who wanted the job that badly and had that much chutzpah was an easy hire, even though he could only think of a few months’ worth of work for me at the time. Shortly after I arrived, however, one of his full-time employees had to go on extended medical leave for most of the project, and I was there to step in to some degree and help keep things on schedule in her absence. I ended up staying a full year, and it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It was also a valuable lesson in not being afraid to ask for what you want!”

Maria Gianferrari gets Looney when animal safety is at stake…

2787614567_3fbd79a560_b“Writing is probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken—rejection is scary, so I’m proud that I continued to persevere. But I can think of an incident, perhaps not the biggest risk, but another that I was proud of myself for when I was in 5thgrade. My mother had to drop something off for a church event at a classmate’s house, and two of my male classmate friends were in the yard preparing to move from shooting targets with a BB gun, to shooting some birds and squirrels. I was a shy, non-confrontational kid, but as an animal lover, I was not going to let them harm anything while I was around, so I kept shooing them away. They were so mad at me, and kept yelling, but I didn’t care.”

Finally, Tamara Ellis Smith’s wise words on Living Life Looney…

MFA“Probably one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken was deciding to go back to school.  I had two little kids at the time, so making the commitment to take two years to get my MFA in writing for children and young adults, was a big decision—for me and my whole family.  I had this deep intuition, though, that it was exactly what I needed to do, and I am forever grateful that I chose to listen to that.  (I am also forever and beyond grateful to Derek, my husband, for being so supportive of my choice too.) It felt like a big risk to spend all that time (and take out all those loans) on something I wanted so intensely.  The stakes were high, you know?  It also felt like a big risk, socially.  Until then, I had avoided situations that would place me with new people in new environments because my social anxiety was so great.  Deciding to go to grad school was one of the first times I recognized that my desire could be bigger than my fear.

The other thing that ended up being so cool, and magical—I had no idea how I would go away for two weeks every semester for the residencies. How would I find childcare so that Derek could continue to work? How would I afford that?  A few months before my first residency I re-connected with my best friend from my hometown. She was looking for a way, in essence, to restart her life. She wanted to come back to Vermont. She wanted to ground herself there. But she needed to figure out a way to get back.  She ended up coming to live with us, and she watched the kids during those two weeks over the two years I was in school.  It was amazing. She had a place in which to hunker down, my kids had the best “fake mom” ever, Derek got to know this dear friend of mine, and we got to reconnect.  She ended up living with us for over five years!

Identifying your deepest desires and taking those risks—you never know what magical things will come!”

Join the Looney ranks! Comment below and share a time when you were courageously Looney, and you’ll have a chance to win a signed copy of Luke Reynolds’s debut middle-grade novel: THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

Or, if you just can’t wait for your copy (we definitely can’t!), click any of these links to purchase THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT now:

Amazon, Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound

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Celebrate our last day of launching THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT by Penny Parker Klostermann! Meet Marvelous EMLA Agent, Tricia Lawrence (plus a couple of dogs!)

It’s a red carpet welcome for agent extraordinaire Tricia Lawrence at Emu’s Debuts today to celebrate Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT!

 

Dragon Cover High Res copy

Welcome, Tricia! We’re so happy to have you here!

How did you come to represent Penny? What were your first impressions of her?

Penny was a referral from Erin, which is commonplace in EMLA. We often refer to each other if we’re feeling overly full of MG novel clients, or in Penny’s case, PB writers.  My first impression was someone who was passionate about her craft, determined to work harder than she had ever worked to become a success. And she is so much fun!

 

pic of Penny and Tricia

Since you’ve now met Penny in person, how did your initial impression match up with your in-person one?

Penny is SO MUCH FUN. We laugh, goof off, crack jokes, and then there was that time I told everyone she was ten years older than she was! <blushing still> I’ll never live that one down. And she’s always thinking about her manuscripts. At our annual retreat one-on-one meeting, she was typing away madly just before it was her turn. And then she read it to me! I LOVE that about Penny.

Here’s evidence of Penny’s silliness, a bobble Tricia likeness:

Bobble Trish

 

What was it about There Was an Old Dragon that first grabbed your attention?

The FUN rhyme and the silliness of the characters. And that clippity-clopping part. Who wouldn’t love it?

