Category Archives: Blogging

Welcome to the World, Penny & Jelly: A Talk with Illustrator Thyra Heder!

Happy Launch Week, Penny & Jelly!!


I have always been fascinated by art and artists. People who can draw are, to me, the world’s greatest geniuses! Art (particularly painting) was one of my first loves. Sadly, I have no talent for drawing at all. For example, this was my attempt to draw an alien rock monster:   AlienSee what I mean?   At least I have the good fortune of getting to converse with many people who can turn paper and lines and shapes and colors into something amazing. When we started planning the launch party for Maria Gianferrari’s delightful Penny & Jelly, I jumped at the chance to interview illustrator Thyra Heder.


Tell us a bit about how you began your career as an artist, and found your way to illustrating picture books. While I was in college, my sister needed storyboards for a short film she was making. I thought I had read enough comics as aJelly_sketches kid that I could do it, and I was sort of right. I was not great, but my drawings looked proficient enough to get another job from that production. By word of mouth, I started storyboarding other films, tv shows, and ad campaigns. Storyboarding lead to other design and illustration work, which forced me to scramble and teach myself styles, mediums and explore aesthetics. So I guess that’s how I learned my skill…though I must admit I’m still teaching myself.     PennyJelly_sketch3I got into picture books because I’ve always loved them and collected them and one day I had an idea for one. After finding an agent who would take me on and revising my book for what felt like eons I got a book deal. That book, Fraidyzoo, gave my drawings exposure that could lead to other book opportunities like Penny and Jelly. I think the reason I finally took the leap into pursuing picture books was that I was aching to make things that people actually saw. Also I’ve always felt there is nothing more special than a moment reading a book to a kid, and I wanted to be a part of that.


What did you love most about Penny and Jelly? I loved that she allowed me to draw action, and I loved the chance to draw a relationship between a girl and her dog. I’ve got 0209_PennyandJellyStyleboardmy own dog, Toby, in the studio with me everyday, so I was excited to draw Jelly in his many states. My favorite thing about painting her is that I find myself making her expressions.


Where can readers see more about you on-line? Are you working on any new projects? Well I just finished Penny and Jelly 2 which was fun to paint (proofs look great!) and I’ve got my 2nd book that I wrote and illustrated coming out in October called The Bear Report. I’m also working on a screenplay with a friend for an animation at the moment so that will be filling my brain for the rest of the summer! I’ve got a non picture book drawing blog: and my website: thumbs_layered_1217_06-70219Spreadwalkhome









Don’t forget to comment for a chance to win a copy of this heartwarming book. You can purchase it for yourself and everyone you know by going to Penny & Jelly’s website and choosing the buying link that’s best for you!  A second winner will receive some Penny & Jelly swag!    ____________________________________________________

Susan Vaught Susan Vaught is the author of many books for young adults, such as TRIGGER, BIG FAT MANIFESTO, and FREAKS LIKE US. Her debut novel for middle-grade readers, FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY, published by Simon & Schuster, hit the shelves in March, 2015. Please visit Susan at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Blogging, Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Creativity, Illustrators, Interviews, Promotion

The 12 Days of a Book Contract (Fa la la)


Well, tinsel my snowflakes, friends, it’s that time of year and I am deep in the trenches of the holiday concert season. It always tends to go something like, “Yay!!! Holiday music!!!” then, “Yay. Holiday music,” then, “OK, how many performances do I have left?” then, “SING FROSTY AT ME ONE MORE TIME AND I WILL CUT YOUR FACE.”

Luckily, it’s only the first week of December, so I have plenty of festive cheer and good will toward men and Emus left in the tanks. This blog attempts to capture that special, fleeting time between contract and launch — much like those 30 magical seconds between Thanksgiving and Black Friday — and in the spirit of the season, I’ve decided to reflect on the gifts large and small that a book contract has offered me. Sing along at home!


On the First Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

1. Excitement!!!

YAY!! Like, you guys!! MY BOOK! It’s going to be a BOOK! Like for realz!! OMG SO HAPPY!! I have never, ever been this happy about anything ever.


On the Second Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

2. Deadlines

Wait, I had my entire life to write this book in the first place, and now I have to revise it and write a whole other one? By a date?

On the Third Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

3. Money


I have some friends who are professional folk singers, and they say, “You want to know the secret to making a million dollars in folk music? Start with two.” Writing is like that. No one should go into writing for the money. But when you’re Ramen noodle poor (. . . or would that be Ramen noodle rich?), a little advance money goes a long way. More importantly, it’s a major psychological boost to have someone say, “I like what you’re doing so much I’m going to give you money to keep doing it.”

We as consumers have the power to say this, too, by buying books or recordings or art. Pretty awesome.

On the Fourth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

4. Crippling anxiety

So, yeah. Surprise! I’ve always had a penchant for hyperventilating in Wal-Mart, but lately any amount of drama or the slightest hint of conflict has sent my brain into overdrive and curled me up into a shifty-eyed ball. Don’t get me wrong — in my shriveled, black heart, I am still deliriously happy about selling a book. But some days I just want to shove the whole thing back into my head and hide it under a squishy pink lobe where no one will ever see it, ever. Then no one will be able to give it bad reviews or say mean things about it on Amazon.

