My Adventure in Seattle

with Blythe

With Blythe Woolston, author of Black Helicopters

This past weekend I had the great privilege of attending the American Library Association midwinter meeting in Seattle, Washington. I was there to talk about my upcoming debut novel, Zebra Forest, published by Candlewick Press. For months, I’ve been looking forward to this trip – what could be better than to fly out to a faraway city to talk about my book with a bunch of smart people who love reading?

I learned a few things in Seattle. First, the people who work for Candlewick Press are the best people in the known universe. Second, life is unpredictable. That second one is a lesson I thought I knew, but it never really seems to stick. I keep expecting things to unfold the way I hope they will, rather than the way they actually do.

In Seattle, I was supposed to speak at two events – briefly at an author dinner on Saturday night and a little bit longer at a “first look breakfast” on Sunday morning. I had a good idea of what I wanted to say – Zebra Forest is a book that hinges on a family secret, and I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of secrets and how they shape, or sometimes misshape, families. I was looking forward especially to talking about how my mother – a zealot for honesty and open communication – really inspired the book by making me think about what would happen if I hadn’t been born into a family where someone told you the truth about things. That “what if” game, which is so essential to novelists, led me to Zebra Forest when I asked myself “what if I didn’t know anything about where I came from, or about the people I came from?”

So I was all set. After meeting the wonderful group from Candlewick on Friday, I spent a relaxed weekend in the lovely hotel W with my husband (AKA Superman), and waited for Saturday night. Then it came. And on the way to the restaurant for the author’s dinner, a most unwelcome guest came with it – the stomach flu.

I tried to ignore it at first. Got to say a few words about my book, and sat down to meet some of the most thoughtful and friendly people, including Jenny Brown of Shelf Awareness, Ernie Cox of Iowa City, Joan Kindig of James Madison University, Diane Foote of Dominican University, and Seira Wilson from Amazon. But too soon my stomach was impossible to ignore, and I had to excuse myself. Just in time, too, since I was about to get reacquainted with everything I’d eaten since coming to Seattle. And the stomach flu is the gift that keeps on giving, unfortunately, so eventually, I had to make my way back to the hotel in the company of the amazing and terrific Jenny Choy, from Candlewick, who took care of me until my husband got back. The awful bug stayed with me all night and into the next morning. Until about two minutes before the “first look” breakfast, I doubted very much I’d be able to make it out of my room, let alone downstairs to say anything about anything, but at the last minute, after much encouragement from the ever steadfast Superman (who really earned his name on this trip!), I was able to get down to the breakfast, speak my piece, and make it upstairs before the next bout of wonderful hit.

At last, a few hours later, it was all done. I was able to get to the convention itself for the afternoon, where I really enjoyed visiting the Candlewick booth, talking to the different librarians who came by, and getting to spend time with Blythe Woolston, another Candlewick author whose fabulous new book Black Helicopters I could not put down. To be able to talk books and writing with an author of her caliber was an experience in itself! But the best part of it all was getting to know the wonderful people from Candlewick: Sharon Hancock, Liz Bicknell, Jenny Choy, Deb Wayshak, Rachel Johnstone, and John Mendelson. They’re not only great at what they do, but they are the nicest people around.

So, that was my entry into the world of book promotion. Unexpected . . . yes. A roller coaster ride . . . in more ways than one. Up next – Kansas City in February. I can’t say I don’t’ feel like holding my breath for the entire flight there, but as the very smart Tracy Miracle from Candlewick said to me yesterday – you can’t be that unlucky twice. Here’s hoping she’s right!

The Book Princess Talks Shakespeare, Guest Post 1: Disguise

  “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid for such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent.” ― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night The tension between appearance and reality, between who we seem to be and who we … Continue reading

The Book Princess on Shakespeare

English: Title page of the second quarto editi...

English: Title page of the second quarto edition (Q2) of William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet printed by Thomas Creede in 1599. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My personal experience of parenthood has been one of sustained surprise. First, there was the fact that, in my first pregnancy, I was having twins. That was unexpected. When I heard the news, I had a moment or two of being completely overwhelmed, in response to which someone remarked, “Well, you knew this was a possibility, didn’t you?” Actually, it had never crossed my mind. Thus, the first surprise. But after a couple of moments of severe panic at the thought of being responsible for not one, but two tiny new human beings. I settled down and really enjoyed the twin thing. And the ones that followed, as well.

