Archive for June, 2009

Marley Goes To School

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I never planned to be a children’s author, and I still funnel most of my energy toward writing for adults. But after Marley & Me came out in 2005 and began climbing the bestseller lists, I noticed an odd thing at my appearances around the country: Even though I had written the book for adults, large numbers of children were showing up at my signings, clutching copies of my book. Given its candid description of marital relations, I knew it was too old for them, and yet they were in love with the eternally misbehaving Marley and were begging their parents to let them read it. The moms and dads, of course, were shooting me those nervous “Thanks a lot” expressions parents can be so good at. So I decided to adapt the book for young readers in the 8-12 range. That resulted in “Marley: A Dog Like No Other,” which has gone on to become assigned reading in many elementary and middle schools around the country. (And to all you students who have written me letters, thank you so much! I read every one and really get a kick out of them.)

I also noticed younger kids coming to my signings, and so I joined up with a really great artist, Richard Cowdrey, to write an illustrated kids story: “Bad Dog, Marley!” That hit #1 on The New York Times’ children’s bestseller list and led to a second illustrated book: “A Very Marley Christmas,” which also went to #1.

Now Richard and I are back with a third illustrated book in what, mostly inadvertently, has turned into a series (book #4 is in the hopper and book #5 is under contract). The new book is called “Marley Goes To School,” and it hits bookstores July 7. Richard and I agree it’s our favorite of all the Marley kids books to date. It certainly was the one we both had the most fun with. A misbehaving pooch gets loose in a school with an uptight principal… Oh my, I can’t imagine what might go wrong!

If you want to hear more about the new book and my accidental journey into children’s writing, check out my podcast that I recently added to my website:

Or simply click “Media Clips” in the bar at the top of this page.

Meanwhile, my memoir The Longest Trip Home is preparing to come out in paperback in October. More on that as we get closer.

Call Me a Twitter Head

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Many months ago, I signed up for Facebook, mostly because so many of my journalist friends and former colleagues were on there. I quickly reconnected with my old work pals from both South Florida and Philadelphia, and even a few from my days as editor of Organic Gardening. Then slowly old high school and college friends found me, and they joined the circle of chatter. And eventually readers of Marley & Me and The Longest Trip Home came to the circle, too.

Now I’ve made the leap to “that other” social networking site: Twitter. I’ve always had a bit of a prejudice against Twitter. I think it was the name. It just sounded like a forum for twits. And the rule restricting all messages to no more than 140 characters seemed like an artificial conceit. But more and more people — people whose opinions I respect — were telling me how smitten they were by it, and how connected it made them feel. They said the forced brevity equated to a refreshing rarity in today’s world of bloated blogs and online blather: succinctness. Haiku for the masses. One of the Twitter converted was my agent, Laurie Abkemeier, who twitters regularly, often about the business of books and publishing. She suggested I at least check it out. And so I did, and now I’m officially a Twit in Training. I’m still getting used to the social conventions on the site and to writing in abbreviated bursts. (“Rain but no raincoat. Wet walk with wet dogs. Where is the sun?”) But it’s fun and interesting and an utter time sponge.

If you want to join me on either site, I’d love your company. The more the merrier. (and search for me by name)

See you there — and of course, here.

An Amazing Night with the Avett Brothers

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

It all began with a mention I made several months ago in Time magazine. As part of a regular feature, the editors asked me to list five things I’ve been listening to/reading/watching lately. I gave them a movie, a book, an HBO series, a favorite actress. Then I mentioned the band I had recently discovered and been smitten with, The Avett Brothers, a quirky indie-label bluegrass/folk/grunge foursome out of North Carolina. That endorsement led the band’s bass player, Bob Crawford, to drop me an email. In it he shared a funny story similar to ones I’ve heard from a lot of men who would never be caught dead crying in public. The band was on tour hopping from one city to the next, and Bob was reading my book, which his wife had given him.

Bob wrote: “The day I finished Marley & Me I was on a 6:30 am flight from Philadelphia to Raleigh. I knew what was coming but I didn’t think it would affect me like it did. I was sitting next to a kid who looked like he was a rapper. He had gold teeth, tattoo’s, and just looked tough. When I came to Marley’s passing I began to cry; uncontrollably. So I’m holding the book up high and close to my nose with one hand and with the other I am try to cover the side of my face without looking like I was trying to hide. Anyway, I tell people that it is impossible to read your book without crying and I am suspect of anyone who does.”

As many, many women have told me, ya gotta love a guy who cries over the loss of a dog. Bob’s that kind of a guy. Our correspondence bounced back and forth and pretty soon my whole family was invited to be guests of the band at the Avett Brothers concert in downtown Philadelphia recently. We went with our good friends, Sara and Dave, grabbing Thai food on the way. At the charmingly seedy Trocadero concert hall, the band manager, Dolphus Ramseur met us at Will Call and led us backstage. Dolphus is living proof that the Southern Gentleman is alive and well, and he volunteered, “Would you like to meet the guys?” Heck, yeah! He led us up a narrow staircase to the green room where we found the band: Seth and Scott Avett, the fraternal songwriting duo extraordinaire; Bob on the bass; and Joe Kwon on cello. They were every bit as warm and friendly as their music, and we had a great time jawboning. Then it was time for them to go on and they invited us to watch the show from the stage wings behind the curtain, just feet from where they were playing. How could we say no to that?

I had never had that up-close of a view of a live performance — well, other than the kids’ school band concerts (which definitely rocked!) — and it was quite a thrill. The Avett Brothers have that rare ability to play with your emotions and energy levels, taking you from mellow and heartfelt contemplation in one moment to heart-thumping, foot-stomping, hyper-energized joy in the next. For an all-acoustic band, they definitely know how to harness raw electrical energy. The standing-room-only crowd out front, mostly college kids from nearby Penn and Temple, went wild.

And then it was over and after quick handshakes the band was hustled onto a bus to begin an overnight ride back home to North Carolina. We left the theater tired, sweaty and giddy. Fun night. Great band. Good people. And I wondered nearly aloud, What would life be without music?

The Avett Brothers are not for everyone. They are far from the mainstream, but I find that refreshing. If you want a sample, here are a few youtube videos:
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