Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ideas for your holiday shopping pleasure

Feeling the pinch this holiday season? That economic crunch making your wallet a bit thin? Save some money by celebrating a true old-fashioned New England country Christmas.

Don't waste your money on presents, and leave all those evergreens outdoors where they belong. On December 25, go to work or school as usual. Oh, and if you're an employer and your staff takes the day off? Fire their little heathen butts!

Wait, wait, you say--that's not old-time New England; that's Ebenezer Scrooge before the three ghostly visitations. Well, old Mr. Scrooge would have fit right in with pre-Civil War rural New Englanders. Forget all those Currier & Ives visions of rosy-cheeked children hanging their stockings by the chimney with care and Clement Moore's "Visit from Saint Nicholas." Moore was a New Yorker and--gasp!--an Episcopalian--not quite as horrifically heathenish as a Catholic to those staunch Puritanically-descended New Englanders of the early 1800s, but pretty darned close.

While Christmas was being celebrated in the South and in some of the big northern cities like New York and Boston (which had growing populations of Catholics, Episcopalians, and non-Anglo immigrants), out in the New England countryside, Congregationalists and Baptists ruled the religious roosts. Like their Puritan ancestors, they wanted to distance themselves from anything that smacked of Catholic ritual--especially holidays that they considered to be ancient pagan celebrations thinly veiled in Christianity. In the 1830s and 1840s, rural New Englanders viewed Christmas celebrations with curiosity, mistrust, and sometimes open hostility. Businessmen were annoyed and frustrated when they went into cities like Boston and New York and found some of the stores and offices closed for Christmas. Some ministers even preached anti-Christmas sermons, arguing that Christmas celebrations (especially those involving large quantities of alcohol) did not honor Christ's birth, but were profane mockeries of true Christianity. But eventually Christmas infiltrated the countryside, too--hey, who can resist a chance for a day off work, a big pig-out, and presents, too?

For more than you'll ever want to know about Christmas in old New England, read these two articles at the Old Sturbridge Village Website:

Interpreting Christmas Traditions by Tom Kelleher

Christmas in New England Before 1860 by Jack Larkin

So don't stress over the holidays! Just tell your friends and family that you want to celebrate a traditional Christmas, just like they did back in the good ol' days, when all the men were strong, all the women had no rights whatsoever, and all the children worked 80 hours a week.

On the other hand, if you don't like your Christmas fantasies ruined, you can indulge them by checking out Old Sturbridge Village's Christmas by Candlelight, December 12-14 and 19-21. You can find out more about how Christmas was and wasn't celebrated in American cities and villages, how the celebration made its way from cities to the countryside, and learn the origins of some of our Christmas customs. And, best of all, if you come on December 12, you can come and say "hi" to me when I sign copies of A Difficult Boy at the OSV Bookstore! For information about the program, go to and click on the link for "Christmas by Candlelight."

(Can't make it to Sturbridge Village? Head over to my website , where you can find a list of booksellers carrying autographed copies of A Difficult Boy. Most of them will ship books to you.)



Of course, the perfect Christmas gift is always a book...especially if it's mine! But if you've already bought my book for yourself, your family, and your friends, you might get some gift ideas from this list of some of the books I've enjoyed over the past year or two:


Dennis Lehane - The Given Day (William Morrow) - The parallel stories of two men--one white and one black--caught up in the turmoil of post World War I Boston, from the influenza epidemic to red-baiting to the Boston police riot. Amazing historic research, fabulous characters, wonderful story-telling--my favorite book of 2008!!

Michael C. White - Soul Catcher (William Morrow) - A complex and wonderfully told story of a slave catcher and the runaway who challenges his path in life. My favorite book of 2007!

Judy Jaeger - The Secret Thief (Behler) - While helping her grandmother clear out her house, Connie Gray discovers that her family's history isn't quite as she's been lead to believe. A great read from a terrific new author!!

Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns - Two Afghani women face unbelievable obstacles in their attempt to survive, first the Soviet invasion, then the tyranny of the Taliban.

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina - Mr. & Mrs. Prince (Amistad) A wonderfully detailed biography of Lucy Terry Prince (America's first African-American poet) and her husband Abijah that brings Lucy and Abijah and their world to life. Beautifully told--this book will make readers completely re-think their pre-conceptions about blacks in New England.

Karen Shepard - Don't I Know You? (Harper Perennial) - A young single mother is killed, her body discovered by her 12-year-old son. The story is told from the point of view of three different characters, and each one gives you a different twist on the story and a different possible suspect.

Ted Kerasote - Merle's door: lessons from a freethinking dog (Harvest Books) - A man and his dog, with insights into dogness and a twelve-hankie ending.

Suzanne Strempek Shea - Sundays in America (Beacon) - The author spends a year exploring different Christian Sunday celebrations, examining her own views on faith in the process.

