The Catcher in the Rye

First born, first book

When I started writing Catcher’s Keeper, my oldest was five. He was so little, it never occurred to me that he would ever read it someday. But recently, at age 14, he did. And he loved it.

Reading Catcher's Keeper

Inspired by The Catcher in the Rye, I originally wrote CK for adults — though it’s often paired with Rye in high schools as a YA book (fun fact: Salinger originally wrote Rye for adults too). I may have cleaned CK up a bit if I’d known kids (especially my kids) were going to read it.

I mean, its prose has a toilet mouth. Take the first line:

Not even a week since I moved in with my brother and he’s testing my pacifist nature, butting in on my shit.

And that’s just the first line. (The word ass appears another paragraph down…)

It’s an odd feeling. My son peeled back a layer and saw another side of his mom. One that writes in male voices and curses like a truck driver. Yikes. To say I was relieved that he liked it is an understatement.

Though it was published in 2014, the book has gotten a boost recently. Still a favorite for book clubs, it also resides in several classrooms as a Rye companion. There’s been a slight uptick in sales, which is nice. In November, it was featured on this cool website, Snowflakes in a Blizzard, which highlights and brings awareness to some awesome, lesser-known books.

And hey, the ebook is a bargain at only $2.99!

I’m proud of my first book. But even prouder when I read this from my first born:

I’ve read Catcher in the Rye and I thought it was great. The voice, the conflicts, the hidden messages. But, when I read Catcher’s Keeper, it shed a whole new light on everything. The characters were all so believable as adults, you’d think it was written by JD Salinger himself! That signature Holden Caulfield (now Alden) voice is ever-present, but you experience and feel everyone else in a whole new way. The struggles, the twists, that suspicious MD, and an unforgettable ending makes this book a must-read for anyone who’s read Cather in the Rye. 5 stars. 

Catcher's Keeper book review

Taking “The Stand”

My mother is a self-described bookworm. Not only that, but she remembers nearly every book she’s ever read, and can rattle off not only the name of the author but also the main character and probably even the date of publication. If I didn’t know any better, I think part of her body is made up entirely of books. (Imagine a thick, leafy book brain. That’s Mom’s.)

She, like me, finds it hard to list a single favorite book. There are so many greats! How could we choose just one? But I distinctly remember asking this when I was a teenager and her answer was: Stephen King’s The Stand. (She has since edited her statement to be her favorite Stephen King book). But even in that category, there are so many greats.

Stephen King. We’ve all seen the movies. He’s scared us all out of our wits. Most of us have read at least one of his fascinating page-turners. But recently, I’ve found a connection with King. I recently followed in the footsteps of Mom’s literary hero. (One of them, anyway).

Two years ago, Stephen King was a visiting author at Exeter High. This spring, I was the visiting author at Exeter High. I stood on the same stage, smooged with the same teachers, walked the same halls. I’m hoping some of his greatness clung to the walls of that school, and somehow magically—in a very King-esque fashion—transferred to me. (I’ve been writing like a mad man ever since.)

Exeter High faculty members and me

with librarian and English teacher, Kristina Peterson — who made it all possible

What struck me most about the experience at Exeter High, though, was the professionalism and generous spirit of the school and its faculty. I was there to talk to their sophomores who’d read The Catcher in the Rye about my Catcher’s Keeper. I presented on the context of my story, its connection to Salinger’s classic, and even read from each of the three voices. The screen onto which my Powerpoint was projected took up the entire length of the stage.

Author visit to High Schools

little me, BIG presentation

I stood to the side at the podium, microphone in hand, and spoke to a collection of American Literature students throughout third period. My presentation was capped off by a Q&A by one of their American Lit teachers, Oprah-couch-style. There were even questions from the audience.

Author Q&A

He “trolled” my Twitter to get the dirt on me.

The entire experience made me feel less like a self-published, rookie author and more like a bestselling, famous one. And with the same Exeter High sweatshirt souvenir that King also has in his closet, maybe I’m on my way.

Stephen King at Exeter

Stephen King with Exeter souvenir

JD Spero at Exeter High

me with Exeter souvenir

After all, Mom now says her favorite book is Catcher’s Keeper. (Right, Mom?)

Regardless, I just downloaded The Stand.

Here is the link to the video of my presentation. Enjoy.

Some awesome questions from the Q&A:

CITR is so widely read and critiqued. Did you ever feel intimidated taking these characters and this world?

Catcher’s Keeper is written in three voices. Was there a voice that came more easily than another?

What did you learn about process with Catcher’s Keeper that helped you with your second novel Forte?

Was there a scene that you knew needed attention but that you dreaded working on? 

One of the things Jerry and his editors struggle in this book is the title. At what point did the title Catcher’s Keeper come to you and what are its implications?

A question from one of my students: Why is she allowed to do this?

Would you consider this a sequel or spiritual successor to The Catcher in the Rye?

I saw on Twitter: “Turns out, it’s not ready for the end. It’s ready for Part II.”

You presented a workshop on self-publishing on last year’s DFW writer’s conference. What is your advice for anyone who would want to self publish?

Did your success with Catcher’s Keeper help you land the deal with your current publisher?

How many hours a day do you spend writing?

When you stick to a writing schedule, does it feel like work? 






Case of the Stolen Manuscript

Over a year ago, I read an article in Vanity Fair magazine about how Harper Lee has been royally screwed (my words) out of her fair share of royalties for To Kill a Mockingbird, the beloved, world-famous American Literature classic. The article is worth reading in its entirety, and it implies that her experience was so negative that it prevented her from wanting to publish anything else. When directly asked, she reportedly replied: “Because I wouldn’t go through all the terrible publicity and the strain of what happened with Mockingbird for any amount of money.”

