An Open Letter to Stampy

Meet Stampy.

Dear Stampy (aka Stampylongnose aka Stampycat),

First, let me congratulate you on your success as a Minecraft YouTube star. I suspect you’re among the first YouTubers who managed to build a following of millions by simply recording yourself playing Minecraft.

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, I demand the return of my daughter.

I know you’ve arrived at our house when I hear your high-pitched British accent announcing yourself. Hellooo. This is Stampy and welcome to another video of Stampy’s lovely world!

An Internet search tells me you’re making a full-time living as a top-ten YouTube Star. Now that you’ve passed Katy Perry and Justin Bieber in YouTube popularity, you’ve been able to move out of your family’s basement and build a Minecraft Commentary Empire. Good for you.

Bad for me.

My daughter used to disappear into her playroom with her dollhouse, Barbies, and American Girl Dolls. On summer days, she’d go to the park. Her electronic time consisted of binge-watching “Good Luck Charlie.”

Now she’s a Stampy addict who sneaks the iPad into the bathroom and props it next to the tub for her bath. I can hear the splashing and your comments about “googlies,” which I suspect have nothing to do with Google.

For Mother’s Day, she went to a pottery studio and made me a mug. A Stampy mug. She has a Stampy shirt, which she bought with her own money. She quizzes me endlessly on Stampy trivia. She regularly submits entries to your contests, including writing and recording her vision for a Stampy theme song.

I’ve always understood and respected her call for “one more minute.” We all need a minute to pause a video and collect ourselves before heading out the door. But when she’s watching your video, she doesn’t mean one or five more minutes. She means forty.

All this has led to limits I never thought I’d need to impose on my kid, who’s biggest rule violation has been reading past bedtime.

You’re no longer allowed in our house during sick days because she was developing too many mysterious ailments. You can’t visit during dinner. You can’t show up for viola practice–she thought she could watch your videos while squeaking through “Mary had a Little Lamb.” You can’t hang out with her for hours during the weekend. You see, the only voice she should hear more often than mine is her teacher’s.

I’m supposed to be happy that you’re family friendly and that Mindcraft is creative and, wow, you’re not associated with games that involve shooting prostitutes from a racecar. You respect your young audience. Thanks for that.

Still, you’ve overstayed your welcome. You know what they say about visitors? Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

No offense, Stampy, but you reek.

Most sincerely,

Shelley Tougas

All I Want for Christmas is on this List

When I thought about writing a post of cool gifts for writers, I figured the list would be short: journals, cool pens and books about writing (Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, of course). Then I started looking around and found online treasure. No offense, Anne, but Santa’s got options.

Among them:

1.  Think of this light-up pen as a gift for your significant other since it’ll stop you from turning on the bedside lamp to record nighttime ideas.

2. Some hygiene fun because, yes, some writers shower every single day.

3. Old meets new: the tablet-typewriter. Practical? No. But it’s so cool.

4. Nobody steals from a vampire purse.

6. If this doesn’t inspire productivity, you can beat yourself over the head with it.

7. Scent of a (writing) woman.

8. The writer’s tissue box cozy.

9. Words don’t do this justice.

10. Duh:

What are little boys (books) made of?

I had an interesting discussion with some writer friends about kids and books and gender. People in the book world will tell you girls typically read books for/about girls in addition to books for/about boys. Our sons, however, will only read books aimed at boys. They simply won’t pick books with female protagonists and even avoid books by female authors. That’s why the Harry Potter series wasn’t written by Joanne Rowling.

My friends and I wondered if we’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy — we being parents. Are boys truly wired to avoid “girl” books? Or do parents subconsciously plant those wires?

I think it works like this: Parents assume their little toddler sons will most enjoy Bob the Builder and books about cars and space. That’s what they buy and read. Why bother with The Paper Bag Princess or Shelia Rae, The Brave? Or, as they get older, stories about Junie B. Jones, Ramona Quimby, Laura Ingalls or the Gaither sisters?

After all, we know girls typically read books for/about girls in addition to books for/about boys. Our sons, however, will only read books aimed at boys.

I specifically read The Paper Bag Princess to my daughter so she’d fall in love with a story about a girl saving a prince. I wanted her to wonder why Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty sat around singing about princes rescuing them from dire circumstances.

I don’t have a son. It’s unfair to suggest I would’ve bought all the “right” books. Maybe my bookshelf would be filled with books about cars and sharks and characters named Billy and Tom and Charlie.

There’s a clear expectation that girls will consistently engage in the experience of boys via books, television and movies. Frankly, they can’t participate in our male-dominated culture if they don’t.

