RED DAWN! Plus an especially special new release

I did not join the Russian mafia. I know, I know, I had this weird site hack last month, where the page would load and then redirect so that suddenly you’d be reading a page that would be all YOU WANT GET RICH?! YOU WORK FROM HOME!! IS GOOD SYSTEM!!! I contacted Jennette, who went into the site databases and found that they were all seething with malware, so she hosed everything down with cyberbleach and I think the hack is finally banished, thank goodness.

And while all kinds of Cyrillic scams were going on here this winter (excuse me, “winter,” since the proverbial Chinook started blowing when, like late February?) I was finishing up the special short ebook I wrote to coincide with tomorrow’s paperback release of The Wilder Life. Yes! Tomorrow! I’m telling you!  Except plugging my own stuff always feels a little awkward in a way that makes me almost (almost) wish that this site was still infested with pushy entrepreneurial Russians, because then I could leave the promotional stuff up to them. YOU WANT MORE BOOK?! YOU BUY RIVERHEAD E-SPECIAL!!! IS BARGAIN PRICE!!!

They could also handle the heart-breakingly hard-to-answer comments on the Facebook page that were coming from folks who really want the ebook special to not be an ebook (BUT THEN IS NOT SPECIAL) so they can keep it in their Little House collections (SO SORRY IS NOT FRANKLIN MINT).

But obviously I’m the only one here, so it’s up to me to explain. All I can say is that I had so much fun working on Don’t Trade the Baby for a Horse, and being able to publish it as an ebook was what made it possible in the first place. Nearly a year after The Wilder Life first came out, I got to revisit one of my favorite subjects in the whole universe, write about stuff that I didn’t have a chance to cover in TWL, write about things that happened after it came out, and resolve that nagging regret that out of all the Little House-related activities I did for my book, I’d never managed to discover what it was like blowing up a pig bladder balloon. Of course, now I seriously regret finding out. But it had to be done.

I’m grateful that when TWL came out last year, so many people chose it as a hardcover: it was one of those books that was meant to be three hundred pages long, to be published with a jacket and foil stamping on the spine; the kind of book that needs months and months of advance preparation before it even comes out. Don’t Trade the Baby is not one of those books—it’s a little book, though it is round and strong!—and I’m grateful that I can still publish it and not worry about things like sell-through and returns and earning out. (Though I won’t make a dime on the especial unless copies are sold, which is a trade-off I was willing to try.) Anyway, that’s the story.

I will admit that it’ll be a little weird not being able to autograph copies of DTTBFAH (I did scrawl on the back of a Kindle once, which was strange). I’m thinking about getting some letterpress bookmarks made for LauraPalooza to give to people who have bought the e-special. And if you come to one of the paperback tour events this month, I’ll be happy to sign by proxy any card you can bring, or else any sunbonnet, tin cup, log, china shepherdess, corn cob doll, copy of Millbank, wooden slate, hardtack slab, button-string, iron spider, butter paddle, haystick, or snow-white-gleaming jewel box with a wee gold-colored teapot and a gold-colored tiny cup in a gold-colored saucer on the lid. Because objects are still important.

I’ll tell you a little more on the paperback tour later this week, but for now, I leave you with these:



The big E

The Wilder Life is coming out as a hardcover book. I was fine with I’m Not the New Me being a trade paperback, but the idea of hardcover thrills me—the smooth jacket, the photo on the back flap, the board binding and stamped spine underneath. I love how you can take off the jacket of any hardcover book, even the Snooki book, and suddenly it looks important and serious, like a Franklin Library Classic.

I keep thinking it’s sort of a weird time to be published in hardcover. I wonder these days, with the book business the way it is, and bookstores closing down, and ebooks as this bright new flickering thing.  It’s a fun time to be working in children’s books—at work our picture books are starting to show up on tablets and we’re starting to think in terms of apps. (I wish there was a better shorthand name for a digitally enhanced picture book than “app,” as long as it’s not something inane like “blingybook” or “schmoopystory” or whatever.)

But when it comes to hardcover books in general, I wonder whether they’re destined to become more precious objects, or just clunkier ones. I wonder what it’ll all be like the next time I have a book out.

I’m definitely not one of those people who thinks ebooks are the end of the world, but I don’t quite know what they’re the beginning of, either, or even if they’re the beginning of anything different. I have an e-reader now (I don’t want to say what kind, but it has a k in its name). It’s great—nice and light and I use it mostly for reading manuscripts, and it’s already pretty life-changing in that respect. I have a few books on there, but I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet, and probably won’t until I do some traveling this spring. I suspect when I do finally start reading this way I am going to love the hell out of not having to stuff books in my carry-on and that there are certain books that I’m going to buy and read this way. But I also know that I’ll still be buying a lot of new books in hardcover for the time being. I’ll keep buying my friends’ books in old-style booky form, and books from people whose readings I go to, and books from bookstores that I want to support so that they don’t go out of business and get turned into Jimmy John’s franchises. I know most people don’t have all of those same reasons I have, but I like to think that when it comes to book formats we’re going to stay omnivorous and consume different books in different ways.

