A few years ago, when I was going through the process of looking for an agent and then an editor, I started noticing some names popping up over and over again on the websites and twitter feeds I haunted. (I’m pretty sure most of us do that — wannabe authors, I mean. We form a sort of virtual worldwide community, bonded together by the adversity of rejection and – finally, maybe – by success!)
One of the other authors I noticed, just about on the same career trajectory I was following, was Bridget Zinn.
I didn’t know much about her until I saw a tweet with her name in it. She had gotten her book deal, it turned out!
But the tweet was about a fundraiser. Because in the middle of all her great writing-related news, Bridget had also learned something else. She had cancer.
Her smiling face prompted me to bid on items in a silent auction to help with her medical bills. I offered up prayers and thoughts of healing for this smiling woman I’d never met – because I did know her, in a way. I knew her hopes and dreams were the same as mine, her path very similar. We were both almost there, almost to the shining moment of seeing our books on the shelves, our names on the spines, our stories in the hands of young readers.
And then Bridget, the effervescent librarian, writer, and new member of the kidlit tribe, died.
She would have been an Apocalypsie, a member of the supportive group of debut kidlit authors whose first books were slated to come out in the 2012 (the supposed end of the world, according to Mayan calendars). Her book was delayed a bit, understandably, and it came out in March of this year.
And it’s fantastic. POISON, her debut YA fantasy, is delightfully funny and fast-paced, the exact sort of book I buy for my myriad nephews and nieces. The sort of book kids fall in love with and hand around to all their friends at school.
When Bridget’s cousin asked me to take part in the Austin leg of POISON’s national book tour, at the amazing local indie bookstore, Bookpeople, I was honored and excited. A whole group of Austin authors came together to help launch Bridget’s book, to celebrate for her. To celebrate her.
I have given copies of her amazing book to libraries in Texas and Japan – and I’ll probably keep giving them! I adore this book.
But the copy I got at the Austin signing - filled with the names of Austin authors and a stamped signature of Bridget’s - means something more to me. I keep it near my writing desk for a reason. On those days when I feel like surfing the Internet or eating my weight in M&Ms instead of writing, seeing Bridget’s book reminds me that we don’t know how much time we have to fulfill our dreams. And when I open it, and see the names of the writers who came to support her life, and her work, I remember I’m not alone, no matter how solitary the writing life can feel.
The world is filled with stories to write, moments to savor them, and friends to help celebrate every step on the journey. And if we’re lucky, books like Bridget’s can fill that journey with laughter and delight.
If you would like a special signed copy from the Austin launch of POISON, they can be purchased from Bookpeople directly.
I’d like to invite you to celebrate Bridget’s life, her book, and the community of authors that launched her debut novel by giving away a copy of POISON. If you would like to enter, leave a comment about someone who has inspired you (A writer? A teacher?). Comments will be accepted until May 24, midnight CST. Names will be printed out, placed in a hat, and the winner drawn by my ten-year-old kid. (Let’s not get too fancy, people.) If the winner does not respond within 48 hours with a valid email address to the contest notification posted on my blog, another name will be drawn until someone who’s paying attention wins!
Oh, and North America only for this, please. Good luck!
I’m back, just to show a couple of pictures from recent events, and share a couple of things I read that I thought were amazing.
First, I’ve been having fun – writing, yes, but also doing some short talks, interviews, and school visits!
I did a Skype school visit with a wonderful group of kids in Manor ISD, and their lovely librarian Micheal Harper. Thanks, Ms. Harper, for bringing me into your library and letting me chat with those great kids!
I had a lovely time last week presenting to the Austin/Houston Society of Layerists and Multimedia artists on creativity and not giving up. I spoke, signed books, and had an excellent brunch as well. Thanks, gals. (Here are a few of the members with me!)