On the surface it sounds like I’m talking about girl power, but it’s actually boys who are shortchanged. They’re missing the stories and perspective of a big part of our world – half, to be exact.

Consider this food for thought as we head into Thanksgiving and, perhaps, a conversation that may change the way you shop for the boys in your life this Christmas.

I wanna be a middle-grade ninja, too!

I had the opportunity to write a guest post on Middle Grade Ninja, a great industry blog I follow. Check it out here. I wrote about the nonfiction market as a path to publishing novels. There’s more than one way in the door. 

The Ninja is Robert Kent, author of All Together Now: A Zombie Story and the forthcoming Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees (coming this fall).

His blog has reviews, interviews and posts about the writing life. It’s my blog role model. It’s what my blog wants to be when it grows up. Maybe he gives lessons.

Meanwhile, enjoy.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting about my publication countdown for The Graham Cracker Plot. The release is Sept. 2 and I’ve got a long to-do list–including posting about my to-do list.


Hello, world!

In one week, The Graham Cracker Plot is officially in stores. That’s Tuesday, Sept. 2.

I’m having a launch party at The Red Balloon in St. Paul at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6. There will be books, cake and many of my amazing family members and friends. They’re the real stars of the party. They’re the people who supported my writing for so many years.

My hometown celebration is 2 p.m. Sept. 20 at Chapter2 Books in Hudson, Wisc. My friend and fellow Macmillan author S.A. Bodeen – that’s Stephanie, by the way — will join me for a joint event at our local indie bookstore.

Stephanie already has an impressive history in YA. In July, she released her first middle-grade novel, Shipwreck Island. So there you have it – shipwrecks and graham crackers.

Hope to see you at one or both.LowResNewCover


“Do you get paid by the hour?”

My chiropractor asked me that question the other day. We were talking about my second novel Loot and the writing process. Novelists are laughing right now because If you do the math – how long it takes to write a novel against average sales – most writers probably make 14 cents an hour.

I told her that publishers pay authors an advance, which is negotiated by the publisher and the writer’s agent. Then the author’s book has to earn enough money for the publisher to recoup the advance. After the advance is paid back, the author gets a (small) percent of book sales.

“That’s strange,” she said.

No kidding.

Her question represents the misperceptions people have about publishing. Even avid readers don’t know about the industry that produces their entertainment. And why would they? It’s a strange industry, and I still don’t understand it. Headlines tell us writers rake in huge advances, go on luxurious book tours, and do TV interviews with Stephen Colbert and Oprah.

I recently read some stats about book sales from Appletree Book Services:

  • The average book published by a major house sells 3,000 copies in its lifetime.
  • The average book published by all houses sells 500 copies in its lifetime.
  • The average self-published book sells 50 copies.

As an Appletree rep said, “Now, if we remember there are five major [publishing] houses, that’s a lot of duds for every Harry Potter.”

Here are the most unusual questions – and the answers – I’ve been asked about publishing and money:

What if you don’t sell many books?

The publisher has to eat the loss. (Thanks for the vote of confidence, though!)

How much did it cost you to publish your book?

Nothing. That’s self publishing. I’m going the traditional route because writing is my job, and I don’t pay my employer.

How much did you pay your editor?

See above.

How much will you make if your book becomes a movie?

A billion trillion dollars! Hah. The vast majority of books don’t become movies. I won’t punish myself by dreaming about that.

Why don’t you just sell your books yourself? If you get all the profits – instead of a portion – you’d make more money even if you sold less.

Because I don’t own a bookstore chain or even a single bookstore. Because I don’t have a distribution network for schools and libraries. Because I have a few hundred regular blog followers, and that’s a generous estimate, and the odds of those readers buying my book are … let’s say not great. Because I have a small family and they can’t buy 1,000 books each. Because I’m a writer and not a marketer or a salesperson. Bottom line: My personal distribution network is about 200 books.

How much do newspapers pay you to do interviews?

Nada. I’m a former journalist, and even I can’t shake nickels out of the pockets of reporters. (Journalism is in such dire straights, reporters don’t have nickels in their pockets.)

So there you have it.

If I get rich, you’ll be the first to know. After my chiropractor, that is.



A hoot for Loot

My second novel, Loot, went to my agent and editor today. Now comes the nail biting. What if they don’t like it?

It’s absurd to replace the stress of revising a novel with the stress of anticipating the feedback. It’s (not) fun to be me.

I’ve been planning a week off, but my brain is still firing ideas. I’m not sure if I’m truly ready to take notes for my third novel or if I’m simply procrastinating. My to-do list includes organizing closets, deep cleaning, filing tax receipts, and other awful activities.

What to do?

This cliffhanger shall continue tomorrow.