One side effect of having a book published, I’ve found, is that people tend to tell you how they bought or didn’t buy your book, whether or not you want to hear the truth. They’ll tell you that they loved reading the copy that fifteen of their friends are passing around, or that they bought it for ten cents at a library sale, or that they read it at the bookstore because they “just don’t buy books.” And yes, some of these truths make me wince a little, but it’s also true that those people found me and read me and thought enough about what they read to email me about it, or to post something on a place like Goodreads. I will try to remember that next time I hear that someone is reading a pirated PDF of my book on their internet-enabled digital watch or something (but please don’t read a pirated PDF of my book on your internet-enabled digital watch).

I don’t know what the takeaway of all this is: a book in the hand is worth something, even it’s not the kind of book that you can hold in your hand? That sounds right.  Hearing that someone has my book on a Nook or a Kindle or a Kobo or an iPad or a Samsung tablet thingamabob or as an mp3 audio download will be humbling and wonderful, and I hope when the time comes you’ll let me know how you’re reading The Wilder Life.

*   *   *

Speaking of Goodreads, there’s still time to sign up for a chance to win a free galley. (Just don’t pirate it and stick it on your watch.)

On bookselling and non-book blogging

I am back from my grand tour of midwestern hotels: one night in St. Paul for a bookseller trade show (MBA!), two nights in Grand Forks for a children’s book conference, then the following weekend a night in Dearborn for another bookseller trade show (GLIBA!).  It is a very small-time kind of jet-setting: short little flights where the flight attendant puts a beverage in your hand and then two seconds later takes it away because the plane’s landing. I both love and hate that.

All for books—for these two jobs in my life that involve bookselling. Because even if your job is to write books, or edit books, or buy other people’s books to edit (I do that, too), at some point or another you have to Sell Books by talking about them to complete strangers and somehow you have to do it without coming off like some kind of feverish Mary Kay lady with a big pink case full of crazy.  Though when it comes to this new book I already sound insane just from talking about my butter churns,* which lets me off the sanity hook and thus gives me sort of an advantage.

(*Yes, churns with an s, as in PLURAL churns, because I recently bought another one with the vague idea that when the book comes out next spring I would have a little mini travel churn and put on some kind of jolly one-woman pioneer dairy show. Except I misjudged the size of the new one from the auction listing, and it turns out it’s pretty huge. I mean, not massive, but too big to hide and too ugly to pass as shabby chic. Crap! I need to stay the hell off eBay if I don’t want the apartment to turn into Cracker Barrel.)

Anyway, the trips were good, and I’m told I didn’t sound too kooky, and other authors talked about their books, and they sounded perfectly normal, which gives me hope that even with my churn-hoard I might come off okay.  I met the guy with the amazing-sounding inter-generational fire memoir and the girl with the werewolf YA novel that’s getting a lot of buzz (or growls?) and the Not That Kind of Girl girl (whose book I am DYING to read) and also this woman who I realized I’ve been following on Twitter for months, and you’re clicking on all these links, right?

Now it’s good to be home. And finally the weather is Octoberlike and not that creepy slow-bake psuedo-summer business. It took only a few short weeks from the end of reasonable sandal weather (early September) for my pedicure to completely devolve and my feet to shift to winter mode and become sad gnarled Shetland-pony-hoof appendages, so when the weather makes everyone break out the flip-flops again this late in the season, I highly resent it. Now everything is cool and crisp and soon I will be swaddled in a safe cocoon of knits from which I’ll occasionally stick out a bare hand just to grab a mug of hot cider, and all will be well.

You know, as long as I am talking about seasons: now that the book is finished, I have some time to blog again (and eventually the blog and feed will be redirected to, so I’ll be blogging in one place). But The Wilder Life doesn’t come out for another five months. While it’s a big part of my life, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to talk about it in the new year, so until then, this blog doesn’t have to be—and perhaps shouldn’t be—All Little House Shenanigans, All The Time. (Though before the fall is over I really ought to post about the green pumpkin pie I baked a few weeks ago, just like Ma in The Long Winter).  But in the meantime, I’m curious to know what you’d like to read about on this site. Should I write about the writing life, exploring my weird little interests, the sadness of hotel rooms, what?

