Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NINJA STUFF: On Conspiracy Theories And Flying Saucers

WARNING: Today's post has nothing to do with middle grade fiction, the reading or the writing of it. This is going to be an epic post I already regret publishing. 

Don't worry, Esteemed Reader. This isn't about to become a blog about conspiracy theories and flying saucers. There are plenty of those available already. I should split this post in two, but I'm going to leave it extra long because we're only going to do this once.

I've written a book with an alien on its cover (sort of), so at some point we have to talk about them, at least a little:) The Book of David concerns a number of kooky, crazy crackpot ideas, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to write it. The fifth and final chapter of the serial series is available for preorder now!!!  I know writing about such things as flying saucers and a government cover-up will lead readers to question whether or not the author believes in them. The answer, naturally, is of course I dobut let me qualify that statement!

Admitting to a belief in a conspiracy theory is like admitting to a belief in religion in that some additional context is required for the reader to appreciate my position. People like to take an all-or-nothing position whenever possible, especially when it comes to conspiracy theories. All or nothing keeps things simple, but life is rarely simple. Children are allowed to see the world in black and white, but maturing means learning to accept that the world (and possibly the aliens visiting it) exists in shades of gray.

One conspicuously missing conspiracy theory in The Book of David is any reference to a 9/11 cover-up because that event is too fresh and raw and even I have a limit to what I'm comfortable exploiting for the entertainment of my readers. Many of you Esteemed Readers reading this have your own 9/11 experiences, as do I, and my bull crap tale of flying saucers and a corrupt government supported by a greedy financiers has plenty of fun with less sensitive conspiracy theories. Also, my book takes place prior to the swearing in of Donald Trump, so I'm choosing not to deal with that craziness here.

My interest is in crafting fiction. I read about UFOs as a boy and the stories captured my imagination. More, people very close to me have seen them and so from childhood, I've known flying saucers were probably real. But I've never seen a flying saucer. There is no definitive, established narrative for where they come from or what they're up to, so beyond pondering the wonder of their existence, flying saucer lore is not particularly useful to me on a daily basis. I've approached the topic for years now with the explicit intention of crafting scary stories, so if it should somehow be definitively proven that flying saucers have never existed, I'll still have my stories, which are a pack of lies anyway. It's win/win for me, Esteemed Reader:)

That bears repeating: I've approached ufology looking for fun tidbits and without much concern for truth. There's plenty of truth in the actual news I read. When I read conspiracy theories, I'm looking for entertainment and instruction on what resonates with large numbers of readers by terrifying them with "alternative facts." I have no reason to think the moon landing was actually a hoax, but a story about it being one just captures the imagination, doesn't it? It's fun and interesting and I think applying the best elements of that bull crap story to your own bull crap story improves your fiction craft:)

In preparing The Book Of David, I didn't actually have to believe in haunted houses to write a haunted house storybut you better believe I read as many haunted house stories as I could before starting and while writing, because that's my due diligence. A danger in writing about scary things is you have to research scary things, and if you go looking for things that go bump in the night, believing they don't exist does nothing for you when you actually bump into them (or scarier yet, when they bump into you).

I've learned that lesson previously, so I do most of my research by reading books and interviewing people who have actually faced scary things, doing my best to stay out of harm's way, nice and cozy in my writing office with my Batman action figures on display and a cooling mug of coffee. I've talked with multiple ufologists and several victims of alien abduction and religious leaders who take the issue extremely seriously. What I learned from them scared me badly enough to get me back into church (for a couple Sundays).

It's really best not to make up your mind about a thing until you've done your due diligence. It's my experience that most people who write off the subject of UFOs haven't read the research, and nothing annoys me more than a strongly held opinion by someone who hasn't qualified it. "Everyone knows something can't be true," is never a valid argument against contradictory evidence. Everyone knew the world was flat. Everyone knew the sun revolved around Earth, which was the center of the universe. Everyone knows flying saucers aren't real and that our planet has never been visited by any outside life.

Do your homework. If there's nothing to this flying saucer thing, you'll be able to speak with confidence that it's all just as you thought: tabloid garbage used to sell budget-less programs on the History Channel that would otherwise just be about history (booooring!). And that will be a valid opinion as you've done the due diligence. Keep an ear out should new data become available, but you will be justified in your view.

The Ninja once suspected there was no Santa Claus. I've looked into it and though I keep an ear out for new data as I'm terrified it might be true (I don't want to live in a world where an old fat guy breaks into the homes of all children every year), I feel confident in saying "No, Virginia, there's no Santa Claus. Your well-meaning parents have just introduced you to your first conspiracy theory. Now remember for the rest of your life that the people you loved and trusted most lied to you, as did many other adults in your community."

If, on the other hand, you should discover there is evidence for flying saucers, you'll have to reconsider your opinion. I'm not interested in converting anyone to a religion, but I am interested in spreading awareness of evidence. The more informed our population becomes about a phenomenon presenting as flying saucers, the more likely we are to find an answer to who these visitors are and what we might learn from them. A majority of folks questioning whether or not Galelleo was onto something with his crazy Earth-revolving-around-the-sun theories led to an eventual definitive answer for all of us, save for the flat-earthers out there, who make all conspiracy theorists look bad.

Sudden subject change: to state that the government of the United States or of any country is always good or always bad is absurd. A government is too huge a body involving too many players to be said to be uniformly any kind of way. Our forefathers knew this and thus our government is set up to be changed around every so often. More, if you love America (or at least live here), it is your duty as a citizen to keep an eye on government and criticize when it's being unfair (stop trying to take away our healthcare to give more tax breaks to wealthy people you elitist, immoral A-holes!). And if you don't think the American government would conspire against a group of its people, I remind you that we had a civil rights movement (still going) to try to get the government to stop conspiring against a group of its people.

A comparison between religion and conspiracy theories is a major theme of The Book of David as I believe both serve the same function of building a mental framework in which to accept otherwise in-congruent occurrences. Much of life is flat and straightforward: get up, eat, go to work/school, go home, eat, sleep, repeat. If I step on a tack, I will bleed, and it isn't a supernatural occurrence. The tack isn't out to get me. It was simply in my path. Had I walked elsewhere, or paid more attention, I wouldn't have stepped on it.

