Sunday, November 30, 2014

Where I've Been: The National Book Awards!

I hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving.  I know I have plenty to be grateful for this year. Spending time with friends and family was a good reminder of the bounty in my life.

One of the things I'm grateful for is my time as a judge in the National Book Awards.  A couple of weeks ago, I flew to New York to meet my fellow judges in the Young People's Literature category face to face.

We had a fantastic lunch at Gramercy Tavern, and a lively discussion about all of the books we read. By the end of the meal, we had our winner in hand.  We adjourned to dress for the awards ceremony and the big announcement!

Me, David Shallenberger, Sharon Draper, Starr LaTronica and Rebecca Stead.
I think I'm the only pop of color in all of Manhattan.

I have to say, it was incredibly exciting.  I felt like I was getting ready for the Ultimate Prom in the Land of Books!  Everyone at the ceremony was a lit lover, like myself.  I felt the same sense of camaraderie I get at Comic Con, albeit better dressed and colder.  It was 32 degrees when I stepped out in my sleeveless silver dress.  Funny thing is, I wasn't cold at all.  (And not just because of my coat.  Excitement does amazing things-- it keeps you warm, and enables you to walk in high heels on hard pavement.)

Note the wrist corsage.  Judges get flowers-- just like a prom!

Ursula Le Guin blew minds with her fiery speech (As evidenced around 3:57, I love that woman! ). Neil Gaiman hugged me-- twice!  (I'm a big nerdy fan, so that's more awesome than I can say.)  And then our gracious chairperson, Sharon Draper, mounted the stage and spoke eloquently of our experience, our process, and our final decision.

The divine Ms. Sharon Draper with finalist Eliot Schrefer,
author of the fabulous short-listed Threatened.

As you likely know by now, the winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature went to Jacqueline Woodson for her moving, deeply felt memoir in verse Brown Girl Dreaming.  You can see her acceptance speech here.

I heartily recommend you pick up a copy.  Regardless of your background, you will find yourself somewhere in those pages.  It's just that good.

Me and Jacqueline Woodson.  Shining with joy!
You may have also heard about some controversial comments made at the event.  Jacqueline has addressed them eloquently in an Op Ed in the New York Times.  I won't try to add to what she has to say.  What I will do is tell you we had a wonderful evening, my fellow judges, my wonderful editor (the perfect date!) and I.  The finalists seemed to have a good time, too.  And rumor has it Jacqueline danced the night away knowing she had earned her place of honor with hard work, honesty of voice, and achingly beautiful prose.

Thank you to the National Book Foundation for an amazing experience.  It was a honor, a struggle (there were a lot of books), a pleasure and the start of some new friendship.  In the Land of Books, that means great things are coming, for writer and reader alike.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am counting my blessings.  I hope you all do the same and find them plentiful.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Home Stretch and What's Next

The National Book Awards Longlists have been announced!

This signals a slowdown in the crazy that has been the past few months for me. Plenty of other things have been happening, but I hardly looked up from my stack of reading to pay much notice.  Now, with the bulk of the work done (I'll be hashing out the short list with my fellow judges very soon!), I can take a moment to share some nice things.

First of all, I'd like to say thank you to the fine folks that chose ORLEANS as a:

2015 Magnolia Book Awards Nominee (which I might have mentioned already.. the mind, these days, really!)

ORLEANS was written for the people down South, my own mother included.  I'm happy to know my love letter has reached them!

I've also learned Flygirl is a 2014 ALA Popular Paperback Selection in the category of Conflicted: Life During Wartime.  It's sad to think there's a special category for this, but I am honored to be a part of the literary conversation.

I've also got a few events coming up:

Sun, 10/12/14, 2:00 pm – Teen Read Week:  Meet the Author
Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles, CA 90071
Celebrate Teen Read Week by meeting great teen authors, enjoying snacks, and entering to win free books! Author appearances by Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz (The First Book of Ore: The Foundry's Edge), Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices), Simmone Howell (Girl Defective), Jessica Love (Push Girl), Kathryn Rose (Camelot Burning), and Sherri L Smith (Orleans).

