Mar 012016

Years ago, Linda Stanek recommended I read Punished, by David Lubar, because of my penchant for wordplay. Indeed, the story is built on wordplay.

And thus a fan was born.

I’ve read many more of David’s books since then, including the one that’s being released today. That’s right: T-O-D-A-Y. I scored an advance reader copy. That means I’m important.*

Don’t worry, I’ll still talk to you, but first, let’s talk to David on this momentous occasion.


David Lubar, Author of Children's and Teen's Literature

Meet David Lubar, the man he was and is.


Today is the official launch of your latest book, Character, Driven, published by Tor. By allowing me to post this interview today, I’m officially on your launch team. What color is our uniform, and what is our cheer?

Given the non-event nature of launch day, I think our uniforms are either camo or cloaks of invisibility. Our cheer is the only truthful one: “Buy my book. Buy my book. Please buy my book.”

What, in reality, is a book launch? Do you know? I can’t help it: I envision a book strapped to a model rocket—or two or six model rockets, perhaps. I think the model rockets I launched as a kid would have a hard time getting a book off the ground . . . which seems appropriate, now that I think about it.

They used to use rockets, but with YA novels growing alarmingly heavy, there have been several tragic misfires recently. Many of us have gone back to using a trebuchet, mostly because we enjoy showing off our knowledge of that word.


Character, Driven book launch with David Lubar

Character, Driven book launch with David Lubar


Now, describe your ideal book launch. Anything goes. A parade, perhaps? Competitive stand-up comedy? Jousting?

I actually thought about having some sort of open microphone at my launch event, or inviting some of my friends who do improv. I could read a chapter, and then they could perform scenes based on that.

Oh, please do this and invite me!

I think my ideal book launch would be a party for all the people who helped either with this book or with any part of my career. Since they are far flung (due to an unfortunate timing problem while loading the trebuchet), I decided to mark the launch by having dinner with my wife, who is near flung. At least I know this is the one time in the history of launch events when everyone invited will be there.

A book fling for the near flung.

What was the idea seed that sprouted Character, Driven, and how did the story grow from there?

The whole thing started as a response to seeing so many editors say they were looking for edgy books. This was years ago. I wrote a scene that starts out violently. And then, the narrator intrudes to ask if it’s edgy enough. I write tons of scenes. Many of them never get revisited. I happened to read that one to my editor, Susan Chang. She felt it was a good start for a novel. So I hunkered down, started writing, fell in love with the characters, and didn’t stop until I had a novel.

An edgy novel with a main character named Cliff . . . 🙂

Reveal a behind-the-scenes secret about Character, Driven, please.

The setting is based on my home town, Morristown, NJ.

A GoodReads reviewer said Character, Driven “has what may be the most awkwardly hilarious sex scene ever to appear in a YA novel.” A lot of writers feel embarrassed tackling sex scenes. What’s a scene that you’d find especially embarrassing to write? Is there a topic or scene you actively avoid?

I can’t think of anything I’d be embarrassed to write. If I felt hesitant about something, I’d like to hope I’d see it as an artistic challenge or growth exercise.

Your character names are thoughtfully chosen. What are some of your favorites and why?

Thank you for noticing that. I put a lot of thought into these things. I really hate go give anything away, but I guess I’ll go with the one that pleased me the most. With Lucas Delshannon, look for a connection to a song in his last name, which is a clue to what he does. And, of course, I am giddy with delight that the gym teacher is Mr. Dumshitz.

I completely missed the Delshannon reference because that group is out of my ken, though the song is not. I wonder what other jokes and references I missed.

As I said before, I was introduced to you via Punished, directed to it by a friend because of my own proclivity for wordplay. I know that a lot of wordplay will just spill out naturally as you’re writing, but what additional thought or effort do you put into it?

Much of the wordplay that’s part of the narrative or dialogue spills out during the first draft. I do a lot of revision passes, so whatever magic my subconscious does while I’m elsewhere tends to pop up during the tweaking. The character names, as just mentioned, usually take a bit of thought, as do the chapter titles.

I trust you’ve always been a player with words. I loved employing wordplay in school papers and assignments. What early wordplay do you recall? What made you feel proud or clever as a punster?

I can’t remember anything from back in the school days, but when I worked on a computer magazine after college, I had a lot of fun with the article titles, though my editor killed the one for the review of the NEC computer because she thought “NEC Romance” had negative connotations.

You say you like to eat. Describe your ideal menu for a day, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and beverages. Do you cook?


