Thinking about promoting books and how stories get attention in the world

How a Debut Novel is like Jane Austen’s Lizzy Bennet

Rachael Hanel, in my writing group, posted this rather hilarious, but also disconcerting blog link on our group discussion page. I think it’s so appropriate that I had to pass it along. It came along just as I was concluding a lengthy discussion with the publicist for my new novel, Slider’s Son.

Kudos to Kathleen Flynn, for coming up with this. She’s the author of The Jane Austen Project, on my to-read list. Thank you, Kathleen Flynn, for letting me pass it along!

A great review of Jake Riley I had forgotten

I just had a flashback. My editor Mark McVeigh at HarperCollins for my first book, Jake Riley, Irreparably Damaged, called and left a voicemail because he was so excited about this review from Kirkus. He read the whole thing into my voicemail, and I saved that message for two years! I had forgotten about it entirely. I was just doing a search for other reasons–for PR for my new book Slider’s Son, and I found it. Since I’m dreading upcoming responses from reviewers, I thought I’d post it, as a reminder to myself, more than anything else.


“This probing exploration of whether a ninth-grader can already be “irreparably damaged” is upsetting and scary. Jake has recently moved from reform school to his father’s place on Lainey’s family’s farm. He taunts and hurts Lainey, but she’s caught inside a paradox: she knows that he’s truly dangerous, but she also resents the school’s labeling of him and snaps instinctively to protect him. Meanwhile, Lainey’s parents are equally unhelpful, refusing to believe her, so Lainey is caught in confusion between silence and words. Davis’s writing style works perfectly because it seems invisible. Everything from farm details to the atmosphere of dread is fully believable. Jake’s threats, which begin as sexual, eventually progress to a plan of killing Lainey with a .22. Several horrifying ends can be imagined along the way, but the one that actually occurs is no less grim for being unpredictable. (Fiction. YA)”

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-051837-5
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online: May 20th, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2003

Biking, then and now.

Snapped both these photos this week. Somehow, it seems ironically perfect for my birthday month.


50 years ago, I got the bike on the left for my June birthday. And here I was earlier this week on a solo gravel ride (with a new-this-year gravel bike). 50 years later, I’m still riding, and happy to be doing so!

Summer and Slider’s Son

Slider’s Son and Summer.

First, have I mentioned that summer is magical? That summer is hands-down my favorite season, favorite time, and as I grow older, I want more than ever to eek out every second of sunshine and warmth and bike-riding, star-gazing and bonfires and dog-swimming, hours of no grading or lesson-planning, time to read what I want and keep the house clean, but most of all, time to breathe and write. And ride my bike. And write. And ride my bike. And write.

This summer seems particularly sweet to me. I am working on a new book (sort of on two, maybe even three, if you count the manuscript I’ve written but am not touching), and prepping for a few presentations (one at the U of M about South Africa which is particularly delightful to work on), and I’m also setting up book events for the fall, when Slider’s Son will be released into the world.

I’m utterly thrilled for Grant O’Grady to make his way into the world, and into the hearts of readers. This is the book that my late agent George Nicholson said he loved.


This is so not my first book. That means many things. One is that all the thrilling excitement I felt for my first two novels is tempered with pragmatism. I’m not going to hit the NY Times bestseller list. I won’t be nominated for for the Newbery or the National Book Award, and probably not even a Minnesota Book Award. Maybe some list will read this (that’s prereq to winning anything, and lots of times the buck stops there, in my opinion, getting people in power to read the thing at all), and some small honor or “best book” award will be bestowed, maybe. If I’m lucky. But probably not. Why not? After all. It’s a good book. I know the story is good. I know the characters are well-developed. I know the plot holds up to some scrutiny, though of course reviewers will read it like a sieve: full of holes in their estimations; I know the setting is interesting and valid; I know the themes and issues are true to life for the time and place. So why don’t I think it will win any attention? Because it’s a mystery, but it’s more a how and why than a who-done-it, and that will make critics scowl. And mostly, that’s how the cookie crumbles; that’s how luck runs, and that’s how reality shakes out. Being prepared for a middle-of-the-road reception for my baby in the world is the safest way to avoid heartbreak. I love this book, and my readers so far have too,  but that doesn’t mean the big ol’ world is gonna love it. There. I said it out loud. And I’m not even a pessimist. At all. I’m being a realist.

Why am I writing all this down, if not to be pessimistic? I guess it’s because, somewhere deep inside, I know this story is good enough that it deserves to win something. It deserves to sell a bunch of copies, and every time a list comes out, I’m going to check if it’s on the list…so I’m writing this in recognition that a bunch of what happens to a book is just plain luck, right person reading at just the right time. And when luck doesn’t happen, I still want to enjoy sharing the story. I want to love having this book out in the world, and utterly enjoy the handful of readers who love it, too, instead of gnashing my teeth because there aren’t more of them.

