Thursday, June 30, 2011
Intrinseca. The Lost Hero was recently released there, and to celebrate the occasion the fine folks at Intrinseca made metal coin badges, bookmarks, messages in a bottle, and Portuguese Camp Half-Blood T-shirts. That's me above, ready to go to Acampamento Meio-Sangue.
It's great seeing my books become popular in so many countries, but I'd have to say Brazil has some of the most avid Percy Jackson fans. After the U.S., my website gets the most hits from Brazil. Clearly, Intrinseca did a great job translating the books into Portuguese, and Brazilian readers love mythology! I'm very grateful to my fans in Brazil for all their support. Unfortunately, I can't travel internationally for the next few years because of my insane writing schedule, so I won't be able to visit Brazil in person anytime soon, but some day I'd love to. Until then, thanks for reading!
Monday, June 27, 2011
I’ve promised many people over the years that I’d post a picture of myself in my days as a folk rock singer. Well, here you go: the ultimate blackmail shot. No, that’s not Tony Orlando. That’s me, circa 1983. That’s my real hair, and that’s my fine mustache.
What prompted me to post it now? Last night Becky and I went to a Lyle Lovett/John Hiatt concert at the Majestic Theater here in San Antonio, which brought back a lot of memories. In the 1980s, when I was in college, I briefly set aside my dream of being a novelist to concentrate on music. Two of my high school friends and I formed a folk rock trio and started playing around South Texas. I wrote some original songs, but mostly we did covers of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, the Beatles . . . well, you can probably tell what kind of music we played just by looking at my hair.
Anyway, one of our very first steady gigs was at Grins Restaurant in San Marcos. The owner Johnny had also given a break to then-unknown artists Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett. At the concert last night, Lyle Lovett mentioned his days at Grins, and it made me smile. Fortunately for the world, Lyle Lovett went on to great things in the music industry. Just as fortunately for the world, my band did not. However, we started in the same place. In fact, our audition at Grins happened on a night Lyle’s friend Robert Earl Keen was playing. We packed the place with our friends. During one of the band’s breaks, Robert Earl let us use his sound system. We played a few songs, our friends applauded wildly, and then we left, along with most of the people in the restaurant. I’m sure Robert Earl was not pleased. Then again, he went on to a very successful career like Lyle, unlike our band!
Our band played for several years, and while we weren’t wildly popular, we had some good times. I made enough money to avoid getting a day job in college. When I became a teacher, I quickly realized that late night gigs and early mornings in the classroom did not mix well. I gave up performing, though music remained important to me. I turned my attention back to my other dream – writing novels – but even now, as I’m writing this, my Martin D-45 is sitting next to me, and I’ll often pick it up and play a tune from the old days.
Since the 1980s, Lyle Lovett has been one of the musicians who provided a soundtrack for our lives. Becky and I saw him at Gruene Hall very early in his career, when he first launched his Large Band. We saw him in the 1990s while we were living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and his music soothed some of our homesickness for Texas. Now that we’ve moved back home to San Antonio, seeing him last night felt like coming full circle. My favorite quote from him at the concert, paraphrased: “When I was growing up in Houston, I wanted to be a musician, but ‘making stuff up’ wasn’t a real job where I came from. Thanks to you all (the audience) it became one.” I can relate to that! I’m grateful to have made a career telling stories – and it’s thanks to my readers.
So it seemed the right time to look back at my folk rock publicity photo from the 1980s. That guy with the weird hair . . . he has no idea what crazy turns his life will take. He will not become a rock star – thank goodness – but he will get to do two other things he’s always dreamed of: become a successful teacher, and become a published author. He wouldn’t believe me if I told him just how well his books will be received. So thanks, Lyle Lovett, for reminding me just how great a journey the last three decades have been, and how lucky I am to be making up stuff for a living!
Saturday, June 18, 2011
The pictures above were unearthed from the oldest family album I have. It miraculously survived the fire that destroyed my mom's house in the 1980s, and offers a glimpse of my earliest years.
