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My favorite display person, in one of my favorite independent bookstores: Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, MA!

 
 
And they are:

"Crosshairs" Kate Kennedy
Margie "Cutthroat" Culver
Ingrid "Hem & Haw" Law
Jana "The Spaz" Warnell
Amanda "Chameleon" Galliton

Congratulations! I'm going to sign and ship your books either today or tomorrow...

And to all of you who entered, THANK YOU!! 
 
 
Ok... So I was going to post this yesterday, but seeing how it was 9/11, it just didn't feel right... So, I'm posting today! 

And remember, CONTEST! WIN COPY OF THE QUICK FIX! POST MAFIA NAME IN COMMENT SECTION! RULES IN PREVIOUS BLOG POST! ARRRR!!
Chapter 1

She stood out from the Monday morning hallway traffic like a gazelle in a herd of cows. She had big blue eyes and blond, shoulder-length hair, carefully styled to look carelessly towel-dried. She was thin and athletic, and I’m pretty sure her legs would’ve kept going if the floor hadn’t been there to stop them. She was tapping her right foot, making the light blue miniskirt of her official Franklin Middle School cheerleading uniform bounce in a rhythm that hypnotized every age-appropriate male within four hundred yards. Her name was Melissa Scott. She was as close to a celebrity as you’d find at the Frank, and at the moment, she was leaning against my locker.

“If you’re here for my school spirit, you can have it,” I said. “I haven’t used it in years.”

She looked at me as if she couldn’t figure out why I was talking to her. Then it dawned on her. “Matt Stevens?” she asked.

“You don’t know? I’ll try not to take that personally.”

She pushed her back off my locker, and I could’ve sworn I heard the door sigh in disappointment. “You’re a detective, right?” she asked in a loud whisper.

“I have my moments.”

“I want to hire you.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but none of my cheers rhyme, and I look lousy in a skirt.” I opened my locker and put my jacket and bag inside. I was reaching for my first-period books when she grabbed me by the shoulder. She turned me to her and leaned in so that her face was an inch away from mine.

“Please,” she said in the same loud whisper as before. Her breath smelled like a field of spearmint. She pulled away, scanning the hallway nervously. “I’m sorry I grabbed you.”

“Don’t be. My social status just jumped a couple of levels.”

"I’m so nervous. I don’t know what to do … He’s been acting so—” She stopped herself. “I want to hire you,” she repeated.

“Yeah, you mentioned that. For anything in particular?”

“I want you to follow my boyfriend, Will Atkins. He’s the captain of the basketball team.” As stressed as she was, I could tell she still enjoyed the fact that she could put “my boyfriend,” “Will Atkins,” and “captain of the basketball team” in the same sentence.

“He’s been acting strange lately,” she whispered.

“Well, listen … I’m touched that you thought of me, but I’m going to have to pass.”

“What? Why?”

“I don’t take cases that start with ‘I want you to follow my boyfriend.’ All the paths are rocky and lead to the same place.”

She looked at me as if she had no idea what I was talking about.

“I hate to be the one to break this to you,” I said, “but there are other pretty girls at the Frank.” 

She rolled her eyes. “It’s not like that.”

“Yeah, it never is … until it is … and then it’s exactly like that.”

She leveled a gaze at me that I’m pretty sure left scorch marks on the lockers behind me.  “You know those girls around here … who are sweet, and prim, and proper? The kind of girl who could never, ever even imagine kissing a boy?”

“Yeah?”

She smiled and leaned into me, putting her mouth as close to my ear as she could without actually touching it. “Well, I’m the other type.”

Her breath tickled, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. She pulled away from me, a high school smile on her seventh-grade face.

“If you say so,” I said, trying unsuccessfully to keep my voice from cracking. “So, tell me what you mean by ‘acting strangely.’ Has he started wearing a gown and high heels to practice? Or is he just having a lot more arguments with his imaginary friend, Reggie?”

“He’s been quiet,” she answered. “And nervous. And some days it looks like he hasn’t slept the night before.”

“Maybe he’s worried about his crossover dribble. You want my advice? Ask him. Because if you hire me, I can only sneak around so much before I eventually ask him. You might as well cut out the middleman and save yourself a couple bucks.”

