Saturday, March 31, 2012

First Reading and Signing

A couple of days ago I had my very first book reading and signing.  I was able to do this at my local library, since a) my book is about a librarian who has some pretty impressive powers, and b) I work there. 

The event was a lot of fun.  I even had a few people there who didn't know me personally!  It was fun to see friends there, too, especially some who came from pretty far off in support.  After a beautiful introduction by a co-worker, I spoke a little about the book, introduced a few people (in particular the inspiration for the Ninja Librarian), and read the first chapter.  Since my chapters are pretty short (they started as very short stories), that was about perfect, and I was pleased to see that the book had appeal both for the children in the audience and the adults (the book is supposed to be YA, but really, with no vampires, werewolves, or love story, they are probably not the best group to target, and the library ended up classifying it as Adult Fiction).  I thought the whole thing went pretty well, seeing as I was making it up as I went along.

A few pictures from the event.

Everything all set up and ready to go:
The Ninja Librarian himself in his specially-made t-shirt (we all got shirts proclaiming us Ninja Librarians.  But only Tom got the special shirt).
 What every author wants to see--a fully absorbed reader. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Classroom Visit

I did my first Author visit to a classroom yesterday!  It was a little informal, as I had no real time to prepare (I'd talked to the teacher late the night before, meaning to just drop off some books for him, and he asked me to come on in and talk to the class, too, nearly first thing in the morning). 

I wasn't quite sure how to do this, but the kids were great (and so was the teacher!), and helped me along in a hurry.  First question from one of the 5th-graders, before I even made it all the way in the door: "Can I have your autograph?"  I think he has hopes of selling it for big bucks.  I wish him all the luck on that!

I decided to take along my early drafts and show the kids how the book progressed from a rough idea through a handwritten MS in a notebook, to a binder with a printed version all scribbled over with edits, and finally to the printed book.  I really wanted to show them that nothing is perfect the first time, or the second, or the fifth. . . .  I have kids of my own, and know from watching them do their work, and especially their writing, that they a) recognize that writing might be fun, but editing is work, and b) hate not getting things perfect the first time. 

(As an aside, Second Son is the kind of writer who bleeds over every word and really does get it pretty well right the first time.  I pity him, because it looks painful, and he doesn't get the joy of just letting words flow.  Plus, he's worked so hard on that first draft that he doesn't feel like he should have to edit--but it still needs editing.)

When I finished what I had to say, the kids asked more questions, some about money (I'm not getting rich!) and another asked how many books I'd written.  That was a chance to drive home the point about practice, because I could tell them I've written four other complete books, none of which has ever made it to the point where I'm willing to publish.  I do hope they got the message, because we do have a tendency these days to downplay the need for practice, polish, and persistence (look at this whole blog thing.  I do edit my writing, but the whole form is much more designed for quick production than for polish--and don't get me started on Facebook posts and Tweets!).  What's more, far too many kids (like mine) feel they've somehow failed, or "can't do it," if they don't get it right the first time.  So on the one hand there's a push for instant results, and on the other a feeling that having to work something over repeatedly is a sign you're no good at it.

Maybe I got to deliver that message another way, too, because the teacher then asked me to read a chapter from my book, and I gave them one where the Ninja Librarian takes a couple of tries to get it right.  Yup, even the Ninja Librarian needs to experiment and figure out what works and how to make things happen the way he wants!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Lions of Little Rock (Book Review)

My apologies for going silent. . .  I meant to post this a week ago, but we took off for Hawai'i. . . (okay, I've now lost all sympathy I might've gotten!).  No internet access!  No phones!  No beds or hot water most of the time, either, because we camped all over the Big Island. . . but that's another post or 5, starting tomorrow!

So here's where I was a week ago:

I have just finished listening to The Lions of Little Rock by Kristen Levine, and I am reminded of why I  so often read juvenile historical fiction.

Set in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958, the book taught me far more than I ever learned in school about the Civil Rights movement and the integration of the Little Rock schools.  Yet at no point did I think I was reading a history lesson.  Always, the story and the feelings of the lead character were the focus, nor was Ms. Levine afraid to invent dramatic episodes--though for the most part that was done by modifying actual events, which were plenty dramatic.

