Writing my latest book in the Emmie & Friends series, REMARKABLY RUBY, was…well, remarkably fun. This was a story that practically wrote itself. I love it when that happens because it rarely does. I really got a kick out of the two main characters and began to recognize many aspects of myself in them — some subtle, some glaring (like, really glaring).
When I write these books, I tend to add details from my own life. Sometimes they’re little tributes, like inserting the names of family and friends (hint: most of the first and last names of secondary characters are from real people). Sometimes they’re visual things, like Emmie’s hair, which I modeled after my daughter’s spiral curls from her childhood. Or the rabbi in BECOMING BRIANNA, who bears a strong resemblance to my own rabbi — and who inspired the selfie poses taken before Bri’s bat mitzvah. (Yes, our rabbi posed like The Hulk with both my daughters.) These details bring me closer to the characters and help make the process that much more fun and personal.
With RUBY, I went a little overboard. The book comes out in May, so here are a few personal details you can look for when you read it (don’t worry, no spoilers).
- English teacher, Mrs. Winn (of “Winn Word of the Week” fame), organizes a club that meets in room 216. 216 is the area code of Cleveland, where I live (“In the 216” is even a local expression). It’s a little nod to my hometown.
- Related fact: The middle school is named “Lakefront”, a tribute to Lake Erie and some nearby places, like a locally famous cemetery called Lakeview (fun fact: that’s where President Garfield is buried).
- One of the main characters, Mia, loves dried mangos. That’s, in fact, MY serious addiction. I usually have a huge, Costco-sized bag of them in my fridge.
- Mia has a boyfriend named Trevor. His last name, Enders, is almost my mom’s maiden name, Ender. Funny enough, “Ender” is a really common last name in Turkey (where my mom is from), but it means “very rare.”
- In my first book, INVISIBLE EMMIE, there’s a lot of humor surrounding Emmie’s mom, who is a health nut. But I’m really poking fun at myself. I’m that mom, the one who tries to get her kids to eat quinoa and kale. In RUBY, there’s a short scene with a “healthy” vending machine. It contains snacks like tofu trail mix and okra nuggets. Most people would be disgusted by that, but I admit those are my dream snacks.
- Mia references having a family game night of Rummikub, something my own family and I do. It’s one of our favorite pastimes.
- The character Ruby suffers similar “medical” issues that I did when I was younger (I won’t ruin the surprise). So, of course, this endears me to her.
- However, Ruby looks like the physical opposite of me when I was in middle school. Where Ruby tends to be taller and bigger than most of her peers, I was the tiny, skinny one picked last for gym.
- Certain habits of Mia’s like thrifting, owning a record player, and being into anything “retro hippie” were (and are) habits of my own kids.
- Ruby has much of my old shyness/awkwardness, but Mia is much like my adult self: Type A and mega-organized. It’s frightening.
- In one of Mia’s chapters, there’s a locker decorated for a student’s birthday. The locker belongs to “Mol”: short for “Mollie,” my older daughter’s name. In POSITIVELY IZZY, there’s one decorated for “Nikki,” my younger daughter.
- Finally, there is another school mentioned in the story: Rutter Elementary. This is named after my own elementary school growing up, Rutter Ave Elementary — which has since been torn down and turned into apartments (boo!).
That’s it for now! To pre-order REMARKABLY RUBY, just go here. And don’t forget to look back on this list when you do!
Introducing the sixth book in the Emmie & Friends series, coming out May 3, 2022…
This time, the spotlight is on that fleeting background character we’ve all come to know and love as “Baked Bean Girl.” (She’s the one who’s always running to the bathroom after a fiber-rich snack.) Well, she has a name — Ruby! She also has a special talent that you’ll learn about in the book, as well as an ex-pal, Mia, who alternates chapters with Ruby. As you get to know both of these endearing characters, I think you’ll be blown away by the story and ending.
As always, social pressure, self-doubt, feelings galore, and hilarity take center stage in this latest installment about learning who your true self is and where your talents lie.
You can pre-order RUBY from any of the links on this page.
As a former comic strip creator, I was witness to fourteen years of my own creative evolution. This goes for both the art and writing. In the early days, my characters looked more like caricatures, with oversized heads and big, bulbous faces. Later, they began to look more like real people (well, as much as cartoon characters can). I guess that’s not surprising since I tend to gravitate toward more “natural” proportions.
As for the writing, the strips were much wordier at first – something my editors always chided me about. Still, it took quite a few years before it sunk in that, duh, newspaper comic strips only have so much room for run-on sentences.
There’s been kind of a parallel artistic evolution with the EMMIE & FRIENDS series. For example, on the left is Emmie from the first book (INVISIBLE EMMIE) and on the right is Emmie from the fifth book (TRULY TYLER).
Much like my comic strip, Early Emmie’s head is a little larger than her body and the proportions aren’t as realistic as Later Emmie (look at those stretchy, preteen legs!). As much as I’ve tried to keep the characters’ appearances consistent throughout the series, they have a tendency to morph on their own (nothin’ to do with me, of course). You can also see that the linework on the right isn’t as heavy-handed.
Something else I’ve noticed [not pictured]: as the books have progressed, I’ve started drawing more details overall. This includes clothing, backgrounds, and shading (graphic novel chapters only). Obviously, I’m not too bright because this creates more work for me. Then again, it also gives me more artistic satisfaction.
As for my writing evolution, much of this is subtle. I’ve definitely been writing longer chapters with each book (again, not too bright). But I also think my writing has become much more layered. I’ve been conscientious about adding more side stories, deeper — and sometimes subtler — feelings, and just generally more subtext. Hey, practice makes…well, more nuanced storytelling.
Other changes: I stopped relying on twist endings after Book 2 (IZZY). Yet — spoiler! — I’m definitely not done with ‘em. I learned I can write from a boy’s perspective. I also stopped telling stories that take place ONLY in one day. Some of this was intentional. And some of it I made up as I went along.
As I progress with the series, instead of getting tapped out (yet), I find myself continually challenged in such a great way. I keep growing and learning; I also try not to confine myself to any particular character (despite having my favorites) or formula.
So let the evolution continue! I, for one, look forward to seeing how far it can go.
On Tuesday, June 29, 7 PM CST/8 PM EST, I’ll be chatting with the very talented author/illustrator Yehudi Mercado about his great new kids’ graphic novel, CHUNKY. You can purchase CHUNKY as well as TRULY TYLER at this event. Aaand…there will be a drawing demo (woo!). Hope you’ll join us!
For details and registering, click HERE.