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Information on my new series is coming soon!

Hi everyone –

This is kind of a weird blog post, because it’s basically a post telling you that there is going to be another, more important post in a few weeks.

However, lots of you have been asking if I can share any information about the new series that I’m working on, which I mentioned in a post back in February.

The answer is:  Not yet.  But soon.

Here’s what is going on: My publisher wants to make a big media announcement about the new series before I spill the beans about it.  It has been a much longer wait for this than I expected.  (When I mentioned the new series back in February, I figured the announcement would be made last spring or summer.)  It looks like that announcement will be made on the first week of October, while I am out on tour for Spy School Goes South.

So, please sit tight and be patient.  And please don’t write to me asking if I can personally give you more details before the announcement, because I can’t.

In the meantime, I can share these few tidbits with you.  But that’s it:

The new series will debut next year, probably in the fall.

I have already written several drafts of the first book.

It is also going to be middle grade, although hopefully, it will also attract older readers as well.

That’s all I have.  In the meantime, don’t forget about Spy School Goes South, which will be out in less than two weeks!

Barnes & Noble is printing an exclusive edition of Spy School Goes South

Sorry if these posts are getting redundant but… Barnes & Noble is doing yet another special edition of one of my books.  (For those of you keeping score at home, I believe this is special edition #8.)

As usual, there will be 16 pages of fun bonus material that I have written, and a bonus poster on the inside cover of the book jacket.  (Plus, the special edition cover is always extra-sparkly.)

And guess how much extra you have to pay for all this good stuff: Nothing!  It’s exactly the same price!  (Extra bonus: Sometimes the special editions ship earlier than the regular editions, so people occasionally get their copies early.  Not always.  But occasionally.)

If you want to pre-order your copy, click here.

And now, the dramatic reveal of the cover — and plot — of FunJungle 5!

Hello readers,

Since a picture generally speaks louder than words, here’s the cover, another masterpiece by Lucy Cummins.

As a few of you had noted on my blog, the title for this book somehow leaked out on Google a few months back, but I — and everyone else at Simon & Schuster — hadn’t really locked it in until recently.  There were a few other possibilities in play (including a suggestion of my own daughter) but once the cover was done, we realized this one worked.

And here’s the answer to what you’re asking next: What’s the book about?

For the first time, a book in this series is going to deal with a wild animal.  A mountain lion is on the loose around FunJungle.

As the park plans for its enormous one year anniversary celebration, operations there seem to be running smoothly for once (except for the occasional herring-related mishap in the penguin exhibit) and Teddy is finally able to give detective work a rest.  But then a local mountain lion is accused of killing a famous dog — and the dog’s owner, an inflammatory radio host — goes on a crusade to have the cat declared a nuisance so it can be hunted.  

However, there’s evidence that the lion might have been framed for murder, and now a renegade animal activist wants Teddy and Summer to help prove it — and catch the real killer.  And if that wasn’t enough, someone has poisoned FunJungle’s beloved giraffes and J.J. McCracken wants Teddy on the case.  Now, Teddy finds himself mixed up in the middle of his most bizarre, hilarious and dangerous adventure yet.

As usual, that’s all I’m going to share with you about the plot for now.  I know I’m going to get dozens of responses asking me which other characters are going to appear in the book, and things like that, but I’m not going to answer them.  Because the more you know about the book before you start reading it, the less fun it is to read it.

Besides, you only have to wait until next February for it.  (And if that seems to long, remember there will be a new Spy School out in October.)

If you’re desperate to pre-order it, you can click here.  But you might want to wait a bit, because there is always a good chance Barnes & Noble will do an exclusive edition of the book.

Barnes & Noble is printing an exclusive edition of Waste Of Space!

Once again, I am honored to have Barnes & Noble print an exclusive edition of one of my books.  Like the previous special editions, this one will have a special cover with a poster on the inside, along with sixteen extra pages of bonus content that I have written specially for this book.

Even better: The exclusive edition is the exact same price as the regular edition.  Right now, B&N is selling it for $11.52 (though I suppose that can change).  However, only a limited number of these books are printed, so if you want to guarantee you get one, pre-order it now.  Click here to get it!

If that wasn’t a big enough incentive, here’s one more thing: Sometimes, the exclusive editions print and ship slightly earlier than the regular editions, so in the past, people who have pre-ordered these get them up to a week before the official publishing date.  I can’t guarantee that will happen again.  I’m just saying that it has happened in the past.

Yes, it’s true. Waste Of Space will be the end of the Moon Base Alpha series… for now.

A lot of readers have written to me lately, having noticed that my publisher is referring to Waste of Space as the ‘third and final book’ in the MBA series on sites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Everyone wants to know if this is really true.

