forte

Insomnia

It hits me off and on. At least once a week. This morning, I awoke at 3 AM, thought about going back to sleep for about one minute, then bounded out of bed with a surge of adrenaline. Why? Because I’m approaching the finish line to launch my upcoming release CRESCENDO, the sequel to Forte. Up and at ’em to work on content edits to send to Xchyler Publishing by 6 AM. I rock.

But not every 3 AM bout of insomnia is that happy or productive. Most times, my mind plays cruel tricks on me and I’m sick with worry about anything and everything. Sometimes, I go completely Macbeth and feel like I’m losing my mind altogether. It happened this past summer and I wrote the following passage in my journal — bleary and exhausted, messy and scribbling in all directions. It’s raw and unedited and, hopefully, strikes a chord.


Can’t sleep
Worrying about cars and dogs
Regret tugs — losing my patience
I want to be happy
It should be easy
Why am I so anxious?
Lots to do, wasted Sunday
Summer’s too short. Why was I so eager to fill it?
Hopes smack against fears
Spider crawling down the wall
Haven’t written in awhile
Does this count?
Is it enough to be a mom?
and wife
Hope for yes tempered by guilt
Worry fears losing what we have
Do I love too much?
Why can’t I be kinder? Why do I get so irritated? Why is smiling hard?
Are we missing something?
Is it slipping away?
Am I trying hard enough?
Am I succeeding?
Where did my babies go?
Are the memories safe? Are the moments captured?
Big, fat black ants
too much stuff — for what?
Time slipping too fast
Too busy, not busy enough
my loves keep them safe please
vacuum broke again.
My hair gets everywhere.
My stomach sticks out.
I get angry easily.
I don’t know why he loves me so much.
I’m alive.
Every moment is precious. Why waste it with worry?
Can’t sleep.
Stopped trying.
Tomorrow is here.
I’m not ready.

A “Skene” Halloween!

One of my favorite passages in FORTE is the trick-or-treating scene at the “haunted” castle, Skene Manor. Appearing in chapter 17, it’s become a true fan favorite. As I’m working on polishing the sequel, here is a taste of spooky Halloween fun from FORTE. Enjoy!


Skene Manor looms before us, looking spectacular yet haunting in the sparse streetlights, its spires piercing the stars. I gape, awestruck, being so near it. And then it all adjusts and it’s just another house, altogether different up close than at a distance. I notice the peeling paint along the foundation, the latticework beneath the front porch. It’s not remotely as intimidating as it is far away.

But then we pass it, crossing over to a grassy ledge facing the village.

“Guys, where are we going?” My whispers aren’t heard. I have no choice but to follow the group to a gazebo where Maddie takes a seat.

Just then a light comes on.

From inside Skene Manor.

We scamper into the woods like frightened squirrels. Jess leads us to another wooded trail, one that gets darker and narrower the farther we venture.

“Holy crap. Holy crap,” Maddie chants.

The moonlight is sparse in here. Thank goodness Shaunie is wearing a bright yellow shirt. It’s the only thing I can see. To my left I see a plaque of some sort—or shield—on the ground by the trail. Its red rust plays tricks with my eyes in the darkness; its white painted calligraphy jumps out at me. Not all the words are legible, but I do make out some of it: . . . the Lord God will cause Righteousness and Praise to Spring Forth . . .

A headstone? My sneakers seem stuck. Is it quicksand? I’m standing on a grave of quicksand! My mouth opens but nothing comes out. Black tree branches claw at me as I stagger back, thumping to the forest floor—my pillowcase thrown as if ripped from my hand. Something rattles nearby leaves. A snake? I scramble to my feet, grasping chunks of earth on my way, and hurry along the trail to the others.

“Guys! Omigod,” I screech, breathless. “Did you know there’s a grave along this trail?”

“A grave?” says Thalia.

“Oh, sure,” says Jess. “But it’s not a real grave. It’s for Katherine Skene, so people will forget she’s actually buried underneath Skene Manor.”

