My sister, my friend

I’ve been unable to update this blog for months.  Here’s why:  my sister’s cancer came back with a vengeance.  She was gone in a flash.

Holly was my only sister, my big sister.  She was born in Danville, KY on July 19, 1960.  She grew up on the stage at Pioneer Playhouse, the theatre our dad, Eben Henson, started in 1950.  She was always involved in one way or another at the Playhouse — acting, directing, managing.  She became artistic director when Dad passed 8 years ago.

Holly died where she lived — in her home not a stone’s throw from the Playhouse stage.  She died on May 27, 2012, just as the Playhouse company was assembling — the new actors arriving for the 63rd season.  After she was gone, the company meeting went on without her; auditions for the first show continued.  Rehearsals began.  That’s the way Holly wanted it.  The show must always go on.

It’s been a hard few weeks without her.  Robby and my mom, Charlotte, are the ones who run the Playhouse now.  I pitch in where I can.  The family has vowed to keep Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre alive another year in Holly’s memory, and then we’ll see what happens.  It’s hard to imagine ever closing it though.  The Playhouse has been a part of my family’s very fabric, our heart and soul.

Every night I stand to greet patrons arriving for the show (one of my duties), and I’m constantly told how much I look like Holly, how much her personal greeting meant to them, how much the Playhouse continues to mean to them, how much they miss Holly, but are glad to see us going on as a family.  It’s heart-breaking and gratifying all at once. It makes me feel sad. But it also makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.

Holly felt the same way.  A few years ago, she started an “Artistic Director Diaries” as part of a podcast the Playhouse was doing at the time.  Holly’s diary entries aren’t long, some of them just talk about the mundane day to day running of the theatre.  But one passage jumped out at me when I read through it after she died:

Is it worth it?  To keep this place going, under immense stress and strain?

Last night a mosquito kept me awake….I thought about my mother, who is 79, playing guitar and singing every night for the supper guests, as she has done for over 50 years.  I thought about all the changes she has seen.  All the sets, all the actors, the loss of a husband — as she stands in the back, enjoying the sound of the dialogue and the audience laughing. 

All summer my trailer has filled up with flowers and photos and press releases and memories.  There have been five opening nights.  I’ll never see these same people, gathered in the same place ever again.

I’m so busy, I seldom have time to think about Dad.  Except in an odd pause or two, and the realization that he’s not here still has a tinge of surprise — like he’s just taking a nap and will be back shortly and take all my worries away.  Like he’ll invite me to sit beside him, as we greet the audience together.

I still don’t know whose dream is more important — mine or my dad’s.  I still don’t know why the “show must go on.”  There are only 20 outdoor theatres left in the entire US.  If one more closes, does it matter?

If I wanted, I could walk away from all of this…into my own story.  But how lonely would my summers be, without laughter and tears.  At least when I’m stepping into Dad’s shoes, I can see the path.

I guess it’s my turn now, Holly, to follow in your footsteps. And I’ll do my best.  But already the summer — and the path — seem lonely without you here.

Holly Lee Henson

July 19, 1960 – May 27, 2012

Speaking at NKU Bookfest 2012!

I’m heading up to Northern Kentucky University tomorrow to participate in their annual Bookfest on Friday, May 4.  It’s a really incredible day long program in which about 500 middle grade students from around the state come to the NKU campus in Highland Heights to talk about books and reading.

Here is a link to NKU’s webpage about it, with a really terrific video showing highlights of years past:

http://english.nku.edu/outreach/bookfest/index.php

Last year, Silas House was the featured speaker, so I’m just thrilled and honored to have been asked to follow in his footsteps.

Will post pictures from the event soon!  Hope to see you there!

A Visit to NKU and the Blue Marble!

I will be speaking at NKU’s Book Fest this year, talking to 5-8th graders about reading and writing.  This annual event is on Friday, May 4th.  Following that, I will be at my favorite bookstore signing books: the Blue Marble in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  Below is a clip from their newsletter about the event.  Hope to see you there!

 

masthead

April 27, 2012

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Spring tends to be a busy time as more people are out enjoying the beautiful weather, groups schedule more activities and schools are entering their final month of the academic year.

We’ve been keeping busy with author visits at the store and local schools, a literature conference and professional lecture, a reading celebration and ordering new books for the summer and fall seasons.  It’s been great seeing familiar faces and meeting new people.

We hope you can join us for our author events over the next month.  We’re honored to be hosting Will Hillenbrand,Heather Henson and Debbie Dadey in the next few weeks.  Even if you’re not able to visit the store for an event, we’d be happy to have books signed and personalized for you.  Autographed books make such wonderful gifts; we have two special sections of books signed by the authors and illustrators who have visited our store.

