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Games


I love games! I play a mean game of Scrabble (better not play with me unless you regularly put down words like “ai,” (a three-toed sloth), “jo” (a sweetheart), or “qadi” (a Muslim judge)). Scrabble is probably the only “mainstream” game I play. Most of the games I play are games the average person has probably never even heard of. They’re not games you find at Target; you have to go to a specialty games store to find them. Here are some of my favorites: Dominion, Killer Bunnies, Power Grid, Opus Dei, Arkham Horror, Citadels, Gloom, Agricola, Pandemic, Roll Through the Ages, Puerto Rico.

I had an opportunity to help create a new game a few months ago, and I jumped at the chance. I had no idea what kind of game it was, what the object was, nothing. They didn't even tell us what the game was called. I received an e-mail every day for two weeks. The e-mail contained a bunch of random questions like "name the first 10 U.S. states alphabetically" or "list the members of the The Munsters TV family" or "list the ingredient in French toast." (Lots of lists!) And I was supposed to answer the questions the best I could off the top of my head (no fair looking things up). I assumed it was some sort of trivia game, but I really had no idea.

Well, apparently the game is done. I just got my free copy. It's called ZERO and here it is:





My name is even listed as a “contributor” on the inside. That’s almost as cool as having your name on the cover of a book!

So what’s the game about?

According to the back of the box, “Zero is a new and exciting family game that asks players to search their minds for the “least popular” aspects of pop culture.”

And they let ME contribute to it??? You’d be hard pressed to find someone who knows less about pop culture than I do.

Basically, it looks to me like it’s Family Feud (without the family…or the feud) , but instead of trying to match the most popular response, you’re trying to match the least popular response.

It’s not Arkham Horror, but I’ll give it a try.

They clearly appreciated my contribution (such as it was)…I’ve been invited to be a “University Games Ambassador,” which means I’ll have more opportunities to help develop new games. Cool!

Radio Interviews


The first time I was invited to do a radio interview, I said, "no, thank you." And I didn't do it.

The second time I was invited to do a radio interview, I allowed myself to be talked into it. It was just a 6-minute spot...they gave me questions ahead of time, which I diligently wrote out answers to. I was extremely nervous because there's no do-over in radio. Not live radio, anyway. And of course the interviewer didn't just go down the list of questions. He even dared to ask me questions he hadn't told me he was going to ask me. That's because a good interview (radio or otherwise) is a conversation. It's supposed to sound like people chatting. It's not supposed to sound like one person asking questions and the other person reading prepared answers.

I did manage to get through that first radio interview...and I've lost track of how many I've done since then. Some have been live in the studio; some have been over the phone. They really do get easier over time.

Today I was asked to be on a 60-minute radio program with two other people and I didn't even break a sweat. It didn't occur to me to ask for questions ahead of time. I figured we'd just go on and do it...and we did! (Piece of cake after SOME interviews I've done this year...like back in February!)

This one was fun because it wasn't about me (though the host did mention I was a local author and had just won the Edgar award, which was very nice of him); it was about the Coralville Public Library's teen programs. So I did the interview with the Teen Services Assistant at the library and with one of the more active teens. The time went really fast.

At every break, the host gave the weather forecast, which most of the time he read from a paper on his desk. But I just about burst out laughing after the third break when he started to give the forecast, but instead of reading his paper, he turned and looked out the window and said, "yeah, it looks like it's going to be rainy today." (It probably wouldn't have been cool to laugh on live radio.)

Best thing about doing radio: NO MAKEUP!!!!

Worst thing about doing radio: no do-overs.

But for once in my life, I'm not sure I would've said anything any differently today even if I could go back and do it again.

Thank you, Toastmasters! (Before Toastmasters, I'm not sure I would've willingly done any public speaking I didn't have to do for my career.)

Teen Book Discussion Group


The Coralville Public Library's teen book discussion group is one of 16 Teens' Top Ten groups in the country. That means they receive galleys from publishers and have a chance to share with the publishers (and the book group facilitators!) what they think. They also nominate the books for YALSA's Teens' Top Ten list.

The teens in this group are just all around great kids, but they're also very astute readers. As a writer, it's valuable to me to hear what they like and what they don't like. I hear things like, "it's annoying when authors write like they think we talk" (i.e. overuse words like "like" and "totally") and "I like that this writer wasn't afraid to use lots of details; with some writers it's like they're trying to protect the reader and I don't like that." Yes, I take notes every time we meet!