Thurs., 10/23/14, 8:00 pm – Book’d In Burbank
Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia, Burbank, CA 91505
Join the season finale of Book’d in Burbank with a selection of Mystery, YA, Horror, Romance and Humor readings from by Steph Cha (Beware, Beware), Sherri L. Smith (Orleans), Devan Sagliani (Zombie Attack:  Army of the Dead), Zoe Archer (Wicked Temptation), Melissa Cutler (Risky Business) and Diane Haithman (Dark Lady of Hollywood).  Tickets available through Eventbrite or at the door.  General admission:  $10.

Fri. 10/31 – Sun. 11/2/14 – Comikaze Expo – Details TBA

Wed., 11/18/14 – National Book Awards, NYC

If you are in the LA area, I hope you'll swing by and say hello.  If you're in New York, maybe I'll run into you at the Strand Bookstore.  When I was an undergrad at NYU, they claimed to have 8 miles of books.  It's gone up to 18 in the intervening years.  I think I could run a marathon in book miles.  (I think I already have!  Here's a great article on judging the National Book Awards).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How I Spent My Summer... and a Sweepstakes!

Penguin Teen

Hi kids!

I've been MIA from the blog, I know, but the light at the end of the National Book Awards Reading Tunnel is in sight!  I'll be back in the next week or so with a new post.

In the meantime, I'm happy to announce ORLEANS is part of Penguin Teen's End of Summer Sweepstakes!  Enter, and you can win a stack of books.  Come on, hold on to that last bit of summer before the textbooks take over!

No purchase necessary. US only, age 13 or older. Official rules: How to Enter: 1. Follow Penguin Teen on Pinterest 2. Create a board titled "Penguin Teen End of Summer Sweepstakes" 3. Pin at least 1 summer vacation inspired pin to your End of Summer board 4. Use #SummerReads and #PenguinTeen in the description of each pin 5. Post the link to your board in the comments section of this pin 6. One winner will receive the pictured books.
As part of the sweepstakes, I've done my own bit of school work-- a "How I spent My Summer Vacation" essay.  Check it out and you'll know why I've been offline and on the page.

Hope your summer was sweet!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

What I've Been Doing

My cat has been wondering.

Reading.  Lots of reading.  I'm starting to get twitchy with all of the books on my plate (desk/dining table/office floor/coffee table/living room floor).  This judging gig has me feeling a bit like a TV show nutjob hunting for patterns in the stacks of data that fill my house. 

The strange thing is, you do see patterns.  I remember taking a Hemingway and Faulkner class in which we read something like eight of each author's major works.  You really feel like you get the whole picture of what a writer is trying to say when you read that much of their writing in one chunk.  I used to think you could paint a portrait of an artist by studying all of their creations.

Well, expand that to a survey of young people's lit for an entire year. 

Every book is different.  The style, the artwork, the plot.  But I suspect if I laid it all out on the floor and looked at it from high above, I'd see a statement about our Now, this moment in time with it's wars and fashion, it's economy and politics and fears and hopes. 

For now, it's all in stacks and boxes around my house, and I'm feeding data into my imagination.  And I'm a little crazy from it all (see photo above).  It looks like chaos, but I swear it all makes sense.  And it's huge.  And it's glorious.

How great is it, that people write?  That books are made and shared?  Oral tradition is a beautiful thing, but the written word is so intimate.  A whispered secret, or a silent shout that feeds us, one at a time.  And we digest it and we grow.

I will stop because now I think I sound nuttier than I want to.  If I don't post for a while, it's because I'm reading.  And enjoying myself every crazy step of the way.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

National Book Awards? I'll Be the Judge of That!

