Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 31, 1848 -- Spiritualism Born 162 Years Ago Today

One hundred and sixty-two years ago today, in the hamlet of Hydesville in upstate New York, there was a small commotion surrounding the house of Mr. John D. Fox.

Mr. Fox roused his neighbors, banging on their doors around 8 o’clock in the evening, and asked them to come witness the events taking place in his home. His daughters Maggie and Kate, aged approximately eleven and fourteen, were communicating with a ghost.

Neighbors were skeptical. This was, after all March 31, and many of them assumed that somebody was pulling an early April Fool’s Day prank. However, when they arrived at the house and heard the strange rapping sounds emanating from thin air – when they searched the house from top to bottom and could find no source for the noise – when they heard this mysterious ghost knock yes or no for questions – they began to believe. Gradually the neighbors convinced themselves that some poor man had been murdered and buried in the cellar of the house, and they quickly identified a suspect: a Mr. John Bell, who had rented the house some years earlier and whom, it can be assumed, they didn’t much like.

Forty years later, Maggie Fox, the elder of the two daughters present, wrote: “No one suspected us of any trick because we were such young children.” This was not entirely true. The neighbors did suspect the girls at first, but when they were unable to determine any method by which the girls could produce the rapping sound, they quickly absolved them of blame. It was, of course, inconceivable that the girls might be clever enough to fool them! Soon the whole event (which really had been an April Fool’s Day prank) snowballed into a local phenomenon. People came from miles around to hear the spirit rap out his story – and the girls were trapped in their lie. “When so many people came to see us children,” Maggie wrote, “we were ourselves frightened, and for self-preservation forced to keep it up.”

This was the situation when Maggie’s adult sister, Leah Fish, shrewdly realized that people would pay money for the chance to communicate with spirits … and thereby hangs the rest of the tale …

We Hear the Dead, the story of Maggie Fox – a ghost story, a massive hoax, and a star-crossed romance – is due for release on May 1.

Monday, March 29, 2010

YA Author-Pet Contest

Who doesn’t love a CONTEST? Especially when the prizes are books!

Kelsey the Book Scout is running a contest on her blog until April 24 and offering 10 books as prizes, along with some great swag! All you have to do is match a few YA Authors with their pets – and wait until you see the adorable pets!

It’s not that hard, really. A little internet search will probably give you all the clues you need. What author hasn’t blogged or Twittered about her pet? I know I have! My repeated complaints about shedding even netted me the company that makes The Furminator as a follower!

Kelsey is also offering clues by email, and when in doubt, you can always email the author. I’ve already had some inquiries.

On offer are copies of Dirty Little Secrets, Girl Overboard, and The Naughty List, as well as ARCs of The Heart is Not a Size, The Body Finder, and yes … We Hear the Dead. Over twenty YA/Teen authors are participating, including C.J. Omololu, Phoebe Kitanidis, and Shana Norris.

I’ll start you off with a clue about my pet. See that warrior woman at the top of this post? She’s a character in the movie Willow, and my pet has the same name … although spelled a little differently. Good luck – Win lots of books!

Enter the contest here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Anthony Wayne: All Over the Place

I don’t know how I got started on this series of weird Pennsylvania graves … but I definitely have a story appropriate for following the caged graves of Catawissa and the ticking tomb of Landenberg.

General Anthony Wayne is undoubtedly Pennsylvania’s greatest hero of the Revolutionary War. Often called “Mad Anthony” for his brash temper and fearless approach to warfare, he once promised George Washington that he would “lay siege to Hell itself” if asked. After the American Revolution, Wayne continued to distinguish himself in the Indian Wars, particularly in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. A fine (and colorful) representation of Anthony Wayne can be found in Frances Hunter’s historical novel The Fairest Portion of the Globe – a recommended read for American history buffs.

Today, sixteen counties in the U.S. bear Wayne’s name, along with an equal number of towns and boroughs. To my mind, that’s a fine way to honor an American hero – certainly better than burying him in two graves!

Wayne died near Erie, Pennsylvania in 1796 from complications of gout. He was buried there with all due honors, but thirteen years later, his son came retrieve his father’s body, wanting to re-bury him near the family home in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Accordingly, the old hero was exhumed, whereupon it was discovered that Wayne’s body was unnaturally preserved. The son had planned to take his father’s bones home with him in a cart, and yet there was a lot more of him left than bones – which presented (ahem) a logistical problem of transportation.

