Sunday, February 27, 2011

Haunted Tour in Phoenix

Thank you, Phoenix, for an absolutely phenomenal first leg of the HAUNTED mini tour!
Weather couldn't have been better; the city and suburbs were filled with baseball fans for the start of Spring Training, and I met readers and teachers and booksellers and librarians who are all totally and wonderfully committed to literacy, reading, and supporting authors and books. Librarian Greg Kinder, the teen event coordinator at the Velma Teague Library in Glendale is passionate about kids and books. Tracy Weaver, whose AP English class I visited at Mountain View HS in Mesa has a happy room filled with posters and books and absolutely wonderful, brilliant students, well-versed in literature, folklore and mythology! And the people, esp. Robyn, at Changing Hands in Tempe (where I'm at my signing table above) run the best indie in the city! You guys all rocked my world! That and happy hour at BLT in Paradise Valley - where I ate a popover as big as my head with butter and sea salt - made for a wonderful trip. Plus did you know that my KIA rental car had roll down windows? :)

Here I am below with Robyn at Changing Hands

Below is me and Tracy Weaver in her classroom at Mountain View HS in Mesa. I even got my
very own AP English t-shirt

Below is me at Velma Teague Library in Glendale, with Greg Kinder. Thank you to all the teens and college students and also adults, who came to listen to me read and to the wonderful bookseller from Barnes and Noble who supplied books for the event!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Contest Winner

The contest hat has spoken!! Christina! You and your comment about the Claw and Sparkly colored bowling balls - the contest hat has picked you for the prize of an autographed copy of Crystal Allen's debut How Lamar's Bad Prank won a Bubba Sized Trophy!!

So if you could email me at joy at joypreble dot com and let me know your snail mail, I will arrange for the book!!

And congrats to Crystal again!!

Plus cheers to everyone who told their "why bowling is cool" stories.

Til next time...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Which Crystal Allen Drops By to Chat about Characters and Voice, Plus a Contest

(Want to win a copy? Read to end of post!!)

Crystal Allen rocks! As you may know, we share not only an agent - the fabulous Jen Rofe - but also a city - Houston - and a love of breakfast food. Crystal says I always out order her. I say it's a rough competitive world. PW gave her a starred review. I'm entitled to my pretty breakfast quesadilla at Empire Cafe. We also share a release month; Haunted came out on 2/1 and Crystal's much anticipated debut MG novel, How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy is due out on 2/22, from Balzer Bray, a division of Harper Collins. It is getting all sorts of well-deserved buzz. Plus it has bowling. Which is totally cool. Yes, Crystal makes bowling cool! In fact it is entirely possible that I will have to make Ethan take Anne bowling in the final book of the Dreaming Anastasia trilogy. Maybe Baba Yaga, too. Seriously! A witch with detachable hands bowling? It boggles the mind.

Here's wha that fabu PW review had to say about Lamar:

“Cocky, sharp-tongued, and a known prankster, 13-year-old Lamar Washington is a protagonist readers won’t soon forget… Debut author Allen gives Lamar a singular (and often comically misguided) way with words …Under all the braggadocio is a boy with a big heart, and from the first sentence Lamar will have readers hooked.”

I asked Crystal to stop by and talk about what it's like to write a character as strong-voiced as Lamar. Here's what she had to say. (And at the end, a CONTEST!!)

Lamar has a dominating personality. He demands attention, and he began his quest for it while I was focused on an intense episode of CSI. He just popped up in my head, fully dressed in jeans, Michael Jordan sneakers and a T-shirt, and began strutting around my brain like he lived there. At that time, I had no idea who he was and immediately thought I needed some serious medication. I was so outdone by Lamar's presence and even tried to figure out if he was someone from my past or someone I had recently met, and why all of a sudden he was so strong in my thoughts.

His face wasn't nearly as clear as his actions at the time, but I knew he wanted to take me somewhere. In the middle of my freak-out, I got a visual of a small town street. Lamar rhythm-walked down that street toward a bowling alley, opened the door and went inside. The sounds the smells, the music inside the bowling alley were vivid. It was then that I realized I was hanging out with Lamar.