Yes it is.

Here’s why:

When I wrote Space Case, the first book in this series, I really wanted to handle the realities of space travel as realistically as possible.  I think I did a decent job of that, but it created a problem for me: It turns out, the moon is a very limiting place to set a series.

Let me explain:  For my Spy School books, I can really send my characters just about anywhere on earth I want.  And while FunJungle is theoretically tied to FunJungle itself, I can create whatever locations I want inside that park — and I am free to have my characters leave FunJungle as well.  But in the MBA series, the only location fit for human habitation is the moon base itself, which I made quite small — and my characters are not really free to range very far away from it.  Plus, even if they could leave MBA (which they do on occasion) the moon is not a place with much variation.  Yes, there are some hills and craters and lava tubes, but for the most part, the moon is pretty much the same wherever you go.  This — and the fact that humans have to wear space suits — is extremely limiting when I want to develop new action sequences.

Lots of people have made suggestions to me about how to open up the series, but they really won’t work.  To address them:

Why not move the action to Moon Base Beta?

Because I have made it clear that MBB hasn’t even begun construction — and once that happens, it is supposed to take another ten years to build and that plan is probably optimistic, which means MBB won’t be up and running for another 10-15 years, at which point my lead characters will be college graduates.

Why not move the series to Mars or another planet?

Because I have made it clear that even getting to the moon is tremendously difficult (which is the truth).  Getting to other planets is going to be much more difficult, and it would be unlikely that we could have bases on them any time soon, which means that, yes, the terrain might change, but the limitations of having my humans confined to a small location are still there.

Why not move the series to the International Space Station?

Because the ISS is even smaller and more limited than MBA is.  Even by 2041, it won’t be that big — and that’s assuming that we haven’t defunded it and let it fall back to earth (which is a possibility).

So… does this mean that the series is completely dead?

Not necessarily.  I do have some ideas about how I might be able to keep it going, but for now, I would rather focus on my series that do not feel so limited.

Which brings me to my other big news.  Since MBA is ending (for now, at least), I am in the process of creating a new series.  However, my publisher has asked that I not reveal any details about it quite yet.  They will be coming, though.  I promise.  (So please don’t write asking for more details.  I will just tell you to read this post again.)

New Versions of Poached and Big Game in stores November 28th

On November 28, something very exciting is happening.  Poached and Big Game are changing their covers.  As of that day (and possibly a little bit earlier), the covers will look like this:

Amazing, right?  My incredible designer, Lucy Cummins, has done it again.

If you already have a copy of one of these books, don’t be alarmed.  Everything inside the book (except for some of the design elements) ought to stay exactly the same.

So you could be forgiven for asking, ‘Why are you changing the covers at all?’

To which I will respond with a question of my own: ‘Have you ever heard the phrase: Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover?’

Of course you have. That phrase applies to people, though.  Not books.  (It’s meant to be taken metaphorically, not literally.)  Everyone judges books by their covers:  You do it.  I do it.  Your teachers and parents and librarians do it.

While the original covers Lucy did for Poached and Big Game are excellent, we felt it would be a good idea to give the series a cohesive look.  I mean, look at the covers for the Spy School series:

No question that those books are all in the same series, right?

But that wasn’t the case with the FunJungle series.  The covers were all very different:

 

 

 

 

 

 

They don’t look like they’re in the same series.

So that’s why we’re changing them.  There was no improving upon the original Belly Up cover, of course, which is a classic, but as for the rest, they are all going to look more like Lucy’s amazing Panda-monium cover:

And that’s why we’re changing them, pure and simple.  If you already have a copy, there’s no need to get a new one.

Unless, of course, you want every possible edition of my works in your collection.  Then by all means, feel free to buy another version of each of these books.

The plot of Big Game comes true: Some awful person just really killed a rhino in a French zoo

For those of you who don’t know, the plot of my book Big Game is about someone trying to poach an endangered rhino from a zoo, possibly to steal its horn.

Well, that has now happened in real life.  Yesterday, in a French Zoo near Paris, poachers broke in, killed a four year old rhino and stole its horn.  You can read the story by clicking here.  This is the victim:

I am devastated by this news.  When I came up with the idea for Big Game, it was because I actually had a fear that something like this might happen some day.  But I really hoped it wouldn’t.

The reason this happened is because the price of rhino horn is ridiculously high.  There are still horribly misinformed people out there who believe that rhino horn has the power to cure diseases such of cancer, even though that has never been proven.  (Rhino horn is made of keratin, which is the same stuff that your fingernails are made of.)  As long as there is demand for rhino horn, no matter how dumb the reasons, people will be killing rhinos.

