Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lessons Learned from Last Time

We Hear the Dead launches on Saturday, and next week I’ll have my new novel on the shelves of bookstores! It’s an incredible feeling, as I know from my experience publishing the original edition of this book a few years back. I was a real newbie back then, and I think I’ve learned a few lessons from that experience. For any other pre-published authors out there, I have a few important tips to share!

Lesson 1: People are going to congratulate you and say things like, “I can’t wait to read your book!” In most cases, the phrase “can’t wait” is a figure of speech, and it doesn’t mean they will run out to the store before the sun sets that very day. So don’t embarrass yourself and these nice people by offering to sign the book for them tomorrow.

Lesson 2: People will stop you in the hallway at work to talk to you. Warning! This is another opportunity for you to embarrass yourself. People do not always want to talk about your book. Sometimes, they want to know where the staff meeting is, complain about your students’ behavior in the cafeteria, or tell you that you’ve got toilet paper stuck to your shoe.

Lesson 3: The only person besides you who is interested in your Amazon sales rank is (possibly) your spouse.

Lesson 4: If you type your first name into the Google search bar and your last name pops up, it means that you have Googled yourself too many times from that computer, NOT that you’re now famous.

Lesson 5: New mommies and daddies are not amused when you whip out a little jpg image of your book cover after they show off their baby pictures.

Lesson 6: Some people really WILL run out and buy your book, read it, email you about how much they liked it, recommend it to their book clubs, and/or review it on Amazon. They are not always the people you expect, but they are the people who make it all worthwhile!

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Special Thank You

I almost forgot that next Saturday is the official release date of We Hear the Dead!

How could I possibly forget, you ask? Maybe it’s because Amazon and BN started shipping early, so I feel as if the book’s already “out.” Last weekend, a few people had already received their copies in the mail, and I was relying on their descriptions of what it looked like. “It is shiny,” wrote one of my students, and as it turns out – she was right!

A few days ago, I received my author copies, and immediately I laid one aside as a very special gift. I contacted a certain person’s mother for permission and then made arrangements with a sixth grade teacher in my building. This past Thursday, armed with a signed and personally dedicated copy of We Hear the Dead, I marched down the hall to a nearby classroom – with my own students trailing behind me like little ducklings.

You see, last spring, my editor broke the news to me that the Sourcebooks marketing department wanted to ditch the title I had previously used for this book (High Spirits). I wasn’t surprised, but I was at a loss for a replacement. I wracked my brains, consulted a few friends and relatives, and then sent Sourcebooks a list of suggestions. (They ran along the lines of A Talent for Deceit and An Innocent Deception.) The marketing department bounced those around for awhile, but none of them really captured the feeling they wanted to promote for the book. I came up with a second list, and this time I was scraping the bottom of the creative barrel. (Voices Beyond the Veil and Speaking with Spirits … gag!) I even threw out an SOS to my fifth grade class, asking for help.

One of my students delivered a suggestion via our classroom blog. “How about We Can Hear the Dead?” she wrote. Well, that was clearly better than Voices Beyond the Veil! So I edited out a single word and sent it along behind the others.

They loved it – as you can see from the way it is splashed across the cover! Thursday, I was delighted to present my very first copy of We Hear the Dead to the young lady (now a sixth grader) who thought of the perfect title for my debut novel. From her big grin, I suspect she was just as excited as I was.

And Sourcebooks says that if she’s planning to go into marketing as a career, she should look them up in a few years.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Gina's Review: Fairest

It’s a good thing I have a guest post today, or else you’d have to read a heart-felt diatribe against the so-called “Take Your Child to Work Day.”

If the point of the day was really to learn about careers (instead of skipping school) it would be scheduled for July instead of April.

Enough said.

