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Create Your Own Familiar

We've been traveling around the country visiting schools and at each one the students have created their own Familiar Story.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Big Book Hook

Blog Post on Project Middle Grade Mayhem

Published authors love to give advice to aspiring writers. Whether they have one book to their name or a store shelf filled with best-sellers, they share their wisdom on everything that led them to their success. Write from the soul. Be determined. Read, read, read! Write, write, write! More generalizations flow like write from the heart, have great execution, and never giving up. These bon mots are more like self-help mantras than secrets to getting your book published.

So, what are we going to tell you that you haven’t heard before? Well, authors rarely talk about the importance of the idea. The big idea. A hook that will grab a reader, agent, or editor right from the query letter. Here’s an exclusive, firsthand piece of advice we’ll pass on from an anonymous publishing industry insider: hundreds of manuscripts come across his/her desk each year, and only a handful have a sellable big book hook. Meaning, the major publishing houses are looking for books with big ideas that can be featured at giant retailers, get adapted into movies, and become best-sellers. Not just stand-alone books, but series.

In Hollywood, the major movie studios are looking for 4-quadrant, tentpole, franchisable ideas. Ideas that appeal to the broadest possible audience, that can justify the biggest possible budget and marketing plan, and can have sequel after sequel. The book industry is searching for the same thing. If this sounds crass, or makes you wince because of its commerce over art leaning, it shouldn’t.

A few of the biggest (and best) books from the last few years:

"Harry Potter" – an average boy is rescued from his ordinary, unlucky existence to fulfill his destiny at a school for wizards.

"The Hunger Games" – in a futuristic society, a young girl must survive a deadly game in which teens fight to the death in front of live TV audiences.

"Twilight" – a teenage girl risks everything when she falls in love with a vampire.

Now, I don’t want to dissuade anyone from writing about their coming of age, or their dysfunctional family, or their marriage or divorce. But, as our insider shared with us, it is stories like these that make him/her happy that self-publishing is so much easier today. Because the big publishing houses have a much harder time getting their marketing machine behind the smaller, hookless ideas. (*Big disclaimer here: of course there are exceptions! At the end of the day, a wonderfully written manuscript is still the MOST important factor in getting published.*)

New York Times YA and children’s author Laurie Halse Anderson says write the flap copy before you write the book. This exercise is a fantastic way to iron out your big book hook and make it impossible for that agent or editor you’re querying to pass. After that, see if you can pitch your idea to your husband or wife or co-worker in a sentence or two. Did they get it? Could they turn around and pitch it to someone else? Take it a step farther and imagine the book cover, too.

We’re not encouraging you to write something derivative and soulless. We’re just saying find the character or theme or story that you’re passionate about and find a big hook to sell it on. The Transformers, a billion dollar grossing popcorn extravanganza, was originally pitched by Steven Spielberg as a story about a boy and his first car.

So, before you begin the long journey of writing your manuscript (and rewriting it over and over again until it is ready to be submitted), take a long, hard look at the idea. Does it have a big book hook? Could you see the cover on a display at your local bookstore? How about a movie poster at the neighborhood megaplex? If you can answer yes confidently to those questions, then congratulations. Now you’re just 60,000+ words closer to getting published.

Butt Plus Chair

GUEST POST on Literaturely Speaking

Oliver Stone has three words of advice for any aspiring writer: butt plus chair. We take that a step further and add one extra word: butt plus comfy chair. What you sit on can't be understated. Sure, we absolutely agree that much of writing is just sitting down to do it. But if you're going to put in 9 to 5 days behind a desk it helps to sit on something plush and preferably ergonomic. Andrew prefers a swivel chair with a high back, arm rests for his elbows, and lots of cushion for his bony rear-end. Adam prefers the larger, lower to the ground leather chair, one he can squirm about in impatiently as Andrew types; cushy and perhaps even sleepable. When so much of your day is sitting -- or standing and pacing -- but mostly sitting, it's nice to know that what you're sitting upon feels good. So our sincere advice to all those writers out there is don't sit on a hard wood or lie in your bed with a laptop. Let's fight scoliosis and carpal tunnel syndrome with good spinal support and wrist cushions. And after you get comfy, make sure you have a clear outline of where your book will be ending, and what kind of journey your main character will be going on, so you're not simply wasting all that chair time. Spoil yourself. Go pick up that writing chair you've always wanted. Remember, it's tax deductible.

Telephone

GUEST POST on Market My Words

There was an old game we would play on the bus back in my summer camp days called “Telephone.” I’m sure you’re familiar with it. You would start by whispering a sentence into someone’s ear, and then they would whisper it to the person sitting behind them, and so on throughout the bus. When the message reached the person in the last seat, they would repeat what they heard out loud. So, if you started by whispering, “I took my girlfriend to the zoo today and saw pigs wrestling in the mud,” the last person might announce something akin to “My girlfriend is such a pig that she should wrestle in a zoo.” And everyone busts into a fit of giggles.

Now imagine you’re a literary agent or an assistant editor or an editor. A writer pitches you their manuscript idea over the phone or in a query letter. In order to get that idea sold, you will have to relay it up the ladder to your boss, and then to their boss, all the way to the person at the top of the company who can say, “Yes.” It’s no different than the game of telephone you played on the bus when you were 8, except now there’s nothing funny about your idea getting mangled and people passing on your ideas.

I’ve read a lot of query letters from aspiring writers pitching the ideas for their book manuscripts or screenplays. And most of them would be darn near impossible to pitch up the ladder. Before anyone ever reads the first page of your manuscript, I can guarantee that you will already put yourself head and shoulders above your competition if you can summarize your idea concisely so that it can navigate its way through the telephone game.

How? With a winning log-line. This is a Hollywood term. I don’t know if people in the book world use it as often – maybe here it’s referred to as a synopsis – either way, the principle is the same. Log-lines are where good, sellable ideas begin. They are the short blurb in TV guides that tell you what a program is about and help you decide if you’re going to watch it. On a cold call or in a query letter, the log-line is what’s going to determine if the person on the other side is going to read your manuscript or not.

Yes, ultimately it will be all about good writing and execution. Of course. That goes without saying. But I think people underestimate how hard it is to even get that gatekeeper to read your material in the first place. So why not stack the odds in your favor, and have that killer one-liner to hook a reader?