As an author, a teacher, and fan of TKAM, it was a pretty disturbing read. Those feelings are swirling back as I read article after article about a manuscript that was written by Harper Lee eons ago and has been miraculously uncovered and submitted to HarperCollins by a London-based agent. There’s much speculation as to whether or not Harper Lee—at 88 and in extremely fragile health ever since her stroke in 2007—is even aware that her work has been sold and published now that her lawyer and sister, Alice Lee, (known as Harper Lee’s “protector”) has passed away. Regardless as to whether or not “Go Set a Watchman” will satisfy fans of TKAM, it undoubtedly will sell millions. The entire literary world questions whether Harper Lee wants this book out there at all…and whether or not she’ll reap any monetary reward from its sales. The Wall Street Journal recently reported how “Watchman” was presented to HarperCollins, the process suspiciously without author involvement. There is no evidence that Harper Lee does not want “Watchman” published. Agent and publisher claim she is “delighted” that the manuscript has been found after all these years, although where exactly it was found is still a mystery. *(Update: one of my former students sent me this link, which includes a very odd interview with Harper Lee’s editor. Worth a read.)

It’s just too delicious not to speculate…what if this manuscript is being published behind her back? What if it’s been “stolen” from Lee—and is a precursor to more stolen royalties?

How much should author interests be respected here? The literary world is also eager to read uncovered manuscripts of JD Salinger, as outed in the documentary “Salinger” by Mr. Shane Salerno. Did Salinger ever want these manuscripts published? If so, wouldn’t they already be out in the world? Are we so eager to hear from the famously reclusive author that we no longer care? Or, on a more morbid note, now that he’s dead, is it all fair game? (This Buzzfeed article discusses this ‘author intent’ issue. Some of the authors included might surprise you.)

My mom pointed out the similarities between the WSJ article “Harper Lee Bombshell” and the book publication shenanigans in CATCHER’S KEEPER. One of my favorite scenes in my book is when Jerry, during a slump in his screenwriting career, walks into his agent’s office with his brother’s journal under his arm. What happens next is quintessential SNAFU.

This scene—one of my favorites—is rare in that it’s hardly been revised. It’s essentially stayed the same since my very first draft. My writer friends will know how improbable that is! Enjoy…


“Hey-ya Jerry!” Mitch says over his desk as he hangs up his phone. “Good to see you! Did we have a meeting?” He runs his finger down his planner.

Mitch, my agent, is about ten years my junior and hasn’t got a single strand of grey in his full head of dark brown hair. I used to have hair like that, Janine was always quick to remind me. His shirts—collar always open—are perfectly bleached white, which make his teeth look slightly wan. Other than that, he’s a decent-looking guy, if you’re into Italian types. Some girls go nuts for those dark, intense eyebrows. He’s got an excessive amount of energy, which puts me on edge. But he’s the best in the business and I’m lucky to have him. I just can’t afford to piss him off again.

“No, no,” I say. “I won’t bother you. I know you’re busy. I was hoping to use that spare machine for a while.”

“Yours broken?”

I shake my head. “My brother is staying with me for a bit. He needs to use it. Well, I offered to let him use it.”

Mitch rubs the back of his neck. “Jerry, we reserve that spare for non-local authors who are on deadline. Who have a contract.”

I hear the emphasis. But what can I say? It’s been a tough dry spell since the divorce. And the M*A*S*H fiasco, I don’t even want to think about that. Mitch and I haven’t been the same since.

Mitch weaves around his desk and closes the door. “Hey-ya,” he whispers. “I happen to know it’s available for a couple weeks. You could squat until our next out-of-state author comes in.”

“Really? Wow, Mitch. That is just great—”

“But! Hold on.” He points a hand at me. “You have to work on an approved project. Something I’m going to sell. You can’t just sit and tinker.”

“Tinker? Mitch, you know me. You know how hard I work.”

“Yeah, when it’s your own stuff. You work your ass off on whatever interests you. Someone wants you to make war doctors funny and you get so obtuse, you offend the entire studio!” He waves his arms as if to shoo a school of fruit flies. My skin seems to swell on the spot. Weird how shame makes you feel huge when you want to shrink away. Thank goodness the door’s closed.

“I can’t apologize enough for that,” I say to the floor.

“Nah, forget it. Onward and upward. Whatcha got?” He settles back into his chair and taps his fingers on his desk protector, eyeing Alden’s binder in my hands.

My stomach drops. I forgot I was still holding it. “Oh, this? This is nothing. I mean it’s something, but—”

It’s out of my grip and open on his desk before I can object. As Mitch reads, I start to hyperventilate.


I tell a half-truth. “Mitch, I have this amazing idea for a screenplay. I’m sure it will sell on the big screen. Maybe we could get Jackie Earle Haley to play the lead—”

Mitch shuts me up with a wave of his hand. I force myself to sit as sweat collects beneath my shirt collar. Mitch’s eyes are moving at lightning-agent speed over Alden’s binder, but his expression is blank.

He flips to a random page in the middle and reads on. Outside his office door, Nancy the secretary looks in, her eyes question marks. When I go to open the door for her, she retreats, vehemently shaking her head. Please interrupt, I want to say. But she knows better, especially when Mitch is reading something.

He flips to the end and reads back a few pages. I strain to see. I didn’t even get that far. Shit. Poor Alden. I’m so sorry, brother. I’m silently chanting this apology until my tongue goes dry. Maybe I’ll sneak out to the bubbler.

“You son of a bitch,” Mitch says.

