Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Week Is It? (Corny Tales from Tour)

I wish I had some exciting tour news to relay, but since last Sunday we have left Wisconsin, traversed Iowa, made it halfway across Nebraska, and what we've seen this week is much like last week.


I have so many questions about corn.

For starters, how on earth can we consume all of it? I know it's used for feed and oil and maybe liquor?

But, seriously, I'm not talking about miles and miles of's been states and states and states of corn!

I understand we're in the world's breadbasket. But holy smokes. I can't even fathom processing all that corn.

Corn aside, we've also been to some great bookstores. The thing with indie stores is that they are all different. And I guess the one that was the most different this week was the Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

The Book Vault is a repurposed bank, with three separate vaults inside that are used as speciality cubbies. There's the Mystery Vault (which pleased me enormously), the Local Vault (for local writers) and (if I remember right) the Science Vault.

There are three levels, with an open ceiling near the front door and register, and stairs that zig-zag up in unexpected places around and above the vaults. It was a bit like walking through a place with secret rooms and staircases--so cool!

A nice thing about this week was that we had our first real day off yesterday. No travel, no event, just stay put and relax (which meant reading, writing, and running...).

And why did we have a day off?

Well, because we were in Nebraska and had been (rightly) warned that nothing, could tear Nebraskans away from game day activities. Yes, the Nebraska Cornhuskers had a home game, and pity the fool who tried to compete.

So, when in Rome...

Or in Nebraska...
And it was actually great. We even watched a little of the game.

Go, Huskers!

And that, really, is the update. Next week I'll be writing you from Utah. I'm not sure where Corn Country ends, but I'm pretty sure Utah is past that boundary. But I'm also pretty sure they don't have a Book Vault.

Thanks for checking in, and for the comments you've been posting--I appreciate them more than you can know!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fields of Corn & Squeaky Cheese

Well, my laptop is terminal. I found a computer service center in Minot, ND that diagnosed it and gave me the bad news. Fortunately, I have a smart son who made me back up the whole thing before we left on the tour, so my files will eventually be available to me again, but not until after I get home from tour.

It reminds me of moving. You drag boxes and boxes of stuff with you from the old place, store it in the new place until you've got the time to unpack and find new official places to store it.

"It" being stuff you probably don't really need. Or even really want. But certainly can't part with.

Just in case.

So I'll probably get a new computer, load it up with all the backed-up files and wind up with a completely cluttered computer that I need to sort through and clean up.


When I have more time.

All this to say that I'm sorry to not have been more conversant over the tour, but I will do a little catch up here...

As of tonight, we are at the 'tag' spot. You know when you're a kid and you have to run relays and you get to the turnaround point, tag the wall or post or whatever, then charge back? Well, that's where we are. We have tagged the post. Or, in this case, an Irish inn in Milwaukee, which is located across the street from Lake Michigan. Pretty nice turn around point, especially after about 7 hours of driving today.

Working backwards, it was a beautiful drive through Wisconsin. The trees are in full fall regalia, and the farms with their red barns and silos are so picturesque. We did an event in Spring Green, WI at a small but delightful store (Arcadia Books) where the stew was delicious and the people attending were great. I gave away a lot of Sammy shoelaces! Wisconsin is known for its cheese, so we asked for a recommendation and were told to get Carr Valley cheese. So afterward on the drive to Milwaukee, we skidded into a roadside store that had that name on the building.

Cheese curds were both something I'd heard of and something that didn't sound too appealing, but when in Wisconsin...  We didn't really want to buy a full pound, though, (which was size they were selling), so the woman broke up a bag for us and sold us a quarter pound. I commented that we didn't have a refrigerator, and she informed us that cheese curds need to be at room temp when eaten. "You want them to squeak!"


Well, guess what? Cheese curds squeak when chewed. They sound like someone cleaning a window.


Guess what else? They're delicious! They taste like mozzarella sticks, only...with better texture and...saltier and...just better!


Good thing we only got a quarter pound.