What’s worse is that there’s no escaping it. Every book ever written has been on the receiving end of bad reviews and mean comments, especially in the cold, prickly expanse of Internet. Joyce’s Ulysses has 3.73 stars out of 5 on Goodreads right now. Really. Go look, I’ll wait.

Right? 2,924 people to date have given this book one star. One reviewer claims it “ruined a week at the beach.” Ruined a week at the beach.


There’s nothing wrong with 3.73 stars or 4.9 stars or 2.14 stars or .08 stars. As my mom says, nothing people say about a book changes even one word of that book. But the fact that I know the hate mail is coming has made my circuits go haywire. 

On the Fifth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

5. Red Bull


Why did I take this picture?

On the Sixth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

6. Fantasy Math

I’ve never done so much math, and I used to teach math. Little fantasy maths here and there. How much money I would make if my book sold 10,000 copies. 100,000 copies. A million copies. How much money my publisher would be in the hole if my book didn’t sell any copies at all. How many words I need to write every day between Now and Then in order to have This Many Words. How many words I’ve averaged per day since This Date. How much more disposable income I would have if I ate the cats.


Think of what I’d save on exorcisms alone.

On the Seventh Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

7. Blog interviews

As Tolstoy famously said, “The writing community rocks the house.” I’m so excited to be bouncing around to different blogs, keeping up with other writers and spreading the word about my own upcoming release. It’s super crazy fun, and writers are awesome. The strangest interview I’ve done so far was on a blog where the questions are standard, so even though it’s technically the blog interviewing you, you’re kind of interviewing yourself, and in mine you can totally tell. It’s a bit amusing and informative and lonely and weird all at the same time.

On the Eighth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

8. Sudden Limitless Capacity for Strong Opinions About Minutiae

It’s funny, my editor came to me with a couple kinda big things copyedit-wise, like the name of my protagonist, and I didn’t really care. But HOLY CATS, when my ellipses came under fire, I was ready to take a red pen to the freaking Supreme Court. And don’t you look sideways at that comma on page 9 or I will mess you up.

On the Ninth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

9. Hygiene

The best thing about writing is that it doesn’t have to involve leaving the house, or even the bed. It doesn’t require socks, showers, feeding yourself, or ever changing out of your purple polar bear pajamas. Did I say, “the best thing”? Maybe I just meant, “the thing.” Anyway, I’ve been making more of an effort lately to be presentable, because it’s not just me I’m representing at launches and conferences and workshops, it’s partially The Book as well, and The Book is made up of a lot of people. Some of whom are attractive and sophisticated.


The Book sings Disney duets at karaoke night instead of “It’s Raining Men” because Classy.

On the Tenth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

10. Fear

The topic of Fear is a popular one here and elsewhere in the writeosphere, so I know you know where I’m coming from, my friends. The unknown is one of the scariest things there is, and getting a book deal (not to mention just writing in general) is like being handed a big fat bag of unknown. Some of the unknown is good, like excitement and anticipation. But the remainder is fear, of disappointing readers, letting my awesome publisher down, failing my awesome agent Joan, screwing up so badly that I destroy my career and possibly the future of publishing in general. We don’t need to dwell on this, but it may be helpful to hear it again. Yep. Writing is scary.

On the Eleventh Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

11. Shorter Conversations About What I Do

Writers write. It’s a pretty easy definition that doesn’t include the word “contract” anywhere at all, and I’ve already written a whole post about this on here. So this one isn’t fair, but there it is. I’ve found that it’s much easier to get to the end of the, “So, what do you do?” conversation if you can say you have a book coming out. The world appears to understand that.

On the Twelfth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

12. New Friends

As we’ve established, the writing community rocks.


“Launch party at my place. Gonna be epic. Bring your beards!”

Especially, dare I say, the kidlit/YA lit community. Seriously, guys. Everyone is all so nuts and fragile and worried and strange and delightful, and it’s the support of this huge extended writer family that gets me from one sentence to the next. Agent Joan is a total rockstar. St. Martin’s Press is a marvelous place to grow a book. And, of course, I am particularly fond of my fellow Emus, pictured here at an impromptu gathering at an SCBWI conference:


We are a sexy, sexy bunch.

Fa-la-la-la laaaaaaa, la-la, la, laaaaaaaa! 


When I was soliciting ideas for this post at my parents’ tree decorating yesterday, my mom’s two glasses of wine shouted, “Remainders!” and then giggled uncontrollably. NOT YET, MOTHER. IT HAS TO COME OUT FIRST.

What about you? What gifts, welcome or otherwise, has the writing life given you? 


About Me


Filed under Agents, Anxiety, Blogging, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Colleagues, Guilt, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, rejection and success, Reviews, Writing and Life

The Fine Line Between Promo & Bozo

There’s an author on a popular social media discussion forum who starts a half dozen Twitter-like threads about her self-published books at least twice a day. My inbox floods with @’s, RT’s and hashtags when it’s supposed to be filled with lively discussion and debate about children’s literature. I’ve tried to gently steer this author, explaining that Twitter blasts aren’t appropriate for a discussion forum, but she continues to promote her books as if she doesn’t care about annoying the group membership.

Likewise, I’ve seen authors on Twitter tweet “read my award-winning book!” and “my book rated 5 stars on Amazon!” ad nauseam, never writing about anything other than their work.

And you know, when it comes to book promotion, that just doesn’t work.