“I did ask him. He said it was nothing.”

“Well, there you go. Sounds like he and I agree.”

“I’d like to be sure.”

“How would you feel if you paid me and I didn’t find anything?” I asked.

“I’d feel relieved!” she snipped. “How else would I feel?”

“You’d be surprised how many people want something bad to happen, just so they can feel like they got their money’s worth.”

“If you don’t want the job, I’ll find someone else,” she said, but she didn’t move. As far as bluffs go, it wasn’t a very good one.

“I just want you to know what you’re getting into,” I said. “I don’t want to get to the end and have you start haggling over the price.”

She laughed as if I’d just insulted her. “You’re not exactly going to break my bank.”

“Shouldn’t you know my rate first before you decide that?”

“Fine. What is it?”

“Two-fifty a day, plus expenses,” I said.

She reached into the waistband of her skirt, pulled out a five, and handed it to me. “Is this enough to start?”

I nodded. I meant to say, “I haven’t said yes, yet,” but nothing came out. She was handing me a five-dollar bill that had just been pressed against her stomach. There was no way I could speak.

“There’s something else,” she said. The worry was back on her face. “He dropped by my house yesterday and gave me something to hold. He said he was watching it for a friend but felt that it would be safer with me.”

“Why would it be safer with you?”

“He tends to lose things.”

“I’ll take your word for it. What’d he give you?”

She thought about it for a moment and then said, “I can’t tell you.”

“We’re not off to a great start here.”

“He made me promise. It’s not his. He’s holding it for a friend, and … well, he was afraid that if word got around, someone might think it was pretty valuable and try to take it.”

“So he gave it to you to hold?” I asked. “Nice guy, setting his girlfriend up to get mugged.”

“He said nobody knew he had it, so they’d have no idea that he gave it to me. He also said I was the only one he could trust.”

And there it was: the trump card. After that, he could’ve asked her to walk through walls and she would’ve been banging into them all day. Now, she was hiring me to join her.

“Can you at least give me a hint?” I asked. “Is it something illegal?”

“No, nothing like that!  It’s just—  It’s … a piece of wood. That’s all. No big deal.”

“A piece of wood?”

“Yeah, like a decorative—” She stopped herself. “I’ve already said too much. I’m afraid he’s gotten himself involved in something that’s way over his head, and this was his way of asking for help.”

“I thought you said it was just a piece of wood, that it wasn’t a big deal.”

“I— I’m not sure what to think anymore,” she said. “That’s why I’m hiring you. I used to be friends with Nicole Finnegan, you know. Back in fifth grade. Before she worked for Vinny Biggs … I heard what you did for her.”

“Which part?” I said. “The part where I inadvertently distracted her so she could get popped with a water cannon, or the part where I did nothing to help her escape the Outs?”

“The part where you solved her case when no one else cared. The part where, despite the fact that she used to be a ruthless criminal, you found justice for her.”

If she was aiming for my bull’s-eye, she had just hit it, dead-on. “So what would you be hiring me to do?” I asked after a moment's pause. “Follow him or protect you? Because if he is in trouble, and that piece of wood is in the middle of it, you’re the one in the hot seat now.”

“I don’t care about me. I only care about Will.”

“Great. That should make my job easier,” I said, and then added, “I need to see it.”

“See what?”

“Whatever it is you don’t want me to see.”

She tensed up, then shifted the backpack on her shoulder. “I … uh … I don’t have it.”

“Yes, you do. It’s in your bag. No point paying me if you’re not going to trust me.”

She smiled. Her teeth were perfect, of course. “Okay.” She started to pull her backpack around to the front. 

I stopped her. “Whoa. Not now. We’re starting to draw enough attention as it is. Meet me in the alcove off the gym after lunch.”

“I can’t. We have a last-minute practice before the game today.”

“Okay. Then when?”

“After the game,” she said.

“Fine. And bring a friend if you still don’t trust me.”

“I trust you.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “And it’s making me nervous.”
 
 
Lookee lookee what came in the mail!
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Now, the official release date isn't until October first, so here's what we're gonna do...

GIVEAWAY!!