Backing up to Minneapolis, we had a wild time at Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, where the store is a sort of hybrid between bookstore and pet shop. Or, maybe, zoo. They had ferrets, chickens, cats, a tarantula, cockatiels, chinchillas, fish and...well creatures I can't recall right now, but the place was bouncing with people, there to shop for books and check out the critters.

And my big visual impression of the past week (actually, almost two, sorry) is corn. Miles and miles of corn. I cannot believe the massive volume of corn that is grown in Illinois, North Dakota, Montana and Missouri. Wisconsin's got it, too. It stands 6 feet tall and is visible for miles, dried to blonde stalks. I first noticed it from the air when we flew to Illinois, pre-Puyallup. I couldn't figure out what it was until we were on the ground, driving miles and miles through it. Apparently it's not table corn. I was told it was used for other things--like oil and corn meal--and that the harvesting combine separates the ears from the stalks and strips the kernels right off. Incredible.

Randomly: We're up to three "stars" in the windshield. There's the one we picked up in Texas that looks like someone hit us with a baseball bat. Despite its size, it's minding itself quite nicely. The other two are little, and one has inferiority issues, as it's spreading across the glass, expanding its territory a little each day. Other than that, it's been pretty smooth sailing through the cornfields of the northern USA.

I've met a few people "from the blog" these past two weeks, which has been excellent and really fun. One crocheted a Penny-the-Pig for me, and now I have a little black pig on the dash, reminding me to "follow the pig!" (Something I've been known to advise aspiring writers to do.) Another made a paper flower out of the pages of a Sammy Keyes book (that had already been thrashed). And others delivered warm hugs, which has been so nice!

We have an early morning with a gym full of sixth graders tomorrow, so I'm wrapping this up here. Thank you for checking in and for keeping us company on this journey!  Have a good week, and remember: follow the pig!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sammy Keyes "Goodbye" Party

Big apologies for being over a week late with this. My PC blue-screened me, and I have been struggling to get coordinated with a new system -- the pictures have been the big problem. But here are a few from the party, and a little summary. 

I still almost don't know where to start because the whole evening was like the coolest dream ever. An enormous amount of planning went into the event. We contributed what we could, but the Puyallup Library staff pulled off a night I'll never forget--full of surprises and such good energy that I know nothing could possibly top it.

We arrived at the Liberty Theater about an hour before the doors were supposed to open so we (the family band, Risky Whippet) could run through the 6 songs we were going to perform with some first-time Whippettes (who included editor Nancy, agent Ginger, RH sales rep Deanna, and seasoned Whippette and friend Carol).

The evening's house band (whose bass drum sported a Darren Cole & the Troublemakers logo) was running behind with their setup, so we went to an upstairs room where we ran through the set acoustically one time. That's all the back-up team got--but they did great when the boas and sunglasses went on and lights came up!

First, though, there was the filing in of hundreds of people, the guest book sign-in, the Sammy Keyes puzzle doing, and the handing out of free books to those sporting Sammy-style shoes....

A sort of mid-stream photo shoot with me and guests happened organically. Some have been uploaded to the Sammy Keyes Books facebook page (where we hope more pictures will appear before too long..)

After meeting people and mingling for a while, the library director, Tim Wadham, got up and made some introductions, and then it was time to see the Sammy Keyes documentary.

I wish I could tell you everything about the documentary, but it felt kind of like a dream, and then it was over. Some of the people we videoed during the Southern Loop of the tour were in it. (We sent them the footage and they used some of it, which was so cool.) It was like seeing friends pop up unexpectedly to say hi. My understanding is that some of the video they took at the party will be added to the documentary for the final cut. I'll keep you posted on the wheres and whens of being able to see it. Not sure right now!

After the documentary came the interview, which was conducted by a man who really is larger than life. His name is Walter Mayes and he has a personality and heart to match his six-and-a-half foot frame. I met him at a function in...maybe San Diego?...when I was a brand new author. I was by myself at some social thing and he came booming up to me with an enthusiasm that made me want to hold on and not let go. He gushed about How I Survived Being A Girl and was just so warm and effusive. He has a long history inside publishing and once you meet him, you don't forget him. He goes by Walter-the-Giant-Storyteller and he did a story time for little kids at the Puyallup Library the morning before the Sammy Keyes Party, which we adults all attended and loved. He did voices and sang and projected enthusiasm across the expansive library, and Mark and I are still singing his version of Wombat Stew.