Brisket prepared by David Lubar

Brisket prepared by David Lubar


Cinnamon buns prepared by David's wife

Cinnamon buns prepared by David’s wife


My wife and my son-in-law both have culinary arts degrees, and my daughter is a skilled cook and baker, so I am often fed amazing things. I don’t cook much, but I have a smoker and I make decent ribs. I really can’t narrow my cravings down to three meals. Let’s just say, at some point in the day, there’d be pho, because it is not only one of the world’s greatest meals but because it is so adaptable for puns.

So you have no problem, then, playing with your food.


Pho: One of David Lubar's Favorite Foods

Pho: One of David’s favorite foods.


You took up magic for a while. What did you do with your magic? Did you ever perform? Do you ever perform magic now?

I did some birthday parties way back, and competed in competitions at several conventions. I’ll occasionally make a coin disappear for an infant, since I’m still skilled enough to fool most kids under the age of two.


David Lubar plays the guitar.

David also plays the guitar—a different kind of magic.


Mango echidna, prepared by David's wife.

Mango echidna, prepared by David’s wife, who apparently also does magic.


You have unpublished novel manuscripts in a file cabinet. Why do you keep them? And if you died tomorrow, what would you want done with them?

I keep them partially for nostalgia, partially because I’m a pack rat, and partially because I might want to revisit them some day. When I die, I want my heirs to get as much money as possible from anything unpublished, exploiting it in any manner they can, because their comfort is more important than my reputation.


David's Unpublished Manuscripts Files

David’s unpublished manuscripts, aka: Files o’ Fun. What would you give to go poking through here?


You love revising your work. When asked for a writing tip, you said, “Learn to love revision.” Describe how you revise and why you think it’s so fun.

When I’m writing the first draft of a novel, I generally start each day reading whatever I wrote the previous day. That gives me a running jump into the next part. When I’m finished, I try to wait a while. I’ll do another pass or two on the computer, then print out the manuscript and do a pass on paper. After I put my changes into the computer file, I’ll do another pass. At that point, unless there’s something major I feel is unresolved, the manuscript is ready for my editor. After I get an editorial letter with general suggestions, I’ll repeat the process. After I get line edits, I’ll repeat it again. Revision is fun for me because it is basically an exercise in problem solving, and I find that sort of exercise intellectually rewarding.

What joke do you think is hilarious that no one else seems to appreciate?

Pretty much half the ones I tell. I have about a 50% hit rate. I actually started to do a thing called “anatomy of a Joke” that I put on YouTube. I think I only did two of them. Nobody seems to like the sewer-fed gator joke. But I love it. And I always will. I hope my heirs can sell it after I die.




Rapid-fire Round (don’t think too hard about these)

Favorite place in NJ: Wildwood


Wildwood, NJ: David Lubar's Favorite Place in NJ

Wildwood, NJ

The Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ

The Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ


Favorite or strangest job you had as a teen: I managed to avoid work when I was a teen.

Well then, this might be one of the strangest jobs you’ve had—way cool, but strange, too:


David Lubar reading at an Iron Pigs baseball game

David reading a Weenies story at an Iron Pigs baseball game. The Iron Pigs are a triple-A farm team for the Phillies. It was the first-ever Kids’ Reading Night at the park.


You’re going to be locked inside a closed factory for a weekend. What kind of factory do you choose and why? An olfactory. I can’t think of a good reason why.

Ew. That idea could stink.

Would you rather ride a skateboard, dolphin, or moose? Dolphin, though a Seahawk or Raven would be fine, too.


Who would you have play Mr. Piccaro in the Character, Driven movie? Joshua Malina.

Sorry, but you’ve been banned from the east coast—every state east of OH, in fact. Where will you live now? New Orleans. I love that place, except when it’s hot and humid there. So I guess not New Orleans.

A book you wish you’d written: I was going to say Geek Love, but if I’d written it I would not have had the amazing experience of reading it.

Are you trying to not answer these questions?

You’re an ace illustrator, but you can’t write for beans. Whose work do you want to illustrate? Stephen King’s.

Oh, wow!


David Lubar painting

David painted this in high school. I think this is a great window into David Lubar!


What word do you find really interesting and why? Struthious. I just love that there’s a word that means “ostrich like,” and that it can convey both a resemblance to something actual as well as to the fictional act of sticking ones head in the sand.

And I just learned a cool, new word.