A few days ago, I had the chance to present to a lovely group of kids at the Austin Jewish Academy’s book fair. Some of the kids in the audience were quite young, so I toned down the scary bits… but I don’t think they would have cared! I also talked about other books I’ve loved recently that were for sale at the fair: One For The Murphys, The False Prince, Gustav Gloom and the Peopletakers, The One and Only Ivan, and more. I love seeing kids get excited about books, don’t you?
Here I am with Sharyn Vane, the liaison who invited me to the AJA:
And now for a couple of very good things! First, if you are a teacher or librarian, you’ve probably heard about Claire Legrand’s book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Well, she’s giving away TEN copies to celebrate the paperback launch! So hop on over to her blog and enter. I adore this book!
Next, the lovely Rebecca Behrens (author of the 2014 debut WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE), singled out my dear Principal Trapp on her “favorite villain” post on a new website for MG books. Thanks All For One and One Four Kidlit, and Rebecca, too!
I adore this post by the Penderwicks author Jeanne Birdsall. Touching, lovely, and so true. Books really do save lives – and childhoods.
Now, it’s back to the page for me. I’m a busy bee these days, and I gotta make the honey. Write well, friends!
Next up: School visits at Oak Hill and Wooldridge Elementaries, and… oh, did I mention? I’m going back to the AROHO Writing Retreat/Conference at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico this August! WOOHOO!
Wow. I just finished my copy edits for Nightingale’s Nest (which will come out on February 20, 2014), and I am minutes away from beginning a new project.
I LOVE this part of writing. I also get lost in it, a bit, and that means I’ll be back to posting only once a week on this blog. I mean, really, I type with T-Rex fingers – I can only do so many words in a day!
So, my promised post to writers about traveling abroad for school visits will come later.
Today, I leave you with this link, in honor of Nightingale’s Nest. Have fun listening to a real-world nightingale! And I hope so much you will love my Nightingale, when you meet her.
In other news, I was delighted to be a part of the Austin launch of the late Bridget Zinn’s debut YA novel, POISON. Here’s a bit about the book – you should buy a copy or two! It’s delightful and fun, funny and hopeful. I adored it.
Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.
But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.
Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?
Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.
And here’s a picture from the Bookpeople POISON launch last weekend – with Patricia Hoover, Cory Putnam Oakes, Bridget’s husband Barrett Dowell, and her cousin Mary Zuniga.
PJ Hoover, Barrett, me, Cory, and Mary!
Now, I’m off to write some Very Scary Parts of my next project. YAY!
As promised, I’ve saved some of the very best from my author visits in Japan for last.
When I arrived at Yokota West Elementary School, I knew something was up. The kids who saw me in the parking lot started squealing and shouting, “It’s Nikki Loftin! Look, it’s Nikki Loftin!!!” Think if Harry Potter walked into the house elves’ annual convention. Yeah, like that. I could not stop giggling.
It kept going, and then I met the incredible librarian at YWES, Elaine Stephens, and I was the star struck one! She’s a bundle of pure energy and joy, wrapped up in an elegant librarian suit.
She had prepped the students so well for my visit, they came ready to learn, eager to listen, and extremely knowledgeable about me and my books. The day was jam-packed with fun, presentations, an amazing Japanese bento box lunch, and then – the piece de resistance – a visit to the fifth grade wing.
I was gobsmacked. The fifth grade teachers had transformed their wing of the school into a mini- Splendid Academy. I walked through the purple curtain and was greeted with the sight of table upon table of sweets and baked yummies. And than I was tackle hugged by a group of kids, one of whom whispered, “Thank you for writing this book, Ms. Nikki Loftin. This is the best day of my life.”
Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly…
I could see why. They had all read the book, figured out the “rules” of Splendid Academy and applied them. For instance, all the kids were allowed to use their technology (I have never had so many iPad pictures taken of me in my life!), they were free to leave the classrooms whenever they wanted, lessons were voluntary, and eating sweets was the rule of the day.