“But there’s nothing there, Sami.” Carolyn’s voice is like a warm hug.

Jess nudges me. “Yeah, so don’t get your panties in a bunch.”

Still, it takes a few minutes for my heart rate to return to normal. Jess has led us to a rocky cliff where we huddle together on its natural steps.

“Hey,” Maddie says, “we should look in the basement windows to try and see her. Katherine Skene.”

The thought horrifies me. “What? Look in the windows? Of Skene Manor?”

“Or we can try to break in,” Jess says.

“Jess,” Carolyn tempers. “Come on, let’s be polite.”

“What did we come all the way up here for, then, if we’re not going to do something?” Jess counters in her best bratty voice.

Bile bubbles up my esophagus. Seriously? We’re talking about breaking in to Skene Manor? As if painting our necks wasn’t risky enough, now we have to do something illegal?

“She’s got a point,” Thalia says.

“We’re not breaking in to Skene Manor.” My boldness surprises everyone—including me.

In the next few beats of silence, I feel Jess studying me, sizing me up. She takes a step closer, and I instinctively rear back.

“Sami’s right.” Jess’ tone is too controlled, too kind. “We won’t break in. But there’s no reason not to spy through the windows.”

“No reason not to?” I squeak.

Jess lectures us, pacing in a circle. “A light just went on in there. If the light is on inside, they won’t see outside. That’s, like, basic. It’s too dark out here and there are no streetlights.”

“No way,” Carolyn says, and I want to hug her. “Technically, we’re already trespassing. I’m not going any nearer. You shouldn’t either. None of us should. We should go—”

“Do you think she’s in there?” Thalia asks.

Jess wiggles her fingers above her head. “Katherine Ske-e-e-e-e-ene,” she says, goblin-style. My head feels fuzzy like I might faint. Jess grabs my arm like she did at Carolyn’s, and I’m too weak to protest. “Come on, Superstar. Show me what you got.”

Jess isn’t talking about the window. A Poland Spring bottle is placed in my hand and my birthmark is triggered, and it’s like an electric current shoots up my arm. I’m alert now, jolted to attention. I avoid Jess’ eyes as I shake the bottle near my ear. It’s got that familiar, thick consistency. Even though it’s too dark to see, I know it’s Aquamarine. My salivary glands pop, forcing me to swallow a few times. Jess has an unending stash. It’s heavy in my hand as I wait for the other bottles to be doled out. But no more appear.

“I only brought one,” says Jess. “We’ll just share that. You first, Superstar.”

All eyes are on me now, the whites practically glowing, waiting for me to take my sip. A nervous laugh escapes me.

I won’t drink any more Aquamarine.

What am I supposed to do? I can’t refuse to snoop and refuse to drink. I’d be completely written off. And this is my team.

I unscrew the bottle and bring it to my lips, my hand shaking, my birthmark pulsing.

Don’t drink. Just pretend.

The smell reaches me first. That acidic tang activates my salivary glands. Tipping the bottle, I inadvertently coat my lips with the blue stuff. My tongue licks them clean. That does it. There’s no turning back now. My body wants it. Craves it. Whatever. Somehow it goes down. I close my eyes and hear myself swallow three times. My body clenches with the familiar swallowing-thistles feeling I’ve grown to adore, eager for what’s next.

It’s clear to me now: Mom was dead wrong. Jason too. There’s no way this stuff could be that bad for you. Toxic? No way. Nothing that can make me so strong and so capable could possibly rip years off my life. Besides, no one would do it if it were true. It’s all a myth. They weren’t lying; they were just wrong. An innocent mistake.

We all drink, we’re all feeling invincible. Somehow it’s just me and Jess approaching the lighted window.

 

#Janowrimo Report

It’s time to officially report on my first ever JaNoWriMo challenge! My goal was to write 1000 words (approx 2-3 pgs in Word) every day for month of January. So, how’d I do?