Imagine a cocktail party. Whom at that party do you slowly back away from? The person inflating themselves, talking about their accomplishments, their interests, even their Amway products (“but they really are superior!”). They never engage in conversation, they never ask about you. You stealthily pull out your phone and text a friend across the room: “Save me!”

Social media is no different. If you constantly talk yourself up, everyone’s going to tune you out. It’s like a radio station that loops the same song for 24 hours. Once or twice and you’ll bop your head to the beat; more than that and you’ll bop your head against the wall.

headagainstwallThis is why book promotion is so difficult; there’s a fine line between promo and being a bozo. How do you inform people about your book without sounding like a windbag?

What I’ve learned over the past seven years of blogging is that being a friend to others is the way to go. Be helpful. Prompt interesting discussion. You don’t have to talk about your book to do book promotion. In fact, I roughly adhere to the 80-20 rule. Talk about your work only 20% of the time (or less). If you’re funny and entertaining online, people will assume your book will be similarly guffaw-inducing. And maybe they’ll buy it.

But the worst thing to do is to beg. You’ve seen it: “Only 34 more ‘likes’ and I’ll reach 500! Go ‘like’ me! Please RT!” Really? Is this the way to get quality followers? No. It’s the way for authors to inflate their numbers and their ego. Authors should stop looking at the numbers and start looking at the people. Because people online are just like the ones at the cocktail party–except they don’t need anyone to save them. They just need to press a button and you’ll go away.

(But please don’t go away! Tell me, what book promotion mistakes do you see online?)


tarafall2011piccloseTara Lazar loves writing witty bios that make her sound interesting, but often fails. Her debut picture book THE MONSTORE will be released with the Aladdin imprint of Simon & Schuster on June 4th. She’s the “Social Media Captain” for the NJ chapter of SCBWI. There’s more hilarious authorly escapades at her blog,


Filed under Blogging, Book Promotion, Social Media

Zen and the Art of Book Promotion

The whole point of Emu’s Debuts is that we’re beginners here. We’re figuring this out as we go. No matter how long we hoped and worked and dreamed that we would be published, for all of us, this is our first time out of the gate.

It’s like parenting. You can’t practice, not really. You can’t prepare, though countless self help books and seminars would have you believe otherwise. There is a steep learning curve. For everyone.

These days, authors are expected to be very active in promoting their books. This introverted, often painfully shy sector of society is supposed to suddenly transform into a dervish of charming, bubbly wit. There now, I’ve made writers sound dull, haven’t I? It’s not that—it’s just that sometimes we are more comfortable in our imagined worlds than we are in the real one.

There are plenty of informational articles and even entire blogs that spell out exactly what an author should do in each of the 12 months leading up to launch day. Here is a short list, just to give you an idea:

  • sign up for twitter
  • contact book sellers
  • print bookmarks
  • design catchy tie-in temporary tattoos
  • build a website
  • tweet
  • make a book trailer
  • plan a cover reveal
  • arrange a blog tour
  • make a press kit
  • host giveaways
  • tweet
  • contact media outlets
  • present at conferences
  • sign up for ARC tours
  • plan a launch party
  • schedule school visits
  • tweet some more

Really, I could go on. And on. And on. If you let it, promotion can completely take over.

The thing is, nobody is going to remember my fancy press kit. And those temporary tattoos are going to fade after a shower or two. But our young readers will remember our stories.

I have just over three months until Parched hits the shelves. In that time, I’ll pick and choose from the list above, doing the things that will connect me with bloggers and teachers and librarians, with the kids who have been craving a story just like this one.

But most of the time, I won’t even be thinking about marketing and promotion. I’ll be writing.

MC Author Photo CroppedMelanie Crowder graduated in 2011 with an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the forthcoming middle grade novel, PARCHED (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013). A West Coast girl at heart, Melanie now lives and writes in the beautiful (if dry) state of Colorado.

Visit her online at


Filed under Blogging, Book Promotion, Promotion, Social Media

All those release parties in the past few months mean a lot of goodbyes now. *sniff*

As you can tell, this is the season of hails and farewells on Emudebuts. As a member of the “second wave,” my tenure here wasn’t all that long, but I’m so thankful I got to join this group for the dizzying months before and after publication.

Given that most of my publication journey still falls on the “before” side of the equation (It’ll take eight years of being a published author until I break even), those prepub days carry a hefty weight on my psyche. Like most Emudebuts, my first post focused on “The Call”, and the rest of my posts have described the exciting/scary/overwhelming run of events up through launch.

But goodbyes bring with them a desire to look back. I never want to be so jaded that I take anything about getting published for granted. Therefore, I thought I’d focus on the darkest-before-the-dawn time preceding the call that made me eligible to join this blog in the first place. And I’m making it personal. As in ripped from the pages of my diary personal. Below are selected excerpts from my journal in that last year before the deal. At that point in the process, I’d been writing “seriously” for five and a half years, and had signed with amazing agent Ammi-Joan Paquette a year earlier when she took me on with MANUSCRIPT#3 (Not its real name).

April 28, 2010

MANUSCRIPT#4 is off on submissions! I have so much more hope for this book.

In the meantime, I should start my fifth manuscript. Yeeesh. What am I excited about anyway?

May 12, 2010

Bleh. I want my book to be sold NOW. Either one of them. [MANUSCRIPT#3 had been on sub for a year.] Now, now, now. I’m having a hard time starting something else. Those editors should be in love with MANUSCRIPT4, chomping at the bit for it and its sequels. What’s wrong with them?

