Since Zebra Forest came out, with its wonderful cover by Matt Roeser (check out some of his designs at http://www.mattroeser.com/) I’ve been lucky to be showered with zebra-themed gifts. Until now, I never knew how popular the zebra design was in the world, but I’ve been slowly enlightened, with the lovely zebra bag my friend gave me, zebra tissues (pocket-packs too!), and even a delicate blown-glass zebra given to me by another friend. And that’s not even counting the beautiful Zebra Forest sculpture created by my artist friend Stan Lebovic (whose work you can see at http://blackisacolor.com/Intro.html). So, since I’ve been on semi-hiatus due to the wonderful wedding last week of my beloved son, the Rocket Scientist, to his darling Buttercup, today I share some of my favorite zebra images. Enjoy!
Writing a book is such a quiet thing. It’s just you and the words, the sound of it in your head. But having published one turns out not to be quiet at all. Recently I’ve gotten some wonderful pieces of news. Zebra Forest was put on a list of books for consideration as “notable” by the American Library Association’s ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children); Amazon listed it as one of the best of the year so far, and today, I’m featured in Publishers Weekly’s “flying starts” feature, about debut authors. So the summer is turning out to be more than a little exciting, book-wise, and my main feeling is that I’m so grateful. Maybe when you’re young, and this rush of wonderful comes at you, you take it for granted. Probably not, if you’re any kind of thoughtful. But when you’ve been harboring the secret dream of writing for decades, this kind of thing comes with such a layer of surprise, awe, and sheer thankfulness that I don’t think it can be matched. I’m used to looking at the world in terms of stories – watching things unfold and connecting them from the past to the present. So I appreciate this story as it unfolds maybe even a little more than average. And I’m so grateful that it’s full of all this fabulous noise.
Last week, I got a surprise package in the mail – an early copy of the hardcover of Zebra Forest. I have several copies of the ARCs (advance reading copies), and so didn’t expect the thrill I got when I opened the package and saw my book in hardback for the first time. But there’s something about the real thing – dust jacket with embossed words, dedication in the front of the book, the whole shebang – that feels different. And the best part was getting to show it to the two people the book is dedicated to – my husband and my mother. People often say that writing is a solitary activity, and for the most part, it is. You need long stretches of silence and time to clear your head and think about things that are not immediate, that don’t relate to the logistics of life, that may end up as nothing more than a daydream. And in order to do that, you do need other people. People who give you the time, the support, and the space to think, to write and to rewrite. I have been blessed to have many people in my life who have helped me. They’ve shaped my thinking, given me thoughtful opinions, encouraged me, supported me. Of all of those, the two who gave me the day-to-day and year-to-year ability to write, and who kept that dream alive for the long time it took to come to fruition, are the two to whom Zebra Forest is dedicated. Getting to see their faces when they opened the book and saw the dedication for the first time was worth the wait.
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!