And yet, I believe I have experienced direct divine intervention at least twice (probably more often in subtler ways) that saved my life on both occasions (the subject of an upcoming post, but we'll get back to middle grade books after that, I promise). I don't want to get too far off course, so let me just say that both events could be written off as coincidence or mental illness and would not convince the true skeptic. But I personally experienced the events and I know something greater than myself got involved to directly influence the course of my life.

And that's all I know.

I've talked before about reality being fuzzy around the edges. I'll assume many of you Esteemed Readers have had one or two events of high strangeness in your life. They're common enough that most everyone has at least one in a lifetime, even if they insist on denying it or calling it something else.

After a genuine supernatural event, life has a way of getting on much the way it did prior to the event: get up, eat, go to work, etc. And the event is just there, dangling, something that does not add up, does not conveniently fit in the otherwise logically structured narrative of life. If I had formal religious beliefs, I suppose I could accept that Jesus was looking out for me, and so long as I continue to have faith and live in a particular way, He'll keep it up. But at this point in my life, I prefer private religion to formal religion. There was nothing in either experience that suggested to me with any certainty the identity of my Divine Intervene-r (who was that masked Entity!?!).

Nor do I have any insight as to why keeping the author of Pizza Delivery alive is apparently a priority for divine intervention over aiding the many starving and diseased children of the world. Beyond the fact of the event's occurrence, I have no knowledge of the why or how, only speculation. And speculating about the intentions of the Almighty is a good way to eventually end up in a compound surrounded by my own cultwhich part of you always knew was where this blog about reading and writing middle grade novels would eventually lead:)

Just as there are incongruent events in our individual lives, there are such events in our nation's life that leave us struggling to fit them into the national narrative. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave and our leaders are the best and brightest selected by We The People. And those leaders are held accountable to us, except none of us really believe that once we get out of grade school. Nor should we.

As I write this, we've just gone through one of the largest wealth transfers in our history. We all of us watched not so long ago as our government handed our money directly to bankers with little to no restriction and put none of them in jail as the rest of us lost our jobs and had our homes foreclosed on. We know the NSA is archiving all our communications and possibly reading this blog post right now. We know the Bush administration led us into a seeming pre-ordained oil war that in retrospect, appears largely unrelated to the events of 9/11, and the Vice President's company and friends of the Bush family made a whole lot of money, which seems to have been the point.

None of this suggests an outright conspiracy. There's no need for an Illuminati council of bankers to meet secretly for bankers in general to agree that it's an inspired idea to get their grubby hands on as much money as they can just as there's no need for sharks to meet and strategize before they go into a frenzy and attack a bleeding animal. Quick covering of my butt: I use Illuminati in the pop culture sense, not the traditionally racist one. Greedy bankers intent on stealing America out from under us come from all races and creeds and walks of life (being terrible is not the exclusive domain of any one culture).

Far more troubling to me is this study by professors from Princeton and Northwestern University that shows from 1981 to 2002, Congressional votes cast over those twenty years aligned with the popular opinion of average Americans less than 18 percent of the time. Now I'm no expert on such matters, but that sure sounds a lot closer to taxation without representation than I think our forefathers would be comfortable with.

We're still telling ourselves we live in a democratic republic (we light our fireworks every 4th of July), but I imagine future history books will correctly label this period in our history as the American oligarchy. Maybe you voted for Trump because you didn't want Hilary Clinton's homies from Goldman Sachs to be appointed to high-level government positions, but the joke's on you because Trump's been appointing Goldman Sachs folks almost as frequently as his democratic predecessor. Or maybe you donated money to the Bernie Sanders campaign and learned that the Democratic National Committee has more than a passing familiarity with conspiracies (#stillmad).

Looking simply at the facts of our modern  American lives suggests a system that is working against the majority of Americans. It could be market forces, it could be the technological revolution, it could be the amalgamation of a lot of factors and probably is, but just a glance at a chart like this one shows that something has been working against the majority of Americans:

And then there are the events and facts we just don't talk about and wish would go away. Remember when that handsome young President was executed in broad daylight in front of a huge crowd and the government officially said the event happened one way, but it was captured on a film that was released years later and we all watched JFK's head go back and to the left from a bullet supposedly fired from a window behind and above him? And the guy we were told did it told everyone he was just a patsy before he got shot and the guy that shot him died a short time later of a highly suspicious heart attack while in custody. I know it sounds like a bull crap story, but the stakes are really, really high on this one, so let's all just accept the magic bullet theory and put the whole unpleasant business behind us because if you go lifting up that particular rock, God knows what might come scurrying out.

It's possible Lee Harvey Oswald got off the world's most amazing three shots; not likely, but potentially possible, or so we've been told by official government sources. What amuses me is the vehemence with which some people insist that the official story is the only way in which events could've transpired and if you think otherwise, you're unpatriotic. And who can blame such folks? What are the implications of people within our own government covering up something like the murder of our elected leader? If it's true, do we really want to know it? They, whoever they may be, appear to have gotten away with it, so maybe we should just live and let live and not worry our pretty little heads about it.

In one of my favorite scenes in my own book,  All Together Now: A Zombie Story , a manager for Tony Sty's Pizza Pies loses his mind at the start of the zombie apocalypse. He tries to give away free pizzas as though his little bit of authority still means anything in such a situation. When a cop turned zombie attacks him, he screams "that's not riiiiiight!!!" because that's not what police officers are supposed to do. And it's him I think of when I bump into the true skeptics and debunkers. The case is closed on Kennedy, there are no flying saucers, because "that's not riiiiiight!!!"

Actually, I'm being facetious here, which brings me to another point: you can't always trust conspiracy theorists, especially when they're selling books:) I wasn't there (or alive at the time) and I don't know exactly what went down in Dallas, Texas on 11/2/1963 and you don't either (probably). However, I think the most plausible theory is that Kennedy was hit by friendly fire from his own secret service in an attempt to protect him, thus instigating a perhaps understandable and far less nefarious government conspiracy to save face. The fact that Kennedy complained multiple times that his security detail was overzealous and that Johnson insisted on reducing his own detail even after his predecessor was shot would seem to support the idea. Here's a book worth reading on the subject.