The parenthood surprises I think of more often now are the surprises that come to most of use when we discover what people our children are, independent thinkers, creative human beings, endlessly interesting and fascinating. One of many welcome surprises that way came for me when the Book Princess got too big for us to continue one of our favorite rituals – reading together at night. From the moment they could understand the spoken word, I loved reading to my kids, and the pleasure only grew as their understanding did. But by the time the Book Princess was eight or nine, she read so quickly I just couldn’t keep up. I missed our reading time together so much that when she was about 12, I came up with the idea of offering to read Shakespeare with her, working on the theory that, number one, as a confirmed book lover, she’d at least be curious, and number two, she wouldn’t be able to do it on her own.

To my delight, she said she’d like to try it, and I pulled Romeo and Juliet from the bookshelf. Having read plays with friends in college, I explained to her that we could assign ourselves roles, dividing up the speaking parts. I figured she’d love the drama of it, even with the difficulty presented by the language. And here came my surprise. She had no difficulty. As I was deciphering Elizabethan English in my own head, my 12-year-old dove into the story as if it were one of her YA novels! Not only did she love it, she seemed unaware that anyone would have any difficulty. When I stopped to ask whether she understood what was going on, she seemed bewildered, and asked me what I meant. “Well, the language is a little hard, isn’t it?” I asked her. “What’s hard about it?” she wanted to know. She then proceeded to tell me what was going on in the story . . . in detail. So what turned out to be the end of my reading to her turned into a whole new beginning. She took that thick book of Shakespeare and zoomed through it, reading most of the plays by the time she finished high school. She even did a tenth grade book report on Henry V.

In college, she wrote some incredible papers on Shakespeare that earned her notice by both students and professors. So I asked her, as a change of pace, if she would do some guest posts here on her favorite subject. And another surprise – she said yes. Now, not only do I get to talk about my daughter (a favorite pastime, as you’ve probably guessed), but anyone reading this can see for themselves why she really does deserve the name Book Princess.

Girl Power

Madame Yucca, The Female Hercules, The Stronge...

Madame Yucca, The Female Hercules, The Strongest Woman on Earth (Photo credit: Vintaga Posters)

Shannon Hale recently had a fascinating blog post, on the continued perception that strong female characters are some kind of aberration, or that writing them is a political statement. She points out that she tries to make her characters realistic, that is, having both strengths and weaknesses, and that strength is not the default male position. I agree with her that we left that behind several years ago. Certainly I grew up reading about strong females, and I know my kids did. But I think the question reflects not so much the doubt that women and girls can be strong as much as the suspicion that society somehow isn’t ready to acknowledge that in public. Heroines from Antigone onward have been strong and even assertive, but the reaction to that assertiveness and strength in the context of the story’s society is very different than it would be to a man’s. Antigone’s on my mind because the Castle Builder is reading it in school. And Antigone is a fascinating character because she asserts herself and dies for it. Historically, that is actually the more typical prototype of strong female characters. She’s morally right, she’s the heroine, but she dies because society can’t accommodate her assertive strength. Shakespeare’s Juliet is another one. She defies her father’s wishes and ends up dead. Now, we all know – and even Elizabethan audiences surely agreed – that her father was wrong and Juliet was right. But who’s left standing at the end of the play? The Book Princess once pointed out that Shakespeare’s females are often only able to be powerful when wearing boys’ clothing. She offered Portia in Merchant of Venice, Rosalind in As You Like It and Viola in Twelfth Night as examples. (More on that, I hope, in an upcoming guest post from my resident Shakespeare expert.)

So we’ve always had “strong female characters.” But what happens to them? Are they considered, in the context of their world, anomalies? Sinners? Martyrs? Or are they, again in the context of their own worlds, unremarkable? I think in Shannon Hale’s books, they’re unremarkable, and that is likely what prompted that question in the first place.