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!