Category: Life

Autumn at Sundance

Just some photos from a trip to see the fall leaves at Sundance.  We rode the “scenic lift,” which in the wintertime is a “ski lift.”  At one point the lift passed over a couple of moose, which was pretty cool.  I love autumn, and here in Utah it’s always over much too quickly…






Turkish Delight

Summer is here.  And once again I’m reminded that I find the idea of summer to be much more appealing than the real thing.  I like playing in the water, I like barbecuing, and because I work in education, summer still has that childhood association with “No school!”  But ultimately the heat just kills me.  I hate it.  During the day, I don’t want to go out and do anything.  I just want to stay where there’s lots of A/C, and lots of Diet Mountain Dew and Coke Zero.

To beat the heat, a couple of days ago my wife gave me an amazing gadget.  I’ve just mentioned my addiction taste for soda (or pop, or “coke,” depending on where you live) and because my wife knows me and loves me, she got me a Sodastream.  Have you heard of these things?  With one of these marvelous inventions, you can MAKE YOUR OWN CARBONATED BEVERAGES.  It’s amazing.  I have to admit I laugh like some kind of Willy Wonka mad scientist every time I make another fizzy bottle.  So far, I’ve tried the diet root beer (pretty good), the “cola free” (a zero calorie cola more like Pepsi than Coke) and the “diet fountain mist” (an approximation of Diet Mountain Dew that misses the mark, but still tastes all right).  But if you’re thinking of getting one of these, be careful what you try to carbonate.  I’ve had a mishap or two…


The Clockwork Three has been released in Turkish.  This is the cover:

I think the title is so awesome.  Google tells me it translates into English as Tiktaktak Trio, which I assume means the “tiktaktak” is what it looks like.  The onomatopoeic sound of a clock.  This is cool to me because when I was brainstorming titles for The Clockwork Three, one that I considered for about five minutes was Tick Tock.  So I got to see it in print, sort of, after all.


The BEA folks have put up a video of the Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz Forum online.  My editor, Lisa, talks about Icefall (and The Clockwork Three) toward the beginning of the clip. If you’re interested in watching it, you can do so here.

And I think that’s all for now.

A Chained Heart

Last week, we had a freak storm sweep into our area.  One minute, things were pretty calm.  A little overcast, maybe, but not bad weather.  The next minute, 70 mph winds start raging and pelting us with hail.  The assault lasts for about 5 minutes, and then it just stops.  Things go back to pretty calm again, and we’re left wondering, “What was that?”  I still don’t know what it was exactly, but it left plenty of damage in its wake:

This was a tree in my back yard.  I guess it still is a tree, but it just doesn’t feel as tree-like in the horizontal.  As you can see, much of the top half of the tree was already dead.  But the lower region near the base, and a few stalwart branches, still gave it their all and sprouted green every spring.  But no more.  Those near-hurricane-force winds came through and pulled it right down.  Snapped it.  At first I was pretty impressed by the feat, but as I was inspecting the break, I found this:

Yes.  That is a chain.  Inside the tree.  I have no idea how it got there, but it has to have been there for years and years, attached when the tree was young and then slowly enveloped as the tree grew around it.  After I saw this, I understood not only how the wind was able to topple this tree, but also why it was dying.  It had a thick, rusty chain wrapped around its innards.

The thing is just begging for an obvious metaphor.  A moral tale about what happens if you carry destructive emotions around for too long, the cost of anger, envy, or regret.  Or perhaps a simple allusion to Jacob Marley would suffice.  But I don’t think I’ll go that way.  Instead, I’m going to make it a metaphor for writing.

You see, I’m working on the first draft of my next book, as I recently mentioned, and it’s turning out to be a much bigger book than I thought it was going to be.  And that’s okay.  I have to let it grow and be what it wants to be.  I could fight it, and force it to be what I originally planned.  I could chain it up.  But that would only bury a weakness at its heart, something that I have no doubt would bring the whole thing crashing down at about the 3/4 mark.  So I’m not going to restrict it.  I’m going to let it grow unencumbered.

What kind of tree it grows into?  That remains to be seen, and is the subject of a whole different metaphor.

“I’m a dog, I’m a workin’ dog, I’m a hard-workin’ dog!”