My jaw drops. “Excuse me?”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! So this is what you’ve been doing? This is what you’ve been hiding from me?”

“Well, no. Not exactly, see. This is a journal—”

“I know! I can tell! The point of view is extraordinary. A kid. A spoiled brat of a kid with a quirky way of talking. He’s funny, this kid. Got an interesting voice. You have a few inconsistencies, I see already, but it might work considering it’s written from a kid’s perspective. Yes, it just might work.” He sucks on the end of his pen, his eyes on the ceiling. “We have to think of a good title. But that will come. How soon can you get this typed up?” He gets up, starts pacing.

My mouth is agape. I should interrupt him, but nothing comes out. It’s been so long since he’s been excited about something from me—

He claps his hands, giving me a start. “Get the first thirty pages to me by the end of the day and I’ll start working on a pitch. We’ll send it out tomorrow to Tracy at Little, Brown.” He slaps me on the back. “Hell, yeah! You’re back, Jerry. I knew you could do it.”

He slides back into his chair and starts typing, his lips pursed and eyes narrowing.

I clear my throat. There’s got to be a way to save this. “Mitch? I was planning on converting it to a screenplay. And I’m not tied to the names. I was planning on changing them.” Jesus, at the very least I have to change the names.

He stops typing—he does not like being interrupted—and glares at me. “Wha? What are you saying? Screenplay? No, that won’t work at all. You’ll lose the voice, which is the best part.”

“Yes, but with a narrator—”

“Fuck, no. Please. What you have here is going to work. Don’t mess with it. Do what you want with the names. I see you worked your own name in there. A little autobiography in every piece is expected. The title, that’s what’s important now.”


Mitch cuts the air like an umpire. “No screenplay. Change names. Find a good title. Got it?”

He starts typing again, bobbing his head with the rhythm of it. I feel like I might throw up. He finally likes something I’ve got—wants to sell it—and it’s not mine. What the hell am I going to do?

I start to back out of the office. “Hey-ya, don’t forget your binder, Jerry.” Mitch hands it over with his signature wink. “That’s gold right there.”

Where are they now?

“Children’s lives are fiendishly hard. Adults, having survived childhood, turn their minds to the future, and if they have a choice, generally retain only the rosiest of childhood memories.” ― Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked

You know those irresistible sites that show you how child celebrities look now as grown ups? That’s kind of what I’ve done with Catcher’s Keeper, yet focusing on voice rather than appearance. It was the subject of my recent talk at the Chronicle Book Fair yesterday.

The Catcher in the Rye perfectly captures a voice of the quintessential troubled American teen, whose problems seem so insurmountable there is no option but to run away. This famous, coming-of-age story captures a tenuous time in a young person’s life in a realistic voice that is—ironically—honest as well as unreliable, as most teens tend to be. Having taught high school (and remembering what it was like to be a teen), I know first-hand the phenomenon of the adult/child that is the teen. They may look like adults, but they are children. They still need clear boundaries. They need clear explanations on right versus wrong. Unable to foresee consequences for their inevitable misguided actions, they need leadership. They need unconditional love. They need forgiveness. They are confused and fragile while trying to figure out exactly who the heck they are and what role they could possibly play in the world and society, facing huge life choices (college, career, etc). At the same time discerning peer pressure, as well as juggling homework and hormones and activities and work and, now, social media…

Can you think of a better embodiment of “the teen” other than Holden Caulfield?

What would this teen be like as a grown up? How would you hear his voice?

In order to answer these questions, you have to first answer: What happened to him from the time we met him as a privileged, anti-war, anti-phony 16 y/o in the 1950s to the time of Lennon’s death in 1980?

My answer?

He was a hippie, of course. A draft-dodger. And as a 40 y/o in 1979, he’s emerging from his drug-induced, carefree lifestyle funded by the family trust. He’s trying to get his life together, but he still struggles with the loss of his baby brother, Allie (a huge theme in The Catcher in the Rye), and (in recent years) the loss of his mother. Here’s my version of him, coming home to his big brother’s pad where he’s crashing a while. (Character list is as follows, Jerry: big brother, Janine: Jerry’s ex, Fiona: little sister, Allie: deceased little brother)


Lucky me. Jerry’s gone when I get in. I shuck off my kicks and watch a little news. But then I get sucked into this true story of a football player who battled cancer and won, and then came back out to play before all his hair grew in again. And he was better than ever. Coach said he played with more heart. They made this big deal about his hair growing in different. Curly. They say that it sometimes happens with cancer survivors. The story just about kills me. I mean, I have to wipe tears off my goddam cheeks. The heavy background music doesn’t help. Geez, they really know how to tug at your heartstrings. I get that this is a totally awesome outcome for this guy, but all I can do is think of Allie, whether his hair would’ve grown in different. If it had a chance to.

I click off the boob tube and decide to take a shower. Sometimes I think better under a rush of hot water. I can’t get Allie’s hair out of my mind, though, which makes me think of Fiona’s hair when she was a kid. I’m still dripping from the shower when I search the closet in Jerry’s spare room for an old photo album so I can see it—the color. Just the brightest, most far-out red. Neither one of them loved it. Fiona knows how to work hers now, though. Besides it’s changed, like it’s matured along with her. Now it’s this dark auburn shade other chicks go bananas for.

I find a thick forest-green album of Jerry and Janine’s vacation to Aruba or somewhere beachy. One photo catches my eye. Jerry’s beaming at the camera, just beaming, and Janine has her hand near his face, her fingers curled around his ear. And she’s looking at him with this half smile, like she’s thinking of something else. I can’t stop looking at this pic, see, because it seems to explain why they called it quits. I’m sure to you they would look like a sweet, happy couple. But I can see it in her eyes; she’s not totally there with Jerry. She’s already halfway gone.