The Books That Got Us Started

GUEST POST on There's A Book

Adam

“The Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual” by Gary Gygax
Before I ever started reading novels, in third grade this was my introduction to fantasy. A friend’s older brother turned me onto it and after I purchased it and brought it home, I read it cover to cover. There’s no story, just a list of magical monsters in alphabetical order, but each one was like a story to me. And an excellent primer on mythology, both Greek, Norse, and Babylonian.

“Spell for Chameleon” by Piers Anthony
In fifth grade, my dad gave this book to me. Up until that point, I wasn’t really interested in novels at all. I’d rather read my dragon magazines and make up stories of my own. But on his recommendation, I started it, and couldn’t put it down. It was funny and the world of Xanth was like nothing I had ever seen. Plus with surprise twists and turns it got me hooked on the art of storytelling.

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
The first Tolkien I ever read, and yes, still my favorite even over “The Lord of the Rings.” The classic hero’s journey tale and the book which all other fantasies are indebted, including mine!

Andrew

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl
Notable not because it was the first book I ever remember reading, but because my 2nd grade teacher allowed us to keep a candy bar in our desk and take a bite each day during reading time.

“The Whipping Boy” by Sid Fleischman
A clever, twisty yarn that I returned to over and over again as a kid.

“Encyclopedia Brown” and “Two-Minute Mysteries” by Donald J. Sobol
I had a shelf full of “Encyclopedia Brown” books, and “Two-Minute Mysteries” take me back to family road trips and hours spent with my older brother trying to determine what happened to a man hanging from the ceiling over a puddle of water. (He stood atop a block of ice!)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why We Know Who Egged Rick Riordan's Car in High School

GUEST POST on Kidlit Frenzy

Distractions. Every writer knows that their biggest enemy to putting words on the page each day is their own mind wandering. It's so easy to find yourself staring down at your iPhone or Googling that it's a miracle you get anything written at all. Take a sample morning for the two of us. First, we discuss if either of us saw any good movies this past weekend. Oh, you saw Inception? Who was that guy playing Eames? I'm not sure, let me IMDB it. Tom Hardy. Ooo, he's going to be Mad Max in the Mad Max remake. And he has a dog named Max! Let's wiki him and learn everything about his entire life.

Fifteen minutes later. Back to the book writing. But before getting through even a paragraph, the topic wanders to whether either of us has purchased Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid yet. No, but it's at the top of Andrew's to-read list. I wonder how many copies he's selling of this book. Twenty minutes pass, as we don't find the answer to that, but instead are led to browse Publisher's Weekly's list of 100 top selling books from 2009. How is PC Cast selling so many books? Who is PC Cast and why have we never read any of her books? Back to Riordan. Somehow we find ourselves on his official home page, learning everything there is to know about him. Did you know that in high school, he wrote an underground newspaper that criticized his school and especially its losing football team? But the football team got their revenge by egging his car.

Maybe we should get some writing done. No can do, it's time for a snack. Many delays will arise during out 9 to 5 workday. And many delays will arise for you as well. Let's be honest, you're reading this blog post right now! You should be writing. But we know how it is. We're probably doing something other than writing, too. Reading a tweet or watching a Youtube video. The key is just to stay focused. We have to cut through the swath of information we're constantly being bombarded with. For a couple hours a day, unplug the Internet. Turn off the wifi and put your iPhone on airplane mode. Adam's asking me right now how to get on Dooce.com some hot new blogger and tastemaker. I just want to finish this guest post and get back to writing.

Interview on A Fanatic's Book Blog

Link to the interview here!

1) What inspired you to choose animals as your characters instead of people?

The whole idea of writing about the familiars was born out of the fact that we were interested in telling a traditional fantasy story from a perspective that we had never seen before. Familiars in popular lore had always been sidelined to being assistants and helpers (ie Hedwig in "Harry Potter" or Shadowfax in "Lord of the Rings"). We wanted to see what would happen if they were forced to be the heroes!


2) Do you feel that it was easier or harder to write animal characters?

We think there are a few extra challenges to writing animal characters, in that they lack opposable thumbs. But beyond the physical limitations, we knew they had to be as rich emotionally as any human being.

3) What was one item (food or otherwise) that really helped you through the writing process?

We're not sure if this is an item per se, but a writing partner. Having another person to bounce ideas off of is better than staring at the blank screen alone everyday.


4) Do you have a favorite character?

Everyday, Adam has a different favorite character, he loves them all so much. Today, it's Grimslade, the bounty hunter who is a merciless and wonderful foil for Aldwyn. I'm always curious what new black magic he's going to pull out of his bag of tricks.

Andrew would go with Gilbert, who always makes him laugh.


5) Where is your favorite place to write?

Adam would go with Hawaii, but he'll settle with one of our two home offices. He's happy just as long as they're not writing at Peet's Coffee Shop, which makes his clothes reek so strongly of Brazilian Roast that he has to strip down when he gets home so not to make his 3 year old daughter cry.

Andrew also finds writing with the sound of any ocean nearby to be heaven, but he, too, can live with working at home.


6) What book(s) have influenced you most?

Adam: I have to say the dictionary. I love looking up new words. They fuel my love of writing.


7) What book(s) are you reading right now?

Andrew: Just finished The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I have pre-ordered Mockingjay and can't wait!


8) Can we expect more amazing books from you in the future? (I hope so!)

Yes! The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown (book two of the trilogy) will be coming to bookstores in September of 2011.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Bunch of Random Things We've Learned Since Getting Published

GUEST POST on The Fiction Enthusiast

It turns out “The Familiars” is not a YA book like we first thought.

It’s actually an MG book, or middle grade. We didn’t even know there was such a thing. But yes, tween and teen lit are sub-divided into picture books, MG, and YA.

We learned what those Amazon sales rankings actually mean.

And #479,505 is not good.

Naperville, Illinois has a pretty dope hotel.

While on our pre-pub tour we stayed at Naperville’s very own Hotel Arista, an ultra-modern, eco-friendly hotel. The rooms were gorgeous, there was a TV in the bathroom mirror, and there was an incredible restaurant downstairs. It would have been even better if the two of us didn’t have to share that bed (jk).

There is a difference between an MS, a galley, and an ARC.

What that is exactly we still don’t know.

