blog (archive)

April 22nd, 2013

The Bosses

Three days into book tour and I have not yet fallen victim to the dreaded book tour diet: peanut M&M’s and Scotch. Zero M&M’s. Some Scotch. Okay, more than “some” Scotch. But nary a dessert. So I think the diet remains essentially intact. 

Something interesting about publishing: everyone I work for is a woman. Tonight it was dinner with four women, all of whom are smarter and more knowledgeable than me. And yet when we sit down to dinner at a restaurant the waiter brings me the wine list and assumes that I’m the one in charge.

Sorry, dude, but no: See the woman who looks like an English school girl? She’s the boss. And the hulking great old bald dude? (Me.) I work for her, not the other way around. I work for people named Cally, Katherine and Jean. There’s like eight of us boys in kidlit, but the bosses are all women. And unlike a lot of publishing, kidlit is doing fine.

Just saying.

http://i160.photobucket.com/albums/t197/LizRosenthal/London%20Forum%20%202011/Conference%20Speakers/CallyPoplak.jpg 

Comments - Posted at 3:53 PM
The Egmont crowd waiting with Michael Grant bald wigs and glasses to say hi to me.  I love these guys.  The guy with the authentic baldness?  That’s Jimmy, the money dude and serious wine expert.  Obviously the two of us have a great deal in common.

The Egmont crowd waiting with Michael Grant bald wigs and glasses to say hi to me.  I love these guys.  The guy with the authentic baldness?  That’s Jimmy, the money dude and serious wine expert.  Obviously the two of us have a great deal in common.

Comments - Posted at 3:35 PM

April 16th, 2013

UK Book Tour 2013

Hey, people.  Yes, I know I haven’t kept up.  Like in two years.  I mostly put things up on Facebook at  But I wanted to put up a bit of my UK/Ireland Tour Schedule.  These are the bits open to the general public.  I’ll also be visiting 10 schools, but unless you’re a student at one of them that’s not very useful information.  All these are free, obviously, and I’ll sign books.  

So here’s the sched:

  1. April 24, Waterstones Picadilly. 6:30 PM.
  2. April 27, Muswell Hill Books London, 4:00 PM.
  3. April 29, Waterstones Plymouth, 6:00 PM.
  4. May 2, Eason Books O’Connell, Dublin, 6:00 PM.
  5. May 3, Eason Books Dundrum, 4:00 PM

It’s possible one event may be added, but as of right now that’s it.  

So, here’s the thing:  come by, hang out, we’ll chat, I’ll answer questions, if you need a book buy one.  It’s free, I promise I do not have a ten foot long Drake tentacle arm, and what else do you have to do?

Comments - Posted at 4:09 PM

August 18th, 2011

At Staples spending fortune on school supplies. Why don’t they let kids use laptops instead?

Comments - Posted at 5:53 PM

November 17th, 2010

Maori Welcome

I mentioned earlier the Best School Welcome.  I can’t upload it here, but here it is on my Facebook.  

Comments - Posted at 5:49 PM

November 14th, 2010

Book Tour Wrap-Up

So.  It’s over.  The book tour that would not die.  The eternal book tour.  3 weeks each in the UK, the US and Australia/New Zealand.

First, thanks to Egmont UK, (who for some weird, sexist reason I’ve taken to thinking of as “The Girls.”  Although Mike Richards may not love that label.)  

Thanks to HarperCollins, (the mother ship, the home office, the HarperDome,) and Melissa who flawlessly arranged that whole segment of things.

Thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont in Australia for arranging the trip of a lifetime and Jen who, poor thing, had to stick by me for three weeks listening to me tell the same stories and the same jokes over and over and over and over until her ears were bleeding.

Now, the Best and Worst List:

Best Corporate Office:  Hardie Grant Egmont in Sydney.  A million dollar view.

Best Corporate Home City:  Sorry Sydney, sorry New York, London is awfully hard to beat.  At least when the weather is nice. (Twice a year, every third year.)

Second Best Question From a Kid:  ”What would happen if a mother was giving birth when the FAYZ happened?

Best Question From a Kid:  ”So you’re saying if we watch South Park and smoke pot we can be famous writers?”  (For the record, I do still watch South Park.  The other thing, no.)

Most Depressing Moments:  About 60% of bookstore events.  I refer to them as MRH’s — My Ritual Humiliations.

Most Fun Moments:  Q and A with kids, either at schools or in stores.  I could do that stuff all day.

Best Haute Cuisine Meal:  Hakkan with “The Girls” in London.

Best Casual Meal: I forget the name of the pub, but the one in Wellington?  Was it Wellington, NZ?  Brain fried … need more sleep.

Best Hotel:  There were a lot of really good ones, but The Graves in Minneapolis stands out.

Worst Hotel:  Oh, they know who they are.

Worst “Why Am I Here?” Moment:  Nashville, on a weekend with nothing planned, and a giant bag of tax receipts to figure out in my hotel room.

Best Surprisingly Fun Time:  Jet-lagged half to death and running around Edinburgh with Mike and his wife.  Sometimes I need someone to get me out of my usual book tour routine of sitting in the hotel room drinking tiny bottles of whiskey and watching TV.  Speaking of which …

Best Show To Watch In Lonely Hotel Room:  The Great British Bake-off.  ”This loaf’s a bit spongy.”  ”I think you might have tried a few more sultanas.”  Prime Time TV, baby.

