I have been asked to speak on Saturday, July 31 at the Norfolk Public Library’s 16th Annual Literature Festival in Norfolk, Nebraska. I will be giving a writing workshop for kids in the morning and will be speaking to teachers and librarians about books and writing in the afternoon.
I have never been to Nebraska, and am excited to fly into Omaha next week. My picture book That Book Woman is a 2011 Golden Sower Award nominee (which is the state Nebraska award). Other award nominees will be at the festival too, including Deborah Hopkinson and Tony Varrato.
If any of you live in Nebraska, or are interesting in attending the festival, please email Karen Drevo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 402-844-2108.
The Norfolk Public Library is located at 308 W. Prospect Avenue in Norfolk, Nebraska. Hope to see you there!
I’ve been thinking about words a lot lately, not only because I’m trying to finish a new novel, but also because I’m still in my poetry reading phase, still feeling contemplative about life.
One of the reasons I’m a writer is because I love words. I just love the ways words go together. Love the way words sound when you read them out loud; love the way they look on the page.
So it was kind of perfect that while I was in the library with my kids this week I happened upon the newest book by one of my favorite authors: Patricia MacLachlan. The book is called Word After Word After Word and it’s so lovely, so warm, so…Patty MacLachlan. It’s all about truths and untruths, what is said and what is left unsaid, and above all, it’s about words.
The set-up: a famous writer named Ms. Mirabel has come to spend six weeks with a group of fourth graders. Of course the back story is that Ms. Mirabel is really a stand-in for Ms. MacLachlan herself, and sometimes she (the character in the book) reads to the kids from the classics of children’s literature, including books from her own cannon, such as Sarah, Plain and Tall and the book Baby (which if you have never read, please go get it now, and have a Kleenex box handy!).
Not much happens in Word After Word After Word, and yet everything happens. The kids in Ms. Mirabel’s class all have singular personalities, and singular stories to tell, although at first they’re not at all sure that what they have to write about will be terribly interesting. But of course as the book unfolds, we learn about private sorrows and small triumphs that make our characters unique and endearing and endearingly human, and when they all finally do write down their own stories, one by one, the book itself becomes a pretty powerful celebration of how important words can be.
What I love about Patty MachLachlan’s work is how beautiful her writing is. Each novel is like a poem, every word so very important. Many of the novels are short, spare, but they pack a wallop into a few, short pages. What I also love is how she makes her young characters so interesting. They’re funny and lovable, and they live completely in the world of children, watching grown-ups from a perplexed and ultimately forgiving distance.
One of my all time favorite books, of Patty MacLachlan’s, or of anyone else’s, for that matter, is The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt. I love Minna’s quest for truths and untruths (as well as a vibrato). I love her quirky writer mother who is so maddening and so familiar. (Oh, how many times have my own kids wondered why their mother can’t pull herself away from the computer screen long enough to focus completely on matching their socks?) One thing I always know when I begin a Patty MacLachlan book is that I will end up, by the time the novel is over, longing to live with the family she has created, a family that is usually creative and messy, and word by word true.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
[from Walt Whitman, Song of Myself]
My husband’s best friend, David Campbell, died a few days ago in NYC. Dave was my friend too. He was there the night I met Tim in the middle of a crazy, crowded city; he was there the day I married Tim. He’s been there for 20 years. I can’t really imagine Dave not being there anymore. And so I’m trying to imagine him here, and everywhere. Everywhere he loved to be.
Here are the links to Tim’s piece remembering Dave and a Dave memoriam:
As a freelancer, I’ve done a fair share of ghost writing over the years in order to make ends meet. Now, with Dream of Night, my new novel for young readers, I’ve turned to horse writing. In a way, it feels like I’ve come home.
I was born and raised in the Bluegrass, a part of Kentucky known for its rolling meadows and beautiful horses. They say what makes Kentucky Thoroughbreds the best in the world has to do with the rich limestone found in the soil. The horses here grow up strong, fast, and spirited. I think the people here grow up that way too.
Springtime in central Kentucky means that fields everywhere are dotted with mares and colts. (Most foals are born between January and April.) Springtime around here also means the Kentucky Derby and big silly hats and mint juleps.
I was not a particularly horsey girl growing up. I would ride occasionally, but not with the longing and the focus of some of my friends. In the middle of Kentucky farmland, unlikely as it sounds, I was into theater. My world revolved around acting and plays because that’s what my father did: he was an actor and producer of a summerstock theater. (I wrote about a childhood spent on stage in my novel Here’s How I See It/Here’s How It Is, 2009.) But horses were in my blood, at least on my mother’s side.
My maternal grandfather had been a horseman, a breeder and trainer of 3-5 gated saddlebred horses, one of the best trainers around. A man who knew a lot about horses. So I grew up hearing stories, seeing photos of my papa’s statuesque prize-winners. Photos and memories only. Because the stories always ended with a pounding at his front door in the middle of the night and the cry of “Fire! Fire!” Papa rushed out into the dark to find his main barn already engulfed in flames. (This was long before modern smoke detectors and sprinkler systems and telephones being commonplace in every home.) Papa – and his farmhands and neighbors – risked their lives to save the horses, but the fire was just too fast.
Papa kept a few pleasure horses after that, but he gave up breeding and training altogether. I think the horseman in him must have died along with those amazing creatures he had raised and trained and loved so dearly. He rebuilt the barn, but instead of stalls, there were open rafters for hanging tobacco while it cured. He turned his acres of grazing land into rows of crops.
