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Diana Wynne Jones don’t owe me nothing

News this morning that Diana Wynne Jones has died.

I came to her works late in life, as an adult, working at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. I think the first one I read was The Ogre Downstairs, or possibly Witch Week. In any case, it was instant infatuation, and I spent several weeks happily devouring her books. She was by no means a formulaic writer, but each of her stories dependably delivered equal measures of magic, humor, and heart. It’s a winning combination.

Eight Days of Luke is my favorite. Contemporary setting, Norse gods, characters who aren’t what you think they are, Valkyries in video arcades …

Steven Boyett once pointed out the similarities between Stephen King’s The Stand and his own Ariel (similarities that weren’t obvious to me until he pointed them out). He summed it up like this: “Stephen King don’t owe me nothing.”

Well, for my book, Norse Code, Diana Wynne Jones don’t owe me nothing.

I never met Diana Wynne Jones and she very likely never read a word I wrote, but she was an important teacher. I’m sad she’s gone, and tremendously grateful for her lessons.

32nd Children’s Literature Conference

I’m going to be speaking at the 32nd annual Children’s Literature Conference at Northern Illinois University next year, along with Nic Bishop, Floyd Cooper, and Sneed Collard III. Mark your calendars. In advance. Like, really, really far in advance.

This year’s conference featured such luminaries as Jon Scieszka, Laurie Halse Anderson, Mac Barnett, and our great friend Sarah Prineas. SarahP actually Skyped me in for part of her talk, so I even know what the hall looks like. I think I took sociology there, only it was at a different school, thousands of miles away. I also did tech support for another conference in that same room. But again, it was at a different school in another state.

It’s a way’s off, but I’m already really excited about it.

Dog, Writing, Appearing, Milkshaking

Today we had Dozer’s second of four obedience training sessions. He was much less barky at the other dogs, and he’s really good at responding to his name and coming when called. So impressed were we with his progress that we took him for a nice long walk on Shelter Island (where he was okay around dogs and completely off his nut around birds), and the pet store, where he not only maintained his nut in proximity to other dogs in the store, but even ignored the pet adoption stuff going on outside. Good dog.

Crossed the halfway point on my novel. Still a long way to go, but the thing’s getting written. My characters have just perpetrated a tiger kidnapping, which has not all that much to do with kidnapping actual tigers.

This week I actually did more author stuff than writer stuff. I did Skype visits with a 4th grade class at DW Lunt School & Plummer-Motz Elementary School in Falmouth, Maine; a 5th grade book club at Groveland Elementary School in Minnetonka, Minnesota; and Mrs. Huebner’s 5th graders at Sioux Central Elementary in Sioux Rapids, Iowa. Mrs. Huebner’s students blogged about our visit. They said I am nice and funny. That’s because I opted not to show them my malicious and humorless side. Why not? Because I flipped a coin, like Harvey Dent.

This Skype visiting thing is a whole mess of fun. I thought it was going to be like rainy-day schedule when I was in elementary school, where they just projected whatever they could on a screen to distract the kids from committing mayhem. Usually it was that Disney cartoon about Johny Appleseed. We’d seen it so often that they once showed it to us backwards. So it was really kind of a documentary about deforestation. But the Skype visits weren’t like that. The students were well prepared, had done research, and came ready with good questions.

I also Skyped right into the middle of Sarah Prineas‘s talk at the Children’s Literature Conference at Northern Illinois University. Sure seemed like both she and her audience were having fun, at least they were when I showed up. Hopefully they still were after I left. I tried not to be malicious and humorless. I’ll be giving a talk at the conference next year, and it was nice to get a little preview.

And I also did a signing at the Oceanside Barnes and Noble. Met some readers, scrawled my name, doodled some squid.

Last night I had a healthy salad for dinner. Mostly vegetables with just a drizzle of dressing. Tonight I’m thinking a milkshake for dinner makes sense. That’s what I’m thinking.

Pavel’s be-sneakered octopus

Reader/artist Pavel comes through with another great Kid vs. Squid-based illustration. This time it’s the octopus with sneakers from Uncle Griswald’s museum. I’d imagined it smaller, but when it comes to octopi with sneakers, bigger is definitely better, and I believe Pavel made the right choice.

