The Bounce of a Book
If a writer is lucky enough to see
their work used as a diving board or a trampoline, that, I think, is a moment
to celebrate. Look! A step, a pause for concentration and now a
It’s all about the bounce.
and Players is my sixth novel, and I’ve been lucky enough to be a witness
to some of the independent life of my books.
When I visit schools, I get glimpses of projects and investigations
built on my mysteries. This is a huge
treat. How exciting is it to actually see
your book as a bridge between imaginations -- yours and someone else’s, someone
you don’t even know?
Once a teacher, librarian or kid
takes a bounce on a book, the story begins to stretch and breathe. A breeze enters the room; characters look
around. The book becomes unpredictable,
even dangerous – how cool is that? It’s
certainly no longer simply written or spoken words. Has the story become a tool, a piece of
equipment, or perhaps an interactive form of art? What a dream for a writer, being able to
observe some of this leap-and-fly magic!
A bounce on some detail, and whoosh… off these readers go in surprising directions. What a
thrill to see!
All of us readers have taken a
bounce on a book, but the writer is rarely a direct witness. Writing for kids and then absorbing what
they’ve taken away from the page is truly an amazing experience. When making my stories theirs, kids give me
so much. First, they show what they feel. Next, I hear what they’d like me to tackle and
which characters should be involved. They
suggest what I might do differently or what they want to see again. I love to hear and share their ideas. Writing is a solitary activity, but the bounce
of a book is not.
Of course, getting the thousands of
letters I’ve gotten over the years from kids has been miraculous, and a
different kind of very special experience.
I’ll never take that for granted, and the thoughtfulness of the written
word can’t be topped. I’ve opened and read
all of these letters in my kitchen and often shared them with family or friends. I keep them in boxes. Yes, really, every one! Their images and sparkle stay with me. These are wonderful and often deeply moving
bounces, but a different kind of experience from being physically in the same
I’ve written six mysteries for kids, and curiosity is at the
heart of every single one. In fact, curiosity
has shaped my life. Curiosity is
What is it that’s so--I don’t know--energizing about tackling
a problem or question that doesn’t yet have a solution or answer? I’ve always noticed that kids sit up when
asked what they really think about
something that really needs some attention. At those moments, their brains are all there. Maybe it’s a bit like what happens when your
cat is staring off into space, clearly a little bored, and a bug skitters
by. Bam! The cat is all eyes and ears, all
action. Every muscle in his body says,
‘Got it! I can do this! Crunch!’
|Curiosity leads me to Chicago's Bean|
As a kid, I loved the feeling of being curious, and invented
mysterious situations out of my everyday world.
I read every mystery that I could get my hands on.
As a grownup, I still love reading a book that
demands every ounce of my attention and makes me need to know what’s on the
These are the stories I try
to write. I want kids to share my love of being curious. Being curious can lead
to a life of adventure and intrigue—a life in which you use your mind as a tool
Digging, sorting and
I hope that after reading Pieces and Players kids will look around their world and say, ‘Bam!
I can do that!’ When I talk about the unsolved art heist that drove me to write this new book and the
very real stolen art that keeps calling out to be rescued, kids get very
excited. Here is a problem that needs
desperately to be solved.
Wouldn’t it be something if a reader of Pieces and Players were to run across one of the missing works of
Curiosity is a driving force, and not to be
The Scrabble and Scratch of It All
A lot of writers I know bounce between two worlds.
I’m no different.
Most writers are introverts by nature, wouldn’t you
say? We make forays into the real world,
look around with delight and excitement, but then retreat to our hidey-holes to
It’s in our writing spaces that we spend huge amounts of
time dreaming, digesting and then translating.
We change ideas into symbols.
Then we undo, destroy and rework lots of what we just did. Scratch, scrabble, gnaw, pause, erase, pause,
write, pause, erase again; we are creatures who dig into and chew our way
through life. We stop answering the
phone. We do everything but disappear
into our pages.