My parents got married very young, and didn't exactly plan on having a son so soon! The top photo shows my dad holding me in an Aggie baby outfit, since both my parents went to school at Texas A&M. What strikes me is how young my dad looks in this picture -- even younger than my brother Brady is now, and they look so similar. I was thirty when my own first son was born. Even then it was hard. It gives me a lot of respect for how well my dad did with me when he was barely out of high school. I remember him being patient and caring with a good sense of humor. I doubt I could've done so well in my twenties. No -- I'm sure I couldn't have.
Below that is a picture of my dad introducing me to the Texas Gulf Coast. My dad loves the coast, and has retired to Port Aransas, which is probably where this picture was taken. Some of my earliest memories are of camping on the beach, designing a flag to fly over our tent as if we were founding a medieval castle. We'd feed the seagulls, build amazing sand castles, and eat sandwiches with sand in them (for the longest time, I thought that's why they called them 'sandwiches'). I'll admit I never was one for the ocean when I was young, and even now it takes a certain amount of courage for me to approach a beach. Jellyfish and deep water terrified me. Gutting fish grossed me out. And the movie Jaws certainly didn't help. But I still have many good memories of those times. Even the time my parents woke me up in the middle of the night and hastily broke camp to escape an incoming hurricane -- in retrospect, the memory is exciting and vivid.
Third photo: Another water shot! I'm thinking that's the Alamo Heights public pool in San Antonio, though I could be wrong. I know we went there many times. My dad was and is such an avid fan of the water, I suppose it's no wonder I would grow up and write about Percy Jackson, son of the sea god!
The next picture is actually dated: June 1, 1965, when I was almost one year old. My dad is taking me to the San Antonio Zoo, one of the best zoos in the country, where I spent a good chunk of my childhood. When I got a little older, my favorite part was the Mold-a-Rama machines, which made wax replicas of the animals as you watched. Amazingly, those machines are still working today, so I got to take my own sons there to start their own collections. In fact, I have shots of me with my sons, Haley and Patrick, that are almost identical to this photo of me with my dad.
The next shot -- oh dear! How did that get in there? That's my dad and my maternal grandmother giving me an outdoor bath. Yes, this is the sort of shot parents are always threatening to show your girlfriend when you grow up. Why am I taking a bath outside? Could be I was playing in the mud. Or possibly this was before we invented indoor plumbing. Nah . . . probably the mud.
The black and white shot: again, it's amazing how much my dad looks like my younger brother, or vice versa. This is the earliest shot of me and my dad together, just after I was born in the Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. He looks remarkably calm, given that I did not show up on schedule. As the story goes, the doctor who was supposed to deliver me was about to go on vacation, and showed up at the operating room wearing his Hawaiian shirt. Again, echoes of Percy Jackson's life! I was even delivered by Dr. Tommy Bahama.
Below that is a scene any father can relate to: total exhaustion. I'm not sure who looks more wiped out in that picture, me or my dad, but I also look very safe and comfortable. When I was a little older, I clearly remember crawling into bed between my parents and cuddling up to my dad, listening to his breathing until I fell asleep. He had a strong, reassuring presence.
Below that, me looking very surprised, like I'm thinking, "Holy Cow! That's my dad!" My dad looks happy and relaxed, despite the fact he was juggling college at A&M and unexpected fatherhood.
Finally, a picture of me hitting the pavement to look for work. Yes, times were tough back then. No . . . actually I just love that shot. You have to dig the hat. Obviously I'd just learned to walk, and these were some of my first steps.
These give you a sense of me and my dad in our earliest years together, but one thing they don't show is how often we read together. My dad read to me all the time. I still have the battered copy of Tales of the Western World, now long since out of print, from which my dad read me Native American myths and tall tales from the pioneers. These started my lifelong love of mythology. I also loved Doctor Seuss and P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog, Go, which I made my dad tell me endless times. Hop On Pop, of course, was another favorite, especially since it gave me an excuse to act out jumping on my dad's belly, which he took with good grace despite the fact that I was not a light child.