Instead, I’d like to introduce a guest reviewer who hopefully will be making regular appearances on my blog! She’s a 9-year old voracious reader with discriminating tastes who often reads multiple books simultaneously. In fact, there is no place in her home she can go without having a book within arm’s reach. I know this for a FACT! She whipped through the Harry Potter series, the Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Septimus Heap series in record time – all within the past year. Today she is reviewing her most recent read: Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine:

Gina’s Review of Fairest

Fairest is a great book about an ugly girl named Aza who works in an inn and learns to throw her voice and she calls it illusing. She can imitate any sound and make it seem like it came out of anything. She wishes she was pretty and is always shy about meeting people. One day a duchess comes to the inn and Aza serves her a drink. Aza worries about her looks so she brings along her cat. The duchess adores the cat and Aza makes friends with her. One day the duchess gets invited to a royal wedding but her companion is sick so she brings along Aza instead. Aza finds herself meeting the queen and she shows her illusing and the queen wants her to sing for her. Aza accepts and the queen makes Aza her Lady in Waiting. The King gets injured and the queen rules, but she makes terrible decisions and Aza regrets taking the job. Aza meets the prince and they fall in love, but Aza can’t believe that he likes her because she’s so ugly.

I really enjoyed this book and my favorite part would be when Aza met the duchess. It was so funny and was written very well. I would recommend this book to someone who enjoys fantasy stories and fairy tales and enjoys a good laugh. I also enjoyed other books by Gail Carson Levine. My favorite one is The Fairy's Mistake.

Thanks, Gina! We hope to hear from you again soon. I know you have lots of other books in progress!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interview with Bekka Black, Author of iDrakula

I'm very excited to bring you an interview with Bekka Black, author of the upcoming Sourcebooks Fire novel iDrakula. It’s a cell novel re-envisioning of the classic Dracula story by Bram Stoker, due out this fall in book stores … and on your cell phone.

1.Bekka, what IS a cell novel? It’s not a book you typed out on your cell phone … or is it??

A cell phone novel is a kind of novel that is delivered to a cell phone. In Japan tons of kids are reading them on their cell phone screens even as we speak (or type).

I wanted to take it a step further and write a book using only the cool things that I could download to a smartphone (like an iPhone or a Droid). I picked Dracula, because the original was written to showcase the high tech communication methods of its time: the typewriter, the wax Victrola recording disk, newspaper articles, and ship’s manifestos. So, I wrote iDrakula in the language of today: using only text messages, texted photos, URLs, and short emails. It’s Dracula through the eyes of my phone.

I did type some of it on my cell phone too! In fact, I’m thinking of dedicating the book to my iPhone (and my husband and son).

2.How have you woven modern society and technology into your retelling of the Dracula story?

Not counting the entire new medium I’m using for the story? Lots of ways. The characters live in modern-day Manhattan. They use cell phones. Dracula is shipped over in a container ship. Van Helsing uses modern tests on Mina’s blood. I even have a modern autopsy report of a vampire victim.

But just like teenagers since the beginning of time, they sneak out at night and get into trouble. Only the trouble they unearth is ancient and powerful.

3.Does iDrakula include versions of the original Stoker characters – VanHelsing, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Lucy Westenra, etc.? Which character (good, bad, or in-between) was your favorite to write about?

The novel has Abe Van Helsing, Mina Murray (her maiden name), Jonathan Harker, Randolph Renfield (I had to give him a first name), with cameos by Quincy Morris and Dr. Seward.

I hate to pick favorites. I loved writing about them all. Updating Renfield was enormous fun, but I especially enjoyed making the girls more modern. Mina is my favorite, of course. Unlike the old Mina, she takes jujitsu, is ready to face down demons, and takes charge of her own problems.

4.Of course, we all want to know: What ringtone does Dracula use?

Bach’s Fugue, of course!

5.What else would you like us to know about your book?

It should be fun! It’s a brand new way to experience a classic story and I hope everyone enjoys it. The designers at Sourcebooks outdid themselves on the cover and layout. The digital rollout (yep, it’s coming out in my beloved iPhone and the iPod Touch and … and … and …) will be like nothing seen before.