If you missed them, see Pavel’s squid and his crabman. Pavel, dude, you’re awesome.

Pavel’s squid

A few months back I did a signing at the Barnes and Noble in Oceanside, California and met a cool dude named Pavel and his family. Pavel, it so happened, had a reputation among his family and teachers as quite an artist, and I asked him to send me Kid vs. Squid art, should he be so inclined. And look at what his mom emailed me today! Check out the teeth on that squid, will ya? Check out those tentacles! And look at the way it’s totally mangling that kid!

Thanks to Pavel and Pavel’s mom for making my day.

Tenners 55-book Library Giveaway LAST CHANCE!

Tomorrow (Feb. 15, 2011) is the last day for librarians to enter the Tenners 55-book Library Giveaway. Check out the details here.

I may be biased, but here’s my favorite entry so far, featuring Laura Oosting, librarian assistant at Brownsburg Public Library in Brownsburg, Indiana. The page Laura’s reading probably features something gross. Odds are.

Locus Recommended Reading List & Dog

Locus is a magazine covering news of the science fiction and fantasy publishing industry, and their editors and reviewers put Kid vs. Squid on their 2010 Recommended Reading List in the Young Adult category (which, for their purposes, includes middle grade). Isn’t that nice? I think it’s nice.

In other news, our household now includes a dog, Dozer, a terrier mix who, as I write this, is about seven months old. We adopted him from the Helen Woodward Animal Center. They’re a very good shelter, and they had him neutered, vaccinated, and treated for parasites. I’m glad they took such good care of him and very glad that we now have a chance to let him COMPLETELY OVERRULE OUR LIVES.

Here’s the little dude, looking much more compliant than he actually is:

Crimes and mustaches

I’ve been doing a lot of research on heists (for a book, it’s for a book I’m writing, this is just for a fictional book novel I’m writing), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I could totally be a master criminal. And so could you.

Check out the FBI’s page about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist. This is the biggest art heist in U.S. history. The thieves stole works whose values are estimated as high as $300 million, and they pulled it off by disguising themselves as Boston police officers and convincing the museum guards to let them in. Skim down the page a bit and you’ll see some specific references to the thieves’ clever disguises. They involve “dark, shiny mustache(s), appearing to be false.”

Fake mustaches. Can you wear a fake mustache? Then you can be a master criminal.

Most museums really can’t afford all the fancy motion sensors and laser mazes from the movies. That stuff’s expensive.

Sometimes all it takes is the same equipment and planning you would put into knocking over a gas station. Several prominent robberies have been just a couple of guys walking in with guns during visiting hours, taking some paintings, and walking out with them.

Are you willing to wave a gun around? Then you can be a master criminal.

Maybe you’re the kind of thief who only wants to go after the biggest, most famous art pieces in the world. Maybe you’d like to steal the Mona Lisa? That’s right, the Mona Freakin’ Lisa, right out of the Louvre.

You could do what Vincenzo Peruggia did. Which involved hiding in a closet, noticing the gallery guard was off having a smoke or something, taking the painting off the wall, removing it from its frame and stuffing it under his smock, and slipping out unnoticed. In fact, not only did Peruggia leave the Louvre unnoticed, but the theft went unnoticed for more than a day. People did pick up on the conspicuous empty space on the wall, but everyone figured the painting was down in the basement, getting restored. Or something.

Do you have access to a smock? Then you can be a master criminal.

I am not condoning theft, mind you. I had two bicycles stolen when I was a kid. Theft is a violation. I strongly dislike thieves. The real challenge writing this book is gaming the situation such that the thief has valid reasons for pulling off his heist, to make the audience want him to get away with it. Or more crucially, to make me believe that, in a just world, he would get away with it. That’s the heist I’m trying to pull off.

But if I fail and my book sucks and nobody wants to read anything by me ever again, look carefully at the guy in the weirdly shiny mustache with a suspicious bulge under his smock. Man’s gotta earn a living.