Now that you’ve read the final version, is it much different from the original that you first fell in love with? Can you talk about how it evolved?

It was hilarious, but with editor Maria Modugno’s wonderful guidance, it all fits so beautifully with illustrator Ben Mantle’s art. I think I giggle about this story still and I’ve read it more times than I could count. Which I LOVE! This is the magic of picture books, the author and illustrator create this wonderful symbiosis under the guidance of a skilled editor/art director, and voila! You want to read it again and again and again. And then you giggle again and again and again.

If you were a dragon, what would you eat?

All the chocolate cake. Hands down. I’d clean out every single bakery within a 50-mile radius. Oh, and add in some maple bars. And peanut M&Ms. And chocolate-filled Oreos. And . . . yes, there is a theme here.

 

chocolate cake

What are the first three phrases that pop into your head when you think of Penny?

Sparkly writer. Comedian extraordinaire. Rhyming superstar.

What are the first three phrases that pop into your head when you think of Penny’s writing?

Brilliantly crafted (although she makes it look easy). Always has something of Penny in it (very sparkly). Tons of fun.

 

group with Penny and Tricia (2)

 

Our Emu’s Debuts readers may like to know what kinds of submissions you’re currently interested in. Are there particular genres, or what are you looking for most in a manuscript?

This is the year of the novel for me. I’m looking for YA that could sit on a shelf next to Laura Ruby’s BONE GAP and Jennifer Mckissack’s upcoming SANCTUARY. And as for MG, again, something that could sit next to Alice Hoffman’s NIGHTBIRD and H.M. Bouwman’s upcoming THE TRADED GIRL. In a nutshell, a little bit of magical realism and a story that you can’t help but just sink into.

Tricia, Penny and some of Tricia’s EMLA clients:

Tricia-EMLA-clients

What’s your typical work day like?

A lot of email. A lot of reading. A lot of chocolate rewards!

What’s your favorite thing about being an agent?

Getting to be a part of an author or illustrator’s creative cycle, seeing new ideas be born, revised, challenged, then turned into something truly astounding. I love the creative process (as an artist and writer myself) and getting to be near all these lovely authors and artists on a daily basis. Well, that is my favorite part! And then getting them connected to amazing editors is like ganache icing on my chocolate cake!

Disclaimer: this is completely unrelated to Penny’s book launch, but as a fellow dog lover I must ask you about your dogs—what are their names? Do they help you screen manuscripts?

We have a 2-year-old husky shepherd (mostly white, a little bit of gray now, with dark brown eyes) and her name is Rue. She’s a fluffy butt, but we adore her. She has a younger brother (actually not related at all, but they are now inseparable) 18-month-old English mastiff mix (a lovely chocolate brown with dark markings; he’s a 100 lbs!) named Toledo Vader. He drools a LOT being a mastiff, but we love him so.

They have turned our lives upside down, ruined the backyard and our downstairs family room carpet, but oh well. We LOVE our dogs.

(I can so see why–they’re adorable!)

toledo+rue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their favorite thing is to sit as close as they can to me when I’m on my laptop, or when I’m not downstairs, to sit on the stairs waiting for me to be done with my laptop.

rue-laptop

Laptop vs. lapdog  ;).

Rue’s favorite picture book is ART & MAX by David Wiesner. It still bears her teeth marks from when she was a puppy.

Toledo prefers to eat SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, specifically issues with basketball players on the cover.

toledoslobber

What else would you like to tell us about yourself?

I don’t know. I’ve bared my chocolate soul to you. What else is there? Oh wait, I’m crazy for soccer. Go Seattle Sounders! Go Seattle Reign!

Thank you Tricia, Rue and Toledo for visiting us here today!

And many thanks to our Emu’s Debuts guests for joining us this week to celebrate THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT!

Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win your very own copy!

For personalized signed copies of There Was an Old Dragon, you can order from Texas Star Trading Co. and give your dedication details in the Gift Message box. You can also contact them by email at texasstartradingco@sbcglobal.net or call  (325) 672-9696.

Penny’s book is also available at your neighborhood indie:

Indiebound

Or at these locations:

Books A Million

Amazon

Powells

Barnes & Noble

 

 

 

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