Currently, we’re showcasing our new poetry and baseball books and have special displays of books relating to theTitanicKentucky Derby and horses.  We also have books that would make perfect gifts for moms, high school and college graduates and your favorite educators.

We’d love to see you and catch up if you can spare some time to swing by the store.  We hope to see you soon!

Peter & Tina Moore, manager and owner
Chris, Nancy, Tish, Betsy, Dave, Marilyn & Tanya, staff

BookFest Author Heather Henson Plans Visit
Friday, May 4, 4:00 – 6:00 pm
dreamofnightKentucky author Heather Henson has graciously agreed to visit our store immediately after NKU’s BookFest event.  BookFest is a celebration of reading and writing for Kentucky students in grades 5-8.  She’ll be signing her picture books and novels including Dream of Night [Atheneum, $15.99 hc] and Here’s How I See It, Here’s How It Is [Atheneum, $16.99 hc & $6.99 pb].  Reading Dream of Night is especially fitting at this time of year as it presents the story of a former racehorse.  Ms. Henson is also the author of the award-winning That Book Woman [Atheneum, $16.99 hc] which was illustrated by David Small.

 

A Cabin of One’s Own

 

I am thrilled to say that I went on a much needed solitary writer’s retreat a couple of weeks ago!  A writing friend had recommended that I try the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, KY.  I did some emailing, and found out that I could stay at the Cedars of Peace retreat there.

 

Here is my cabin from the back.  It is called Joy.

 

 

 

The cabin had everything I needed:  a kitchen, a bed, a desk, a window with a view of the woods.  More than that, it offered complete quiet and solitude!

 

 

Here is my cabin from the front.

The cabin was perfect! The setting was perfect! I set up my desk…I sat and looked out the window…I wrote…I read….I walked in the woods…I wrote some more…I read some more.  I hardly spoke to another soul, except for the two lovely ladies who run both Cedars of Peace and Knobs Haven at the Motherhouse.  They just wanted to make sure I was settled in.  And yes, I was very settled in.  I hardly wanted to leave my little cabin.

 

 

Here’s the view from my desk…..

And here’s the kitchen….

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the stairs to the second floor….

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is the peace labyrinth nearby…..

I spent four amazing days of total solitude and stillness.  It was exactly what I needed to help me get back into the novel I have been struggling with.  I had never been to the Loretto Motherhouse before, even though it is only an hour from my home.  It has a fascinating history — was founded in the early 1800’s.  There’s a quiet cemetery there dating back to the beginning.  There are trails to walk and a sculpture studio with sculptures by one of the resident nuns.  I can’t believe it was only an hour from my home, and yet it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

I can’t wait to return to the Cedars of Peace the next time I need a restful and inspiring break from the everyday.

 

Poetry, again

It’s been a while since I blogged about poetry.  But here I go again.  Because I recently read that one of my favorite poets died.

Wislawa Szymborska was born in 1923 in Poland.  She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.  I remember reading the announcement in the New York Times back then.  They wrote about her surprise at winning.  Apparently, she was a very private, quiet poet.  The newspaper printed several lines from her poems, a sample of her work.

Something about the poems grabbed me.  I think because the language was so simple, so frank.  And yet it had a lyrical quality, a spare beauty.  The lines I read had wit about them as well, a subtle wit.  A sly kind of wit.  A bit of a nudge and a wink.  It seemed to me the poet was speaking through the words, saying, “Don’t worry.  I’m not taking this very seriously, and neither should you.  It’s just a poem, after all. The world is so much more important than this.”  And yet, the words demanded attention all the same.  They took hold, they sprouted.  Her voice got in my head.

I cut the sample poems out of the newspaper that day and put them on my bulletin board, where they stayed, curling a little, browning at the edges, for several years.  I also went out back then to St. Mark’s Bookstore in the east village in NYC and bought her book of selected poems.  I have it still.  I’m looking at it now.

Here are the last few stanzas from her poem, “On Death, Without Exaggeration:”

 

Hearts beat inside eggs.

Babies’ skeletons grow.

Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves

and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

 

Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent

is himself living proof

that it’s not.

 

There’s no life

that couldn’t be immortal

if only for a moment.

 

Death

always arrives by that very moment too late.

 

In vain it tugs at the knob of the invisible door.

As far as you’ve come

can’t be undone.

 

from View with a Grain of Sand, selected poems

Wislawa Szymborska, 1923-2012

Great Readers/Great Writers!