Anyway, many months ago Tim arranged for Walter to be the MC at the party, and Walter conducted an onstage interview with Nancy and me which included a booming (and quite adorable) rant about why he was refusing to read the last Sammy Keyes book. (NO! I REFUSE! IT CANNOT END!)

After that, it was time for Risky Whippet and the NY Whippettes to get up and make some noise. It didn’t take but a song for the boas to be swaying and “my girls” to be having some fun. The songs we did were:
            Knock on Wood (dedicated to Sammiacs)
            Chain of Fools (the Marissa and Danny song)
            Birthday (Beatles' version, for birthday people—I had a picture in my head of a bunch of birthday people jamming around onstage with us, but the kids that came up were mostly terrified.)
            Burning Down the House (dedicated to Sammy)
            Love Comes to Town (a U2 song dedicated to Heather)
            The Sammy Keyes Song – this had a conga line break near the end of it where the Whippettes and I all came off the stage and formed a line with anyone who wanted to join in (and some I grabbed from the aisles and, uh, encouraged). The line snaked up and down the aisle and then ended in the “Sammiac mosh pit.” It was my favorite!

I was so busy that I didn’t get any of the food, but they served some of Sammy’s favorites, including mac’n’cheese with a dollop of salsa, and chocolate chip cookies. People ate while we signed books—we being me, Nancy, and Dan Yaccarino—who all inked copies of Kiss Goodbye, with Dan adding a Sammy drawing. These are so cool! I bought one each for myself and the boys, ‘cause I doubt the opportunity will ever arise again.

And we signed shoes. Lots of shoes. Clean ones, stinky ones…once that started, it was a little nuts, but also fun.

The party itself was overwhelming for me—having all those kids in Converse was awesome, but seeing people who had traveled great distances to be there was moving in a way I can’t describe. There were the people I knew, and then there were the people who know me through Sammy. One grandmother from Indiana met up with her granddaughter from New Mexico in Washington state because they have shared Sammy Keyes stories since the granddaughter was young. (She is now in college.) How awesome is that? And my cousin sent up a blanket that just blew me away--all the hardcover book jackets woven into a gorgeous throw. I just wanted to hold on to it all night.

I hoped that the party would be a night for everyone to remember—I had no clue how unforgettable it would be for me.  Enormous thanks to Tim Wadham and the Puyallup Library for everything they planned and arranged—not just for the Sammy Keyes Goodbye party, but for the entire Festival weekend. It was awe-inspiring, and a shining example of how a library can so positively impact its community. I’m still shaking my head in wonder

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Puyallup, Part 2: Friday

(Still Mark here – Wendelin is

still having major computer issues and is now transitioning from her Dell to a Mac.  She’ll post tour updates soon, but in brief: it’s been great so far and we’re in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho at the moment, getting ready to go on a trail run.  What a gorgeous place!)

Friday in Puyallup was a bit of a reunion.  It’s always wonderful - in a slightly surrealistic way - when you’re a long way from home and familiar people show up.  Colton and Connor were at the hotel when we awoke, as was Nancy (all having arrived at a somewhat more civilized hour the night before).  We went for Thai food and caught up, then our dear friends Dan and Carol arrived, having flown in that day.  We hung out that afternoon, then went down to the Puyallup High School auditorium for that evening’s event.

As part of the Puyallup Book Festival (of which the Sammy party was the crown jewel) there were three or four other book-related events that weekend.  One was the 2nd Annual Jim Taylor Un-Lecture (in honor of a beloved local teacher & musician).  The theme this year was Teens, Books, and Rock & Roll.  The presenters were myself and two other YA authors (Jordan Sonnenblick and Kevin Emerson – both also drummers as well!) and the guest of honor was Michael Shrieve – the original drummer for Santana – who performed that famous and riveting drum solo during Woodstock only a few weeks after his 20th birthday.  (Check it out on YouTube if you haven’t seen it – it’s amazing.)  We each got up and talked about how music informed our written work, then Michael took the stage and played a drum solo, followed by him speaking about how he started in the professional music business at such a young age.  I knew he was a wonderful musician, but I had no idea he was such a good story-teller as well… what a treat that was!

