Thursday, February 26, 2009

Things I Probably Don't Want to Know

There's something about relaxing with a good book at the reading table that makes a first grader tell all.  But there are some things I probably don't want to know.

You might think a non-fiction book about buildings would be dry--just plain boring.  But not to a first grader.  We turned to a building with pillars and a statue.  One boy said, "Hey--that looks like a courthouse.  My grandma's been to a courthouse, because my cousin was standing up in the car."  My advice to myself at that point was to ask no questions and turn the page.

His friend couldn't have cared less about the courthouse or the kid standing up in the car.  He was busy examining his arm.  "I'm sort of Italian," he blurts out.  "Because Italian people have skin like mine.  I'm like my brother--he's half Italian."  He pauses for a second and looks up at the ceiling, as if he is searching his brain.  "My dad is....what's that language they speak in Pennsylvania?"
"English?"  I ask.  (I should know better than to get into this conversation.)
"No.  That's not it," he says (with a disgusted you-should-know-'cause-you're-the-teacher-tone.)
"You know," he says.  "The people we had a war with?"

Another thing about six-year-olds is that the line between fantasy and reality can be very hazy.  Eight-year-olds aren't much different.  I had the King of the Liars in my class when I was teaching third grade.  He was great.  Everyday he had been on a different adventure.  If he didn't catch my attention on the first go around, he upped the ante.  "I went down in a volcano in a helicopter," he told me one day.  Then, of course he had to add, "...while it was erupting."  

My friend told me to start calling him on it.  "Ask for proof," my friend said.  

So the next day he tells me he has a skeleton.  "I found it in a swamp," he says.  (Seattle is pretty wet, but there isn't much swamp land that I know of.)  
I remember my friend's advice.  "Bring it," I say.  "Bring your swamp skeleton to school."
The next morning I am working at my desk and I hear a knock on the window behind me.  
There is the King of the Liars, holding up a not-all-the-way-decomposed cat skeleton.  

I guess the line between truth and fiction is a hazy one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Big "Problem"

"You have a problem," my husband says.  "...a big problem."  
Hmmmm, I'm thinking.  With two casinos practically within walking distance of my house, you're pointing out that I might have a book problem??  A problem with buying books??

And yes, I do use the library(ies).  I just like having my own lending/owning library, too.   I get very cranky and disoriented if I don't have a book/stack of books/whole case of books within reading distance.  I love looking at Dorothy Parker's face as I'm drinking my morning coffee.  

I've had this book "problem" most all of my life.  Ask my brother.  I made him play library with me when we were kids.  I taped pockets for check-out cards inside the front covers of my books and I scooted my tin bookshelf to the entrance of my bedroom for my circulation desk.  It was serious business for me.  I even made him fill out an application form for a library card, and I'm quite sure I charged him a ten cent fine when he didn't make it back down the hall to my room in a timely manner.

And I have an enormous pet peeve, that I'm pretty sure stems from my serious librarian days...I can't stand it when someone folds down the corner of a page to mark their place.  It's like fingernails on a chalkboard for me.  

The smell of Spring in the air is great.  But the smell of a new book...there's nothing like it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Phone Talkers

"I gotta go," my sister-in-law said.  "I'm in the grocery store and I hate phone talkers."

My sister-in-law should have been in the dentist's office with me a couple of weeks ago.  I was waiting for my daughter, when the woman sitting across from me in the waiting area got a call.  She talked for a while, apparently forgetting she wasn't in her own living room.  Then, quite suddenly she "came to" and looked around her.  She glanced at me, resentfully, as if my presence might be interrupting her "flow".    

Then she gave me the look that I translated as, "you're trying to listen in, aren't you."  (Well, DUH, I'm a writer).  So she stood up and moved to the toy alcove across the room.  This obviously gave her permission to talk even louder.  The poor receptionist had to raise her voice to speak over the phone talker.  But my favorite part was when she was called in to talk to the dentist.  She didn't even miss a syllable.  She got up without tripping on any toys, pushed past the receptionist and plowed through the inner office door, the phone still attached to her ear.  Wow.  Impressive.

If she would've gotten off her phone for a second, I could've asked her a very pressing question. What had she done in her life to become so important?  I could've taken notes, told my friends the secrets to her success, etc.  I want to be that important.  I think I'm going to get one of those things that hooks onto my ear.  Hands free.  Yep, that's what I need.  Then I can pick through the apples at the grocery store and still keep talking.  Or, hey, maybe I'll just leave my phone in the car, and make my calls when I'm in a quieter, more private place.  Like church or the library.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Schmoozing and Stalking in New York

Writing is such a solitary thing.  So of course I jumped at the chance last weekend to join my fellow 2k9ers in New York for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators winter conference.  Where else could you rub shoulders with (or just plain stalk) the likes of Richard Peck, Jack Gantos, Bruce Hale, and Jay Asher?  So far no one has a restraining order against me, so I'm hoping I'm safe.
Here I am with Bruce Hale.  (Obviously, Judy Blume hadn't yet told him about the time back in the nineties when I stalked her in Cape Cod...notice he doesn't even look afraid...)
On the other hand, this picture with Jack Gantos is a little blurry--possibly because Judy could have just sent him a text message and he may have been trying to break free....

                But the very best part of the conference had to be connecting with my fellow 2k9 
friends (  We are the 2nd generation of Greg Fishbone's 2k7 group and are 22 middle grade and young adult authors that all have new fiction coming out this year.  Since we started as an online group, we hadn't had a lot of face-to-face contact. We realized we had come to think of each other as the person or image on our book covers!  Anyway, we had a lot of catching up to do, so we chose to forgo the sleep and cram in as much together time as possible.

*Clockwise from left, Danielle Joseph (SHRINKING VIOLET), me (ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER), Fran Cannon Slayton (WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS), and New York Public Library children's librarian and Fuse #8's Elizabeth Bird at the SCBWI Kidlit post-party (hosted by Elizabeth Bird)

**From left, me, CWIM editor, Alice Pope, and fellow 2k9er, Sydney Salter (MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS)

                                                                      Fran and I with our 2k7 cousin, Jay Asher (13 REASONS WHY)

***In back: Ellen Hopkins (CRANK), Sydney, Danielle
Front:  Suzanne Morgan Williams (BULL RIDER), Fran, me

Had the nice men with the security badges not appeared, I might still be there...but they were kind enough to show me the way back to the train.  Besides, I really needed to get home to do some writing and get a little sleep...