Break it down: On December 31, I had 19k words for my WIP (Forte‘s sequel). It was good to have this head start. The story was already progressing and it didn’t feel like I had to create something from nothing. My average daily log turned out to be 1200 words — a good length for a solid scene or even a chapter. Lowest day = 600s. Highest was over 1800. I wrote *every day* except one toward the end, and even on that day I was plotting out my next scene in my mind. I logged my progress on Twitter, which helped me stay honest and focused. And being able to post my daily success felt like a small reward.

Although I’d recruited some writer friends to join me in JaNoWriMo, I didn’t hear from many throughout the month. With one exception: fellow Xchyler Publishing author R.A. Smith of the Grenshall Manor Chronicles. Russell and I connected via Twitter almost daily, and I believe we inspired each other to keep writing every January day. Thank you, Russell!

So, now it’s February. And my WIP is at . . . drum roll please . . . 53922! Already a legit length for a YA novel, I have at least two or three more chapters to pen before it’s done. It’s so close, I’ve been trying to keep up my daily writing routine until the draft is complete.

There’s one problem with that routine: I’m kind of boring when I’m writing.

Seriously. The days are cold and I’m hibernating with my computer. Even if the writing part only takes an hour or two, the rest of my day is consumed by thinking about it. Momentum is so important, which requires consistency and focus. It’s like an obsession. On a rare lunch out with my bestie, when she wanted to catch up, I had little to offer.

“I’m, like, hyper-focused on my writing. That’s all. I’m doing the mom thing and I’m writing.”

“So, tell me about your writing!”

“No! I’m too superstitious. I have to get the draft done first.”

You can imagine how riveting the rest of our lunch conversation was. My poor husband. I’m sure he’s eager to have me back.

But here’s the thing — the story I’m working on? It’s exciting! But I’m the only one who’s experiencing it. I can’t wait to get the draft out to my beta readers so I can finally talk about it!

Want to know what it’s about? Here’s a draft blurb of Forte’s sequel:

It’s been two years since Sami neutralized toxic Aquamarine on Skene Mountain, the scar on the hill now a stark reminder of what she’d destroyed. Hoping to make amends, she vows to use her magic to rebuild earthly devastation — to heal the world with her music. Problem is, her magic is lost. Her boyfriend Jason is lost too, as he’s left for college. When Sami attends a summer music program in hopes of finding her magic, she finds her childhood crush Miles is also in the program. Caught in a love triangle, Sami begins to have visions of tragic natural disasters close to home. When these visions turn into reality, it seems the superstorms are not random but caused by someone with specific powers — and an evil agenda. It’s up to Sami to figure out how to use her new magic to halt the next superstorm before everyone she loves is destroyed.

writing journal

My brainstorming journal. (Gift from Mom) My loyal writing companion. Its pages would make no sense to anyone but me.

JaNoWriMo — GO!

Okay, folks! Time to declare our New Year’s Resolutions for 2017. Statistically, most resolutions don’t last beyond January, so mine perfectly applies. I’m not giving up sweets or wine. I’m not promising to workout more. I’m going to write.

Perhaps you’ve seen my post about why I won’t ever do NaNoWriMo since the month of November is jam-packed with holiday festivities and preparations. In that post, I suggested January as a better month to focus on a daily writing routine. JaNoWriMo: January Novel Writing Month. I’m starting 2017 with a pledge to do something I love to do most in the world, every day: write.

I plan to work on my first draft of the sequel to ForteWith 15k words under my belt, Sami is back! She uses her music magic for a much different — altruistic — purpose…only to run up against the most surprising adversary. Throw in a love triangle and a new, urban setting, and you have the makings of a future page-turner. I’m so excited to get my first draft done. If you don’t have a WIP, start brainstorming today for your JaNoWriMo project!