Something I don’t think I’ve mentioned on this blog is that I love dogs.  I am what people call a “dog person.”  For most of my life, I’ve never been without a canine friend and companion.

And because I love dogs, I also enjoy dog-related activities and events.  I meant to write a post about the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship way back last summer right after it took place, but somehow it just kept slipping down the to-do list. But I recently finished copy-edits on my next book, and so I have a little bit of time.

Many don’t realize that right here in Utah we have one of the largest sheepdog competitions in the world.  Over 25,000 people came out last year, with handlers and dogs from 15 countries and 5 continents.  I’d heard about it for years, and I always wanted to go, and last year I finally did.  It was amazing and fascinating to watch the teamwork of the dogs and their handlers.

The main competition takes place on this hillside.  You can see the group of sheep in this photo, just up and to the left of the cabin.

The dogs start out at the base of the hill with their handler.  The handler has to stay by the post, and from there they shout or whistle commands to their dog.  They have a whole system of communication, a language they use to tell the dog where the sheep are, and where they want the sheep to go, and how they want them brought down the hill.

When the trial begins, the handler releases the dog.  The timer starts, and the dog shoots up the hill to find the sheep.

Once the dog has located the sheep, the dog starts to drive them, weaving back and forth and circling to keep the sheep all together.

On the way down the hill, handler and dog have to work together from a distance to guide the sheep along a course, through several gates. This is where the communication is essential, because the dog doesn’t have the same vantage point on the hill that the handler does.

But mind you, at the highest level of the competition, the sheep are free-range ewes, and they aren’t exactly used to dogs, let alone anyone telling them where to go.  And there’s a lot more of them.

Once the dog has brought the sheep successfully down the hill, the handler and dog work together to separate out a few sheep with red collars from the rest of the flock. Again, not an easy thing.

Once they’re separated, the dog drives the sheep into a pen.

When the gate shuts, the timer stops, and then the hard-working dog hops into a basin of water to cool off.

And then…

The gold medal last year went to a dog from Canada.  South Africa took the silver, and the U.S.A. took bronze.  If you want to see some video of the event, with the dogs in action, watch this:

It was really a lot of fun, and I plan to go again this summer.

Oh, and as for the title of the blog post, some of you of a certain age (my age) may recognize it from Sesame Street. If not, perhaps this will jog your memory:

Revisions done! Also, a few more reviews.

Well, I survived. And what’s even better than that, I feel good.

When I began Book 2 (which now has a title, and which I will hopefully be able to announce soon) I knew I was venturing into unknown territory in terms of my skill as a writer. It was a great big gamble as to whether I could pull it off, and at times during the writing of the book it felt very much like that moment in the movie Maverick where Mel Gibson is about the turn the last card over, willing it to be the Ace of Spades. Only I still don’t know if I have the cards or not.

I was also gambling that Scholastic would like it. Book 2 was – still is – very different from The Clockwork Three, and I wondered at the time if it was the right story to go after. But I was passionate about it, really taken with the idea, and my wonderful agent, Steve, gave me the push I needed to dive in. And then Lisa, my editor, loved it too.

It was hard to make some of the changes, to let go of what I’d written. That “delete” key really took on a sinister cast, and it truly felt as though I was “murdering my darlings” (a writing expression I understand much better). But now that it’s all done, and I’ve stepped back to get a good look at what the effort has produced, I’m very happy with it. It’s a book I’m proud of, and hopefully, my readers will like it to.

And now, on to Book 3…


You might be interested to know that it was exactly two years ago today that I posted my first entry on this blog. Not that I expect that anniversary to mean anything to most or all of you. But it means something to me. I started the blog before I had an agent, and before I was published. So in that sense it’s become a record of all the little milestones of my writing career from the beginning.

It’s also personally gratifying on a different level. You know how at the end of the book Jumanji, two new kids pick up the game in the park and take it home? And they’re the kids who never finish a game? That’s me. I’m notorious for not following through on things. So to say I’ve maintained a blog for two years is something of a personal accomplishment in which I take a measure of pride.


I’ve been meaning to post links to some more online reviews that have popped up for The Clockwork Three. I appreciate the time that each of the reviewers and bloggers put into reading and thinking about the book. Hop on over and check them out.