I slam the book away and dress in haste. Suddenly it’s way too quiet in the apartment. I turn on Sgt. Pepper. Loud. Good ol’ “Penny Lane.” I sing along at the top of my lungs. Boo-yah! I sit down at the machine, the tunes full tilt, and start typing with my pointers. I’m totally fast now. Just cruising. I crank out two chapters lickety-split. I decide to stretch my legs and print out what I have so far.

The sound of the printing is driving me crazy, so I venture out to see if Jerry’s got any Coke. Something tells me I drank his last. And I’m right.

Some readers have criticized Alden’s voice claiming it is too immature for a forty year old man. However, at 41, I know from personal experience that some forty-somethings still act like children. (Heck, some fifty-somethings still act like children.) With affection, my inspiration for Alden’s childlike character was inspired by one of my childhood friends who is now a grown man with a free spirit, a liberal use of jargon, and an enormous propensity for fun. Perhaps Alden’s use of slang seems unrealistic to some, yet if you consider who he was (Salinger’s Holden) and what he would have lived through (death of sibling, failure at school…and then Vietnam, hippie 60s), perhaps his mannerisms are not that unrealistic. Taking poetic license as an author, it was also a clear way to distinguish his voice from his brother’s, which was a concern of mine.

For Catcher’s Keeper, getting voice right was crucial. If my readers did not believe in my characters, they would never believe what happens when they do finally meet Mark David Chapman—who appears as an overzealous fan who shows up on the book tour.

What do you think—will my characters succeed? If Holden Caulfield were a real person, would he be able to save Lennon? You’ll just have to read the book to find out!

Denied parole

It was all over the news and my Facebook yesterday. Mom even sent me a personal email. Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon, was denied parole for the eighth time by New York authorities. Why this news is relevant to me is probably not a surprise, but the effect of seeing his recent mugshot on the BBC website had on me certainly was. The now-59-year-old man is looking at me. Directly at me. Challenging me. Or, perhaps, charming me.


Mark David Chapman is called “MD” in Catcher’s Keeper. I chose to call him by his initials because, honestly, I didn’t want to humanize him. I didn’t think he deserved it. My biggest challenge in writing this book was, without a doubt, portraying a believable Chapman. Initially, I had been swayed by my own bias and created an already-guilty Chapman. But he wasn’t guilty of anything before pulling that trigger, except attempting his own suicide. In my book, he doesn’t pull the trigger until nearly the last chapter. When he comes on the scene, he had to appear somewhat ordinary, with the potential to do something awful. A mentally unstable individual who seemed pretty normal.

How was I going to do that?

I took the advice of character-building expert, David Corbett (The Art of Character), which forced me to do what I had been avoiding and, frankly, dreading: Get into Mark David Chapman’s head. Understand him. Know him. Get under his skin.

I read Jack Jones’s Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon in just 2 days. It was disturbing, to say the least. Haunting. I learned that Chapman was indeed charming, and was able to charm his way from mental patient to an employee at that same mental clinic—-where he was known to play therapist to other patients while mopping floors. His ability to manipulate was astounding. With almost a serial-killer quality, he could lure people into trusting him, such as the doorman at the Dakota the night of December 8, 1980. That night, he mingled with other fans—-people who also were charmed by him. People who were later completely shocked and taken aback that someone so nice and unassuming could do something so awful.

How does a writer believably convey a living person with such a complex outer persona? Not to mention his impossibly convoluted inner persona…

After painstakingly doing my research, I completely revamped the MD that appears in Catcher’s Keeper.

I wonder what Mark David Chapman would think of him.

Book Excerpt

This excerpt from Catcher’s Keeper introduces Mark David Chapman from the point of view of my Holden Caulfield (renamed Alden). They meet during the book tour for “Jerry’s book” (aka The Catcher in the Rye).


So I’m outside having a smoke when this dude comes up to me. I’d say he’s, like, mid-thirties, kind of on the heavy side, with mousy-brown hair and big brown-rimmed glasses. He’s wearing a black trench coat and this fur hat like they wear in Russia.

“Did it start yet? Did I miss it?” he asks me, clutching a book—Jerry’s book—in his hands.

“Miss what? The reading?”

He nods like mad. Even though it’s cold, guy’s sweating. His glasses slide down his nose and he shoves them back. Maybe give the furry hat a break, I would say. But it suits his babyish moon-face.

“No,” I say. “I mean, it did start. But it just started.”

Here’s the funny thing: He touches me on the shoulder, like I just saved his goddam life, and thanks me up and down. I kinda laugh, and he laughs too. It’s the kind of moment that used to link us hippies back in the day—stronger than clothes or drugs or anything else. It was that kind of synchronized laugh.

He tips his furry Russian hat and says in a really bad British accent, “Thank ye! G’daye sir!”

What a goofball! At the same time, I’m grateful, since he totally cheered me up. Dude boogies inside. He has the book in his hand, waving it around like a cautionary flag. Cracks me up. The book just came out and he’s, like, all over it. It’s a miracle anyone’s even read the thing, much less liked it…

* * *

I’m on my way back from the pharmacy, weaving through throngs of shoppers, when some dude thumps his hand on my chest. Stops me dead in my tracks. I look up, kinda ticked. It’s the furry-hat dude! My laugh is automatic—offering that thing that connected us.

“You!” he says, like he just won the lottery. “You’re the brother!”

That stops me cold. “What?”