JaNoWriMo will work somewhat differently than NaNoWriMo. There isn’t a website for it. There’s no submission form to log your word count. There won’t be badges to celebrate accomplishments. I’m not starting a national, non-profit community. I’m starting small (with, um, me). But I’d love company! Here are the rules:

  1. Comment below if you’d like to participate, declaring your personal daily word-count goal. For Nano, the idea is to complete a 50K-word novel. For Jano, let’s be realistic but also push ourselves a bit. My daily word count goal will be 1000 words.
  2. After you complete your writing goal for the day, tweet about your accomplishment with the hashtag #JaNoWriMo (and use my handle @jdspero). You will receive e-kudos for your hard work. Not on Twitter? Email me!
  3. In February 1, 2017, one “winning” participant will be chosen to guest star on my blog to share a synopsis and a teaser of their project.

At the end of every week, I’ll post some handy writing tips or a funny story about how I managed to squeak out my quota of words while juggling the schedules of three busy little boys. My job will be to offer inspiration, humor, and wine (ahem…or whine).

That’s it. Easy peasy!

Let’s do this. Who’s with me!

6 things you can do to ease election pain

The election result is a shock for us Hillary supporters. There are a lot of us out there. There’s a lot of pain. It takes everything in me to believe in our country right now, and to give Trump a chance. But I refuse to go negative about something I can’t control.

What can I control? Here are six things I plan to do to feel better, starting today.

  1. Raise my boys well. The next four years will be crucial for my children, who will be entering pre- and teen years. In our wonderful family of five, we’ll be dealing with all that comes with that: puberty and confusing hormones, competitive sports, and driving a car — to name a few. Throughout all, they will respect women as equals, without question. I vow to raise our boys with goodness and love and acceptance and hope.
  2. Take care of myself. I exercise regularly, but as I sweated it out this morning, I thought about my body in a different way. As many women probably feel, I’m saddened and hurt by Trump’s comments and shameless objectification of women. I’m also guilty of falling into the trap, objectifying myself. There have always been things I’ve wanted to change about my appearance. “If I could only lose that pesky five pounds, if only my nose were more petite, if my teeth were whiter, if my hair wasn’t so wild…” You know what? It’s all bullshit. I’m healthy. I’m strong. And, goldarnit, my husband thinks I’m gorgeous. My kids think my extra five pounds adds to the snuggle factor. I vow to be kind to myself. To love myself as I am no matter what I see in the media.
  3. Take care of our planet. The continuing devastation to our environment is real. Our efforts in recycling and renewable energy are (excuse the pun) only the tip of the iceberg. There’s got to be more we can do to reverse the damage so our children have a worry-free future, without relying on the government to do so. Coincidentally, I’m working on a sequel to Forte which addresses this very question — where magic is the answer. If only magic were an option. I’m not quite sure how yet, but I vow to take a more active role to help heal our earth.
  4. Be kind to each other. It’s tempting to make the generalization that everyone who voted for Trump agrees with everything he’s ever said and condones the things he’s admitted doing. That’s not necessarily the case, as my husband reminded me. There are many people out there who have lost jobs and are struggling to raise their children — to survive, even. They are angry and fed up with the government they believe let them down. I vow to keep an open mind, to withhold judgment, and to treat others with kindness no matter what their political views may be.
  5. Have faith. Even if you are not religious, the idea of having faith helps during times like these. Have faith in the peaceful transition of power that George Washington bravely set up for us when our country was founded. Have faith in the US Constitution. Have faith in its “checks and balances.” Have faith in due process. Have faith in science. Have faith in God. Have faith in our country.
  6. Smile. Give yourself the gift of a good, healthy cry. And then, find humor in something. In everything! Here’s something: Just think how good SNL will be for the next four years.

I’m not saying all this will be easy. To be honest, part of why I wrote this post is to pull myself out of hopelessness and convince myself to be positive.

Let yourself grieve, and then think about what you can do to feel better. Maybe these six things offer a good place to start.

Firstborn love

Twice today, I got smiling news from an acquaintance: “I just finished your book!”