National Book Foundation, Presenter of the National Book Awards

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I dreamed of a certain kind of lifestyle.  One that involved sitting around reading books.  I'd do the reading.  Just send the books and keep them coming.  Sadly, my mother said, nobody gets to sit around and read all day.
Well.  A few months ago, I was invited to be a judge for the National Book Awards in the Young People's Literature category.  The NBAs!  That's like the Academy Awards of the book world!  Of course I said yes.  Wouldn't you? 
Now, it's crazy days at my house.  The dream is coming true.  This evening when I came home, fourteen books were waiting for me.  That makes 65 and counting.
Awesome.  This is the best gig in the world. 
It's a lot of work, as any previous judge will tell you.  Hundreds of books will be read by these eyeballs of mine and those of my fellow judges before the summer is through.  Maybe it's your book, or a book you love, or a book you haven't even heard of yet but will very soon.  I want you to know I will cherish the experience.  Thank you to the authors who poured their hearts and minds into their work.  Thank you to the National Book Foundation for the honor of being a part of these prestigious awards, and for bringing a little girl's dream to life.
Top of the world, Ma!
National Book Award Winning  Medal


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Host the Author! - School Visits Fall 2014

Calling all teachers and librarians! 

I'm scheduling author visits for the 2014/2015 school year and I want you! 

Author visits are a great way to engage your kids and your community in the art and joy of writing.  But you know that already.  What you might not know is how much I love to visit schools and libraries.  Writing is my greatest passion, and that includes talking about it with readers, non-readers-- quite frankly, anyone who will listen.  It's fun!  It's necessary.  Everyone has a story.  Let's help them tell it!

Thanks to my crazy life, I offer:
  • Talks about my writing career, animation, film, comic books, and more.
  • Writing workshops-- I can show you kids how to come up with story ideas and shape their work into a useful three act structure.  These sessions are storytelling improv, with kids sharing their ideas to move the narrative forward.  It's hectic, hilarious, and invigorating for all involved. 
  • I like to tailor my visits to your needs.  I come from a family of teachers, so I know this is key.  What's in your curriculum?  Let's see how we can address it together.

I'm setting a goal of two school visits per month, possibly three.  So far I have space available this September, and a slot in October as well.  I will be in the New York area in November, so that's a possiblity as well.  If you are interested in other dates, let me know. 

I love to travel, so don't let distance be an obstacle. To date I've done visits in California, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Nevada, Washington D.C. and Louisiana.  And the list keeps growing.  You can read more about my visits here.

Sound interesting?  Drop me a line and let's discuss and make 2014 is the year of the author visit!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Daily Rituals-- How I Write