Fuse #8

Kidsreads, which also has an interview

The Review Broads

21 pages

Fantasy Literature

The Unread Reader

Dearest Dreams

Update: A few more reviews…

Librarian’s Quest

It’s All About Books

Night Writer

The Clockwork Three book launch report, as well as a few other cool things

Last week, The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City hosted the official launch of The Clockwork Three.  It was truly a wonderful experience.  The event was well-attended, with lots of family and friends there to show their support.  My parents and my sister even traveled in from out-of-state, and it meant a lot to have them there.

We held the event out on the store’s patio.  Here, Anne Holman, the general manager of The King’s English, is introducing me.  It was a very lovely introduction, full of things she hadn’t told me before.  (I promise you haven’t seen the last of Madame Pomeroy, Anne!)

Rachel, who I believe is the now the manager of the children’s section (sorry if I got that wrong,) ordered a very special cake for the event refreshments.

Yes.  That’s my book cover.  On a cake.  You know how people talk about devouring a book?  Well, we did.  And it was delicious!

I gave a short introduction to the story behind the book, and then I read a few pages.  After that, I took questions from the audience, and then I moved inside to sign books.  I have a video of the presentation portion of the evening (not the signing – that would be one boring video).  When I get some time, I may edit together a few clips.

I have to say, one of the overriding feelings of the night was disbelief.  I mean, here was an event that I had spent years dreaming about, most of the time wondering if it would even ever happen.  And yet, there were my books on the shelf.  It was all a bit surreal, but in the best possible way.  I owe a big thank you to everyone who came out to show their support, and who made the event what it was.  I may not have been able to talk to you all personally, but I noticed that you were there, and I appreciated it so much.  And a big thank you to Anne & Co. at The King’s English for hosting the event.


Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed me over on her Cynsations blog here.  Feel free to go check it out.


Park City TV had me in their studio for an interview.  That was pretty cool.  If it ends up online, I’ll link to it.  But for now, here’s a picture of me with Ori Hoffer, the host of Mountain Views, just prior to filming the segment.


The principal at one of the schools where I work did something really great for me the other day.  He had ordered several copies of The Clockwork Three for the school’s library (many copies, actually,) and when the UPS guy delivered the box, my principal organized a little ceremonial opening.  He gathered several students in the library, and we all opened the box of books together.  He took pictures, and they wrote something up in the PTA newsletter about it.  It was really nice of him to take a moment like that and turn it into something special that I’ll remember for a long time.  Thanks, Don.

The Clockwork Three – Launch Party

I just received something amazing in the mail from Lisa, my editor.  It’s this:

I cannot tell you how satisfying and surreal it is to hold that in my hands.  Years of hard work, rejection, more hard work, more rejection, finally culminating in this.  A book.  That I wrote.  For all the writers out there with dreams of being published, keep at it.  It will happen.

The Clockwork Three will officially be in bookstores October 1st, though you might see it a little earlier.  In fact, I’m holding a launch party the night before to celebrate the event.  I’ll be speaking, giving a short reading, answering questions, and then signing books.  It will be held at the fabulous King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, and all are welcome to attend.

Here’s a recap of the details:

Date: September 30, 2010

Time: 6:00 PM

Location: The King’s English Bookshop (1511 South 1500 East, Salt Lake City)

I hope to see everyone there!

Curse you, Doctor Who!

More on the title of this entry in a moment.  First things first.

I had one more entry I’d planned to write on my trip to NYC.  But that series of posts has already gone on longer than I’d planned, and anyway, the final day was mostly comprised of waiting in lines and passing through multiple security checkpoints to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (with an evacuation of the Statue due to the smell of burning rubber thrown in).  Rather than go into that whole ordeal, I figured I would just post a few cool pictures we took and move on.

Statue of Liberty Face

A life-sized replica of the Statue of Liberty’s face.  Note: in this photo I am either contemplating the meaning of Freedom and what it means to be an American, or I’m staring at that spot on the ceiling.  Can’t remember which.