Melva Michaelian and Lorene Morin - A Walk on the Wide Side: Pride and Plumpness (XLibris) - A humorous celebration of diva-sized women and a wry commentary on America's obsession with thin-ness.

Anna C. Bowling - My Outcast Heart - (ebook - Kindle edition from - Left alone after the sudden death of her grandfather, Tabetha Small finds she must rely on a mysterious stranger if she wants to keep her home.

17 BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULT READERS - for readers 12 and up ("up" includes adults, remember!!)

Jennifer Bradbury—Shift (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum) - Best friends go on a cross-country bike trip, but only one returns.

Teri Brown—Read My Lips (Simon & Schuster/Pulse) - Serena is a a deaf skater chick who uses her amazing lip-reading ability to infiltrate the popular crowd, take down a secret sorority and tame the school rebel.

Elizabeth Bunce—A Curse Dark as Gold (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine) - In this retelling of "Rumpelstiltskin," the miller's daughter of the fairytale comes to life as a young woman determined to save her family and her mill--whatever the cost. (Great for fans of romantic fantasy)

Terri Clark—Sleepless (HarperCollins/HarperTeen) - Teen psychic, Trinity Michaels, is being stalked in her sleep by a killer; if she dies in her dreams she'll die for real. (Great for fans of edgy, horror-tinged mysteries.)

Marissa Doyle—Bewitching Season (Henry Holt) - While making their debuts in 1837 London a pair of twin witches rescue the soon-to-be Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot...when they're not looking for Lord Right. (Great for fantasy and romance lovers)

Debbie Reed Fischer—Braless in Wonderland (Penguin/Dutton) - Allee Rosen falls down the rabbit hole and lands in the fab lane when she gets snapped up by modeling agents and whisked away to glamorous South Beach. Will the model life go to her head? (Great for fans of funny, edgy contemporary fiction)

Donna Freitas—The Possibilities of Sainthood (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) - To Antonia Lucia Labella, saints are like Catholic royalty and she wants her day as princess (and maybe a kiss from that cute boy down the street, too)--if only the Pope would just respond to her letters! (Great for those of you who remember Catholic school!)

Liz Gallagher—The Opposite of Invisible (Random House/Wendy Lamb) - A Seattle teenager wrestles with the difference between a crush and love, and love and best friendship.

Daphne Grab—Alive and Well in Prague, New York (HarperCollins/Laura Geringer) - Manhattanites Matisse Osgood and her artist parents move to upstate New York when her father's Parkinson's disease worsens, and Matisse must face high school in a small, provincial town as she tries to avoid thinking about her father's future.

Lisa Schroeder—I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon & Schuster/Pulse) - A novel in verse about love and grief in which a fifteen-year-old girl’s boyfriend, who is dead but not gone, is keeping her from moving on. (Great for reluctant readers.)

Regina Scott—La Petite Four (Penguin/Razorbill) - Lady Emily Southwell and her three dearest friends plan to take London by storm until they run afoul of a dashing young lord who may have more up his sleeve than a nicely muscled arm. (Great for fans of Regency romance)

Brooke Taylor—Undone (Bloomsbury/Walker) - A troubled teen fulfills the five enigmatic last wishes of her daring best friend only to discover the dark secrets of a shared past that she never knew. (Great for fans of edgy, dark fiction)

Zu Vincent—The Lucky Place (Front Street Press) - When you look at growing up through Cassie’s eyes, you see it differently.

D. Dina Friedman - Escaping into the Night ( Simon & Schuster) - Thirteen-year-old Halina Rudowski narrowly escapes the Polish ghetto and flees to the forest, where she is taken in by an encampment of Jews trying to survive World War II.

Michelle Kwasney - Baby Blue (Holt) - Still grieving and guilt-ridden over her father’s drowning, twelve-year-old Blue is dealt another blow when her older sister, Star, runs away to escape their stepfather’s violence against their mother.

Carrie Jones - Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend (Flux) - Belle, a high school junior, expects to marry her long-term boyfriend one day until he tells her and their entire small Maine town that he is gay, and both face prejudice and violence even as they enter new relationships and try to remain friends.

Sarah Aronson - Headcase (Roaring Brook) - Seventeen-year-old Frank Marder struggles to deal with the aftermath of an accident he had while driving drunk that killed two people, including his girlfriend, and left him paralyzed from the neck down.

15 BOOKS FOR READERS 9 AND UP (older readers will love these books, too, though!!)

Ellen Booraem—The Unnameables (Harcourt Children’s Books) - A boy and a goatman defy the establishment in a fantasy about belonging, the dangers of forgetting history, the usefulness of art, and the importance of wind control. (If you liked Lois Lowry's The Giver, you'll love this one!)