Or maybe Kennedy was shot once by Bigfoot and once by the Loch Ness Monster from an invisible flying saucer fueled by the top-secret cure for cancer. Who knows? But if you say to me that you're 100% certain that the official version of the Kennedy assassination is the only version of events that could've occurred, you're willfully ignoring an awful lot of suspicious evidence to the contrary that's not so easily dismissed and I don't know that I feel comfortable trusting your opinion on other matterswith the notable exception of Stephen King, who had a book to sell:)

I believe it's possible and perhaps preferable to bury your head in the sand. There are sports teams to root for and entire seasons of television to binge watch and novels to read and most of us are working more hours for less pay in the new economy, so there's no time to really worry about what's happening in the upper echelons of power where billionaires are buying our politicians wholesale and ensuring things only get more unfair from here.

We'll get to the flying saucers (we will, don't worry, or you could just read my book on the subject), but we don't need them to illustrate that our world is rife for conspiracy theories because our official reality so often doesn't match up to the facts. Every American has to walk around with the knowledge that an actor who later became a corporate spokesperson was elected President and appointed as his chief of staff the former chairman of Merryl Lynch, and then proceeded to cripple unions and champion the trend of tax breaks for the wealthy that brought us to our current times. Say what you will about Michael Moore, I frequently disagree with him and I think he's often played unfairly, but God bless him for drawing attention to this clip for all to see:

We don't need a conspiracy theory's explanation when the corruption in our system is this blatant.

And there are other facts that once you know them, you can't un-know them. For example, once you've read about Operation Northwoods, which called for the CIA to commit acts of terrorism against US citizens in preparation to justify war with Cuba, you can't ever again completely dismiss the notion of a government conspiracy to kill American citizens. This isn't some questionable document Alex Jones is waiving in the air while spouting psedo-science and craziness, this is a proposal signed by The Joint Chiefs of Staff and submitted to the President of the United States.

You could also read about how various black civil rights leaders were murdered and followed by agencies within our government. You could read about the Tuskegee experiments in which members of the US Public Health Service told black men they were being given free healthcare and were instead intentionally infected with syphilis. You could read about Operation Midnight Climax and MK Ultra in which the CIA dosed unwitting US Citizens (of all races and creeds this time) with LSD. Oh, and while you're bumming yourself out, make sure to bone up on how the CIA has occasionally sold drugs when it's of the mind to. And don't forget Robert McNamara admitting, on camera, that the Gulf of Tonken never happened.

Conspiracies have existed within the United States government to subvert authority and betray US citizens. Period, case closed, end of debate. We can argue about what is and what is not currently a conspiracy, but let's not waste time arguing that they cannot happen and have not happened.

The internet is abuzz with conspiracy theory articles and videos, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised to learn they're second in popularity only to pornography. The theories, especially the really crazy ones, amuse me to no end. They're scary stories and you know I love campfire tales told just before we have to go to sleep to keep our minds working on overtime into the late hours. I've never been sorry for reading about a conspiracy theory and some of the best rival Stephen King's tales of terror.

I'm especially fond of David Ike's lizard people. Obviously, I DO NOT ACTUALLY BELIEVE there are lizard people wearing human skins and secretly running all governments (though I can't prove there aren't), but what a great story! I'm kicking myself that David Ike came up with that one before I did as it's the set-up for a fantastic horror novel. I think most writers are amateur sociologists at heart and a group of people who can be convinced of the reality of lizard people greatly interests me the same way people who run with the bulls in Papmlona interest meI have no intention of joining them, but I think it's fascinating that they're doing it.

And before we write off the extreme conspiracy theorists as being "just crazy," let us remember that a huge percentage of our population has long believed that there is a dark prince of this world. What could be more of a conspiracy theory than the working thought model that there is a fallen angel presiding in Hell actively plotting the ruin and degradation of mankind? Whatever the various interpretations may have said, The New Testament is very clear that Satan and his minions are active in this world and have taken a personal interest in every soul on Earth (including yours, Esteemed Reader!).

I'm not here to tell you there's no God or no devil. The world is a very strange place. Reality is fuzzy around the edges, and both could indeed exist in some form (do They read blogs, you think?).

If you'd like me to make up a story about both as well as flying saucers and other conspiracy theories, The  Book of David is now available:) But a story is all it is. I don't have any inside information to share, only my insight gathered over a lifetime of reading conspiracy theories. And unlike the numerous crackpots hawking supposedly true stories, I've labeled my tale fiction and I'm telling you from day one I made it all up. 

No one knows for sure what happens to our consciousness when we die (if anything other than ceasing), but there's a lot of money to be made by saying you do. The folks in position to know what happens behind the closed doors of the powerful don't always talk, but there's lots of money to be made in pretending to know what happened. And in a field of unknowns, there's a lot of room to make things up, which is a constant problem in both religion and conspiracy theories.

Ufology is a scam artists' paradise as scammers thrive in fields in which many key details are presently unknowable. I can admit to a belief in flying saucers while still being fully aware that John Mack's (Harvard psychologist interested in alien abduction) research was sloppy at best, Erich Von Daniken, responsible for much of the Ancient Aliens lore, is a sketchy fellow, and Ed Walters (for whom David Walters is named) probably faked The Gulf Breeze Sightings.

Battlefield Earth is one of my favorite novels (never saw more than 10 minutes of the movie) and if L. Ron Hubbard went on to write some highly dubious stuff, it doesn't change the fact that there's a truth in that classic work that makes it still worth reading. I can appreciate the tale without signing up for Scientology. I can agree that Dr. Steven Greer is either a nut or a con artist or both, but it doesn't change the credentials of his witnesses in The Disclosure Project (do not watch the video unless you're ready to have your mind blown).

So what is some of this evidence I keep talking about? Esteemed Reader, I don't know where to begin. Maybe I should let my favorite UFO historian Richard Dolan handle this one. Incidentally, Mr. Dolan was kind enough to write me a few encouraging emails while I was working on The Book of David, which meant quite a lot to me. I told him privately that I consider him to be the Bill Hicks of Ufology, by which I mean his presentation style is extremely engaging, and while I haven't always agreed with his conclusions, I'm so grateful that's he's out there making an argument and bringing information to light that is too often ignored elsewhere:

Or, if that doesn't do it for you, how about some testimony from Buzz Aldrin:

Esteemed Reader, there is no end to the ufology-themed YouTube videos I could post here, but I'll let you stumble down the rest of that particular rabbit hole yourself. There's more pilots, former military and government officials, police officers, and regular people testifying than I could possibly cover here. But I hope that you'll look into this topic on your own. The battle for disclosure needs every able-bodied thinker it can get. Do the research and remember that evidence of SOMETHING is not evidence of EVERYTHING.