So. I’m excited as all get-out because I know readers, or at least lots of readers, or at least some readers, will love this book, will love Grant O’Grady. I’m excited to talk about the book, give book talks and readings, and to tell stories about putting it together because this book came along a wildly winding ridiculous road to reach publication.

But I’m also not all geared up to have an internationally-famous bestseller overnight.  Not gonna happen, so I can continue my magical summer life of a little-known writer who loves her life, adores her family, hangs out with her dog, rides her bike as many miles as she dares steal time to do so, and generally, is glad to be in the universe and above ground for yet another year.

And so? Yup. Summer is magical.



North Star Press, Frank Weber, school

Today, Frank Weber came to South Central College to talk about his experience as a forensic psychologist and about the novel he’s written, based on his inside information and expertise, Murder Book.

Over forty people crammed into the biggest classroom on campus. The audience was pin-drop quiet, listening to his stories and the information he shared. The hour flew by, and Frank sold most of the early-release books he brought along.

I met Frank at a book-promotion seminar hosted by North Star Press, who is publishing Murder Book, and is also publishing my Slider’s Son in September. I’m happy to be connected, and ever-so-glad he was willing to come to our college.

KEYC TV came and filmed, too. Here’s a link.

Career Expo

Once again, this past Wednesday, I was a “storyteller” at Mankato’s Career Expo at the Civic Center for area high school freshmen and sophomores.

The event includes rooms of “Storytellers” who sit at tables. The students “speed date” around the tables, finding out about the various storytellers’ journeys to their current careers.

I talked about becoming a writer. Of course, I had spent over three hours preparing a 9-minute spiel about what it takes to be a writer. That went out the window with the first two groups, NONE of whom had the slightest interest in becoming a writer. So I just told my story about learning to follow my own passion instead of doing everything I was told to do to be “good” and to succeed.

As far as I could tell, out of the dozens of students I saw, perhaps three were interested in writing. When I expanded the concept to music and visual art, I’m sure there were at least a dozen.

An amazing number of sophomores want to do construction or childcare as careers. I had a couple determined to be surgeons or family physicians, and quite a few future computer programmers or engineers. One future video game developer. (I was surprised that it was only one, but more power to that one girl who said it). I wonder how many studies have been done about how much perception of career changes between age fourteen and twenty-one.

In the long run, it was lots of fun, and I had some good laughs with most of the groups. The poor first group of two didn’t get much out of it, I’m sure, because they were self-conscious and not willing to pretend to be interested. After I warmed up, however, it was a good experience, and I think–at least I hope–that everybody got at least some tiny spark of info from our ten minutes together.

Lies about being a writer:

Being an author makes you famous.

Being an author makes you rich.


You have to do it because you love it so much, you can’t imagine doing anything else.


Follow your passion, even if it’s only for your own satisfaction in life.


A poem I wrote (I’m not a poet) but here goes…

Selfies at Age Sixty


My mother lives inside my skin

In the mirror, her smile cracks across my face, above

her chin,

soft jowls that started sagging at my

fifty-eighth year, but the only way I remember her chin,

the wrinkles that frame her lips under

my skin all disappear in the wide open smile

so I smile

and smile in

A world of selfies that Mom would have eschewed.


Why do you cover your mouth, your hand

across your smile? I ask her, studying her face in the mirror,

my own peering back, hers long buried.

I look so goofy, she says across the years, as she said

long ago. My mouth is

so big. A crater on my face when I laugh.

No! I cry. Your smile is beautiful, isn’t it? Is my smile goofy?

No, she insists from beyond the grave. Not yours. Only mine.

The same, I say.

She shakes her head, her hand

Across her mouth.


I know the day in high school I saw myself laughing in the mirror

And saw my mother’s face,

covered my mouth, that smile too big. I understood

and started putting my hand over my laughter,


A legacy.

I catch myself laughing,

My hand gone to

My mouth like

A tic.


But now,

But now,

I wear purple* and smile

And laugh,

Mouth wide open,

with Mom, move my hand

from my mouth

to my phone,

and all my selfies

are of both of us.


*”When I am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple,” by Jenny Joseph

Gap Life by John Coy

Gap Life

I’ve been remiss on reviewing books I’ve read. School and grading papers will do that to me.

GAP LIFE by John Coy is a delight. I read it early in January, and Cray, the protagonist has stuck with me. I find myself wondering how he’s doing on the adventure he undertook at the end of the book. To me, that’s the sign of a terrific character: he becomes so real that he takes on a life of his own and we wonder what he’s doing long after closing the final pages of the book.

