Monday, January 31, 2011

German Graphic Novel of Can't Get There From Here

From Germany comes news that their version of Can't Get There From Here (German title: Asphalt Tribe) is now a graphic novel. The artist, Stefani Kampmann, worked on it for something like two years and did a meticulous job. Bravo, Stefani!

Friday, January 28, 2011

FAMOUS is Now Available

Suppose I told you that I was once famous. People on the street recognized me. They asked for my autograph, and to pose for photos with them. Suppose I told you that there were stories about me in magazines and newspapers, and interviews on TV. Suppose I told you I rode in limos, flew first class, and hung out with movie stars. Cool, huh? Being famous like that. All that attention. All those people knowing who I was. I mean, can you imagine? Only whatever you imagine, is so not the way it really is.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

FAMOUS in Vietnam

With the official US pub date still five days away, FAMOUS has garnered its first translation deal ... in Vietnamese.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

School Visit Update

"Your visit was wonderful. Our students were so engaged and are still talking about you and your books. The teachers who attended your writing workshop loved your approach and decided to use some of your techniques in their classes. As usual, you were able to connect with our students and captivate their attention with your humor and inspiration. Our students felt very comfortable with you and even our reluctant readers continue to come to the library seeking your books. We thank you again for a very special day that was both informative and fun." Rosemarie Scutero, Literacy Resource Specialist, Louis M. Klein Middle School, Harrison, NY (914) 630-3059,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WISH and BLOOD Named ALA Quick Picks!

From the American Library Association comes news that WISH YOU WERE DEAD and BLOOD ON MY HANDS have been named to the 2011 "Quick Picks list, presented annually at the ALA Midwinter Meeting suggesting books that teens, ages 12-18, will pick up on their own and read for pleasure."

In addition, the trade paperback of IF I GROW UP has now gone into a fourth edition.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mal Pais Journal #5

Having not had enough room to pack Geoff’s 8 ½ foot Al Merrick, John’s 9 foot Rusty, and my 9 ½ foot Donald Takayama boards for the trip, I have been forced to temporarily rent a seriously inferior plastic Bic board. I did find a much better rental board down the road in Santa Theresa in an establishment that is half coffee shop, half surfboard rental. The problem, I’ve been told by Dwayne (who runs the coffee shop) is that yesterday and today the young man who is in charge board rentals has chosen not to come to work. Dwayne took today off to move himself to a new apartment.

On the subject of surfboards, one visual diversion is to observe the entertaining means by which locals try to transport them, especially when bicycles and scooters are involved. Some enterprising young surfers have welded surf racks to the sides of bicycles, but more often bike riders steer with one hand and hold the (short) board with the other. Things get more creative on scooters and smaller motorcycles when there are two passengers and two boards. One configuration has the driver driving and the passenger sitting behind holding a board under each arm. But last night we saw two young men on a motorbike with the passenger balancing two long boards on their heads. Seemed fraught with potential disaster, but this morning on the road we did not find any broken boards, so perhaps they made it to wherever they were going.

Update: Was able to get the board I wanted and John and I had a wonderful Sunday morning session, probably the best in many years with each of us getting several very long rights and slightly shorter but still excellent lefts on large, glassy waves. We also both got pounded hard when we missed, but that’s surfing.

We ate at a wonderful smoke-filled open-air Argentinean restaurant with an open hearth last night. The grill was an old bed spring. Like most local establishments the roof was corrugated metal. Rather than employing a tradition chimney, smoke from the hearth was allowed to rise to the roof and then funnel out of openings at either end. The crowd was mostly Americans, Europeans and South Americans..

Later, we walked back along the road, headlights, dogs, and couples on motorbikes coming out of the dusty dark like specters out of a mist – a reminder that we were nowhere near home. Sometimes it’s good to be far, far away.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mal Pais Journal #4

Finding the surfing still uninviting this morning we jumped into the car and headed north to Playa Hermosa, a vast, flat mostly uninhabited sand beach where the surf was much better – overhead sets coming in every three or four minutes -- and we were able to paddle through the waves to the outside of the break from where we could catch a few waves. Unfortunately the waves jacked up fast, more suitable for short boarding than long boarding, and we spent more time below the waves then on them. But, as always when you’re in Costa Rica, it was good to be in the water. Even the dreadlocked young man who took off near me and snapped his short board in half seemed relatively unperturbed. He’d come prepared and had another board in his car.