“The author said, during the reading, he owed it all to his brother, who was out having a smoke.” He points with his hand, which is wrapped in a wrist brace. He’s got a Southern drawl, which I hadn’t noticed before. And his smile—although as broad as the Sargasso Sea—ends with his mouth, like his eyes aren’t invited to the party.

He goes on: “He said it was your story he documented for you. It says in the acknowledgments that you were the inspiration for it all. But it’s more than that. It’s you! It’s you, isn’t it? It’s got to be. Wow. I can’t believe it. I met you before I even met him.”

I cringe inside, wishing a wall of steel between me and that goddam book. I feel my face fall, so I turn away. But he keeps right up with me. I mean, he seems cool. You’d think he would run the other way knowing I was the true narrator of that book. But it’s like it’s a good thing, in his mind. Never thought that would happen.

“And I thought I was late!” he says. “Thank goodness I was late. I may never have met you!”

“Yo, we actually haven’t met,” I say, pausing on the sidewalk to extend my hand.

Furry-hat dude slaps his own forehead. “I’m so sorry!” But he doesn’t look sorry. “I’m MD.” He takes my hand, the Velcro on his wrist-brace scratching my fingertips.

“MD?” I ask.

“No, I’m not a doctor.” He laughs, sounding like a little girl this time, making me giggle too. As if we’re both high as a kite.

“I didn’t think you were a doctor,” I say, still laughing.

“I’m an acronym! Just like your brother. He uses his initials for the book, so I’m using mine. But my wife calls me Mark.”

“Hi, Acronym. Or should I call you Mark?”

We both have a giggle fit again.

“Call me MD. But what’s your name? Do you go by Holden?”

My laughter drops fast as a hiccup. “No, no. It’s Alden.”

Let’s talk, teacher to teacher.

Today is my birthday. I’ve reached an age when birthdays aren’t quite as fun as they used to be. However, I’ve never been one to turn down an opportunity to celebrate.

And I have lots to celebrate.

Last night, I gave another presentation about my creative process, my book, and my experience in self-publishing. It was held at Samantha’s Cafe, where retro décor juxtaposed exposed brick walls, making it feel like a venue in TriBeCa rather than in Glens Falls. We had books there for sale, although many who attended not only had already read the book, but brought it for me to sign. And, although the room could have squeezed in more attendees, the tables were filled.


With my family as backdrop, I answer an FAQ: How do you find time to write?

Adrenaline kicked in and my presentation took off. I was passionate as ever about the subject matter, and eagerly shared my story with the group. When speaking about how I thought of the story, I paused to ask, “How many of you are teachers?”

Almost every person raised a hand.

I shared my story about student teaching without missing a beat; little did they know my heart had missed a few. Because, you see…This was what I’d been waiting for.

During a recent online interview, I was asked: How do you hope this book affects its readers?

My response? I hope to evoke an emotional reaction in my readers. I’m also eager to hear from academics, specifically American literature experts who know The Catcher in the Rye as well as I do. I hope they would appreciate the many Catcher references, and I hope they would find my characters believable.

Most in the room were high school English teachers, who acknowledged my references to Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye with reaffirming nods and appreciative smiles. Immediately after my talk, one teacher wanted to know if I’d be willing to present to such-and-such group.


“How about sich-and-such group?”

“I would love to!”

“What about sach-and-such?”


“Are you booking into 2015 or would you be able to do something in September?”

“Um…I think I can squeeze something in in September!” *happy belly-flies*

Then I was asked (by more than one teacher) to inscribe books not to individuals, but to schools where they planned to donate my book.

My heart nearly sprouted wings.

sam cafe

Speaking with Sue Merrill, QHS English teacher who taught “The Catcher in the Rye” for over 25 years.

One of the attendees happened to be my high school superintendent, Mr. Parker, who had reread The Catcher in the Rye in preparation for reading Catcher’s Keeper. During the Q&A, his nostalgia for Holden and his siblings was evident. I was particularly keen to hear what he thought of my book.

He approached me after my talk, my book opened to the very last page. I knew before looking what he was going to ask me about: the unfavorable review I’d received on an earlier version of the book, which is now part of the Discussion Questions at the end.

“What is this person saying here?” he asked.

“Well, this reviewer apparently hated The Catcher in the Rye and also hated Catcher’s Keeper.”

Mr. Parker looked at me as if I were still an impressionable teenager under his academic care.

“Well, I loved them both!” he said. He shared with me he’d be seeing my old guidance counselor and couldn’t wait to share it with him—and promptly made my night.

Here is my birthday wish: I want to share my book with schools. I want to visit schools, present to teachers and students who are studying American Literature. This is what I plan to offer exclusive to schools:

  • Author visit and presentation, tailored for high-school students
  • Author responses to discussion questions – including an unpublished (controversial) question
  • Teacher lesson plan, assessment, and key – focusing on Catcher references and parallels
  • Teacher lesson plan: banned book debate/activity

What do you say, teacher friends? Let’s work together now to put something on the calendar for the 2014-2015 academic year!

I’ll be waiting eagerly to hear from you. But for now, I have some candles to blow out.

A year in the life of a book-to-be

The road to publication is never easy, although I do hope by documenting the bumps in mine, I can smooth the ride for future authors. Here is my story:

March 2013

While on vacation at my parent’s house in Florida, I got word that Catcher’s Keeper had made it into the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I knew right then that this was a major turning point for my writing career. Only 5% of the 10,000 submitted entries make it into the quarter-finals, which was enough validation for me to commit to publishing my book—no matter how much further I made it in the contest. I was neither surprised nor discouraged that my journey in the contest ended there. Rather, I immediately got to work on publishing it myself.