In other words, yes, there are controlled vehicles of unknown origin flying in our skies in a manner in which we are currently not capable and were certainly not capable of 70+ years ago. This is not a matter of debate. If you disagree, do the research and come back. We can debate what these craft are, but the argument of their existence is settled.

Are flying saucers or triangles responsible for the crop circles not done by fraudsters? Could be, but that's a separate issue. Are they chopping up cows? Maybe, but I've heard convincing evidence that many so-called mutilations are a naturally-occurring phenomenon, and again, that's a separate issue.

Are aliens abducting people and probing them? This is the subject of another post I'll probably never write, but it's a separate issue. Although I will say I interviewed multiple abduction victims and what I learned from them terrified me. Whether they were abducted by aliens or are suffering some form of sleep disorder (and yes, some are attention-seeking liars and crazies, but not all), I know I wouldn't want whatever they experienced to happen to me and if it had, I wouldn't appreciate people making light of it.

The problem with many conspiracy theories, as I see it, is the same problem of many ideologies: humans have a tendency to apply a thing that's true in one situation to all situations. Ayn Rand is quite correct that an entrepreneur competing with other entrepreneurs is likely to produce a superior product; the issue I take with her is that she applies that same model to everything, and not everything in life is best done for a profit motive or in competition (like healthcare). Similarly, government officials lying about one thing does not mean they're lying about all things, one fake UFO photo doesn't make all UFO photos fake, and so on.

Esteemed Reader, I'm not the UFO ninja, I'm the Middle Grade Ninja. My focus and the focus of this blog has always been and will remain writing. My opinions on most matters ufological remain subject to change in light of new evidence and I accept there's a great deal about this topic I don't know and likely will never know.  Again, if someone could prove to me that all the witnesses who've come forward were full of crap, I'd still have my perfectly lovely serial horror novel. I suspect flying saucers are not alien craft, but an older and more frightening phenomenon, but the evidence doesn't allow me to draw any definitive conclusion (the beings inside could also be whatever the heck those not-aliens were in Indiana Jones 4).

The outer-space alien hypothesis also makes sense. The universe is so big we don't even know how big it is and thus how small we really are. Give us another generation or two and we'll be colonizing space ourselves, probably with robot bodies if Ray Kurzweil is to be believed. Given that we're a young species in terms of the universe's age, it seems likely to me that folks elsewhere with a healthy head start might've already done the same. They might've been coming here before we started walking upright, and may even have had a guiding hand in that process. Or, perhaps reality is all a computer generation and these flying saucers come here from outside the official program, but I speculate.

Another possibility is that there are no visitors from anywhere and that agencies within our government are spreading rumors of flying saucer visitations as a psych op of some kind. Before you dismiss this idea, read up on Richard Doty and consider watching the absolutely riveting documentary Mirage Men. I suspect plenty of flying saucer evidence may either have been intentionally released or fabricated at an official level for purposes I can only guess at.

Whoever the craft occupants are, however long they've been here, wherever they come from, they're here now. It's always possible they're planning to wipe us out, but I remain optimistic. I think there's a lot for our species to learn and a whole new potential market for me to sell books to:) And it all starts with us, you and me, everyday citizens waking up and saying "There's enough evidence for it to be time for us to have an adult conversation on this topic." If enough of us agree, the focus of our mainstream scientific inquiry will change and rogue elements of our government will have to fess up to what they know.

We aren't likely to find an answer until enough of us agree that there's something here worth investigating. I just want to nudge you in that direction.

Or maybe it's all bull crap. I don't know, do I? Either way, The Book of David is available now:) Buy my book!!!

Monday, May 15, 2017

7 Questions For: Public Relations Expert Rebecca Grose

Rebecca Grose has been a freelance publicist since she started her own literary p.r. firm, SoCal Public Relations in San Diego in 2003. Prior to that, Rebecca worked in New York at several major publishing houses—Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, HarperCollins Children’s Books, DK Publishing—and with many distinguished authors including Alice Walker, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, E.L. Konigsburg, Walter Dean Myers, and more. She began her career with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in San Diego.

Specializing in Children’s and Young Adult books, she’s launched successful media campaigns with author/illustrator appearances on national and local television/radio, interviews and features in national magazines/major newspapers across the country, and blog/online media coverage.

She also schedules author tours, trade show/festival appearances, and local bookstore events. Rebecca works closely with each author or illustrator to create and strategize an effective, personalized publicity campaign.

Rebecca’s motto: Success Is Built on Relationships!

And now Rebecca Grose faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Question Six: Could you give us your take on a strategy to market one of your three favorite books if it were being published this year?

Since I specialize in children’s and young adult books, I’d like to try my hand at promoting The Mouse and the Motorcycle by sending Ralph (the main character) on a blog tour (humorous interview responses and other interesting comments provided by myself, the publisher, with approval from Beverly Cleary, of course). He could offer amusing anecdotes about the life of a mouse who travels by motorcycle, share his insights about being created by this legendary author, etc. We could also set up a traveling cutout of Ralph (in the vein of Flat Stanley) to send all over the world to visit classrooms, bookstores, libraries, playgrounds, anywhere that kids and grown-ups might want to take their picture with him to share on social media. 

Question Five: What are the typical services you provide and what results can an author reasonably expect?

I offer basically two levels of service: Consultation, where I work with the author to answer their questions, brainstorm ideas, give feedback re their press materials/website/social media, offer advice re target markets, etc. Or Full Service, with me handling everything – creating the press materials; pitching media for reviews, interviews, and features; scheduling author appearances; working with the publisher to coordinate our outreach; pitching for speaking/signing opportunities at trade shows/festivals, and much more.

Results can depend on many factors including what else is going on in the news at that time, the author’s availability/involvement, how much support we receive from the publisher, and other variables. That said, an author can expect that we’ll be able to schedule interviews and reviews (which they will need to be diligent about sharing on their social media+website, to extend the impact and reach). If the author is available for appearances, we will also work together to organize an amazing Book Launch Party (which kicks off the book’s release in a major way) along with other select events (libraries, trade shows/festivals, other bookstores). 