Last night we had an interesting discussion about a book called Guantanamo Boy, which is about a fifteen-year-old Pakistani boy living in England who goes to visit family in Pakistan and ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped and taken to Afghanistan and eventually to Guantanamo Bay. I think this book left an impressed on the kids who read it. The one girl said she got into a conversation with her dad about it; her dad not only didn't know that teenagers had been held at Guantanamo Bay, he didn't believe her! She made him look it up! (Good for her!)

We talked a lot about torture...is it ever justified? Does it work? We talked about power...and of course, we talked about racism. Then a couple of the junior high kids told me something that really shocked me. They told me about getting a substitute teacher fired.

I said, "Excuse me??? You got a substitute teacher fired????"

There were two incidents in this one class. First, the guy started yelling at a Hispanic girl. He yelled, "Do you understand? Do you even speak English?" She did speak English, but that is hardly the point.

It gets worse.

There was also a boy in the class. And according to these girls, it's easy to form judgments about this boy. He looks tough and he can act up in class, but once you get to know him you find out he's nothing like you thought. (Not that that really matters...)

Apparently the boy was talking in class...and the sub called him a "white nigger." Right in front of the whole class.

I don't care what the boy was doing; you don't call someone a white nigger! And if you are a TEACHER, a person in a position of authority, you certainly don't say that to one of your students! What in the world made this sub think this was an okay thing to do?

The girls talked to their regular teacher about it when she returned (I was so proud of them when I heard this...it can't be easy to take on a teacher, even a substitute teacher, when you're a student), and the teacher talked to the principal, who apparently talked to the sub...and he hasn't been back. I sure hope he didn't just move to another school...this guy should not be around kids.

How does this happen in Iowa City? How does it happen ANYWHERE in 2011?

Then again, how does a 15-year-old boy, an INNOCENT boy, end up at Guantanamo Bay?

When I first started this blog entry, I wasn't going to mention the substitute teacher. I was just going to talk about the books the kids had strong reactions to. But 1) I can't get the story about the sub out of my head; and 2) we need to talk about this stuff. That's the only way to make it stop.

..."A film crew was here."

Film crew? At MY house???

Yup.

A producer and camera guy (Greg and Ivaylo) from Open Road Media came from New York to film me last week. The purpose of their visit was to create video that will be used in multiple promotional pieces that will be available online and with the purchase of the e-book editions of Buddy Files. Each video is only going to be two minutes long, but six months from now Open Road will create a new video. And six months from then they'll create another one. So they needed to shoot a bunch of video they can reuse in all these pieces.

All this filming was originally supposed to happen in New York when I was there for the Edgars. They were going to do a studio interview and then they were going to "rent a dog" and we were going to go to a park and the dog and I would solve a mystery together. But the day before I left for New York, they called to cancel because 1) it was supposed to rain the day we'd scheduled, which meant we wouldn't be able to film in the park. And 2) I only had three hours available, which they didn't think was anywhere near enough time anyway. So they asked if they could come to Iowa and film me here. The very next week.

I wasn't against the idea of them coming here...in fact, I much preferred they use MY dog rather than a rental dog. But at that point, I'd been home a grand total of six days the past six weeks. The cleaning ladies hadn't come the whole time I was gone...not that they would've done anything with the piles of books, papers, and just general JUNK in my office. And while cleaning is pretty low on my list of priorities, it's even lower on my husband and teenage son's list, especially when I'm not around to nag about it. So I looked around my house and thought, "Next week??? Are you kidding me???"

Fortunately, I had more school visits lined up for that next week, so that made a much better excuse than, "I'm sorry, there's no way I can get my house clean enough for you by next week."

We ended up putting it off for a whole month...and finally last week, Greg and Ivaylo came out. They were here Monday and Tuesday.

They had asked me if I had a hair and make-up person I liked to use. I tried not to laugh and then told them I haven't worn make-up in about 20 years. I don't even own any make-up. None. Not even a bottle of nail polish. They said that was okay...they'd find me a local make-up person.

And they did. This is Ally:



She was very nice to me (i.e. she never once said, "Never??? You NEVER wear make-up???")




But I'm afraid I wasn't very nice to her. Not when she'd just spent an hour (yes, a full 60 minutes!) working on my face. The idea was they were going to give me a "natural" look. I knew I was going to look different, but I didn't think I was going to look THAT different.

When I went to the mirror and looked at my face for the first time, I sort of freaked out. The words, "Oh, my God! I look like a little old lady" sort of popped out of my mouth. Yes, they did.

