A Video is Worth a Bajillion Words

My amazing, fabulous, joyous Book Launch Party was on Sunday, March 3rd, and it was so amazing, fabulous and joyous, it pretty much left this author speechless.  (Which takes a lot.)  Luckily, there’s a video of my presentation/signing, and it sums the afternoon up better than I ever could.  The party afterwards at our house was a continuation of the celebration, and I’m so thankful for everyone who showed up.  As for incredibly Happy Days in My Lifetime, I have to say this one rated right up there with my wedding day.  I am one lucky woman, and I am reveling, appreciating, savoring.  Thank you so very much, to everyone who shared this happy day with with me, in person and in spirit.

And while I’m sharing videos, here’s Becky Anderson, interviewing me at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville a few weeks ago:

Authors Revealed with Becky Anderson

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Almost Famous

The other day, my father reminded me that when I was around four or five, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would announce without hesitation: “A famous writer and artist!” I was passionate about writing and drawing even as a little tyke at the kitchen table with my crayons, paints, paper, and those fat red pencils. I couldn’t imagine any other life for myself, and this has never changed.

No, I’m not famous. But two days ago, when I walked into the bookstore where I work and saw MY BOOK, Being Henry David, in a double face-out in the Young Adult section, near truly famous names like Laura Halse Anderson, Sherman Alexie, Meg Cabot and Libba Bray, I admit I felt like an almost-famous version of myself.

calatwillow

Except that I imagine the truly famous people are way cooler and more controlled than I am. I took one look at my book on the shelf, and burst into tears. Now I’m a crier in general (bursting into tears is my default go-to emotion), but I didn’t feel the tears coming on, didn’t expect to flail the way I did. But I couldn’t help it. That surreal, happy, floaty feeling grew and grew, and overflowed right out of my damn eyeballs. Dream-come-true tears. Yep, it’s been a long, long time since I was four years old, but if I could go back in time, I’d give that little girl at the kitchen table a big ol’ hug, hand her another stack of paper, and say, “keep it up, sweetie.”

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Apologies and Anxieties of an Almost-Published Author

Just now, my husband informed me that in 40 days, my young adult novel, Being Henry David will officially be released into the world.  He’s the math guy in the family, so he knows these things.  As for me, I’m the crazy, emotional, creative one.  The one who lives life with my heart on my sleeve.  Which conjures a really weird visual when you think about it too hard, so don’t.

But because I process everything through emotions first and intellect second, the experience of having one of my lifelong dreams come true is a mixed blessing.  I know, I think too much.  I feel too much.  I worry too much. So let me get things out of my fretful brain and on the page, and maybe I can exorcise my inner Woody Allen, at least for the moment.

First, I apologize to my friends.  Am I boring yet?  Do you scroll past my posts on Facebook and Twitter, while rolling your eyes?  I know, I know, I can’t help myself.  I’ve been celebrating all the big and little things that have happened on this journey, and I can’t control myself.  I have to share them.  And to be fair, you’ve been encouraging me.  You’ve “liked” and “shared” my posts about getting an official ISBN number, seeing my cover art for the first time, receiving positive pre-publication reviews (like the Kirkus starred review—woohoo!!), and feeling like a rock star at early author events.  You’ve posted wonderful, celebratory messages and promised you’d be at my launch party to get a signed copy of the book and tip a glass of champagne with me.  God, I love my friends.  If I’m annoying, if I’m boring, please bear with me.  This phase will be over soon.  I’ll only be a starry-eyed newbie debut author once in my life.

Okay.  Got that off my chest.  Back to checking on how many stars my book has on Goodreads, and figuring out how the heck to do a blog tour, ordering SWAG (fun giveaways connected to the book), preparing my school-visit presentation and practicing my autograph.  And reveling.  I hereby give myself permission to revel.  And by the way, thank you, so much, for reveling with me.

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Feeling Like a Rock Star

So much for blogging on a regular basis. Blogfail. But I have a good excuse:  I’ve been too busy living my life this past month to blog about it. To sum up, things are starting to happen in regard to Being Henry David.  People are reading advanced copies and reviews are being posted online. (Thankfully, most of them are good.)  I’ve been asked to speak at a book event in June. People are starting to pre-order my book.  And the most amazing thing happened earlier this month:  I met a group of middle school and high school students in the Chicago area who have already read my book!