When I became a teacher years later, I would often extol the importance of reading to children at home. Having parents who read is critical, because modeling that behavior will show children that reading is an important and enjoyable part of family life. What I don't often acknowledge is how much influence my dad had on my own development. He took the time to read. He loved stories, and he instilled that love in me.
He also made it clear that he valued creativity, and nurtured his own artistic side. When I was quite young, he took up pottery, learned to use the wheel, and befriended a local ceramicist who taught him how to build and use a kiln. I learned along with him, first at the art studios of the McNay Museum, then later at his friend's extremely hippie encampment/art studio built from an upside-down radar dome in the woods near Universal City. I was never very good at the potter's wheel, but I loved to make clay sculptures, and got to help make a 'kiln god' statue, a sort of good luck talisman for a new kiln that supposedly helped pots not get broken when fired. Talk about hands-on mythology!
I started making clay dinosaurs, too. When my father would sell his ceramics at weekend art shows, he'd let me come along and sell my dinosaurs. Amazingly, they sold. I remember one particular piece that came out of the kiln kind of melted. It looked like the dinosaur was having a heart attack. My dad said, "Well, bring it along. Maybe some sucker will buy it!"
Sure enough, a guy came to our booth and broke out laughing when he saw the deformed dinosaur. He brought out his money, and I turned to my dad proudly and announced, "You were right, Dad! Some sucker did buy it!" My dad turned bright red and kept his painful smile in place, shaking his head for me to shut up. The guy bought the statue anyway.
The point is: My dad was both a creative person and a storyteller. Like my mom, he was also a teacher, and worked in the San Antonio public schools for many years. Really, the foundation for who I would become was laid in those early years, watching and learning from my father. Without a strong role model like him, I doubt I would've ever become a writer.
So to my dad -- thank you! I haven't said that enough. And thanks to all those dads who take time to read to their kids, encourage their imagination and nurture their interests, even if it means standing in the hot sun for an hour to meet some author! You may not know just how great a gift you're giving to your children, but believe me -- the value of what you are doing is immense. Happy Father's Day, everyone!
I just got a care package in the mail -- a collection of letters, drawings, and other cool stuff that fans brought me at my signings for The Throne of Fire last month. My publisher kept track of all this so I wouldn't lose it while traveling, and now I have a chance to look back and remember all the great moments of the tour.
Above is a small sampling from the fans. First up, a beautiful 'Cup of Gratitude' from Noelle and Eric at ZPOTS studio pottery in Vermont. My dad is a potter, and some of my fondest childhood memories are making ceramic dinosaurs with his help, then attending weekend art fairs with him where we'd sell our stuff. So I'm always appreciative of ceramics. Thanks, guys!
The black and white sketch of Percy in front of the Saint Louis Arch is by Daniel H. Great work, Daniel! That must have taken you a long time.
The shout-out to the Kane Chronicles is from Kyle O., a reader/artist who waited a long time to meet me. Thanks for coming to the event!
The color drawing of Percy is by Paul R., age 10, from Missouri. Percy sure looks fierce!
Below that is a photo of me with Sophia S. at the Texas Library Association last year. Her mom brought me a copy of the photo this time around, and it was great to see them again!
The next photo is Bobby, in his excellent Poseidon costume from Halloween. Careful with that trident, Bobby. We don't need any more hurricanes!
One of my favorites: Olivia M. drew that sketch of Grover offering me a soup can. Can you believe Olivia did that while waiting in line? That's a lot of talent! And gee, thanks for the soup can, Grover.
The stable full of monsters was drawn by Katie M., who must really love animals. She even signs the 'i' in her name with a paw print for a dot. Clever!
Thank you to Kayleigh, who drew me the 'Booktastic' sign while she waited in line!