I left Kentucky after high school, headed for the big city of New York. I went to college, became a writer, started a family, lived in Brooklyn before Brooklyn was cool. And then, suddenly, I wanted to go home. Papa had died a while back, but his house was still empty. My husband and I decided to take the plunge, make a go of country living.
Moving back to the family farm I had a vague notion of wanting to own horses – for myself, for my son, for future kids. So I was happy to discover upon arrival that there were already horses on the farm. The neighbor down the lane was leasing the land around the house. So there was a herd of horses, about eight or so mares and one lone black stallion, the leader of the group. They were nearly wild because the neighbor didn’t have a lot of time to spend with them. The fields curved around in a horseshoe pattern, with the house in the middle. So most times of day I could look out any window, or stand in any part of the yard, and see the horses.
They were shy at first. They ignored our offerings of apples and peppermint. But slowly, when they realized we weren’t going anywhere, they got used to us. They would watch us across shorter and shorter distances. Finally they allowed us to give them treats, sniffing at us, still startling away if we made any sudden moves.
From my window on the second floor where I had set up my writing desk, I often just sat and stared out the window, watching the horses instead of working on the book I was trying to finish. The horses were all different colors. Their manes and tails were long and tangly. They seemed to move as one, stopping to graze together, drinking in one big group from the spring, bolting together in a heartbeat without any obvious (to me, anyway) signal. Many times a day this startling, graceful explosion into flight, and the gallop of so many big powerful bodies across the field would simply take my breath away.
After a while the lease came up on the land; the neighbor sold some of the horses, took the others back to his side of the lane. My husband, son and I would walk down the road to visit them. By this time they knew us. They’d sidle up to the fence when they saw us approaching, they’d take the apples we offered; they’d allow their faces and necks to be stroked.
We were settling into our new life on the farm with a big garden and chickens and cows – and skunks (uninvited but persistent guests). The barn was in disrepair. It would take a lot of money to make it a safe and comfortable place for horses. So we put off the dream of having horses of our own for a while and kept visiting the neighbor horses.
I went back to sitting at my desk while my son was at school, staring at my computer now, rather then staring out at the horses. Slowly though something started to happen, something started to click. It was true that I couldn’t actually see the horses anymore from my window. But I knew they were there. I could feel them. I could write about them, tell their story. And so that’s exactly what I started to do.
The Blue Marble Bookstore in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, is about fifteen minutes south of Cinci, OH. It’s the kind of place, tiny though it may seem at first, where you just might get lost. Lost in books — the very best kind of disorientation. From picture books to novels for young (and not so young) readers, from signed first editions to signed paperbacks, it’s the kind of bookstore that is becoming more and more rare in this day and age of everything-at-the-click-of-a-button.
First of all, it’s in a house, a lovely little old house on a bustling but quiet street in a friendly northern Kentucky neighborhood. The downstairs room is lined with shelves full of books. A door to the backyard leads into a Secret Garden. A staircase hidden behind the counter leads upstairs to the Great Green Room (yes, with everything from Goodnight Moon including the mouse). Upstairs is also where the kitchen is found. Because when you come to an event at the Blue Marble — a booksigning for a local or national author; a discussion of new books among librarians, teachers, children’s lit professors from local universities; a mock Newbery/Caldecott event — you will be fed. The whole staff, so knowledgeable about what’s going on in the world of children’s books, chips in and makes a dish, and everyone sits down together to good food and good talk about books and writers.
I wish the Blue Marble was just around the corner from me (instead of 3 hours away), because I would pop in all the time if I could. I would buy all my books from the Blue Marble. Because when you go to the Blue Marble to purchase a book, you’re not just getting that one book. You’re getting information about other books you might want for yourself or for your young reader or for your classroom or for your book club. You’re supporting the kind of community bookstore that is sadly slipping away. Because, yes, it’s easier to go on line and click a button, and often times it’s cheaper too. But you simply don’t get the kind of personal attention and knowledge and expertise that comes with stopping into a store like the Blue Marble, talking to teachers, librarians, writers — people who work part-time selling children’s books because children’s books isn’t just a job, it’s their passion.
Many, many thanks to Tina, Peter, Dave, and Tish for your hospitality, for your time and dedication and support! I appreciate all that you do!
Here are some pix from the Blue Marble signing and feast and from my school visit earlier in the day at St. Pius X….
Here’s what the Blue Marble has to say on their events calendar…..
One of our favorite Kentucky authors of books for children and young adults will be returning to our store! Heather Henson will be talking about and signing her newest novel entitled Dream of Night [Atheneum, $15.99], a deeply moving story for middle-school students. We’ll also have her previously-published novel and picture books on hand for her visit.
Please contact us for line numbers and book reservations. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear Ms. Henson discuss what we believe is one of the best novels of the year!
I will be at Joseph-Beth in Lexington tonight (May 4) at 7:00 p.m.. Love the folks at JB! They have always been so supportive.
And then I will be heading on to Northern Kentucky to do some school visits and to go to one of my favorite bookstores, The Blue Marble.
For those of you who have never been to the Blue Marble in Fort Thomas: GO!!!! It is a wonderful place, full of good books and good people who care passionately about good books. My event is on Thursday, May 6, from 4-6pm. It’s a ritual that after a book discussion and signing, the folks at the store actually prepare a feast for those who want to stay and continue to talk about books! It’s amazing. The Blue Marble makes me wish I lived in Northern KY so I could just pop over there all the time!
Here’s a link to their calendar, in which they have some pretty nice things to say about Dream of Night. Thanks, guys! Can’t wait to see ya’ll!
I almost forgot to post this! It’s a video of me, talking about my books and my writing career, and it’s up on the Simon & Schuster Web site as part of their Authors Point of View series. Hope you like it!