Monday, September 13, 2010

The power of a librarian!

In November, I'm speaking at an SCBWI event and visiting schools in San Diego. To my delight and good fortune, Roxyanne Young is the librarian at one of the schools I'll get to visit. She isn't just telling the kids, "Okay, an author is coming." She's lighting a fire of enthusiasm prior to my visiting.

She's asking the kids to discover my books today -- weeks before my arrival -- to be sure when I land, they'd CARE about the time and experience. She's banking moments that will turn me from a stranger to a friend, even before I get to say my first word.

Thank you so much, Roxy. Thanks to all librarians, teachers, literacy coaches, principals and parent volunteers who take the time and money to bring me to their schools. I do my best, no matter what prep has been done. But when the kids recognize who's about to stop by, the visit becomes so much more valuable to them.

Always, I am grateful.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cinderella Story -- Boise SCBWI

Before I headed to Boise to speak at their regional SCBWI conference on Saturday, September 11, I knew editor Cheryl Klein of Scholastic's Arthur Levine imprint and agent Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency would be two of my fellow speakers -- along with my very good friend Chris Crutcher. I was really looking forward to sharing time with people who love the business of writing for young people as much as I do. But it never crossed my mind that they'd be interested in my work, apart from professional curiosity. They deal with fiction, I write nonfiction. I just hoped to learn a few things, and I did.

Cheryl Klein's opening presentation on revision was a GREAT primer on techniques that will make us all better writers -- and word is she's got a book coming out in the not too distant future. Jill Corcoran's overview of what an agent wants and does was ideal. Great stuff. And the root of Chris's inspiration is always awesome. He touches lives. That's why we're close and that's why I work for him.

But even before the conference started, the night before at a Friday signing on Boise's 8th Avenue (The Rediscovered Bookstore, wonderful place run by wonderful people), a Cinderella story unfolded. Jill Corcoran walked up to the signing table and started looking at my books. She has three boys close to my target age group, and she loved them. It was a VERY rewarding discussion -- fun too. She has a marvelous sense of humor, and she never seemed off put when I paused to attend to a young reader. She was terrific.

At some point, it came up that I didn't have an agent. I don't even remember how.

Jill mentioned she might be uneasy about representing nonfiction, because how do you trust the writer to get the facts right? I agreed. I've seen way too much lazy nonfiction mixed liberally with the great stuff to disagree, and I told her so. Then I explained how I do my work, and we agreed some nonfiction types like Deborah Heiligman and Tanya Lee Stone work hard to elevate the art form. Some of us, we decided, could be trusted.

That's when it happened.

"I want you," she said. We hadn't even left the bookstore. "I want you." I tried to stay calm when I heard those words, because -- come on -- could she be serious? Jill Corcoran represents FICTION. She's kidding, speaking hypothetically, right?

Nope. The glass slipper fit, this time. She's making an exception and taking on a nonfiction client. The contract goes back to her with tomorrow's mail. It was in my email box by Saturday morning.
I could not be more delighted. And I'll work incredibly hard to prove her decision was a good one.

Did I do well during my own presentations? I hope so. But I was a little distracted. Sleep didn't come easily after that conversation. The conferees said I did great, and I think my author visit presentation was especially helpful. But we'll have to take their words for it.

Kelly Milner Halls now has an agent -- a great one with off the chart energy, humor and enormous heart.

So here's to a great partnership. I promise, Jill. I will not let you down!
Neysa Jensen, Sydney Salter, you sure know how to throw a party! : ) Thanks so much for having me. Thanks for letting me borrow this picture, too.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My kids are amazing.

Man, they really are. My two daughters, Kerry and Vanessa -- and their young men, Marcus and Anson -- joined me for dinner tonight, then we went to the local arcade (Bumpers) to research some things for Anson. What a fun, fun evening. Being a mom is best thing I've ever done. Working for Chris comes close. So does being a writer and visiting kids at schools. But I wonder at times how I got so lucky to parent two remarkable people. Thanks, girls, for giving me so much the past 27 years. I love you.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Utah/Southern Idaho SCBWI Conference, Sept 11

I'm so excited about speaking at the Utah/Southern Idaho regional SCBWI Conference on Saturday, September 11. I get to do a breakout on nonfiction for reluctant readers and one on school visits, and I think I'm well prepared, which means I think I have material to truly help other writers pursue those endeavors, too.

The more the merrier. That's what my mom always said, and I totally agree.

I often say, when one of us succeeds, we all do, and it's never been truer. We are in this together, we children's writers -- especially nonfiction writers, who sometimes feel undervalued. Agents don't always represent us. Librarians sometimes forget we can give school visits, too. It feels bad. But don't let it. Agents love us too, but they have to make a living, and fiction pays better. Librarians love our books, as do the kids. So they just need a gentle reminder.

So if you're in Boise on Saturday, September 11, I hope you'll stop by. I'm just one of a bunch of powerful speakers. Also on schedule:

Chris Crutcher, YA author sublime

Cheryl Klein, Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic

Jill Corcoran, Agent at the Herman Agency

A brilliant team of first time novelists to show you how you can publish your first

And more.

For more information, contact Neysa Jensen or visit this website and scroll down:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How big is something 7 feet tall?

It's THIS big. Actually, this guy may be slightly over 7 ' -- I'll have to measure him. But the banner is 8 feet tall, there is a little space at the top, and the SASQUATCH lettering at the bottom is at least six inched tall. Maybe he's about 7'6". Point is, he's life-size, according to most eye witness reports.

I'd heard "seven feet tall" for years, and had always pictured a creature a little taller than a human, adult male. When my banner, illustrated by Rick Spears, arrived today, I saw just how big BIG really is. WOW.

Needless to say, I love this guy. I love how the kids at my school visits will react to him even more. Man, that's going to be fun. I picture whole classes posing in front of him, to remember how big he really was -- or might be.

The banner is great for my book TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS, Darby Creek 2006. But it's also PERFECT for IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. So I'm excited for now, and for later.

Now, if I can just get him on the airplane as carry-on. : )

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Grandmother's die, memories don't.

A few weeks ago, my grandmother died. It was sad, but it was also a relief. She was born in 1907. She was 103 years old. All of her friends were gone. All of her loved ones were gone, including her husband and her daughter (my mom). Her half brother and I were pretty much all she really had left, and she no longer knew who I was. So in a way, it was a release. She's free, and that makes me feel a lot better than thinking of her lonely and afraid in her confusion.

Her half brother is handling the probate of her will and estate, and it's a long process I think. But a few days ago, they sent me two boxes of photos and letters my grandmother kept all these years, and it was like buried treasure. She kept and I received lots of pictures of my mother, for example -- my mom as a baby, a shot of her from junior high, her 1950 high school graduation announcement, her prom picture, her wedding book. There were also pictures of me as a baby, pictures of my babies she'd kept close to her heart all those years.

So while I miss having my grandmother in this life, I feel reconnected to her now, because of the keepsakes they passed on to me, from her. Odd to feel closer, with her so infinitely far away.

Not much point to all this, other than to say love your loved ones, every minute, every day. You'll miss saying it as they listen, once they're gone and such affections can only be imagined.

Thanks, MiMi, for being my grandmother. I'm glad I knew and loved you for so long.