Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book Blast!

When it comes to book promotion, sometimes you just don’t know which small action might lead to big results. A few months ago, I read on someone’s blog about a new website called The idea is that authors sign up for a profile that lists all their scheduled events. Readers can then search for their favorite authors and find out when they’re coming to town. Readers also get a weekly e-mail which lets them know what other author events are going on in their area. Well, dang, sign me up! I filled out my own author profile and then—I admit—I pretty much forgot about it.

And then, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from one Bart King, author of the popular Big Book of Boy Stuff and Big Book of Girl Stuff, as well as An Architectural Guide to Portland, not that architectural guides to Portland are not popular, but it’s more of a niche market than boys and girls, if you see what I mean, and maybe I just better get on with the story lest I dig myself a deep hole from which I will never emerge. Anyway, Mr. King had seen from my profile on that I was a local YA author. So he invited me to join him and some other authors for Book Blast, a literacy event at Cedar Park Middle School here in Portland. Of course I took him up on it. And the Book Blast was, truly, a blast! I had so much fun with my student volunteers, M. and J., whose names not only rhyme, but who talked up my books to anyone stopping by our table. Thanks to their enthusiasm and energy, we sold all 20 copies of Tallulah Falls and gave away all 12 advance reading copies of Ten Cents a Dance. The best part, though, was the time we spent talking books, not to mention meeting and chatting with the other kids and their parents, and the other authors in attendance (shout-out to Annie Auerbach!)

So thanks a million, Bart King, M. and J. and all the students, and everyone at Cedar Park Middle School, for a fun and beautifully-presented evening of books and literacy. I’m already looking forward to adding Book Blast to my 2008 events on!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wordstock 2007!

Whew! This past weekend was the 3-day extravaganza that is Wordstock, Portland’s Festival of the Book, and I’m still recovering. We kicked off the fun Thursday night, when my good friend and comrade-in-arms, Sally Nemeth (she of the funny and poignant YA novel, The Heights, the Depths, and Everything in Between) arrived fresh from the Hollywood writers’ strike. First on the agenda: catching up over pub food and some fine local microbrews. Then, Friday morning, Sally went off into the hills with a wild-food expert, part of her research for her new YA novel (check out her blog for more on her adventures in untamed NW cuisine).

In the meantime, I was having my own adventures. As part of Wordstock’s publicity blitz, those madcap book folks thought it would be fun to have authors sit in a store window in downtown Portland and read to folks passing on the street. When I first got their call for volunteers, I thought, No way. Never in a million years.

Whatsa matter? Chicken?

No, I’m not chicken! It’s just…

Bra-a-a-w! Braw-braw-bra-a-a-w!


So do it, then. Dare you. Double dare you.


I shot off an e-mail to the Wordstock organizers: Sign me up! And then spent the next two days wishing I could take it back. I was only joking. Someone sent that e-mail without my knowledge. I have a family emergency. My house burned down. I lost my book. I lost my voice.

But when Friday afternoon arrived, here I was:

Wordstock did a bang-up job, not only making a cozy author space in the window, but setting red Wordstock armchairs outside so folks could take a load off while they listened. People would be hurrying past, on their way to wherever, and they’d glance up with puzzled looks (where is that voice coming from?) Then they’d pause. Sometimes just for a few seconds, but often for a few minutes or even longer. It was, as another author-in-the-window told me later, “Weird and wonderful!” By the end, I was wishing I could read some more.

Other festival highlights:

Here I am at the authors’ reception with Sam Moses (for an absolute nail-biter of a true story, check out his book At All Costs: How a Crippled Ship and Two American Merchant Mariners Turned the Tide of WWII) and Sally Nemeth.

Sally’s reading on the Children’s Stage:

And then my own reading, Sunday afternoon. I shared the stage with my friend and mentor Karen Karbo, who read from the third book in her YA mystery series, Minerva Clark Gives up the Ghost.

I can't stand still long enough to speak from a podium. Even when I was teaching, I always had to move around. Plus, I talk with my hands. Drove some of my students nuts. Get over it, I'm Italian--I can't help it.

The inimitable Karen Karbo. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.

And finally, last thing on Sunday night at the festival's close, a photo session in the big red Wordstock chair:

I already can't wait until next year. I'll be reading from Ten Cents a Dance--and if any store windows are up for grabs, get out of my way. I'm there!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Knitting and Brewing and...Writing?

My cousin Jenne Hiigel e-mailed me recently to let me know about her new book project, A Knitter’s Guide to Beer. Now that, I thought, is one intriguing title. Equally captivating are Jenne’s thoughtful and funny posts about knitting, homebrewing, and the process of craft. I especially loved “The Value of Ripping and Dumping.” When her knitting students are daunted at the prospect of having to rip out stitches and redo them, Jenne tells them that’s “more knitting pleasure at no additional cost!” Mistakes, she points out, are an essential part of learning the craft…and that the process itself should be valued and enjoyed, not just the finished product. After all, if you’re not having fun, why do it?

My first writing teacher, Verlena Orr, told us that most beginners have to produce about 10,000 pages before their work is good enough to publish. My heart instantly sank. At that time, I was lucky if I could produce one page a week. Compulsive geek that I am, I quickly figured that, at that rate, it’d take me one hundred and ninety-two years­ to get published!

Whether the 10,000-page-rule is really true or not, I don’t know. What Verlena was trying to get across to us beginners is that writing is a craft. Like any other craft, it takes learning and practice. It also takes a willingness to recognize when something isn’t good enough. When the work needs to be rethought, re-imagined, redone. Or even scrapped entirely. At that point, it’s tempting to get discouraged and give up. Or to hold on even more fiercely to the work, blaming everyone else when it doesn’t get the recognition we think it deserves.

Part of craftsmanship is never resting on your laurels. It's striving to always improve, to tweak a little something, get a little better, a little more original. That’s what keeps it from getting boring. That’s what makes it fun. It's how all of us—eventually—get to where we’re headed, slipping and tripping though we might.