Uncanny Trivia

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This and all other Uncanny Express images copyright Jen Hill.

Hello, friends! The past two weeks have been super-exciting, as The Uncanny Express is now out in the world (and available for purchase here and here and here and via my local indie where if you want a signed copy, just note the personalization in the order comments section), and since its publication, I’ve been riding the rails with Jaundice and Kale on our UNCANNY EXPRESS Blog Tour. You can retrace our route and learn a lot about me and the book via The Little Crooked Cottage, MG Book Village, Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook, YAYOMG!, LibrariansQuest, Storymamas, and All the Wonders. Our final stop will be on Sunday, when we visit the esteemed Nerdy Book Club — hope you’ll join us!

In the meantime, I thought I’d give my Bland Fans something extra special — namely, a reveal of some trivia about the book. Without further ado…

  • The book is dedicated to Pearl. Pearl was my beloved cat, who died the day after I handed in the manuscript.
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Dearly-departed Pearl. 

  • Colonel Donald McRobb is named after one of my best friends, Rob McDonald. When The Jolly Regina came out, Rob seemed disappointed that none of the characters were inspired by him. You’re welcome, Rob.
  • Kale is obsessed with cleaning (and even cleans the toilet with a TOOTHBRUSH); I actually haaaaaate cleaning.
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Sorry, Kale. 

  • I’ve spent a lot of time on trains; when I worked as an editor at Candlewick Press, I took the commuter rail between Providence and Somerville every day. When I worked at Scholastic, I took the train in to New York once a week.
  • When I create my characters, I sometimes envision specific actors. For Magique, I imagined Cate Blanchett. I can see a bit of a resemblance in Jen Hill’s illustrations!
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Isn’t the resemblance…uncanny?

  • In Chapter Eight, the great detective Hugo Fromage is served tea, though he barely takes a sip of it before pushing it away. I wanted to be sure he never drank traditional tea, as Hercule Poirot only drank tisane (herbal tea).
  • It’s mentioned that the Bland Sisters have just started reading a series of books about two intrepid brothers: Keith and Joe, aka the Nubbins Twins. Of course, their names start with a K and J, like Kale and Jaundice, though I imagine Keith and Joe to be the very opposite of the Bland Sisters, a cross between the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins.
  • After Hercule Poirot would interview all the suspects of a crime, he would take some time to himself to review all the evidence; he called it using his “little gray cells” (aka his brain). Similarly, Hugo Fromage tells the Bland Sisters he needs time to allow his “brain stew” to simmer.
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Mmm…brain stew.

  • Like a certain murderess on The Uncanny Express, I too own a poison ring.
  • A lot of my own experience with failure is reflected in Magique’s feelings about it — I’ve never had anyone throw tomatoes at me, though (not literally, anyway).
  • One of the clues left behind by Magique is a box of Good & Plenty. I hate Good & Plenty, and anything flavored with black licorice in general.
  • The Uncanny Valley Hippodrome was inspired by The Holiday Hippodrome, a kitschy circus my sister and I saw when we were kids.
  • At the end of the story, the Bland Sisters encounter an airplane called the Bluebird. For some time, I had a freelance editing business called Bluebird Works (named for the bluebird of happiness).
  • The third and final (???) Bland Sisters adventure will come out in early 2019. Among other things, it features an ancient curse, a villain with very bad teeth, and a BIG reveal of some Bland Family secrets.

Hope you enjoyed these little factoids — if you have any other questions for me, be sure to leave them in the comments. Which brings me to today’s big GIVEAWAY…

If you comment here on the blog, or follow/like/RT me on Twitter or Instagram TODAY, you’ll be eligible for an Uncanny giveaway! I’ll announce the winner on Twitter on Monday, January 22.

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The giveaway includes: signed copies of The Jolly Regina and The Uncanny Express, and a swag pack featuring fun bookmarks, a set of Jolly Regina postcards, and a genuine Hugo Fromage mustache!

P.S. Just a reminder the The Jolly Regina is now out in paperback, wherever books are sold! If you want to check out some fun trivia about the book, take a look at my Five Things About the Jolly Regina series, mateys!

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Five Things About the Jolly Regina: The Jokes

Aye, mateys! I’ve taken the past few days to give you a little behind-the-scenes of the process of writing my upcoming (and very first!) novel, The Jolly Regina, the first in a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters. Today’s (final!) entry concerns some of the jokes and references in the story.

