Rhode Island Festival of Children's Books and Authors

This is a big one: I'll be appearing at the Rhode Island Festival of Children's Books and Authors at the Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island.

I'll be giving a 30-minute talk, and signing books at two sessions. In between, I'll likely be hyperventilating. Sure to be a fun time!

Other authors and illustrators appearing include a whole bunch of Newbury and Caldecott winners, not to mention Chris Van Allsburg, the author of The Polar Express!

The event takes place on October 15 from 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM. Tickets are $5 at the door. Don't miss it!

Meet me at An Unlikely Story!

I'm visiting An Unlikely Story on September 14 to talk Poptropica: The Lost Expedition.

An Unlikely Story is an independent bookstore in Plainville, Massachusetts, that is owned and operated by Jeff Kinney. It's a gem: friendly staff, good coffee, and wonderful ambiance. They also host authors and illustrators, and hold community events. It's local business at its best.

The event is free, but registration is recommended, so make sure you get on the list. I hope to see you there!

Acknowledgments

Now that Poptropica: The Lost Expedition is finally out -- and I'll only spam you with one more link to buy it -- I've realized something. See, I've never been a dreamer or even especially ambitious. I have always wanted to write a book, and to see it on the shelves at a bookstore, but that desire was filed alongside other hazily defined ones like "visit Hawaii" and "own a Scrooge McDuck-style money bin."

Yesterday I went to my local Barnes and Noble, and there it was: about ten copies, cover facing out, alongside several other gleaming new volumes. My book. A dream come true. Knowing how much work went into it, the setbacks, the backs and forths, it didn't feel as much like encountering a unicorn as I had thought it might. More like a relief that I hadn't hallucinated the past year and a half.

About that realization. I've always griped about the speeches that celebrities give when they win an award. "Why don't they use the opportunity to say something?" I'd wonder. "They're just rattling off a list of names of people nobody cares about."

Now I get it. The work is the opportunity to say something. The list of names is the acknowledgment that nothing is accomplished alone. If Joe Schmoe watching at home doesn't care about those people, the person tearfully clutching the statuette is overwhelmed by gratitude. They don't want to pass up the chance to mention, however briefly, the legions of other people whose efforts undergirded their own.

That's why, after four paragraphs about myself, I would also like to acknowledge and thank some of the people who helped make the book a reality. It's a long list, and incomplete.

Without Jeff Kinney and Jess Brallier, Poptropica wouldn't exist. It wouldn't have become a worldwide hit, and it wouldn't have kept me employed for like the past nine years. Their faith in the product and its potential, and in the ability of a low-level employee to contribute meaningfully to its success, is a debt I will never be able to repay. Both of these men have been incredibly generous to me over the years with their time and tutelage.

Kory Merritt is an unbelievably talented illustrator and the genius at work on this series. As a novice graphic novelist, I can't tell you what a relief it was to know that Kory would be the one putting picture to word. Sometimes when I was stuck or unsure of how to pay off a joke, I'd put something like "Jorge makes a funny face!" with the confidence that Kory would make it work. And he always did.

At Abrams, Orlando Dos Reis was an attentive and diligent editor. He helped to shape the manuscript in ways both large and small, striking the delicate balance of preserving the authorial vision while also tactfully suggesting ways in which the author could be less of a dunce. Which happened occasionally.

I've been fortunate to have many great teachers throughout my life, from K-12 public schools to college. I'll risk forgetting some of them to name a few in particular: Heidi Finnegan, my eighth grade English teacher and twelfth grade independent study advisor, was the teacher in whose class my love of writing took root. It was there that I realized writing might be a viable path for me to follow -- and so I have. The book is dedicated to her for that reason.

Emerson College may have been ludicrously expensive, but I still got a hell of an education there. Steve Almond and Rick Reiken were two phenomenal teachers of the art of fiction despite being light years apart in approach and temperament. Bill Donoghue was a literature professor whose enthusiasm and knowledge kept me signing up for class after class, even though it took me until the final paper of my final course with him to get an A. Richard Hoffman was both a teacher and a writer of profound empathy and insight, who taught me most of all about the value of what writers do.

Of course it all started with my parents. We were a family of readers. We had books in every room of the house, and we never had enough. My mom shuttled her three kids back and forth between home and the library every two weeks, lugging tote bags brimming with borrowed books each way. Every trip, we took out so many books that my mom wrote down all the titles in a spiral-bound notebook to keep track of them. When they were due, she sent us scavenging around the house, crossing off each entry as the books were added to the bags. Sometimes they were hard to find. They ended up in some weird places.

