Fun times in Eau Claire

xxRatsPomPomsHiddenTreasureFlyer

I get to make an appearance with two amazing authors at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26 at the L.E. Phillips Public Memorial Library in Eau Claire. We all have new books to celebrate. We’ll do a Q & A, have book-related crafts for kids, and serve some treats.

I met W.H. Beck through an email conversation in which we discovered our families have cabins less than a mile apart on Whitefish Lake near Hayward, Wisconsin. This happens to be the setting for my novel Finders Keepers, so we had lots to talk about. Her new book is called Malcolm Stars.

I haven’t met Julie Bowe yet, but we share a publishing home — the Minnesota-based Capstone. The company published my award-winning book for kids called Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration. Julie’s book is the new edition in her Victoria Torres series called Pompom Problems.

I lived in Eau Claire when I was in kindergarten, so I’m excited to revisit out the town. Since I was young, my memories are pretty limited but include these:

  • There was a restaurant called something like “Jolly Trolls” or “Happy Gnomes.” They had these robotic troll-gnome things, so my sister and I wanted to eat there just to see these things move. None of us liked the food, but who cared? They had robotic troll-gnomes!
  • We used to go to a gas station we called the “stinky store.” They had the best slushies, but the whole place smelled like rotting cauliflower.
  • I went to St. James Catholic School. I don’t remember anything about the school except I walked there each day with my friend Amy. My mom used to follow us in the car to make sure we didn’t get lost. I always wondered why she didn’t just drive us.
  • The first movie I remember seeing played at one of the city theaters — “Peter Pan.” The neighbor boy came with and screamed and ran up and down the aisles and threw popcorn at people.

And now I’ll have a new memory. I hope you’ll come by and share it with me.

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Another round: Stephen King’s Finders Keepers vs. Tougas’ Finders Keepers

I’ll admit to obsessing about Stephen King and his best-selling thriller Finders Keepers, which happened to come out a few weeks before my not-as-best-selling kids book Finders Keepers.

Then talk show host Stephen Colbert added insult to injury. Colbert’s first week on The Late Show featured none other than the King himself and a huge news development. President Obama had just bestowed King with the National Medal of Arts.

But don’t weep for me. I had previously been bestowed with my own major award — Best Mom Ever.

You can have the book sales and the gold medal, King. I’ll take the paper-and-crayon medal every day of every year for the rest of my life.

Best Mom Ever Award

Best Mom Ever Award

National Medal of Arts

National Medal of Arts

Stephen King vs. Shelley Tougas

The King-Tougas Title War continues. He got the title Finders Keepers first for his thriller; then came my Finders Keepers for my cute kid book.

Amazon reports the current results:

Finders Keepers, Stephen King, Amazon sales rank: 561

Finders Keepers, Shelley Tougas, Amazon sales rank: Not so good.

But like Rocky, I’m going the distance, Mr. King!

Saturday afternoon fever aka my book launch

Please join me in St. Paul at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Red Balloon Bookstore for my book release party and official launch of Adventures From the Middle, a tour I’m doing with friend and writer extraordinaire S.A. (Stephanie) Bodeen.

We’re doing some fun contests at Red Balloon and, of course, serving cake. A book launch without cake is like a book without words or pictures.

In addition to my second novel “Finders Keepers” entering the world, Stephanie’s book “Lost” recently landed in bookstores. It’s the second book in her exciting Shipwreck Island series. So there’s a lot for us to celebrate.

Hope to see you there! Watch for tour dates for Adventures From the Middle. I’ll post more soon.

Gonna party like it’s my release day … because it is

Happy day!

Happy day!

My second novel, Finders Keepers, enters the world today, exactly 364 days after the release of my debut novel The Graham Cracker Plot. It’s like having back-to-back children, only childbirth was easier.

There’s a joke about being a mom to multiple children. It goes like this: When your firstborn drops a pacifier, you wash it in special sanitizing soap and then boil it for an hour before giving it back to your baby. When your second baby drops the pacifier, you rub it on your jeans and pop it right back in baby’s mouth.