I love a good joke (obviously), but I also love using literary and cultural references to enhance my humor. Sometimes, my references are meant for kids, and other times, they can be a bit more sophisticated and adult. This is because I hope that kids of all ages will enjoy The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, so I’ve included all kinds of humor, for maximum entertainment. Also, I think the best stories are the ones you can come back to again and again, and discover something new and different each time. I especially love going back to stories I loved as a kid and discovering whole new meanings with my (semi-)adult sensibility. It’s like a gift that keeps on giving.

FUN FACTS:

  1. I read a lot of Herman Melville in school, so there are quite a few Melville references in the story. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Princess Kwee-Kweg is based on Queequeg from Moby Dick. Also, Millie Mudd is based on Billy Budd, Sailor (I even gave Millie a slight stutter as an homage). And the Bland Sisters’ beleaguered mail carrier, Mr. Bartleby, is based on the infamous “Bartleby the Scrivener.” You might even say that Delilah’s obsessive hunt for The Booty Myth has parallels to Captain Ahab’s search for a certain white whale.
  2. As research for The Jolly Regina, I also read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (highly recommended if pirates are your jam). Jaundice and Kale hide in a dinghy during the big swashbuckling scene at the end much like Jim hides in an apple barrel aboard the Hispaniola.
  3. Gilly Guns Island is a reference to “Gilligan’s Island”, which was one of my favorite television shows when I was Jaundice and Kale’s age. (Back then, I aspired to be Mary Ann, but I think I’ve turned out more like the Professor.)
  4. Confession: I pirated two funny moments from two of my favorite movies. When Jaundice and Kale puzzle over the ladder in Chapter Eleven, their exchange (“Of course we know where it goes….It goes up”) mirrors one from Ghostbusters, which I saw in the theater when I was eleven (and promptly fell in love with Bill Murray and his deadpan humor). And when Jaundice and Kale discover the conch at the end of the story, the line “But this shell had no earthly business being among a pile of clams” is based on a similar line from another of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these little behind-the-scenes stories — and, ideally, that they’ve made you want to read The Jolly Regina! Happy reading, me hearties!

TOMORROW’S POST: A contest!

Five Things About the Jolly Regina: The Chanteys, and the Cook

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Art from The Jolly Regina, illustrated by the brilliant Jen Hill.

Aye, mateys! As I mentioned earlier this week, I thought I might take the next few days to give you a little behind-the-scenes of the process of writing my upcoming (and very first!) novel, The Jolly Regina, the first in a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters. Today’s entry concerns one of my favorite characters: Fatima, the sea chantey-singing cook.

I just loved writing the character of Fatima; her scenes delighted me like no other. I love that she’s so well-rounded, literally and figuratively — she’s a tough cookie (or, more aptly, a hardtack biscuit) but she has a heart of gold. She’s a cook and she’s a chanteuse. And she manages to endear herself to the Bland Sisters, and vice versa. I was really sorry to say goodbye to her when I finished the book…though who knows? She may just pop up again at some point.

I also love the friendship between Fatima and Peg, who are brought together by a certain, er, serendipity (you’ll have to read the book to find out more — I won’t spoil it). The crew of The Jolly Regina is a rough one, as any pirate crew would be, so it’s nice to see two friends find each other and stick together amidst such rough seas, and ultimately come out on top.

Of course, it’s NOT nice to see Fatima bullied by Smoky and Princess. I imagine that amongst any group of people traveling for long stretches in close quarters, there’s bound to be conflict and drama. It’s a bit like middle school or high school, in a way. (Actually, the girls who bullied me in middle school were much surlier, and wore way more eyeliner.) I’ve written a lot about bullying in my other books, as I’ve experienced the issue from both sides of the fence — so it’s no surprise that there’s a bully or two (or more) in The Jolly Regina, too.

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Art from The Jolly Regina by the brilliant Jen Hill.

Bullies are really sad creatures at heart; as Kale says to Fatima, “From what little I’ve seen, some people make themselves feel better by being mean to others.” Thankfully, the Bland Sisters remind Fatima that she’s strong, and that she has some real talent as a chantey singer and writer; this pep talk gives Fatima all the confidence she needs to stand up to her tormentors and fight for her happy ending.

One of my all-time-favorite things to write in this book were the sea chanties. I have a little bit of a musical background, so I really enjoyed singing the songs to myself as I wrote them, to make sure they sounded just right. I hope you enjoy them, too!