Okay, I guess I would have had the same reaction if an author had been even slightly responsible for bringing that amount of awesomeness into my classroom.
Supplies for creating your own candy playground models
Here are the rest of the pictures. It was even more amazing than you’ll see here – I’m not allowed to show faces of kids on this blog, and the faces – the smiles! – made the whole event worth every hour of jet lag. I will never forget this day, or this trip. What an experience! An author’s dream come true.
Lessons taken from the book…
Calligraphy station: Copying Ms. Morrigan’s handwriting.
Design your own tapestry rug, like the one in Lorelei’s classroom.
A cake of Splendid Academy! Principal Trapp would approve.
Tables of sweets!
No, seriously. This was their ASSIGNMENT, to make this stuff!
I’m getting very hungry…
Hungry? NOT a problem in this classroom.
Lovely presents from YWES! (And a doll from all 3 schools – more on that next post!)
My heart felt pretty much like this after this school visit!
I’ll do a final wrap-up post for other writers about school visits next time – and show off my amazing “sayonara doll” that was given to me as a parting gift. But first, copy edits are due! And Bridget Zinn’s book launch party at Bookpeople is tonight! And my kids want lunch AGAIN. (Honestly, they want to be fed every single day! Sheesh.)
More in a few days…
There are moments on a writer’s journey when you wonder why anyone would want this crazy, rejection-filled life. If you’re in that spot, I’ve been there. I just want you to know, if you keep at it, and work hard, and have a little bit of good luck? Sometimes, the fairy tale comes true. And I’m finding out it can come true in ways you never even knew to wish for.
At Yokota Middle School, my fairy tale writing journey took on new heights, thanks to the teachers and the unbelievably organized and wildly creative library team of Cheryl Johnson and Annette Holladay. I cannot say enough good things about these phenomenal women!
Cheryl, me, and Annette, along with books donated by Razorbill (and me) to the library!
Their library was easily one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, packed with books that I knew had only been released weeks before. Those kids may not even realize how lucky they are.
An excellent library motto.
Some amazing resources for studying Sinister Sweetness! These gals think of everything.
And the students! Oh, my. From the darling girl who let me know my novel was the first one she had ever read (try not to cry when that happens to you, I dare you!), to the eighth grader who presented me with a gorgeous, original piece of artwork based on my book – these kids blew me away.
An entire wall devoted to art and favorite lines/images from my book. I was speechless!
The artwork mentioned above, by Sara Means. It's perfect! I'm having it framed for my office. <333
There is nothing like seeing an entire wall covered with your words. I may have to become a graffiti artist.
When I walked into the first presentation of the day, for about 200 seventh and eighth graders, a boy (with a deep bass voice) yelled out, “Hey! I read your book! I loved it! It’s awesome!” The day just got better from there.
Better and better. There were homemade cupcakes...
...more presents for me to take home...
...advertisements for the book everywhere...
... and another wall right inside the front doors of the school, recruiting for a new Splendid Academy!
Here are a few more pictures, but they don’t do the day justice, since I can’t post photos of the kids here – and they were the stars of the show. Yokota Middle School lives in my heart now – and I will never forget the day I spent there!
Close-up of the recruitment poster!
Blog posts from Principal Trapp
Candy! And sand! Suspiciously beautiful sand...
A huge spread for lunch, Splendid Academy style!
The newest additions to the library. (Can I stay? I want to live there!)
And the day ended with salad pizza. For real. Thank you Cheryl and Annette! You made all my author visit dreams come true.
You would think that would be all the amazing-ness I could happen upon in one week, right? But wait. My next blog post will feature Yokota West Elementary, and a fifth grade wing that transformed itself into a Splendid Academy, down to the tiniest details. Soon to come…
Librarian Lynda George and me before the Big Day begins! Don't we look rested?
