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COOKED BACON

Today I visited the Northampton (PA) Public Library and hung out with their teen summer reading group. What an awesome group of kids! They were really creative and so much fun. I taught a bit about writing a detective story and then we wrote chapter one. Enjoy!

COOKED BACON: A PAPER ROUTE MYSTERY
By Josh Berk and Friends

   It was still dark out. Bacon was awake. He was the only one. Everyone else snored peacefully in their beds. I wished I could do the same. But The Daily Harmony wasn’t going to deliver itself. I had to get out on my bike, put Bacon on his leash, strap him in the basket, and get on the road.
   I stepped outside of the blessedly air conditioned house into the brutal heat of the Pennsylvania summer. We’d had a heat wave for almost two months. More than a heat wave. More like a heat tsunami. The air outside felt like pea soup.
  “Why do people say pea soup, Bacon? No one eats pea soup anymore.”
    Bacon didn’t respond. He just meowed, licked himself, and went back to sleep.

   I was probably the only  newspaper delivery girl with a cat named Bacon as a sidekick, but I liked the company. It was a boring job. Each morning was the same. I picked up the bundle of papers and loaded up my bag. It strained my shoulders; I kept expecting to get stronger and for the bag to get lighter. But my arms were still as scrawny as when I started this job. I wasn’t getting buff, I sure wasn’t getting rich, and my arms still hurt. Every morning I thought the same thing: Money is money.
  “Maybe something interesting will happen today,” I said to Bacon. Of course I was right. Looking back on it, I wish I had never said that. It was like a curse. Something happened on the paper route that day, and “interesting” wasn’t even close to describing it. There was only one word to describe what was about to happen.
  And that word, was murder.

SAY IT AIN'T SO

Here's some information on the sequel to STRIKE THREE, YOU'RE DEAD. First: the title! It is called SAY IT AIN'T SO. This is a famous baseball quote supposedly uttered to 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson regarding the crooked 1919 World Series. Maybe it was never actually said, but it is a part of baseball lore. It is also a pretty good Weezer song. And it works as the title for this book because besides the baseball connection, one of our heroes is accused of some wrongdoing! Say it ain't so!

Second: the cover. Check it out!



Thirdly, a brief description: "Lenny, Mike, and Other Mike are back in school for the glory that is seventh grade, and this year, Mike is determined to make catcher on the middle-school team. When Mike's hard work pays off and he wins the coveted position  Lenny is a little jealous, but he'll settle for being the team's unofficial announcer.

The team has a brilliant new pitcher, Hunter Ashwell, and though he's a bit of a jerk, he and Mike have a great pitcher/catcher dynamic that could make the team champions. But things take a strange turn when Hunter's perfect pitching streak goes downhill, and Lenny suspects foul play—specifically, someone stealing Mike's catcher signals. But who could be responsible, and why?"

Fourthly: the library subject headings, which are always fun (for me anyway) to read for a new book of mine. From the Library of Congress:

  • Baseball --Fiction.

  • Best friends --Fiction.

  • Friendship --Fiction.

  • Sports --Corrupt practices --Fiction.

  • Mystery and detective stories.

Corrupt practices! How cool is that??

Fifthly: The release date! It's March 11, 2014. Mark your calendars. MARK THEM.

So I wanted a "safe" choice for a graphic novel to use in a teen book club I'm going to host. It includes a lot of young teens and I don't really know the parents nor am I in the mood for controversy... Hence my desire for a safe choice sans "adult content." But I really don't want something boring and am not an expert in the field of graphic novels. So I took to Twitter and asked for "Graphic Novels Teens Will Love and Their Possibly Prudish Parents Will Not Be Offended By?" Here are some of the results. I can't vouch for them as I have not read any (except for Smile, which was great) but I bet they're all good choices. My twitter friends are very bookish and smart and very kind to share their wisdom. So here goes:

Graphic Novels Teens Will Love and Their Possibly Prudish Parents Will Not Be Offended By:

Bone
by Jeff Smith
Thieves and Kings by Mark Oakley
Brian Vaughan's Runaways series
I Kill Giants Joe Kelly
Chiggers by Hope Larson
KENK: A Graphic Portrait
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
(Any book) by Doug Tennapel 
Smile by Raina Telgemeie


Feel free to add suggestions or disagree with the above in the comments. Thanks!