I had no idea what a stroke of genius it was to have my book’s protagonist, Danny (a.k.a. Hank) hail originally from Naperville, Illinois.  I was just following the “write what you know” adage, because I used to live in Naperville and it’s one of my favorite places, featuring some of my favorite people on the planet. But yes, it turns out that I am brilliant.  Because coincidentally—and fortuitously—my publisher (Albert Whitman & Co.) is based in the Chicago area, and has a great relationship with Anderson Books in Naperville, which has been voted the best independent bookstore in the country.  (It was also my favorite bookstore when I lived there.)  Becky Anderson of Anderson Books often hosts pre-publication “Meet the Author” events, and because my book has scenes set in Naperville and I’m a former resident of the town, I was invited to appear at my own pre-pub event on Monday, December 3rd.

Well.  Let me just say, it was amazing.  Let me just say, these kids made me feel like a rock star.  More than fifty kids, along with a few teachers and librarians, came specifically to see me, and talk to me about my book—how incredible is that?  It started, as many things do when it comes to teenagers, with pizza.  The kids sat at several different tables chowing down, and I visited each table to chat with the kids and answer questions about the book.  It was so much fun to hear them talk about the characters I’d created like they were real people (obviously I feel that way about them too), to respond to their thoughtful questions, and to revel in their enthusiasm.  After pizza, I made a brief presentation for the group at large, fielded more questions, posed for photos in the warehouse area of the building with ALL the kids (see photos), and then, I signed their books.  Yes.  They wanted my autograph.  How weird is that?  How many of us remember practicing our autograph in school notebooks, just pretending that someday it would mean something to somebody?  And here I was, doing it for real.  Looking up into each kid’s face individually (they were all so beautiful!) to get his or her name, then signing my own.  It was…humbling, amazing, thrilling.  I kept saying to my daughter Nicolle, “Is this real?  Am I dreaming?  When I wake up tomorrow, will you be sure to tell me I didn’t imagine all this?”

autographsigning

It was real.  The pictures prove it.  And here are just a few of my favorite things the kids said:

“I’m definitely going to be one of the people who has read all the Cal Armistead books!”

“Who do you think should play Hank in the movie version of your book?”

(After a boy high-fives me–)  “I just high-fived an author!”

“Don’t you think I look a little like the kid on the cover?”

“This was my favorite book in a long time.”

And perhaps the highest praise from a teenager ever…

“You really get us.”

I know I can’t expect every author visit to be as good as this one…but wow, what a way to start things off.  Excuse me while I fasten my seatbelt for the ride ahead. Sure, I’m nervous, but I’m also excited.  Let the journey begin.

prepubgrouppic

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Doing the NaNoWriMo Thang

Well.

So much for my self-imposed goal of writing a blog on the first and fifteenth of every month. Not that anyone paused mid-sip during the first cup of morning coffee on those particular days, and suddenly thought, “Gosh, I thought Cal was going to have a new blog posted today.  That does it, my day is completely ruined.  I’m going back to bed.”

Even so.  This was the goal, and I do have high hopes that I can stick to that plan in the future.   But I want to note that one of the reasons I haven’t been keeping up is because I’m hard at work on a different goal:  writing a novel in a month.  You see, November is National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a NaNoWriMo; see http://www.nanowrimo.org), an organized on-line challenge in which participants strive to reach a word total of at least 50,000 over the course of the month.  There are no prizes at the end, no money is exchanged, but you do have the thrill of victory (or the agony of defeat, if you can’t keep up—and many find it difficult), bragging rights, and—most importantly—a first rough draft of a brand new fledgling novel.

I have a soft spot in my typing fingers for NaNoWriMo, because it just so happens that I wrote the first-ever draft of Being Henry David (my young adult book that’s coming out on March 1, 2013) during this challenge in 2009.  It had moments I was proud of, and moments that truly sucked and were deleted during the first post-Nano read, but it gave me a start, and that’s what’s critically important.

And so, forgive me for being blog-less in Boston (until now), although in truth, I’m not all that contrite.  I am thrilled to be working on my next young adult novel, Life Shards, even as we speak.  I’m slightly behind the curve for where I should be (I’m about 28,000 words in), but so far, the process is fun and chugging right along.  I’m writing to get the story out, losing myself in emotions and tangents and occasional in-story brainstorming, and have told my inner editor to take a mini-vacation to the Bahamas and leave me alone.  So far, so good.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Get Yer YA-YA’s Out!

Get Yer YA-YA’s Out!