Grinning back, I replied, “Which one?”

I know, I know. I am beyond blessed to have to ask that question — which one? — and there was a long, hard, rejection-laden time when I thought I’d never have any book published. No less two.

Catcher’s Keeper.”

Really? Joy ebbed from every pore. Catcher’s Keeper, my firstborn book, still bringing smiles to readers. Through a brief Q&A over our yoga mats, I was transported back to that story. My story. And I was reminded how much I love it.

Since my second release — Forte — in July, my firstborn has been neglected. Gone are the blog tours, the speaking engagements, the interviews… I’ve been busy promoting my newbie. Isn’t that the way it works?

But my passion for my firstborn book hasn’t changed.

We mothers can relate, can’t we?

My first son was almost two when he became a brother. Busy with a new baby, nursing every few hours, swaddling, rocking, burping, changing, pacifying… I had little time to play with my number one. My husband picked up lots of parenting tasks I’d been proud to list as my “Mom” job description. They played games and went out to fun places while I tended to the new baby. I mean, he was brand new! He NEEDED me! And goldarnit if I didn’t love him *just as much* as my firstborn. For the first few weeks and beyond, my husband and I had to “divide and conquer” as they say. But letting go was not an option. I missed my big guy. Our firstborn made us a family. He made me a mother. My life forever changed when he came into the world. He showed me a love I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. After number two was born, after number three was born, and now as he matures into an active young man with a life of his own — a physical distance may grow between us, but my love for him remains steadfast.

A mother’s love for her babies never wanes. It can’t be split or divided. It’s exponential.

Even if our energies are redirected, that bond is always there.

A few weeks ago on a school visit, my host escorted me to a classroom and said, “We ordered 30 copies of your book. So, every class will have a chance to read Catcher’s Keeper.”

“Oh, great!” I replied, hiding my surprise. I’d planned a presentation for Forte that day. Cue the proverbial tap dance in front of the classroom to talk about my firstborn book. Good thing my passion for Catcher’s Keeper is as strong as it was upon publication.

What a gift it was to talk about it again. How I’d missed it!

I’d been so passionate about the concept of Catcher’s Keeper — What if Holden Caulfield were around when John Lennon was shot? — I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep until I had the first draft down. I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. I couldn’t believe no one had written it yet. I thought agents and publishers would be knocking down my door for a piece of the action. (That last part didn’t happen, BTW). And then, when Forte was in its final stages prior to publishing, that story was all-consuming. I lived and breathed the words. When it was finally out there, I wanted to promote it as well as I could. It deserved that. All books deserve readers. And goldarnit if I didn’t love Forte *just as much* as I loved my firstborn book.

Well, almost.

Catcher’s Keeper will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s what made me an author. It changed my life.

But don’t get me wrong, when it comes to matters of the heart, my family — my boys — have a monopoly on my love.

Small town, BIG hero

TWILIGHT put Forks on the map. The small town in Washington state had never seen so much attention before being inundated with fictitious vampires and werewolves. Now, a small town in upstate New York is getting its due.

FORTE was featured in in the Arts section of our local paper recently. The focus of the article A Writer’s ‘Forte’ was its small town, local setting of Whitehall, New York (renamed its original Skenesboro in the book).

Why did I choose to set my book in Whitehall?

Whitehall is home of Skene Manor—a beautiful Victorian mansion that sits on the crest of Skene Mountain overlooking the village. As the article says, I admired Skene Manor every time I passed through Whitehall en route from North of Boston to Lake George. In my book, Skene Manor is a character in its own right — and I pull from local folklore to make it shrouded in mystery, with a rumor to be haunted.