They will let you speak on the airplane intercom if you ask nicely.

At least they will on Southwest Airlines. You can watch Adam doing just this here.

We learned what “stacked words,” “orphan words,” and “widow words” are in copy editing.

They all have to do with setting the type in the final book so that there isn’t an imbalance on the page. It’s kind of like feng shuing your novel.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Autumn 2010 Indie Kids' Next List

See the link on Indiebound!

THE FAMILIARS has been selected by Indie Booksellers for their fall Next List! Thanks for the support :)

Why We Write MG: "30 Going on 13"

GUEST POST on Forever YA

When we decided to write our first novel, we weren’t thinking about who we were writing the book for. We just knew it was a story we wanted to tell. But looking back, it’s no surprise that we now find ourselves writing middle grade fiction. The truth is, we are two early 30-something guys going on 13. When Andrew was a seventh grader, he remembers going to see a midnight screening on the opening night of Tim Burton’s Batman. Two summers ago, he went to see the midnight screening for the opening of The Dark Knight. And while his voice is no longer cracking (most of the time), he still loves superheroes and comic books just the same. When Adam was a middle schooler, he would stay up late at night hungrily devouring The Lord of the Rings. Recently he found himself rereading the same Tolkien opus, only this time he was doing it after his young daughters went to sleep. The stories we love to tell are the ones we would have loved growing up and would still love today. This genre allows us to write all the wonderful fantasies we dream up in our heads. To bring the action figure shows we imagined as kids to the page. The bottom line is that who you write for is dictated by the story you tell. We hope that “The Familiars” is not just read by tweens and teens but adults, as well. These labels – YA/MG – they shouldn’t define a book. Look at “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games.” A great yarn should transcend the aisles of the book store. And whether you’re 13 or 30 you’ll love the book just the same.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why I Read Twilight, Watch Gossip Girl, and Listen to Justin Bieber

GUEST POST on Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf

It’s research. At least that’s what I tell friends and family who ask why I’m reading the Twilight books, or watching the CW, or listening to tween pop music. Yes, I’m a man in my early thirties. I’m married with a kid on the way. But for much of my career I wrote teen comedy movies and for MTV, and now I have transitioned into writing fantasy middle grade fiction. So it’s not entirely a stretch when I justify my tendencies toward adolescent entertainment as research for work. And what an awesome job I have, creating stories for an audience of tastemakers, many of who aren’t even old enough to have a driver’s license.

It’s true, I have to stay current on what kind of pop culture the pre-teen and teen demo are consuming. My secret… my hidden shame… is that I actually like it. I’m a superfan of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. I never miss an episode of American Idol or Glee. I listen to Taylor Swift (when my wife isn’t in the car). A perusal of my bookshelf or DVD collection or car CD player might give the impression that they belonged to a tweenager. But alas, they are the property of a fantasy football playing, red meat eating, superhero loving dude who also happens to enjoy The Hills. I don’t know if I’ll ever outgrow my affinity for youthful diversion. Just know that if you find me standing in line for Breaking Dawn… it’s research.

Describing the Chandelier

GUEST POST on YA Highway

One of the questions we most frequently get asked since becoming authors (after 10 years of screenwriting) is, “What’s the difference between writing books and writing for film?” Our answer: the chandelier. As screenwriters you learn that economy is key. It’s telling a story with a minimum amount of words. Writing a blueprint that will become richer once it’s brought to screen. When writing about an interior location, if you ever find yourself describing the chandelier, you’re in trouble. Because unless that chandelier is crashing down to the floor, you’re writing too much. That’s a production designer’s job – deciding if it should be metal or crystal, electrical or candlelit. But in a book, it’s all chandelier. That’s your job. Being the costume designer, production designer, hair, make-up, the actors, and the director. No description is too elaborate.

Another major difference between being an author and a screenwriter is that as a screenwriter you are far more disposable. A studio can hire you on for a project and then move on to other writers when you’re done, even if you did a great job. We’ve been on both sides of that equation, rewriting others and being rewritten ourselves. The film business views writers as cogs in a much bigger machine, which they are. In books, the author is as much the product as the books themselves. You may read every book by a favorite author just because their name is on the title. But an author is treated with – dare we say it – respect! Now what’s interesting is that in adapting our book to the screen, the film studio (Sony Animation) has been treating us more like authors than screenwriters. They have been hugely respectful of us, like no other film project we’ve worked on previously.

The truth is, we wouldn’t give up either hat – screenwriter or author. It’s like an athlete that plays two sports. You might use different muscles, but each makes you sharper. What sounds better: screenwriter/author, or author/screenwriter? You tell us.

My First Crush: The School Librarian

GUEST POST on Readspace

When I was 9 years old, I remember the thrill of leaving my classroom and heading down the short hallway to the library. My third grade teacher was uninspiring. She was more concerned with organizing her pencils and sucking on lasengers than engaging with her students. But I knew that three times a week, I would be transported away by the energetic words of Mrs. Schwabe, E.M. Baker’s school librarian.

Now, I wasn’t in love with her — that was reserved for the pig-tailed girl who lived three houses down from me, but the stories she told have stayed with me since those days collected in a circle, on the rug, looking up at her sitting in her big wooden chair. William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” still holds a special place in my heart. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle, with its different shaped pages, is as vivid now reading it to my own three year old daughter as it was then. I’m not sure if those morning trips to the book-filled walls of Mrs. Schwabe’s domain turned me into the author I am today, but she certainly inspired my love of reading.

Now, I’m excited to think how school librarian’s across the country, the gatekeepers of imagination, will be sharing The Familiars — yeah, my book! — with third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders — as librarians read the first words: “It all started with Aldwyn’s whiskers beginning to tingle…” I wonder if children will be transported the way I was.

Adam Jay Epstein

Friday, August 20, 2010

"My Childhood Pet Breathed Fire"

GUEST POST on Manga Maniac Cafe

When I’d walk home from elementary school, there would be a dragon sitting on my shoulder. Not a big one, just a pocket-sized one. Green scales and small red eyes. Wings that looked like a butterfly’s. He’d eat the occasional bird or squirrel, and possibly burn the hairs off the back of my neck if he coughed. Yes, when I was 10, I dreamed of having a familiar of my own. I remember some of my friends would pretend that their family dog or cat was magical, but my family didn’t have a pet, so I had to make one up. It wasn’t always a dragon. Sometimes, it was a flying horse or a pixie on a leash or a lightning-charged hawk. Who would have thought that my childhood fantasies would inspire a series of books? And yet now I know I wasn’t alone in having those dreams. Every person who reads The Familiars seems to have their own tales of magical pets or the ones they dreamed of. And with our book selling to a dozen countries around the world, it appears people of all cultures pretended they had an imaginary dragon on their shoulders, too.