The warlike picture of Nico di Angelo is compliments of Raphael P. I definitely would not mess with Nico here. Looks like he's in a bad mood.
And finally, thanks to Mandy R. for the manga-like take on Percy, Grover and Annabeth. They look like they're ready to join the cast of one of the anime programs my sons watch!
Some of the goodies not pictured:
Mariah A. shared a wonderful letter about how Percy Jackson changed her life. She is ADHD/dyslexic, and she wanted me to know that those books turned her into a reader. I couldn't imagine a greater compliment, Mariah. Thank you, and keep reading!
Lily T. shared a note and a link to her blog about reading. Way to go, Lily! Good luck with your blog.
Sigrid (great mythology name) from Poland, Maine wanted me to know that my books are so popular in her school that the kids are nicknamed after my characters. She is Thalia. Good choice!
Adri K. gave me a thank you letter and said her 'wish came true' when I wrote The Red Pyramid and The Lost Hero. She takes issue with all the other kids in the signing line who claim to be my biggest fan. She says SHE is my biggest fan. Well, I appreciate it, but I don't want to cause any competition or fighting. As far as I'm concerned, all my fans are the greatest.
Sabah M. shared a copy of her school report, "If You Knew Me," which focuses on how much she loves the Percy Jackson series. She did great research for the report. Even I learned things about me. Well done!
Thanks to Tracey Bromley Goodwin and Holly Oberacker for sharing a copy of their book, Navigating ADHD. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but we can use more books on this subject for families looking for reassurance, information and support!
And finally, thanks to Mrs. Milsark's 6th grade reading class at Ft. Zumwalt West Middle School for the great poster. It's too big to scan, but all the kids signed it with great comments. Hope you all have a wonderful summer and keep reading!
That's just a small fraction of the stuff I received during the tour, but as you can tell, I've got the best job in the world, and the best fans. Thanks to everyone else who wrote, too. Sadly, I'm no longer able to respond personally to everyone because of the sheer volume of mail, but I do read your letters and appreciate them very much! From time to time, I update my FAQ page to answer questions I get a lot.
In other news: I'm working furiously over the course of the summer to finish up Kane Chronicles 3. No title yet -- that will be the last thing I come up with, but work is going well. The Son of Neptune is on schedule for an October 4 publication. Can't wait to share it with you!
Everything is going well here at Zeus House. It's a hot and dry Texas summer, but we're spending a lot of time in the pool (when I'm not writing, of course). Last night I was swimming at sunset, watching the Mexican free-tail bats spiral overhead catching mosquitos. Go, bats!
My recent reads:
In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larsen: a fascinating story about the American ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but this book does a good job recapturing a time when everyone was desperate to believe that the Nazis actually wanted peace. The book shows how the ambassador's idealistic young daughter initially bought into Hitler's charisma, but soon realized the truth. A chilling and riveting story, In the Garden of Beasts shows how an entire nation of otherwise reasonable people can be seduced by an evil movement, and kept paralyzed by fear.
The Search for WondLa, by Tony DiTerlizzi. This book makes me wish I could draw. From the co-creator of Spiderwick Chronicles, The Search for Wondla is a fabulous cross between sci fi and fantasy. A young girl, raised in an underground bunker by a motherly robot, is suddenly forced to the surface and finds that the world is radically changed -- if it's even the planet she thought it was. The story is fascinating by itself, but the illustrations add a whole new dimension to the adventure. Highly recommended.
Satori, by Don Winslow. This is a prequel to one of the best-loved thrillers of all time, Shibumi by Trevanian. Stepping in so many years later to reincarnate the hero-assassin Nicholai Hel is a massive undertaking. I can only imagine how daunting this must have been to Don Winslow, but he does a fabulous job. The character of Nicholai is true-to-form, and the story is rich in authentic details of the 1950s Cold War. If you like thrillers and international intrigue, you can't go wrong with this one.
That's it for now. I'd better get back to writing! I hope everyone has a safe and relaxing summer, full of good books!