May 20, 2010

[My journal is filled with story ideas and blurbs. Here’s one that might sound familiar.]

Moria Mann is ticked. Her best friend is all over Finn, Moria’s person-of-interest. This party isn’t going the way she’d planned at all. Moping outside, she makes a rash decision to play NERVE, an on-line version of truth or dare, without the truth part. Players can win big—but almost no one does. With some skin the game, Moria’s determined to at least get her entrance fee back. But when her dare pairs her with a hottie from the other side of town and builds an audience equally as enticing, she’s tempted to push her luck too far. She realizes too late that she stands to lose a lot more than money.

May 24, 2010

Feeling mopey…got another rejection on MANUSCRIPT4.

As for NERVE. Moria (think I’m going to change her name) has completed a dare at a bowling alley that got kind of violent. But the thrill of surviving it, plus winning the money, plus attracting a huge audience has her seduced into trying one more.

May 28, 2010

Wow, I’ve only been writing NERVE for eight days and I’ve got over eight thousand words. Crazy. I’ve changed Moria’s name to Venus, for now. Guess it’ll keep changing till something clicks.

I got two rejections on MANUSCRIPT4 today. *&^%. I really thought this book would sell quickly. Guess a writer has to have that kind of faith or why keep writing? Still, it sucks, sucks, sucks to be rejected again.

Okay, back to NERVE, what should the next dare be?

June 9, 2010

Alas, my fifth rejection for MANUSCRIPT4 today. The editor thought the writing was strong but… Sigh. Ugh. Phooey. My sure-fire winner is getting pummeled. I really thought it would sell fast. It’s sure getting rejected fast.

June 18, 2010

A funny thing happened yesterday. I was reading “The Angel’s Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The main character is a writer, and he was going through some writerly ruminations. I thought to myself, yeah, that’s exactly how writers would experience it. The odd thing was, I was thinking of writers as a “we” rather than “them.” I think that’s the first time I included myself in the fraternity. It was a weird realization, since the threshold I’ve always set for being called a writer was to be a published writer, or to at least have something under contract.

Now, I don’t see myself introducing myself as a writer unless/until that occurs, but in my heart, I finally feel that I am one. Only took four manuscripts and a good start on number five to get there.

September 24, 2010

Revising NERVE. MANUSCRIPT3 and MANUSCRIPT4 are out of the game until I revise them again. So, no irons in the fire. Hate that sitting-on-the-sidelines feeling.

October 30, 2010

Sent NERVE to Joan. Good news was that she really liked it. The challenging news is that I need to come up with a new ending.

December 5, 2010

I sent the latest revision to Joan last night and hopefully she’ll deem it sub-worthy. At this point with MANUSCRIPT4, I was so sure it would sell. Now I feel the same way about NERVE. I’m like a new contestant on The Bachelor, ever hopeful that this time things will all work out. It’s as though the previous heartbreaks haven’t happened. Or, if they did, I’ve recovered enough to put my heart out there again.

December 8, 2010

What to write? What to write?

What if the earth stopped spinning? Guess the atmosphere would mess up and the oceans too since the centrifugal force of the Earth spinning at 1000 mph keeps water over the equator.

[NOTE: Fortunately, I did not pursue this idea since, even if it had sold, THE AGE OF MIRACLES would’ve come out sooner.]

January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

My theme word for this year is:


All I can do for this publishing dream is write. The rest is out of my hands. Let it go.

Saturday Jan. 8, 2011

An editor at AWESOMEPUBHOUSE was hooked by NERVE, pitched it at an editors meeting where they loved it, and passed it along to other editors to read this weekend. This weekend! As in today and tomorrow! Somewhere in New York, an editor could be reading NERVE right this minute.

February 14, 2011

On the writing front, I STILL haven’t heard from AWESOMEPUBHOUSE. It’s been over a month so they must not be that excited about it. I’ve finished rewriting MANUSCRIPT4.

On the non-writing front, it’s Valentines Day! Way more fun to focus on that.

February 16, 2011

Going crazy with the lack of word on NERVE. I know I should put it out of my mind, but every day feels like it could be the one when I get THE CALL. Maybe I should accept that the call may never come and just get busy being useful.

Princess of Perseverance or Duchess of Delusion?

I think/know I need a break, but this writing addiction has become worse than that of a gambler who’s promised himself“Just one more game.” It’s clear where this is heading. Just one more manuscript…And another, and another.

At what point does it become simply ridiculous?

[NOTE: I expanded this whine and posted it anonymously on the Verla Kay blueboards where I received all kinds of support from other writers.] 

Sunday, March 20, 2011


And the rest, including another offer, was documented in my intro post.

It’s weird that while culling through my journal to collect these tidbits, I relived some of the stress. But I also remembered that there were other writers I could commiserate with, at every stage of the journey.

Our kitty Bella admiring all the pretty Emudebut titles, and looking forward to the many more to come.

As a reader of Emudebuts, I found it an enlightening guide. As a member of Emudebuts, I found it a blessed sounding board. As an Emeritus of Emudebuts, I know it’ll be a cherished memory. And I will never fail to smile when remembering the videoed dares of my fellow Emudebuts when NERVE was released.

But this isn’t truly goodbye, because I’ll be stalking the comments section for a long time to come. And you know I’ll be here to celebrate each book launch of the latest authors to wear the Emudebut mantle.