(and by YA-YA’s, I mean fiction of the Young Adult variety)

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that nobody, and I mean nobody, emerges from teenager-hood unscathed.  From the nerd in the back of class to the captain of the cheerleading squad, adolescence is that rocky, pot-hole ridden bridge from childhood to adulthood that every human must travel. We don’t get a choice.  And not to be depressing or anything, but we carry the vestiges of those teenage years inside us for the rest of our lives, for good or for bad.  Inside every outwardly successful 30, 40, 50 or 80-year old lives a forever 15 year-old who is scrawny, chubby, pimply, too short, too tall, lost, confused, mortified, or just plain awkward.

This is why I believe so many adults today enjoy reading young adult fiction.  We remember the teenagers we were.  In ways, we still are that person.  Adults read YA literature because it speaks to that inner teenager.  We read it because it comfort us to hear about other peoples’ struggles, both those that are similar to what we’ve gone through, and those that are dramatically different.  (Which is the same reason teens read YA, of course.) We also read it because there are a whole lot of outstanding YA novels being published these days.  The genre has grown radically since the days of, say, Nancy Drew and The Babysitters Club.   Teenagers want the same things in their literature that adults do:  great stories, written well.  On that, we can all agree.

And so, in this particular blog, I thought I’d make a Top Ten Best-Of List of YA Books I Have Loved and Been Inspired By.  (Please ignore the awkwardness of that sentence, especially the dangling participle.) By “Best-Of,” I basically mean the best examples I can come up with in this very moment in time, now, today.  It’s not like I’ve done extensive research or read every book ever published.  No doubt your list would have different titles, and I invite you to email your opinions to me, or mention them in the comments after this blog.

But in the meantime, here goes nothing…my Top Ten Best-Of List of YA Books I Have Loved and By Which I Have Been Inspired. (See, it sounds goofy if I make it grammatically correct.)  Anyway.

My Top Five (Older Titles):

  1. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous.  (1971) This is probably the first real “teen” book I ever read, back when I was a teen.  It’s the actual diary of a girl who got addicted to drugs.  I remember being so moved by her writing because it sounded a whole lot like my own diary at the time (without the drugs, thankfully), and I could understand a lot of what she was feeling, both good and bad.  It’s a true teenager’s voice that still resonates.
  2. The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton.  Ditto the above.  I read this when I was a kid, and found it to be profoundly real and fascinating.  The life of Pony Boy in the city was very different from my safe suburban life, but still it resonated with me.  I cared about those characters, and trusted the voice of the author, who was herself a teen when she wrote it.  (It’s no accident that teenagers themselves guided YA literature to where it is today.)
  3. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. (1947) Need I say more?
  4. I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier. (1977) This is a fascinating book about a boy who thinks he’s on a long bike ride, who is actually suffering from severe emotional trauma.  He discovers he’s not who he seems to be—a creative twist on the whole search-for-identity theme.
  5. Little Women, by Lousia May Alcott. (1868) I read this book for the first time when I was about twelve, and absolutely loved it.  It had feisty girl characters including Jo, (a writer like me), and a loving family dynamic. I’ve always had family connections to Concord, MA, so I felt I could at least relate to the place if not the time.  A classic.

My Top Five (Newer Titles)

  1. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. (1999) This book is something of a modern classic.  It has a serious theme—a girl who was raped at a party who can’t find a way to talk about it, or speak much about anything—but somehow she maintains an inner hope and humor that make the book an excellent read.
  2. Keeping the Moon, by Sarah Dessen. (1999) This is just one of Dessen’s teen novels that I’ve enjoyed.  The voice is fresh and smart, about a teenage girl named Colie who struggles with being (formerly) overweight and missing her mom while spending the summer with an aunt.  Many of Dessen’s books resonate because her teen characters are so “real.”
  3. The Giver, by Lois Lowry. (1994) One of the first-ever dystopian YA books, it’s about a boy named Jonas who realizes that his world is far from the utopian ideal that was intended.  I’m not usually one who reads fantasy or dystopian-themed books (as you can probably tell by my selections above), but this one is not to be missed, not even by me.
  4. The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins.  (2008) Yes it’s true, I’m not a sci-fi, dystopian-book fan.  But this was different.  The Hunger Games was a fascinating, addictive read.  I think the reason I liked the trilogy so much is because Katniss has so much integrity, heart, compassion, and strength.  It’s nice to have a female character with these qualities.  As I’ve said, I like what’s “real,” and she definitely felt real to me.
  5. Being Henry David, by Cal Armistead. (2013) Oh, come on.  You had to know I’d include this one.  How could I not feel partial to a book so close to my heart?  (Humor me.)