The Statue of Liberty

She truly is impressive.  Another note: prior to visiting the Statue of Liberty, I had no idea she was green.  I am color blind, as you may recall from my stint as the Green Spy.  I’ve always thought that Lady Liberty was kind of an off-white marble color.  Mind you, knowing she’s green doesn’t mean I can see it, but it’s nice to feel in the loop.  (Other things that are green, which I only learned about in the last few years: pistachios.)

The Registry Room

Ellis Island.  I wish we would have had more time there.  It is a place steeped in significance, and I’m not sure whether that feeling came from the meaning I imposed on it, or whether it came from something external to me, a residual imprint left behind by those whose lives were changed by their passage through its halls.  Either way, it was a memorable experience.

Ellis Island

From the balcony I saw this child walking alone in the light across the Registry Room and had to take a picture.

And that’s it for NYC, I think.


And now, Doctor Who (with a warning that this will be pretty geeky).  Oh, where to start…

The Doctor (Tom Baker)I used to watch Doctor Who as a kid, the Tom Baker incarnation, with his trademark too-long scarf and unnatural affinity for Jelly Babies candy.  I loved that show, I think because it was so random, and weird and so different from most American TV programs.  I mean, what other show would take a slow-moving tank of a robot shaped like a salt-shaker, with a toilet plunger for a hand, and turn it into the most menacing being in the universe?  And yet, that’s exactly what they did with the perennial Daleks.

DalekAnd they totally pulled it off.  I bought it completely, mostly because the characters were so engaging.  I loved the Doctor.  The Tom Baker Doctor.  And that’s the problem with the show, and why I’m so frustrated and puzzled by it.  You see, when the Doctor dies, he regenerates with a brand-new body, to be played by a new actor.  Since the show holds the record for the longest running science fiction show in the world (and here is where I thank Wikipedia, to simultaneously cite a source and give myself an out if it’s wrong, because hey, it’s Wikipedia) there have been, at present counting, eleven Doctors.  And I can’t figure out how the show has lasted so long.  Not because it isn’t good, but because as a kid, after Tom Baker’s Doctor regenerated into a new actor, I lost all interest.  Who was this new guy calling himself the Doctor?  Where was his scarf?  Where were his Jelly Babies?  He was all wrong.

The Doctor and RoseThe show went off the air in ’89, and was then brought back in ’05, refreshed and rebooted (while remaining charmingly and bravely true to the original).  I still had little interest, but a couple of weeks ago I decided to watch an episode out of mild curiosity.  And then I watched another.  And another.  And I got hooked again.  And then they went and killed off that Doctor just as I was getting invested in him and replaced him with yet another Doctor.  Then I started the whole process again, trying to get reinvested in a character that keeps changing on me.  And did I mention the Doctor’s traveling companions?  They get swapped out every season or two.

And this is, essentially what’s bothering me, as a storyteller, and why I curse the show while still loving it.  How on earth do you have a series as successful and long-lived as Doctor Who when you regularly and systematically purge the cast of characters?  It defies what I know about storytelling, about how you sustain a reader/viewer/listener’s interest – you get them to care about your characters – and leaves me feeling that I’m missing something.  The popularity of the show is undeniable, so they’re doing something right.  I just don’t know what it is.  But I want to figure it out, because in spite of the frustration, and the effort it takes to follow a show that has seen three different doctors in the last five seasons, I’m still watching it.

What about you guys?  Do you watch Doctor Who?  And if so, how do you think they pull it off?

NYC – Part 4

Part 1, here.  Part 2, here.  Part 3, here.

So, after a long day of filming and a good night’s sleep, the next morning we rode the subway down to a recording studio.  There I met Mary Gruetzke, the audiobook editor for The Clockwork Three, and Cheryl Smith, the audiobook producer.  Both women were very nice and welcoming.

I was there at the recording studio because several weeks ago, Mary suggested the idea of adding some “bonus” material at the end of The Clockwork Three audiobook, kind of like the extras on a DVD.  She and Lisa and I bounced a couple of ideas around, and eventually settled on something that I think will be really cool (but as with most things related to the book right now, it’s too early to talk about in detail).  And since I was in New York City, they wanted me to record a brief introduction to go with the bonus material.