Oh, and it comes out October 31, 2010, just in time for Halloween.

Thanks, Bekka, for giving me one more reason to love Halloween! I need to have this book in paper, because of the incredible cover design, but I might just need it on my Droid, too! Bekka's website is under construction as I type this, but be sure to check it out in a couple days!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Need a Tagline Pronto!

So … May 1, the official release date of We Hear the Dead quickly approaches. And yet, several people I know already have copies of the book on the way or in hand. and apparently received shipments early and have already mailed out pre-ordered copies! I know that a few books are due to arrive at their destinations on Monday, and one of my students emailed me on Friday night with great excitement to tell me that her copy had shown up that afternoon!

I haven’t seen an official copy myself yet, but my editor tells me they look and feel vastly superior to the ARC copies (seen above) – which I thought were pretty darn good! I emailed my student to ask her what the book looks like, and this was her reply.

Mrs. Salerni,
It is shiny.

O—kay. I thought I’d instructed my class on writing more verbose descriptions, but I guess I will just have to curb my curiosity until Monday when she brings it into class … and expects me to sign it.

I hadn’t actually thought about signing them yet. When I self-published under the title High Spirits, I signed all copies with the tagline: Enjoy a spirited read! I guess that’s still okay, but I’d like to come up with something that matches the new title better. The best I have so far is:

I hear the dead think you’ll like this book.

Pretty lame and kinda long. Can anybody help me out?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ivory Tower Thinking

Are you sick of hearing me complain about standardized tests? My students are certainly sick of taking them. One of them even came to school yesterday in spite of having thrown up at home that morning. He held himself together just long enough to finish his test.

If he had whoopsed all over his test, my principal would have been required to bag it and send it back to Harrisburg. All tests must be returned to the state. And while it’s satisfying to imagine state officials handling a pukey test, it would probably be an undeserving clerical employee and not one of the Ivory Tower intellectuals behind NCLB.

Next week my students take the state writing test, having just completed a battery of reading and math assessments. By coincidence, my school district rolled out a new writing curriculum this week, which was presented at today’s faculty meeting. The presenters began with a few belief statements regarding the teaching of writing:

Our district is committed to building a strong community of writers who engage in daily purposeful writing in a collaborative environment.

We believe writing is a recursive process that allows choice and opportunities to write for a variety of authentic purposes and audiences.

I whole-heartedly agree with these statements; however, I couldn’t help but reflect on how little these beliefs are respected in the state-mandated writing that will take place in my classroom next week:

Choice? No. Students write from a prompt – often a stultifyingly boring prompt composed by people who truly must be locked up in a tower somewhere. Expository essays, persuasive essays, and creative narratives are the three types of writing eligible for assessment. Because there are 3 types of writing and 3 writing tests, you might think there would be a sample of each. You’d be wrong. Last year the state asked for 3 essays and no narratives. If you consider that children enjoy being creative and demonstrate their strongest voice while writing stories, you might draw the conclusion that the Ivory Tower people just plain hate kids.

Community and Collaboration? No. The students take their writing test in a silent room. They may not confer with anyone; they receive neither peer nor adult feedback on their writing. They don’t even get feedback from the test evaluators – just a score. Students are not permitted to use dictionaries, thesauruses, references, or any resources that writers use in real life and on a normal classroom day. They write in total isolation.

A Recursive Process? Okay … Students can be as recursive and process-oriented as they like during the test, as long as they are finished in approximately an hour. They absolutely cannot look back at a previously completed sample, or peek ahead at the next day’s prompt.

I know my students will try to do their best. They always do. And yet, having just finished an exhausting array of reading and math tests, I have little hope that they will be at their creative peak next week.