So go ahead, give yourself permission.  If you’re an adult and you’re NOT reading YA, I think it’s time you seriously got your YA-YA’s out.  Frequently.

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Interview with the Author, Part Deux.

[Since my previous Interview with the Author went so swimmingly, (and I finally warmed up to the questioning-and-answering-myself thing), I decided to continue the dialogue.  This is good practice, to anticipate questions that might be asked of me at some point, like in case my book becomes wildly successful, catapults up the best-seller list, is translated into a hundred foreign languages, made into a Major Motion Picture starring Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Games, and I end up being interviewed by Matt Lauer on The Today Show.  Or not. (Call me, Matt Lauer!)  Anyway, on to Interview with the Author, Part Deux…]

Q:  So lovely to see you again, Cal.

A:  Likewise, Cal.

Q:  This is dumb.

A:  I know.

Q:  So I’ll move on to the first question.

A:  Yes, that would be best.

Q:  Tell us about the process behind writing the novel Being Henry David.

A:  Well, I wrote the first draft of Being Henry David over the course of a month.  I was doing a writing experiment—trying out National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, to those in the know)—and just letting the story spill out, without any editing or hesitating or thinking too hard.  The goal is just to get 50,000 words on paper—or in the computer—and worry later about making it sound pretty.  It was actually a really cool, organic way to write a story.  Some of what I wrote was total crap, but other parts were surprisingly visceral and real because I was just letting the words flow without a filter.  It took me a couple years after that to polish it into a reasonable manuscript, but it gave me a starting point.  Like the lump of clay on a potter’s wheel that might someday be molded into a nice fruit bowl.  Or something.

Q:  Have you written any other young adult novels?

A:  As a matter of fact, I have.  I started writing Slow Dancing on the Edge of the Roof while I was in grad school, and finished it the summer after I graduated in 2007.  I think of it as my “training “novel.  (Sort of like a training bra, but different.)  I sent it out to a number of agents, and got some lovely rejection letters of the “we like it, but we don’t quite love it” variety.

Q:  What is Slow Dancing on the Edge of the Roof about?

A:  Well, it’s about this 16-year old girl named Cassie whose mother sends her away for the summer to live at her crazy grandmother’s farm.

Q:  That’s it?

A:  No, there’s a whole lot more, but it’s hard to sum up.  It’s mainly about relationships, but there’s no real “hook.” That’s part of the problem.  Maybe I’ll revisit it someday and turn it into something.  Just because you’ve got yourself a training bra doesn’t mean you’ve got something magnificent to put into it yet.  Just saying.

Q:  Profound.  And are you currently working on another young adult novel?

A:  I am.  I’ve got the whole thing percolating in here.  (Points, incorrectly, at frontal cortex.)  About three chapters are written so far.  The working title is Life Shards, but that could change about eighty-five more times before I’m done.  That’s all I’m authorized to reveal at this time.

Q:  Now, last question.  Please tell us about your writing routine.

A:  Back to this, are we?  Do we really have to go there?

Q:  Look you have to be prepared for this question.  People always ask published writers about their routine, like maybe there’s some magic in it.  Admit it, anytime an author you admire reveals his or her writing routine, you write it down like they’re sacred words to live by, and vow to imitate those practices exactly.

A:  Yeah, you’re right.   I do admit to that.

Q:  So?

A:  Okay.  Well, every morning after I take my dog Layla for a walk around the neighborhood, I go into my office, close the door, open my computer, and write from 9 a.m. to noon.  Or longer, if it’s going well.

Q:  You lie.

A:  Yep.  That’s a total lie.  In my defense, it’s what I intend to do every morning.  Sometimes I get distracted by Facebook or emails, or there’s a phone call, or big breaking news on TV, or a spider on the ceiling, or something sparkly.

Q:  In other words, you don’t have much of a writing routine.

A:  It’s a haphazard operation, yes.  But somehow I get the job done in bits and pieces, in my office, at the kitchen table, the local coffee shop, or in front of the TV half-watching America’s Top Model.  It’s in these moments of total obsession when I get lost in my writing and forget to eat or get dressed or put on deodorant that I’m most productive.  (P.S. The part about forgetting to eat is also a lie.)  I’m really good with deadlines too, real or imagined.

Q:  Which is why we’re working on this blog on September 30, the day before our self-imposed deadline of October 1st.

A:  Don’t say we and our.  It sounds way too “Sybil” to me.

Q:  I agree.

A:  Please…stop that.

Q:  And so, another author interview comes to an awkward close.  Thanks for reading!

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