And poor Ally was so concerned. "What do you mean?" she asked, immediately at my side.

All I could do was gesture. I didn't know what I meant; I just thought I looked...OLD! (And of course she's probably thinking, "Lady, you ARE old!") And all of a sudden I realized I had just insulted her TERRIBLY. I didn't mean to. I mean, she'd just spent all this time on me. And she's an ARTIST. And what do I know about make-up? I knew I was going to look different...I knew a little make-up for the camera was a good idea. So I tried to apologize and tried to explain that I'm just not used to seeing myself like that; that it's fine, really it is...



...and then off we went to Witty Kitties to visit Hockey, the blue-tongued skink who was my inspiration in the Case of the Library Monster:







Holding Hockey helped relax me a little (emphasis on little)...and it was a lot of fun showing these two guys from New York City a place like Witty Kitties...and introducing them to Lex, the alligator that some idiot college student thought would be fun to have here in IOWA, until the alligator got too big for his bathtub...(I think they should come back and do a video or five of Witty Kitties! There are a lot of stories out there!). Neither of these guys had ever even heard of a blue-tongued skink before much less seen one. I was an awesome tour guide when the camera WASN'T rolling. When the camera was rolling, I got nervous. Really nervous. I am much more comfortable behind the camera than I am in front of it. But hopefully they got some good video.

Next we went to the library, which was actually closed for Memorial Day, but the teens were in there setting up for the summer reading program. Which was GREAT because Greg wanted to stage a teen book discussion group for the video.

By the way, if you think I'm exaggerating about how different I look with make-up, take a look at the reaction I got from these guys when they saw me (one of them is my son):




We also staged a R.E.A.D. session with my dog, Mouse, while we were at the library. My husband brought him in and my friend Jonni brought her adorable twin daughters. I wish I had pictures of both the teen book discussion group and the R.E.A.D. session.

The book discussion group went very well. The teens were fabulous! There were some there who aren't actually part of the book discussion group, but you'd never know it the way they participated. It was a very natural conversation.

And Jonni's daughters were wonderful, too! Jonni told me later that one of her girls had said she was glad Mouse was nervous because she was nervous, too. That surprised me...I never would've guessed either one of them was nervous. Except when Greg asked which one of them wanted to read first and they each pointed to the other.

It wasn't a typical R.E.A.D. session because Mouse paid more attention to Ivaylo (who kept pointing a camera in his face) than he did to Jonni's girls. But he did settle down and listen after a while.

Then we quick headed to the park (after I went home to change clothes) so Greg and Ivaylo could get some film of me and Mouse as the sun was going down.







Then we "wrapped" for the day.

The next day, it was back to the library. This second day, we were joined by "John," a local photographer who was hired to photograph the film crew:




Ally came back and worked her magic on my face again. I promised her I wouldn't freak out today (and I kept my promise!).

Several of my writer friends came, too, to stage a write-in. Greg didn't like the space we normally use for our write-ins, so he had us go to the tables in the main part of the library, which was interesting because the whole reason we started meeting in the downstairs meeting room was because we'd been "shushed" one too many times up there. And Greg actually WANTED us to talk rather than simply write.



Greg told us to do this, do that...and when he told me to flip my hair over my shoulder, my friend Cheryl burst out laughing and said, "It was worth coming just to hear them tell you to do that!"

So now I was starting to have a little fun, which was good because that made me more relaxed for the formal interview part of the video. After I changed clothes again, and got my make-up touched up again, I waited for Greg and Ivaylo to finish converting my office into a studio.





Somebody said to me, "Wow, that dog never really leaves your side, does he?"

No, not really...(not willingly, anyway...)

Unfortunately, it was a really hot day...and we had to turn the air conditioning off because it made too much noise on the video. I was also nervous they were going to make Mouse leave, but he laid there pretty still. I warned them that if we have to send him away, he might bark. He doesn't like to be separated from me...and he doesn't like to be away from the action.

Everything was fine until the cat wandered in and started pestering Mouse. But John decided that would be a good time to take Mouse outside and get some shots of him alone. So that's what he did...and then Greg and Ivaylo were able to finish my interview.

Next they had me go out to my back porch and read. Mouse, of course, followed and sat down right beside me. But Greg decided he liked that. Then Greg asked if I could get Mouse to look at me. Well...not when he's stalking some critter next door.

Finally, I changed clothes one more time and went outside to play with Mouse. And then that was it!