Cray is all set, at high school graduation, to follow in his domineering father’s footsteps. His secret terror: that he cannot do it, and hasn’t told anyone.

Every teenager struggling with “What do I want to do with my life?” — and even every college freshman or sophomore struggling with that question–needs to read this book. That’s not because John Coy provides answers, but because the book makes us feel not alone. That, in fact, is exactly what great literature should do: help us recognize that somewhere, in our pain or struggles, we are not alone.

Society tends to make us feel all alone when we don’t know what we want. Society makes us feel alone when we have an overbearing parent who tells us what we want. Society makes us feel alone when we don’t want what our parents want for us or what society wants for us, and yet we flounder because we can’t counter the pressure, unable to articulate what we do want–probably–because we have never been given the freedom to explore our own desires. This book is all about that struggle.

GAP LIFE is not a dystopian drama where life-and-death hang in the balance. It’s the internal workings of a real human character whose skin we jump right into, whose struggle becomes ours as we read the first page. Not life-and-death, no, but life-and-death of the human soul and spirit. We can’t put the book down because we want to keep breathing with Cray, to discover if he will have the strength to find his own dream and then to follow it, and if he can connect with Rayne, the only girl he knows who follows her own heart. Most of all, I think Cray is a character we like so much we want to hang out with him, be inside his life, and keep walking with him, long after we’ve finished this book.

This is in many ways a quiet book. I didn’t look at any other reviews until just now. Some critics say there wasn’t enough conflict to be engaging. And lots of marketers eschew “quiet” books. Their loss. Their big loss.  This is a quiet book that is as big as the human heart. John Coy creates an everyday life that we jump right into because of its clear, smooth prose and delightfully consistent detail: those things that make an everyday life, so that we are living inside Cray on every page. Everybody–parent, teacher, librarian, kid, grandparent–should absorb this story.

Good luck in your life, Cray. I’ll remember you for the rest of mine.


Slider’s Son update!

Slider’s Son To be published this Septemeber–2017!  North Star Press!

A murder! The boys smell something while playing baseball…It’s a body hidden in Grant O’Grady’s best friend’s basement… Who? How? Why? The story unfolds…

At the tail-end of the Great Depression in small town, North Dakota, Grant O’Grady wants nothing more than to be a major league baseball pitcher. Everything changes when he realizes the danger his best friend faces. Hatred threatens to destroy Grant and his friends from the inside out. When Grant and his dad, Sheriff Slider O’Grady, find a man murdered, life as they know it unravels, and Grant has to help fight the prejudice of the era toward his best friend (his catcher) who is half Mandan Indian.

Grant comes to grips with the power within himself—to hate or not to hate, to be a friend, and to stand up for what he hopes is right.

We’ve done what appear to be the final edits. We have a BOOK COVER–soon to be revealed! We have blurbs for the back and inside the front cover…It’s real, and it’s happening soon–seven months from yesterday!

I had a dream…

IMG_4124In the midst of some distraught sleepless nights between Election Day and Inauguration Day, I had a series of recurring dreams. They are still vivid in my mind, so I decided I had better write them down. I don’t think I’ll forget them, but rather I feel as if I should go on record having said this before it actually happens.

In each dream, I was with a different person or family. Each had voted for Trump, and was telling me how He-Who-Must-Not-Be Named had NOT made good on campaign promises to help the “little guy”: to provide jobs, to help small businesses, to make taxes bearable, to “fix” healthcare. Each person was disappointed and angry.

Some of these people I knew and some I didn’t recognize, but in my dream, they came to me to voice their discontent. From there, they traveled to Trump Tower in NYC since Trump was hiding out there instead of living and working in the White House.

In the first dream, a small crowd was gathering around the doors of the building, all yelling, “Let us in!” “We want to talk to you!” “You promised us!” “You lied to us!”

In each subsequent dream, the crowd grew and grew. By the final dream (and I haven’t had the dream for many weeks now–not since Inauguration Day), the crowd filled the streets around Trump Tower, and spilled to fill all the surrounding blocks–as big as the crowds resisting on the day after his inauguration. Everyone was yelling: “You lied to us!” “You lied to us!” “You promised!” “You promised!”

I believe that many many people who voted against Hillary already feel this way–I believe voter regret will be bigger in the next four years than it has EVER been. There will be those who blindly believe he’s making America great again, if they don’t look at the repercussions of his edicts and appointments. However, I’m afraid my dream is well on its way to seeing the light of day. I’m worried for this country, but we will keep on keeping on.