Welcome back, friends! Ready to see what happened on my first day of author visits on Yokota Air Base in Japan? Pretty much all awesomeness, with a little bit of charred author flesh for dinner. (Not really. But it was close!) Let’s start with…
... the welcome! A sign, WITH a cute panda. And inside, one of the most welcoming librarians! A lovely beginning.
The J K Mendel PTO gave me presents! Want to see what I got...
CANDY! And cuteness! And a T-shirt (which I have already worn twice, because, um - Pandas!)
Razorbill and I gave presents, too! Some great new MG books for the Mendel library. Yay, books!
Lunch included this little beauty - the Japanese version of the tuna fish sandwich. Called a rice ball, with rice and tuna inside. Yum!
Principal Phipps made me feel so welcome. She is NOTHING like Principal Trapp. Except...
...she *did* participate in "fattening up the author" at a yaki-niku restaurant that night!
Yaki-niku means "cooking fire so close to the author she almost began her author visits with singed eyebrows."
And outside, all day long, the sakura blossoms were turning into snow...
Sigh. I miss the amazing kids and staff of Mendel Elementary. Sort of like cherry blossoms, over far too quickly.
But I still have the T-shirt! And this awesome picture of Mt. Fuji, too. Hmm. Mt. Fuji is smaller than I expected.
Next post, you’ll see the amazing students and librarians of Yokota Middle School. And one of the nicest presents I’ve ever received, given to me by one of Yokota’s students!
Until then… sayonara!
I just spent a week in Wonderland! Well, Japan, actually – but I happened to arrive at the height of cherry blossom (sakura) season, and I’m pretty sure Wonderland has nothing on trees that snow pink blossoms, leaving a carpet of petals on the ground.
Pink petal snow. Magical!
I went to Tokyo to visit my friend Emily, and also to do some school visits on the local Yokota Air Force Base.
Emily, me, and two English-speaking volunteer tour guides at a shrine in Tokyo
Honestly? So many wonderful things happened on this trip, I don’t know where to start! I’m not sure the cherry blossoms were the highlight – the visits to Yokota West Elementary, Joan K. Mendel Elementary, and Yokota Middle School were by far the most amazing experiences I’ve had in a long time.
Those kids! Those remarkable, talented, engaged, excited kids! I get all warm and squishy just thinking about them. And do not even get me started on the teachers and librarians…
I will never be able to thank the Middle School librarian, Cheryl Johnson, and her cohort, Annette Holladay, enough for bringing me over and organizing the whole thing. But I’m going to try!
Cheryl Johnson, Librarian Extraordinaire! And some Author Lady.
Today’s blog post is some of the pictures of my days in Japan prior to the school visits. The next three will be dedicated to the three schools I visited while I was there. I hope you enjoy the weird and the wonderful – and author friends? If anyone ever asks you to do school visits in Japan? SAY YES!!! The readers over there are far more amazing than the blossoms.
Everything is Japan is cute. It's the law. Even trains must be cute.
Even Buddha statues must be cute, it seems.See what I mean?
My sad attempt at taking arty pics of statues.
Hey, wait! Somebody forgot their shoes!
Oh, never mind. They're his.
More cuteness: Two "harajuku girls" in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo. They dress this way on weekends. LOVE!
Yeah, okay, it's all gorgeous,right? But I'm hungry. Hey, let's get some noodles!
Yum, noodles! But... wait... do those noodles have EYES??? AHH! Shirasu! Run!
Easter candy? Much better! Emma won't share...
But Gabe will! Emma and Gabe are some of the first readers I met in Japan (at an Easter party). Also, two of the most awesome!
More sakura blossoms and schools next time!
Sayonara, Friends! I miss Japan already. But I still have the jet lag – and the photos – to remember them by! Also, a lot of yummy Japanese candy. Moshi, anyone?
More in two days…
Finally! Thanks to Dr. Nancy Roser of UT Austin and my tech-support guru/husband Dave Wilson, I have a Discussion Guide for you!