Jody Feldman—The Gollywhopper Games (HarperCollins/Greenwillow) - In the beginning there were 25,000 contestants; in the end, just five. Does Gil Goodson have what it takes to win The Gollywhopper Games? (If you liked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you'll love this book!)

PJ Hoover—The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree Press) - Benjamin Holt's discovery of a new world explains his extraordinary powers, but also presents him with a challenge which changes his purpose in life forever. (Great for fantasy lovers)

Jenny Meyerhoff—Third Grade Baby (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) - Third grader Polly Peterson can't wait to finally lose her first tooth, but then she learns that third graders are too old for the tooth fairy.

N. A. Nelson—Bringing the Boy Home (HarperCollins) - Two young unforgiving shared destiny.

Stacy Nyikos—Dragon Wishes (Blooming Tree Press) - Dragon Wishes follows two girls across time on their quests for the greatest gift the last of the world's ancient dragons protects in the ominous Damei Mountains.

Sarah Prineas—The Magic Thief (HarperCollins) - A pickpocket and a wizard team up to solve a mystery of disappearing magic. (Great for fantasy lovers.)

Courtney Sheinmel—My So-Called Family (Simon & Schuster) - Leah Hoffman-Ross has a secret: she has a donor instead of a father, and now she's going in search of her half-siblings . . . even if she has to hide it from everybody else.

Laurel Snyder—Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains (Random House) - A snarky milkmaid, clumsy prince, sniffly prairie dog, and feisty milkcow venture deep into the Bewilderness, where they learn the value of friendship, honesty, government, and lunch.

Barrie Summy—I So Don’t Do Mysteries (Random House/Delacorte) - Sherry, short for Sherlock, wants more mall time, less homework and a certain boy, but instead gets recruited by her mother's ghost to prevent a rhino heist at San Diego's Wild Animal Park.

Kristin Tubb—Autumn Winifred Does Things Different (Random House/Delacorte) - Autumn Winifred Oliver, the feistiest girl in all of Appalachia, struggles against the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as it threatens the home that her family has farmed for generations.

Nancy Viau—Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head (Abrams/Amulet) - Sam is a ten-year-old, rock-loving scientist who must learn to keep a lid on her explosive temper so she can go on a “dream-come-true” trip to the Grand Canyon.

Annie Wedekind—A Horse of Her Own (Feiwel & Friends) - In one tumultuous and life-changing summer, fourteen-year-old Jane Ryan loses the horse she loves and is asked to help train a damaged, dangerous horse who used to be a champion. (Great for horse-loving girls)

Michelle D. Kwasney - Itch (Holt): After the death of her beloved Gramps, Delores "Itch" Colchester and her grandmother move from Florida to an Ohio trailer park, where she meets new people and, when she learns that a friend is being abused by her mother, tries her best to emulate her plain-spoken grandfather.

D. Dina Friedman - Playing Dad's Song (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - While wrestling with memories of his father, who died when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, eleven-year-old Gus, born into a family of musicians, starts taking oboe lessons, begins to compose music, and joins his sister in auditioning for a school musical.

(Note: most book descriptions taken from Library of Congress catalog descriptions.)

Whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope they're happy!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Announcing the Class of 2k8 School Librarian Contest!

School librarians are undoubtedly the unsung heroes of the book world, supporting teachers as well as laboring to make their libraries places both for learning and for discovering the magic of reading. This fall, the Class of 2k8 is celebrating school librarians by sponsoring a contest just for them.

So what is the Class of 2k8?
We're a group of 27 middle-grade and young adult authors with debut books being published in 2008 by major publishers like HarperCollins, Random House, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and others. To learn more about us and our books, please visit our website at

A contest? What are the prizes?

Books, of course, from the Class of 2k8:

First Prize: Your choice of a full set of the 27 Class of 2k8 books OR a free author visit from a Class of 2k8 author in your region (if available)!

Two Second Prizes: A $50 gift certificate from Indie Bound (formerly BookSense) plus three books from the Class of 2k8 to add to your school library.

Three Third Prizes: Three books from the Class of 2k8 to add to your school library.

Great! How do I enter?
Easy! Send us your favorite anecdote about books, reading, or your life as a school librarian (c'mon, we know you must have at least one)! Try to keep it under 200 words, because we'll be posting some of them on our blog ( during the month of November. Feeling shy? We'll take a quote about books or writing from your favorite author instead. E-mail us your anecdote or quote at contests (at) classof2k8 (dot) com.

Please be sure to include your name and contact information at your school with your entry. Entries will be accepted from October 1-November 10. Winners will be drawn randomly from among all entries and announced on November 24, 2008.

In addition, if you pass this on to other school librarians and they mention the referral, you and your school will be entered in the drawing twice--double the chance to win!