I really did start to have fun by the end there...quite a bit of fun, actually. Greg and Ivaylo (and Ally and John!) made it fun! In fact, I kind of wished we could start the whole thing all over again. Now that we're all good friends, I know I'd be much more relaxed if we could just do it all again. But Greg assured me I looked very relaxed the whole time. He said that if I'd seemed "stiff" he would've stopped the camera and we would've done something else.

So now I have to trust them to turn all that film into something interesting and worth watching...

Did I really title that last post “highlights of the month?” That’s interesting because the real highlight of the month hadn’t even happened yet.



The Edgar Awards banquet was last Thursday, April 28. At one point my husband, two sons, and even my mother all thought they wanted to come to New York and attend the gala with me. But one by one they started to drop out.

First was my oldest son. He lives in Seattle, and he knew that the end of April was going to be a busy time at work. It was also a lot of money for him to fly clear across the country to spend maybe two days with us. It wasn't like I actually expected to win...so it was fine when he ultimately decided not to come.

I was the one who talked my mother out of making the trip...because I didn't want to have to see a look of disappointment on her face when the winner turned out to be someone other than me. I really was happy just getting to that gala in the first place. I wanted to enjoy the evening with no pressure, no expectation of actually winning.

Then came the teenager. He knew he was giving up a chance to attend the National robotics competition with the West High robotics team to come with us, and he knew he was giving that up right from the start. Coming with us was his idea, not mine. Then a week before the trip he found out that the other programmer on the robotics team suddenly couldn't go to the competition...which meant the team wouldn't have a programmer unless my teenager changed his mind. He was torn. He wanted to go to New York; he wanted to go to the robotics competition. In the end, he decided to go to the robotics competition.

That left just me and my husband...and Margaret, from Albert Whitman & Co.

Okay, so everyone wants to see The Dress. People who know me know it's a BIG DEAL when I put on a dress. I'm lucky to have a fashion conscious friend (hi, Laura!). Laura went shopping with me and first tried to outfit me with a black suit and shawl combo...because she knows I don't do dresses and she wanted me to be comfortable. I did end up buying the suit because it will come in handy for future things I need to dress up for (Laura says it's "very New York")...but I wasn't sure it was really "black tie" worthy. So I tried on a bunch of dresses. It was the best shopping experience I've ever had; I just hung out in the dressing room and Laura brought me all kinds of stuff (I have NO idea where she even found some of this stuff or how/why she put it together). Unfortunately, NOTHING (except the suit!) I tried on looked or felt good... until I showed her a dress I already had. I'd bought it for a cruise to Alaska my husband and I took for our 20th anniversary five years ago. Laura draped the shawl/scarfy thing that she picked out for the suit over my shoulders and we both agreed: this was The Dress. (Sorry I don't have a full length shot of it...and no shot of the shoes, either. Some of us just don't think about stuff like that...)

BTW, much as I HATE to dress up, I sure do enjoy seeing my husband in a tux:



There was a reception for all the nominees and their guests before the dinner and awards ceremony. But the term "guest" did not apply to any publisher representatives. So Margaret couldn't come in with us.

The Edgars reception is NOTHING like a Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators reception. I felt SO out of my league. There were famous mystery authors there...people I've admired for years. I saw Harlan Coben's name on a name tag and just stared at him and tried to process the idea that I was in the same room with him. Then Sara Paretsky walked by. (BTW, she was born in Iowa...if I'd been just a little bit bolder, I could've said to her, "Hey, I'm from Iowa!" and maybe we would've had a conversation!)

I did eventually work up the courage to talk to a guy who was standing by himself. He wore both a Nominee AND a Judge ribbon. That was Doug Allyn (and later on he won the Edgar for best short story) and he kept offering to introduce me to "someone famous." LOL! After I spoke to one person there, it got easier to talk to a few more people. About the time I was starting to feel a little bit comfortable around all these people, it was time for group photos. They called us up by category to get our pictures taken with our fellow nominees. Here are all the juvenile nominees:



(From left to right that's Jim Krieg (author of Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol), Ben H. Winters (author of The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, me, Lewis Buzbee (author of The Haunting of Charles Dickens, and T.R. Simon and Victoria Bond (authors of Zora and Me) And yes, I read all their books...I always read all the Edgar nominees in both the juvenile and YA categories. In fact, for the last several years, I've even reviewed them in my newspaper column.

After the group photos, it was time to go in to the ballroom for dinner. It was a relatively dark room. And big! Not as big as the Newbery/Caldecott banquet, but big. There was a stage in the center and large screens at either end of the room.