A celebrity will tout one of your books on a tv show, and you will be instantly wealthy, fit, you’ll have perfect teeth, you’ll be the best driver on the road, and more. Who is the celebrity? What is the book? And what is the TV show? I’d go with Robert Herjavec on Shark Tank, because he seems like a really great guy, and he could probably also advise me on how to manage that instant wealth wisely. I’d have to go with Character, Driven for the book.

Can you hula hoop (that’s a verb, not a noun)? I hula hoop the way I juggle. I can get started. Sometimes, I’ll keep it going for longer than I expect. But, eventually, my balls will be on the ground. Wait. That didn’t sound right…

That sounds like just the right place to end our chat!

Many thanks to David for this very entertaining interview—and for so many entertaining books. Congratulations on Character, Driven!

Friends, if you’re not familiar with David’s books, I hope you’ll check them out, and, if you can and are so inclined . . .

Buy the book,
Buy the book,
Please buy the book!

Or request it at your local library.

Review it on Amazon or GoodReads or your blog or anywhere else readers might see it.

Tell someone about it.

Give it as a gift.


David Lubar's Books

These are David’s books. See why I’m not posting them all here?


A Selection of Books by David Lubar

David’s got a lot of books in print, and I’m not going to post them all here. These, mostly, are the ones I’ve read, but I’m comfortable recommending you go ahead and read any of David’s books that look good to you. There is a whole series of Weenies books, and they are short-story collections. I’m listing the first one I read, but I’ve got and enjoyed several others, as well.

Head’s up! These are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking through a link here, I might receive a modest commission. You’ve been warned.

Fireside Books is my local indie bookstore. They ship.

Character, Driven by David Lubar

Character, Driven

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, David Lubar

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie

*Just ask my mom.

Feb 262016

Linda Stanek, Children's Author

Meet Linda Stanek. Yeah, that’s a snow leopard.

On the very same day that my book, Been There, Done That launched, so did Once Upon an Elephant, a picture book written by my critique partner and BFF, Linda Stanek. The book illustrates the enormous impact elephants have on their environment and how those impacts are vital to other species that share the ecosystem. Were it not for elephants, some species may not be able to exist. An animal (or plant) with this much influence on an ecosystem is called a “keystone species.”

To celebrate this new book, we’re going to sit down with Linda and share a cuppa while she answers some deep and difficult questions.

I happen to know that this is your second book about elephants. What’s with you and elephants?

I feel like my first elephant book was a gift from the Columbus Zoo. I learned so much about elephants and the conservation work that zoos do. But one thing that really stood out from me, from all that I learned, was this idea of keystone species, and all that elephants, in particular, are doing as keystones. I realized that the possibility of losing elephants—as tragic as that is—is an even bigger issue than, well, just losing them. This, then, became a writing goal—to explain the concept of keystone species to children, the inheritors of our earth. The concept wrangled around in my brain for quite some time before the words “Once Upon a Time,” and next “Once Upon an Elephant” came to mind. Once I had that phrase, the rest started to fall into place.


Once Upon an Elephant, by Linda Stanek, illustrated by Shennen Bersani

Linda and Shennen’s book, not mine.


What was the hardest part of writing this story?

There was some revision work to be done once it was vetted by the International Elephant Foundation. They were very particular about the wording so that it would be 100% accurate, and I appreciate that. They challenged my editor and me to wordsmith sections to make sure that we got the information exactly right, while keeping with the voice of the book. It was both challenging and rewarding.

If you had a pet elephant what would you name it, and what would you do with it?

Her name would be Bulky, and I would ride her, of course!


Elephant coming at ya.

Bulky coming at ya!


Are people keystone animals?

Goodness, I don’t think so! Keystones naturally support their habitats. My perception of humans is that we tend to destroy habitat. Loss of habitat due to human encroachment seems to be a commonality in most of our endangered species.

You didn’t interact with the illustrator during book production. Was there anything in the illustrations that surprised you?

I was amazed and wowed by most of it, but never more than when I saw the finished version of the savannah fire. The flames, there, are so striking and beautiful!

You have to choose a favorite illustration in the book. If you don’t, I will be forced to live in a tree with no ladder and no roof or even a tarp over my head. I really don’t want to live in a tree. What’s your favorite illustration?

This is a totally unfair question, Jen . . .

I know. That’s why I went all arm-twisty right out of the gate.

. . . but okay, I’ll play along.

You’re such a good sport!

As much as I’m drawn to the savannah fire illustrations, I’ll tag pages 19 and 20—the picture of the mice and the footprint-pools. I just love how Shennen distributed the color on this spread, with the frogs, and the insect, and the water. And the mice are so darn cute!

Where, how, and when do you write?

