I’m a celebrity!

Me and copies of Dream of Night

I’ve been asked to be a “guest celebrity” at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation/Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center Booth at the Altech/FEI World Equestrian Games next week.  Yippeeee!

While being a celebrity is not really one of my goals in life (writing good books is!), I’m extra excited to have the chance to promote my book Dream of Night at this international horse event.  People from all over the world will be there.  I’m hoping that signing books at the TRF booth will not only help promote Dream of Night, but will also help raise awareness about Thoroughbred adoption cause.

Each year thousands of Thoroughbreds end up in abusive situations, mainly because it costs so much and takes so much time to care for these gorgeous but sometimes temperamental creatures.  The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is a national, non-profit organization that helps rescue ex-racehorses and give them a second chance at a wonderful life.   The Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center (see my last post) is the flagship facility of the TRF located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

The people at TRF/MMSC work soooooo hard to give Thoroughbreds a chance at a new life.  I’m thrilled to help in whatever way I can — right now, by being a “guest celebrity” and signing books.  Thanks to Susanna Thomas, Director of MMSC, for inviting me to WEG.

My book signing schedule at the TRF/MMMSC booth in the Main Pavilion at WEG:

Tuesday, September 28, 11-1

Thursday, September 30, 1-3

Keep checking back for more about WEG, as well as details about my upcoming trip to San Antonio for school visits!

WEG anyone?

For those of you who don’t live in Kentucky and haven’t been aware of all the hoopla over WEG, here’s the deal:  the World Equestrian Games, or WEG for short, is kind of like the Olympics of the horse eventing world.  The Games have never before been held in Kentucky, or anywhere in the US, for that matter, and so everybody around here is pretty excited.

WEG starts at the end of September and runs through mid-October at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.  During the many events there will be hundreds of booths with all things Kentucky and horsey.  I am excited to say that I will be at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation booth signing my latest book, DREAM OF NIGHT.  Proceeds will go to the local chapter of the TRF, the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, in order to help raise awareness for their cause:  taking care of Thoroughbreds after their racing career is over.

Here’s a picture of Susanna Thomas, Director of the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, the woman who has taught me so much about horses, the woman I thank at the end of DREAM OF NIGHT.  Susanna and all the folks at MMSC/TRF work so very hard to give ex-racehorses a second chance at a wonderful life.

Susanna Thomas in her office at the Maker's Mark Sectretariat Center
TRF/MMSC assistant, Melissa DeCarlo, and the Thoroughbred she adopted and helped reschool

My book signing will be at the TRF/MMSC booth at the Kentucky Horse Park on Tuesday, September 28 from 11-1, and Thursday, September 30, from 1-3.  Check back for more details as they develop!


Wow, Nebraska is gorgeous!  I had no idea it would be so green and rolling.  I flew into Omaha and was met at the airport by the lovely Karen Drevo of the Norfolk Public Library.  From there we drove north and east, criss-crossing the wide Missouri, dipping into Iowa and South Dakota, eventually wending our way to Norfolk, home town of Johnny Carson.

I was not the only author invited to the Norfolk Literary Festival.  My partners in crime were Deborah Hopkinson and Tony Varrato.  It was fun sharing a car and a weekend with these two wonderful writers.  Deborah’s Apples to Oregon is one of my all-time favorite picture books.  Her new book, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek is a new favorite.

Deborah and I share the back seat

Tony Varrato (who kindly provided all the photos for this post) is the author of the young adult novel, Fakie, a gritty story, boldly told.  He’s the kind of energetic, funny, inspirational English teacher I wish I’d had in high school.  Not only is he a good writer, he can juggle!

My amazing writer gals

One of the reasons for our visit to Norfolk was to give a writing workshop for kids.  I was thrilled to have three unique and talented young women in my class:  Krista, Aeriel, and Mattie.  We did some writing, some giggling, some sharing, some reading, some more writing, some more giggling.  I was really impressed with the love of books, the interest in writing, the observations, the immediate connection these three girls had.  Thanks, girls, for helping to make my day so special!  And remember what I said:  keep writing, keep writing, keep writing!  And also:  keep being you, keep asking questions, keep dreaming!  I know you all will go far!

Talking to folks at the Norfolk Literary Festival

After the workshop I talked to a great group of folks about how I came to write That Book Woman, which celebrates the work of the Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky.  Many in the crowd were librarians themselves, and I always love talking to librarians about librarians, sharing the stories and photos of those early book women.

Norfolk Literary Festival attendees plus myself, Deborah, and Tony (on the end)

People came from far and wide for this annual festival (above are some of the attendees along with me, Deborah, and Tony on the end).  The librarians of Norfolk are great organizers and motivators.

The staff of the Norfolk Public Library (pictured above) are real book lovers and troopers.  (I hope you get some air conditioning soon!!!!)

Alas, at the end of the day, it was time to bid Nebraska adieu.  I really enjoyed my visit.  Thanks to everyone, including the Norfolk librarians and especially Karen Drevo (I’m so sorry I don’t have a pic of you by yourself because you, lady, are one stylish librarian!).  Thanks to Deborah and Tony too for making it such a memorable trip.

Please check back soon because I’m going to add Deborah’s and Tony’s website to my list of fav websites  (but first I have to ask my helpful husband and web monkey, Tim, how to do it 🙂

Waiting in Chicago

So I’m on my way to the Norfolk Literary Festival in Norfolk, Nebraska.  The flight here from Chicago was nice and easy.  Now I’m waiting for the plane to Omaha.

