A tour! A tour! My first tour in 14 years!

This month began with the most amazing thing ever: a book tour for The Girl I Used to Be! The last time I had a tour was in 2002. As the economy crashed, independent bookstores folded, and newspapers cut back, tours faded right along with them.

I was determined to make the most of it. So I said yes to everything. Yes to speaking to kids from four different schools in a day. Yes to doing a bookstore event that same night. Yes to flying to a different city after that.

And I had a great time! But I did pick up some tips I’m going to pass along for the next person who wins the tour lottery.

The last time your clothes fit in your carryon is the day you pack it at home. Don’t overpack! If you’re willing to wear the same black polyester (and thus unwrinkle-able and basically indestructible) top in every city you visit, you can save some space in your suitcase. And you need to leave room, because every school will want to give you a coffee mug, T-shirt, and pen emblazoned with the school’s logo. I have also gotten a tea towel, “genuine sand,” a plaster hand missing fingernails like one of my characters, and reusable grocery bags.

And you’ll also end up with treats: chocolate in the shape of the Alamo, pralines so sweet they make your teeth ache, Kind bars, chocolate covered almonds, a package of Oreos, caramel toasted coconut chips, mini Kitkats, homemade cookies, Lindor balls, and occasionally fruit. Those who follow me on social media often give me potato chips. I actually carried a full bag of chips from Milwaukee to Chicago where I ate them at midnight when I finally checked into my hotel. My advice is to avoid the crab-flavored ones.

In fact, for your waistline, dump all the treats into the nearest garbage can as soon as you are out of eyesight. Otherwise you will end up in your hotel room eating a piece of really bad candy that tastes like chocolate-covered perfume, wincing, and then opening another wrapper.

All the candy did come in handy when Alaska ran out of meals on a flight from Chicago to Seattle. For breakfast, I ate a peanut butter cup that had been rattling around in my backpack. Loose. By the time I found it, half the chocolate was missing. But at least it didn’t have anything stuck to it. And I figured the peanut butter counted as protein.

If you’re ever wondering what to get an author, Starbucks cards are small and endlessly useful. Also those grocery bags, especially if they are emblazoned with something local, are a fun gift and pack flat.

My other tip would be figure out the shower while you are still sort of awake. Do you raise the handle, spin it, press it? Is there a separate piece you need to engage first? Otherwise you’ll end up after four hours sleep phoning the front desk and begging them to reveal the secret. And they in turn will send up a maintenance man, who will turn it on with ease, and look at you in your shortie PJs with barely concealed disgust.

And then after you take your shower you will realize you have no idea how to turn it OFF. Resist the urge to leave it running for four hours until housekeeping shows up.

I also stayed in a hotel hosting the a conference for the White Shrine of Jerusalem, a Masonic organization that seemed to be made up of white ladies over the age of 80 and wearing formal polyester gowns with corsages even for the 6 am breakfast buffet.

I visited more than a dozen schools and talked to over 3,000 kids. One girl who wanted to be a writer was shaking so badly it looked like she would fly apart. I held one of her hands with my left hand while I signed her book with my right. One teacher worried that her pizza lunch wouldn’t be “sophisticated enough” for me. I had a wonderful time, and even though I came down with a weird kind of strep normally only seen in cows, I would do it again in a heartbeat!
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Finding joy when so much has taken from you

Less than two months ago, I got this note:

April, I can't begin to explain how much of a role model you are to me. I love all of your books; especially Girl, Stolen:) Recently, my dad passed away and my house burned down. And I look to your books and you inspire me to finish and accomplish a book I have been working on. I have been writing a kidnapping novel hence you are my favorite. I never thought i would see myself as a writer, and you have showed me that you can do anything and accomplish my dreams. One day I hope to have my book published and I would LOVE to send a copy to you and get your approval. I can't begin to explain again about how much you mean to me and how skilled you are.

Thank you so much
Your #1 fan, Carlie

When I wrote back, I found out that Carlie was only 13, and that just a month earlier her dad had set their house on fire and then killed himself. This girl had lost so much, yet she was sending love to me.

I sent her back a box of all my books, signed. But I wanted to do more. Maybe a Skype visit? But her librarian, Jessie McGaffin, had other plans, as you can read about here:

http://nevadaiowajournal.com/news/bestselling-author-visits-nms.html
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Meet the cover model for The Body in the Woods


Wow! Meet Isabelle Varga, the model pictured on the cover of The Body in the Woods. She recently contacted me to let me know that she is not only on the cover, she is also a fan. So of course I asked her a bunch of questions.

Q. How did you get into modeling?
A. I started modeling right before I turned 15. I was competing for Miss New Jersey Teen USA and a photographer who was doing my headshot for the pageant called an agency and I was signed as a model.

Q. Are you still in school?
A. I go to high school and take off when I get called to work. It was hard at first to balance modeling and school but I learned to do all of my homework in the car or on set at lunch break. I also learned to get ahead of assignments on weekends if I knew I was booked for a job that following week. My time management skills are really good from working.

Q. Do you have to be accompanied by an adult?
A. My mom always came with me to the shoots. Now that I am almost 19 I drive myself to most shoots. I am fortunate to work with the same clients so I know the team very well.

Q. How much did you know about the book before you did the shoot?
A. When I was called to shoot for your book cover I didn't know much until I got to the studio. The photographer, Jonathan Barkat, was shooting several different covers at once. I was told the name of the book at the shoot. I was not allowed to take any pictures since it was not going to be released for several months.

Q. How much of what you see on the cover is real and how much was done in Photoshop?
A. It was an awesome shoot....the dirt and ferns were real and they were piled around me and on me as I lay on the floor. They did several different poses until they found the one they liked best. The eyeshadow was real and it was super cool to see the images on the computer. I did not see the final image until it came out.

Q. How long did it take?
A. The shoot took about 7 hours because several covers for other books were shot simultaneously. Your cover probably took about 2-3 hours. It was a lot of putting the dirt and ferns on me then taking them off to move positions then covering me again.

Q. Do you like modeling? What do you plan to do after you graduate high school?
A. I absolutely love modeling. It has been an amazing experience to work with some of the best photographers and makeup artists in the world. I absolutely loved shooting your cover. The first time I saw it in Barnes and Noble was incredibly fun. All of my friends texted me when it came out. I also loved shooting a Canon commercial which aired in Tokyo. I am very fortunate to have been exposed to different cultures and amazing adults who have helped shaped me into the person I am today. I have a very strong work ethic which started when I began modeling. I was just accepted into college and I will attend Bentley University in MA in Sept. I am going to study Marketing and Media and Culture in college with a minor in management. I hope to work for a major fashion company one day in their marketing department. I also plan to compete in more pageants and hope to be Miss USA one day.
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Do you need a round rock?

Do you need a round rock today? I found this one while I was running.

When I was a toddler, my folks were having hard times. My dad was working at an all-news radio station that was going down the tubes (and would soon fire all the reporters and become an all-rock-and-roll station). He had chased jobs across four states, and my parents were so broke they couldn't even afford a stroller.

My grandmother came to visit and later went for a walk. She bounded back into the house, calling, "Nora, guess what?" She was so excited that my mom thought she must have figured out some way to solve their problems. Instead, she handed my mom a rock, exclaiming in amazement over how round it was.

After she left, my mom laughed until she cried (or maybe it was cried until she laughed). She carried that rock in her purse for years, and there were times there was no money in the purse, just the rock. But she always said, if all else failed, she had a round rock.

In my family, it's an honor to go through hard times and earn your round rock. So if you're in need of a round rock today, think of this one as yours.
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