Sunday, September 23, 2012

Let's Get This Party Started. And Ended.

Obviously, my life as an author and illustrator is filled with a constant, endless maelstrom of parties, one after the other, each more opulent, decadent, and luxurious than the one before it. I spend all my waking hours wandering from one party to the next, sampling delectable foods, drinking the finest wines, and chatting intelligently with the best-looking, best-smelling people on the planet.

Yesterday, however, I attended a party that eclipsed all the others.

Because it had bran muffins at it.

And not only were there bran muffins, but my mother was there throwing the bran muffins at innocent, hapless passers-by.

It is fortunate that my mother has fairly bad aim or I'd likely have a lawsuit on my hands.

Yesterday was the Book Release Party for my new chapter book, Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom.

See how Book Release Party is in uppercase letters? That's how awesome the party was.

A book release party is just like a huge, fancy cocktail party, but without the cocktails and fanciness. In exchange for the fanciness and cocktails, you get a bran muffin thrown at you by my mother. I've never actually hosted a book release party before, always opting in the past to simply sit alone in my studio and silently hope that millions of people would spontaneously arise, walk to the bookstore, and purchase my books in bulk.

Because when you're an author, you never know. You never know if you'll ever have another good idea. You never know whether your next book will get published. You never know if people will like your book. You never know when you'll have to give up this foolish dream of being an author and go get a real job. There are a lot of things that you never know.

It's always frightening to unleash a book into the world. It's frightening and exciting and thrilling and terrifying and amazing all at once. Sort of like getting a burrito from a sketchy looking street vendor at midnight in an unfamiliar city.

This most recent book, in particular, was scary for me. After 14 years of creating picture books where the word count rarely broke the 800 mark, I had written a chapter book with over 20,000 words in it. I'm no math whiz, but you can see for yourself that that is almost a seventeen-bajilliondy-thousand percent increase in the total number of words. It was a big change for me.

The book was nearly five years in the making (I'm certain about the math on that one). It was a daunting process to create it and I was (and remain) nervous about it. When Advance Reader Copies of the book were released to reviewers, the very first review of it was, for want of another word, a stinker.

The reviewer hated the very things that I loved so much about the book.

That hurts.

And when it's the first feedback you get after releasing your work–the work that you spent so much time on, worked so hard on, and are so proud of–it's upsetting. It makes you question your work.

So I was nervous going into this Book Release Party. I was haunted by questions: What if nobody shows up? What if it's just me and a small group of mildly disgruntled bookstore employees? Will people really like the book, or are they just coming for the free bran muffins?

So I hounded my friends and family incessantly, reminding them about the party, offering bribes, prizes, free stuff, anything I could to make them want to give up some precious free time on a Saturday and come to a bookstore and have bran muffins thrown at them by my mother.

Arriving at the Toadstool Bookstore (my favorite book store in the universe), I was greeted with a brilliantly rendered sign, welcoming everyone to the party.

I'll bet Stephen King never had a sign this cool at a book signing.
And a sweet display of my books.

And after that, things just got better and better. Loads of people showed up. Friends, family, old high school friends, people I didn't know, people I should have known but didn't, and random street lunatics who wandered in, thinking Stephen King was signing books.

Many of the people that came were kids who I did not know.

My good friend Tim "Mr. Putnam" Putnam is a fifth grade teacher. He  read my book to his class and  told them all about the book release party. I believe his actual words to his students were, "If you want to pass fifth grade, you'd better be at that party." Or possibly, "Anyone who doesn't go to that party will never get recess again."

I don't know what his exact words were, but they had the result of many, many kids dragging their parents to the store and many, many parents telling me, "This is all he has been talking about for the past three weeks." And, "I've heard so much about how funny this book is." And, "Excuse me, where is Stephen King?"

But the kids loved the book. Or they were very good liars. Which made up completely for that lousy first review, because I didn't write the book for reviewers. I wrote it for kids and they liked it. So stuff that up yer nose, Kirkus.

I was even able to gather up an unsuspecting band of victims to help perform a dramatic reading of a selection from the book.
These kids were AWESOME. And please note the happy crowd that gathered for this auspicious event.

It was so cool that I gave every kid who came a homework pass like this.

Please feel free to print this out and give it a try with your teacher. Let me know how it goes.

I raffled off an original piece of art from the book. Kelly, the proud winner will likely have it laminated and use it as a placemat or something. At least, that's what I'd do.

Kelly is probably wondering where she can hide this in her house so nobody will ever see it.

My pal Brennan was kind enough to bring me a mask being offered with another author's book. He declined to let me draw a booger on his mask, however.

I may start wearing this everywhere.
I was flattered and humbled by how many people showed up.

And I was amazed at the number of kids who lined up and asked my mother to throw a bran muffin at them; something that likely need a word of explanation.

When I am writing a book, I often toss in names of friends and family members as characters. Sometimes they remain, sometimes they go.  In this book, there is a cranky old lady living next door to the main character. She constantly foils his plans by throwing bran muffins at him and his friends. I named the old lunatic Mrs. Annand.

Which also happens to be my mother's name.

And the name stuck. My mother felt compelled to clear her good name and prove that she is not a cranky, muffin-launching lunatic by coming to the party and throwing bran muffins at kids. I'm going to have her explain the logic of that to me at some point.

After she runs out of muffins.

But it worked. Kids lined up–I am not kidding, they lined up–to have muffins thrown at them.

Kids are weird like that.

And people are awesome like that.

It was an amazing day. Frightening and exciting and thrilling and terrifying and amazing all at once. In the next book, I'll make sure the cranky old lady next door throws something better than bran muffins, though.

Maybe burritos.

A sincere thank you to everyone who came out and made it such a fantastic time.