Tell us about the magical powers you imagine your childhood pet had.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Blog Tour Posts

In case you want to catch up on our tour through the blogosphere (so far), here are the links!

August 5 "Work Husbands" GUEST POST on Katie Talks About Blog

August 9 "Archimedes did it in a Bathtub, We do it in the Shower" GUEST POST on The Children's Book Review

August 10 "Hermione or Bella? Brains vs. Brood" GUEST POST on The Page Turners Blog

August 10 "Working With a Book Editor" GUEST POST on Mindful Musings

August 10 "Adam's Top 5 Fantasy Books" GUEST POST on Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

August 12 "Interview with YA Fresh"

August 13 "Why We Wish We Had a Thousand Rejection Letters" GUEST POST on Once Upon a Book

August 14 "The Fine Line Between Sharing and Shoving" GUEST POST on Confessions of a Bookaholic

August 14 "Where Hollywood Should Take a Page from the Book Industry" GUEST POST on Sarah's Random Musings

August 16 "Our Top 5 Animal Books" GUEST POST on Reading Vacation

August 16 "If We Weren't Writers, We'd Be..." GUEST POST on Brimful Curiosities

August 18 "Not Another Middle Grade Book" GUEST POST on YA Book Shelf

August 19 "The Overnight Illusion" GUEST POST on Tif Talks Books

The tour continues until the book hits stores everywhere on September 7th!

The Overnight Illusion

GUEST POST on Tif Talks Books

Here’s a story that sounds too good to be true. Two guys write five chapters of a book with a detailed proposal, get a book agent within a month, sell the uncompleted manuscript within two days of going out to publishers, and sell the movie rights the next week. Well, it’s sort of true, and sort of a big fat lie. Because what it doesn’t mention is the 10 years of rejection and frustration before it. We started writing screenplays when we met during college, and we spent years working day jobs and writing into the wee hours of the night at various LA coffee shops, sometimes so long that we were asked to leave. We endured break-ups and miniscule paychecks all in sacrifice of living our dream. Finding our first film manager – which is kind of like a stepping stone to a film agent -- took years. When we got our very first meeting with a manager, we both got all dressed up and drove over to the manager's office, circling outside as we were early… only to receive a phone call that the meeting had been canceled. We sulked away in our khakis and button downs. Hollywood success would have to wait another day. And it did. Even when success in film and television came, it only seldom felt truly rewarding. We were constantly faced with having to reinvent ourselves, and every job felt like a miracle (which it still does). Then, about two years ago, we decided to try our hand at being novelists. And we were fortunate in that we already had a film agent who worked in the book world to help us secure a literary agent in New York. Our “overnight success” in the book world doesn’t account for the 10+ years of struggle in the Hollywood trenches. It’s as much of an illusion as one cast by Skylar, the magical blue jay in “The Familiars.”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not Another Middle Grade Book

GUEST POST on YA Bookshelf

Back in 2000, when we were writing screenplays into the wee hours at various coffee shops around LA, the two of us decided to try our hand at a spoof of teen movies. As fortuitous timing would have it, that script would become 2001’s “Not Another Teen Movie.” This led to years of writing on the MTV Movie Awards, working with comedic talents such as Jimmy Fallon, Jack Black, and Andy Samberg. For much of the 2000s, we continued to write comedies geared towards the teenage audience. But the funny thing about the two of us becoming comedy writers was that we never really thought of ourselves as writing in that genre. We kind of fell into it. And in Hollywood, once you have success in a particular niche, studios pigeonhole you into a box. After “Step Up” turned out to be a sleeper hit, we got a call on Monday morning from two different producers asking us to write a spoof of dance movies. With the huge success of “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings,” it was inevitable that we would be asked to write a spoof of fantasy movies. And sure enough, we were.

But it wasn’t a spoof of those movies that we wanted to write. It was those movies. Fully aware that no studio or producer was likely to come offering us an adaptation of a fantastical book or property, we decided to create one ourselves. That’s what led us to write The Familiars. Finally, we were creating the kind of material that the two of us really came to Hollywood to create. Something imaginative and adventurous, like the fantasy books we grew up loving and Spielburg films we’ve watched dozens of times.

The moral of the story is simple. We’re writers, which gives us the unique ability to write. Someone puts you in a box, write yourself out of it. You control the way people perceive you. For years, we were the spoof guys and the teen movie guys. Well, now we’re the author guys who wrote that middle grade fantasy trilogy and are adapting it into a 3D animated movie.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Publishers Weekly Raves About "The Familiars"

The Familiars
Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson, illus. by Bobby Chiu, Harper, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-196108-3
After starving alley cat Aldwyn steals food from a fishmonger once too often, he is chased by a notorious bounty hunter intent on exterminating him. He takes refuge in a pet store that sells animal familiars to local wizards and is purchased by Jack, a young apprentice. Aldwyn likes his cushy new life in Stone Runlet with Jack and two other students, but he struggles to convince his fellow familiars--a blue jay named Skylar and a tree frog named Gilbert--that he's as magical as they are. When a prophecy foretells that three spell-casters from Stone Runlet will save the world, the formerly benevolent Queen Loranella kills the students' mentor and takes the young novices prisoner, leaving it to the familiars to rescue the children. Screenwriters Epstein and Jacobson's children's book debut is a grand adventure with entertaining characters and magic-induced fun, written in an appropriately cinematic style (Sony Pictures Animation has optioned the story). Even adults will appreciate a tale in which street smarts mix with book learning, and resourcefulness and confidence are matched by loyalty and respect. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

If We Weren't Writers, We'd Be...