See, months earlier, I'd developed a storyline with a bowling alley as a secondary gathering spot for a group of multicultural elementary school characters. That story included Lamar, but the story wasn't told from his perspective. It was actually in third person at the time. So, for him to step out of the crowd and man up in such a big way, surprised me. :)

Lamar has taken me through an emotional beat down. I've laughed at him, cried with him, hollered at him, turned off the computer on him, told him "No! I'm not writing that!" and then wrote it anyway, and had many, many conversations with him about his life and how he was choosing to live it.

As a mother of two boys, it was difficult to watch Lamar make decisions that make mothers cringe. But, I had to allow him to make those mistakes and keep my own inhibitions in check.
Now that How Lamar's Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy is finished, I've had problems getting Lamar out of my head. As I've attempted to write stories about other male characters, Lamar's voice rings in my ears, calling my new characters 'weak' or 'chumps' or saying something only Lamar would say. I've had to work extra hard to shut him down! :) But, I believe over time, I'll take the mental duct tape off of his mouth, and write another story about my most favorite character; especially since that's what he's trying to make me do anyway!

Thanks for such an engaging post, Crystal!
Until 2/22 when you can read Lamar yourself, you can find out more about Crystal at her website:

CONTEST: Want to win an autographed copy of Lamar? Comment on this post and tell me and Crystal why you think bowling is cool. Best responses will go into the contest hat! May the best bowling commentator win! Contest is open until 2/22.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nesting Dolls, Mermaids, Lacquer Boxes, Crazy Witches and Guys Who Just Can't Die Part 1

Above is a cover we didn't use for Dreaming Anastasia, which uses the matryoshka metaphor

Happy Valentine's all! My creative writing class wrote love poems today using candy conversation hearts. I LOVE doing that on Valentine's Day. Plus we get candy. Although, don't tell anyone, but those conversation hearts taste like chalk. One step down from those orange circus peanuts...

But today's topic is Russian folklore. Lots of it in the Dreaming Anastasia series: Baba Yaga, the witch with iron teeth and removable hands, who lives in a hut that runs around on chicken legs; rusalkas - who play a pivotal role in Haunted, and are malevolent mermaids who died in or near a body of water and are doomed to haunt it and often - like a Siren - tempt men to drown; the fairy tale of Vasilisa the Brave - who's sent into Baba Yaga's forest to get fire and who's helped by her enchanted matryoshka doll her mother gave her; and a dude named Koschei the Deathless who very much pre-dates Harry Potter's Voldemort, but who has also hidden his life force away and thus can't die. (the concept of a soul jar is a very, very old one, btw!)

In Haunted, the rusalka tells Anne what Baba Yaga has already told her before - that nothing is as it seems. "Stories within stories. Secrets within secrets." It is one of the controlling metaphors for the novels. Matryoshka dolls are nesting dolls - the figure repeats itself, smaller and smaller, each doll (as you can see in the cover for DA above that we didn't use) tucked inside the other. Supposedly, the doll maker say a little spell of enchantment on the littlest doll - enabling it to hear and keep the secrets of the child who receives the doll as a gift. In Vasilisa the Brave - which I use in DA as Anastasia's story - Vasilisa's mother gives her a doll (it's not specified as a matryoshka in the folklore but I chose to make it so in my stories) and tells her the doll will keep her safe. And indeed it does; it tells her how to satisfy Baba Yaga's requests. She lives and returns home with fire and does indeed live happily ever after. Like Vasilisa, Anastasia's doll talks to her; or rather, she talks to the doll and hears it talk to her. It's the doll that Anne uses to help send her back in the end... but if you haven't read, I won't say any more about that.

Let's just say that I'm not done with these nesting dolls quite yet. Secrets within secrets within secrets.

And you know what? Two different people gave me matryoshka dolls in the past week: a former student - who gifted me with a traditional doll wearing a babushka - and my husband, who found nesting dolls of the Romanov family! Seriously cool Valentine's gift for a geek girl like me.
til next time...
when we talk to Crystal Allen

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Want to win HAUNTED and the Sunday seven

Various contests up and about with HAUNTED giveaways, thanks to bloggers, author/bloggers and other kind souls.