A local doctor was hired to resolve the problem by separating the flesh from the bones. It can be assumed that butcher knives were used at first, but eventually the doctor resorted to boiling Wayne’s bones to clean them entirely. The flesh and the remains of the stew pot (eeeww!) were re-buried in the original grave. Wayne’s son departed with his father’s bones in a box.

According to legend, the box with the bones fell out of the cart several times on the journey home (What kind of bumbling idiot was this son?), but eventually some number of General Wayne’s bones were buried in Radnor. Anthony Wayne’s ghost may (or may not) haunt the diagonal path across the state, looking for the missing bones, but that’s another story.

Somehow, I find it fitting that in a state where you can’t buy beer and wine in the same store, you also can’t pay your respects to our most famous Revolutionary War hero in just one cemetery!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Interview with Helen Ellis

Helen Ellis, author of The Turning: What Curiosity Kills, is my very first guest blogger ever!

I recently met Helen at the Sourcebooks Fire Launch Party, but didn’t have nearly enough time to talk to her. Her book comes out the same month as mine – May – so, in spite of the warning in the title, I am very curious about it! Helen graciously agreed to an interview so that I could ask the questions I couldn’t ask at the party (because I couldn’t find her in the crowd).

DKS: The Turning: What Curiosity Kills is about an otherwise normal teenage girl from Manhattan who is slowly transforming into a cat. Why a cat -- and why Manhattan?

HE: I decided to write what I know. I am a displaced Southerner living in New York City. And I live with a husband and two cats, Shoney and Big Boy (my husband is neither Shoney, nor Big Boy. He is Lex and 5'8"). But the whole shebang was spurred on by a dream. I dreamed I woke up and looked into my bathroom mirror and saw a face that was not my own. It was, you guessed it: a cat's.

DKS: At the Sourcebooks Launch Party, you gave out cute little buttons that said "Domestic" or "Stray." How does this tie in with the theme of your novel?

HE: Mary discovers that there is an underworld of "turns" in Manhattan. Domestics are kept in apartments. Strays live on the streets. With the collapse of the economy, the Upper East Side is truly turning into vacant lots. Strays want to take over the dom's territory. Mary must decide what side she'll be on.

DKS: What one character in your book (good guy, bad guy, or in-between) was the most fun to write about?

HE: YOON! Yoon is "on the fence", which means he lives at home, but runs with the strays. He is a sexy bad boy, who tempts Mary to abandon her cushy life and live for the now. Turns only turn for five years, so he wants them to make the most of their sensory-soaked time.

DKS: What else would you like us to know about The Turning?

HE: The Turning is about embracing what you are and being brave at a young age. Believe me, for the rest of your life, you will feel like you are sixteen. It is better to dare early and keep that courage for the rest of your life, than to try and muster it as you get older and are more easily scared.

Thanks, Helen! I think that last line is a powerful statement, and something I’d like my daughters to understand.

The Turning can be pre-ordered here, although I understand there’s a private school in New York already trying to squash sales here. Be sure to check it out!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What a Shindig!

The Sourcebooks Fire and Jabberwocky teams really know how to throw a party! Books of Wonder was packed from wall to wall! Teen Beat was awesome, and not only can Libba Bray write, but she can also belt out the tunes!

It was an odd experience, finally meeting people in person when you’ve spent so much time chatting with them online. I spent the first part of the evening trying to guess who was who, but then name tags were passed out, alleviating the awkward introduction: “Excuse me, but are you …?” I’ve told my husband all about these online friends (and he does his best to keep them straight), but this was their first encounter with him and that was fun for me, too.

The music was a blast (Purple Rain was nostalgic for many of us), and the food was delicious, but the conversations were the best part of the evening. Bob and I talked to Todd Stocke, editorial director of Sourcebooks, about the impact of social media on the publishing world. Joy Preble and I chatted about the ending of her sequel to Dreaming Anastasia. That is, we discussed the process of writing it – she didn’t give away any plot points, so don’t ask! Ty Drago, (The Undertakers, Spring 2011), shared stories about weird questions authors get. (ex: Is it possible for a woman to strangle a man with her bare hands?) I found out that my editor, Kelly, is off to the Bologna Book Fair next week. (Lucky, huh? Italy and books!) And I finished out the evening talking to Lisa Brown (Picture the Dead, May 2010) about caged graves, Victorian hair jewelry, and future projects.