Anything else?
Yes! Please feel free to pass this onto any school librarians you know, and don't forget to visit the Class of 2k8 website and blog. Questions about the contest or about the Class? E-mail us at contests (at) classof2k8 (dot) com and we'll be happy to answer them. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Free Books! Two Ways to Win!

Who doesn't love free books, right? Well, this week you have two ways to win a bunch of Class of 2k8 books.

Way #1 - The Hard Way (well, only a little...for those of you who like a challenge)
Go to the Class of 2k8's contest page and answer ten questions about characters from this quarter's 2k8 releases. A random drawing will be made from all the correct entries and the winner will receive three of this quarter's books. Deadline is June 30.

Way #2 - The So Easy You Can Do It In Your Sleep Way
Bop on over to the Class of 2k8 blog , where our Blog Moms are, interviewing an assortment of book reviewers. Find out what makes them tick or ticks them off... And enter our drawing by leaving a comment on the blog. Every day we're giving away two 2k8 books. Deadline to comment is June 29.

Improve your chances of winning by entering both drawings, because, as the Scarecrow says in The Wizard of Oz..."Some people do go both ways."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cross-gender writing

I recently received an interesting comment on my Red Room page that I’d like to offer up for discussion:

“Do the two boys in your historical novel have real-life counterparts? And if not, why did you choose two young males as lead characters, as opposed to two females or a male and female? At the heart of my question is why you would otherwise select young males to write about in depth. Perhaps you had brothers? Granted, children are perhaps more in their own unique class as callow pre-adults than than they are either male or female to any strict degree, but for a writer to readily fathom the soul of a child, a child of the same sex as the writer should be a much easier task.

“Wouldn't you predict difficulties if a woman were to write "Lord of Flies" or a man tackled "Little Women?"

“I'm not being critical. My curiosity is in effect betraying my own doubts that I could credibly write a novel about two pre-teen, or teenage girls.”

It's not as if I'm the first writer in the world to have protagonists who are the opposite gender from their creator, but still, it did make me think.

Now, my feeling is that sometimes writers choose their characters; sometimes the characters choose the writer. For me, the latter is usually the case. Sometimes the characters who choose me happen to be male, sometimes female.

No, I’ve never been a boy (except perhaps in a previous incarnation, if you believe that kind of thing). I’ve also never been an abused indentured servant living in the 19th century, and I’m no longer a child. Does that mean that I had no right to write about these characters? Should I be restricted to writing only about white American females who grew up in the suburbs of New England in the late 20th century? What’s the point of writing fiction if one’s stories must be confined to one’s own life experience? The fun and challenge of writing for me is to try to “fathom the soul” of someone who isn’t like me and explore how that person’s thoughts and feelings are different from mine.

Sure, I did wonder if my male characters would be credible. I tested them out by not using my first name when submitting A Difficult Boy to editors or agents. Some took the safe route and refrained from putting a Mr. or Ms. on their responses (we're not counting the form letters, here, but the ones who really read the story). Several male readers, however, believed the book had been written by a man. So at least some readers felt that I’d gotten the point of view right. I guess you'll have to read the book yourself to decide whether you agree :)

I’ve certainly read books by male authors with female protagonists and thought, “A woman would never act like that.” But I’ve also read some that were totally convincing. Take Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain--I felt that the female characters were spot-on and were actually more interesting than the male characters. And what about Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Tess of the d’Urbervilles? Or, on the other hand, what about Ethan Frome, Harry Potter, The Accidental Tourist, Mary Stewart’s Arthurian novels, Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries?

Readers, can you come up with a list of your favorite books written by authors whose gender or race, ethnicity, background, etc., is different from their protagonists? Writers, how do you feel about creating characters who are very different from your own personal background?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Upcoming events for June

Okay, I'm a bad blogger--I should be updating once a week or more, not once a month. But that's because April and May have just been insanely busy months, with readings and book-signings in East Longmeadow, Concord, Worcester, North Easton, Barre, Amherst, Northampton, and Springfield. Add to that a new job as Circuit Rider for Preservation Massachusetts (no, a horse doesn't go with it), and I've barely had time to breathe, let alone blog. A HUGE thank-you to the host libraries, bookstores, and clubs, to friends and family who came out to support me, and to these authors who joined me at several events:

Historian Rusty Clark, author of the Stories Carved in Stone book series about gravestone carvers in Massachusetts and Connecticut

Teen author Amanda Butcher, author of the fantasy novel Lark and the Magic Pencil (this high-school freshman girl totally blew me away with her poise, self-confidence, and articulate presentation)

Fellow Class of 2k8 author Marissa Doyle, whose Bewitching Season combines historical fiction, romance, and magic and is just a total delight

Contemporary author Judith Jaeger, whose The Secret Thief was a favorite of my monthly book group

YA/middle-grade author Michelle D. Kwasney, whose books Itch and Baby Blue follow two girls through difficult situations

YA/middle-grade author D. Dina Friedman, whose book Escaping into the Night explores a facet of World War II history that was previously unknown to me, and whose book Playing Dad's Song shows how a boy copes with his father's death.