As for my family, I wouldn't know where to start. My wife Molly is unfailingly supportive and has saved my life more than once, in more ways than one. My kids can drive me nuts, but they've also given me the moments of greatest joy I've ever experienced, and a reason to be my best self. I still might have written a book without them, but I'm not sure why I'd have bothered.

So there. I still have some grand thoughts on the human condition, but those are in the book.

The publicity blitz begins

"Blitz" may be a strong word. But Bill Shaner of the Metrowest Daily News penned a nifty feature about The Lost Expedition that ran a couple days ago. I am now even more of a celebrity among my extended family than I was before.

In seriousness, it is a very weird feeling to be the subject of a newspaper article. I've spent a lifetime discounting my own abilities and it doesn't come naturally to me to be pitching something, even something I've worked so hard on and that is so close to my heart. But I do believe the book deserves an audience and I am willing to do what I can to make sure that happens.

Speaking of which: we're only 10 days away from the book's release! You can help the book succeed by pre-ordering your copy now.

Manuscript away!

I've just sent the first draft for Poptropica book 4 to my editor at Abrams. (That's right: book 4. Book 3 is almost done being illustrated!)

It's a strange feeling. For the past couple of months, this story has existed only in my head. I've been grinding out a few pages a day, reviewing what's been done and mentally plotting what's to come. In a sense, I feel as though I've been traveling and have just now returned home.

This isn't the end of the work, of course. There will be rewrites and revisions. There will be back-and-forths with the editorial team and our supremely talented illustrator Kory Merritt. There will be layouts and approvals. Heck, a year from now, I'll be spamming Twitter with requests to buy this one instead of The Lost Expedition, as I'm doing now.

Regardless, this is the first big step. It's where the vision in my head bumps up against reality. Sometimes that's gratifying, and sometimes it's distressing. But it's part of the deal. I've always found the hardest part of writing to be hitting that "send" button. I'm learning to let go.

New content added in "Site Exclusives"

Over the years, I've accumulated a lot of work, which has never been published, finished, or even collected in a single place. Rather than let it continue to languish on old hard drives, I've decided to let it languish on a barely trafficked website instead.

That's why I've added a new section called "Site Exclusives." This will be a repository for work old and new. Whether fiction, personal essay, screenplay, or whatever else I've got kicking around, anything that isn't contracted to be published elsewhere is eligible to show up here.

To get things going, I've uploaded three pieces, two of which have never been shared beyond an inner circle of friends and family.

"My Life in Turkey Guts" is a personal essay that I wrote for a college course, which went on to win the prestigious Emerson College Senior Writing Award for Non-Fiction, popularly known as the ECSWANF, for the class of 2003. If you love Thanksgiving dinner but don't especially wish to know how the turkey makes it from the farm to your table, consider yourself warned.

Elite, or l33t, was my first successful attempt at participating in National Novel Writing Month. The first draft was completed in December 2009 (but I hit the word count in November!), and the book has been lightly revised in the interim. The excerpt I've posted chronicles a first date between the main character and an intriguing young woman, and a conversation that forces the main character to look at himself honestly.

Season High is a screenplay idea I've been working on for -- good lord, 12 years or so. Of course, when I say "working on," I mean that in the most euphemistic sense. My friend RJO Stewart and I completed most of a draft during the summer of 2004 and then abandoned it. In the intervening decade, I thought about Season High a lot, but didn't do any more work on it until a fresh start in 2015. It is not done.

Hope you enjoy these! I plan to add work old and new, just as soon as I submit the manuscript I'm currently working on, and then take a six-week nap.

We are live!

We're up and running with a brand-new domain. I figured it was time to get with the year 2005 and start my own website.

This will be the online home for all my written work. I'll be updating the "work" page as I have new things to share, and blogging about release dates, appearances, and various other good stuff.

For the time being, most of that will pertain to Poptropica: The Lost Expedition, which comes out on August 16! This is the second book in the series, so if you want to make sure you're caught up, don't skip over the first volume, Mystery of the Map.

If you're desperate for even more adventures with Mya, Oliver, and Jorge, you can also play Mystery of the Map Island for free right now on Poptropica. It's an excellent companion to the book, and sheds light on a few of its secrets.

More news as it breaks!