Kirkus Review

I did not know much about Kirkus Reviews until last week when my editor Lisa Cheng forwarded their review of Tap Out. Which was followed immediately by another email from my agent, Kate McKean.

The emails came as I was driving to a speaking engagement at a local high school that uses my first novel, This Side of Normal, in their Biology curriculum. I was mentally running through the presentation when my phone chimed. When it chirped a second time I got nervous, pulled over and read.

Befuddlement swept over me. Kirkus didn’t ring any bells. Well, maybe one. I recently started following Kirkus MacGowan, on Twitter and thought for a moment that both of the industry connections in my life were emailing about him. I don’t know, maybe he was going to blurb Tap Out? I was excited. And then I read the review.

Now, I can’t reprint it in its entirety. For those of you with subscriptions, to Kirkus, the online version is up today. The print version will be out on May 15. However, I can give you one absolutely fantastic line, the very last of the review:

This is bound to have huge appeal to kids whose lives are being mirrored, and it may prompt luckier readers to take some positive action. 

Okay, so I quickly realized that this wasn’t about Mr. MacGowan and that some reviewing had occurred that I was not aware of. In the same moment, I was elated. This seemed awesome, but I still didn’t know who or what Kirkus was. And now I was running late for my speaking engagement.

I made it on time, delivered an inspiring presentation, then hung around and spoke with teachers and parents. When I returned to my van I dashed a quick text to my wife, explaining as best I could that I had some good news. She didn’t know who Kirkus was, either.

I Googled Kirkus immediately upon arriving home and became enlightened–They are, in their words, “The World’s Toughest Book Critics” (and after reading some reviews I tend to agree). I had no idea that Tap Out  was being reviewed by any critics, let alone such a stalwart of the industry. I guess this is the way things go, but I’m such a noob it’s embarrassing.

Regardless, I’m ecstatic for the review and appreciative to Lisa and Running Press for having the faith to submit Tap Out there.

I hope this is the beginning of the swirl of good vibes for Tap Out. It certainly feels that way, especially sinceCalifornia is on the horizon. But more on that next time…

Advanced Reader Copy

Monday Night I was coaching at my CrossFit box and checked my phone between classes. My wife had sent a text asking if she could open a package I’d received in the mail. She’d attached a picture, so I zoomed in on the return address: it was from Lisa Cheng, my editor at Running Press. I didn’t have time to reply, but I knew what my answer would have been: Absolutely not.

I raced home to my wife and the package that she had propped on my pillows. “I wouldn’t have opened it. You know that,” she said. Bless her. In that package were two copies of the Advanced Reader Copy of Tap Out.

My wife and I turned the copies over, inspecting like children with new toys. A handwritten note from Lisa had come as well and my wife read it aloud. I was exhausted from my 15-hour day, but was lifted by the exhilaration of it all. My Work. In Print. Looking Awesome. Enough Said.

Now, unlike my previous writing, my wife had not read one word of Tap Out. We’re quite superstitious, and after my first project with my agent Kate McKean didn’t sell, my wife decided she didn’t want to “curse” anything else.

She dove into Tap Out and I got out of the room. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it makes me to have her read my work. I don’t know why, except, possibly it’s because I don’t want to let her down. She’ll love me and my work regardless, but she might not actually enjoy the writing. That would hurt.

I occupied myself for a half hour and then re-entered the bedroom. “So?” I asked.

“So, what?” she said.

Mind you, I heard quite a few gasps and some throat clearing in the interim. The first chapter is quite the slap in the face. So a blase “So what?” didn’t fit.

“Well, you’ve read enough to be able to comment. Right?”

“No, not yet. I’ve been waiting for two years for this. I need more time to formulate the words I want to share with you.”

Fair enough. I occupied myself a while longer and finally my wife was ready.

“It’s really good. Violent and graphic, but in an authentic way. It’s a page turner, and I’m not saying this because it’s you. It’s the story.”

I couldn’t have asked for more.

Soon the copies will be off for blurbs, and I hope that the authors who read them are a fraction as generous as my wife was with me.