I hired a very talented editor, Cassandra Dunn, for a manuscript critique on what I thought was my completed manuscript. What did I learn from this critique? My book was far from being done. My early readers will agree that although my initial drafts had a pretty solid plotline, my characters were a little thin…and passive. No wonder I didn’t make it further in the contest!


At the DFW Writer’s Conference, I attended a brilliant talk by David Corbett about character development and immediately bought his book The Art of Character. But it wasn’t until I reached out to Mr. Corbett personally via email about how to convey a “sociopath” (Mark David Chapman) in a believable way—that I took his words to heart. His response was transforming. Here’s a piece of it:

First off, try not to label your characters with pseudo-psychiatric terms. “Sociopath” won’t help you justify and defend this character—and as his creator, that’s your obligation. Whatever he’s doing, there’s a reason, and you need to understand it and see its logic, even if you disagree with it. Otherwise you’re creating a plot puppet, not a character.

His advice forced me to do what I had been avoiding and, frankly, dreading: get into Mark David Chapman’s head. Understand him. Know him. I realized I had been swayed by my own bias and created an already-guilty Chapman. Something I definitely had to fix.

I read Jack Jones’s Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon in just 2 days. It was disturbing, to say the least. Haunting. From here, I completely revamped the MD that appears in Catcher’s Keeper.

This took a while. (Like, all summer).


I hired Cassandra Dunn for a second critique to make sure the problems she’d pointed out were resolved. I was relieved to receive only a few minor recommendations from her at this point. After another quick revision, I emailed Cassandra to ask if she thought it was ready to publish, if she would give her “blessing” so to speak. Because I was self-publishing, I felt I needed an objective opinion on this. Cassandra was encouraging and complimentary; she basically told me to go for it.

Deep breath.


With major revisions complete, it was time for copy-editing. I sent it to a very talented copy-editor who is also my close personal friend, Sandra Hume. Sandra began the copy-editing process, but after a few chapters, called to suggest she start over with line edits to tighten things up. Although this would push out my launch date, I agreed it was the right thing to do.

What she did to my manuscript I describe as “sprinkling magic fairy dust.” Sandra has a unique talent to streamline for effect, and she did not disappoint. I say to this day, this book would not be the same without her.

While Sandra worked on line edits, I hired my cover designer. I found Joleene Naylor’s name through Mark’s List (as in Mark Coker of Smashwords). I’d read 3 of Coker’s free ebooks, and considered myself a quasi-expert in e-publishing by now (ha, ha…more on that later). I sent Joleene (Jo) a PowerPoint with my concept for the cover, and it only took one or two go-arounds before Jo got it perfect. And thanks to my friend Tember Fasulo at Amazon, I procured a high res image of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award seal to use in the design, which makes all the difference. I’ve gotten so many compliments on my cover. Coker and every other ebook marketer will say a good cover sells a book more than anything. I was ecstatic; my dream was becoming real…and I was showing everyone the JPEG on my phone. Jo charged me just $45.

At this point, I wasn’t thinking of my paperback cover, just ebook. (Mistake!)

Back to the “interior.” After reconciling all line edits and time-period inconsistencies, Sandra took it back (again!) to copy edit the final version. (This would be about the 4th time Sandra read my book.)


While Sandra copy-edited, my family relocated from Texas to upstate New York. Just to keep things interesting. Then holiday season geared up, which slowed things down a bit.


Around Christmas, Sandra sent me the final, copyedited manuscript. After reviewing and making the changes, it was ready. This is the last stage of the process, folks. I knew it was ready to go.


I panicked.

What do I do now, I thought? Do I just upload it to Amazon—easy as that? But everyone’s drinking eggnog! Who launches a book in the middle of Fa-La-La and Ho-ho-ho?

January 2014

Keeping things interesting again: On January 10, we closed on vacation/investment oceanfront property (aka beach house).

I set up a call with children’s book author and PR expert, Anika Denise (who also happens to be a very good friend), to help me brainstorm ideas for a launch kit / press kit. We decided on a launch date of March 1st, which would allow me to submit to the IPPY awards before their March 15th deadline. At this point, I had no author platform at all. We discussed the basics: setting up a website, creating discussion questions, getting author quotes to use for marketing purposes. We also discussed setting up a blog tour, putting together a book video, maximizing social media, and other strategies to take advantage of our ever-evolving digital age. Anika connected me with a few author friends of hers who’ve had e-publishing success, one of whom was Sebastian Cole, author of Sand Dollar.

Sebastian was a sea of information. He practically wrote another book in his emails to me, which were chock full of publishing and marketing strategies that worked for him. (I will be going back to these emails for months to come.)

It was Sebastian who convinced me to enroll in KDP Select program (e-book exclusivity through Amazon/Kindle).

This was a hard decision for me. I had read Mark Coker’s books and was a huge fan of his. I believe in Smashwords’s mission. And, frankly, I thought (think) KDP Select is trying to create a monopoly by bullying authors into an exclusivity contract, which disregards any reader that isn’t Kindle (Nook, Sony, Kobo, etc). But when a writing instructor said that after ten years, he’s only sold 3 or 4 books through Smashwords whereas he’s sold hundreds through KDP, I could not ignore the numbers.