Dinner was wild mushroom bisque en croute, filet mignon with cabernet shallot butter and madiera sauce, garlic whipped potatoes, vegetables and rolls. My dessert plate had three different desserts on it: a "mini chocolate purse," (translation: chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate), a key lime pie bar, and a "mini chocolate tulip filled with fresh berries and creme anglais" (translation: the best thing on the plate! And that's really saying something.). This was sitting in the center of the table (and now that white chocolate square with Edgar's face on it is sitting on my desk!):



I did manage to eat most of my dinner, but not all of it. Because I just couldn't believe I was really there! They flashed previous Edgar award winners on the large screens throughout the dinner, which reminded me what a long tradition the Edgar awards have. Did you know there was originally a category for Best Radio Drama?

Laura Lippman, the previous Mystery Writers of America president, spoke briefly...then the new president, Lisa Scottoline spoke. And then it was time for the awards.

The Best Juvenile was the fifth award of the evening. Adam Meyer was the one who presented it. I'd met him earlier in the evening and he told me he'd really enjoyed my book. I didn't realize then that that nice man was one of the judges. Or the person who would present the award. Or the author of The Last Domino, which I'd just heard about a few weeks ago (it deals with bullying...and a friend told me I needed to read it, so it's on my stack of books to read).

Adam began by holding up Edgar, which was in two pieces. Somehow that particular statue, the one that was going to go to the Juvenile winner, had gotten broken on the way to the ceremony or during the ceremony. No one was really sure how or when it had happened. It was a mystery!

My husband reached for my hand as the nominees were read and their books flashed on the big screens. I remember thinking I really wanted to stand up and take a picture of those books on the screen, but no one else was taking pictures of the screens...and then I would've had to let go of my husband's hand. Not that I needed him to hold my hand...I wasn't nervous.

Not until Adam announced the winner...



I was shocked! I was so shocked that I just sat there. I was sure I'd heard it wrong. But people were clapping...and no one else was walking up to the stage. So I went to claim my statue (both pieces!)...and on the way to the stage I realized I was going to have to say something when I got up there. And people like Harlan Coben and Mary Higgins Clark would be listening.

My husband had asked me several times before the ceremony whether I'd prepared any sort of acceptance speech...and of course I hadn't. I was too busy with school visits this past month to even think about anything like that. There was no time to prepare for a short speech I was unlikely to have to give.

So the first thing out of my mouth when I got up there was, "Four years of Toastmasters has not prepared me for a moment like this." Which is the absolute truth! But then I took a deep breath and told myself, "this is just table topics at Toastmasters." In fact, my acceptance speech was supposed to be about as long as a typical table topics response. So I pretended I was back at Old Capitol and the question I've been asked is what do you say when you're presented with an award you've dreamed of winning since you were fourteen?





And then I blathered on about the day I first discovered what an Edgar award was. (Yes, I actually remember that day.) I was checking out the "New" shelves in the brand new young adult section (I loved thinking of myself as a "young adult" at age 14) of the Martin County Library in Fairmont, Minnesota, and I came across a book called The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore by Joan Lowery Nixon. The book caught my eye because it had a seal on the front that said Edgar Allan Poe award winner. I figured that meant it would be a pretty good book...and it was! I loved that book. I read it several times before I returned it to the library. I remember thinking, "THIS is the kind of book I want to write one day." And I dreamed of growing up and publishing a book of my own that would say Edgar winner on it.

I also thanked the Mystery Writers of America for this incredible honor, my publisher for taking a chance on a brand new series, and my husband for supporting me and believing in me all these years.

I went down the stairs and had an official picture taken. And until I actually saw this picture last night, I had no idea whether anyone else was actually in it with me (it turns out Adam was on the picture with me!); I just knew one had been taken. I was so in my own little world at that moment...and my entire body was trembling...and I was afraid I was going to drop that statue and break it into a few more pieces.



Someone from Mystery Writers of America asked me if I wanted to take the broken statue or did I want them to send me a new one, which surprised me a little. Would anyone actually prefer the broken statue? So I went back to my table with just my envelope (no statue)...





...and I hugged my husband...and I think I hugged Margaret, too. Margaret wanted to know where my statue was, so I explained that I was offered a choice between the broken statue now or a new one later and I chose the new one later. Margaret told me it wasn't an either/or; I should go back and get the broken statue now, so I'd have something tonight, and then Nice Marketing Lady would call in the morning to make sure I also got a new statue...