GUEST POST on Brimful Curiosities

Andrew: If I wasn’t writing novels and films, I probably would be a sportscaster, or working behind the scenes in sports broadcasting. You might be familiar with Bob Costas, who sits on the sidelines calling the action at Super Bowls or the Olympics. But there’s also a guy sitting off-camera next to him, giving him all sorts of stats and information that he parrots on air. I could have been that guy. It’s kind of a thankless life, traveling on the road to different cities for games every night, surrounded by dudes who love sports. I love sports, but not the way these guys do. My passion was for telling stories, and thankfully I was able to make a living as a writer. This way, I can watch ESPN before I go to bed, and that’s more than enough for me.

Adam: Since space pirate is unrealistic and probably not going to happen, I think if I wasn’t an author and screenwriter, I would be a video game designer. While gaming is not the same kind of traditional storytelling as writing books or films, rich narratives can be told through hopping, role playing, and even puzzle games. Plus it would be an easy way to get paid for my childhood obsession with arcades and home computing. Fortunately, for both Andrew and myself, these career back-up plans remained just that. But who knows, if things had been different, perhaps gamers would be playing “The Familiars” on their Nintendo Wiis or Playstations. Or maybe Bob Costas would be wondering if Lebron James was a real life wizard, and not a king.

What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

Our Top 5 Animal Books

GUEST POST on Reading Vacation

Books about animals are as fundamental to growing up as your ABC’ and learning long division. Everybody’s got their favorite animal characters from when they were a kid, those that stuck with you and oft times felt more human than many of the human characters you read about. Books about dogs dying like Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows were too sad for our sensitive souls. Real, non-talking animals books like An Incredible Journey and Call of the Wild were kind of boring, and could have used a dose of magic. New school animal books like Redwall, Guardians of Ga’hoole, and The Warriors simply don’t hold much of a nostalgic place in our heart.

5. “Garfield” by Jim Davis and “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Waterson

Andrew goes with Garfield, the lazy, lasagna-eating, Monday-hating cat. He found something funny about his antics with John and Odie. Adam counters with Calvin and Hobbes. The philosophical, rambling stuffed tiger felt similar enough to Adam’s childhood stuffed monkey that it seemed downright autobiographical.

4. “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brian and “Watership Down” by Richard Adams

At a young age, reading these creepy tales gave us both a fright, but their dystopic animal worlds haunted us…in a good way. And bonus points for “The Secrets of NIMH” animated movie.

3. “Home for a Bunny” and “The Color Kittens” by Margaret Weiss Brown

The first two animal books that Adam read. One a naturalistic tale of a bunny that just wants to find a place to live; the other a surrealist picture book about two cats that mix paint to make all the colors in the world.

2. “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little” by E.B. White

White’s stories are timeless tales that both exemplify and transcend the animal genre. Choosing between them is a tough one indeed, but the edge has to go to “Charlotte’s Web” since Andrew played Wilbur in a grade school class play.

1. “Curious George” by H.A. Rey

Adam loved monkeys. Especially mischievous ones. He wanted to have his own, and it was nice to read a story about a monkey who was misbehaving…and getting into some pretty dangerous situations. These were early adventure tales that were pretty irresistible. While George never said a thing, you always knew what he was thinking.

Did we forget any of your favorites? Tell us what your number 1 animal book is.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Where Hollywood Should Take a Page from the Book Industry

GUEST POST on Sarah's Random Musings

With the release of our debut novel, THE FAMILIARS, fast approaching on September 7th, we have readied ourselves for a marathon, not a sprint to success. That is the nature of the book industry, or so we have been told. Especially children’s books and book series. It isn’t always the first book, or even the second, in a series that catches on. Sometimes it isn’t until the third book that things really take off. By then the cycle of hardcover to paperback has been given time to play out in bookstores, schools, and libraries, and audiences have been able to discover a series through word of mouth. Which brings me to Hollywood. Oh, how times have changed since the days of our childhood, when a movie like “Back to the Future” played at the local movie theater for what seemed like a year. Now, films live and die not just by their opening weekend, but by their opening day. Whether it’s the so-called Twitter effect or the nature of our viral world, if a movie doesn’t play on Friday night, it’s pretty much toast by Monday. (“The Growing Importance of Opening Weekend”: http://bit.ly/aqA1nK)

Of course, film studios are spending tens of millions of dollars blitzing the airwaves with advertisements for their summer blockbusters, while the publishing industry rarely has much of a marketing budget at all. But rather than lamenting the more grass roots, micro-budget push given to a book’s release, perhaps authors should be embracing it. In the book world, an author has the luxury of sitting back and waiting for their novel or series of novels to find an audience over months, or even years. In Hollywood, you’ve got maybe 24 hours to connect with a very fickle public being asked to shell out their hard earned dollars. We all want instant success, and the corporate entities bankrolling these products – be it a movie or a book – aren’t exactly known for patience. But as screenwriters looking forward to an unknown Friday in 2013 when The Familiars movie gets released, here’s a plea to Hollywood: take a page from the book industry and give a film time to find an audience. Maybe one day just isn’t enough.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The FIne Line Between Sharing and Shoving

GUEST POST on The Total Bookaholic

As we've become a part of the YA/middle grade blogosphere and twitterverse, we have seen a lot of authors use these social networking platforms to connect with readers and reviewers. Some successfully, and some less so. One thing that has proven abundantly clear, is that there is a fine line between sharing information about yourself and your book in an engaging way and shoving it down the throats of innocent cyber bystanders. We thought we might pass along some of the lessons we've learned about how to walk this delicate tightrope between good, solid viral marketing and being an obnoxious braggard.

Do: Read other people's blogs and comment on them.
Don't: Try to steer every comment you write on someone else's blog back to your book. The love triangle in "The Hunger Games" has nothing to do with which animal familiar you are most like. It's stretching and transparent.

Do: Tweet about fellow authors. Congratulate them on good reviews or exciting news!
Don't: Post only about your book's own successes, ie the starred review it got from The School Library Journal or the dozen countries that you've sold the international rights to.

Do: Write guest posts for smart bloggers that you enjoy.
Don't: Write self-aggrandizing posts that are merely poorly disguised attempts at sneaking in how Rick Riordan, author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, thinks your book is a "great idea" and "will be checking it out on 9/7."

All kidding aside, the key to a good online presence is being humble, reciprocal, engaging, and involved. And it doesn't hurt to mention how your book is going to be a movie produced by Sam Raimi either.