Here’s a bit of Sebastian’s convincing argument to go KDP Select:

Self-published authors sell their books primarily online, not in bookstores. And people won’t know to look for you online if they’ve never heard of you before. So marketing is the biggest challenge for indie authors. It’s good to start local, but that doesn’t sell many books. The best way to gain exposure is to temporarily give your eBook away for free in conjunction with getting your eBook listed with a promotional eBook website such as BookBub, Pixel of Ink, eReader News Today, and FK Books and Tips. With the exception of BookBub, these promotional websites are only geared for Amazon’s Kindle, not the Nook, iPad, etc. When I first started getting reviews, I had gotten about 40 reviews on Amazon, while I only had about 4 reviews at Barnes & Noble, and none at iTunes. For some reason Amazon is where it’s at. Amazon also allows you to set up an author page there, and Barnes & Noble does not. For whatever reason, Amazon’s Kindle is running away with market share for eBooks, in my opinion.

Here’s the thing. I’m not looking to get rich here. In fact, it’s not about making money at all. I just want my book to be read. But not just by friends and family, and that requires people to know that the book exists. What I decided to do is: KDP Select for the required 3-month timeframe, and then switch to regular KDP and also publish through Smashwords. So, I’ll get there, Mr. Coker. Promise.

As I was working on my launch kit (anyone need a quickie tutorial on WordPress, I’m your girl), I contacted Ms. Joleene Naylor about doing my wrap cover for my paperback version.

Why didn’t I start this earlier?

(I should’ve started this earlier.)

Jo needed some info for the wrap design: how many pages is the book, what trim size would I like.

Trim size?

Thank goodness Jo seemed amused rather than annoyed at my rookie ignorance (at least in the beginning). Jo explained trim size is simply the physical size of the book, and that most CreateSpace books are either 6×9 or 5×8. So, I did what any new-age author would do, I went old school. I took a ruler to my parents’ bookshelf until I found my ideal trim size: 5×8. I was feeling good about things. In control.


After securing a jacket quote from my writing instructor and agonizing over my own bio, I sent Jo the copy for my back cover. This was the first week of February. I’m not sure how it happened, but suddenly Jo and I were in a huge rush. She’s the one who told me I had to upload everything to CreateSpace in time to order a physical proof of the book in time to carefully review it before officially publishing. That takes time.

While Jo worked on the wrap design, I decided to take a look at CreateSpace’s formatting guidelines to make sure my manuscript was formatted appropriately.

I felt really confident about this. I had attended an e-publishing workshop at DFWcon. I had completed an online course on e-publishing through Ed2Go. My manuscript had been formatted appropriately for months.

But then I realized, I had been so concerned about ebook formatting (ereaders often don’t read symbols, misconstrue tabs and over-indent, etc) I had neglected to format my paperback version, which requires wider interior margins and mirrored page numbers…and indented paragraphs.

I was looking at hours of formatting for my print version…and I wasn’t even sure I knew how to do it.


I messaged my friend Kelly Van Hull, author of the Tent City series, whom I’ve never met in person but have exchanged a million emails after taking an online writing course together. She’s been a great resource regarding the technicalities of publishing.

Kelly connected me with her formatter, Karen Perkins at LionheART Publishing House. I sent Karen a frantic email and within just a *few hours*, I had the following versions perfectly formatted in my inbox: Kindle, Smashwords, CreateSpace. She charged me only $31.


By the time we finalized the wrap design, it was 2 weeks before launch. Throw in school break and a family road trip and—oh yeah—planning an important fundraiser with my husband, who will run the Boston Marathon for a cause that is extremely close to our hearts…to say we were busy would be a huge understatement.

I’d uploaded the files the night before leaving for our beach house. En route, I received an email that my cover design was “rejected” by CreateSpace because it contained the word Amazon. My award seal. They said I couldn’t use it.

I got on the phone with CreateSpace.

“I’m sorry. It’s our policy.”

I asked to speak with a supervisor. Jeremy (a supervisor) had me on hold for the good part of an hour, checking with different departments and whoever else. I paced, meditating on the sound of the ocean waves crashing ashore, reminding myself to be kind to these people who held my fate in their hands (okay, I’m a sucker for drama, but you get me).  Finally, Jeremy came back with good news. He was astonished himself that they were approving the design contingent on getting written approval from Amazon that I could use the star image.

Clock is ticking. I called and emailed Tember at Amazon, but couldn’t reach her. I called her husband, who was my brother’s best friend growing up and therefore feels like my own brother, and spewed out my problem like an auctioneer on crack. He said he would track down Tember, but also warned me that she might not be able to help.

Two minutes later, I got the following email from Tember:

Hi Johannah – the Amazon image I sent for your book cover is the appropriate one to use. Please be sure to include it. Thanks, Tember

Happy dance!

Ducking into the back room of the restaurant where I was dining with my in-laws, I got back onto the phone with CreateSpace to ensure my email from Amazon would suffice and allow me to use the seal.

Good news: Design is approved!

Bad news: Files must go into review process, which takes 24-48 hours.

Ten days until launch.

I rush-ordered my proof when my files were finally approved, ignoring the canned message that something was wrong with my trim size. (I had Jo; nothing could be wrong with it, right?)

While I waited for my proof to come in, I decided to upload my files for my ebook early, in case Amazon had an issue with the seal.

Just upload the files, right? It can’t be that simple, can it?

Oh yes, it can!

I couldn’t believe how easy it was to publish my ebook on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program. Almost too easy. It was as simple as attaching a document to an email. Suddenly, my book was published. Before my deadline. I decided to leave it on Amazon and just not promote it until launch day.

On Tuesday, February 25, at 9 p.m., my proof came in.

Let me try to explain how exciting this was. The butterflies in my stomach nearly rivaled the moment when the man I desperately loved told me he wanted to marry me. My smile hurt my ears. I kept opening the book to random pages, seeing a sentence I created, and squealing. I hopped around the house as if I’d just won a part on Broadway.