Despite the fact that I'd previously warned my husband I did not want to see that cell phone of his out during the ceremony AT ALL, I made him get it out so he could text the kids (because I hadn't brought my cell phone...no room in the clutch purse (why do women carry these things anyway? Either carry a bag or don't carry a bag...a "clutch" is NOT a bag))...

...and I couldn't tell you anything that happened after that (except Charlie Price won the Best Young Adult Edgar for The Interrogation of Gabriel James...Charlie was actually at my table, too!) until I heard the Typewriter Song begin to play. That was the moment it suddenly felt real. I LOVE the Typewriter Song...I have a group I dance with every Sunday night, and for some reason we almost always dance to the Typewriter Song. Those women and that song always make me smile...but hearing that song in that ballroom...and then seeing this tribute to Sara Paretsky, who was about to claim the Grandmaster award, flash across the screen, I suddenly tuned back in to what was going on. And I realized I HAD JUST WON AN EDGAR AWARD. It really was one of the happiest moments of my life.





And here I am at the end of the evening...with all the winners:



That's Lisa Scottoline to my right...and Sara Paretsky just to my left. I actually engaged in conversation with both of them. For just a second, they both knew who I was!

And here's a picture of all the nominees (taken during the reception before the ceremony):



There were a bunch of books in the lobby...normally when I go to conventions I don't have my husband with me, so I take as many books/ARCs as I think I can carry. But this time my husband was there to remind me how little shelf space we have left (which, as far as I'm concerned, is the BIGGEST advantage to e-readers), so I restrained myself. Some.

And then I called Nice Marketing Lady. I really wanted to hear her voice before the evening was over...and congratulate her, too, because she's worked tirelessly for me since the day I met her. Probably even before that. She and all the wonderful people at Albert Whitman helped make The Buddy Files what it is. This award belongs to them just as much as it belongs to me (but I'M keeping it! Sorry, Albert Whitman & Co....).

I didn't really want to take a cab back to the hotel. Who needed actual transportation on a night like that? I figured we'd just sort of float down Lexington Avenue. But before we left, my husband asked me if I was sure I didn't want to go back and mingle with the people in the lobby...maybe talk to some of the people I didn't have the courage to approach before?

I looked over and saw Harlan Coben was there...and then I didn't think, I just walked...I walked right over to him with no idea what I might say when I got there. Fortunately, he spoke first. He congratulated me...and then I realized, wait a minute; he's not holding a statue! He didn't win in his category. I felt a little funny about that, but we had a nice chat anyway...and he even posed for a picture with me:



His wife told me that she'd accidentally broken his statue when she was dusting, and MWA replaced it. So that made me feel better about getting a new statue myself.

It was a really amazing night...the fourth best of my life (after my wedding and the births of my children).

When we got back to the hotel and I checked my e-mail, I was surprised to see how many of my friends already knew! Which brings me to the secret to how I may have won...

Remember I said I didn't have room in the clutch purse for my phone? There was only room for three items in that clutch...a camera, a comb, and my good luck charm (given to me the day after the nominees were announced...thanks, Katherine!). I definitely made the right choice bringing this to the gala and leaving the cell phone back at the hotel:



(Photos 1, 3, 10, 15, and 16 courtesy of Matt Peyton Photography in New York.)

Highlights of the month


It's been quite a month. I've only been home two weekdays (six days total, the entire month). I breeze in...do my laundry...pet the dog...hug the family...and breeze back out again.

Here are some of the highlights:

The Texas Library Association convention (Buddy Files #1 is on the Texas Bluebonnet list for this next year) where I met wonderful librarians (a librarian really is a children's book author's best friend!), signed a ton of books, and ate Amy's Ice Cream (which is just as entertaining of an ice cream shop as Coldstone, but serves better ice cream) and fried pickles (Awesome!)...and no I'm not pregnant.

I also got to meet the librarian (maybe I should capitalize that: The Librarian!) from the Texas library where the infamous babysitter is challenging my My Mom's Having a Baby...she talked to me, shook my hand, and was even willing to be photographed with me and The Book:




And James Howe (see previous two entries to understand why that is significant, aside from the fact that James Howe is awesome!):




We had a nice (but brief) chat about censorship...and I got a signed ARC of his new book!

I've also done A LOT of school visits this month. All great schools...great kids...here are a few highlights from some of the schools:

This picture is from a school where everyone brought a stuffed animal to school to read to the day before I arrived. The animals stayed in the P-O-U-N-D most of the day, then they came out for reading:




I think this school wins the prize for best author display. I LOVE the cap on Buddy:





I like the chart that this school made.