You could look at it two ways. Are you learning and applying those lessons to the next baby? Or are you just overtired and lazy?

Both.

Here’s what I learned from my first literary baby, The Graham Cracker Plot:

1. Googling your name and/or book is like eavesdropping. You’re going to discover some mean stuff.

2. Constantly checking your sales rank/book scan totals on Amazon’s Author Central does not actually increase those sales. It also does not increase your self esteem.

3. You have very little control over what happens to your baby once it leaves the laptop.

4. The one thing you can control is your productivity. Stay off the Internet and get typing. That’s how the next book gets into the world.

5. The book world operates on seasons. You get a few months to shine. Then it’s on to the next batch of releases. So enjoy it.

6. You’re a writer, so write. You can – and should – promote your book, but you’re not a marketer, not a distributor, not a sales person, not a Search Engine Optimizer (whatever that is). Write. Keep writing.

7. Lean on your writer friends. They understand the ups and downs, the joy and the heartbreak, and the endless frustration. Everyone else just wonders when you’re getting the movie deal.

8. Thank your agent and editor, because they’re your partners. In my case, that’s agent Susan Hawk (Jenny Bent Agency) and editor Kate Jacobs. They’re brilliant and lovely, and I wish they lived in the Twin Cities instead of New York. Then we could have coffee and be a trio.

There’s more, but it’s my release day, and I’ve got some celebrating to do. Thanks for checking the blog.

And if you’re kind enough to buy Finders Keepers, consider your local indie bookstore. Those stores are the heart of publishing.

My lucky star

I hate author blogs – including mine – when they turn into little bulletin boards, full of brag-brag-bragging about their books.

So I’m going to brag about my book.

Finders Keepers got a starred review from “Booklist.” If you don’t follow publishing, you’re probably not over the moon about this news. “Only one star?” Someone asked me in an apologetic voice. “On a scale of one to what?”

No, it’s not like that. There’s no scale. There are bad book reviews, so-so reviews, good reviews and great reviews. Then there’s a star. Getting a star is like getting an A+++. The difference between a good review and a star is like the difference between a pat on the back and an extra-long hug with flowers and chocolate.

Here’s what “Booklist” has to say:

The only time 10-year-old Christa feels she belongs is when she is at her family’s cabin in Wisconsin. But to her dismay, this will be their last summer on Whitefish Lake, because her father has lost his job and they cannot afford to keep the cabin. Next door, a boy named Alex has just moved in, and the two team up to do some sleuthing and treasure hunting. Rumor has it that Al Capone once hid a suitcase of cash in the area, and if they can find it Christa’s family might be able to hang on to their cabin. Tougas, known best for her historic nonfiction (Little Rock Girl 1957, 2011), has crafted a charming story of family history and personal connections (both lost and found) that is reminiscent of Blue Balliett and the Penderwicks’ adventures. Christa is a delightful protagonist—spunky, witty, and self-confident, in spite of her lack of social graces—and her companionship with Alex is well drawn. More thoughtful than most mysteries, this novel addresses serious issues (financial challenges and strained family relationships, in particular) without bogging down the narrative, and its resolution is both rewarding and poignant. Christa and Alex prove a winning duo, whose quest for Capone’s lost loot will keep readers glued to the page.

And now I’m done–but not without a picture of Finders Keepers.

FindersKeepers_Cover1

Laura Ingalls: The Missing Year

After touring Rocky Ridge in Missouri, where Laura and Almanzo Wilder lived for 40-plus years, we road tripped to Burr Oak, Iowa. This little town is never mentioned in the Little House series even though the Ingalls lived there for a year. Laura was about 10 years old.

If you watched the TV show, Iowa is where the Ingalls family adopted Albert, the fictional boy who burned down the school for the blind (killing Mary’s baby) and developed a morphine addiction. The Ingalls’ real lives were dramatic but not dramatic enough for actor/producer Michael Landon. He wanted a soap opera, and Laura’s books became Days of Our Lives on the Prairie.