Question Four: What sort of author and/or project(s) would you most like to work with?

I love working with an author who is very self-motivated and already has a strong understanding of what it takes to promote themselves and their books. I was lucky enough to have this opportunity once before with a wonderful YA author who was great at connecting with fans through social media, plus, very savvy about what worked and what didn’t in spreading the word re his/her books. We were able to accomplish so much more because we were both working toward the same goals, and we divided up our tasks which resulted in a lot of media coverage, appearances, and book sales! I hope to have this happen again soon.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about what you do? What is your least favorite thing?

One of my favorite things about being a freelance publicist is when I have the opportunity to work with an author again and again, which allows us to build a strong rapport, as we understand each other so well. I’ve been lucky to have this happen with several clients, some hiring me 3, 4, or more times. Of course, when I worked at Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, etc., there were a number of authors I worked with repeatedly, which was very rewarding.

My least favorite thing is the lack of response sometimes from media (or when scheduling appearances), even though you know this book would be a perfect fit for them, and you approach them from every angle…repeatedly, but they just don’t respond. It can be very frustrating. At a certain point, I have to move on, and focus on the successes for that project and continue to build on those.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to a writer marketing their book? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Be prepared to do what it takes—you need to swallow your pride, lose your shyness, and get ready to sell yourself and your book. During my career, I’ve probably worked with 150+ authors, and have found that most aren’t very comfortable with all the promotion they need to do for their books, and tell me that they didn’t get into this industry to give speeches or interviews, make presentations, etc. They just want to spend their time writing, creating. They don’t want to do simple things like asking friends, family, and other contacts for their help in spreading the word about their new book, but that’s what you have to do – and much more. One of the services I offer my clients is Author Coaching (for media/appearances) and that can help with their nervousness or not knowing what to say, but ultimately, the author has to find their own comfort level for making presentations, giving interviews, or whatever else is necessary.

A second suggestion would be to start your own mailing list (database) of contacts right away (with your first book, if possible), and keep up with it as you continue your career. It’s extremely important to maintain the connections you make along the way with media, booksellers, librarians/educators, conference or trade show organizers, etc. These are contacts who’ve covered your book or you, and so they would be more likely to do so again for your next. You can continue to use this list in a variety of ways: keep them informed of your successes/appearances, alert them when you have a new book releasing, contact them about scheduling new appearances or interviews/features/reviews.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I would love to sit down with Beverly Cleary – she recently turned 101 years old!! – and spend an hour or two (or more!) listening to her stories, her inspirations for some of her books (especially The Mouse and the Motorcycle!), and her tips for how she was able to stay relevant and current in her work for so long. I just know it would be fascinating and inspiring!

Connect with Rebecca Grose:
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.grose.9

Email: socalpublicrelations@yahoo.com

Tel: 619.334.7164

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Tess Callero

After graduating from Indiana University with a dual degree in Marketing and English, Tess Callero began working at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She is now an associate agent there and currently building her list.

She represents commercial and upmarket adult fiction, young adult, and select nonfiction projects.

Writers can query her at tc@cbltd.com.

Follow her on Twitter at @TessCallero.

And now Tess Callero faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is difficult to choose, so I will instead answer with three books that left me thinking for a long time after finishing them.

STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli

SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray
SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler

I guess I like books that begin with S.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

These are going to sound random….and they are.

Movies: Big Fish, The Grand Budapest Hotel, the second to last Harry Potter movie.

TV shows: UnReal, House of Cards, The Real Housewives of NYC.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Someone who recognizes that the first (or second or third) draft probably won’t be ready to hit shelves immediately and wants to work together to produce their best work is essential.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I want a YA about a girl with dreams of making it to the MLB, NFL, NHL, etc.

I also am looking for commercial/upmarket fiction - I love a good mystery/thriller, particularly if it features a strong female lead.

On the nonfiction side, I have a soft spot for sports and food and would enjoy anything offering insider info about those worlds.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

Favorite: I get to read. All the time.

Least favorite: There is almost no time to read everything I want.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Keep querying! Rejections happen, but it only takes one agent to see promise in your work.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Sloane Crosley so we can gossip – and laugh - the entire time.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Guest Post: "Have You Ever Thrown Up? Kids Wanna Know!" by Tracey Hecht

Recently some young fans were allowed to ask questions of author Tracey Hecht. These are those questions:

1. Do you ever know anyone in the classes you visit? Emma, age 8

Yes, I do!  (I know Emma, the author of this question.)  I love visiting classrooms and schools where I know the kids.  It makes it feel personal and connected and it's fun for me to have a familiar face in the crowd.  I did have one awkward experience where I said hi to a boy I knew—I recognized him as the older brother of my son's friend.  He did not recognize me and it made him very uncomfortable.  Especially because he really had no idea how I knew him!  I felt terrible. I won't do that again.

2. Have you ever had to go to the bathroom really bad while you were presenting? Lincoln, age 10

I always use the restroom before I meet with a class or present to a school, so I haven't had that problem.  But one time I almost fainted!  I was visiting a school in New Jersey in late June.  It was about 90 degrees in the school auditorium and I have no idea what happened except that I got halfway through my presentation and my vision started to spin.  I couldn't hear properly and the sea of kids before me became a stormy, fuzzy sea of kids!  I sat down as quickly as I could and tried to continue on, but I felt completely out of it.  It was a close one. Can you imagine? “Nocturnals Author Goes Down in Front of 200 Kids.”  Thank goodness not!

3. Have you ever gone to the wrong place? Kiera, age 8

Yep!  Pretty much every visit.  I get so lost in new towns and on unfamiliar highways and interstates.  I'm always pulling over and redoing my GPS.  On my last trip to the Chicago suburbs I used a rideshare and it was heaven!  I may never rent a car again. 

4. Have you ever thrown up because of nerves? Miranda, age 10

Thankfully, no!  I get nervous sometimes, but so far no throwing up.

5. Do you do anything else when you go to a new town to visit a school? Taylor, age 9

Yes, I love the added benefits of visiting schools in other cities.  I'll meet up with a friend if I have one in that town (and usually stay with them to save money!).  I always visit the bookstores in the town.  I also try to see if there are local exhibits, interesting museums, or local highlights if I have time.  On my last trip to Seattle, I did the Underground Tour, which was totally random and really fun.  But my all-time secret favorite thing to do is bring back take-out food to my hotel room and watch TV while eating dinner in bed!