Skene Manor, Whitehall, NY

Skene Manor overlooking Whitehall village and Lake Champlain canal

Skene Manor at night

FORTE original cover (& former title) showing Skene Manor at night

As described in FORTE:

As if the mansion magically rose up from the dark trees which surround it. Its turrets give it a medieval feel—like it’s from another world, another time. Its center turret daunting, like Catholic guilt. The floor-to-ceiling windows seem like eyes looking down on the insignificant town. Pointy dormers peek from under the angled roof as if kinking its eyebrows with suspicion. Only the wraparound porch saves it from a sinister feel. Tonight there’s a single light in an upstairs window. It winked out just after a shadow passed over it. Does no one live there? Why only the one light?

Of course, Skene Manor holds just as much intrigue on the inside as it does on the outside. Built by Judge Joseph H. Potter in the late 1800s, much of its gray sandstone was quarried from Skene Mountain. Once privately owned, it then became a bed & breakfast / restaurant, and is now managed by a historic preservation society — and is open to the public for lunches and tours.

Skene Manor foyer and falconry

Skene Manor foyer and falconry

As described in FORTE:

Beyond the grand archway, the main hall is framed with dark wood wainscoting. A wide wallpaper border encircles the room that repeats a scene of horsemen holding a hawk and a pack of dogs.

“Falconry,” Mrs. Potter says. “An old hunting technique. They’d release the falcon and the dogs follow to catch whatever prey the falcon finds. Quite sneaky, don’t you think?”

(Yes, I borrowed the name “Potter” from Skene Manor history, not from a young wizard named Harry.)

Lake Champlain canal (via Lock 12) runs through the center of the village of Whitehall, and also plays a big role in the book. Under this bridge, I placed “canal graffiti” that communicates an ancient feud in the town as well as a prophecy for Sami.

DSCN3738

As described in FORTE:

The canal water is active today, and echoes against the steel of Saunders Bridge. Without this water, the town of Skenesboro wouldn’t be here, Mr. Lachapelle had eagerly told us the first day of history class. These waterways transported supplies during the Revolutionary War, he’d said, but its claim to fame is “birthplace of the US Navy.” Apparently, everything started to crumble when highways and railroads were constructed. And the place kind of became a ghost town. No one uses the canal for trade anymore, really. Just boats coming through the lock for fishing, and then going right back north to Lake Champlain. I’d probably have no luck finding a boat to take me all the way to New York after all.

and

The hush beneath the bridge is calming without my music playing. The cars passing overhead sound like ocean waves. The canal water clucks softly. A dreamy willow tree hangs to the water on the opposite side. There’s an old waterfront building with faded white paint against the brick: Liberty Eatery & Marina.

Founded as “Skenesborough” by British Army Captain Philip Skene at the southern tip of Lake Champlain in 1759, it was renamed Whitehall after the Revolutionary War. Bordering Vermont, Whitehall showed us small-town hospitality when the Town Hall clerk met me and my husband off hours as we traveled in from Massachusetts to give us our marriage license for our New York wedding.

Whitehall, New York holds a special place in my heart.

Whitehall Harbor

Whitehall aka Skenesboro

 

Recently pressed…local ink!

Two new books of note by local grads

Johannah Davies Spero of LG & Marika McCoola of GF

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Two native writers — Johannah Davies Spero, Lake George Class of 1991, and Marika McCoola, Glens Falls Class of 2005, have new books targeted at Young Adult readers and presented by professional publishers coming out, this week and next. Here’s a look at what’s to come.

Johannah Spero: ‘Forte’

Johannah Davies Spero, the Lake George grad, writer and teacher, moved back to this area with her family last year.

Her new book Forte launches with a party at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga on Tuesday, July 28, at 6 p.m.

It is a Young Adult tale with elements of magic and fantasy that is set in Whitehall — here, back to its original name of Skenesborough.

Johanna Davies Spero and her book Forte.

“Sami is a 15-year-old musician who moves from New York City to a small upstate town,” Ms. Spero told The Chronicle.

“She’s the new kid, and the last thing she wants is to hide behind the piano. She’s tall and athletic, and the coach really wants her to join the Volleyball team. Coach takes her by the shoulders and she gets this jolt of magic, and she’s suddenly able to play really well.