Being in a sound-booth was another first for me, and I was so struck by that little pocket of silence nestled right there in the heart of NYC, one of the noisiest places I’ve ever been.  I sat down at a microphone, put on a pair of headphones, and read the introduction I’d written.  But unlike my experience the previous day, I didn’t feel awkward with the reading at all.  It went smoothly, and I think I read through it three times.  Each time, Cheryl gave me a little direction – “Put more emphasis on this word.” “Read this section more slowly.” – and then we were all done.

Mary and me in front of the Scholastic building

Mary and me in front of the Scholastic building

After that, Mary got us a cab, but we had a few minutes before we had to be at the Scholastic offices, so she took us to see Union Square.  They have a really nice farmer’s market running there a few days a week, which we walked through and enjoyed.  If it had been lunch time, I could have easily made a fabulous meal of artisan cheeses and meats, with some crusty bread.  But as it was, we just looked and then got in another cab.

The Scholastic Building is in SoHo, and even from the outside it has a very different vibe than the publishers with their offices up in Midtown.  Mary showed us in, we got our visitor badges, and went up to my editor’s office.  It was cool to see where Lisa works.  Her office was as filled with books as I expected it to be, and to be honest, I was a bit envious.  I don’t currently have the shelving to load my office up with all the books I own.

Lisa and me

Lisa and me

I was supposed to give a reading at an office reception that afternoon, so Lisa and I talked about what I should read and settled on the passage where Giuseppe plays the green violin for the first time.  After that we started a series of meetings.  I met my publicist, Samantha Grefé, and we went downstairs to film a “5 Questions” feature that will appear on the Scholastic On Our Minds blog in a few months.

Lisa and Samantha took us out for lunch, and my agent, Stephen Fraser met us at the restaurant.  Steve, ever the gentleman, brought flowers for the women.  Now, I don’t intend for this blog to become a food blog, but as much as I love food, I think it’s inevitable that I’ll mention it now and again.  So let me just say that we had another delicious meal.

Scholastic Credo CarpetAfterward we went back to the offices and sat down with the Sales and Marketing teams.  Everyone was so amazing and enthusiastic about The Clockwork Three.  But more than that, I could tell that every single person I met was passionate about children’s literature in general, and I once again felt lucky to at least be a peripheral member of the Scholastic family.  Oh, and something else I thought was pretty cool: they have the company credo printed on their carpet.

We then went to the office reception.  There were lots of people there, some of whom had already read The Clockwork Three.  I started out by talking a bit about the inspiration for the book, and then I gave the reading.  I think it went pretty well, although I did read a little too quickly.  I need to just get in the habit of slowing down when I do these kinds of things.  After the reading, I signed a few ARCs for people that had them.  And then Scholastic’s CEO Dick Robinson walked in.  I was pretty excited to meet him, and to tell him how much I appreciated the speech he gave in Bologna.  He had me sign an ARC for his son, which I was very happy to do!

We finished up the day with a quick meeting with the foreign rights team, who have been working very hard and done a tremendous job of handling the foreign licensing of The Clockwork Three.  I’ll let you know more when I can, so stay tuned for announcements on that front.

How do dinosaurs...After that meeting, Lisa and I chatted some more (I noticed a Cylon perched on one of her bookshelves, and found out we’re both Battlestar Galactica fans) and then I went down to the Scholastic bookstore on the building’s ground level.  I understand it’s a favorite destination for neighborhood parents and their kids.  It would be one of mine, too, if I lived in NYC.

All in all, it was one of the best days of my life.  Really.  I felt so welcomed, and everyone was so friendly and complimentary.  It was honestly a little overwhelming, but in such a wonderful way.  I feel very lucky, very grateful, and I owe a special thank you to Lisa for putting it all together.

No. 45 Crosby StreetOne block over from the Scholastic building lies Crosby Street.  That name might be familiar to those of you who have read The Clockwork Three.  I’ve already mentioned that one of the characters in the book, Giuseppe, was inspired by a 19th century boy from NYC named Joseph.  He lived, or rather, was imprisoned at No. 45 Crosby Street.  So after I left the Scholastic offices I had to go see the address myself.

The experience was very moving.  As you can see in the picture, the building has changed from what it was in the 1870’s when Joseph lived there, but the street has not.  Those are likely the same cobblestones that Joseph walked across every night on his way back to his master.  I’m glad I got to see it.