Filed under Blogging, Farewell, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Enter the Dragon, Exit the Man in Spandex

NO, I’M NOT THE MAN IN SPANDEX – I’m talking about Captain Stupendous, the superhero in my book. Sheesh. Although I’m the one who’s exiting the blog, so I guess I am the man in spandex…? NO NO NO. No one wants that.

I was initially reluctant to join EMU’s Debuts, if you can believe that coming from an apparently rabid joiner-type person like me, but it’s true. “Oh no, what if it’s too much work, oh geez, I’m worried about stretching myself thin, oh man, I hear Jeannie Mobley has no shame when it comes to Photoshop…” I had all kinds of reasons to turn down Jeannie’s invitation. I’m so glad I put them aside and joined anyway.

Things have changed since the Original Eight EMUs launched this dog and pony show a couple of years ago, which was kind of the point, now that I think about it – we chronicled those changes as our books made the mysterious and sometimes nerve-racking voyage from publisher acquisition to honest-to-gosh marketplace availability, right? Expectations, challenges, roles, perceptions (internal and external), and insecurity triggers have all changed.

Have I changed as well? I suppose so. I’m not one of those admirable people who’ve spent the whole of their lives pursuing their biggest, boldest dreams – for years and years I seemed to lack whatever the requirements are for engaging in that kind of pursuit. Bravery, perhaps; confidence, probably; and discipline, most definitely. I’ve also grappled with that hoary old bugaboo known to so many of us, fear of failure. I guess it is a significant marker of change to say that I’ve learned to cope with those things well enough to start my career – I obviously wouldn’t have landed an agent and a book deal without working through those issues to at least some extent.

Stepping into a life of published authorhood has provoked other changes as well. The transition from aspiring author to no-longer-aspiring author has been eye-opening in some ways, if only because I’ve never been a genuine public figure before. It’s not that my movements are being tracked by paparazzi or anything, but it’s also true that I give more thought to my lunatic rantings before going public with them. It’s also true that I find myself in contact with all kinds of people who actually have no real pre-existing personal relationship with me – it’s rather startling to be approached by people who ONLY know me as an author. Does that change the way I interact with the world at large? Well sure, of course it does. Whether it changes it for better or worse is at least partly a matter of perspective, but it undoubtedly does change it.

I also changed in a way that’s entirely predictable in retrospect – sappy and melodramatic guy that I am, I grew attached to my fellow EMUs. These people are my friends, you know? We’ve shared a lot of experiences along the way, a noteworthy chunk of them at the EMLA retreat in July. They’ve had my back, and I’ve tried to reciprocate. Experiencing change is usually not easy, even when the changes are as exciting and longed-for as the ones I’ve been going through, but it’s definitely easier when you have comrades-in-literary-arms who are having similar experiences.

And now I’ve undergone the change which caps my tenure in the EMU’s Debuts blog community: I’ve debuted. My book is out there in the world. I’m a published author, babies. And this is one of those tricky statements to make publicly, because it clearly falls under the category of “problems I actually want to have,” but there are some teensy, tiny, bittersweet elements to this change. I’ll never have any of these experiences for the first time again, for example. Not exactly a dagger in the chest, but it is a genuine source of wistfulness. And I must leave the EMUs and make room for new arrivals like Josh McCune, whose Monday post clearly signals that the quality of the blogging around here will only get better.

I’m the last of the Original Eight to launch my book, which might be making me feel particularly drippy and sentimental, but by now that’s hardly a surprise to anyone reading this blog, right? It’s been a great two years, full of laughs, moral support, professional wisdom, and fun. This isn’t really the end of my relationship with the EMUs, of course – I’ll have emeritus status, I’ll certainly read and comment on posts from next-generation EMUs, and there are industry events and EMLA retreats to look forward to. Still, I’m having a big mush attack anyway. Thank you, my friends. It was an honor to be counted among your number, and being a part of this group has made the journey from deal to debut a little bit easier, a little more comprehensible, and a lot more meaningful.

Au revoir,


Filed under Blogging, Farewell, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Life Imitates Art (and not in a good way)

By now, those of you following along undoubtedly know the premise of LEAGUE OF STRAYS–a shady character pulls together a group of misfits, introverts, and loners, organizes them into a band with a catchy name and a singular purpose, then gradually pushes them into doing bad things for his pleasure and benefit. It is a tense and dramatic story, in which the reader wonders when or if Charlotte will get the strength to escape the dangerous sociopath before she is in too deep to redeem herself.

The story carries important messages about the dangers of peer pressure, temptation, bullying, and the desire for revenge. But I want to talk about something else here. About the ease with which someone can fall into this trap if the shady character happens to be smooth enough, charismatic enough, and deeply sinister enough.

It is a cautionary tale about how easily life can imitate art.

It is a dreadful little real-life  horror story I like to call:

Let me take you back two years. To the very beginning. To right about this time of year in 2010, when both L.B. and I were eagerly awaiting the completion of our debut book deals. This is a nerve-wracking, email-checking, nail-biting time for a writer. A vulnerable time. A times when a person feels desperate for a connection.


And thus, I set my plan into action.

“Hey, L.B. I hear you’re about to have a book under contract. What would you think of joining me in a debut author blog,” I enthused innocently.

“Gosh, Jeannie,” she expounded, “It’s a little creepy that you know such secret information about me.”