In the picture above, I am standing with Laura Duksta (I Love You More), Lila Castle (The Star Shack, June 2010), and Kay Mitchell, publicist for Sourcebooks and one of the event organizers. You can find more photos of the party on my website .

Monday, March 15, 2010

Party at Books of Wonder, NYC

I can’t believe it’s almost here – the big Sourcebooks Launch Party at Books of Wonder in New York City! Even more unbelievable is that I get to be a part of it, even though my book doesn’t officially hit the market for another month and a half!

My husband and I are psyched and ready! This Thursday afternoon, we’ll be traveling to NYC in luxury (Amtrak), where we’ll stay at a ritzy, upscale hotel (Comfort Inn). We’ll have just enough time to partake of a late lunch at a fashionably trendy restaurant (Taste Good Chinese Food, next to the Comfort Inn) before heading off to the book store for the big event.

At this point, I can stop being facetious, because the glamour will actually be real. I’ll be hanging out with other Sourcebooks guest authors such as Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown (Picture the Dead), Joy Preble, (Dreaming Anastasia), Lila Castle (The Star Shack), and Helen Ellis (The Turning). Also present will be authors of Sourcebooks titles due out in 2011, such as Lisa and Laura Roecker (The Haunting of Pemberly Brown) and Ty Drago (The Undertakers), as well as lots of YA book bloggers and YA readers of all ages.

And as if that wasn’t enough – the evening will conclude with the first ever public performance by the All Teen Author Rock Band: Tiger Beat! The members of Tiger Beat include such well known names as Natalie Standiford (How to Say Good-bye in Robot), Barnabas Miller (7 Souls), Libba Bray (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy), and Daniel Ehrenhaft – who is not only the author of several YA books, but also the head acquisitions editor at Sourcebooks and … gulp, kind of my boss. I hope I can pry my tattered classroom copy of The Last Dog on Earth out of my students’ hands so I can get him to sign it.

Better yet, maybe I’ll just buy a spankin’ new copy!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Just Call Me Skeptic Lady

Authors are full of useless information, which we’ll expound upon at length, given half a chance or a person who won’t run away.   Researching Maggie Fox and Elisha Kane turned me into an expert on 19th century spiritualism and Arctic exploration.  Research for a subsequent project immersed me in the history of famous psychic frauds, and I may have picked up a few de-bunking skills!

Last fall, my husband and I and our friends, Kelley and Eric, attended a paranormal show in Scranton, PA. The Psychic Theatre, tucked into one of the main streets of Scranton, shares a building with The Harry Houdini Museum. When you understand that the magicians who perform in the daytime are the same paranormalists who perform at night, you’ll realize that there’s more sleight-of-hand than spectral activity afoot here!

The paranormalists started the show by asking if anyone in the audience was a skeptic. I raised my hand, and then looked around to realize I was the only one with my hand up. Even my husband and my friends had left me hanging out to dry! Thus christened "The Skeptic Lady," I was repeatedly called up to the stage to act as a “control.”

I’m not going to post any spoilers here, but I have a plausible explanation for all the things they did -- except one. One of the performers gave me a paper bag and dropped in a normal fork. I peeked at it, then handed the bag to my husband, Bob. Bob took the fork out and examined it, then folded the bag shut. We passed it back and forth while the guy continued his act, “psychically” bending other forks, and eventually we put the bag on the floor beneath my feet. When the paranormalist asked us to open it later, the darned fork was bent like a pretzel!! Kelley and Eric were seated behind us and swore that nobody touched that bag!

Oh, well. It was a lot of fun, and I’m actually glad I couldn’t figure out everything! The show ended with a séance in the dark. The medium was tied up; the lights went out; and then all kinds of scary stuff happened. When the lights came back on, the medium was still bound to her chair.

Of course, this was The Harry Houdini Museum. I’m just sayin’.

If you're ever in the Scranton area, this place is worth a visit -- in either one of its fascinating guises! Both shows are highly entertaining, and the performers are top notch!

Psychic Theater website
Harry Houdini Museum website

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Education Guru: "Doh!"

Yes, Homer Simpson is an exemplary model of doing something really stupid and realizing his mistake only when it’s too late to fix it. I hope that’s what Diane Ravitch is feeling these days – not that it will do any good for the rest of us.