Worst Cabs:  Every cab in Australia.  Not the dirtiest cabs ever (that would be Los Angeles) or the rudest (that would probably be New York,) but flat-out the least trained, most abysmally ignorant drivers anywhere.  

Best Cabs:  Is there even any question?  London cabs and the cabbies themselves, are so far ahead into first place that there is no second place.  

Coolest flight:  The A380 from LAX to Sydney.  This was before the engines started dropping off.  Half a valium, a full Ambien, a moderate amount of whiskey, and it’s amazing how little 14 hours in coach bothers you.

Best Surprisingly Cool City:  Wellington, New Zealand.

Best Surprisingly Friendly Inhabitants:  the people of Edinburgh, Scotland.  Dour Scots?  Not to me.

Best Publicist:  They were all great.  Really, a lovelier group of people you’ll never meet.  In the UK I was mostly with Vicki and Jenny and Mike, all of whom I consider friends, and a bit with Jo who unfortunately I didn’t get to spend much time with.   Melissa at Harper is a great organizer and cat-herder, but the lucky girl did not have to follow me around everywhere.  So the title has to go to Jen at Hardie Grant Egmont for enduring not just 3 weeks of me but 2 weeks of my son Jake as well.

Best Take-away Lesson:  Librarians.  Doesn’t matter how bad the school may be, the librarians are almost always cool.

Best School?  I couldn’t even start down that road.  Most were great.  Some were not.  But most were really fun for me.  However, in the narrower category of best welcome to a school?  I’ll post video of that when I get a chance.

Best Non-school Educational Experience:  The Dalwhinnie Distillery.

Worst Part of the Tour:  Barely seeing my daughter in almost 3 months.  I’m finally coming home, Julia.

Comments - Posted at 4:49 PM

November 12th, 2010

In Auckland feeling very, very old.

In Auckland feeling very, very old.

Comments - Posted at 12:24 PM

November 11th, 2010

Me high above Auckland.

Comments - Posted at 10:32 PM

November 1st, 2010

Pissing People Off

I am in Australia, still on book tour. And I don’t really want to embarrass anyone so I won’t use names and I’ll be vague enough to allow deniability all around. Cool?

I did my usual LIES presentation at a school today. I have two versions. One is skewed a little younger and one is a little older. The theme of the younger one is that kids shouldn’t make themselves into boring little conformists just for the sake of some of the adults and some of the kids in their lives. It’s dressed up as a talk about storytelling but the underlying message is ‘don’t let school suck the life out of you.’

The older version is a bit more philosophical. I use my autobiography to teach a lesson in writing. Now, I have had a very odd life. I make the point very directly that no one should in any way emulate me or my life.

But I’ve had an interesting life with lots of twists and turns. And I talk about my life as a way of describing what makes an interesting character in the literary sense. Because, say what you will, if you knew my life you’d agree that I’m 1) kind of an idiot, but 2) interesting.

I talk about the fact that we live our lives, and characters should live their lives, inside a Venn diagram formed by Free Will, DNA, Environment and Random Chance. I talk about the importance of all those elements and especially random chance in my life and I connect it to the need to create complex, morally gray-scale characters, and to avoid simplistic message-sending and focus on character and story.

So, okay, this will irritate some people because people without imagination always insist that life is all free will and nothing else. I don’t say those people are stupid — they aren’t necessarily — but they lack imagination. You have to be almost devoid of imagination not to recognize the importance of chance.

Usually both talks go over pretty well. I can often sense that some of the teachers don’t much like it — details of my life include dropping out of school — but that’s okay because I don’t work for the teachers, I work for the kids. And yes, to be honest, I like to push a little bit.

Today though was the single worst school visit ever. I mean, ever. Sweet lord it sucked. The morning started with a really fun school visit, cool librarian, cool teachers, relaxed school. But the day went on to a religious school and that’s where things went south. Let me hasten to say here that my single most rewarding school visit ever was at a religious school in conservative Houston, Texas. Same talk I gave today, but the kids there loved it, the teachers loved it, I felt like a rock star.

Today? Not so much. The school today? A kid was disciplined for laughing at a joke.

And then a kid was pulled aside and lectured for asking a funny, impertinent question.

And then, for the first time ever, there were no subsequent questions.

It was appalling. I would say it was like talking to prisoners except that I’ve talked to real prisoners and they were freer to react and to laugh and to think independently than these kids appeared to be. What added a special level of shock to this experience was that this school was a Jewish school. I’m an ethnic Jew, though not religious. And I guess I’m still enough of an ethnic chauvinist that I assumed I’d find an audience full of kids raised on the Jewish intellectual traditions of disputation, give and take, tolerance, curiosity and above all, humor.

What I found instead was a stultifying, intimidating atmosphere. I felt less sorry for the kids at the correctional institute — they’d all screwed up, but their minds were still free.  

I worry for the girls today who were genuine fans and so sweet to me. I worry about the boy who asked the smart-ass question. I worry about anyone who is taught to be frightened of being exposed to a different take on life.

And I want to say this, although I’m sure it’s impolitic: I don’t care what your excuse is, I don’t care what you think God told you to do, if you are in the business of closing children’s minds and obliterating their capacity to imagine, and depriving them of a capacity to laugh, then you are a criminal. Maybe not under the law, but under any decent system of morality.

Shame on anyone who brainwashes a child and attacks their individual liberty and deprives them of the freedom that is the very definition of a human being. Shame.

Comments - Posted at 3:26 AM

October 30th, 2010

The view from my hotel in Sydney.

Comments - Posted at 1:18 AM