In our family we have a tradition that after a gig we always go to a Dennys, and if you stretch the rules a little, this was a gig of sorts (okay, I played a musical demonstration on the cajon as part of my presentation).  So the five of us (Wendelin, Nancy, Colton, Connor, and I) piled into the corner booth at the nearby Dennys and refueled on coffee, pancakes, potatoes, bacon, and eggs as we unwound from a very cool day.

Stay tuned…

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pre-Puyallup Party Problems (Part Primo)

(Mark here.  This story is too big for one blog post so we’re breaking it up and I’m going to write the first part because Wendelin is busy fighting with her computer at the moment…!)

Before we could attend the events in Puyallup, we had to GET there.  Easier said than done, if you get a crazy idea that in the middle of a road-trip tour you should trade in your book-wrapped minivan for a jumbo-jet and fly to Illinois to present at not one but two different conferences (in different parts of the state) as well as throw in a few school presentations and an in-store signing.  Right before the most important event of the tour.

First, we arrived in Puyallup, parked our van in Tim’s (the Library Director’s) garage, and then (after a quick tour of the venues, which got us excited for the following weekend) hopped a plane to Chicago.  In theory.  In reality, this was the day the nut-job set fire to the air traffic control center outside Chicago.  Meaning we got to camp at SeaTac for most of the day, but we eventually arrived in Chicago.  The conference (Anderson’s YA Festival) went wonderfully.  Highly recommended to Educators/Librarians/YA Fans in the Midwest.  Then we visited a school in the area, and had a nice in-store at Anderson’s Books.

Then we hopped on a hopper (what else?) and hopped down to Springfield for the Illinois Reading Council’s annual conference and a couple more schools.  That conference was also very cool, as we presented both as a couple and individually.  Everything went well until we arrived at the Springfield airport for our hop back to Chicago, where we were to catch our flight to Seattle that evening (Thu) to arrive in time for Friday’s event (centered around YA books and music) and of course the main event – the Sammy Keyes Goodbye Party on Saturday.

In brief, we were dropped off at the airport only to learn that ALL flights from Springfield to O’Hare (Chicago airport) were cancelled.  And flying to Seattle via other nearby cities was also off the table for various reasons (believe me, we tried!).  So in a desperate move to catch our Chicago-to-Seattle flight (leaving in 3 hours) we commandeered a taxi to take us halfway across Illinois (a 3.5 hour drive) in an effort to make our schedule.  Talk about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!  We informed our intrepid driver we were in a screaming hurry, and apparently he took us at our word.  We probably averaged 80 mph that trip, including a brief but intense downpour that had freeway traffic slowing to 20 mph simply because you could barely see the road.  (Don’t tell Wendelin - because she’s still recovering from the stress of that trip - but we hit triple digits more than once.)  We came screeching up on two wheels and as I handed the driver a tip I said, “Promise me just one thing… that you won’t drive like that on your way back to Springfield.  I want you to get home alive!”

As we ran through the airport we were notified (via text alert) that our flight to Seattle had been delayed.  Which was actually a good thing, as we were cutting it real close and nothing is worse than killing yourself to get there only to miss the flight by 5 minutes.  So we waited in O’Hare for a few hours, then finally boarded the flight back to Seattle.  Tim and his wife Penny (both nominated for sainthood after this) picked us up at SeaTac and took us to our hotel in Puyallup.  Where our sons and Nancy had arrived earlier that evening from California and New York, respectively.  (We were SUPPOSED to all meet up at the airport and ride in together…ha!)

So we arrived at 3:00 a.m. Friday morning (5:00 to us, coming from Central time) and hit the sack for a few hours of sleep before prepping for that evening’s event.

More to come…

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Place Holder

I know some of you are waiting for a report on the party, but my regular computer blue screened me today (of all days!) and I am not able to put one together. I am hoping to get it fixed tomorrow. Sorry!!