“Never mind that,” I laughed lightly. “Join me. It will be great.”

“Okay,” she agreed. “Hey, I know. We can call it EMU’s Debuts.”

I smiled at how well the plan was coming together, and let her believe she had come up with the name, while meanwhile I gathered others to me:

Michelle Ray, burning for revenge because Shakespeare not only copied her story idea, but killed off her favorite character

J. Anderson Coats, the promising young scholar of medieval history, surrounded by fools who didn’t understand a word of Latin

Lynda Mullaly Hunt, wrestling daily with the pain of an abused child in foster care

Natalie Lorenzi, alone in a foreign land, with little but gelato to comfort her,

Cynthia Levinson, a lonely non-fiction specialist in a sea of fiction writers.

One by one, I reeled them in, promising them camaraderie in their lonely author’s journey.

Then, Mike Jung’s deal with this dream editor Arthur Levine came through. At once, I pounced.

“Hey Mike,” I crooned in my sultriest voice, “Wouldn’t you like to join us?”

“Gosh, I don’t know,” Mike hesitated. “I have young kids, a day job, a lot on my plate.”

I batted my eyelashes in a way he could not ignore, even though we were communicating via email.  “But Mike. EMUs NEEDS your masculine, manly touch.”

“Golly, gosh, gee-whiz!” Mike exclaimed. “Count me in!”

(Yeah. When I bat my lashes, I’m that hot.)

And so I had them, and could set my master plan into motion. None of them suspected my true intent; my desire to exhaust them creatively and humiliate them publicly until my book–MINE I TELL YOU–would dominate at the expense of all others!

What’s that you say? You think I am making all this up? Exaggerating, to make our EMU’s journey sound just like LEAGUE OF STRAYS? You don’t believe I would push them all to humiliating extremes?

Need I remind you of this?

And my hair is rarely that combed.

J Anerson Coats bares it all (nearly) in her big girl panties.

Or this?

“Sure,” I said. “Have another drink. Don’t worry about that man with the camera.”

Or, God forgive me, this?

There’s really no caption that can do this justice.

And as for exhaustion, I am the one who first suggested we do release parties that last all week.

“It sounds like a lot of work,” one of them mused.

“I don’t know if I have that much time,” remarked another.

“It’s only a week,” I encouraged warmly. “And it’s for dear, dear Michelle. You wouldn’t want to disappoint dear Michelle, would you?”

Yes, that’s how the release party plan began, in July of 2011.  Little did they foresee the outcome: Five release parties in seven weeks in the fall of 2012 (mine, of course, being the first, while they were all still fresh as daisies.)

Coincidence?  I think not.

So take your own lesson from this. Sociopaths are out there–one in every twenty-five people, as L.B. will tell you.  They seem nice. Normal. Charming, even. Don’t be drawn in.  It can happen to anyone, even Charlotte. Even L.B. Even a manly man like Mike Jung.

LEAGUE OF STRAYS by L.B. SchulmanThe best defense is a strong offense. So read LEAGUE OF STRAYS so you can see the risk, and learn to be your own guide in life. Before it’s too late and you find yourself eating a whole chocolate cake under duress.

Another unsuspecting victim is drawn in…

And the best way to get your hands on a copy of LEAGUE OF STRAYS? Post a reply any time this week, for our drawing. For a book, not a cake.


Filed under Blogging, Celebrations, Colleagues

Vlogging Tips from a Newbie Vlogger

Wow, Mike. You may not know this yet, but you’ve created a monster in your Monday post Regarding Physical Evidence or Lookit, Vlogging. Forget today’s To Do List, I just threw the whole thing away and concentrated on making my first video blog and uploading it to Youtube. Always wanted to try vlogging, but never had the guts. Until Mike stepped up and showed me how easy it is. With my MacBook Pro and iMovie, it was a breeze, made even easier with the help of my technologically-savvy ten year old daughter. (Everyone should have one of those…The kid, I mean.) So, folks, here it is. I hope you enjoy it:



Actually the hard part was accepting what I look like on video. I mean, I never knew I had an eyebrow problem. Why does my left one go up so much higher than the right? I just finished revising a book where a character has this very same problem, not knowing all along that I suffered from the same affliction. Sigh. But other than that, it was a fun, rewarding process. Not sure what it will do for the writing career, to be honest, but whatever. Marketing is all a bunch of guesswork, anyway, right?

P.S. Does anyone know why the words are not in sync with my mouth? I’m pretty sure that’s not another affliction of mine.


Filed under Blogging, Book Promotion, Happiness, Social Media

Looking Forward (and a friendly Howdy-do!)

On Monday, Michelle chose to look back over 2011 and reflect on the year, as so many

I prefer to look ahead, with my trusty crystal ball, of course.

people do in this season. I, however, would rather look ahead. No experience in rocket science is necessary to understand why–Michelle’s debut was in 2011. Mine will be in 2012.

She has the grand, scary, wonderful, much dreamed of, overwhelming, underwhelming, whoop-di-do moment behind her, with all its baggage. She expressed eloquently in her Monday post what that has all been like for her.

For me, 2011 is nothing I want to dwell on. It was a mercurial year in my personal life, but in my career and debut author experience, it was a bit of a sandwich year. Except the sandwich is wrong side out. My two all beef patties came in 2010, with the actual acquisition of my book, and in 2012, with its release. 2011 seems to have just been a bit of white-bread bun in the middle, with the special sauce of a great cover right at the end.

