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How the West Was Done

I was invited to a book festival here

las vegas

It was my first time ever in Vegas, and all the movies and fiction didn’t prepare me for its strangely endearing mix of crassness and innocence.  I found myself loving the temple of Luxor– in that desert climate it was so easy to imagine we really were in Egypt! The Bellagio wowed me with its marble floors and formal Italian gardens and this Chilhuly ceiling.

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Also–those dancing waters? How do they do that?  After a while though, round about the time we reached the awful Excalibur, the desire to be awed and wowed started to fade, and as night came on and the seams started to show, I was happy to know that the next day I’d be meeting the real Las Vegas–i.e. the families who live here. I had two wonderful school visits.

tricia2_origPlotting a story arc with K-2 students

tricia4_origStory hour with Brian Wenzel’s terrific “They All Saw a Cat”

The next day it was on to

IMG_0984where I was on a stellar panel

DMsTBXaUEAEQNiKand met some author heroes of mine (I knew Sharon but meeting Ibi was a first and an honor)

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Afterwards Paul and I got in our little rented Yaris, which made going over 40 mph feel reckless and thrilling, and headed for Utah. But that is another post entirely.

(My) Linnea in Monet’s Garden

Do you know the wonderful picture book by Cristina Bjork and Lena Anderson? My daughters and I loved it when they were small.

And now we have our own real life Linnea! Here we are at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her somewhat disconcerted expression may be due to how quickly I snatched her up as she arrowed toward those flowers in the lower right hand corner.

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Two down and who knows how many more to go–hooray!

22089573_1589799371042127_5649290075855566793_nYesterday I finished draft # 2 of my new novel. Well, finished–the very last scene is only sketched in. I was too tired to actually write it!

As you can see, there are birds. Also baby goats. Volcanoes and vultures and a haunted turret. This one  is affectionately known as my Off the Wall Book.

I lay awake last night thinking of all the changes I need to make. And feeling the usual self-doubt. But underneath it all, a percolating excitement. I’m on my way, I’ve got a story worth crafting.  A writer can’t ask for more.

National Book Festival

It’s been a writer-dream of mine to someday go to the…

IMG_0789…and this year I did! My book Moonpenny Island was picked to represent Ohio in the…

IMG_0794…where every state, plus U.S. territories, had a booth.  What an honor and what a wild, wonderful day. Thousands–for real–of readers came out to share their love of books. I’d never seen anything like it. In between meeting and chatting and signing, I was able to duck away to hear Alice McDermott,  Gene Luen Yang, Javaka Steptoe, and Kelly Barnhill wow the crowds.  Roz Chast, my all-time favorite cartoonist, was there too,  Can’t even begin to name all the writers I was unable to catch. A ream of writers! An exaltation of readers! Truly a dream come true.

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little library

Once Upon a Time…

…there was a haunted house. No one had ever lived in it, at least no one the children knew. It had always stood on the corner, empty and dark except for the small, dim light that burned in an upstairs window.  The children dared each other to climb the crumbling front steps onto the porch, and some did, only to run back down with pounding hearts. Bones in the cellar. Ghosts in the attic. They were sure of it.

The neighborhood grown-ups, as you might guess, considered the place a hazard and an eyesore. Someone must own it–everything was owned by someone.  But year after year the house stood, empty and neglected and a little bit closer to falling down.

So, at last the city tore it down. The grown-ups were relieved. The children felt sorry.

How big the lot was. The old house had taken up most of it,  but when the rubble was cleared away, everyone was surprised by how much empty space there was. What to do with it? The city said it was up to the neighbors.

And so…something new began to grow. little library 2

Flowers. Some planted, some volunteers. little library

A little free library. (Which is, the narrator will now interrupt to say, her favorite thing of all. And to which she adds,  once or twice a week, children’s books she’s loved or hopes some child will love. And which makes her feel like a fairy godmother, a book fairy–but that must be another story…)

IMG_0623Art. Some by grownups…

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…and some by children.

In honor of the haunted house, which some still wistfully remember, our little community park is now called

little library 3May it live, happily ever after!

(And lest you think the park has suffered an earthquake: I have no idea why my photos all loaded sideways, or how to right them. Deepest apologies if you have gotten a kink in your neck reading this.)