We met a writer friend of mine, Kate Milford, for pizza at a place called Lombardi’s.  Kate’s debut novel, The Boneshaker, will be released this month, and it’s getting tremendous reviews.  I’ve read it, and it’s wonderful, and I will put up a more lengthy post about it soon.  After dinner, we had planned to go see the Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, but when we got there we were very disappointed to learn that tickets for the evening were sold out.  We decided to still try to see some of the museum (even though it was closing soon) but ended up spending more time checking and claiming our bags than we did looking at actual art.  Plus, they made me carry my laptop around.  Not the bag.  Just the laptop, which for some reason could not stay in the bag when I checked it.

After leaving the museum, we were lured into a restaurant claiming to have “the best cheesecake in the world.”  It did not.  But it was in New York, so I suppose that made it New York Cheesecake, and it was nice to spend some more time talking with Kate.  Afterward we said goodnight, Kate got on the subway, and we went back to our hotel.

I called Lisa because earlier in the day she had invited us over to hers and Liel’s apartment.  I called assuming it would probably be too late, but they said no, come on over.  So we did, and had another lovely time with them, talking and laughing into the early morning hours.  I feel very fortunate that not only do I have in Lisa a trusted and talented editor, but also a great friend.

Up next, last day, last NYC post.

NYC – Part 2 of… maybe 4?

For part 1, click here.

On the first day of sightseeing, we decided to ride the ferry out to Liberty Island and Ellis Island.  As a history buff, I was most excited about Ellis Island.  The problem was, there were a lot of other people who had the same idea.  The line to get tickets was long, but after buying tickets the wait to just get on a boat was still another two hours.  To top it off, NYC was experiencing unseasonably warm weather, and waiting outside in the hot sun wasn’t the way we wanted to spend our time.  So we bought tickets for another day, and rode the Staten Island Ferry instead.

Staten Island FerryThe Staten Island Ferry runs the five miles between Manhattan and Staten Island, and best of all, it’s free.  It takes you right by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and offers great views of lower Manhattan and New York Harbor.  It was a lot of fun.  We got out on the water where the breeze was a lot cooler, and just enjoyed the ride.  When we reached Staten Island, we just hopped on the next ferry coming back to Manhattan, about an hour round-trip.

From there we walked up through the financial district, past Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.  My editor, Lisa Sandell, met us at Trinity Church, a beautiful cathedral where we heard a youth choir sing for a few minutes.  It was really wonderful to meet Lisa for the first time.  She walked with us to Ground Zero, which was a haunting experience.  There is a profound absence there, and it’s not just the physical opening left behind in the density of the city.  There is a psychological void there, waiting to be filled.  I hope the city will soon resolve the issues and conflicts around the building of a memorial.

The Brooklyn BridgeAfter that, we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge.  A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the building of the bridge, and ever since I’ve been fascinated by the ingenuity, the bravery, and the will it took to construct it, a truly monumental feat.  So to stand beneath its grand arches, to look down at the water below, was an inspiring experience.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to cross that bridge upon its opening, at the time the largest suspension bridge in the world.  Okay, I think I might be verging on becoming a documentary myself here, so I’ll move on.

After that, we walkeWinnie the Pooh & Friendsd up through Chinatown and Little Italy, and then rode the subway up to Grand Central Station.  From there we went to the New York Public Library.  The Children’s Room there has Winnie the Pooh on display.  Like, the actual Winnie the Pooh.  And Tigger, and Kanga, and Piglet.  Even Eeyore.  The library has the original stuffed animals that A. A. Milne gave to his son, Christopher Robin.  The same toys that later inspired one of the most beloved characters in children’s literature.  They look a little threadbare and tattered (it actually appears as though Kanga might have been decapitated and had her head reattached at some point) but that only adds to their significance and charm.

That night, we went out to dinner at The Spice Market with Lisa and her husband, Liel.  It was a wonderful evening full of great food and great company, with plenty of fascinating and entertaining conversation.  If you ever meet either of them, you must ask them about the time they shared a train with smugglers on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  I’d try to tell you the story myself, but I know I wouldn’t do it justice.

More to come.