I don't wish to provide any spoilers, so of the specific plot I will say only that it is the story of 7th-grader Marlee, an introverted girl who is very happy with numbers, but speaks to no one but her family and one friend.  In a big part, the story is about how Marlee finds her voice and learns to speak--because she has the motivation when the issues of integration split her family.  In this way, Ms. Levine is able to use the historical setting to provide a real and moving background for one girl's coming of age.

Alternatively, you could say that the historical drama unfolds against the backdrop of Marlee's growth.  Take your pick; whether you read the story for the personal drama or the historical, there is never a dull moment, and the well-crafted prose carries you along.

I am tantalized by one other aspect of the period that Ms. Levine hints at but doesn't develop--warning us that Marlee will have another battle ahead of her in a few years.  As mentioned, Marlee is very good with numbers.  She is, in fact, a math whiz, and her dream is to become an aerospace engineer--to design satellites.  She does notice that there are no women among the scientists she sees in the news, so she knows that this may not be easy.  It is only later that she realizes that there are no black people, either, which I think underscores the way in which the racial bias of her time and place became so internalized that a child would not even realize there was anything odd about it--until something happens to open her eyes.

I grew up during the Civil Rights era, but I was a Northwesterner--very far from issues of black and white, though closer to other race issues brought on by WWII.  I have never been able to understand the attitudes of the segregationists.  This book doesn't help me understand that--and I'm not sure I want to understand that level of prejudice--but it does help me feel what it would have been like to live in the middle of it.

Kudos to Kristen Levine for writing a book that is both a great story and a thought-provoking read.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

L. M. Montgomery--Following my curiosity to WWI

I fell in love with L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books when I was a kid.  When I was an adult, I discovered that there were two more books in the series than I'd known about--Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside.  I assume that they were out of print for a time, or maybe our library just never had them.  (Warning: some of the below contains spoilers).

Rilla's story set me off on a whole new direction of (highly informal) study, though.  Set in WWI, the story tracks Anne's youngest daughter from age 15 (when the war breaks out) to 18, when the war finally ends, Kenneth Ford comes home, and we are left to understand they will live happily ever after.  Reading the book made me realize how little I knew about the First World War.  WWII was my parents' war--they finished high school just about the time the war was ending, and my Dad signed on with the Merchant Marine while the fighting was still going on.  Many of my relatives went; my Mom's uncle was killed, and the war years, following immediately on the Depression, shaped my parents' generation in ways that continue to affect me.  I've read tons of books on WWII.

But when I started to look at WWI, my grandparents' war (of course, they got the dubious pleasure of participating in both wars, as young people of military age the first time, then as parents, and siblings, of soldiers the next), I found that there's a lot less information about that war out there.  I'm willing to bet that for every book on WWI, there are five or six on WWII.  Partly, that's because the US didn't join in until nearly the end.  I suspect WWI left more of a mark on the English and Canadians who fought it from the beginning than on the US.

Which brings us back to Anne and Rilla, since they are Canadian, and the war impacted them and their community in every aspect of their lives, much as WWII did in my own family.  Maybe that was some of the fascination of the story, because I could get a glimpse into what it meant to a family and a village for most of the young men to go to war.

What Montgomery didn't explain to my satisfaction was the love story.  That is, we get Rilla's side of things, but Ken's experience is largely unknown, and his behavior at the end of the story left me unsatisfied.  Why on earth had he been home for two weeks before contacting Rilla, and why did he just show up on her doorstep, without sending word?  That's what really kicked off my research--I needed to find out what his experience was, because I needed to understand him.  That led to a lot of interesting reading (and some frustrating research--finding books that might address the Canadian experience of the war, from my base in CA, hasn't been easy).

And, because I'm a writer, in the end, my efforts to understand led to the inevitable.  I've been writing the story from Ken's side, because in the end, that seems to be the only way to understand him.  I don't think my work will ever be a full-length novel (maybe a novella?), but I'll be sharing some bits as things reach that point.  So if any of you share my curiosity, watch this space and I hope I can satisfy it a bit!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

In the library

No, not me.  Well, yes, me, because I work there and am in the library most days.  But today something really exciting happened: my book made it to the library.  To the catalog, at least (these things do take time!).  Maybe it's because I'm a library geek, but to me it's even more exciting to see my name and book in the library catalog than to see it on Amazon.  I can't wait until the first time I get to check it out to someone.

Just trying to decide if this is like the baby's first tooth, or the first steps.  Maybe even heading off to kindergarten--my book, out in the world on its own.

Just having a little fun.