For me at least, that’s one side of how I live. The other side loves to be out there in the
world and has lots to say about it. The
other side gets inspired by my contact with kids, by the way they see, and by hearing
from readers of all ages. And now that
I’ve just finished my sixth mystery, I am traveling and talking quite a
bit. In order to do this right, I
sharpen my thinking in various directions, shaping it to fit the audience. If talking with kids only, I try to reveal
how I made these books and to share the mess, worry and thrill of it all. If speaking at a convention or book festival,
I may also be focusing on common core issues, fiction versus nonfiction in our
schools, literacy, libraries, and the balance between electronic media and
|Django hopes to go along|
This process of gathering my thoughts for a talk is always
both centering and energizing.
me to roll the cat hair off my clothes, shove whatever I’ve been working on to
one side and come up for fresh air, and I always enjoy my interaction with the
professionals and kids that I meet.
I wonder, at these times,
why I don’t say Yes to more.
And then suddenly I’m back home, jiggety-jig, and as soon as
my suitcase is unpacked, zing! I’m like a magnet in front of steel. I’m back glued to my chair in the laundry room,
typing or scribbling away. And as I’m
one who clearly loves to make books, almost everything I do in my workspace
centers on that. It’s as if the everyday
world fades and vanishes when I step into my hidey-hole.
It’s a bit rubber-band-like, this stretch-snap-stretch that
defines my real world vs. my writing world.
I think I like this blog business – I’m in the laundry room,
but also here with you. I’ll have to
remember that this is possible. But wait
– hold on a moment while I scribble down an idea that just occurred, one to go
in the next book! Just a moment…
Pieces and Players
I’m thrilled to report I’ve been deep in criminal activity.
Remember Calder, Petra and Tommy – my characters in Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game? Well,
they’re ba-a-a-ack! (Tommy insists on an
ominous ta-TAH flourish here.) And this
time, they’re together in the same book with Zoomy, from The Danger Box, and Early, from Hold
Fast. They’re all in my new mystery,
Pieces and Players, which will be out
April 1, 2015.
It might be more accurate to say I’m in their mystery. Everyone
hears writers talk about characters ‘coming alive’ in the writing process,
surprising them with rogue actions or unexpected acts of kindness. Well.
Ever since the whisper of this five-some idea entered my head several
years ago, these five voices have grown slowly louder and louder. They got older, stronger and bossier – until
they finally managed to take over.
Help! I muttered to myself as I began to scribble
notes. Can I keep up with these
Soon my laundry room, where I write, was a swirl of
activity, and dangerously crowded; five thirteen year-olds jostled for
position, surrounded by thirteen stolen works of art, a handful of suspicious
adults, a sudden death, skin issues and body odor… and this is a small room. I stopped turning on the washing machine and
dryer while working; it was already far too noisy in there. What was happening? Yikes! At times I felt I might fall to the floor,
panting for breath, and my characters might run right over me, leaving a sneaker
print on my nose and a Post-It next to it.
|Brett Helquist's illustration of Tommy, Zoomy, Early, Calder, and Petra|
And then one morning I sat down with my coffee, pushed shut
the laundry room door, and the five looked calmly at me.
It was clear that I was no longer in
Someone had lost and someone had
These kids had made their unwieldy
group match an unwieldy crime – a heartbreakingly true
art crime that really does need to be solved – and even left
some room for Mother Goose
beans, and a hairy cat whose name is Rat-a-tat.
After circling around each other and me for months, the five started on
a dangerous adventure. Soon my characters and I were listening to the stolen
art, and -- was the art also listening?
And could that have been a ghost?
Ms. Hussey and Mrs. Sharpe are back, along with a number of
rich folks with wrinkly skin and a gorgeous old museum. And although the action happens all over the
city of Chicago in this story, my laundry room, in fact, still feels
I’ve handed in my final copy edit, guys, and Brett Helquist
has done the artwork, so quiet down! Huh?
What are you saying?
Oh, that! Okay, I’ll
share. Here’s what I believe: If anyone can get to the bottom of the
biggest art heist in United States history, the one at the heart of this
mystery, it’s Tommy, Calder, Petra, Early and Zoomy.