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Daily Rituals:  How Artists Work by Mason Currey.  It's a fascinating compilation of the work habits of well known writers, artists, musicians, scientists and other creatives.  The book spans a few centuries and many continents with descriptions gleaned from personal correspondence, biographies, and the like.
I love it.
Last week, I was in the countryside of Northern California on a writing retreat.  I found myself working and reading this book by turns, trying to understand my own methodology when I write.  As a writer with a day job, my work schedule while on retreat is vastly different from the usual post-dinner grind.
In a regular working week, I don't sit down to write until after a full day of work, dinner and some TV with my darling husband.  So that means 10pm or so, for an hour or two, longer if the work is going well.  (I confess there is lots of websurfing and noodling around during these two hours, or I'd get more done.  But the brain needs to do what it does... or so I tell myself.)  I'd rather be tired the next day and know I accomplished something, than fidgety because I quit early and lay awake wondering why.
On retreat, however, I hit my sweet spot.  When I was at Hedgebrook on retreat, I'd get up by 10 AM, make a cup of tea, an egg and some toast for breakfast.  I'd build a fire.  Then I'd sit down to write until around noon.  Then I'd shower for the day-- Hedgebrook has a bath house in the woods, so it meant a trek in my blue "smurf" robe (because I look like a smurf cleric in it) and my hot pink boots.  I'd come back, fix my hair, brush my teeth, and eat lunch.  I'd listen to the radio and/or read while eating.  Then I'd head down to the farmhouse at the front of the property and sit in the living room checking email, writing, web surfing and eavesdropping on the goings on in the kitchen where one of the wonderful cooks was prepping the evening meal.  An hour or so before dinner, I'd go back to my cabin, write a little more, grab my basket, and head back to the farmhouse for a communal dinner with the other writers.  After dinner and some conversation, I'd load my basket with an egg and some bread for the next day, snacks and my lunch, and return to my cottage to write until one or two in the morning, pausing only to eat more toast and watch a downloaded episode of Downton Abbey or Cranford.  (Period drama lends it self to cottages, I find.)
This past week was not a Hedgebrook retreat, but a stay with a generous family who kindly let me lurk in their guest house on a hillside overlooking vineyards.  It was heavenly.  I had a giant picture window that encouraged earlier rising, so I found myself getting up by 8 AM, making the requisite toast and egg (from the chickens right outside!  So good!), and cuppa.  Then I'd light the fireplace (gas fireplace-- no wood to carry!) and write until lunchtime.  No need to trek to the bathhouse as I had my own shower in the guest house.  I'd dress and eat lunch on the deck with nothing but the bees and the hawks for company.  And my copy of Daily Rituals.  After lunch, I'd go for a walk along the property or down the dirt road beyond.  Then I'd eat an apple, and keep writing until dinner called me away (if I was lucky enough to be invited to join friends) or I'd make my little supper and eat it while watching downloaded episodes of the first season of  Call the Midwife.  Then I'd write some more, or make plans for the next day of work.  Surf the web, check email, and go to bed between 11 PM and 1 AM.  And do it again the next day.
I get a lot of writing done on retreat.  In real life, three hours a day is an accomplishment.  On retreat... I just go.
*sigh*  So, that's how I spent Easter week.  If you made it this far into this post, do pick up Currey's book.  You'll likely find it very interesting, too!
P.S.  I do not know Mason Currey, I just like getting a peak into other lives!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

What School Libraries Mean to Me

April is School Library Month!  Back in January, I was asked if I would participate in an American Association of School Libraries campaign.  Would I be willing to share a quote on what school libraries mean to me?  "Of course!" I said.  I sent the quote and kind of forgot about it, to be honest.  Until I saw this tweeted today:


Do you have a special memory of a school library?  Check out the AASL's twitter feed or visit their School Library Month webpage to see what other authors have to say about their own libraries. It makes for pretty great reading, especially if you're a book nerd like me!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Meet the Author - Grand Park's Downtown Bookfest 3/29/14

Goodness!  I've been so busy (writing, always writing), that I'd forgotten to let you know where I'll be next.  On the last Saturday of March, I will be at Grand Park's Downtown Bookfest here in sunny Los Angeles.

Book lovers unite!

I'll be joining awesome YA authors Cecil Castellucci and Sonya Sones as we read from our latest books.  We're on at 2:00 PM, the festival runs from noon to 5 PM.

2:00 PM Saturday, March 29 - Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles 90012

And also...

It's been pointed out to me that I failed to announce the arrival of Orleans in paperback!  Sorry about that!  We ran into it at Barnes and Noble on my birthday and my husband was stunned-- apparently, I failed to tell him, too.  So you're all in good company.

There's been one little change from hardcover to paperback, and that is the title font.  The vagaries of font rights (yes, you purchase the rights to use certain fonts), called for an adjustment.  I think it looks pretty good.  What about you?

"In the wild" at Barnes and Noble, the Grove, L.A.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today is my birthday!  As a Chicago girl born on St. Paddy's Day, I think it's appropriate to share the dyeing of the Chicago River as time lapsed by on YouTube by Frootis :

I used to live on the river and always thought it was kind of green anyway.  But not this gorgeous, shocking acid green.  Don't worry, it's just vegetable dye (and probably one of the least toxic things in that water)!

Yesterday, to celebrate my aging process, I took a trip with a friend to Ojai, CA, where we hit every bookstore we could find, including the gorgeous outdoor bookstore, Bart's Books. 