Tracey Hecht is a writer and entrepreneur who has written, directed and produced for film. The American Booksellers Association chose her first book in The Nocturnals series, The Mysterious Abductions, as a Kids’ Indie Next List pick. Last year, in partnership with the New York Public Library, she created a Nocturnals Read Aloud Writing program for middle graders that has expanded nationwide. She splits her time between Oquossoc, Maine and New York City. 

Twitter: @fabled_films

In The Fallen Star, Dawn, Tobin, and Bismark awaken one evening to a disaster: all of the forest's pomelos have been mysteriously poisoned! As the Nocturnal Brigade sets out to investigate, they encounter Iris, a mysterious aye-aye, who claims monsters from the moon are to blame. While the three heroes suspect a more earthly explanation, the animals of the valley are all falling ill. And then Tobin gets sick, too! The Nocturnal Brigade must race to find answers, and the cure, before the pomelo blight threatens to harm them all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Evan Gregory

Evan Gregory is a Senior Agent at the Ethan Ellenberg Literary agency. He began at the agency in 2008 as an Assistant and has managed subsidiary rights for the agency in addition to his duties as an agent and general office manager. Now he focuses on managing the careers of his own clients on behalf of the agency, and is currently seeking to grow his list. For more information see his listing at the Association of Authors Representatives or visit him on Twitter.

The Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency was established in 1984 by Ethan Ellenberg who was a contracts manager for Berkley and associate contracts manager for Bantam. Since its inception the agency has represented several bestselling authors, career novelists, and professional writers. In addition to new and published authors, the agency also represents rights on behalf of publishers and literary estates. The agency is an independent full-service agency with robust sales in subsidiary rights and partnering agents all over the world. The agency is a member of the Association of Authors Representatives, an affiliate member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s of America, and an associate member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, The Romance Writers of America, and the Mystery Writers of America.

And now Evan Gregory faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Of all time? I couldn't possibly narrow it down to three. I love all the books. It's so hard to choose.

But if we're talking MG that I remember loving when I was a middle-grader, I would say A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, James and Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville (honorable mention to The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary). See, it's so hard to choose, I couldn't keep it to three.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

It's so hard to play favorites

My favorites recently: Halt and Catch Fire, The Expanse, Stranger Things (Game of Thrones, of course).
Of all time: The Wire, The West Wing, Mad Men

Movies are like books, too hard to choose. But because this is about MG let's talk throwbacks: to go with my love of Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder > Johnny Depp), Labyrinth (huge Jim Henson fan, bigger David Bowie fan), The Princess Bride (inconceivable!)

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Neil Gaiman has a quote about freelance workers where he says there are three things you need: to do good work, to be easy to get along with, and to make your deadlines. With the kicker that you really only need two out of three. My ideal client does all three.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

In Middle Grade, I'm always looking for something weird and delicious. I like wildly original concepts. Maybe something spooky. Maybe something movingly sad. I want characters that have a lot of personality and pathos, courage and also doubts. I'm also looking for diverse stories from diverse authors. I welcome more POC and LGBTQ authors and characters.  I want writing that is crisp, plain, but that has impact. I tend towards the fantastical just because I like the stakes to be high, but I also like contemporary MG that has something urgent to say.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing about being an agent is advocating for good art, and the needs of the artists that make it. I love getting a good deal for a client, and seeing them succeed.

My least favorite thing is rejection, both giving and receiving it. I would love to champion everything, and I would love for everyone to agree with me on the projects I do champion, but alas the world works differently than that.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Always be working on that next thing, and always believe that the next project will be better than the last, or don't bother. I get queries all the time from authors who have been polishing the same manuscript for a decade, or submitting it forever, and working on nothing else. I don't know why one would torture oneself that way.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I'd like to have tea (maybe butter beer) with J.K. Rowling. She has a keen wit, and I bet she has really cool stories about publishing and interesting insights about success. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

7 Questions For: Author Bruce Coville

Bruce Coville was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1950. His family lived in farm territory, about twenty miles north of Syracuse. Bruce grew up around the corner from his grandparents' dairy farm, where he spent a great deal of time as a child, dodging cows and chores to the best of his ability. As a young reader he loved Mary Poppins and Dr. Dolittle, and still has fond memories of rising ahead of the rest of his family so he could huddle in a chair and read THE VOYAGES OF DR. DOLITTLE. He also read lots of things that people consider junk (Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and zillions of comic books). His only real regret is the time he spent watching television, when he could have been reading instead. (A mind is a terrible thing to waste!)

His first book, THE FOOLISH GIANT, was published in 1978. It was illustrated by his wife, Katherine, whom he had married in 1969. This was followed in 1979 by SARAH'S UNICORN, also illustrated by Katherine. After a long period of working separately, the Covilles began collaborating again with SPACE BRAT and GOBLINS IN THE CASTLE, both published in 1992.

Before getting published Bruce earned his living as a toymaker, a gravedigger, a cookware salesman, an assembly line worker, and finally as an elementary school teacher (second and fourth grades). He left teaching in 1981 to devote himself to becoming a full time writer - though it took another five years to achieve that goal!)

Bruce has published over 100 books, which have appeared in over a dozen countries around the world and sold more than sixteen million copies. Among his most popular titles are MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN, INTO THE LAND OF THE UNICORNS, and THE MONSTER'S RING. In 2001 he founded Full Cast Audio, an audiobook company dedicated to creating unabridged, full cast recordings of the best in children's and young adult literature.

Click here to read my review of My Teacher is an Alien.

And now Bruce Coville faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Well, at least you allowed me three! This is better than those who want to know the absolute favorite, which changes with the day and my mood.

Okay, here we go:

1. TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt, which I think is the greatest children's book of the second half of the 20th century. I was able to share it with a group of gifted fourth graders back when I was teaching, and their insights and appreciation for the text filled me with joy. It is simply a brilliant book.

2. BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens. He is my favorite writer since I became a mature reader, and this is quite simply the most monumental novel I have ever read.