The Best Laid Plans Get Blown Up

I’m trying to find solace in planning. I mapped out my immediate and specific goals from now through the summer, and my one long term goal through the rest of the year. It looks so very nice on paper, but I know it’s going to turn into one steaming heap in the process.

My most significant concerns are preparing for the release of Tap Out in the fall of 2012 and revising/rewriting my next work (which I finished in October). I’m consulting Lisa Schroder’s very succinct Timeline and Checklist for YA or MG Book Release and am crossing my fingers that I can accomplish most of what’s there. Fortunately I’m not teaching over the summer. I’ll need the time.

It all makes me nervous. These are uncharted waters, and even though I will have help from Lisa Cheng, Kate McKean and my publicist at Running Press, this is still all on me. And so is the writing.

That last piece is all I know, and the one I still grapple with. I wake up in the morning, usually with a plan for the day’s writing, and know if I stick to the agenda I’ll be all right. Many months later a book emerges. Less time for short stories, but the idea is still the same. One project at a time, and all I have to do is write them. Now I’ll have the publicity for Tap Out, the revision for my next novel AND the responsibility to begin my next work. Holy Hell.

Trust me, there is no complaining, here. I am beyond lucky to have this opportunity. However, I am realizing the changing dynamics that lie ahead. I will have to adjust with them, and I have no idea what that will necessitate or look like. Scary.

It’s the fear of the unknown. Not solely a ubiquitous theme in literature, but a very pressing matter in my life. I do thrive on structure and order, yet have this habit of pushing to see what else I can accomplish, which blows all the pretty order to smithereens.

And then I clean up and start over.

Which leads me back to the planning…

I’d better secure my wife and daughters. This next act should be decimating.

Monday Mash-up

I’ve got a mash-up today, because I have too many strands I’d like to speak about, and well, my brain’s a little toasted. So here goes:

Tap Out

I’ve been working diligently at the line edits for my illustrious editor, Lisa Cheng, and am wowed by her insight and ability to discern the loose spots in my work. Her professionalism is exactly what I had hoped for. Between Lisa as my Editor and my already fabulous agent, Kate McKean, I am one lucky writer.


I’m not exactly sure when I first heard of smashwords, but I do know when I became interested–after looking at the various eBook channels and realizing all that smashwords offers for free. Therefore, my first novel, This Side of Normal is available there, and for right now, because of their promotion: Read an eBook week, TSON is available, with coupon, for free until 3/10. There are thousands of titles available at discounted prices, or for free. Check it out.

And Smashwords just signed a deal with Baker and Taylor for availability of their books through the e-reading app, Blio, and access to public libraries through Baker and Taylor’s Axis 360 service. Pretty fantastic for the self-pub enthusiast.

Stop Stealing Dreams

If you are unfamiliar with Seth Godin, please take a minute to Google him or clink on my link. He’s a genius in marketing, but his recently released manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, pries into the thorny topic of Education. I downloaded the free eBook and was immediately hooked. Admittedly, I have an interest in the topic having been employed as a high school English teacher for the past decade, but I think the ideas within Stop Stealing Dreams apply beyond the classroom. In fact, I sent the link to my boss and owner of the CrossFit where I work, because he manages people. He has expectations for us, and we are all educators. So is every parent, every manager, every entrepreneur.

Godin paints a picture of the future of education that seems far too plausible to ignore, and highlights the current trappings that will drag us there with unsettling authority. He challenges us all, educators or not, to rethink what we want of this service we call education. It’s a respectable premise, and one I toyed with last night, asking my daughters, “What do you want to learn?”

My eldest: “How the Earth spins.”

My youngest: “How lipstick is made.”

Within minutes we had answers and I think we could have gone for hours with this Q&A. But the idea is not to unearth random facts for trivial purposes, but to begin where the interest lies and grow from there. From the spin of the Earth to lipstick, these waters are deep.

I can’t wait to see what this week brings.

Revision Letter

I have been eagerly awaiting my revision letter from Lisa Cheng ever since we agreed to the book deal (can you tell I’m a newb?). I’ve looked forward to the feedback and the opportunity to make my work better. All the revisions Kate McKean has suggested have made Tap Out so much stronger, so I’ve wanted another expert opinion to assist me in taking my writing to the next level.