The road north from Santa Theresa is unpaved dirt with craterlike potholes and ridges deep enough to repeatedly leave an impression on our car’s undercarriage, but I found both the dust and bumpy ride oddly reassuring. Telecommunications and the Internet may (now and then) reach Mal Pais, but many of the rest of society’s comforts, such as paved roads, has not. In addition to cars and trucks, much of the traffic – yes there is some of that – comes in the form of small motorcycles, bicycles and ATVs, often ridden by young men and women wearing ski goggles and either bandanas or painter’s masks covering their noses and mouths.

The clouds of light brown dust settle on everything near the road. Cars and car windows are covered with it, and using the windshield washers only makes it worse, creating – when sun dried -- an opaque brown cement which requires hammer and chisel to remove. Here at The Place most horizontal surfaces are wiped down at least twice a day. In the morning when coffee is available, the little pitchers of cream are covered with plastic wrap except for the very tip of the spout, as are the otherwise open bowls of sugar. While here I thumb my nose at Pledge and other dust-removal products.

As we encounter more and more exotic flora, fauna, and geology, one wonders how long it will be before we can take a photo of some mysterious creature, plant, or mineral with our cell phones and receive instant identification. The information will soon be instantaneous, but we will lose the conditioning to research. In the future I wonder if Internet failures will be considered major disasters comparable to hurricanes and earthquakes. Maybe they already are.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mal Pais Journal #3

Yesterday John, Marni, Geoff and I took a long walk down the beach in the late afternoon while Bob and Mary, who together have run the Glenwood Spings, CO., Summer of Jazz festival for the past 25 years, stayed by the water’s edge. Bob wanted to watch the few surfers who were able to reach the rideable waves 200 yards off shore, while Mary brought her acrylics to do some painting.

Walking south on the Mal Pais side we passed the flat dark gray area of rock that appears to be lava flow. It’s hard to imagine what else it could be, as it is as broad as several football fields and at some points stretches 100 yards off shore. At high tide this huge shelf is submerged, but at low tide it is above the sea level and here and there are small, deep pockets of sun-warmed sea water that people use as natural hot tubs, sans Jacuzzi.

On the way back we were all treated to a stunning Costa Rican sunset of yellows, oranges, pinks and purples that Mary deftly captured on a small canvas. Later, while having a pre-dinner drink in the villa John shares with Marni, the lights flickered and went out briefly. Yesterday there was no phone service in the morning and no Internet access for most of the day. And still no access this morning.

We are all sorry that we forgot to bring a birding book. In the early morning the air is filled with the chirps, jabber, calls and songs of dozens of large and small birds who share the trees with light reddish-brown squirrels that have a thick strip of black running down their backs from head to tail.

This morning at 6 when John, Bob, and I walked down to the beach to assess the waves (sadly, even more disorganized and frenetic than yesterday) we heard the distant groaning howl of a howler monkey. The mating call (if that’s what it is) of this creature sounds like such agony that you wonder why he even bothers (both with the call and the follow through).

In the absence of surfing I think I’ll go for another walk. Have to check my shoes for scorpions before I put them on.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mal Pais Journal #2

Yesterday Geoff and I finally attempted to surf, but the results were dismal. The surf was pumping, waves coming in, well … waves, with barely seconds of interval. Thus, by the time you fought through the first one, another followed almost immediately, usually succeeding in washing you back toward the beach and erasing whatever meager progress you’d made toward a wave you could ride. After fighting through the surf on our long boards and barely getting anywhere, we turned and rode white-water, which is sort of comparable to surfing in a washing machine.

