Thursday, August 6, 2009


The official publication date, August 25, 2009, is only 19 days away! Today I'm going to talk about chapter one. In my original version of chapter one, the final scene was much less clear. My editor suggested that, rather than obscuring the action, which is very shocking, I rewrite and allow the reader to "see" what happens. Doing this required me to actually reenact the scene with a friend, Kathleen McGuire. Then I recruited Eric Pozen, our former police to give me a gun lesson and re enact the scene yet again. It took me quite awhile to get this final scene just right, just as it was extremely hard to "be" an eleven-year-old boy throughout a 40,000 plus word book. I think I did okay. Tell me what you think after you read the book.


Today is day 20 in our countdown to the publication, August 25, of Gone From These Woods. In honor of today, I'm going to talk about the dedications page. Here's what it says: "This book is dedicated to the memory of my second-grade teacher, Dycie Hancock Schneider. Also to the memories of her first husband, William Campbell; her nephew, David Hancock; and my uncle, Terry Bailey -- three men who left this world too soon."

All four of the people I dedicated my debut novel to are dead. But they are remembered here in the Athens area where I live. Dycie Hancock Schneider was Mrs. Campbell, my second grade teacher at Oconee Street Elementary School. I remember her encouraging smile, pats on the back, and those Friday Bingo games in our classroom. She was the kind of teachers all kids should have. A few years after I was in her class, I heard that her nephew, David Hancock, had accidentially shot and killed her husband, William Campbell. That's all I knew about her real life tragic story until I visited her after my book was written and purchased by Random House, about three weeks before she died (at age 90). I had used the tiny bit of her story that I knew before that visit as a "jumping off point" or a spark to ignite my own fictional tale of Daniel Sartain, an eleven-year-old boy who accidentially shoots his beloved uncle, Clay.

The other person on my dedication page, Terry Bailey, was my own uncle who died at age 34 from complications of an automobile accident. Terry was suffering from terminal cancer at the time of the accident, which may or may not have been accidential. No one knows for sure. Several years earlier, when Terry was 23, he had survived a near-fatal bike accident on Baxter Street in Athens. I grew up with Terry, who became a counselor and assistant director of admissions at Columbus College. Since he was only five years older than me, he always felt like an older brother.

All these years later, I still miss Uncle Terry. What would he say about Gone From These Woods? What would Dycie, William and David say about Daniel Sartain's story? We'll never know. But I do believe they're all in my book in spirit. And I hope they approve.


One of the questions people ask me, when they hear I have a children's book coming out is, "How many pictures does your book have?" They seem to think that because GFTW is a children's book, it will be heavily illustrated. My book is a children's middle grade novel and is almost 200 pages long. Some MG novels do have illustrations, usually line drawings every now an then, but most MG novels have only the dustjacket art. So the answer to the question is one.

One day, as we worked together on the editing of GFTW, my editor, Michelle Poploff, emailed me and asked for my thoughts on the cover art. I told her I envisioned the main character, 11-year-old Daniel Sartain, standing in front of the woods. I suggested the lake in the book be visible in the distance and maybe a rabbit and birds. We both agreed that no gun should be visible on the cover.

A few weeks later, Michelle sent me the cover art. I was immediately captivated by the boy. He actually favors my nephew, Joe Sanger, who was one of the models for Daniel. At first I thought the boy's hair style might be wrong -- maybe too contemporary (my book is set in 1992). But when I looked back at some of my own son's photos from that time, I decided the hair was okay. I also wondered about the jean jacket, since I didn't "dress" my character in a jean jacket in the book. But when I looked back at my son's photos, again I had to admit that Daniel could have been dressed that way.

I was a little disappointed when I didn't see a rabbit on the cover or the lake and birds. Then my daughter told me to look closer. If you stare into the trees and sky area you begin to see subtle things there that are in the book. I'll leave it to you to figure out what those things are.

The real boy on the dustjacket is model Luke Kitson of Canada. The dustjacket artist is Blake Morrow. If you go to this website you'll see his bio and representive art, including the cover of GFTW. He has done other book covers. I think he did a wonderful job of illustrating GFTW, packing the whole essence of the book into this one illustration.


Over on Facebook, I've been counting down to August 25, 2009, the official publication date of my debut novel, GONE FROM THESE WOODS, by posting a note about the book each day. I've decided to move those notes to my blog. Here's my note about the book's titles.

My debut novel, GONE FROM THESE WOODS, wasn't always called that. The original working title was RABBIT SEASON. I changed the title to A SEASON FOR RABBITS after a writers' group member said that title reminded her of a Bugs Bunny cartoon (Is it duck season or rabbit season?). My final working title was D-MAN (Daniel's nickname in the book).

After Michelle Poploff, VP & Executive Editor of Random House Children's Books, bought my book, she suggested two new titles: MOUSE CREEK ROAD and GONE FROM THESE WOODS. I ran all these titles (mine and hers) by several different groups of children. One group was made up of kids who visited the Athens Regional Library where my fellow writers' group member, Jackie Elsner, worked as the children's librarian. Another group was a gifted English class taught by another fellow writer's group member, Susan Vizarugga (author of OUR OLD HOUSE and MISS OPAL'S AUCTION, Henry Holt) in Oconee County.

The results from young readers was mixed. No particular title won. I preferred A SEASON FOR RABBITS, but finally agreed to my editor's pick, GONE FROM THESE WOODS, which is a line right out of the book.