As a writer, I’m often asked to come to speak to schools or to groups of young people, and it’s always an honor, and often very inspiring for me.  A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Lancaster, Kentucky and spoke to three different groups of young writers from several different counties:

The Fire Writers

Writer’s Express

The Clark Moores Middle School Pencil Breakers

Wow!  What cool names.  And what cool kids!  They all sat and listened intensely as I read the first chapter of Dream of Night, and then they had some truly terrific questions ready for me.  Obviously these three different groups were serious about books and reading and writing, and that’s something that’s just so awe-inspiring to see in this day and age when  there are so many distractions.

Thanks to Beth Dotson Brown for inviting me to speak, and thanks to those awesome girls for being who they are.  Keep reading, keep writing — and as I noted in your books — keep dreaming, because once upon a time I dreamed about being a writer, and I’m here to tell you that dreams really can come true!

In memory of Linda Sanders-Wells

Linda and I met three years ago at Books by the Banks, the annual Book Fair in downtown Cincinnati.  We’d been randomly thrown together, as you always are at these events:  two — possibly three — authors sitting side by side for a solid eight hours, smiling till your cheeks ache, signing books till your hand hurts, answering questions, pitching your story over and over again, hearing your table mate pitching her story over and over again to parents/grandparents continually strolling by, unsure of what type of book they want to buy for their child/grandchild.

I’ll be honest.  You don’t always get along with your table mate at these events.  You are always cordial, of course, always polite.  But by the end of the day, you are often tired of hearing about the book the other writer is selling, and when you pack up and say, “Oh, let’s keep in touch,” you don’t always mean it.

This was not the case with Linda Sanders-Wells.  Over the course of that day, as we began to really talk, to exchange stories and experiences, we just clicked.  When we both said, “Let’s keep in touch,” there was no doubt that we would.

In this modern world, it’s easy to keep in touch, but it’s harder to actually spend a lot of quality time together.  I’m sad to say that over the past three years I did not see Linda as much as I would have liked.  We lived three hours away from one other; we were both busy with work and family and writing. But in that time Linda became somebody I knew I could go to for advice and encouragement.  She was smart and funny and self-deprecating and wise.  She was a writer, a true writer.  She had a way with words.  She had a lot of stories inside her; she had a lot of stories left to tell.  I was hoping more of her work would be published.  I still am.  She had/has a voice that needed/needs to be heard.

Here is a picture I took of Linda at my favorite bookstore, The Blue Marble, in northern Kentucky.  She’d come in support (of course) of my latest book, Dream of Night.  When I went back last week to look at the photos, I couldn’t believe I didn’t have a picture of the two of us together from that day.  But I’m so glad I at least have this one:  a photo of Linda surrounded by something she loved — books.

 

 

I will keep you in my heart, Linda.  I will remember you always.  Thank you for your friendship.

 

 

Here is a cut and paste of the obituary which appeared in Cincinnati newspapers, along with the link:

http://news.cincinnati.com/article/AB/20111101/NEWS0104/111020315/Linda-Sanders-Wells-54-children-s-author

MADISONVILLE – Linda Sanders-Wells introduced herself on her blog this way: “I’m a writer. Since my first poem at about age six, I’ve been trying to put stories into words in a way that would connect with other people.”

Ms. Sanders-Wells, 54, died Oct. 20 at home after a long struggle with breast cancer.

In her 33 years in the publishing industry, Ms. Sanders-Wells wrote for companies ranging from the Louisville Times to Mademoiselle Magazine to F&W Publications.

Most recently, she was a communications consultant for Cincinnati-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation, devoted to improving results in secondary education. Her friend Carri Schneider called Ms. Sanders-Wells a model of “how to live a life of joy, acceptance and loving kindness.”

Ms. Sanders-Wells’ passion was as a children’s book author and editor. Like the best writers, she drew on her own experiences to tell a larger story.

She had great success in 2009 with her children’s picture book “Maggie’s Monkeys,” about a little girl who believes a family of monkeys has moved into the refrigerator.

Ms. Sanders-Wells told her fans “Maggie’s Monkeys” was inspired years ago by living with her daughter Abigail’s “invisible-to-us friend.”

Ms. Sanders-Wells had her own invisible monkey friend as a child, when her family lived in Central America, “where some children had actual monkeys. And yes, it lived in the refrigerator. Not the family refrigerator, but my toy one.”

“Maggie’s Monkeys,” a Junior Library Guild selection, is included in the Bank Street Best Children’s Books of 2010 and was on the Master List for the Kentucky Bluegrass Awards for 2011. It won raves from teachers, librarians, parents and kids.