Isn't it cool?

There are bookcases built into the wall outside that you can buy on the honor system.

 That's the kids section on the left!

We also stopped in at the charming Friends of Ojai Valley Library Bookstore, Twice Told Tales, and Bookends Bookstore, which used to be a church!  Some of the pews have been repurposed as shelving, and all of the sections are labeled with Scrabble tiles. 

Courtesy Ventura County Reporter

It was a perfect day.  Today I plan on eating Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage and about a thousand cakes.  Or at least one slice.

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Monday, February 24, 2014

A few things

I was just going to post a pithy title and a fun picture, but I have two pics to post and they are not related. 

The first photo was sent to me via a friend by her brother.  It's FLYGIRL, in the wild!  At the Huntsville-Madison County Library Bailey Cove Branch in Alabama, to be precise.

Courtesy of Dave McDaniels
I love seeing my books in their natural habitat, knowing that, any minute now, someone could pick them up and give them a good reading. Thanks, Dave, for the book safari shot. And hooray for Huntsville! Ida Mae's keeping good company with Ruta Sepetys' OUT OF THE EASY peeking out form behind, not to mention the unrelated Andersons!

The second picture is from my President's Day weekend.  It speaks for itself, really.  But suffice to say, this little sweetie is one week old.  Holding a baby goat is like holding a cat that is wearing stilts.  Which is to say awesome!

Totes ma goats!

Ah, and one last thing to report!  ORLEANS was nominated for a 2015 Magnolia Award
The Magnolias are Mississippi's children's choice awards. Books are suggested by adults, read by the kids, and voted on at the end of the year. Many thanks to the kind reader who put my hat in the ring!

Monday, February 10, 2014


I'm pleased to announce FLYGIRL is a Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults selection!  Each year YALSA chooses from books nominated at their midwinter conference, highlighting relevant timely and timeless topics.  FLYGIRL falls under their "Conflicted:  Life During Wartime" heading.  As the website says, "Today’s U.S. teens have lived most of their lives in a country at war. These books address direct combat as well as life in a war zone, across a broad swath of locations and historical periods."

Amazing to think how many people today have never known our country without war.  The windows of peace have been small (or tense-- I was a Cold War kid and wept when the Berlin Wall came down).  I wonder if reading about conflict can help us learn to avoid it, or if war is simply in our nature.  There is a value to "never forget," but that same sentiment can be applied to holding grudges.  My mother used to say, "forgive, but never forget," which is a bit tricker, but maybe that's the way to go.

Woo woo, I went deep for a second there. 

Thank you to the Popular Paperbacks Young Adults Committee for continuing to remember and support Ida Mae.  I must go back to a crazy writing marathon, so I will be (and have been) MIA from here for a week or so.  But I'll be back!

In the meantime, go watch the Olympics!  GO TEAM USA!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure - the 2014 Youth Media Awards

Tonight the American Library Association's website has become a Choose Your Own Adventure game. 

Forgive the crappy screen shot. 
Readers, choose wisely!  You can be a Librarian/Librarian Fan, or go straight to the Youth Media Awards (which is the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure if you think about it.  The best of the best in youth books, videos and "other outstanding matierals" as the website puts it)  We're talking the Caldecott, the Newbery, the Printz and Coretta Scott King Book Awards-- it's very exciting. 

Unfortunately, it's also at 8:00 in the morning EST, which is early.  Too early for this PST girl.  I plan on being deep in REM sleep then, but if you are an early riser, check out the webcast here.  (If you watch before go-time, like I just did, you'll be treated to a photo montage and awesome 8-bit-video-game vibey music!)

I imagine winning an ALA award is much like winning a Nobel-- the phone starts ringing waaay too early.  But in a good way. 

Congratulations to all of the winners.  Here's to another fabulous year of writing!