Want to win a copy of HAUNTED?

Author Janet Fox (Faithful and the Forthcoming Forgiven) has an interview with me and a contest!

And Blogger Book Whisperer does, too!

Very cool!

Now for the Sunday seven:

1. tomorrow's blog post will be about matryoshka dolls, which play a huge role in the Dreaming Anastasia series. (Yes this will be my Valentine's post. Yes, there's a reason!)
And later this week, Crystal Allen!

2. Finally watched EasyA last night. Very very funny. Even a tad poignant.

3. Can't decide if I want to watch Waiting for Superman when it comes out next week. I'm not a fan of those who claim that they have THE ANSWER to our educational woes. Cause you know what? They don't. It's never that simple. Okay, actually it is. You want to know the secret to good schools? Here it is: a.Highly educated teachers who are masters of their subject matter. (ie - Don't hire an English teacher who hasn't read Shakespeare and who couldn't step in and competently teach any grade level. Or a math teacher who can't teach more than algebra. Just don't do it.) B. Parents who care and who take the time to follow their kids' progress. Really follow it. Who know what they're learning. Who value learning. And who make it a priority to pass that value on to their kids. Those two would be a good start. Want to sort the good teachers from the weaker ones? Stick your candidates in a room with just a student textbook (no internet or teacher's guide) and paper and pen. Tell them okay - you're going to be teaching a unit on short stories next week. Create it and the activities and assessments that go with it. If they can't do it, don't hire them. End. Of. Story.

4. Bethenney Frankel has a new series coming up. Bethenney - you are like crack to me. I even watched you on Skating with the Stars. I will be there, girlfriend!

5. Brooding Aiden's bitey, bloody, obsessive love affair with the new vamp on Being Human - gross but addictively watchable.

6. Does anyone else notice that Vampire Diaries sometimes recycles Buffy plots? Like next week's ep where Stefan relives his past victims. Didn't Angel do this in Season 3 on the Buffy Christmas episode? Plus others?

7. It is clear that for a woman who teaches six classes, is writing a book that's due in July and attempting to promote the new one PLUS prepare for her son's wedding (got a dress!!! I found a dress!!), that I watch entirely too much tv.

til next time...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Coming Soon: Witches and Mermaids and Guys Who Just Can't be Killed

Vasilisa the Brave peeks at Baba Yaga's chicken leg hut

Excited about some upcoming posts: so excited that I'm doing this little teaser!

I love, love, love the Russian folklore that I use in the Dreaming Anastasisa series. So for the next couple of weeks, I'll be doing posts about the various fairy tales, folklore, and folk art that play such important roles in DA and HAUNTED. Going to be doing at least one contest while I'm at it.

So buckle up! We're going to dive into the world of Baba Yaga and her magic forest and her hut that stands on chicken legs, of rusalkas and matroyshka dolls and lacquer boxes, Vasilisa the Brave and Koschei the Deathless!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

HAUNTED Launch Party - post 2

So everyone's been sending HAUNTED launch pictures: Sandy, Ed, Vonna - enough for me to post some more. Anther shot of the sign, some more of the crowd, a closer up of the really cool t shirts that Kelli Webb - who used to be our attendance secretary - created for me. As you can see, it was a great mixed crowd - friends and family and SCBWIers and students, both current and former, plus readers and bloggers, too! If you came up and introduced yourself, I thank you so much for saying hi! And that woman in pink? That's Crystal Allen. I'll be posting an interiew with her any day now. She's not only one of my besties, she's also the author of How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba Sized Trophy, which releases from Harper Collins on 2/22 and has been getting highly desered buzz just about everywhere there's buzz.

See that woman with the camera? That's Vonna Carter, who took a lot of these pictures, although not this one. One of Houston SCBWI's very best.

Monday, February 7, 2011

In Which I Very Much Enjoyed the Haunted Launch Party

Going to let the pictures speak for themselves. Posters, books, t shirt, lovely people. HAUNTED!! Welcome to the world. May readers find you on many shelves, real and virtual. Hugs to you, little book. And look! There was even cake....