On Rejection Letters

GUEST POST on Once Upon A Book

"Why we wish we had a thousand rejection letters"

We’ve all heard how every author has a box of a thousand rejection letters, from publishers, agents, and literary magazines. Many even have the sealed envelopes with the words “Return to Sender” boldly stamped across it. But sitting on our shelf in our office, there’s no box of rejection letters. You know why? Because in Hollywood, when you’re a screenwriter, you don’t even get the courtesy of a rejection letter. They just never bother writing back. You send your script out to production companies, agents, and managers, and 99 percent of the time you simply never hear back. And occasionally, when you do, it’s to hear that they don’t accept unsolicited material.

In a sense, we envy the author who can save up their memories of struggle and have a wonderful paper trail of those who didn’t believe in them for when they become “overnight” successes. We instead are left with a series of undocumented failures. But no matter how many times you hear the phrase, “it all happened so fast,” or “it was the FIRST thing I ever wrote,” take it from us, it never is. So we always tell people to keep their fingers to the keyboard and their pens filled with ink, and to keep writing like we did, until the right person reads the right thing at the right time. It happened for us and it will happen for you.

Tell us about your best rejection letters here!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Interview at YA Fresh

Visit YA Fresh here!

Thursday, August 12, 2010
What's Fresh with The Familiars!

Is the kingdom's fate in the hands of an orphan cat?

Running fast to save his life, Aldwyn ducks into an unusual pet store. Moments later Jack, a young wizard in training, comes in to choose a magical animal to be his familiar. Aldwyn's always been clever. But magical? Jack thinks so—and Aldwyn is happy to play along.

He just has to convince the other familiars—the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert—that he's the powerful cat he claims to be.

Then the unthinkable happens. Jack and two other young wizards are captured by the evil queen of Vastia.

On a thrilling quest to save their loyals, the familiars face dangerous foes, unearth a shocking centuries-old secret, and discover a destiny that will change Vastia forever. Their magical adventure—an irresistible blend of real heart, edge-of-your-seat action, and laugh-out-loud humor—is an unforgettable celebration of fantasy and friendship.


Hello Adam and Andrew! So glad to have you share with us on YA Fresh! Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale?

A & A: We began writing screenplays together just out of college. Our first script sale would become the 2001 Sony film, NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE. That led to years of steady film and television writing, on various features and the MTV Movie Awards (working with comedians ranging from Jimmy Fallon to Jack Black to Andy Samberg). Then, in 2008, we decided to write our first novel, THE FAMILIARS. It was picked up by Harper Collins in May of 2009, and optioned for film soon after. The journey from writing teen comedies to middle grade fantasy fiction has been quite a ride!

Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule.

A & A: One of the unique things about this book is that we co-authored it. The two of us literally sat in the same room for months and months (we pretty much put in banker’s hours, 9-5 Monday through Friday) writing every word, sentence, and paragraph together. Andrew is the typist (because he’s frankly a much faster typer), while Adam sits beside him, or across from him in a nice, comfy chair, or sometimes paces around. After our initial conversation about the idea, we loosely outlined the first few chapters and just dove in. Then after writing about 45 pages, we meticulously plotted out the rest of the story. Of course we discovered many details along the way, but we had a basic sense of the major plot points and where the first book would end. Neither one of us were English majors in college or had any book writing experience previously, but we’ve both read a lot, watched a lot, and lived inside our imaginations since we were little kids.

Please tell us about your novel The Familiars and what we can expect from your characters.

A & A: The Familiars is our debut novel. It is being published by Harper Collins Childrens and will be released on September 7th. Back in 2008, when we hatched the idea for The Familiars, it all started with Adam asking Andrew, “Do you know what a familiar is?” Andrew said he didn’t. Adam explained, “A familiar is the animal companion to a witch or wizard, like Hedwig in ‘Harry Potter.’” Andrew immediately took to the idea. We loved that familiars were always in the background, doing very little. What if we told a story where the familiars were front and center? And they were the ones going on the adventure. And Adam’s simple question quickly led to the creation of Vastia and all the magical animals inhabiting it. Our three main characters are an orphan alley cat named Aldwyn who is mistaken for being a young boy wizard’s familiars; Skylar, a know-it-all blue jay with the ability to cast magical illusions; and Gilbert, a bumbling tree frog who can see visions of the past, present, and future in puddles of water… sometimes. We didn’t have to look very far for our inspiration for Aldwyn. In fact, he was right in Adam’s backyard. There was a stray black-and-white alley cat named Ben, missing a chunk of his left ear, who visited there every day. The rest seemed to just flow effortlessly. The Familiars is targeted at middle readers, ages 8-12, but we really believe it will appeal to anyone who loves animals, magic, or fantasy. It takes inspiration from “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” and hopefully puts its own unique spin on the classic hero’s journey.

Sounds wonderful! What's up next? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

A & A: We have recently completed book two of The Familiars, which will be out in September of 2011. And we have been concurrently adapting the screenplay for the 3D animated film, due in theaters in 2013!

Congratulations!! Thank you again for stopping by, Adam and Andrew. I wish you the best of luck with this awesome new series. Would you like to close with a writing tip?

A & A: The same three words that Oliver Stone gives to aspiring writers: “Butt plus chair.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Working with a Book Editor: An Appreciation

GUEST POST on Mindful Musings

Like a marriage, we have heard that some authors and their book editors can stay together for years and sometimes even decades. We would only be so lucky to have that kind of long lasting relationship with Barbara Lalicki at HarperCollins. Barbara was the very first person to respond to “The Familiars” after it went out to publishers, and she scooped it off the table before anyone else could read it. That kind of passion and enthusiasm has been her hallmark for the last year and a half as we have worked closely with her in preparing “The Familiars” prior to its release into bookstores. Barbara has read every word of “The Familiars” at least ten times and through a half dozen iterations. She still uses a number 2 pencil to make her line edits. And though reading her handwriting was at times as difficult as deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, once we did, we found a wealth of knowledge in those scrawled markings.

Editors do so much more than review the manuscript and edit the text. They are shepherds, guiding a book through cover, flap copy, advertising, marketing, and release. We are fortunate enough – as is “The Familiars” – to be in wise, caring hands. Not only has our book gotten better since crossing Barbara’s desk, but it has been positioned as one of Harper Collins big fall releases of 2010. She has distributed it to all the right independent booksellers and even met with the studio executives planning to bring the book to the big screen.