I want you to give me your best mafia nickname. Are you a Sally "Three Snaps" McGillicuddy? Are you a Bobby "Baggy Pants" Flobberdoodle? (I'm a Jack "Pudgy Toes" Ferraiolo... Three guesses as to why...) Put your nickname in the comments, or send me an email if you're shy (check the "Contact" section).

Couple of Rules for all y'all -- Rule #1: Use your real name.  Rule #2: Keep it clean (Dirty words are a crutch, man! A crutch!) Rule #3: One nickname per person.

This is a random drawing, and your nickname counts as your entry. BUT...since the winners will be chosen randomly from all eligible entries, if you link to this contest on your blog I'll throw THREE extra "slips of paper with your name on it" into the drawing hat! Post about it on Facebook? One more entry! Post about it on Twitter? One more entry! YEAH!

What'll you win? Why, one of FIVE autographed copies of THE QUICK FIX, before anyone can even buy it in a store! 

You have until 11:59 EST on Monday, September 17th, 2012 to submit (US and Canadian residents only). I'll announce the winners on Wednesday, September 19th... Do IT!!


Oh, and check back tomorrow... I'm going to post the first chapter to THE QUICK FIX...to get you all excitabled! (That's a word, right?). 
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Is this one yours?!? HMMM??!?!?!?
 
 
Ok…I’ve put off talking about it, but I’ve gotten enough emails, heard enough comments, had enough school visits canceled that I know it’s time.

For those of you who don’t know, I wrote a book called Sidekicks, in which we meet Bright Boy (a.k.a Scott Hutchinson), the teen-aged sidekick to superhero Phantom Justice. Bright Boy has been a sidekick since he was 8… he’s now about 13 or 14, and he’s been forced to wear the same bright, snug-fitting costume for the past 6 years. Not a problem when you’re 8; big problem when you’re 13. So right in Chapter 1, Bright Boy has to dive off a building and save a beautiful woman from falling to her death. As he’s holding this woman he’s just saved, he notices that her clothes are torn and disheveled. He can see her bra. She’s in shock, so she’s kind of out of it…but she’s also appreciative to this person who just saved her life... so she’s running her fingers through his hair, breathing heavily on his neck, whispering into his ear how amazing he is…

Scott, despite a very concerted effort to stop it, gets an erection. He’s embarrassed, and confused, and is trying to figure out how to get out of this scenario without this woman thinking he's a complete perv, when a news helicopter appears and starts taping him… and because the tights don’t hide anything, Bright Boy’s “reaction” is soon being broadcast over news stations all over the country. Bright Boy becomes a laughingstock. Kids at Scott’s school (who don’t know he’s Bright Boy) make endless jokes about it, people on tv make fun of him, supervillains take pot shots in order to distract him. Scott, who had never really cultivated a life outside of being Bright Boy, is now faced with an unexpected dilemma: neither one of his identities is comfortable. He starts to question everything about himself, his life, and the people around him…

The origin of this story was a thought I had when I was ten years old. I remember getting out of bed and going downstairs for a glass of water one night (while my parents were still awake and watching tv). I was wearing nothing but my jockey shorts. I remember my parents acting like there was nothing out of the ordinary with my “outfit” (or lack thereof), but I had this sudden feeling that I was wearing wayyyyy too little to be walking around with other people about (even if they were just my parents). I felt really funky, and exposed... Also at the time, I was a full-fledged Batman freak... and being that this was the early eighties (and the Batman comics from the 70s were still pretty available), the DC writers/artists were continuing the process of aging Robin up. I remember shortly after my “Jockey short debacle” (as it will forever be known to me), looking at a comic of a late teen/early 20’s Robin and thinking, “Man, he should really cover up.” Here he is fighting hardened criminals – thugs, thieves, murderers – and he's wearing the tiniest pair of green jockey shorts imaginable. And no one mentions it?  I mean, not one street tough has something to say about Robin’s itty-bitty bikini bottoms? Especially with all those high kicks he was throwing around? I couldn’t even go downstairs in my own house dressed like that…