But I should add that I haven’t really been compelled to write about fat and body image these days. Maybe it’s just the years passing, but the things that used to get me worked up just don’t anymore, and I’m afraid that with work and writing I haven’t been keeping up with the new stuff, which means I don’t know that TV one show with the fat people, or that other show with the other fat people, or that thing that Beth Ditto did that was cool. This is not to say that I’m “done” with the subject, but if there are peaks and valleys, I’m definitely in a valley. It’s like with Chris and metal. He doesn’t feel the need to keep up with the latest  Iron Maiden or Electric Wizard or Bone Awl like he used to, though he’ll still promise to check out a new album if someone else tells him it totally rules hell.

Look, I even a made a tacky web poll where you can vote! I’m just curious.

Finally, a reminder: next Friday night—Jen Lancaster! Claire Zulkey! Stacey Ballis! Me! At the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square, being Witty Women Writers wittingly weading our work! Come say hello.

Of wheatfields and four-letter words


We made it home from the Great American Prairie Odyssey Extravaganza on Tuesday night. I think I’m still recovering from all the car time, road food, and prolonged exposure to the random whims of Midwestern “oldies” stations (like playing Russian Roulette, where the bullet is something like “St. Elmos’s Fire”), but here is a brief compendium of our travels:

  • Miles driven: about 1400
  • Covered wagons viewed, replica or otherwise: 7
  • One-room schoolhouses: 6
  • Replica sod dugouts: 4
  • Haysticks used for purely decorative purposes: 3
  • Number of times an exhibit guide or sign purported to explain the origins of the phrase “sleep tight”: 3
  • Number of times an exhibit sign refuted commonly explained origins of the phrase “sleep tight”: 1
  • Sunbonnets purchased: 4 (YES I KNOW)
  • Old iron stoves: at least 12
  • Outhouses: 4
  • Nineteenth-century parlor organs: 6
  • Live pageants: 2
  • Live cows: 3
  • Girls in sunbonnets: 600 (estimate)
  • Miniature horses: 2
  • Leeches encountered in Plum Creek: 0
  • Times we heard “Afternoon Delight” on the radio: 2

I’ve been putting up pictures and more are forthcoming. Remind me also to tell you about the night we thought lightning would zap us and our covered wagon/camper thing into oblivion.  Oh right, I guess I’ll just put that in the book. Anyway, it was an amazing trip.  Sometimes it was grueling, but sometimes the stars were singing.

I’ll be making one more trip this month, to NYC, where I’ll be reading at the launch party for Love is a Four-Letter Word on July 29th at 7pm, along with Maud Newton, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Amanda Stern, and Dan Kennedy. If you’re in town, come by and say hello, and if you’re elsewhere, check out the book. Even though I have forsaken the glamorous big-city publishing world to roam the prairie and collect commemorative plates, it is still totally exciting to read Susan Toepfer’s piece about it in True/Slant and the reviews in WSJ and the Paper Cuts blog at The New York Times. It has been a weird, occasionally isolating summer, with all this writing and long drives through cornfields, and so it’s nice to experience a little taste of that jumpy happy post-publication stuff.

If you are reading this on and not through one of those fancy newfangled feed-reader thingies, you will notice that things look different today.  That is because I finally updated my WordPress software and the new version rejected my old customized theme like a bad kidney.  I just installed the same theme that I have on my other site and slapped up a new banner today. It’s a quickie resdesign and I’m still tweaking things, but I actually sort of like it. My plan is to eventually incorporate into—just move the rss feed and all the archives over and have the URL refer to the newer site (which can be done, right? I don’t always know how these things work!)—but for now this is just a step in that direction.

In some ways, that’s been the most exasperating thing about working on this book: having to take so many small steps, whether it’s writing a couple hundred words in a night, or doing just enough laundry, and keeping it all going, wherein “all” is several dozen tiny wheels that squeak along and take forever.  But I’m getting somewhere, yes?  When will it feel that way? 200 pages?  You’d think that since we drove over a thousand miles last week that I’d have a sense of how it all adds up in time, but no, I don’t.  Well, never mind, I’ll get there somehow.

Til you get enough summer

I was away for half the weekend, but I got back in time to catch a little of this weird and totally-awkward-to-watch author meltdown on Twitter yesterday.  I can’t say I know what Alice Hoffman was thinking (did she just not get that people read Twitter?), but I feel bad for her, that whatever kind of writerly wretchedness she was experiencing happened to be broadcast all over the internet. Oh well, when all the newspaper book reviews go away, maybe she’ll want advice for dealing with crappy online reviews, and then perhaps she can read this Buzz, Balls, & Hype blog post that Jami and I contributed to back in January (and somehow I never managed to link to it before now) about how not to let Amazon reviews get to you.  I don’t know, I guess writers had somewhat different coping skills before the internet, back when you didn’t get to see reviews in other city newspapers until your publisher found them and clipped them and sent them to you via stagecoach* mail delivery. Now it’s all so much more immediate, and the immediacy goes both ways.