Thank you, Barbara, for so gently and lovingly welcoming us to the literary world. We plan on staying awhile, and if we’re lucky, you’ll continue to be there with your number 2 pencil.

"Hermione or Bella? Brains vs. Brood"

GUEST POST on The Page Turners Blog

While growing up, there were two types of girls that we fell for: Hermiones and Bellas. The smart, brainy girls who sat at the front of the class and the more mysterious loners who sat by themselves on the high school steps reading books. When it came time for us to write the character of Skylar, the female blue jay familiar from our book, we decided we wanted her to be a little bit of both. She's precocious and a bit of a know-it-all, but she also harbors secrets and dabbles in dark magic. She talks a lot about a lot of things, but rarely herself. She's got the brains and the brood, and even though she's beaked and feathered, she's the kind of girl we like. Not to knock all the cheerleaders out there, but a pair of reading glasses and a 400 page novel is what makes our hearts get aflutter. So for all you Skylar's out there, we've written a bird just for you.
Are you a Hermione or a Bella? Or if you're a little bit of both, even better.

Adam's Top 5 Fantasy Books

GUEST POST on Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

Fantasy fiction has created my love of reading from an early age. No other books captured my imagination the way that they did, and often I dreamt of living in those worlds as I sat in bed each night devouring the pages.

5. “Something Wicked this Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury
Not sure you would call this fantasy in the traditional way, but it’s filled with magic and scares and a fantastical world that lies just beyond our eyes in the neighborhood carnival. It scared me silly when I first read it. It was evocative and unique. And although it was tough to choose between this and “The Illustrated Man” as my favorite Bradbury tale, I had to go with this one, seeing as how picking an anthology seemed like cheating.

4. “The Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual” by Gary Gygax
Before I ever started reading novels, in third grade this was my introduction to fantasy. A friend’s older brother turned me onto it and after I purchased it and brought it home, I read it cover to cover. There’s no story, just a list of magical monsters in alphabetical order, but each one was like a story to me. And an excellent primer on mythology, both Greek, Norse, and Babylonian.

3. “Spell for Chameleon” by Piers Anthony
In fifth grade, my dad gave this book to me. Up until that point, I wasn’t really interested in novels at all. I’d rather read my dragon magazines and make up stories of my own. But on his recommendation, I started it, and couldn’t put it down. It was funny and the world of Xanth was like nothing I had ever seen. Plus with surprise twists and turns it got me hooked on the art of storytelling.

2. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban” by JK Rowling
My favorite of the Harry Potter series, although “Deathly Hollows” comes in a close second. The most emotional one for me and the only one that made me cry. Stories of parents and their children always connect in a special way for me. Also the tight, clever storytelling and brilliantly planted plot puzzle pieces come together in such a rewarding way in the end.

1. “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
The first Tolkien I ever read, and yes, still my favorite even over “The Lord of the Rings.” The classic hero’s journey tale and the book which all other fantasies are indebted, including mine!

Monday, August 9, 2010

When you're two authors..

(Adam) Sometimes, we blog or tweet the same things twice. Andrew was very excited about the German Cover of the Familiars. So was I. We both began posts about the cover at the same time in two different houses unaware that the other was doing the same. I left my computer to attend to my 6 month old daughter and posted when I got back. By then Andrew had already posted his. Hence the double post.

You may hear it twice, but between the two of us you will always get the news. :)

Now Presenting...The German cover of the Familiars



If you are a German reader, you can find Animal Wizards (The Familiars) at your local shop this December!

The Familiars - German Cover

Here is your exclusive first look at the German cover for The Familiars, where it will be called Animal Wizards!




And here's the US and UK covers!



Archimedes did it in the Bathtub, We do it in the Shower

GUEST POST on The Children's Book Review

When faced with the blank computer screen, why is it that sometimes the light goes on in our heads with the proverbial “aha” moment, and other times it’s nothing but tumbleweed? Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and inventor, is said to have shouted “Eureka” upon jumping out of his bathtub after discovering how to calculate whether or not his king’s crown was really pure gold: by measuring how much water it displaces. Thousands of years later, the exclamation can be applied to Einstein’s theory of relativity, Newton discovering gravity, or M. Night Shymalan coming up with the twist ending of The Sixth Sense. The question is, can we train our brains to be more open to these Eureka moments, or is that simply a neurological impossibility?

If you want your own Eureka moment, whatever you do, don’t be actively looking for it. Like a lonely single desperately searching for a mate, oft times the best chance of finding someone is by not looking at all. You can spend all day sitting in front of your computer or a pad of paper struggling to find a great idea, but nine times out of ten the real inspiration will hit you when you’re in the shower or right before you fall asleep.

Here are three techniques that we use to come up with ideas.

1. Keep a notebook next to your bed, in the car, and in the bathroom. This is the Holy Trinity. The three places where inspiration strikes with the greatest frequency and often the best results. Whether you’re starting to doze or just zoning out in mid-day traffic, it seems like these moments of Zen are some of the most consistent idea incubators we’ve come across.

2. Take a walk. This is one of our favorite times to think. Like John Adams or Benjamin Franklin taking their morning Constitutional, there’s something about being outside at peace with nature that allows great ideas to flourish. If you are feeling mentally stagnant, a nice long walk can do wonders for getting the creative juices flowing.

3. Take a shower. We’re serious. It’s like your very own Fortress of Solitude. All your pain and problems go away for those ten minutes, and just maybe, you walk out with your next book idea.

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Here are all 12 TECHNIQUES we use to GENERATE IDEAS

1. Keep a notebook next to your bed, in the car, and in the bathroom. This is the Holy Trinity. The three places where inspiration strikes with the greatest frequency and often the best results. Whether you’re starting to doze or just zoning out in mid-day traffic, it seems like these moments of Zen are some of the most consistent idea incubators I’ve come across.

2. Read everything. Books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet. Go to the library, a bookstore, or a newsstand. Be open to finding your inspiration anywhere. It could be a headline or an obit or a blog entry. Always be aware of the Zeitgeist. Sometimes the next great idea is right in front of us in plain sight, but more often than not, it’s hidden like some kind of encrypted code, and it’s up to you to be looking in the right places to find it.