Great company, indeed! If you haven't read their books, I recommend them!

Upcoming Events
June looks as though it'll be nearly as busy as April and May, with at least one event a week. I hope some of you New England readers can join me! I'm especially looking forward to returning to my old stomping grounds at Old Sturbridge Village on June 28.

1 Jun 2008: Online interview

6 Jun 2008, 9:30 a.m.: Presentation for Worcester students (open to general public as well)
Worcester Public Library
3 Salem Street
Worcester, MA 01608

6 Jun 2008, 7:00 p.m.: Book signing
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
541 D Lincoln Street
Worcester, MA 01605
tel: (508) 853-2236
fax: (508) 853-9527

14 Jun 2008, noon-1:30 p.m.: Panel discussion on writing with Class of 2k8 writer Marissa Doyle (author of Bewitching Season), short-story writer and teacher Nancy Gardner, poet Teresa Cader, children's writer Mitali Perkins (First Daughter and Rickshaw Girl), mystery writers Catherine Cairns and Leslie Wheeler (author of Murder at Plimoth Plantation and Murder at Gettysburg), and me
Cary Memorial Library
1874 Massachusetts Avenue
Lexington, MA 02420
For more information, contact Catherine Sibert
Or call the library at 781-862-6288

21 Jun 2008, noon-3 p.m.: Book sales and signing
June Strawberry Social
Ramapogue Historical Society
West Springfield, MA

28 Jun 2008, 3:00 p.m.: Book signing and discussion
Old Sturbridge Village
Old Sturbridge Village Road (off Route 20)
Sturbridge, MA

I've also been woefully negligent in congratulating my Class of 2k8 colleagues whose books have been released in April and May, and whose books are sitting in a stack in my office screaming "Read us! Read us!" Make sure you check out these titles:

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury: Best friends go on a cross-country bike trip, but only one returns.

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle: While making their debuts in 1837 London a pair of twin witches rescue the soon-to-be Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot...when they're not looking for Lord Right.

Braless in Wonderland by Debbie Reed Fischer: Allee Rosen falls down the rabbit hole and lands in the fab lane when she gets snapped up by modeling agents and whisked away to glamorous South Beach. Will the model life go to her head?

The Lucky Place by Zu Vincent: When you look at growing up through Cassie’s eyes, you see it differently.

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas: Take the magic and run!

Read My Lips
by Teri Brown: Serena is a a deaf skater chick who uses her amazing lip-reading ability to infiltrate the popular crowd, take down a secret sorority and tame the school rebel.

La Petite Four by Regina Scott: Lady Emily Southwell and her three dearest friends plan to take London by storm until they run afoul of a dashing young lord who may have more up his sleeve than a nicely muscled arm.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Book trailer and stuff for May

Check out this nifty book trailer for A Difficult Boy. The video was created by Madison Meyer of M2 Productions and Joseph M. Barker, the love of my life (with a little teeny bit of input from yours truly):

"Inisheer," the absolutely gorgeous background music on this video, is played by multi-talented Irish musician Sharon Hussey, who graciously gave me permission to use her recording of this lovely Thomas Walsh compostion. See this Folk World article for the story behind the tune.

The images of the indenture document, Mr. Lyman, the man on the hay cart, and the 19th-century town common are used courtesy of the local history archives of the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. All other images are from istockphoto.

May is going to be a busy month! Not only am I starting a new job as a Circuit Rider for Preservation Massachusetts (sounds like I should have a horse to do this!), I'm going to be doing a whole bunch of book gigs. Here's my schedule:

Week of 4 May 2008: Online interview
Trainspotting Reads Teen Book Reviews

5 May 2008, 6:00 pm: Book signing and discussion
Hosted by: ICC Seniors Group monthly meeting
Immaculate Conception Church of Indian Orchard
25 Parker Street
Indian Orchard, MA

6 May 2008, 6:30 pm: I'll be with Judith Jaeger, author of The Secret Thief for a book signing and discussionMerriam-Gilbert Public Library
3 West Main Street
West Brookfield, MA

17 May 2008, 11:00 am: Book signing and discussion
Woods Memorial Library
19 Pleasant Street
Barre, MA

20 May 2008, 6:30 p.m.:
I'll be with Judith Jaeger, (The Secret Thief) and Class of 2k8 author Marissa Doyle, (Bewitching Season) for a book signing and discussion
Ames Free Library
15 Barrows Street
North Easton, MA 02356

28 May 2008, 7:00 pm: One event - four writers! Join D. Dina Friedman (author of Escaping into the Night and Playing Dad's Song), Judith Jaeger (author of The Secret Thief), Michelle D. Kwasney (author of Baby Blue and Itch), and me for a book signing and discussion
East Longmeadow Public Library
60 Center Square
East Longmeadow, MA