Monday, January 20, 2014

My perfect bag

There's a scene in the movie MISERY that I remember fondly.  Not because it's a movie about an author with a fan crazy enough to hobble him to keep him writing (hi, motivation!), but because of this:

Note the look of adoration.  That is some bag!

James' Caan's leather bag.  This is the satchel he keeps his manuscripts in.  It's on the seat next to him when his car slides into the ditch.  It's the proverbial bag the cat gets out of when Kathy Bates goes nutso on him, having read his most recent manuscript.  It's leather.  It's old.  And it's frickin' awesome.

I saw MISERY a good twelve years before I ever published a novel, but I wanted that bag.  In my mind's eye it merged with an old bag of my fathers, a black-and-white checked leather trimmed attache case with his initials embossed on it in gold letters.  That bag looked like it had been somewhere and seen somethings.  It looked like it held secrets and treasures.

I wanted that bag.

And then, two years ago, I was walking down the street in a small town juggling a manuscript, my purse, and my sunglasses when I passed a bag in a store window.  "That's perfect!" I thought. I ran inside, pulled it from the window display, and tried to cram my manuscript inside.  I failed.  But a mission was born.  I would get a writer's bag.  Something to hold my printed pages when I went to lunch or a cafe.  Something to ride shotgun as I headed out into the world.  My bag.

It was not as easy as it sounds. 

For the past two years, I've been on the hunt.  Diligent, obsessive even.  When I procrastinated in my writing, I was online bag shopping.  I fell in deep like a few times. 

The now unavailable Marcopoloni Bruno bag (insanely expensive, but gorgeous).

The classic Cambridge satchel, in purple, monogrammed in silver. (Price, shipping from the UK, possible dye transfer from awesome color)

Scaramanga bags (too... earthy? And a bit too big)

And the gorgeous map case at Satchel and Page (perfect for an ipad).  You name it, I looked at it.

The trouble is, Apple hates writers.  Not really but, with the advent of the laptop and the tablet, bags are 17" and too big for 8.5 x 11" paper, or they are 8x10.5" for tablets and a frustrating half-inch too small.

I finally had to face the fact.  I was the Goldilocks of leather bags and I should get home before the bears showed up.

And then I did my thousandth random search on etsy for a "leather writer's bag" (I used other keywords folks, so don't think that's why I failed).  And something popped up.

"Beautiful Thick Leather Writers Shoulder Bag with Leather interior" the title read.

I was intrigued.

"Really gorgeous thick leather bag meant to last forever as much as anything is. It is meant for those who write and think and create."

There were details, measurements, and a lot of hand wringing from me (I'd been fooled before!) and kind photos and further descriptions from the seller.  And at last, I said "yes, please."  And a week later, this showed up in the mail.

I have my bag, folks.  A gorgeous vintage leather number from the eighties.  It makes sense, right?  If you want a bag that's made for paper and not iPads, you have to go retro, and not just retro style. 

She came in the mail this week and I love her.  I'll post pictures as soon as I can get my monogram her.  Thanks to Lori at Vivian's Vintage for knowing a writer's bag when she sees one.

Two years, people!  And it was worth the wait.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)?

Well, I went back.

Six years after my mother's funeral and the sale of her family home in Uptown, I returned to New Orleans.  It had been on my mind from the moment I left, but I could not imagine the city without my mother in it.