One species of rhino, the African northern white rhino, will go extinct in the next few years.  There only three of them left in the world.

But there is also a decent chance that all species will be extinct in the wild soon, unless extreme action is taken.

If you want to help, I suggest you visit these sites and learn what you can do:

rhinos.org

World Wildlife Fund

Save the Rhino

Thanks,

Stuart

My visit with the WWF wildlife crimes division (and some new info about FunJungle 4)

HEADS UP: There is some cool new info about FunJungle 4 — including the name of the book — in the blog post below.

A few weeks ago, I got to meet some of the great unsung heroes on earth: the people who deal with wildlife crimes for the World Wildlife Fund.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking: “Hold on.  The World Wildlife Fund has an animal crimes division?”

And to be honest, I don’t blame you.  I have donated plenty to the WWF over the years and paid a lot of attention to the work they do and yet, I was never aware they had a wildlife crimes division myself until an amazing woman named Giavanna Grein who works there reached out to me.  Giavanna had read Big Game and liked how I dealt with the issue of poaching.  Once I found out what she did, I immediately asked if I could talk to her.  It turned out I was going to be in Washington DC where the WWF was headquartered, so she invited me to drop by and meet some of the team.

Giavanna specializes in fighting animal trafficking, which is the illegal movement of live animals (which are usually being smuggled into the country to be sold as pets) or animals parts (like elephant tusks or rhino horns).  I would have been happy to simply meet with her, but to my surprise, she lined up an all-star crew of people for me to meet.

People like Nilanga Jayasinghe, who oversees all animal protection projects in Asia; Bas Huijbrets, who oversees animal protection projects in Africa — and Ben Freitas, who oversees all marine animal protection projects.  Rachel Kramer and Robin Sawyer also worked to fight trafficking, while also specializing in wlidlife tech (Rachel) and reptiles (Robin).  John Probert was working on wildlife protection technology while also specializing in giraffe protection.  Karen Baragona is a panda protection specialist who also works to reduce demand for animal parts.  And Crawford Allan has been fighting for animal protection for 25 years.

It was very exciting for me to meet all these incredibly impressive people.  As those of you who read my blog know, the next book in the FunJungle series concerns giant pandas.  But here are some things I haven’t revealed before:  First of all, the book is going to be called Panda-Monium.  Second, the crime at the center of the story is that a giant panda disappears en route from the San Diego Zoo to FunJungle.  As I was playing around with this idea, it occurred to me that some potential culprits might be animal traffickers — and now, I have been able to meet with some of the biggest experts on animal trafficking on earth.

Also, I got to meet Karen, the panda protection specialist.  Which was very exciting for both of us.  She has a ten-year-old who likes my books.  And I had been following the WWF’s work on panda conservation.  In fact, I had already quoted a lot of facts from the WWF before I even knew I was going to meet Karen.  So here we are, being all excited to meet each other:

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So… what did I learn?  Well, I learned some disturbing things about the state of animal conservation — and some good things too.

Here’s something disturbing: The USA might be the biggest culprit in animal trafficking in the world.  I know a lot of time we like to point the finger at China, but our country might be just as bad when it comes to importing live animals and animal parts as China is.  (Turns out, it is very hard to track this.)  I even got to see some of the horrible things made from endangered animals that people have tried to smuggle into this country.  Here some are:

First of all, here I am holding the skin of an entire tiger that was being smuggled into the country:

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This is an ice bucket made of the foot of an elephant.  Because, obviously, nothing is as cool as getting ice from the foot of a dead animal.  (That’s sarcasm.)

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Here’s a briefcase made of rhino skin:

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Here are cowboy boots made from Pangolin scales.  Pangolins, which are scaly anteaters from southeastern Asia, may be the most-trafficked animals on the planet:

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And here is a belt made by Versace.  Yes, Versace, the big, fancy French designer, is making belts with illegal animal parts.

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Why anyone would want any of these items in their home (or on their bodies) is beyond me.  And yet, there are people out there who don’t merely want to pay money for these things: They want them so badly, they are willing to break the law to get them.

 

Another disturbing thing: Giraffe poaching has gone up far more than I realized.  I was well-aware that elephant and rhino poaching was on the rise, but I had never heard of anyone poaching a giraffe.  Apparently, it’s happening, though.

But, there is good news too.  The fine folks at the WWF are making progress in the fight to protect wildlife.  Nilanga informed me that Nepal has now gone four years without a single rhino poaching incident.  Four years!  The things that have worked there — like making communities more invested in the fate of the animals — are now being tested in other countries as well.  And John talked about how new technology, like drones, may make it easier for us to track wildlife — and find poachers.