Whew! But it'll be fun! I'll be with some really great writers, all with different styles and stories. If you can't come to any of our events, check out the links to my colleagues' web sites and their books for some great reading.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Virtual book stuff from a not-very-virtuous author

Hi, everyone,

A Difficult Boy is being officially released this week (even though there have been 4 cartons sitting in my living room since March 26)! To celebrate, the Class of 2k8 is having a virtual launch party on the class blog , where I'm the featured blogger all week. Not sure exactly what a virtual launch party is? Drop by and find out. No RSVP required, no driving, no hassles, and you don't even have to change out of your pajamas or do your hair. Unfortunately, though, you'll have to drink a glass of virtuAL champagne, which is altogether too virtuOUS!

I’m also going to be doing guest blogging or online interviews on the following dates and sites:

Wednesday, April 16 - Enchanting YA Reviews

April 18 and 22 – Nineteenteen

April 25 - Author Jessica Burkhart’s blog

Hope to see you there!


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Is that cool or what?

My book is real and in my hands!! Is that cool or what? A little more than a week ago, boxes of books materialized on my front porch--real ones, with my name on the cover! 3 weeks ahead of schedule! And they're in bookstores even as I write this. (Well, I hope they're in bookstores--I still haven't seen any personally. On Friday the only bookstore I found that carried it had sold out--a good sign. So if anyone out there has an actual sighting of A Difficult Boy on an actual bookstore shelf, please let me know!) I've been running around so frantically trying to set up and publicize signings that I haven't even had time to blog about it until now. And next week, I actually get my first radio gig!

On Monday, April 7, 1:00 pm (Eastern Standard Time), Dennis Picard, Director of Storrowton Village, and I will be guests on "Shooting from the Hip," Vincent Dowling's radio show on Valley Free Radio, 103.3 FM, Northampton, Mass. Those of you not in the Northampton area can listen at the station's website, which has a live mp3 stream. (The show will be repeated next Monday at 1 pm, so you even get a second chance.) I haven't met Vincent Dowling yet, but from his c.v. and what Dennis tells me, he's a pretty formidable talent. An actor and director and writer, he is former Artistic Director of The Abbey Theatre, Ireland's National Theatre. If that's not impressive enough to have me quaking in my boots, I don't know what is--especially since one of my main characters is Irish. Will my character be credible to a native Irishman? Will Mr. Dowling say "How dare you have the audacity to write about Irish characters,, French-Canadian!!"

Actually, Dennis reassures me that Mr. Dowling is quite nice and that this should be a fun time. But I'm very, VERY glad and grateful that Dennis will be there to run interference, should I get a case of the "um-um-um-ummmms." One of my former co-workers from Old Sturbridge Village, Dennis is a fabulous resource on just about anything historical--he did me the great favor of reading my manuscript when it was still in the 700-page very rough draft stage and catching me if I screwed up my details. (I only hope I didn't add new errors in the final edits.) I swear this man has a photographic memory! He was recently featured on Nova's "Absolute Zero" episode, which you can see online. Look for "Chapter 3: The Ice Trade" and click on the link to the video (he's near the end of the clip). Dennis is the fellow being interviewed about the 19th-century ice trade. At that time, New England ponds were supplying ice to customers around the world. Imagine--ice from Massachusetts being used in India or China or the Caribbean. Is that cool or what?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March 2k8 Launches

Welcome to the book world the Class of 2k8's March launches, Jody Feldman's The Gollywhopper Games and Elizabeth C. Bunce's A Curse Dark as Gold, two very different stories about young people trying to salvage a family legacy.

In The Gollywhopper Games, young Gil Goodson hopes to redeem his family's good name after his dad was falsely accused of embezzling from the Golly Toy Company. If Gil wins the Gollywhopper Games, he'll show the world that Goodsons aren't cheaters, and will win enough money to help his family make a new start far away from the cloud of scandal hanging over them. Gil's an engaging young hero with a quick wit, a friendly personality, and a tenacious determination to make good. Readers can solve the Gollywhopper Game puzzles along with Gil--they're challenging enough to be fun, but not so difficult that you feel like putting your eye out with your pencil. Great for puzzle-lovers, punsters, and fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--and for you adult readers, the writing and characterization are MILES ahead of that recent best-selling puzzle book The DaVinci Code!