I know, I know. Deep breaths, deep breaths. Try not to faint from the joy.
If you are thinking about using my book in a classroom, book club, Girl Scout troop – whatever! – this guide is for you. I think it’s fun and not at all boring (thank you so much, Nancy!), and it even has cool links to some secret stuff in the book you might miss otherwise!
Oh, where is it, you wonder? Just click on the “For Teachers” tab at the top of the page.
Or be lazy and click here.
Now, time to pack! All the food in Japan isn’t just going to eat itself, yanno. nomnomnom
Dear friends, this week is all about upcoming excitement! Most of you (since most of my readers are, I assume, my mom and sisters. Hi, Mom!) know I’m going to Japan in a week to do author visits. (Where I will see this.) I am so excited I can’t stand it! I’m also a little nervous, as I’m NOT the lightest packer on the block, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to blow through the weight limit on luggage… any tips, world traveler friends? And don’t say e books. Grr. My e-reader is older than dirt. Slow and annoying. I need an iPad or something.
I also had the added excitement of a lovely review of Sinister Sweetness on the Park Ridge Public Library blog – and then being asked to do an interview! (Which you can read right here. Come on, I know you’re DYING to read about how many rejections I suffered, and my least/most favorite words. And no, my favorite word is not “advance.”)
Thanks to the lovely librarian Staci at the Park Ridge Library in Illinois for the chance to to chat with your readers!
Now I have to go tweak a half dozen PowerPoints for my upcoming school visits – oh, and can’t forget the local Region 13 ESC Literacy conference I’m presenting at next Monday! People? I’m going to need more caffeine.
No, seriously, this job is the Most Fun Ever. Hope your week is going as well – and fast – as mine!
Wow! I’ve been a little absent here, but it’s only because I’ve been so busy in my real life!
Okay, so first I had the flu. Ick. But then I got better! And I jumped right back into school visits. If you know me, you know I get sort of excited about stuff. And I’ll admit, I got pretty darn excited at a couple of these visits – namely, to Lamar Middle School, and Zavala Elementary. So excited I, um, forgot to take pictures. But the visits were amazing, even with no photographic proof! I had so much fun. (Thanks to Mr. Saxton at Lamar and Ms. Bresnan at Zavala for allowing me to come into your schools and get a little crazy with your super-smart kids. You rock!)
I went back to Zavala the next day (to volunteer for RIF) and got a quick picture with Ms. Bresnan!
I *did* remember to have the ninja-mazing librarian, Donna Rinn, at Bryker Woods Elementary take some pics. Thank you so much, Ms. Rinn, for the golden bowl of M&Ms, and the pizza lunch with your fabulous readers!
- Why, yes, I do tend to be overly dramatic. I do it for the children.*sob*
And then, this week, I participated in the super cool World Read Aloud Day. (Thanks to Kate Messner for setting this up for the authors and schools! It was so much fun.) This meant doing Skype visits with the schools who asked for them, where I would introduce myself, read a bit of my book to the class, then take questions. I ended by making book recommendations… and after I hung up, eating M&Ms. I’m not sure the teachers knew this was my very first foray into Skype-ing classrooms. I was SO nervous, but so happy with how it turned out.
Seriously, Writer Friends, take the Skype plunge. Even though the sound didn’t work right on one of my visits (I couldn’t hear them! It worked for all the rest. Weird.), that class Tweeted and IM’d their questions… and since they could hear me just fine, it all turned out great. And now I feel all competent and tech-capable. Who knew?
Here’s a link to the blog post one class did. Aren’t they clever?And tech-savvy? I KNOW. They will rule the world someday.
Thanks to Sara Allen in Missouri, Ben Gilpin in Michigan, and Irene Kistler and Jennifer Dunn in Texas! Let’s do it again next year.
Now, I have to run. I’m plotting a new novel, a terribly scary, even grisly one. Yes, for children. They like grisly. Trust me.