Anyway, I speculate Laura left Iowa out of the books because her stories are about optimism and perseverance. Iowa was anything but optimism and perseverance. They moved there out of desperation. Grasshoppers had destroyed a promising crop in Minnesota, and Pa was offered a job helping run a hotel in Iowa. He had few options. Ma loved their home in Walnut Grove, but they couldn’t stay. On the way to Iowa, the Ingalls’ infant son died. The family rolled into town on a wagon filled with loss.

Their experience in Iowa was a nightmare. Money didn’t work out the way Pa planned. (It never did with that man!) Ma cooked for more than 20 people three meals a day. Then she had to do all the dishes without the aid of a dishwasher or even lavender-scented Dawn. Laura had to empty chamber pots. (Did Mary ever help with anything?!) The family of five lived together in one tiny room. The hotel drew mostly male travelers, and there was drinking. And card playing. And swearing. Eventually the saloon next door burned to the ground, and Pa was happy to see it go.

Pa moved the family out of the hotel because it was too rough for kids. They lived above a grocery store and then in a small rented house where Grace was born. Once again, Pa couldn’t pay the bills. The landlord threatened to take Pa’s horses. After that threat, Pa packed up his family in the middle of night (literally), and they scrambled out of town.

It’s hard to picture Michael Landon doing something like that, right?

Amazingly, the original Masters Hotel in Burr Oak still stands. So much in the Laura world has been recreated – the little cabins in Pepin and Kansas, the shanty outside of De Smet, the house in Walnut Grove – that this hotel is truly a treasure. It smells and creaks just like an old building should. If you close your eyes, you can picture Ma kneading bread dough and Laura sweeping while Mary drinks lemonade and drunk travelers demanding more salt pork.

Unlike the Rocky Ridge Farm, you can take photos. So I did:

I knew a 1800s hotel would be small, but the Masters Hotel is really, really small. It's about the size of a house.

I knew a 1800s hotel would be small, but the Masters Hotel is really, really small. It’s about the size of a house.

Don't complain about your uncomfortable hotel bed until you've slept on a straw mattress propped up by rope. Also, your 25 cents didn't buy you a room at the Masters Hotel; it bought you a space to sleep. You might have to share a small bed with two strangers, and chances are they didn't spring for the cost of a bath, which was extra.

Don’t complain about your uncomfortable hotel bed until you’ve slept on a straw mattress propped up by rope. Also, your 25 cents didn’t buy you a room at the Masters Hotel; it bought you a space to sleep. You might have to share a small bed with two strangers, and chances are they didn’t spring for the cost of a bath, which was extra.

An example of the famous twisted hay that fueled the Ingalls' stove during the long winter. Laura and Pa twisted hay day and night to keep the fire burning while Mary, I guess, was drinking cocoa.

An example of the famous twisted hay that fueled the Ingalls’ stove during the long winter. Laura and Pa twisted hay day and night to keep the fire burning while Mary, I guess, was drinking cocoa.

Laura emptied a lot of these while the family ran the hotel. Tell your kids that when they complain about bringing their cereal bowls to the sink.

Laura emptied a lot of these while the family ran the hotel. Tell your kids that when they complain about bringing their cereal bowls to the sink.

Ma's hanky - her REAL hanky, not a replica. If this excites you as much as it excites me, then you're a geek, too. It's pretty fancy as far as nose-blowing devices go, so maybe this was a Sunday hanky.

Ma’s hanky – her REAL hanky, not a replica. If this excites you as much as it excites me, then you’re a geek, too. It’s pretty fancy as far as nose-blowing devices go, so maybe this was a Sunday hanky.

Here's what Ma did every single day without the help of a bread maker or microwave or even a nonstick pan.

Here’s what Ma did every single day without the help of a bread maker or microwave or even a nonstick pan.

Finally, the requisite selfie.

Finally, the requisite selfie.