(*Can you tell I’m watching a lot of Little House on the Prairie lately? Remember when Laura won some big writing contest and went to Minneapolis and her publisher wanted her to completely rewrite her books, so they stuck her in a hotel and made her work there because FedEx hadn’t been invented yet?  That’s totally how publishing worked in those days! And then authors were sent off to live in sod shanties for three months while the reviews came out so that they couldn’t recklessly telegraph their vitriolic responses! Really.)

As long as we’re talking about books, you should check out my friend Dave Reidy’s story collection, Captive Audience, which is his first book, and he is just now embarking on a grueling schedule of readings and Quimby’s karaoke parties and no doubt would love any support you can give (i.e., buying the book, coming to the reading, signing up to sing “9 to 5,” etc.).

I can’t believe it’s the middle of summer already. Because of all the work I have to do in my home office this summer, I broke down and got an air conditioner for that room. I tend to hate window air conditioners for the way they make noise, ruin a perfectly good view outside, and just sit there on the windowsill threatening to tip out and kill pedestrians on the sidewalk below. But somehow this year I really love this damn thing; I love that slightly musty air-conditioner scent that it has, because it comes with all kinds of sense memories of grade-school summer vacation. Basically my home office smells like NO SCHOOL FOR THREE MONTHS. I don’t know how that’s going to affect my work ethic, but I am digging it.

Finally, I’m totally late to the elegy party, but here’s how I’ve been breaking my own heart for the past four days…

…by watching all of Michael Jackson’s early low-tech videos. Like the one above and this one.  There’s no John Landis, no gazillion-dollar budget, no fourteen-minute prologue, but holy Jacko, look how exuberant he looks. And look at how funky his moves were! I know everyone loved his moonwalk, but I’m pretty wistful for this era when he was decidedly more earthbound.

Author talks, Bloggangangers and little houses

Old post office

Alert! I’m doing an author talk at StoryStudio Chicago on Saturday, May 30th, along with Stephanie Kuehnert and Simone Elkeles, and we’ll be talking about living the literary life, Chicago-style (because that’s what the program says), which lately for me involves whole days spent indoors eating nothing but pitas from the Al-Khayyam bakery on Kedzie and watching all kinds of unspeakable stuff that I’ve Tivoed from the Hallmark Channel. (For research!) Anyway, both Stephanie and Simone write young adult novels, and seeing as how I write for an adult market and edit for a children’s one, it sort of balances out to YA, right?  I think between the three of us we’ll be able to help you. And I promise that if you come to this it will way be better than if you’d just written me an email asking whatever it is you want to know about writing and publishing, because when you email me it puts off the completion and subsequent publication of my next book by at least forty-five minutes. I’m almost serious here. Really, just come to this thing on the 30th.

It’s great to be writing a book and working on it every day, and yet there are so many things I would rather be doing than writing a book. For instance I wish to high heaven that I could take part in this VC Andrews Reading Challenge (see also here!) because for the past two years or so Chris and I have been going through the books in the original Dollanganger series, wherein I read them aloud to Chris while we’re on long car trips (he drives, I read) and then we thoughtfully discuss the various motifs that appear throughout the series, such as The Lifestyles of the Rich and Dismal (Do the Foxworths always have to go with the heavy draperies and crystal goblets and extremely long dining tables? With all that money, couldn’t they could figure out how to be less creepy?) and Extreme Ballet (Cathy’s pirouette-and-slap fighting technique is unstoppable!).  We are on Garden of Shadows now, which is way much better than the horribly-paced soapy fizzle of Seeds of Yesterday; so much better, in fact, that I’m pretty sure the ghostwriter studied the proto-feminist themes of Daphne du Maurier in grad school, because it is kind of loaded!  I wish I had time to write a paper on it or something!  But read this excellent recap of Flowers in the Attic instead. You will not be sorry.

Oh, and GUESS WHERE I WAS LAST WEEK.  And I was here, too. That’s practically all I can tell you right now, but I will say that when I was in Missouri I met the awesome Catherine Pond, who saw some of the same stuff I did and became my friend. It made me very pleased to know that another writer could tell I was a writer, because, like I said, when you spend half the week at home eating pitas and rearranging sentences and being stuck for hours at a time in the chewy pita pocket of your own mind, you can kind of forget what you are, and sometimes you just need to get out and see little houses.

(Incidentally, I’m interested in hearing from people who have intriguing or hilarious anecdotes about visiting any of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, so drop me a line if you have something to share.)

Chris and I are off to New York this weekend, but more when I get back. See you on the 3oth, too.