All you lovers of writing out there – I know you’re probably cringing at the thought of an assessment like this. Send us your good vibes. We’ll need them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Students Express Themselves

Pennsylvania students are currently in the throes of their yearly state testing. The testing window is shorter than ever, with only 8 days to complete 6 tests and all make-ups due to absences. Fifth grade students get the pleasure of following that up with another 4 tests in writing, to be completed during the same week that many of them plan to be absent for Take Your Child to Work Day. Needless to say, Pennsylvania teachers and students are feeling the crunch of some rather poor planning on the part of the PA Department of Education.

After the testing one day last week, my reading class was discussing a poem titled The Grass on the Mountain. It’s a Paiute Indian poem, translated into English by Mary Austin, and it’s an expression of the tribe’s longing for spring during the hard winter months. Our discussion prompted students to make a connection to their own endurance of the standardized testing marathon … which led to a little creative enterprise.

With all due respect to the Paiute Indians and Mary Austin, here is my students’ salute to their poem:

The Grass Under Our Feet

Oh, long, long
Have we sharpened our #2 pencils
The multiple choice and open-ended problems
Have possessed our school
Quiet are the classrooms
No sounds to be heard in the halls
Oh, long, long
Have we sat in our chairs
And filled in tiny bubbles
Wiping the sweat from our foreheads
And eating goldfish and juice from the cafeteria
We are sick with desire of the weekend
And the grass under our feet.

~ by Mrs. Salerni’s 5th Grade Reading/LA Class

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Celebrity Romance

As soon as the press discovered that gentleman adventurer Elisha Kane was courting the spirit medium Maggie Fox, newspapers scrambled to print the story, reporting sightings of them together, repeating gossip, and even following Dr. Kane on the street in the hopes of catching them together.

This 19th century version of paparazzi-type journalism attracted some criticism from high-minded people. Horace Greeley (who happened to be a friend of the Fox family) even wrote an editorial denouncing it, saying: "What right has the public to know anything about an ‘engagement’ or non-engagement between these two people? Whether they have been, are, may be, are not, or will not be 'engaged' can be nobody's business but their own." 

Were they engaged? Well, if Facebook had existed in the 1850’s, Maggie would have posted her status as “In a Relationship,” while Kane would undoubtedly have said “It’s Complicated.”

Both families opposed the match. Maggie’s family knew that Elisha was well above her station, and they expected him to break her heart and ruin her reputation. In addition, Elisha was outspoken in his contempt for spiritualism, and his intrusion into their life threatened to disrupt the family business. “The only thing that gives me fear,” Kane wrote, “is this confounded thing being found out!” Meanwhile, the aristocratic Kane family was appalled that their eldest son had taken up with a spirit rapper. Their biggest fear was that he might actually marry her, and they raged against him for his low taste and lack of discretion.

With all the world against them, it’s a wonder that Maggie and Elisha had any enjoyment from their relationship at all. Yet, their surviving letters paint a picture of two young people passionately in love – teasing, flirting, sometimes arguing – and yet hopelessly attracted in spite of their relative unsuitability. “Am I not correct when I say you are an enigma past finding out?” Maggie wrote to Kane. “You know I am!” Their love affair presented each of them with a personal dilemma, forcing them to choose between family loyalties and romantic attraction – and between their respective careers and love.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Meet the Romantic Lead

Perhaps it’s time to introduce the love interest in We Hear the Dead. He’s not the typical boyfriend you find in a YA novel, although I’m pretty sure women did swoon over him. In fact, Elisha Kent Kane was one of the most beloved celebrities of the 19th century: a doctor, an explorer, a scientist, a writer, a world traveler, and a military hero who combined the flair of Indiana Jones with the science of Jacques Cousteau.

Born into an illustrious Philadelphia family, Kane nearly didn’t make it to adulthood due to an illness that almost killed him in his late teens. Young Kane’s reaction to his near-death experience was to throw himself headlong into a life of adventure worthy of a dime novel.

Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a medical degree, Kane traveled extensively in Asia and Africa. In the Philippine Islands, he performed his first feat of derring-do — rappelling down the gaping mouth of a live volcano. (Yes, the volcano in the picture at the top of this blog!)