FUN FACTS:

  1. I had comedic actress Melissa McCarthy in my head as I wrote Fatima, as well as my mom, who is very strong and has a heart of gold and loves to sing…but maaaaaaybe isn’t the best cook. (Sorry, Mom.)
  2. Stew (the first of Fatima’s meals that the Bland Sisters eat on The Jolly Regina) is something my mom would make (served with a slice of Wonder Bread spread with margarine) when I was a kid. I did not like it. AT ALL. In fact, I used my memory of eating that stew in my description of Fatima’s stew in the book: “Chunks of potatoes and unidentifiable meat floating in a greasy, beefy broth.”
  3. This is the second time rats make an appearance (in this case, however subtle) in my books. They are the stars of my chapter book series, THE INFAMOUS RATSOS.
  4. The chanteys have melodies to go along with the lyrics, which I am happy to sing for you, if you ask nicely.
  5. Like Peg, I once made my own ginger ale. It was delicious, but time-consuming.

TOMORROW’S POST: A look at some literary and cultural references in the story…

 

Five Things About The Jolly Regina: The Crew

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Art from The Jolly Regina, by the brilliant Jen Hill.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I thought I might take the next few days to give you a little behind-the-scenes of the process of writing my upcoming (and very first!) novel, The Jolly Regina, the first in a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters. Today’s entry concerns the lady pirates who make up the crew of the titular ship, The Jolly Regina.

I’m a huge fan of comedic actresses, so when I began writing about these lady pirates, I had particular funny ladies in my head, delivering the lines: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon, Ellie Kemper,  Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Julie Louis-Dreyfuss, and Melissa McCarthy. (Take note, Hollywood!) Having particular real people in mind with zany comedic sensibilities really helped me to shape the humor of the story — of course, I didn’t include anything that didn’t make me laugh out loud. I hope it makes you laugh, too.

Fun facts:

  1. When the crew of The Jolly Regina encounters the crew of the Testostero, I named one of the male pirates Barry, as a shout-out to my agent.
  2. I included an evil monkey (aptly named Scurvy) as an homage to a failed picture book series I wrote a while back about sock monkeys, which I mentioned in my post on Tuesday. As Jaundice says (and Kale agrees) in Chapter 9, “Monkeys are the worst.”
  3. The ivory mermaid pipe used by Smoky is based on a real pipe, owned by my father. The mermaid on his pipe was naked and fairly obscene, and I never saw him smoke it; he kept it in his desk, for some reason.
  4. Captain Ann Tennille’s ship, The Booty Myth, is a reference to Naomi Wolf’s feminist classic, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women.
  5. Captain Ann’s name is a play on this beloved 70s duo. (If you’re still taking notes, Hollywood, I hope you include that song on the movie soundtrack.)
  6. Princess Kwee-Kweg is based on Queequeg, the similarly-tattooed character in Moby Dick by Herman Melville. More on other literary (and cultural) references in a few days…

IN TOMORROW’S POST: All about sea chanteys (and not-very-nice pirates)!

 

 

 

Five Things About The Jolly Regina: The Dictionary (aka Dr. Snoote)

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Art from The Jolly Regina, by the brilliant Jen Hill.

 

Hello, friends. As I mentioned yesterday, I thought I might take the next few days to give you a little behind-the-scenes of the process of writing my upcoming (and very first!) novel, The Jolly Regina — the first in a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters. Today’s entry concerns Dr. Snoote, the Bland Sisters’ trusty dictionary and loyal companion.

At first, the dictionary was just a joke to me. It seemed funny that these two sisters would be entertained by reading dry definitions. But as I wrote the story, it became clear that Dr. Snoote was more than a dictionary; he was the Bland Sisters’ friend and even surrogate parent, as his definitions offered them comfort and provided them with a certain (however-limited) education. When they (*spoiler alert!*) ultimately give up Dr. Snoote, and decide to move on to other reading material, it’s a huge step for Jaundice and Kale — though in future stories, you can be sure Kale finds other unexpected books to obsess over.

FUN FACTS:

  1. I wrote all of the definitions myself, after consulting several different dictionaries.
  2. I didn’t expect the definitions to be illustrated — that was Jen Hill’s idea, and I’m so glad she did it, as I think her artwork is hilarious.
  3. I have a prized dictionary. As you’ll see here, it’s a pretty unassuming copy of Websters Ninth New Collegiate.

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What’s special about this dictionary is that I acquired it by, er, questionable means. When I was a senior in high school, my friends and I were granted access to many off-limits areas, including the English office (let’s just say that someone who may or may not have been moi came to possess one of our school’s master keys, which I may or may not still have, ahem). My friends and I were (mostly) good kids, so our version of naughtiness was to help ourselves to some dictionaries. I hardly ever use mine now, but it sits near my desk as a reminder of my youthful indiscretions. All things considered, I think it’s pretty appropriate that I pirated a dictionary, no?