And the writing assignments the second graders at this school did (they read part of The Case of the Library Monster, then did some research and wrote letters to Buddy offering help in solving this case). Can you tell those are pictures of blue-tongued skinks?







I think this school wins the prize for best library (don't you just want to hang out here and read???):







And today I'm off to New York for the Edgar Awards. Blog post (with photos) to follow soon...

More things to make you go hmm....




Apparently I visited the subversive school in the district today. (All the schools I'm visiting this week are part of the same district.) If you read my blog entry yesterday, you know that because a parent challenged James Howe's The Misfits a few years ago (and won!), the district decided not to even offer my Truth About Truman School book for sale. Because there's a RUMOR in my book that someone could be gay. (One of the characters also has two gay uncles, but I'm not sure the librarian realized that yesterday.) I have news for people who object to their children knowing that homosexuality exists: it STILL exists, even if you don't talk about it! If your children are in school, they are in school with people who are gay. Doesn't everyone deserve to see themselves in literature???

But I digress...back to the subversiveness. While this school was not allowed to SELL The Truth About Truman School, that didn't stop several fifth and sixth grade teachers from reading it to their classes!!! Nor did it stop them from encouraging their students to go out and order the book somewhere else and bring it back for me to sign. I signed quite a few copies of The Truth About Truman School! Look, they even included that book on their welcome sign.

Fifth and sixth grade teachers at Pleasant View (and librarian, too!)....you guys are AWESOME!!!!!

Things that make you go hmm.....


I had a great school visit today...well-prepared, enthusiastic kids...great staff. There were paw prints all over the school announcing my visit, and a group of fourth graders had put on a little skit last week for the rest of the school to get them excited about my visit (I asked if they'd perform it for me today and they did...it was wonderful!). This school knows how to do an author visit!

The only thing that disappointed me was they chose not to offer my Truth About Truman School book for sale. It's not so much that they chose not to offer that book for sale that bothered me; it's more the reason WHY they chose not to offer it.

A few years ago, a teacher in that school read James Howe's The Misfits as a classroom read-aloud. Great idea, right? Well, that's what the teacher and the librarian thought...until a parent complained.

Apparently, the parent felt it was "inappropriate" for a teacher to read a book about a gay character out loud in class, and asked that the book be removed from the classroom. It turned into a really big deal. The reconsideration committee met and they voted to keep the book, but they were overruled by the school board. The school board decided the book could remain in the library, but teachers could no longer read it out loud in the classroom.

I was stunned. This is one of the best anti-bullying books I've ever read. What was that school board THINKING??? Sure, kids can still check the book out of the library, but they miss out on something when they can't discuss the book in the classroom.

The librarian went on: "I know the homosexuality is just a rumor in your book, but after what we went through with the other book, we just couldn't take a chance that someone would object. There are some people in the district who think this was a bad decision, but unless you've actually had some experience with censorship, you can't really understand what it's like to face these people..."

Um...I think I have an idea what it might be like...

What was really interesting was it soon became clear that this librarian had no idea what I went through with Fox News just a little over a month ago. In fact, I'm not sure she was even aware I'd published a book called My Mom's Having a Baby.

I do understand where the librarian was coming from...believe me, nobody understands better than I do about people who make judgments about you based on the fact that you support (or wrote) a particular book. And I know she wanted this to be a nice day and she didn't want there to be any controversy hanging over my visit. But to not even give anyone the opportunity to purchase the book should they want to...isn't that censorship, too???

I really hate that one parent's view of one book can affect so many other decisions down the road...

Every now and then I'm reminded that I have written other books besides The Buddy Files...and My Mom's Having a Baby.

I don't want to name the reviewer (and no, I don't know him...my husband came across the review while reading what people are saying about My Mom's Having a Baby), so I'll just call him K. Here's K's review (published here exactly as he wrote it) of Tank Talbott's Guide to Girls:

"This is a book to help boys to not be wird in front of girls. I anestly think it will help the boys. There is 1 hing that I found out and I asked a girl and she said that that thing was grose. So if you are a boy and you need tips please read this book. If you are a girl you can still read this book because there is a secshon that is for girls. You can get this book at Southside Librarey."

Thank you for giving me a smile today, K. I don't know if you meant that seriously or tongue-in-cheek; I'm hoping for tongue-in-cheek, because if you're really taking advice from TANK on girls, well...I'm afraid you won't be having much of a love life.

A photo essay...and link!


If you can stand one more post about all this...