A Curse Dark as Gold is a fascinating re-telling of the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale. Young Charlotte Miller struggles to keep her family's woolen mill running after the death of her father. Charlotte is a practical young woman. She doesn’t believe in curses or magic until a series of weird and inexplicable disasters force her to rely on a mysterious little man who can spin straw into gold. All her instincts tell her to turn him away, but Charlotte feels responsible for the townspeople who depend on the mill for their livelihood. It's not just her own income at stake; Charlotte won't relegate her neighbors and friends to poverty. Meanwhile, she has to contend with an uncle who seems bound and determined to bankrupt her. Everything comes to a head when Charlotte realizes that to save her mill, her friends, her family, and her infant son, she must figure out how to right an ancient wrong. When the story's villain’s secrets are finally revealed, their heartbreaking stories make them as sympathetic as the main characters. A great read, but keep a box of kleenex handy!

Find out more at the Class of 2k8 web site, or on our Class of 2k8 blog, where Elizabeth will be guest-blogging all week.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

March 1839 - A Good Month or Just OK?

(My novel, A Difficult Boy, takes place in 1839, so every now and then I like to take a look at what was happening back then. Thought I might share some of my findings.)

Think people in the 1830s didn't LOL or ROTFLOL? Well, okay, they may have done it, but as far as we know, they didn't abbreviate it that way. But netlingo and textspeak are just new twists on an old practice of making shortcuts for popular expressions. In 1839, you might not LOL, but you might call someone TBFTB (Too Big For Their Britches) or SP (Small Potatoes)--or, if you liked them, they'd be OK. Yup, OK. Now there are more theories on where OK came from than there are emoticons ;) {:-O (You can find a list of most of those theories here.) But the OK expert was Dr. Allen Walker Read of Columbia University. In the 1960s, he was determined to track OK to its POB and DOB (Place of Birth and Date of Birth). According to Read, OK first appeared in print on March 23, 1839, in the Boston Morning Post: "He of the Journal...would have the 'contribution box,' et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward." OK was short for "oll korrect"--a deliberately botched spelling of "all correct." Weird? No weirder than "lite" ice cream or Krispy Kreme Donuts. OK got a big boost in 1840 when New York supporters of presidential candidate Martin Van Buren nicknamed him "Old Kinderhook" in honor of his home town and formed an OK Club to back him in the election. Unlike TBFTB, OK survives today.

Want to find out more?
Listen to this NPR story on the origins of OK.
Or read this article about OK from, where you can learn about the origins of other common words and phrases. is the Web page of David Wilton, author of Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends (Oxford University Press, 2004)--a book you might want to check out if you're interested in an entertaining look at where common words and phrases come from.


Friday, February 8, 2008

February is Library Lovers Month!

Becky's Book Reviews is celebrating Library Lovers Month by issuing a challenge. She says:

"February is Library Lovers Month, so to celebrate I thought I'd try to start a new meme going around about the library. I know one went around last year. I answered it. But I'll try to think of new questions. I'd really appreciate it if you'd play along :)"

So, here are my answers to Becky's questions:

How do you plan on celebrating Library Lovers month?
Well, I was going to say by returning my books on time for a change, but it's already a week to late for that! Then again, I guess my fines help support the cause, so maybe being overdue isn't such a bad thing after all! Anyway, back to the question--I'll celebrate by a) answering this meme, and b) passing along a link to a list of ways to Love Your Library and c) trying to do a lot more of the things on that list than I already do!

How often do you accidentally spell library as 'libary' when you're in a hurry? Probably more than I'd like to admit--but at least I never SAY it 'libary'!

What is the most amount of books you've ever had checked out at one time?
I have no idea, but best guess would be about 20-30

What is the longest you've ever gone without visiting the library?
Maybe a month...but that's because I didn't finish those 20 or 30 books I already had checked out!

What is
the biggest fine you've ever had? Probably $15 (remember those 20-30 books--almost all overdue!). Bad me! Then again, as I said earlier, consider it a donation to the cause. Fortunately, I hit the jackpot when I got a job working as an archivist at a library/museums association, which means I have a "Get out of jail free" card when it comes to overdue fines--they really shouldn't enable my bad habits like that...

When you go to the library, do you plan ahead and make a list? Or do you browse?
Yes and yes. Interlibrary loan is my best friend! I almost always shop on the on-line catalog first to pick out what I want or order something from another library. But of course, when I go to get my books, I have to check out the new arrivals, then wander upstairs to look for this and that, then by the time I'm guessed it! 20 or 30 books again (well, more like 8 or 10, since I can't carry 20 or 30 home (my library is a short walk from my house)!

Have you ever been shushed or hushed by a librarian? When I was a kid. But librarians don't shush these days--at least not in the libraries I use.

What is the worst (against-the-rules) thing you've ever done in the library? You mean besides all those overdue books? When I was in college, I'd eat my lunch in the library--very bad me!

What's the worst thing you've ever done to a library book?
Hmmmm...well, since in my family injuring a library book was something akin to a mortal sin, I grew up regarding them as sacred objects--that's Library Book with capital letters, kind of like the Ark of the Covenant--with pretty much the same penalty for damaging them as when the unholy Nazis opened the Ark in the Indiana Jones movie--damage a Library Book and the flesh would fall off your bones and you would be immediately whisked away to eternal damnation--or the equivalent: banishment from every library in the land for all eternity. Now that really WOULD be hell!

