Kansas City!

Book signing at Winter Institute 8If I could go back in time and meet my 12 year old self, the girl who first dreamed of writing novels, I would have quite a story to tell. I think it would start with a ballroom. Oh yes, and the ballroom is across from an indoor forest, green that grows three stories high, with a waterfall flowing out of it. Inside the ballroom, there’s something so much better than a ball happening. It’s a book signing! Writers sit at tables piled with books, and people walk around, talking to them. And there is the grown-up me, sitting next to a bestselling (and very funny) author, signing my debut novel and hearing from people who have really liked it and are recommending it to others. Yes, my 12 year old self would have been dazzled by that story. Of course, she would likely have been stunned to know that it would take more than 30 years for it to come true, since when you’re 12, 30 years might as well be never. But in fact it’s not never. It’s now. That story came true for me this past weekend at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute in Kansas City, where I got to find out what a book event is like minus the stomach flu. And the answer? It’s wonderful.

This adventure started with an early flight out to Kansas City on a smallish plane that I don’t think a lot of people could stand up straight in. But it was a smooth flight, and I got to watch the world turn from brown (my part of the East Coast) to white as we flew into the Midwest. At lunchtime, I met two more members of the wonderful Candlewick team, Jennifer Roberts and Elise Supovitz, who continue the Candlewick streak of only employing the absolute best people in the world. Later in the afternoon, Jennifer took me to the ballroom across from the storybook forest (better known as the ballroom level of the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City), for the book signing part of the event. I got to meet Stephan Pastis, a fellow Candlewick author whose hilarious book Timmy Failure came out today, and who, already a pro at book events, gave me some good tips. I admit I did peek over to see how he signed his books so I could figure out what I ought to do!  From then on, the day was a series of amazing moments. My fiction writing has been a private fantasy so long, I almost forget that suddenly people out there are reading my book. To have a bunch of them come up and tell me they loved it felt like I was dreaming. At the author dinner that followed the book signing, the wonderful booksellers I got to talk to asked me the most insightful questions about the novel – how I came to use the Iran hostage crisis, why I chose the ending I did, and, my all-time favorite, how Treasure Island got into the book. Which brings me back to my 12 year old self. The story would have to be told in installments, because this (I hope) is only the first chapter in a fantasy from long ago that is beginning to unfold. But if that young me would frown at the date, so far in the future, when the story begins, I think I could only shrug. She couldn’t know it then, but I do now. It was worth the wait.

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!