Meanwhile, on the panda front, thanks in part to the work of people like Karen, the Chinese panda population is climbing — and several new panda reserves have been established, which don’t only protect pandas, but also other wildlife such as takins and snub-nosed monkeys.

If you want to help the WWF in their fight against animal crimes, there are things you can do.

First of all, don’t buy any illegal animal products — and help spread the word.

Second, be very careful about buying an exotic pet.

It turns out, a great number of the live animals being trafficked illegally aren’t big things like pandas, but smaller animals like reptiles, birds and fish, which are usually sold to everyday families as pets.  If you are looking to buy an animal like this, ask the dealer lots of questions about where the animal came from.  See if they can provide documentation that proves the animal was bred in captivity (which is legal) and not taken from the wild (which is probably illegal).  Ask if they have a sustainability plan.  And double-check their answers on Google.  (For example, if they claim their rhino viper is from Asia, they’re lying.  And also, don’t buy a rhino viper.  It will kill you.)

If a dealer can’t answer your questions truthfully or provide the documentation you want, then maybe you shouldn’t be buying from them.

Finally, support the World Wildlife Fund.  Every little bit helps.  Click here to visit their website.

Thanks to Giavanna and everyone at the WWF for taking the time to meet with me — and for doing such important work around the world every day.  We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude!

 

An answer to your burning question: Where do I get my ideas?

I get this question more than any other (except ‘When is your next Spy School/FunJungle/Moon Base Alpha novel coming out?’) and it’s one of the most complicated questions to answer.  So I’m going to do my best to answer it right now.

Sort of.  It’s very hard to say where ideas come from.  They just kind of happen.  I didn’t really think, “Where would be an interesting place to set a mystery?” and eventually realize, “Aha!  A zoo!”  Instead, one day, a long time ago, the idea of doing a mystery in a zoo just popped into my head and I realized it was a good one.

So maybe the better question to answer is: What do I do to inspire myself to come up with ideas?

There are two parts to that answer.  1) I tend to write about things that interest me.  Note that this is different than saying “Write what you know.”  A lot of people tell me they’ve been told to write what they know, but if everyone did that, we’d end up with a million books about middle school, high school and college.  There are lots of things that fascinate me: animals, zoos, spies, space travel…

2) I research those things.  This is the fun part, because research isn’t necessarily just reading about something (although that certainly counts).  It’s also trying to experience those things, which I find can generate more ideas than simply hanging around, thinking about something.  For example, walking around a zoo inspires more ideas than merely thinking about a zoo.

It’s pretty amazing how effective immersing yourself in an experience can be to generate ideas.  For example, there’s this volcanic crater in Hawaii — Kilauea Iki — that my son and I love to hike in:

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Notice that this crater (which only formed in 1959, by the way) looks pretty alien.  In fact, it’s about as close as you can come to hiking on the lunar surface as possible on earth.  Every time I’m in that crater, I kind of feel like I’m on the moon — and I suddenly find myself besieged with ideas for the Moon Base Alpha series.  Ideas that I might not have come up with otherwise.

It just so happens, there’s a pretty awesome lava tube right near Kilauea Iki.  Fun fact: There are also lava tubes on the moon!  A while back, I sought out the help of some scientists who specialize in potential lunar construction, and they’d told me that if we were to build anything on the moon, we’d probably have to set up our first camps in lava tubes to protect ourselves from meteorite strikes.  (Research!)  Now, while looking at a picture of a lava tube is interesting, actually walking through one is considerably more inspiring:

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Research like this and inspiration go pretty much hand-in-hand.  If you’re learning about something, inspiration strikes all the time — often for something you weren’t even trying to learn about. For example, I was researching rhinos down at the San Diego Zoo when we dropped by the panda habitat and suddenly, it became evident that FunJungle four ought to be about — you guessed it — pandas.

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Meanwhile, somewhere else along the line, I’d had the idea that it would also be interesting to have a story involving dolphins.  So I took it upon myself to do a little research on dolphins as well.  Luckily, a place called Dolphin Quest was happy to do this for me:

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Extremely educational — and very inspirational!  (Not to mention awfully fun.  I told you research was the fun part.)  When FunJungle #4 comes out in spring 2017, expect there to be a bit of a dolphin mystery in there, along with the panda mystery.

So if you’re looking for inspiration, I highly recommend trying to experience as much as possible (as long as your parents say its ok.)  Go to zoos and museums and national parks.  Take lessons in things that interest you.  Explore the world!  And read a lot.

(And for those of you still wanting details on Spy School #4 — and what inspired that — I promise you, details will be coming in February some time.)