3. THE HIGH KING by Lloyd Alexander. I love the "Chronicles of Prydain" and this book, the glorious culmination, reduces me to tears every time I reread it. Lloyd's gift for combining humor with drama, adventure, and high emotion has been a model for me for my entire career.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I don't spend nearly as much time writing as I should, or even as much as I want to. My goal is three hours of solid writing per day, but rarely happens anymore. It's partly my own distractibility, and partly how many distractions surround me!

On the plus side, when I am coming in for a landing toward the end of a book, I can sometimes work for hours and hours.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

The basic one: writing and sending stuff out.

For eight years.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

Oh, both, definitely. You have to have some native talent, and an innate desire to do this thing. But then you have to spend time learning your craft. I am a demon on craft, and think it is a writer's duty to not only master craft, but to spend his or her entire career increasing that mastery.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is something that happens toward the end of a book. The earlier part is usually a struggle as I'm trying to shape the story, understand the elements, arrange the pieces. But once everything is in place the final part of the story or book sometimes comes pouring out, often surprising me with stuff that makes perfect sense but that I hadn't realized until that moment. I love it when that happens!

My least favorite thing is a daily occurence – the struggle to sit down and start! It is so easy to put off doing the very thing I love most. It is a strange aspect of how the brain, or at least my brain, works!

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Do not give up. I went to college with people who probably better writers than I was. But they will not be published because they gave up. The three most important aspects in forging a writing career are talent, luck, and bone-headed obstinance.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Though there are dozens of contenders, I've had the good luck to dine with many of my contemporaries.  That leaves the dear departed, and among them it is, hands down, William Shakespeare. For one thing, if we set aside all differences of language, I think it would be a marvelously bawdy encounter. I have written and spoken often about the importance of earthy humor  (fart jokes!), and the great bard was clearly in line with this. We could discuss the adaptations of his work that I have done (seven in all) and I would brace myself for either approval or scorn, hoping for the former. Whatever he thought of how I had toiled to bring his work to young people, I would have had the joy of sitting with one of the greatest scriveners of all time, even if he chose to blow a raspberry at my own efforts. But I think that even if he did, we would have a marvelously merry time exchanging jokes and opinions. I would never want it to end!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book of the Week: MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN by Bruce Coville

First Paragraph(s): “Hey, Geekoid!” yelled Duncan Dougal as he snatched Peter Thompson’s book out of his hand. “Why do you read so much? Don’t you know how to watch TV?”
Poor Peter. I could see that he wanted to grab the book back from Duncan. But I also knew that if he tried, Duncan would cream him. 
Sometimes I wonder if Duncan’s mother dropped him on his head when he was a baby. I mean, something must have made him decide to spend his life making other people miserable. Otherwise why would he spend so much of his time picking on a kid like Peter Thompson? Peter never bothers anyone. Heck, the only thing he really wants is to be left alone so he can read whatever book he has his nose stuck in at the moment. 
That doesn’t seem like too much to ask to me. But Duncan takes Peter’s reading as a personal insult.

Hi there, Esteemed Reader. I'm going to call this a book of the week review even though I haven't reviewed a book here since almost exactly one year ago:) Truthfully, I've been turning down requests for book reviews because typically guest posts written by writers more talented than yours truly have drawn greater traffic, with the notable exception of reviews of classic books. The interwebs are drawn to this review of Bunnicula for some reason, and this review of The Indian in the Cupboard gets more traffic than this way more interesting interview with its author. I don't get it and I don't pretend to, but if Esteemed Reader's happy, I'm happy.

As an experiment, we're going to try a few "book of the week" reviews in the coming weeks. I never want to become complacent. If enough Esteemed Readers show me they like these reviews, I'm happy to write more of them. If y'all prefer the guest posts, that works too, and we'll have some more interviews with literary agents and other publishing professionals in the near future. Most exciting of all, author Bruce Coville will be here on Thursday to face the 7 Questions for writers. It's going to be a great week!

My Teacher is an Alien is an absolute classic of middle grade fiction and any ninjas wishing to write middle grade science fiction and/or horror should absolutely give it its due consideration. This gem was published in the eighties, which is why I have a cherished childhood memory of having to wait for agonizing weeks for the library's copy to be made available to me. Every student in my class was on the waiting list to check it out and so I saw that super scary cover staring back at me from multiple desks before I got my turn.

It's a mystery to me why some books become classics (why do people of sound mind read James Joyce when a gun isn't pressed against their head!?!), but there's no mystery here. My Teacher is an Alien is a killer concept well executed, which seems simple enough, but if it were every writer would be doing it every book:) The title beautifully lays out the conflict that's to be the subject of the story and it's exciting stuff. Between the title and one of the finest covers in all of middle grade history, I was invested in the book as a child before the first page and these many years later, children are still being intrigued.

More than a killer concept, Coville's is a great story well told, which is why it remains popular when so many other books with concepts and covers almost as good have gone the way of cassette tapes. Because the characters are well-defined and the concept is universal (who hasn't suspected at least one of their teachers of being an alien?), this story hardly seems to have aged and I enjoyed it as an adult as much as I once did as a child, even if I found myself muttering "or watch it on YouTube" here:

We were doing the greatest march of all time, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa. (If you don’t know it, you should go to your library and get a record of it so you can listen to it. It’s great.)

And okay, I did wonder how it might change things if any of the students in Mr. Smith's class had a smart phone to film him transitioning to the alien Broxholm (such a wonderful name) to live stream to social media. Of course, UFO videos are everywhere online and folks who believe there's something to them like your beloved ninja are still thought to be kooks (it's fake news as our 100% trustworthy government would tell us if they knew of flying saucers!), so maybe a smart phone wouldn't make much difference.

My Teacher is an Alien is a short book that can be knocked out in a couple bus rides, or one long one, which has no doubt also contributed to its longevity. Because it's short and funny, it appears to have been written effortlessly, as the best fiction so often does, but look again. You long-term Esteemed Readers know I don't really review books so much as dissect them a bit, so let's start with that opening. Look up at the first paragraph at the top of this review once again.