The letter hit my inbox on Saturday. I cringed. I felt sick. I worried that it would be 25 pages of instances where I thought I was all that, but really, wasn’t. I was afraid that it would point out more faults than I could ever overcome.

Not the case.

I read four pages of thoughtful questions and musings over the way my writing works and what it still has to achieve. The suggestions and questions were so pointed and precise that I felt an instant resonance and a level of comfort I did not expect. I was anticipating crapping myself, but, instead, walked away from my computer, made my daughters dinner, and felt happy.

My wife came home from running errands and I told her the letter had come. She braced herself as if expecting bad news. “And?” she said.

“And I’m going to be all right.”

She un-zippered her coat and sighed. “Thank God. You’re always so worried about perfection.”

I had to laugh because she’s right. If I weren’t so busy with teaching and CrossFit coaching I’d obsess over my writing incessantly. Previously, I’ve achieved such myopia with my work that I’ve made it worse and not better. Writing, like people, needs space, room to breathe, and time to grow.

I have trepidation going into this process, but I also have no doubt that I have grown as a writer since I last read this manuscript. I have faith in Kate and Lisa who have helped me get this far, and who believe that I can go another round. It’s frightening, these expectations, and how they make you question your abilities.

But they’re a blessing. I expect more of myself every day. Why shouldn’t I? Isn’t each day one revision after another, chuck full of novel situations that keep us intrigued?

Now, I’m off to see how I can make my fiction reflect that element of life.

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays to all. I will be spending the next two days with my family, making sure my two girls have the Merriest Christmas. I’m sure I’ll pop in after Christmas, as I’m off from work. I am looking forward to the New Year, revising Tap Out, and finding a new home for my first novel, This Side of Normal. I appreciate all the support from my agent, Kate McKean and Editor, Lisa Cheng. You both rock. Of course, thank you to all who are reading and following me. I promise not to disappoint.


I had a colleague say to me yesterday, “All right, four things you are thankful for…go!”

I couldn’t answer. Not on the spot like that. And not in such an offhand manner. I’m not one for the casual when it’s truly personal. I told her I’d get back to her. I never did.

I did think, however. And my four are as follows: My wife, my children, my health, my writing.

Now, I probably could have answered with those four yesterday, easily. But each deserves a bit more depth.

My wife: No one else besides a writer’s spouse or partner knows how much a struggle this choice is, how much we question ourselves. No one else is close enough to see all the revision, both internal and external. Yes, writing is a craft, but done well, and with purpose, it is more. it is revelatory and can change you. Having someone willing to accept those changes is a godsend.

My children: I’ve heard from many about how children can “get in the way” of goals. Sure they can, and that’s okay. Sometimes life asks you to think about your direction and alter. Fortunately, my children have provided me motivation. I began writing for myself. I wanted to be able to say, “I did that. Check me out.” Not anymore. My children have humbled me, and in the process have given me more inspiration to write than any agent or contract could. I need to make good on this time I spend, because all of it is time away from them. It had better be worth it.

My health: I have a laundry list of medical issues–type 1 diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, allergies and a broken back. Yesterday, at my allergist, the nurse took my vitals and then asked me, “Are you a runner?” I’m not. CrossFit keeps me in all-around shape. I said, “I workout. Why, what are my numbers?” My Blood pressure was 102/60 and my pulse was 50. In spite of my hurdles, I maintain. “Health” is a relative term, and so far I’m managing to keep it in check. Without it, I would not be able to do all of which I am capable.

My writing: I am still over the moon about Running Press publishing Tap Out. It is difficult for me to conceptualize that next year at this time my novel will be on the shelf. Unreal. But more than the contract, my writing expresses how much I’ve grown. I’ve been trying my hand at writing seriously since I was in my early twenties. Over ten years later it makes sense that with diligence I’ve improved. Thank you Kate McKean and Lisa Cheng for seeing this.

There are my four. I think this answer is better than what I could have shot off yesterday. I think I’ll send this link to my colleague. Her interest was genuine and I appreciate the prompt to take a moment and reflect. We all should.

Happy Thanksgiving.