All right...so, as that idea percolated in my head for the next 25 or so years, I read such brilliant works as The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, which were some of the first stories to really question the motives of superheroes in the very worlds that those heroes inhabited (instead of just real world pundits talking about how comic books rot kids’ brains...). These two stories explored the now-ubiquitous question - would the world really be a better place if these heroes actually existed?  And that got me thinking about motivations. What would motivate a real person in our world to try to become a superhero? And what are the acceptable motivations for a superhero, as far as the public is concerned?  Altruism, definitely...(Hello, Superman...)  Revenge, sure...(Batman, in a safe way...The Punisher in a less black-and-white, more post-Vietnam, shades of gray kind of way).  Responsibility, both personal (Spider-man), and social (Green Arrow). Thrill-seeking was also okay (Iron Man). There were others, of course...but there were two motivations that were definitely frowned upon...making money (although Luke Cage, Hero for Hire flirted with that idea), and sex. Under absolutely no circumstances was a superhero supposed to get any sexual thrill from dressing up in tights and running around the city (The Watchmen did an AMAZING job at addressing this). Ick. It calls into question not just the heroism of that specific hero, but the concept of superheroes as a whole. What are their motivations, really?  Is that guy or woman saving me doing it for his or her own pervy reasons? It’s uncomfortable, and I think it touches a nerve (just replace “superhero” with “police officer” in that scenario to see what I mean...)  

So, take my perception of how superheroes would be received today (akin to celebrities with super powers), and add one ill-timed sexual response (Bright Boy’s erection...kind of like Janet Jackson’s “Boob-gate”)… add to it a common narrative that celebrities and sports stars have to deal with all the time (are they mentors to children or not?), but multiply it by a thousand… because superheroes by their very design are supposed to be mentors. They’re designed to be the ideals (physically, mentally, but most importantly, MORALLY) that the public strives for...and how would the public react if they thought those paragons of morality had their own creepy agendas as their main motivation? I think the public would freak out a bit. They'd literally play the slip up over and over again (See "Boob-gate"), and every talking head in the world would have a chance to weigh in…setting up the ironic situation of a powerful superhero being picked on and bullied by the very public he’s chosen to protect.

As for Scott’s take on it all, he’s confused, as any kid going through that is -- as I was -- and in my opinion, it would get A LOT of his attention, too. Why am I doing this whole hero thing? Is it for the thrills? Is getting an “inappropriate erection” really a sign of a moral failing, or is it just an isolated event? Can I keep that from happening again?  Do I want to?  Am I really a “perfect” person, like everyone wants their heroes to be?  Or is the answer more complex than that?  

Eventually, the least likely person in Scott’s life helps him to realize that it’s not the “accidental erection” that’s a statement about his motivations and morality…nor is it the public’s reaction to it… What’s going to define Scott/Bright Boy as a person and a hero is his own moral compass… and the more we learn about Scott, the more we realize that he has nothing to worry about.

To me, it all starts with that “accidental erection,” and it’s a moment important enough to merit the attention.  It’s an exploration of motivation that lots of boys go through at that age...but add to that the whole narrative of acceptable superhero motivation, and I think it becomes a much bigger story.

Now, the comments I’ve gotten have suggested that Scott getting an erection is totally inappropriate for a kid his age, or for a kid his age to be reading about. As a former teen boy, I respectfully disagree. I remember suffering through my first “inappropriate reaction” when I was eleven. By the time I was thirteen, there were so many that they’ve faded into memory. It happened. A lot. The best you could do was cross you legs, readjust the books you were holding, or count on the fact that very few people would be looking directly at your crotch. (I also learned that sometimes your efforts to cover-up did nothing more than draw attention to what you were hiding… If you need a quick definition for irony, there it is…)

It’s also been suggested that I created this scenario as a half-baked way to get in as many lowbrow jokes as I could. I hope it’s apparent from all I’ve written above that very few people have ever accused me of under-thinking something. And although those jokes were fun to write, the main focus of them was always the emotional response they provoked from Scott.