Upcoming Events

After a period of not really doing all that many speaking engagements, I'll be speaking and reading and generally Berking it up at pretty many places in the upcoming months. Here are some of them:

October 18, 6:30pm – 7:30pm - Educator Event  - Barnes & Noble, Easton PA  (Southmont Center 4445 Southmont Way Easton, PA)

October 25, "Teen Library Day" - Kutztown University, Kutztown PA (registration required, click here for information)

November 3, The 215 Festival  - Philadelphia's Literary Arts Festival  (more info TBA)

November 6, Arcadia University (Guest Lecture)

November 8, 6:30pm, "Librarians After Hours" - Green Pond Country Club, Bethlehem PA 

November 18,  6pm, Am Haskalah speaker series, Congregation Brith Sholom, Bethlehem PA

And then that's it for a little while I think. I'll be teaching a course on Young Adult literature at Moravian College starting in January and then probably doing lots more appearances once my new book comes out in March 2013. See you around!



... asked no one. I mean, okay, they did ask. They do ask. They just don't call me "Mr. Berk." They call me "Josh." Or sometimes "Fancy Boy," for reasons that aren't clear to anyone. Anyhizzle, the answer is: I am working on book #2 in the "Lenny & The Mikes" series of baseball mysteries. Book #1, STRIKE THREE YOU'RE DEAD, comes out in March. That's March 2013! So the book I'm working on now comes out in March 2014. Sometimes working in publishing feels like living in the future. These books are similar to my first two young adult books in that they are mysteries with goofy narrators & a lot of jokes. But they are the first time I'm writing for young audiences. The target age is 9-12. In the publishing world we call that MG (middle grade) as opposed to YA (young adult). That has been an interesting challenge, but I find it perhaps disturbingly easy to think like a ten year-old. These books also represent the first time I'm working in a series. It's fun to think about long arcs for these characters, with episodic adventures that could fill thousands of pages. (Literally! That is if I do a least 4, because they're like 250 pages each. So okay that's a thousand pages, singular, but who says "this could fill a single thousand of pages!" And besides, maybe I could do 8 just to one-up old-J.K.-what's-her-face.)

I would say the hardest thing about working in a series is remembering what minor characters looks like. I'm like "Is Mike's mom the heavy-set one?" "What was the math teacher's name who just shows up for one page in book #1?" I then have to re-read the first book or just use CTRL+F to get the right bit. That can be time-consuming.

The best part is really knowing the main characters. A lot of my writing is voice-driven, which means that the narrators have a really distinctive storytelling style that is what carries the stories more than super-exciting plot bits and intense melodrama. I work hard to develop a unique voice for each book so it's kind of nice to fall back into a voice I've already created rather than starting from scratch. And I really know the other two main characters well, so dialogue just flows. When I'm teaching writing, people often ask me how to craft dialogue. Sometimes it's because they think I do this well (thank you!) and sometimes I think it's just a common problem for a young writer. Good dialogue is easy to identify but hard to identify what makes it work. The advice I always give is just to spend some time getting to really know your characters. That sounds all touchy-feely but my point is, if you have really thought about who these people are, if you make them very real and very interesting and very full of points of view, and then you turn them loose in a scene where something fascinating is happening, well then it's hard to get them to shut up. Their voices will pour out faster than you can type and it will feel real. I'm not saying it's all easy, but it is fun writing about this group of boys who I know -- and who know each other -- so well. 

The title of this 2014 book is SAY IT AIN'T SO. This, yes, is a reference to a (supposed) famous baseball utterance. But it also happens to be relevant to this book because one (or more!) of our main characters is accused of a heinous act. I also think the plot for this book is coming together in a fun way, with lots of twists and turns and exciting sequences. I have lots more revisions to do, and am looking forward to the back-and-forth with my editor that always improves my books so much. It's hard work, but enjoyable as well.

So there you go! That's what I'm working on now. Thanks for asking, fictional person I created for the purpose of this post.

MasterMITCH Theatre!

In today's guest-reader episode of MasterBerk Theatre we have the amazingly super-talented author Saundra Mitchell. She was a screenwriter before writing YA & she has this super-awesome animation program that can turn people into cartoons. I've always wanted to be a cartoon and so it's a dream come true. Her reading is also hilarious; I could listen to Saundra speak French all day and not get tired of it. Thanks, Saundra! Enjoy, everyone!

Oh, I think it makes the most sense if you watch this one first:




And it makes the super-most sense if you're a little drunk or just not thinking too hard.

(Also, I'm really pleased that the 'related videos' are about DJ Mixmaster Mitch.)