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Seven

Do I even have seven? Let's see:

1. Launch party was so much fun yesterday. About 90+ I think... and I know it would have been more if not for the weird weather week, rescheduled sports events, etc. February is s fickle little month, esp if your book launches on the day of the great Chicago blizzard. But so good to meet you all/see you all/give away Haunted t shirts, eat cake... If you took pics, post them/send them/let me see them! I got only a few on my camera... too busy saying hi!

2. Have updated my HAUNTED tour schedule on the website news page. (

3. Definitely had a sniffly moment yesterday when I said, "you know, last year at this time...." and talked briefly about last year's thyroid cancer journey. Signed book contract/got diagnosis all in same week. But look at the happy happy ending. Yay for health!

4. Need to write 2k today. Let's see if I do it.

5. Thanks to Roecker Sisters for turning me to GOOP. That's all I'm saying. Oh the humor.

6. Hooked on Being Human on SyFy. Vamp, werewolf, ghost - sharing a house. Loving this show.

7. Vampire Diaires continue to get better and better. Oh Damon. How I love you. I haven't enjoyed an hour of tv this much since the BTVS days.

til next time...
and ONE DAY left (through 2/7) to get your free Dreaming Anastasia download on the ereader of your choice. Just like you always do, only it's free!

THANK YOU one and all for supporting me and HAUNTED. I seriously love my middle book. Hope you do, too!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ice Day:In Which I Did not meet Lauren Oliver

So the snow didn't happen. But the ice did.

Here are the things I did not get to do today: I did not get to meet one of my writing idols, Lauren Oliver, because she did not make it to Houston yesterday for Blue Willow and The Woodlands B&N today. (She was slated to visit the school where I teach, which was totally wonderful) Lauren - Before I Fall is one of my favorite books of 2010. I've started Delirium and it's equally as fabulous.

I did not have to go teach. (okay, I'm not mourning that one)

Here's what I'm worried about: That the damn ice melts so that everyone can make it to The Woodlands B&N tomorrow at 2 for the HAUNTED launch party. (cake! t shirts! Me!)

That the apocalyptic weather conditions do not muck up book sales - for the lovely Lauren whom I have yet to meet, and for me!

That the husband - trapped at my side right now because the toll road is closed - does not decide to do a noisy, banging man cave project while I'm writing.

Here's what I'm going to do: Write, write, write. Drink coffee. Take pictures of the icicles. Keep an eye out for the elusive snow. (better chance of that eye being poked out by a falling icicle.) Ponder whether the Packers are responsible by bringing their frozen tundra weather to Texas with them.

So hi Lauren Oliver! It would have been lovely to meet you. My signing poster at B&N shares a stand with yours. Hope you come back in the spring!

And the rest of you! Get your butts to The Woodlands Mall B&N tomorrow from 2-4. I'm thrilled to meet you! Or hug you if I already know you! Buy a copy of HAUNTED. Buy a copy of Lauren Oliver's Delirium while you're at it.

Til next time...

(and don't forget - Sourcebooks - my poor little team still stuck in a drift in Chicago - is still offering free downloads of Dreaming Anastasia on the ereader of your choice til 2/7, in honor of Haunted's release. Just do what you'd normally do to buy an e book. Except it will be free!)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy Birthday HAUNTED 2/1/11

Happy Birthday, Haunted!

It was a tough, winding road getting you here. But today’s your day. May your life be long and full. A week on that NYTimes list wouldn’t hurt, either, but no pressure. I will always think you’re special.

You survived a crazy teaching and promotion schedule, an editor change, a cancer diagnosis and surgery, and numerous other upheavals. But there you were anyway – the story I wanted.

You’re the middle child. Dreaming Anastasia will always be older. And there’s a third book coming next year. I don’t know what this means, but that’s okay. We’ll both figure it out together.

So go on, little book. I’m kicking you out into the world. (actually, you’ve been sneaking onto shelves for a couple of weeks now. You’re an independent little cuss and I already love that about you) Go. Grab readers by the scruff of their necks. Do your thing.


PS – and if anyone needs to catch up on Dreaming Anastasia, Sourcebooks – wonderful folks that they are – is offering free downloads on all e reader devices for one week starting today!! Check it out now!!