Monday, June 15, 2020

Book Releases in the Time of Covid (and a Few Clues to Reader Love)

I've spent a lot of time lying on the ground these past months, lying where I'm planted.

Maybe it's metaphorical.

Maybe I'm just exhausted like many of us, from the constant upheaval, both political and pandemical.

If that's not a word, it really should be.

I, myself, live here in NY on LI, a hot spot. In fact the hottest of the hotspots, in a way you never wanted to win that title. And I've spent most of it sick with an undiagnosed respiratory thing that seemed sprung from a 24-hour virus the first week in March...

For sure, it's taken a toll on me. I've aged several years in these past few months. I know many of you will nod along.

 As much as we've all suffered, I can't help feel that, much like after 9/11, those of us in NY and NJ have lived through something slightly (or majorly) different than the rest of you. For months, the world here was out of a sci fi movie (and still is), empty and quiet and terrifying, everything shut down but essential workers.

Doctor friends told horror stories. They slept away from their families. Pop up ICU's filled formerly public spaces. Our daily death numbers were in the thousands. Now as the virus spread has finally slowed and states have begun to open back up, I don't take any of it lightly. My kids are still here. My parents are still here! My friends are still here. And I'm finally starting to feel better myself.

And yet, people close to me were not that lucky. People close to me have lost their people. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and friends. My sons have lost icons, people in their prime who shouldn't have been cut down. And don't get me started on the rest of the news. . . 

As the country opens up, so much of it carelessly, I don't know how many of us here in NY feel capable of weathering another round.

And yet.

In the middle of it, some silver linings. Here in the northeast, spring sprung. The environment has rebounded some. People have taken to the streets in record numbers to decry ongoing police brutality and blatant racism. 

My son in the rainbow mask at a local protest. 

The open water swim season has begun, and I feel well enough to finally swim.

In the middle of all of that, I had not one but two book releases. Maybe I don't have to tell you how hard it is to be a midlist author releasing books into a covid/quarantine abyss.

I write literary young adult (and now middle grade!) fiction. School/library is my most supportive audience (and purchaser). Yet these books came out to a nation of closed libraries and booksellers.

It hasn't been pretty. JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, a book I worked on for over the course of a decade, came out in early April as EVERYTHING shut down. Few library districts have picked it up. Few non-trade reviewers even covered it. SEVEN CLUES TO HOME came out in the midst of protests and unrest on the day of George Floyd's funeral. Even the best self promoter with the most hardened heart would be hard pressed to shout out their books in the middle of these far greater things that need our attention.

And yet.

And yet.

This is my career. My livelihood.

And barely at that.

Like many of us, I have been struggling to find both balance and salvation. Like many of us, I have been struggling to make sense, struggling to map a future, struggling to do better in a world that often seems to tell me my better will never be enough. When I'm already pretty damned good at telling myself that.

But even in the book biz, there have been silver linings. Our local Barnes and Noble just opened and I decided to stop in, trying to brace myself for the reality that, by now, JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME might already be gone from its shelves. If it ever even found its way there in the first place.

Instead, I found it here:

It took me five books to find one of my titles displayed with the big names like this.

And SEVEN CLUES TO HOME has gotten some incredible reviews including Booklist who called it a "modern-day Bridge to Terebithia" and Kirkus who called it a "heartfelt tour de force."

You can see (and share!) the official trailer for the book here:

If you are a parent, educator or a librarian reading, my co-writer Nora and I have been doing a ton of work to connect young readers not only to the story but to the outside world around them. In an age of physical distancing, we've created a bunch of fun activities, our favorite, a series of book-related mini-scavenger hunts we hope our readers enjoy. 

 I'll share the hunts below. And, remember, the point of these hunts is to have fun! Creativity, fresh air, and flexibility are encouraged, perfection, not so much.

So, for example, if it says to find a dolphin or peacock, they don’t have to be live ones -- though big kudos if they are! Instead, they can be paintings of them, or versions embroidered on a pillow, or even clouds shaped like one!

Find and take a photo of each of the following items (it’s okay to be creative!): 

  1. A white envelope with a name on it;
  2. A guitar;
  3. A pizza parlor;
  4. Carved words or numbers in wood;
  5. A dolphin
  6. A pie (or pi).
Hunt #2: BE THRIFTY 
Find and take a photo of each of the following items (it’s okay to be creative!): 

  1. Something bejeweled or bedazzled;
  2. A “so tiny dog that looks like a rat;”
  3. An old-fashioned toy that winds up, claps, or spins;
  4. A hat with a feather;
  5. A peacock . . . or peafowl ;)
  6. A constellation.

Find and take a photo of each of the following items (it’s okay to be creative!): 

  1. A tackle box or fishing rod;
  2. Someone telling a short, dumb joke (video);
  3. A gazebo;
  4. A big juicy worm;
  5. A heron or other seabird;
  6. A lighthouse.

Find and take a photo of each of the following items (it’s okay to be creative!): 
  1. A painted rock;;
  2. A heart-shaped tree;
  3. A “whale’s eye” shaped knot in a tree;
  4. A bus shelter;
  5. Some sort of hole;
  6. A rainbow.
Find and take a photo of each of the following items 
(it’s okay to be creative!): 

  1. A red box or container
  2. Heart necklace or other heart-shaped jewelry 
  3. M&Ms, Skittles or other candy you could plant as “seeds” 
  4. A potted plant - real or artificial
  5. A cloud formation that clearly looks like an animal or object
  6. A love note, or handwritten note from a friend.

In fact, I'll run my own personal-three book giveaway here. Through the end of August, if your child reads SEVEN CLUES TO HOME and completes all five mini hunts, have them email me a photo of them holding a copy of the book, as well as photos of the objects they found, and I'll enter them to win a package of three signed copies of my books and a skype/zoom or google hangouts conversation with me (if they want it!). They can email me at (if you email and don't get a response without 48 hours, it means your email somehow did not get to me!) They can also tag me on instagram @gaepol and share their scavenger hunt photos there with me! Sending love out to the universe and to all of you, Gae

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