Load me up with all the extras! (photo courtesy of Grant Cochrane /

2012, though! In 2012 I’m looking forward to the lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions. with ARCs, reviews, release parties, signings, and maybe even a school visit or two.  As to how vinegary the pickles turn out to be, or how spicy the onions, that remains to be seen.

Will it be, as Michelle said,  the best of years?

Will it be the worst of years?

I don’t know, Michelle, although as long as we’re quoting Dickens, I hope we both get the chance to say “Please, sir, may I have another?” in the publishing world. I’m thinking we will. If I’ve learned one thing in this industry, there are no crystal balls and the future is never entirely clear, but as you so aptly reminded us all on Monday, there is plenty of hope and new opportunities for those who keep the faith.

And so on behalf of everyone at EMU’s Debuts, we wish Michelle Ray a fond, “see you later,” since we really aren’t willing to let her get very far away.

In the meantime, we will soon be welcoming some NEW people to the EMU nest. (Okay, for all you sticklers for accuracy out there, Emus don’t make nests, they lay their green eggs directly on the ground. My use here falls under the category of artistic license. )  Ahem. As I was saying, we will be joined in February by Tara Lazar, Peter Salomon, and Laurie Boyle Crompton, and maybe more.

Peter Salomon’s debut novel HENRY FRANKS will be published by Flux late in 2012.

Laurie Boyle Crompton’s FANGIRL will be published by Sourcebooks in Fall 2012. If you want to see what it was like for her getting that news, check out her blog!

Tara Lazar’s debut picture book MONSTORE will be published by Aladdin (S&S) in 2013. Tara is also known for her PiBoIdMo answer to NaNoWriMo.

So, dear readers (I’ve always wanted to say that), we bid Michelle a fond farewell, but extend a friendly “howdy-do” to some new members in 2012.

What’s more, we expect to see a whole slew of debuts this year. So, without further ado, and before my colloquial verbiage gets any farther out of control, here’s what lies ahead in 2012:

WE’VE GOT A JOB by Cynthia Levinson debuts February 1, 2012

THE WICKED AND THE JUST by J. Anderson Coats debuts April 17, 2012

ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt debuts in May 2012

  FLYING THE DRAGON by Natalie Lorenzi debuts July 1, 2012

KATERINA’S WISH by Jeannie Mobley (me!) debuts August 28, 2012

GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung debuts in fall 2012

LEAGUE OF STRAYS by LB Schulman debuts in Fall of 2012

You know what? I think I’m liking 2012 already.


Filed under Blogging, Writing, Writing and Life

Five. Four. Three. Two. One….BLAST OFF! The launch of Michelle’s FALLING FOR HAMLET

Our launched STAR, Michelle Ray--Author of FALLING FOR HAMLET

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to a blowout event here on Emusdebuts. We are launching our FIRST BOOK (cue rejoicing!) and let me tell you—we aren’t talking `bout one launch day—we’re talking FIVE epic launch *party* days—complete with signed book give-aways, Bard trivia, downloadable party favors, and karaoke-singing writers (be grateful there is no audio). The book, FALLING FOR HAMLET, belongs to Michelle “The Bard” Ray, but, hey. Soon, it can belong to all of us!

And, let me take a moment to personally thank Michelle. My copy of FALLING FOR HAMLET arrived shortly before leaving for Cape Cod with my children. My daughter began reading it before we were on the highway. She remained so engrossed for three hours that I had complete control of the radio. This. Never. Happens.

Of course, my daughter raves about the book! (like mother, like daughter) This book is a serious page turner–even if you know the story of Hamlet. Here is what the buzz is all about:

Meet Ophelia: a blonde, beautiful high-school senior and long-time girlfriend of Prince Hamlet of Denmark. Her life is dominated, not only by her boyfriend’s fame and his overbearing family but, also by the paparazzi who hound them wherever they go. As the devastatingly handsome Hamlet spirals into madness after the mysterious death of his father, the King, Ophelia rides out his crazy roller coaster life, and lives to tell about it. In live television interviews, of course.

Passion, romance, drama, humor, and tragedy intertwine in this compulsively readable debut novel, told by a strong-willed, modern-day Ophelia. What more could you want?

Okay, party-goers, here is the itinerary. Be sure to pick up your name tag at the door…

Today: Intro to Launch Week–Hamlet style (Oooh. Better check on that life insurance policy) We Emus gave Michelle some questions to answer. See below how she answers them with panache and humor! Not a single loggerheaded, fish-mongering answer in the bunch!

Tuesday: Mike Jung fills us in on reviews and congratulatory comments about Michelle’s book. Good thing this is online; printed congratulatory comments would take a forest of paper! (Note: Mike has declined the offer to model the mini-skirt from the cover. Never fear! That’s what Photoshop is for; although to commit to such treachery would, undoubtedly, label me a mammering hasty-witted scullian.)

Wednesday: Natalie and Cynthia provide us with fascinating interviews from the team that brought this all together! Our own Michelle, along with interviews from her agent, the incomparable Ammi-Joan Paquette, and her Little, Brown editor, Alvina Ling. Wow! I, for one, am already drumming my fingers, waiting to read these.