My brother in law drove me to the Louisville airport and told me that I should check out Autohenge in Omaha.  Apparently somebody recreated Stonehenge, um, made out of old cars.  It sounds like something I would definitely love to see, but probably won’t have time.

Tomorrow I’ll be doing a writing workshop with kids and then talking with librarians and teachers about my book That Book Woman.

Speaking of Book Woman, I just received the latest foreign edition in Japanese!  It is so incredibly cool to see an Appalachian story translated into Japanese.  (Not that I can read it, but it looks terrific.)  Actually since David Small was inspired by Japanese drawing for his work on That Book Woman, it actually looks pretty natural.  My mom even asked me if they had redrawn the pictures because it looks like a totally different book in a way, like an original  Japanese publication.

Here’s the cover:

Back to the trip.  I unfortunately do not own a small digital camera.  (The one we own is massive, looks like a 35 mm camera from yesteryear.)  And I don’t have something as up to date as an Iphone.  So I’m hoping some of the folks in Norfolk will take pix and email to me so I can post.   In any case, I will keep ya’ll posted on my travels.  I’m sure it’ll be fun, even if I don’t get to see Autohenge. 🙂

Heading to Nebraska!

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 kdrevo@ci.norfolk.ne.us 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!

It’s summer!

Lila in flight

No school.  Long hot days.  Chlorine hair.  Baby chicks.  Baby cows.  Hay bales.  Mosquito bites.  Fireflies.  Weeds.  Fleas.  Chiggers.  Corn on the cob.  Drive-in movies.  Cut-offs.  Flip flops.  Watermelon.  Lemonade.  Sweet tea.  Poison ivy.  Calamine lotion.  Sunburns.  AC humming.  Firecrackers.  Sparklers.

Theo too.


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.

Reading Poetry

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry since my last post.  Often poetry is what I go to when feeling contemplative about life and loss.  I guess what I like about reading poetry is that moment of recognition, when all the emotions and images come together and suddenly everything is illuminated.  I like how poets find the profound in the mundane, the sublime in the everyday.

James Still is one of my favorite writers.  He was a novelist, a short story writer, a poet.  He was a Kentuckian.  In fact he was the first Kentucky Poet Laureate.  I never got to meet James Still.   But his work has had a huge influence on my own writing.  He had a pitch perfect ear for how real people talk — especially people living in eastern Kentucky.  His stories, often about boys growing wild on the mountainside or getting into trouble in coal towns, seem simple, but each one is so finely layered with meaning and truth, each one is a masterpiece.

I was recently reading through The New and Collected Poems by James Still, which was published in 2001, and came upon a poem that really spoke to me as a writer about how truly tenuous the act of writing can be, how fragile the moment of creation.


There was a poem here yesterday,

But not now.

It sat for many an hour

Unwelcomed, unnoticed.

It went away for lack

Of ears to hear,

Eyes to see,

Hearts to open.

The poem went away

and did not look back.

I think the line I love the most is:  hearts to open.  Being a writer, or any kind of artist, means having to open yourself up.  To possibilities, to risks, to hope, to failure.

This is possibly a picture of James Still, who was one of the only male Pack Horse Librarians circa 1930.

Missing You

Dave & the donkeys, Kentucky, October 2009

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:



Upcoming Event at one of my favorite places: the Boyle County Library

Theo & Lila climbing on the big READ

I’m going to be reading and talking about Dream of Night at the Boyle County Public Library on Thursday, May 20th at 7 pm.  This event will be in the Teen Room — yes, there is a Teen Room! (That’s the question everyone asks when I tell them where it is.)  No, there are no Teen Books in the Teen Room yet, but we (on the library board) are working on that.  There is a Teen Room, though, and it is very, very cool.  It is right at the top of the main stairs.  It looks like a cafe, except without any food.  There will be food there Thursday night.  Free pizza!  (Although Karl tells us it would be best to eat the pizza in the children’s library rather than the actual Teen Room :))  Wherever we actually eat the pizza, please come  and check out the book and the new Teen nook in Danville.  Books will be available through Centre College Bookstore for purchase and signing by yours truly.

The brand new Boyle County Library -- wow!

I’ve been coming to the Danville-Boyle County Library since my mom carried me there on her hip.  I may have learned to read there.  I know I did lots of research on countless school reports over the years.  When I moved back to Danville, it definitely was a highlight of my homecoming.

The library had gotten bigger, but it still looked and felt the same.  Those in charge of expanding it over the years had kept the original lovely old building, kept much of the charm, just added more rooms of books.  Another massive expansion was undertaken a few years ago, and finally after much anticipation, the new library opened in January.  Again, the powers that be had the wisdom to keep the integrity of the place, keep the original parts, so when you walk into the new library, you still have a powerful sense of the old.  I can still sit in the room where I poured over encyclopedias as a kid (can you imagine kids going to the library to look at an encyclopedia today?) but I can also walk into a huge new room of fiction and another gigantic nonfiction room, I can sit in a room with a giant map or a giant globe, I can bring my kids to an enormous new kids space with dinosaur bones hanging from the ceiling and more computers than they could ever use, I can stand on the glassed in second floor and gaze at a glass sculpture by a world-renowned glass artist, I can sit in the garden where my name and my husband’s name and my kids’ names are etched forever in one of the bricks for future Henson-Ungs to see.  Danville isn’t a very big town, but we have an amazing library.  How lucky is that?

I used to sit at this same place as a teenager...the library hasn't aged a bit!