And then I got one of those emails that, in Joseph Campbell terms, represented my "call to adventure."  Ruth Brewington, the brilliant librarian at T.H. Harris Middle School in Metarie had been using ORLEANS to teach her students about Katrina (Hurricane Katrina that is.  For some reason, I feel we are on a first name basis, that storm and I).  And by "using" I mean using-- every little last part.  She was breaking down the curriculum the way a good cook uses every scrap of meat on a pig to feed a huge crowd.  The Reading, science and Louisiana history classes were all tackling the book.  Her students had been busy: 1) building the world of ORLEANS in Minecraft-- Fen's village and the Market (the Market floods!); 2) bartering in a game she'd created, trading Halloween candy for goods to get Baby Enola out of the city alive (it turns out candy is a powerful currency, but far too easy to eat); and 3) visiting actual locations from the book.  The kids were drawing maps.  Ms. Brewington had a tour planned of the the Market (the French Market in the Quarter), the Professor's Place (Sacre Coeur school in Uptown), the Library where Fen reads the ominous email (Latter Memorial on St. Charles), and so on.  The trip, she said, would begin with a visit to the Presbytere Museum on Jackson Square for their "Living with Hurricanes:  Katrina and Beyond" exhibit.  It was scheduled for All Saints Day, just like in the novel.  Would I be willing to come down at some point and speak to her kids?

How could I say no?

I flew to New Orleans with a lump of fear in my stomach.  I'd never been to the city without family beside me or waiting before.  I was afraid it would be hard.  It was.  But it was also like coming home.

I spent a day visiting the old family home, and walking through the French Quarter.  Ruth had urged me to see the exhibit at the museum.  I am so very glad I did.  My photos, sadly, are much too dark and blurry to post here, but believe me when I say it was a moving experience.  Video diaries combined with news coverage, sections of drywall where a man kept a diary while trapped in his home by floodwaters.  Sections of chairs torn out of the Super Dome.  Amazing Mardi Gras costumes made from those darned blue tarps the Army Corps draped across the city.  An in-depth display on the science of hurricanes, and the importance of wetlands.  Small black marbles representing flood waters roll through metal pins that rise and fall as the wetlands give way to buildings, and the city goes under.  And then a moment of reflection and renewal, as residents tell stories of survival and rebuilding.  It was intense.  And worth the trip alone.

But then, there was New Orleans, waiting outside to get reacquainted.
Jackson Square from the Presbytere Museum

Beautiful art by Wayne Manns framed in 9th ward salvage.
My first stop?  Felix's.  One of my mom's old go-tos for oyster po'boys.

Gumbo and po'boy

Literally five minutes later.

 Then I moved on to the reason I go to the Quarter in the first place.  Cafe du Monde.

Couldn't resist a nod to the Ursulines along the way.

There's something about the food in New Orleans that's not like anywhere else.  I was hungry for it. It had been too long.

Breakfast at my hotel.  Love it!
 And then, it was time to visit Harris Middle School.

What a welcome!

Do you see the smile on this kid's face?  His copy of ORLEANS is downright battleworn!

Fen's camp in Minecraft
I toured Orleans in Minecraft and watched a computer glitch bring snow down on the city.  In another simulation, we walked through the OP camp in a simulated AB attack.  It was surprisingly emotional to watch the camp burn, even in 16-bit resolution.

The "local" section of the Harris School Library
I spent the day in the school library talking to students, answering questions about the book, about writing, and why I made Fen suffer so.  (That last one was the hardest question-- why do writers let bad things happen to good characters? The short answer is "for dramatic effect."  The long answer has something to do with showing us how to overcome situations by example...)

It was an amazing trip.  I am so very blessed that Ruth found my book and turned into a meal that could feed a village instead of just one reader.  Thank you, Ruth!  And thanks to all of the smart, funny, devoted readers at T. H. Harris Middle School.  You brought me back to my roots, and I will always be grateful.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year News - BCCB Blue Ribbons Announced!

The Bulletin of the
        Center for

I am thrilled to announce ORLEANS is a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon selection for 2013!  What a great way to start off the new year.  My thanks to the dedicated readers of the Bulletin staff for pouring over a mountain of great books and choosing my novel as one of the top!  Congrats to all of the other authors on the list.  I'll consider this the place to start spending my Christmas bookstore giftcards!

Well, I owe you bigger post, one with lots of pictures and a great story-- my return to New Orleans after almost seven years.  Over the holidays I got notes on my manuscript and I'm in the attic with my writing cap on, but stay tuned.  There'll be a new post next week.

Until then, here's to a happy, bookish new year!