Fox News sent a car for me last week. I asked the nice marketing lady at Albert Whitman whether that was really necessary. It had already been established that I would be bringing two friends from home and meeting a third in Ames (because isn't that what you do when you're on TV? Travel with an entourage?); I would've MUCH preferred we go ourselves. But I was told to take the car.

Let me back up...why Ames? Because I needed to go someplace where there was an uplink to the Fox News station in New York. Apparently, Ames was the closest. Ames is a little more than two hours away...on a good day!

The car was supposed to come for us at 4:45 a.m. last Thursday. At 4:50 it hadn't shown up yet. So I called the limo company and talked to someone in California who assured me the driver was on his way; he was 20 minutes out.

Twenty minutes out? It was 4:50 a.m. I was supposed to be in Ames at 7:00 a.m. and then go on at 7:20. That was cutting it pretty close. The guy in California assured me he'd talk to the people at Fox News and get back to me; everything would be fine.

He never did get back to me. And another half an hour went by and still no car. I called the limo company back and was told it would be another eight minutes. I asked the guy in California what Fox News had said (you know, since he didn't get back to me like he said he would). He said, "they said everything will be fine as long as you're in Ames by 7:00."

It's now almost 5:25. The driver is still eight minutes away. There's no way I'm going to be in Ames at 7:00. "Yes, you will," the guy in California said. "Don't worry; you'll be there."

"Um no...," I said. "I'm in Iowa City. I know how far it is to Ames. I know what time it is. The math does not work."

I could not convince this guy that there was no way I was going to be in Ames by 7:00, so I gave up and called the Fox News producer. I got the impression they had not heard from the limo company. They were not happy to hear I was not going to be there by 7:00. It took two phone calls, but ultimately they decided they could move my segment from 7:20 to 7:40 and "that driver better have you here by 7:20."

The driver did show up...and my friends and I all crammed into the back. Together. (I insisted that was the way we were going to do it.) And the poor driver drove between 75 and 80 miles an hour the entire way.

Nice Marketing Lady told me to prepare for the interview "a little bit" in the car, but not the whole way. Try and talk about something else, too. Which we did.

I got a little bit freaked out about this whole thing on Wednesday (the day before the interview), but come Thursday morning, I was surprisingly calm. Ask my friends if you don't believe me. I made them tell Nice Marketing Lady that I was indeed calm (I lost track of how many times I talked to Nice Marketing Lady on the way there).

We arrived at 7:25, with time to spare.

The whole thing was kind of surreal...nothing like I expected. We were on the Iowa State University campus and there were just two guys. They opened the studio just for this segment and then they closed it again when the segment was over.










Here I am getting hooked up with sound. BTW, I was the only one in the studio who could hear Fox News. My friends and the two studio guys could only hear my half of the conversation. And none of us could see Fox News.








And...we're on! (Except we're really not...my friends just THINK we are because I'm talking. And it sounds like I'm answering questions related to my book. Which I am. But even I'm not entirely sure whether we're really on air, since I can't see anything; I can only hear. I don't actually know that we're on the air until the New York guy says we are and we start the whole thing all over again.)




Three minutes later it's all over. Nice Marketing Lady is on the phone...and the studio guys are wondering what all the hubbub is about. They really want to see what this woman in Texas is objecting to. So I show them. They're...surprised.

We arranged for our driver (I still can't believe I had a "driver!") to pick us up in an hour and a half so we can go out for breakfast. One of the things we did on the way to Ames (when we weren't practicing for the interview) was google restaurants in Ames. We ended up at the Cafe, which was FABULOUS.

I checked my phone periodically and watched the hate mail come in. As it did, I read it to my friends. We also checked the ipad periodically...waiting for the link to the video to be posted. It finally was...and our nice waitress even watched it with us. When it was over, she said she was going to get a copy of the book for her four-year-old.

Here we all are:



Let me just say those three people with me are some of the best friends I've ever had. (And that's saying something because ALL my friends are wonderful!)

In case you missed it, here's a link to the Des Moines Register article that appeared earlier this week (the pictures in the Press Citizen were better, but that one isn't available online).

I don't know that I'm really an expert on media training or what to do when your book is challenged, but my friend Sue interviewed me on those two subjects anyway. You can read it here (though it looks like you have to actually click on the "One Writer's Journey" tab). Thanks, Sue!

And thanks Kellye, Katherine, Wendy, and especially you, Nice Marketing Lady, for convincing me I really could do this...and for being there for me through it all! You all were right: I HAD to do it. And I'm stronger for it.

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