“They’re all drinking this potion on the team. It looks like blue Gatorade, and it makes them play better. But it turns out, the next time she goes to the piano, she cannot play. It’s really drawing on an ancient legend, about who she really is, the DNA and the values, what does she believe is important, the piano or her newfound success and popularity in school? At the same time, there is the ancient rivalry, the artistic versus athletic, that is heightened by the magic.

She’s the one who has to make it better for herself, and the town.”

Forte_Bookcover_front-2

The story was inspired by Lake George volleyball coach Cathy “Panic” Stanilka.

“Everyone would say, ‘Play for Panic,’ Ms. Spero says. “My entire story was inspired by this play on words. But I was not going to make a villain out of such a beloved coach from my high school. So I changed her name, and then I had to come up with a new name for the book. Forte, has the double meaning of something you’re good at, your strength, and a musical term for playing with power.

Why Whitehall? “My husband and I used to live on the North Shore of Boston, so we’d come up this way to visit my parents (Jim and Janet Davies). I always thought it was a good town for a story, with Skene Manor on the hill, and the canal. It’s this ordinary town with a splatter of grandness.”

And then, there’s this: “We were both working full time and going to school for our Master’s degrees, and we were planning to get married but didn’t have the time to get a marriage license in New York. I called the town clerk in Whitehall and asked if we could get it after hours and she did. She met us as we were coming through town at 8 o’clock one night.”

The book is available to order on amazon.com. The official launch is Saturday, July 25. Find other events — including the Chronicle Book Fair on Sunday, Nov. 8 — online at jdspero.com.

Ms. Spero self-published her first book, Catcher’s Keeper last year, using professional designers and editors she paid herself, she noted at the time.

Catcher’s Keeper imagines what would happen if Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye were a real person who learned ahead of time that Mark David Chapman planned to assassinate John Lennon, somehow spurred by his book.

“I had planned on self-publishing again, using everything I learned the hard way on Catcher’s Keeper,” she says. “Then a friend who was doing publicity for this publisher Xchyler (‘schuyler’), said I should try it with them. Even if they said yes I could always decline.”

They offered to take the book, she says, and with a royalty percentage that she found especially fair.

Working with a publisher this time, Ms. Spero says, “I realized quickly, maybe I really have more to learn. I’d done a few drafts and already worked with some editors, but they tore it down — and built a mansion.”

Right away, she says, the editor identified a problem character — Sami’s mother — and helped “make the character real,” she says. “They asked really tough questions. It’s mine to create, but it has to make sense. In Young Adult books, a lot of time, the mother is just absent. But here, the mother is there enough it filters into the main character’s experience.”

Ms. Spero says, “It was really interesting. They do everything online, through Google Chat, emails, Facebook messages. I never had a conversation on the phone with them. Everything is documented, in writing, online. It’s been a real learning experience for me.”

More help came from her brother, Jim (also an author).

“I was never really into fantasy or magic books,” Ms. Spero says, “but I grew up right next to this person who was a huge Dungeons and Dragons aficionado. I give him huge kudos. When I had problems I had to get over, like how to do the magic, how can it make sense, what are the rules of my world? He would just tell me, It’s your world. You make the rules.”

Ms. Spero is already on her third book — in a different genre, but with again a teenaged character at the center. Now a full time writer and stay-at-home mother to three young boys, she was formerly a middle school English teacher.

“This new one is about a good boy who makes some really awful mistakes, and the only one who knows is his little brother.”

She laughs, “It looks like I’m so prolific, but all these books were in process for a really long time. This one (Forte), I started almost four years ago. I can’t even describe the feeling of waiting for it to come out, now.”

Marika McCoola: ‘Baba Yaga…’

Meanwhile, twentysomething Glens Falls grad Marika McCoola scored a major book deal with the major publisher Candlewick Press for her debut title, Baba Yaga’s Assistant. The book comes out on August 4. Events are planned around Boston beginning this month. Northshire Books in Saratoga hosts an event on October 2.