At breakfast this morning we were visited by Igor the Iguana, a vertically-striped four footer who pokes his nose out over the edge of the roof and watches us. Periodically Igor puffs out a baseball-size sack in his neck and nods his spiny head vigorously as if agreeing with whatever we’re saying, but John thinks this is aggressive male mating behavior aimed at any nearby Ivana Iguanas who might be interested in the scent of his prehistoric phermones.

When Igor gets particularly excited he scampers over the corrugated metal roof, making a racket reminiscent of the New York City subways. The first time you hear it, it’s a bit of a jolt.

I was disappointed this morning to discover that my favorite rundown beachside fried fish shack on the Mal Pais side of us has been torn down and replaced with the small shanty town built of the aforementioned corrugated metal sheeting. At seven this morning babies were crying and several men reeking of eau de alcohol were scavenging around the edge of the beach for the dry driftwood required to keep the home fires burning. It is somewhat incongruous to think that some of the poorest Costa Ricans live on some of the most beautiful shoreline on earth ( I admit that I’m perversely delighted that they have access to such beauty to counterbalance their otherwise dismal living conditions).

Another slightly disconcerting aspect of any visit to Mal Pais is that, with the exception of Geoff, our party is composed of beings whose average age is surely 30 years older that the average age of just about everyone else in town. Continuing a trend that I’ve noticed for years, numerous young Caucasians of both sexes, who trek about in torn cutoffs and lug backpacks, wear their fair hair in high maintenance dreadlocks. There is also a large cohort of muscular skinny tattooed young men who seem to go everywhere with pointed white slivers of fiberglass half the length and thickness of our boards, but with which they somehow perform mind-boggling ballets (when the surf is good) on the green blue faces of waves. And an equal cohort of thin tattooed young women who, even in this liberated age, tend to sit on the beaching taking the sun and watching.

Even among the locals who work in the shops, restaurants, and small resorts, the average age is just barely post pubescent. In past years, before the gas station on the edge of town had an actual pump, our gasoline would be delivered to our car by young boys lugging plastic jugs from a large above-ground tank. One wonders where the elder Costa Ricans, and by this I mean those in their forties and up, go after their time here.

Internet down again. So this will be posted when and if CRSTC manages to get its act together.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mal Pais, Costa Rica #1

After meeting Bob and Mary at the San Jose airport around 2 PM yesterday, we drove to Puntarenas where we missed the 4 PM ferry to Paquera by a few minutes and settled into a local eatery for fresh fish, beans and rice, then caught the 5:30 ferry and enjoyed a lovely sunset while aboard. My guess is that because we’re near the equator, viewing the sunset from the 5:30 is a regular sunset cruise. The ride from Paquera west was the typical shoulderless washboard dirt road, and we were incased in a never-ending cloud of light brown dust created by the cars ahead of us as we snaked through the semi jungle along the bottom of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Upon arriving dusty and hungry, we settled at the bar at The Place for a nightcap, which expanded into nachos, pasta, and an omlet, and chatted with some young folks from New York who are staying here for a few days before driving up to Tamarindo (Lord help them). Amid stars a plenty in the the black night sky came the steady roar of the surf -- ironically loud enough to be a portentous omen for surfing -- and went to sleep.

John and I woke early this morning and walked down to the beach where our concerns regarding the surf came true. The waves weren’t prohibitively large, but were coming in so rapidly that a mist of pulverized ocean water hung over the beach and ocean, and we deduced that the amount of effort required to paddle through the surf to the rideable waves 200 yards off shore would leave us illequipped to enjoy whatever rides we might be able to catch.

Back at The Place, John returned to bed and I set off down the beach in search of exercise and shells, and was rewarded on both accounts. At 7 AM the sun was already strong and I quickly worked up a sweat while finding a very nice orange cone shell, a good-size purple cowry, a barracuda mandible complete with half a dozen pointy teeth, and the rare pink plastic baby doll leg.

Back at The Place I joined the group for breakfast, serenaded by various birds including two gorgeous green parrots with bright red patches on their wings. In attendance are John, Marni, Bob, Mary, Geoff and myself.

This post will be sent if and when CRSTC (Costa Rica Sporadic Telecom) provides the requisite daily dose of connectivitity.