[NOTE TO KIDS READING THIS: Do NOT steal. It’s very very bad behavior, and it will (almost) always be found out and punished.]

TOMORROW’S POST: A look at the crew of the Jolly Regina!

 

 

 

 

Five Things About The Jolly Regina: The Bland Sisters

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Art from The Jolly Regina, by the brilliant Jen Hill.

Ahoy, mateys, and Happy New Year! My holidays were peaceful and lovely — hope yours were, too. Believe it or not, I have another reason to celebrate — my first novel (!!!) debuts IN SIX DAYS. If you haven’t heard already, it’s called The Jolly Regina, and it’s the first in a trilogy for middle grade (8-12-year-old) readers called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters.

I thought I might take the next few days to give you a little behind-the-scenes of the process of writing the book. Today’s entry concerns the stars of the production, the Bland Sisters themselves.

So, I have a sister, and we used to make books together; I wrote them and she illustrated them (she has since retired from the business). About ten years ago, we launched a series of books about two sock monkeys named Rocko and Spanky; they drove a motorcycle-with-sidecar and inhabited a very silly, kitschy, retro world, filled with all the things we loved. We were really proud of these books, so it came as a bit of shock when the reviews came out — one of the reviews of the first book in the series said that the illustrations were “bland.” Look inside the book here and tell me if you agree. (Hint: You won’t, because the illustrations are dynamic and hilarious, and my sister was/is a genius.) Getting a bad review is part of the life of an author or illustrator, so my sister and I eventually laughed about it and forgot about it and moved on.

About a year later, when the second book in the series came out, we got some good reviews. But we also got some not-so-great ones. One in particular stood out, because it came from the same aforementioned review journal, and because this review said that the narrative was “bland.” There was that word again! We were frustrated, because 1. It didn’t seem as if the reviewer (in either case) “got” the book at all, and 2. “Bland” is just about the worst insult you could lob at me or my writing. You’re not supposed to let the bad reviews bother you, but I have to admit, I was pretty angry. I sat down at my laptop. And then I did what I always do: I tried to find humor in it.

I started writing a little scene about “The Bland Sisters,” two girls named Jaundice and Kale who enjoy plain oatmeal and weak, tepid tea and cheese sandwiches on day-old bread, and who pass the time by darning other people’s socks and reading the dictionary to each other and watching the grass grow. It made me laugh, and then I shared it with my sister, and she laughed, too. My little writing exercise had served a purpose; that bomb of a review had been diffused. But then something unexpected happened.

Jaundice and Kale Bland had more to say. A LOT more. So I wrote another scene, in which there’s a knock at the door, and the Bland Sisters have to decide what to do. Of course, they open it. But then I had to decide what happened next; what would be the most unexpected development for two unassuming, homebody sisters?

Pirates. Of course, it would have to be pirates. But not just any pirates, my imagination (and feminist spirit) told me. It would have to be lady pirates.

Once the pirates appeared, the story really came to life. It was one of those rare and beautiful experiences where the writing just poured out of me. And it was So. Much. Fun. I think about that experience a lot, and I do all I can to recreate that feeling of “flow” when I’m writing now.

So I have to be thankful for bad reviews, in a way. They force me to consider my work from someone else’s (however flawed, ha ha!) point of view. They motivate me to do better next time. And they fill me with righteous indignation — which, in my case at least, is the ideal creative fuel.

Fun facts:

  1. Like Jaundice and Kale, my sister’s name starts with a J, and mine starts with a K. (Bland Sisters illustrator Jen Hill’s name also starts with a J, yet another reason I am lucky to have her in my life.)
  2. I am a little bit like Kale, in that I can be a bit of a homebody. And I tend to part my hair on the side.
  3. I am not like Kale in that I HATE cleaning.
  4. My sister is very resourceful, which is why I gave Jaundice the smock with all the handy pockets.
  5. I’m not really a fan of cheese sandwiches — unless it’s grilled cheese, or, ideally, a croque monsieur or croque madame. Then you REALLY have my attention. But the Bland Sisters seem to love them, and so do Louie and Ralphie Ratso, the stars of my chapter book series, THE INFAMOUS RATSOS.

TOMORROW’S POST: More about dictionaries and the Bland Sisters’ loyal companion, Dr. Snoote!