I Am Too Lazy to Think of a Title Here

Actually, summer is  a time when I do a lot of writing, long stretches mostly uninterrupted by school visits or appearances. Right now I’m working hard on a total revision of a middle grade novel that sadly imploded, and I think it might possibly maybe in some regards and in certain lights be going very well.  Next week we’re going away for some time by the ocean (my other mother) and since I’m on a roll I don’t dare take a break. I’ll be bringing the book with me, spending the mornings writing, walking the beach with my characters.

It wouldn’t be summer, though, without my garden…

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…and Wednesdays with my grandbaby…

at the museum…and a visit to a summer reading program (which used to be my very favorite thing about working in a library) where I had the time of my life…summer reading…and the summer book festival at one of my favorite indies, Loganberry Books, where I got to kibbitz with my buddy Megan Whelan Turner (undocumented by photos, fortunately!)

I also want to write about my local little free library, but that deserves real thought and…I guess I am too lazy right now. Keep cool, everyone.

 

The Night Before

I love doing school visits–once I’m there  with the kids. The night before, I get nervous. Actually, the whole day before, I’m nervous. Most schools ask me to do large group presentations, which means I’m talking to several hundred students at once, usually four times. Here’s where I presented a couple of days ago, just before the kids started coming in.

empty gymGulp.

The night before, I dreamed that I’d made a mistake and thought it was a Skype visit instead. I was wearing my nice blue top and scarf, with my PJ bottoms, when I got the call asking where I was. As I tried to answer, the phone turned into a plush pumpkin, which I continued trying to talk into, pushing its triangle nose till it turned into a skeletal red thing, which I continued to shout into…You get the picture.

For a while, I thought it was only me who suffered pre-presentation-stress-out, but as I’ve gotten to know other authors I’ve discovered we all get it. We dream we’ve forgotten our laptops, or lost our voices, or gone to the wrong school (one writer I know actually did this in real life, OMG), or gotten so lost on the way it’s hopeless. No matter how many times we’ve stood up in front of those large, eager, brimming-with-life audiences, we still get a little freaked out before.

Then…the kids begin to file in. They’re tall and short, skinny and round, they’re giving me curious looks or ignoring me altogether, they’re playing with each other’s hair or playing air guitar, they’re shuffling their feet or walking on their toes…They are kids! And all of a sudden, it’s okay. I’m chatting with them, asking about their kitty headbands or the books they’re carrying or whether they think the Cavs can beat the Celtics (mostly yes but one no, the other day) and it’s okay. Better than okay. All of a sudden, I can’t wait to tell them how I became a writer, how I’m still becoming a writer, how I mix things from my own life with my imagination to create something new, how we’ve all got stories no one but us can tell.

At the school above, the kids filled up those bleachers three times. For the Q & A I took the mike up there, like a daytime TV show host, and they held it to ask their questions. They loved this. So did I.

Because what makes these visits wonderful is that it’s not about me, but them. If only I can remember that next time, I’ll sleep so much better the night before.

Country roads

Last week I was in Kirksville, Missouri, for a children’s book festival. I’m pretty sure that, were it not for that festival, I’d never have visited that green, rolling countryside dotted with contented cows (cattle, I was corrected) or experienced the open-armed hospitality (home-churned ice cream over home-grown rhubarb crisp, anyone?) or met the zillion volunteers who make the festival happen for well over a thousand  kids, some of whom ride buses for over an hour to get there.

kirksville(These two were great storytellers themselves.)

I could say the same about Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or Houghton Lake, Michigan, or any of the other out-of-my-way places I’ve been lucky enough to visit, all because of dedicated librarians and teachers and community volunteers who work so hard to bring writers in.  It’s impossible to thank them enough, though I try.

Kids often ask me where I get my inspiration, and I always answer, “From you!” But festivals also give me the chance to talk to and listen to other writers, some of whom I’ve only fan-girled over from afar. Hearing them talk about their own struggles, laughing with them over best things kids have ever asked us, recommending each other books and movies–I mean. Conversations do not get better than these.

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At Kirksville I met Leslie Connor, Ingrid Law, Chris Grabenstein, Natalie Lloyd, Rob Buyea, Liesl Shurtliff, David Schwartz, Fred Koehler, Michelle Cuevas, Katherine Hannigan…here we are, holding up the darling signs that decorated our dinner tables.

kirksville 2Being a writer has given me gifts I never anticipated.