I can write almost any place, but I generally write in my office at home at a desk in front of a window that I gaze out of when I stop to ponder something. I write almost every day—it’s hard for me not to write. I get phrases or ideas in my mind, and until I put them on paper, they bug me.

Describe your ideal writing space.

My ideal writing space is spacious and tidy. My office is small and usually shockingly untidy. My ideal writing space has plenty of light—ideally natural light, and mine does. And, my ideal writing space has a cat or two (sometimes three) on the cat tree, and NOT on my desk, which happens . . . some days.

What’s a subject you haven’t yet written about but would like to?

I always have the next book project in mind. But if I told you what it is, I’d have to . . . um . . . muzzle you!

Name a book you wish you had written.

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park.

Ooooooo, that’s a good one! I’m a huge Linda Sue fan. She came to Alaska, you know.

What’s a word that you find really interesting?

Clobber. Maybe it’s funny to me because it sounds like slobber. To me, it’s just comical, and when I hear adults say it (and when I do, they say it in all seriousness), it sounds downright silly.


Elephant Face, Etosha National Park

Yeah, “clobber” is a funny word.


Pretend your next story is about a lamp with a problem. What kind of lamp is it, and what is its problem?

It’s a gooseneck lamp, and its problem is, it can’t turn itself off at night to go to sleep. It keeps lighting back up to look at one more thing. (This is me and my brain. Don’t ask me how this story resolves!)

You know . . . I think that has potential. There are not nearly enough stories about furniture.


Books by Linda Stanek

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

Once Upon an Elephant, by Linda Stanek

Once Upon an Elephant

Beco's Big Year, by Linda Stanek

Beco’s Big Year

Good Fun Sudoku for Kids, by Linda Stanek and Jen Funk Weber

Good Fun Sudoku for Kids: Supporting Feline Trap, Neuter, Return

Good Fun Sudoku: Supporting Feline Trap, Neuter, Return

Good Fun Sudoku: Supporting Feline Trap, Neuter, Return

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park

A Single Shard, written by a different Linda

Feb 102016

Andrea Gabriel, Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs Illustrator

Meet Andrea Gabriel.

Today is the official launch day of Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs. To celebrate, I’d like to introduce you to the book’s illustrator, Andrea Gabriel.

How did it come about that you were asked to illustrate this book? How did you connect with Arbordale?

Because I love science, I naturally loved Arbordale books (back when they were Sylvan Dell—they had a name change), and often sent them samples in hopes of being asked to illustrate one of their books. Little Gray’s Great Migration was my first book with them, followed by Wandering Woolly and now Been There.

What made you want to illustrate this book, and what was your favorite part?

My father was a wildlife biologist who spent a lot of time showing me animal signs in the woods. In fact, I spent one summer helping him track collared deer with radio collars. So I already had an interest in animal signs. I love drawing wildlife!

Was there anything particularly hard about the project?

Drawing people is not easy for me. I definitely am more comfortable drawing animals! Luckily my neighbor, Lulu, and her best friend, Mason, were willing to pose for me, which helped greatly.


Been There Cover Sketch, by Andrea Gabriel

Cover sketch, by Andrea Gabriel


If you had to illustrate this book all over again, and you weren’t allowed to paint, what would you do instead?

Hmmm . . . I always wanted to do a book with cut paper illustrations. So maybe I’d try that.


Otter and Bear, cut paper art, by Andrea Gabriel

Otter and Bear, cut paper art. ~ Andrea Gabriel


Of the animals in the book, which is your favorite and why?

I really liked the snowshoe hares. It is a challenge to paint white animals on a white background.

I love the hares, too!


Snowshoe hares eating willow bark, by Andrea Gabriel

How the snowshoe hare sign came to be. ~ Andrea Gabriel


Have you had any cool animal or animal-sign sightings? Tell us.

Oh yes. Once, when hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and my hiking buddy was miles ahead, I saw prints of a mama and young cougar. That woke me up! I also love to see how all the squirrels chew down the pine cones before they are ripe, and sometimes the bears get to them before the squirrels can. I love to see snake tracks in the sand.

If you were to do a follow-up book with kids hiking in a different place, where would you have them go and/or what animals would you have them looking for?

I would love to see a book with kids hiking in the Sonoran desert. So much to see!

Name a picture book you wish you had illustrated.

Animalia. Yes, I definitely wish I had made that book.

I have that one on my bookshelf. Yep, that’s a good one!

If you could paint with only one color for the next three years, what would it be?