Thirteen players. And yes, a
writer who feels lucky she was along for the ride.
Clicks from the Hold Fast Train
I began speaking and traveling, talking about Hold Fast
, in January of 2013. Events were added to events as the months rolled on. By June, the Hold Fast train -- as everyone at Scholastic began to call it -- had chugged into over seventeen cities; I'd been from Chicago to Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Nashville and a number of cities closer to home, like Naperville and Woodstock and Kankakee and North Utica.
This blur of planes, cars and hotels came together into an amazing experience, as I was able to see Hold Fast
welcomed by thousands of kids of many backgrounds and ages, libraries, social service agencies, urban planners, teachers, and teachers of teachers. I'd never expected such a wild reception for this unusual story. Hold Fast
even hit the New York Times bestseller list in May.
Here are some clicks:
|A cake in Houston|
|Wonderful St. Louis|
|Hold Fast meets Chasing Vermeer tattoos, New York.|
|Sizzling day at LA Times Festival of Books|
|Colorful Palo Alto, California|
|Closing Keynote, American Planning Association|
National Planning Conference, Chicago
|Room full of urban and regional planners|
|Django is not pleased that I'm on the road|
|"Don't you dare pick up this pen!" |
|Visiting Hicklebee's Books, San Jose|
|Signing books at Hicklebee's . . .|
|and then the wall|
and I have had a winter and spring to remember.
Three Cheers for E.L.K. (1930 - 2013)
E. L. Konigsburg was a very special
person in my life. Sadly, I never met
her, but it feels as though I’d known her forever. I was twelve years old when my mother gave me
The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E.
Frankweiler for my birthday. Quite
honestly, it blew my mind: it took place in a museum I knew, not too far from
where I was growing up in New York City; it had big, exciting ideas about real
art; it had independent characters who were treated as though they knew how to
think, and think they did. I read that
book again. And later, as a parent and a
teacher, again. And again.
I do think that book changed my
life. It changed how I thought about
the world around me.
I might not have gotten an art
history degree if not for The Mixed-Up
Files; I might never have written Chasing
Vermeer. Ever since my first mystery
came out in 2004, I’ve talked about how much Konigsburg’s work has meant to me,
and about how instrumental what you read as a kid can be in determining who you
become. I do believe that the words and
stories absorbed early in life can matter deeply.
Yesterday Hold Fast, my fifth mystery, hit the New York Times bestseller
list. Would it be there without E. L.
Konigsburg? Would I be writing today if not
for The Mixed-Up Files? A great many things might not have happened.
Thank you, Mrs. Konigsburg, for all
you’ve given me and generations of other devoted fans. A book that gives you yourself, no matter who
you are, is truly something.
Angels and Heroes in Plain Sight
This is a shout-out for the angels and heroes of the book
All who publish books know who
these bigger-than-life folks are. They
know who they are.
But can the reading public identify these Clark
(Excuse the retro reference, but I
always liked his glasses and the nonchalant way he whipped them off.
I think his specs may be back in style.)
Just in case, here goes:
these heroes and angels are the people in the independent bookstores
around the U.S., and the librarians in our public libraries and schools.
They are angels because they are champions of
the art of reading; they recommend, they guide, they educate without demanding.
Most do a heroic amount of heavy
Witness the owners of independent
bookstores, who always have strong backs.
They lug books into schools while ferrying the visiting author, they
even lug books to libraries, through many a dark and stormy night, or at the
very least through dinnertime…
They often supply
Lynes, owner of Read Between the Lynes,
Woodstock, Illinois. (photo by
The librarians read tirelessly.
They sift and sort.
They answer questions from all ages and with
They take care of authors
and make libraries the hands-down heart of a school or a community.
Like the indie booksellers, they work
overtime. They change lives by supplying the just-right book at the just-right
time; they bear witness to the power of the written word.
Angels. Heroes. I am currently doing a great deal of travel
for Hold Fast, and am reminded, just
about daily, of how great these people really are. They have wings and super-powers.
Don’t be fooled – they’re hiding in plain sight.