3. Eavesdrop. Listen to everything and everyone around you. It could be a conversation at the table next to you in a restaurant, or somebody talking on their cell phone in front of you at the grocery store. Pay attention around cliques of teenagers at the mall or in a movie theater, or when you’re passing by old people on a park bench. Not only will this help you develop a better ear for dialogue, but you might just overhear something that sparks an idea.

4. Daydream. Let your imagination run wild in that boring staff meeting at the office or during that dry lecture in the classroom. When you’re alone or even when you’re with other people. Sometimes I play out whole conversations in my head, or dream up outrageous scenarios. Just be sure not to censor yourself when you translate those mental pictures to the page.

5. Take a walk. This is one of my favorite times to think. Like John Adams or Benjamin Franklin taking their morning Constitutional, there’s something about being outside at peace with nature that allows great ideas to flourish. If you are feeling mentally stagnant, a nice long walk can do wonders for getting the creative juices flowing.

6. Listen to music. Especially music that is inspiring to you or activates your creativity. If I’m going to work-out, I’ll be more motivated listening to the Rocky4 soundtrack. If I’m going to brainstorm ideas, my imagination will flow more readily with some Postal Service or Peter Gabriel. Music sets a mood for your state of mind, and can be a powerful ally in the idea generating process.

7. Bounce ideas off somebody else. I work with a writing partner, so I’m constantly spitballing with another person. But even if you don’t have a partner, use your friends and family as sounding boards. Without someone else pushing you, you might settle on an idea that hasn’t been challenged to be the best that it can be.
8. Go on a field trip. Get out of the house or office. Go to a museum or a toy store. Change your perspective. Let’s not forget that ideas can’t be created from the mind alone. We have to have experience, too. Real life interaction with the world.

9. Think of the most interesting people in your life. Remember, an idea can be a person. It can be a friend or a relative or even the front desk security guard working at your office building. Ask questions and listen. People love to tell writers how their life could be a movie. 99 percent of the time, they’re wrong. But something they share just might spark a really good idea.

10. Look at photographs or paintings. Pictures can tell amazing stories. If it’s an image of a location, remember that a place can be an idea, too. Imagine a backstory for the people in the photo, or an action that could occur in the place. Movies, after all, are just moving pictures.

11. Be a kid again. Think about what was cool to you when you were 10 and look at the world through those eyes. Anything was possible, you hadn’t developed a censor reflex yet, and curiosity was your greatest virtue. Being a writer is just playing make believe as an adult, and if you’re lucky, getting paid for it.

12. Take a shower. I’m serious. It’s like your very own Fortress of Solitude. All your pain and problems go away for those ten minutes, and just maybe, you walk out with your next screenplay idea.

The bottom line is pay attention. Ideas are all around us, everywhere. People, places, even words. It’s your job to be aware of everything, and always on the look out for universal, relatable situations that can be turned into movies. Or you can bring a unique, completely imaginative perspective to an idea. Either way, it is your responsibility to keep an open mind so that whenever, wherever, and however inspiration strikes, you’ll be ready to have a Eureka moment of your own.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Familiars Audio Book

Adam and I had the unique opportunity to see the making of The Familiars audiobook this week. Not far from where we live in Los Angeles, in nearby Tarzana, resides Deyan Audio. We pulled up to a nondescript white house on the corner and were met by Bob Deyan, the enthusiastic, book-loving founder of the company. He brought us inside, and to our surprise, we found a dozen editors and engineers working behind Mac Pro Tool workstations. They were all doing quality control on the eight hours and four days of audio recording of Lincoln Hoppe, the fantastic narrator who is the voice of The Familiars and recently read aloud the 360 page book. They were making sure that not one of the 60,000 words was accidentally skipped or mispronounced, and listening to ensure that his diction was clear and well-paced. Upstairs was a state of the art sound studio and recording booth where the recordings take place. I honestly imagined that books on tape were produced by a guy in a garage with a Mac computer. But this was serious! What a great feeling to know that the same care and passion goes into the production of this audio experience as went into the writing of the book. I'm a big fan of listening to books on tape -- or on CD or my iPod -- and I can't wait until a long Los Angeles commute in the fall when I can sit back, relax, and listen to The Familiars.

Work Husbands

GUEST POST on Katie Talks About Blog

A writing partnership is a lot like a marriage. The two of us have been writing together for ten years. And we write every word, sentence, and paragraph together, sitting side by side or across from each other in an office. That’s a lot of time spent together. And like a marriage, there are ups and downs, good times and bad, but in the end you can work through every disagreement with compromise and every victory is sweeter with someone to share it with. So Adam will put up with Andrew’s long passive aggressive silences and unusual and sometimes awkward eating habits; and Andrew will put up with Adam’s constantly bouncing knee and distracted stares out the window. Our wives joke that we are married twicefold. But in our partnership our children are words on the page, and The Familiars is most definitely our baby. One that we don’t mind being passed around from hands to hands, or taken to the park by a stranger, or left unattended on a subway platform. No, we’ve created a baby that has Adam’s wild imagination and Andrew’s sense of humor and rich character. We only hope that we don’t pass down our male pattern baldness. Fortunately, it’s a book.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Spill the Ink

Come learn more about Andrew and Adam at HarperUK's Spill the Ink blog!

Starred Review from School Library Journal

From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7–This series opener won't disappoint. Escaping from a bounty hunter, a streetwise cat becomes the familiar of a boy magician-in-training. Almost before Aldwyn gets to know his new surroundings, Jack, his sister, and a fellow student are kidnapped and it is up to him; Skylar, a magic-adept bluejay; and Gilbert, a clumsy, red-eyed tree frog, to rescue their “loyals.” The consistently suspenseful narrative moves quickly and is full of twists and turns. The characters are genuinely familiar: Aldwyn feels inadequate and works hard to conceal his humble origins; Skylar has secretly studied human magic and can be arrogant about her abilities; bumbling Gilbert thinks mostly about food and fears the father he has disappointed. The history of the queendom of Vastia is smoothly worked into the narrative. This winning combination of action and humor will keep readers turning pages right up to the ending, which successfully concludes this adventure but leaves room for more.Kathleen Isaacs, Children's Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MD
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.