The book celebrated what Ms. Sanders-Wells called two powerful forces: love and imagination. She was “thrilled – and humbled” to meet fans at events like Cincinnati’s Books at the Banks.

A devoted member of a local children’s book writing group, her good friend and colleague Sally Derby of Cincinnati called Ms. Sanders-Wells “an old soul,” and said her stories delved deeper than the regular children’s book.

“I still have hopes her other books will be published,” Derby said.

Filmmaker and author Eunice Charlton-Trujillo of Cincinnati has dedicated her next book, which will come out in 2012, to Ms. Sanders-Wells.

“I decided long before she was sick,” Charlton-Trujillo said. “Linda was very inspirational and an incredible motivator for me to keep writing. She had faith. She believed in people.”

Ms. Sanders-Wells wrote: “The special books we encounter as kids go straight to our hearts. That’s why I write for children. In the hope that perhaps something I have to say will register with one other person.”

There are plans under way to publish at least one other of Ms. Sanders-Wells’ manuscripts. “Sometimes Friends,” which explores how friendships are made, will be published by Charlton-Trujillo and Sanders-Wells daughter, Abigail, 17.

It’s a book, Charlton-Trujillo said, that will change young lives.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include her partner of 24 years, Howard Wells; her parents, Robert and Sue Sanders of Indianapolis; two brothers, Neal Sanders and Alan Sanders, both of Chicago; and a sister, Laurie Sanders Squire of Chicago.

A memorial and celebration will begin 5 p.m. Nov. 10 at Grailville, 932 O’Bannonville Road, Loveland. For directions, www.grailville.org or 513-683-2340.


 

 

 

Dream of Night nominated for Truman Readers Award!

I just found out that Dream of Night was nominated for Missouri’s Truman Readers Award.  My friend Catherine Balkin over at Balkin Buddies (http://balkinbuddies.blogspot.com) gave me the good news this weekend, and I’ve only now had a chance to put it up.

Catherine, who worked with me at HarperCollins many years ago, is always one of the first to know about awards lists, and I’m really grateful to her for letting me know!

Here’s the info about the award:

Missouri Association of School Librarians’ four Readers Awards represent the best current youth literature available to students of different grade levels.  Every year, MASL’s Readers Award Committees work to create a preliminary list of titles that are read and voted upon by groups of Reader/Selectors to create the final list of nominees.  Titles on the final list are then read and voted upon by students across Missouri to determine the recipients of the MASL Readers Awards. The Truman Readers Award are for grades 6-8. The other three awards are the Show Me Readers Award (Grades 1-3), Mark Twain Readers Award (Grades 4-6), and Gateway Readers Award (Grades 9-12).

Reading Camp Girl Power!

Wow!  I just met with a group of amazing girls yesterday!  I’d been invited a while ago by Trinity Episcopal here in Danville, KY to be part of their Summer Reading Group.  Yesterday I arrived at Trinity to discover there were only 3 members of the program, but the small number made no difference at all!  The three gals I met and spent some time with had so much presence, enthusiasm and spark — enough for a whole roomful of readers!

First of all, what great questions!  Each one of these young minds had very focused, very specific questions about the story I read, the book itself, the art, how the art gets to the page….just really terrific!  I read from That Book Woman, and then we talked about the Pack Horse Librarians (first question: were they all women? Answer: no, but there were only a few men who worked as PHL’s), talked about the time period (1930’s), about the poverty and lack of schools or libraries back then.  We talked about old time customs, like drinking Sassy Tea and looking at how thick the black band around the middle of a wooly worm is as a way of predicting how cold the next winter will be.

All three girls — Lina, Addie, and Jade — like to write stories as well.  We talked about the journals they’re creating, and they said they might help me out with some ideas for a book I’ve been trying to write about “Runaway Hennie,” my son’s pet chicken who seems to disappear all day long and then reappears mysteriously at night as if nothing has happened.

What does Runaway Hennie do all day anyway?  Maybe the girls can come up with some good ideas this week!  Maybe I could post them on my blog here!

Anyway, it was just a special day.  Thanks so much to Jan at Trinity for inviting me, and thanks to all the other folks there who were so friendly and welcoming.

But the biggest thanks of all goes to you girls!  You are the BEST!  Don’t lose that curiosity!  Don’t lose that love of learning!  Don’t lose that spunk and that unique thing that makes you YOU!!!!  Don’t lose that fantastic GIRL POWER!!!!!

Love and xxx’s and oooo’s to A, L, and J!!!!!

 

Award-winning author of books for young people