Upon his return to the U.S., Kane secured an officer’s commission in the Mexican-American War. On the field, Kane defeated a Mexican detachment, but afterward clashed with his commanding officer over the treatment of their prisoners.(Kane was against slaughtering them!) He narrowly escaped a court-martial, but he returned to Philadelphia a hero, the darling of the press.

Still, it was his role in Arctic exploration that made Elisha Kane truly famous. His first foray into the frozen north occurred when he served as ship’s surgeon on the U.S. Grinnell Expedition in search of the missing British explorer, Sir John Franklin. Although the expedition didn’t find any trace of Franklin’s men, Kane returned afire with the exploration bug. He threw himself into the lecture circuit to raise money for the next expedition, which he was destined to command. Kane attracted crowds all across the country with his enthralling tales of adventure in the north.

But no celebrity is complete without a romantic scandal, and Kane was no exception. Maggie Fox burst into the limelight in 1848 with a talent for contacting the dead, manifesting mysterious messages from spirits. Kane was no Spiritualist, but he fell helplessly in love with the enigmatic Miss Fox and began to court her with an enthusiasm he had heretofore reserved for his career.

And Elisha Kane was used to getting what he wanted.

To Be Continued …

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The miserable weather has broken here in Pennsylvania, and April made a grand entrance with some truly gorgeous days! I also received the first professional review for We Hear the Dead on April 1, and it was no joke. Kirkus—the big, bad, difficult-to-please giant of the review industry—liked my book! You can read the entire review on the BN product page, but I’ll quote you my favorite line:

“The research is excellent, and the author displays a facility for fluid prose even as she writes in a modified archaic style that lends credence to the first-person conceit of the novel.”

I hope all my reviews are this good—but even if they’re not, I can tell myself: “Well, Kirkus liked it!”

Hopefully, this favorable review will be enough to float me through next week. State testing begins on Wednesday, and my 5th grade is about to face three weeks of tests: two weeks of reading and math, followed by one week of writing.

On Monday, my priority is to remove or cover everything in my classroom that could assist students on a test: writing tips, definitions of literary genres, reminders on what to include in an open-ended response. One year, the state even made us take down the cursive alphabet chart, although they revised their ruling on this later.

Meanwhile, the tests themselves are under lock and key in a specially reserved room. They will be counted and recounted during the testing days. All scrap paper used during the test will be shredded. The state does not require my principal to sleep in the room with the tests, but I’m not so sure that she doesn’t.

Worst of all are the Men in Black. I am not kidding about this. Yes, this is an example of your tax dollars at work. Pennsylvania employs a small army of test security men who randomly visit schools during the testing days. They inspect the official storage room for the tests. They wander through the classrooms, looking for posters displaying punctuation rules that some hapless teacher forgot to remove. Sometimes, they sit down in a classroom and observe the teacher and the students for an entire testing session. I’m sure that helps the students perform better on their tests!

Anyway, I expect next week will be grueling and stressful. But if I have a stupid smile plastered on my face throughout the whole thing, it will be thanks to Kirkus!

Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Do You See Dead People, Too?

Do you believe communication with the dead is possible?

Have you ever felt the presence of someone who was not physically present?

Teen Fire wants to know! So much so that they are hosting a contest to give away either a free copy of We Hear the Dead by yours truly or Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown.

Picture the Dead is a beautifully illustrated paranormal romance in the gothic style about a woman who loses her fiancé in the Civil War. When she starts to get close his brother (who refuses to talk about her fiancée’s death), the dark ghost of her former lover makes his wrath felt. Is he a dark spirit, returned to haunt her? Or is he trying to protect her from a hidden family secret?

All you have to do to enter the contest is join Teen Fire and leave a comment on the contest page answering one of the two questions above. Come on – we want to hear your story!

And look out for news regarding a joint book event featuring both these books and all three of us authors in the Philadelphia area this May. Details forthcoming … when I know the details. :D