Thursday: J. brings us Shakespearean fun and games! Because, you know, that Willy Shakespeare knows how to write comedic endings. Wow. Possible title: “It’s all fun and games until someone loses…” Hey! This would be the feel-good Madlib of the year, eh?

Friday: Jeannie gives us the big wrap-up. Don’t want to give anything away, but if I were you, I’d clear the schedule. Lock down for the day. Forget about showering, grooming, eating, anything. This, of course, will make you very unpopular with the family…Blame Michelle. Or, possibly, Jeannie.

Without further ado (Much ado about something!) let’s see how Michelle answered our questions here on Emusdebuts:

J. Anderson Coats: If Shakespeare could read your book, what do you think he’d say about it?

I would hope he’d get a kick out of it. Though I think he might have some questions about the comportment and clothing choices of today’s young ladies.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt: At what point of the process did you suffer the most slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

The hardest part was finding an agent. I got rejected twenty-something times, and it stung every time. It was so hard to convince myself to keep trying and not to think my book was unpublishable crap. But once Joan Paquette took me on as a client, she sold it at auction in less than two months, which blew me away.

L.B. Schulman: What was your plotting strategy/technique in creating Falling for Hamlet?

I actually started with the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene. In it, Ophelia’s father and the king want to eavesdrop while Ophelia asks Hamlet why he’s so upset. I figured if I could make that one work in a modern context, I could make a go of the rest. First, I had to figure out how to translate Shakespeare’s words into plainer language because no teen boy would tell his girlfriend, “Get thee to a nunnery.” It was a challenge, but it was possible. Next, I had to consider what location might make sense. Hiding in a closet and behind a curtain are usually done, but I wanted something fresh. These people are rich and famous and live today, so I chose a limo. Once I felt confident that the transfer could be done, I started at the beginning of the play and used the original as a basic framework. But so much of what I wrote ended up being outside of the text. At times it reminded me of creating a painting where you begin by sketching the big picture, then fill in color layer by layer, then go back with highlights and shadows.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt: Which of your characters would you most like to go out to dinner with? Why? What would he/she order?

Any of the boys would be great dinner companions because in my mind they’re gorgeous and fun – when they’re not trying to kill people. Horatio would order a bacon cheeseburger, Hamlet would order coffee (or maybe skewered meat), and Sebastian would order a veggie burger. If I had to pick a female, Stormy Somerville would be so empty-headed and self-centered that it might be entertaining for an hour. She’d order a green salad with no dressing and bottled water.

Natalie Lorenzi: Which was the most difficult scene to write? Which was the most fun?

One of the most fun scenes to write was when Ophelia goes to visit Hamlet at Wittenberg University. This is a completely fabricated scenario, so I had even more freedom than in other places where I was using scenes from the play. I modeled the location after the coed fraternity house I lived in at Tufts, and the great dance parties we had there. When I first wrote the scene (before I dreamed that being published was possible), I sent the pages to my old housemates and they got a kick out of familiar details like the rickety banister, the sticky floors, and black lights in the basement. Bringing back happy memories for my friends was really rewarding, and the feedback spurred me to keep writing.

Jeannie Mobley: How much did the book change from the first draft to the one that was acquired by the editor? How much did it change between acquisition and
the final product? (I wonder about how this varies between a story based
on a classic vs. a new story too, but that may not be part of this

There weren’t many huge changes. I had to change a poker game I’d written to something athletic, and it became lacrosse. (This is more fully explained in Lynda’s interview.) A few scenes were added to flesh out back-story. A lot of dialogue needed to be made more conversational and less Shakespearean. I was asked to add some of the more famous lines back in. But the basic style and setup remain the same.

L.B. Schulman: You’ve now read a few reviews of your book. Are there any comments you disagree with?

I get upset when reviewers complain about my not being Shakespeare. I know! Not only would that be impossible but it’s not what I was setting out to do. The language is intentionally vernacular, and if someone doesn’t like teens talking like modern teens, then I guess this isn’t the book for them. I think my book is fun, comprehensible and might inspire people to seek out the original. In fact, one of my Shakespeare-phobic friends watched Hamlet for the first time after reading my book, so I consider that a victory.

Cynthia: Could you imagine doing another spin-off–Edgar Allan Poe? Jack Kerouac?

Well, I’m not dark and goth enough to take on the likes of The Raven, or cool enough to handle Kerouac, but more spin-offs are in the works. I love retellings as a reader and as a writer. As a reader, I find it fun to revisit stories I know and love, and enjoy the mystery of what the writer will do to change it up. As a writer, I love the puzzle of how to make it work for contemporary audiences, and the choices of when to maintain and when to alter bits of the original.

Well, that does it for today. However, before you go, thou shall step forward to claim thy FREE PRIZE!!! Please don’t make me feel like an impertinent, fat-kidneyed pigeon egg kind of hostess (I hate it when that happens.); click for the BEST party favor ever!! A Shakespeare doll!!!! With an army of these and a typewriter, perhaps there could be a Hamlet sequel. (Of course, it’s hard to have a sequel when…oh, never mind.)

So that concludes our first party event!!! Join us tomorrow as the celebration continues for our fellow emusdebuter, Michelle Ray, and her wonderful book, FALLING FOR HAMLET. (Ophelia is falling for Hamlet. I’m falling for Hamlet. You’ll be falling for Hamlet. Where will the madness end?)

Go forth to ye book store, ye giddy geese!


Filed under Blogging