Link if above embed isn't working: http://youtu.be/LktqwUgO_qg
Hi Everyone! Remember MasterBerk Theatre, where I pretentiously read from my friends' books? Sure you do. You love it. Well now I have flipped the script. Literally. Okay, not literally, because if I flipped the script literally it would be hard to read. Annnnnyway, what I did was ask some friends to read MY book as guests on MBT! Which is why this week we have MasterDERT Theatre, where Kim Derting reads from GUY LANGMAN, CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR! It came out so great. Kim is so awesome. She even wears an ascot! That's dedication, friends. And awesomeness. Enjoy! 




(Here's the link if the above embed be not embedded: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flT8ATY8xDM )

anthologized.

While we all wait breathlessly for next month's release of GUY LANGMAN, CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR (you are all waiting breathlessly, right? No breathing! Stop it!) we can also talk about some fun anthologies I'm going to be part of. By "some" I mean "two." The one to come out first is a collection of short fiction called 'Cornered: 15 Stories of Bullying and Defiance' and is edited by Rhoda Belleza who was ridiculously fun to work with. She brought out a lot of humor in the dark subject and the story ended up being both pretty freaking funny and, if I do say so myself (and I do) pretty emotionally intense. I decided to make it from the point of view of a kid who was neither exactly the bully nor the bullied, but part of a crowd that made a girl's life miserable in elementary school. They meet up about ten years later and sparks fly. So do spoons. Spoons fly? Yes. You will have to read the book to find out why. That sounded like a fifth grader's elementary school report. One more thing about this is that the girl in the story is inspired by Kimya Dawson, and yes, there is a scene where she sings and plays guitar. I even wrote a song that appears with chords & everything at the end of the story so you can play along at home. Oh, and if you're not sure who Kimya Dawson is, she is this lady.

Oh and if you want to pre-order the book, here is a place you can do that: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780762444281



The second anthology comes out in Fall 2013 and is edited by Luke Reynolds who is a teacher and an inspiration and an amazing dude. It's a collection of essays called 'Break These Rules.' The contributors are an amazing group of authors, some of whom are friends and some of whom are heroes and some of whom are both. (Am I using "whom" right in that sentence? I sure am using it a lot.) Here is some more info on this wonderful project that I'm thrilled to be a part of on Luke's blog. My piece in there is part essay and part Whitmaneque poem. It was such a fun topic, to encourage kids to think critically about social norms and, when need be, break some freaking rules. 



Happy New Year!

Hi Everyone! Let me be the first to wish you a happy new year! What? I'm not the first? You've been wished happy new year like 9 million times already? Oh well. Let me be the nine million and first then. LET ME.

I love New Year's, specifically because I love making resolutions, and even more specifically because I love breaking resolutions. I'm way better at that. Also I'm excited about this New Year because 2012 is the year my new book comes out! It's been two years since my first book and yes, that is a long time between books. It's a long story with a lots of ins, outs, and what-have-yous. But the important thing is that GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR comes out in just a few months (March 13, 2012). I'm updating the appearances page over on joshberkbooks.com with a few things now, and many more to come I'm sure! If you live in eastern Pennsylvania there is a good chance I will be in your library/bookstore/living room talking about GUY. And what's this? There is an event OUTSIDE of PA scheduled on there already? Why yes! Exciting.

Oh, and speaking of the holidays here is a 'happy holidays' video card from me & like 90 of my YA author friends. I play guitar! You are impressed. Maggie Stiefvater plays bagpipes! Now you are less impressed with me. Anywho.

INTERROGATION!!! (And a giveaway)

This week I faced the bright glare of the Sleuths, Spies & Alibis Interrogation Room spotlights. Ahhhhh! Actually they are super-nice. SS&A is the group blog of seven middle-grade and young adult authors whose debut novels will be published in 2012 and 2013. One of said seven, Elisa Ludwig, asked me questions about writing and really it wasn't like an interrogation at all. It was fun! She's very nice. And from Philadelphia. Go Philly! And go check out the article:

http://sleuthsspiesandalibis.blogspot.com/2011/11/interrogation-room-suspect-5-josh-berk.html

And leave a comment there because you could win a signed copy of THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN. Here are the rules: To enter the contest, simply comment on any of the Sleuths Spies and Alibis posts between Wednesday, November 16 and Monday, November 21. Contest closes November 21 at midnight, EST. The winner will be announced on Friday, November 25. One comment = one entry in our drawing; limit one per day.