Of course, there had to be a problem though. Of course.

The back of my beautiful wrap design was bleeding into the spine of the book, making the back cover text bend when the book opened. Not good.

I took pics with my phone and sent them to Jo. Thankfully for me, Jo works the evening shift. She was able to troubleshoot the problem that very night. But then she asked me an important question.

Did your page count go up after formatting?


I had told Jo my page count was 226. After LionheART formatted it, the page count went up to 268! Of course the spine was too narrow. Jo had the wrong page count, thanks to me. (I doubt Jo will ever take on a rookie client again). Armed with the correct page count, Jo quickly fixed the wrap design. But then it had to go through the review process with CreateSpace again. I worried the ABNA seal issue would resurface.

Meanwhile, one of my good friends found my book on Amazon and posted it to Facebook. Wait! I haven’t “launched” yet! I decided to go with it, and followed up with “ebook early release” posts on my website and all social media. Word got out. It started selling. I even got a bookclub gig before my launch date.

It took about 24 hours for CreateSpace to approve all my files. Even after finalizing my wrap design and my interior, I was still receiving error messages from CreateSpace—which I ignored. Everything looked good via their Digital Proofer. It was February 28.


I couldn’t believe it, but on Saturday, March 1, I was able to digitally approve my paperback and publish on CreateSpace. Minutes later, it was available on Amazon. I had made my official launch date.

But the drama did not end there.

Dad downloaded my book, started reading, and sent me an email that he’d found a few typos. What? How is that possible? Reviewing the errors he found, I recognized some of them as errors I had already fixed with Sandra.

Oh no. Did I send the wrong version to the formatter?

I couldn’t worry about that. With each change, I had to change all 3 formatted versions (Kindle, Smashwords, CreateSpace), without disrupting the formatting or page count. Uploading a new ebook file was easy, but CreateSpace required the files to go through a 24-hour review period, during which time buyers would get an “out of print” message if they tried to purchase a paperback. I waited until Dad was finished reading with his eagle eye for typos. Meanwhile, 50 paperbacks were purchased.


Five days after my official launch, I uploaded a new file to CreateSpace at 11 p.m., hoping few would try to buy in the middle of the night. By 1 p.m. the next day, my files were approved. After a quick check with the digital proofer, I published, right before jumping in the car to drive to Massachusetts for our big fundraiser. I’m sitting now at our beach house watching the waves crash ashore, allowing myself to enjoy the moment.


When I uploaded my “interior” to CreateSpace, they signaled an error that the fonts were not embedded properly. I had no idea what this meant. When I forwarded the message to LionheART, Karen must’ve worked another few hours trying to troubleshoot any potential problem, and sent me a new version with this message:

This is the first time I’ve had a problem with a pdf, and it’s important to me to help to solve it; not only so I can make sure it doesn’t happen again, but also because it’s honestly a privilege to be asked to help bring a new book into the world, and I won’t leave you in the lurch. My pleasure…

How beautiful is this sentiment? This is what’s behind the epublishing revolution. My road to publication depended on the help of other authors, and I have never felt any competition or ego. Not only that, but they are willing to help at bargain prices! When Jo is asked why her designs are so cheap, her reply is “because I enjoy it.” The epublishing revolution is a grassroots effort of talented artists that want to help each other. Not to stick it to the big guys, but to bring books to readers that would otherwise wallow in slushpiles. This community that I found mostly online is extraordinary. I’m still amazed I was able to publish a book (out of vapor!) from my dining room—-but I could not have done it without the help of others. I can’t wait to pay it forward.

Last night my mother-in-law came over with her husband, Sam. We chatted over wine and pizza, while my book lay casually on the table between us. I kept staring at it, trying to suppress the urge to caress the cover, fan the pages with my fingertips, or even read it cover to cover right then and there.

I won’t apologize for my obsession with this book. It took a lot to get it out there. And I’m pretty proud of it.

What’s your book about?

“What’s your book about?” is a question I get asked a lot. (Every writer gets asked this question a lot.) The answer is simple.

In 1980 John Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman, who believed he was Holden Caulfield, narrator of the classic The Catcher in the Rye. After the shooting, Chapman remained on the scene calmly reading the book, which he later offered to police as “his statement.” Catcher’s Keeper asks the question, “What if Holden had met Chapman, learned of his plan, and tried to prevent the assassination?”

That’s the soundbite. But the question  “How did you think of this story?” perhaps offers a more interesting answer.

Years ago as a student teacher at Andover High School, my mentor handed me a VHS tape of an old Dateline video that featured Mark David Chapman’s fixation on The Catcher in the Rye and its influence in his murder of John Lennon. Every subsequent year I taught Catcher, I would play that video for my class—and found myself equal parts enthralled and horrified with the tragedy again and again.

This book was born from that fascination of mine—how a novel could move someone to act in such an extreme way. I also couldn’t help but wonder what Holden would have thought if he knew what his words triggered. One of my writing teachers once said it is sometimes easier to outline your novel from the “crisis” backward. In order to place Alden (Holden) where Lennon was shot, I had to publish the report he wrote in the mental clinic (his journal aka The Catcher in the Rye) and somehow have him meet Mark David Chapman. As the book evolved, it no longer became about this incident, but how three siblings had to overcome serious familial issues. Each character is my invention alone, an artistic expression inspired by Catcher characters Holden, DB, and Phoebe. This book is in no way based on the life of JD Salinger, nor is it a statement about JD Salinger as a person or an author. And so, first and foremost, with utmost respect: Thank you, Mr. Salinger, for writing The Catcher in the Rye.