Burnt Sienna


Inspecting Hare Sign, by Andrea Gabriel

Inspecting hare sign. ~ Andrea Gabriel


You have to paint something but you can’t get any paint on your hands, and you can’t use a brush. What do you do?

I would use sponges.

Pretend your next picture book project is about a yummy dessert with a problem. What is the dessert, and what is its problem?

I guess it would have to be a chocolate mousse. Well . . . can you imagine how amazing it would be to catch a chocolate mousse? I imagine he has a problem with strangers who want to lick his fur.

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you be?

I would like to be an ornithologist at Cornell.

You’re going to be locked inside a closed factory for a weekend. What kind of factory do you choose and why?

Hmmm. I think I would like to be in a factory where they make virtual reality games and equipment. I would like to play all weekend without anyone noticing how silly I look or how bad I am at games!


A piece of your art will be displayed anywhere in the world you choose. What piece of art will you show and where?

What would be fantastic is if Oprah Winfrey decided to buy one of my otter paintings for millions and millions of dollars donated to wildlife preservation, and then displayed it in her house.


Discovering Beaver Sign, by Andrea Gabriel

Discovering beaver sign. ~ Andrea Gabriel


The celebrity of your choice will read our book on the TV show of your choice—and we will both become rich, famous, beautiful, brilliant, and fit. Who is the celebrity and what is the show?

I would like Helen Mirren to read our book on Masterpiece!

Oooooo, I’d like that, too!

You know, I’m pretty sure both Oprah and Helen read this blog, so you’ll probably be getting phone calls soon.


Books by Andrea Gabriel

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

Little Gray's Great Migration, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Little Gray’s Great Migration

Wandering Woolly, By Andrea Gabriel

Wandering Woolly

Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree?, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree?

Where Do I Sleep? A Pacific Northwest Lullaby, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Where Do I Sleep? A Pacific Northwest Lullaby

Animalia, by Graeme Base

Animalia, by Graeme Base (NOT by Andrea)


Feb 042016

Once Upon an Elephant, by Linda Stanek, illustrated by Shennen Bersani

Linda and Shennen’s book, not mine.

Listen. Do you hear it? That’s the sound of fingers no longer drumming.

Linda received the first batch of her new picture book, Once Upon an Elephant, about six months ago (or maybe it was two or three weeks ago). And then Linda’s co-creator, illustrator Shennen Bersani, received hers, as evidenced on Facebook, and my co-creator, illustrator Andrea Gabriel, received hers.

Me? Nada.

Every day, I walked to the mailbox, with pen in pocket, ready to sign the little slip of paper our rural carrier would leave notifying us that we had a package too big for the mailbox. I was sure the book box would be too big for even our super-sized mailbox. That’s an almost-two mile round trip . . . through the snow . . . sometimes through bitter wind, too . . . down and up our steep driveway.

Every day, there was no slip, no box.



Linda reported the first review of her book.


You know that scene where Charlie Brown opens his mailbox, hoping for a Christmas card but finding an empty, echo-y cavern? That was the scene here.


Until a few days ago.


Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs, by Jen Funk Weber, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Now, this one is mine. Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs, by Jen Funk Weber, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel


We were so used to the routine of finding an empty mailbox, we were caught off guard, gobsmacked by a giant box rather than a tiny sliver of paper. It juuuuuuust fit inside our jumbo mail receptacle. That our mail carrier knew it would fit is impressive.

Trouble was, we weren’t exactly prepared for a box, especially a heavy box too big for my backpack. Mike tried to cram the box in my pack, but no way was the zipper zipping, and the strap was too short to snug around the box and keep it in. Had I been expecting a box, I would have brought rope.

Oh, sure, we could have left the box there and returned with the truck, but where’s the fun in that? No, Mike carried the book box to the snow mound behind the mailboxes and used a key from his pocket to open it. He then rearranged the four sets of paper-wrapped books in my pack, along with the Arbordale catalogs and other sundry marketing materials.

Mike carried the empty cardboard box home. I carried 32 pounds of books and catalogs. Did I mention that the almost-mile trip home is uphill? And that our driveway is particularly steep?

Should I mention that it was also kinda fun? I felt as though I’d earned something.

Best of all: They’re here!


Snowshoe Hares in Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

I’m especially fond of this illustration by Andrea Gabriel.


Buy the book
(Head’s up! It’s available in both hardcover and soft. Make sure you get the one you want.)

Fireside Books | Amazon | Powell’s

Please note: These are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I might earn a small commission. Fireside Books is my local Indie bookstore, located in Palmer, AK. They ship.