Marika McCoola

(Disclosure: Marika is a close friend of this writer, who knew her since she was 4.)

Ms. McCoola went to Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for illustration — and got her MFA in writing for children from Simmons College in Amherst, Mass. — but this first book is illustrated by another artist, Emily Carroll.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant grew out of an MFA project — and, in fact, Jen Linnan, the outside mentor assigned to Ms. McCoola for the project, offered to become her literary agent two weeks after graduation.

Ms. McCoola says, “My style of illustration didn’t fit with this story. I do three-dimensional mixed media which is quirky and sometimes a little dark. So much in this book depends on the facial expressions. She added, “I was blown away by Emily’s illustrations, especially how she used the color palette as the story progressed.”

“The book came to me as an image of the first spread you’ll see in the book, people telling stories of Baba Yaga and what she does. It had to be a graphic novel because of the iron teeth she has, and her house that stands on chicken legs.”

Baba Yaga is a popular Russian folk character, known for eating bad little children but who also appreciates anyone who can outsmart her, Ms. McCoola explained.

Her own story is about a young teenaged girl who was raised by her grandmother after her mother died young; her father has been mostly absent and is about to remarry to a woman with a young, troublesome daughter. The young protagonist, Masha, runs away and apprentices with the old witch.

It’s a pretty dark tale, Ms. McCoola says. The take-away? “We are all trying to search for a family in which we belong, and it’s not necessarily our biological family.”

Her target audience is kids ages 9 to 14 “who like mythology,” she said. “I also love the idea of a character who rewards those who trick her, being smart and using what you have to the best of your ability.”

She said, “Writing a graphic novel is like writing a movie script, only more.” Besides the words, she plans out all of the drawings — even as another artist will do the illustrations. “You have to describe everything that is going to be on the page. You determine how many panels are n a page, where the page turn will be, you describe what the character looks like and track the props.” Even as a new author, she had veto rights on the choice of illustrator and the drawings themselves.

Ms. McCoola lives in Boston, and is currently working on several more book projects, and circulating two more picture books with publishers. She also teaches online through Empire State College, and works in a bookstore. Find info on her book tour online at marikamccoola.com.

Find Baba Yaga’s Assistant at regional bookstores and online at amazon.com.

Copyright © 2015 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ready, set, READ!

Today is the day. FORTE launches into cyberspace. After four years of hard work, it’s finally out in the world. Those who had preordered woke up to a fresh read on their Kindle this morning. Those die-hard traditionals can finally order a paper copy. My blog tour starts tomorrow. My book promoter is developing ads. Wheels are in motion. It’s happening.

This is a dream come true, for me. The fact that a professional publisher, Xchyler Publishing, believed in the book and invested in me is a huge validation of my writing. I feel like I should be running around the streets with a bugle, my boys behind me with cymbals — a marching band! I want to shout into a bullhorn for all the world to hear: My book is here! My book! My book! 

But that’s not happening. It’s a launch of a book, not a rocket. It’s mostly virtual. Online. Through social media, etc. I’m not even sure if our local favorite, Northshire Bookstore, has it yet (well, I kind of do — since my launch party is in just 3 short days at that venue)! I posted a picture of blue fireworks on my Facebook author page in honor of the event. I’m getting lots of likes and “congrats” messages. It’s good stuff, but it’s quiet.

It’s life as normal. I went to the dry cleaner and grocery store this morning. I haven’t even showered yet. I’m planning a double birthday party at a bowling alley for tomorrow afternoon — which also happens to be my husband’s and my 12th anniversary. While all this great life stuff is going on outside, inside my stomach is doing cartwheels. My book is here! And my nose is stuck on my phone screen, to the dismay of my family — my loving, supportive family who has LOTS of important milestones to celebrate this weekend.

Something tells me it’s okay, though. Once they read it, they’ll forgive me.