Someone whose insight I greatly respect suggested to me that some of the discomfort may be because there aren’t a lot of middle-grade books that deal with male puberty. She reminded me that the topic of female puberty comes up in books aimed at girls aged 9-13 (Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret?, Walk Two Moons, the Winnie series, etc…), and is generally more accepted. Now, I certainly don’t want to suggest my writing is on par with Judy Blume, Sharon Creech, or Lauren Myracle (it ain’t). And please don't think I'm pointing fingers in a "gender politics" kind of way, because I'm not. What I am curious about though is that Sidekicks is meant to take on the topic of puberty from a male point of view, and I wonder if there’s something about the very nature of male sexuality that makes it less comfortable to discuss.

I don't have the answers...but I am interested in the discussion. Thoughts?

 
 
Why six months? Because five months feels like I'm rushing it. Trust me...you want me in your life in veeeerrrryyyy small doses. Plus, I don't think I live the kind of life that makes anyone feel like they NEED TO KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH THAT GUY RIGHT NOW!!!!  For example, here I am RIGHT NOW:
Here I am sampling my lemon scented hand lotion:
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Delicious!
Here I am looking eggcellent.  GET IT?!?!  EGG cellent!!!
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(Those are plastic easter eggs on my eyes. Thus the "egg" pun. You're right. Even after explaining it, it's still hilarious.)
And finally, here's me trying to prevent my possessed right hand from putting a "chip clip" on my tongue.
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You'll have to wait for the sequel to see who won.
I believe I rest my case.
 
 
This weekend!  Yowza! And Sweet Mother of All Things Bacon, what a lineup... See for yourself:

http://issuu.com/ccbf2011/docs/connecticut_children_s_book_fair?mode=window&backgroundColor#222222

and/or

http://bookfair.uconn.edu/

I'm a gonna be there on Sunday (11/13, if'n you don't have a calendar handy). I'm giving a presentation at 1:15, then signing books at 1:45, and again at 3:15... Come check it out! 

I grew up in Connecticut, and it's always a little weird for me to go back. Why, you ask? 

Might have something to do with the hair...
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Me and my sister, circa 1992. That's 100% pure Connecticut mullet right there...
 
 
Me writing sequel to The Big Splash. It called The Quick Fix, and it come out in Spring 2012. ARRRGGGG!!
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Me typing! ARRRRGGG!!!
 
 
Hey, everybody...so, my editor and agent thought I should make a book trailer...and I thought it might be interesting if I made one where I talk a little bit about my "writing process." Please let me know what you think, and keep in mind that I've never made one of these before...so, be firm...but gentle...
 

Blog!

04/04/2011

30 Comments

 
Hi. You're here. If you've been here before, you'll notice it's a little different. If you haven't been here before, well...the differences will be lost on you. This site is a clean slate to you... You have no preconceived notions about what it is, or what it should be... You only know what's in front of you. To both of these groups of people, I can only say "I'm sorry for what you're about to witness."

I mean, I'm not really sorry. I mean, if I was sorry, why would I even be here? I just like to set the bar really, really low, so that people are then left saying "Hey, that wasn't that bad. Let's make Jack the King of Paraguay!" 

(I'm not sure that last part will ever happen, but you never know...Maybe one day soon, the people of Paraguay  find themselves in a position to name a new king, right?So, they've got a little time on their hands and they're on the internet... they're not really looking for anything in particular, just kind of surfing around... And then BLAM! They happen upon this site, and then BLAM! They say, "That's our guy!" And then there's this one guy who's like, "That guy?  The writer?" And then the other Paraguay-ians are like "Yeah.  What have you got against writers?" And that one guy is like, "Nothing... It's just, you know, I'm not sure he's qualified to be a king, that's all." and then everyone else is like, "It'll be fine. Really. You worry too much." And the guy is like, "Yeah, the last couple of years have been tough, you know? The kids are more of a handful then we expected..." And everyone else nods sympathetically, and pats the guy on the shoulder, because he's not a bad guy... He's just been under a lot of pressure.  And then they make me the King of Paraguay.)

(Obviously, this MAY not happen... but that doesn't mean I shouldn't plan my whole future around that fact that it MAY happen... Right?)

Anyway... I'm here, and I'm going to be posting whenever I can (which could be once a week or seven times a day). So check back... You're bound to find something interesting.  (That's not a guarantee...)