Right away, Coville establishes the tone of his story and assures the reader that this book is going to concern itself with 6th graders and their conflicts. Peter Thompson has our sympathies and Duncan Dougal does not (or do you root for bullies, Esteemed Reader?). More over, the reason Peter is being bullied is because he likes to read, which will probably appeal to Coville's reader, who we know is reading at least one book:)

I'll never forget a critique session I participated in with an author who shall remain nameless who'd written a story about a protagonist who hated books. When the character didn't later reverse this position (it wasn't central to the plot), I and my other critique partners savaged the author and our number one critique was that although a main character in a book doesn't have to like to read, it's probably not a bad idea if she does. Your book has to appeal to readers and people who like books, so why not assure them that it's good that they're reading (link to your back catalog!). Bruce Coville knows what side his bread is buttered on:

I slid down the wall and sat beside him. He acted as if he didn’t notice me. Or maybe he really didn’t. He was one of those kids who could get so wrapped up in a book it would take a bomb to break his attention. I hated to interrupt him. Peter always seemed a little unhappy to me, like he understood that he just didn’t fit in with the rest of us. The only thing I knew that made him happy was reading science fiction. He always had a book hidden behind his school book. The neat thing was, it didn’t make any difference, because he was so bright that whenever the teacher asked him a question, he always knew the answer. I could never figure out why they wouldn’t just leave him alone and let him read. But that’s the way school is, I guess.

What really makes this opening work better than other middle grade books that begin with a bully menacing a likable character (including Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees) is that the point of this exchange is not primarily to introduce Peter or Duncan, though it does accomplish this, but to characterize our main protagonist, who is neither boy, but a particularly tough girl named Susan Simmons:

Peter had absolutely no idea how to deal with a creep like Duncan. Actually, neither did I. If I did, I would have stopped him. But the one time I had tried to come between Duncan and Peter, I ended up with a black eye myself.
Duncan claimed it was an accident, of course. “Susan just jumped right in front of my fist,” he said as if I was the one who had done something wrong. To tell you the truth, I think Duncan punched me on purpose. Most guys wouldn’t hit a girl. But Duncan doesn’t mind. It was his way of warning me to keep my nose out of his business.
As I watched Duncan squinting down at Peter, it occurred to me that sixth grade can be a dangerous place if you don’t watch out.

Our characters established, we move right along at breakneck speed because something is amiss at Kennituck Falls Elementary. I don't want to spoil it for you, but one of the teachers may be... wait for it... an alien! The reader knows something is up with the strange Mr. Smith, who does not care one bit for music or laughter or fun. He bans "radios and tape players" and presumably 8-tracks from the playground:) Coville gives us plenty of evidence that the new teacher who's replaced Ms. Schwartz is other worldly: 

Later, I remembered that he was looking straight at the sun. But right then I was too worried about the note to pay attention to the fact that what he was doing should have burned out his eyeballs.

But Coville doesn't drag things out. There's some drama involving a passed note that escalates until Susan is given a plausible reason to follow Mr. Smith home, where she discovers this in chapter four:

When I finally got up the nerve to sneak a look around the bottom edge of the door, I saw Mr. Smith sitting at a little makeup table, looking in a mirror. Stacy was right. The man really was handsome. He had a long, lean face with a square jaw, a straight nose, and cheekbones to die for. Only it was a fake. As I watched, Mr. Smith pressed his fingers against the bottom of his eyes. Suddenly he ran his fingertips to the sides of his head, grabbed his ears, and started peeling off his face!

Again, surprise, my teacher, as it turns out, is an alien (gasps and clutches pearls). Even if I inserted more passages from the text and walked you through the full events of each of the first four chapters, I wouldn't be telling you much that you don't already know from the title, the cover, and the back blurb. Coville can't not tell this part of the story, the way Michael Chrichton dutifully pretends there's a mystery as to what sort of animals are at Jurassic Park prior to the arrival of the heroes on Isla Nublar. Corville's establishing of the premise is absolutely exciting and fun, but there are 21 chapters here and the first four alone do not a story make.

What matters most is that by the time we get to the end of chapter four, we care about Susan Simmons and Peter Thompson and that we've bought into their situation. The story here is not that Mr. Smith is an alien, it's what Susan and later (despite what the cover would have you believe) Peter are going to do once they discover their teacher is an alien. Who can they tell? Who would believe them? And if no one believes them, who will stop Broxholm if they don't stop him? Does he need to be stopped?

I believe the rule of any great story is that a writer must begin with a great premise and build outward. Corville's prose is tight and fun and I laughed a lot along the way, especially toward the end as I'd forgotten how our heroes foil... nope, I best not say too much and spoil the story for the uninitiated.

But do take notice that Coville eschews most description save for what readers need to follow the story. There are no long, overly-written descriptions of fields of symbolically purple flowers here because Coville keeps things moving. And every chapters ends with either a cliffhanger or a question as to what will happen next, making it impossible for young readers to put down the book in favor of their intertelevision console controller:). Here's one of my favorite chapter endings that would be at home in a Stephen King novel:

“Oh, all right,” said Peter. He opened the door and started up the stairway. When he got about halfway up the stairs his head passed the level of the attic floor. I was walking so close that I bumped into him when he stopped. 
“What is it?” I whispered. When he didn’t answer me, I pushed my way up beside him and cried out in horror.

And so, once again, Esteemed Reader, upon revisiting an old favorite novel, I discover that the secret to creating a classic is a good story well told. Bruce Coville makes it look easy, but it's far from it. Rereading My Teacher is an Alien was like visiting with a childhood friend. If you've never read it, pick it up this minute, and if you haven't read it in the last five years, it's probably time for a refresher. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from My Teacher is an Alien:

I sank back into my seat. Sixth grade was going bad faster than a dead fish on a hot day.

Of course, once we were inside, I had to go to the nurse’s office—even though I actually felt perfectly fine. Mrs. Glacka told me to lie down. I wasn’t surprised. That was her basic cure for everything.

I was as nervous as a marshmallow at a bonfire.

“An alien!” said Peter, his voice filled with awe. “Mr. Smith is an alien! We’re not alone!” 
“What are you talking about?” I hissed. 
“Intelligent aliens. Mankind is not alone in the universe.” 
“Well, I’m feeling pretty alone right now,” I said. “Are you going to help me or not?”

After supper I slipped out of bed and went to see my father. He was sitting in his den, building a model of the Empire State Building out of toothpicks. That’s his hobby—making famous buildings with toothpicks. If you ask me, it’s pretty weird. But it keeps him happy, which is more than I can say for most adults I know. So I guess I shouldn’t complain.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn't happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.