Ravitch served in President Bush’s Education Department and was one of the leading advocates of the No Child Left Behind law that has afflicted public education for the last decade. Schools across the country scramble to meet the rigorous testing standards with insufficient funding, and every year the bar is raised higher and higher. By the year 2014, schools are supposed to make certain 100% of the students score proficient or above on every test – and continue to do so forevermore. That’s 100%. Even special education students. Even students who don’t speak English and can’t read the test.

Recently, however, Ravitch has come to realize that she may have made a mistake. She now calls the hallmarks of NCLB (standardized testing and charter schools) “faddish trends” which are undermining our school system. She suddenly noticed that the emphasis on reading and math testing has squeezed out history, art, music, and physical education. Ravitch is surprised to discover that her system of accountability has caused “test cramming and bean counting” to replace quality education. I don’t know if she’s noticed yet that non-English speakers are having a little trouble passing the test, but obviously her learning curve is kind of shallow. NCLB is a Frankenstein monster.

Slap your forehead, Ms. Ravitch. We could have told you this a long time ago. In fact, I think we did tell you. Now, how are you going to get rid of the monster?

The whole story about Ravitch’s change of heart can be found in this New York Times article. Thank you, Dr. Al Past, for bringing it to my attention.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Teen Fire and YALitchat

A couple months ago, if you’d asked me what a Ning Network was, I probably would have guessed it was a cell phone service. In fact, Ning creates really dandy social networks, and I now belong to two:

Teen Fire is a site created by Sourcebooks Fire as a place for YA authors, readers, and editors to interact. I’m not sure if it’s the first of its kind, but I am pretty certain that a place where YA readers and writers can regularly communicate with the editors and authors of a publisher has got to be rare! The most popular aspect of Teen Fire is the Writers Forum, where writers (age 13 and up) can post their work for feedback. Sourcebooks editors pop in frequently to read and respond to everyone’s work, as well as Joy Preble (author of Dreaming Anastasia), Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown (author and illustrator of Picture the Dead), Lisa and Laura Roecker (sister authors of the Kate Lowry Mysteries), and … well, me. Yeah, I’m there a lot. You can also find contests and book giveaways at Teen Fire – and because it is highly monitored by the editors and authors, it is a very safe site for teens to explore social networking.

Participation in Teen Fire led me to another Ning site, YALitchat – an online community for people who “write, read, and live YA.” This site was founded by Georgia McBride, author of the YA urban fantasy series PRAEFATIO. I’m a fairly new member (about 24 hours), so I can’t tell you as much about this site. However, glancing over the titles of the discussions and forums (Perturbed YA Parent, To Agent or Not Agent, Books to Film, etc.), I want to join them all immediately!

I highly recommend both sites for people interested in reading or writing Teen/YA fiction. Join me!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Ticking Tomb

As a follow-up to my post about The Caged Graves in Catawissa, PA, I thought I’d mention another weird PA grave – a very local one for me. (It’s about 10 minutes from my house, and I grew up knowing this legend.)

In the cemetery adjoining the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg, there’s a marker for a grave known as The Ticking Tomb. It was said that if a person placed their ear against the stone, he would hear the distinct ticking of a watch. (Who discovered this first, I don’t know. Who goes around pressing their ears to gravestones?) The Ticking Tomb is an old, old legend. In fact, it is believed that Edgar Allen Poe, while visiting the area, went to hear it for himself and was inspired to write The Tell-Tale Heart.

According to legend, in the mid 1760’s surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were passing through the area while mapping out their famous Mason-Dixon line. A local tot supposedly swallowed Mason’s pocket watch, which continued to tick inside the boy throughout his life and beyond. (That’s some watch!)

When I was a kid, teachers told us that the ticking sound was most likely caused by an underground spring beneath the gravestone. In recent years, the ticking has reportedly stopped, which suggests that the underground spring has shifted – or that Mason’s watch has finally run down.

As for the story that Poe visited the grave – it’s quite possible. In the early 1840’s, Poe stayed at the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, Delaware – the same place where Mason and Dixon stayed nearly a century earlier. He may very well have heard the legend of the ticking tomb at that time.

It is also said that Poe stumbled while getting out of a carriage at the Deer Park Tavern, and for this indignity, he placed a good-natured “curse” upon the place: Anybody who visited it was doomed to return, again and again. The curse is still in effect: The Deer Park was my college hangout when I attended The University of Delaware, and my family still goes there for dinner now and then. The ticking tomb does not hold quite the same appeal …