Have you ever had a "favorite" librarian?
When I was a kid, Charlotte (I don't think I ever knew her last name) at our neighborhood library was a real sweetie--always coming up with new books to recommend, and always remembering what we liked. And in junior high, I got to help Mrs. Monchamp in the school library--funny I forgot that until you asked this question. She had a good sense of humor--she had to, to put up with us! My current favorite librarian, though, has to be my boss Maggie, who is the head of the Genealogy Library and Local History Archives at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum--she's great at dealing with the difficult patrons, is the most supportive and most fun boss I've ever had, AND she brings me chocolate on a regular basis.

If you could change one thing about your library it would be...
Hmmmm...since my town library just got a major facelift, with great new reading spaces and tons more shelf space, I think just about everything I would have changed has been done.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What's your Mushroom Factor?

Those of you who’ve ever taken up a home renovation project are probably familiar with the “mushroom factor” – you decide to fix that leaky faucet, then you discover that the leak has been going on so long that the counter has rotted out beneath it and the floor is getting kind of mushy. So you start tearing that out and you see that the genius who put the sink in decided that it was okay to cut a huge hole in a support beam to run the pipe through and now oops—the beam’s starting to crack. So you open up a little more and—oh, my God!—the mice have gotten in and are chewing your electrical wires and your house is a bonfire just waiting to happen….

Well, I’ve realized that the same thing seems to be happening with my research on the historical novel I’m working on. The last one wasn’t too mushroomy, because it developed around information I’d already gathered during the course of working at Old Sturbridge Village. But for this one, I had to send my characters on a road trip, so now I’ve got to find out about: transportation, inns and taverns, every person/business they encounter along the way (with, of course, period-appropriate names, occupations, tools, clothes, etc., etc.). Plus I have to pick out a route for them and find out about the towns along the route. Then one of my characters decided to work on the railroad, another stubbornly insists on taking up with a prostitute (I told him this was a YA book, and he said “Well, that would be the ‘adult’ part, wouldn’t it?"), a third is getting embroiled in a child custody dispute, and somehow a circus with a conjuror, jugglers, singers, and six dancing ponies have been thrown into the mix. Whew! I can see myself researching this until doomsday and never getting all the details I’ll need to make it right!

So my question for you writers out there is—does your writing have a “mushroom factor,” too? What is it and how do you handle it?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Class of 2k8 Scavenger Hunt!

Answer questions! Win books! Check out the Class of 2k8 scavenger hunt. It's a mid-term you'll want to take!

It's easy. Each quarter The Class of 2k8 will host a contest. This quarter we've gone with a virtual scavenger hunt. Simply find the answers to ten questions about Class of 2k8 books posted on the Class's contest page. Email your correct answers to Once we've checked your answers we'll notify you that you've been entered into a drawing to win books from our fabulous authors! So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and get started!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Introducing the Haunting Lisa Schroeder!

The Class of 2k8's second launch is on its way. Lisa Schroeder's debut novel, I Heart You, You Haunt Me (from Simon Pulse Books) hits the shelves this month. Lisa's poignant novel in verse got a 5 star review for YA Books Central! Check out this excerpt at the Class of 2k8 website. Or go to Lisa's web page for more details. Lisa will be featured next week on the Class of 2k8 blog.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Class of 2k8 first release!

Big things are in store for Liz Gallagher, the Class of 2k8’s first baby to be officially launched. Her debut novel, The Opposite of Invisible (from Wendy Lamb Books) hits the shelves today. Way to go, Liz!!! Liz's book follows a Seattle teenager as she wrestles with the difference between a crush and love, and love and best friendship--I can't wait for my copy to hit my mailbox. Check out this excerpt at the Class of 2k8 website. Or go to Liz's web page for more details. Liz will be featured all week on the Class of 2k8 blog, letting us know how it feels to be a first-time author with her dream come true.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Class of 2k8 is alive and kicking!

News of the Class of 2k8 is getting around! Check out the Class Blog to see where we've been mentioned. And, of course, I was delighted to see that Ron Hogan, editor of the Galley Cat blog ("The first word on the book publishing industry") at Media Bistro, not only gives the Class of 2k8 a thumb's up, but also gives A Difficult Boy a teeny mention. Check it out!

Meanwhile, I can't wait to get my hands on the first two Class of 2k8 books: Liz Gallagher's The Opposite of Invisible and Lisa Schroeder's I Heart You, You Haunt Me - both hitting the bookstands (and, with any luck, my mailbox!) in the next couple of weeks. Liz will be featured on the 2k8 blog next week, and Lisa just gave this great interview at Authorlink.