One of the upsides of writing historical fiction is all the research I get to do. (If this doesn’t sound like an upside, then you are probably not a major geek. Me, on the other hand...)
The downside is, I learn a lot more fascinating stuff than I can possibly shove into the pages of a novel. Not without expanding it to four volumes, complete with footnotes and a fifty-page index, at which point...hm, no longer a novel. So…what to do?
Why, create a multimedia presentation called A Hepkitten’s Guide to the War, of course. And then take it on the road.
Back in February, I went to Chicago—the setting for Ten Cents a Dance—to present A Hepkitten’s Guide to a few groups there. I had an absolute blast…which is why, when two of the venues asked me to come back, I enthusiastically said YES!
First up: Chicago Public Library. Like most writers, I adore libraries. I especially adore libraries that have enormous gargoyles. Ain’t nobody going to mess with their books, not with these fierce creatures hovering from the roof!
Robin Willard, Young Adult Specialist and Librarian Extraordinaire, set up a wonderful tour of three CPL branches: Back of the Yards, Beverly, and the Harold Washington Library downtown. Robin, you rock!
This is me in all my 1940s regalia with Migdalia Jimenez, children's librarian at the Back of the Yards branch. She gave us such a warm and wonderful welcome, she made us feel instantly at home.
After the Back of the Yards talk, with some of the students and their teacher. It was a privilege--and a ton of fun--meeting these smart, charming kids and talking with them about their vibrant and unique neighborhood...the same neighborhood my character Ruby lives in, back in the day.
These wonderful women drove two hours to attend the Back of the Yards event. Their book club read Ten Cents a Dance over the summer, and I met with them via speakerphone to discuss the book. Thank you, Lynn and friends--your coming such a long way to meet me in person touched my heart.
Speaking at the brand-new, fabulous YOUMedia space, dedicated exclusively for teens, at the Harold Washington branch downtown (home of the gargoyles). These high school students came from three different schools--Hyde Park Academy, Kenwood Academy, and King College Prep. They were a fabulous audience, not least because they asked some seriously sharp, insightful questions. They kept me on my toes, and as a speaker, I can tell you that makes an event outrageously fun.
No photos of the Beverly branch gig, unfortunately (camera snafu!) But a big shout-out to children's librarian Kimberly, and to the teen book club who came out on a Tuesday night to hang with me and Ruby!
The last presentation of my trip was to the seniors group at the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. What an honor to talk about Chicago, the Back of the Yards, and the homefront during World War II to people who had actually lived it first-hand...truly, an amazing experience. After the talk, this lovely group invited me and my sweetie to stay for dinner. Better even than the food (and oh yeah, it was good) was hearing stories of the real Back of the Yards, back in the day.
At some ungodly hour the next morning, we were back on a plane to Portland. A whirlwind trip, but this one left me more in love with Chicago--and Chicagoans--than before. Sure, yeah, this time it wasn't 20 degrees and blowing snow, like February...but more than the gorgeous fall weather, it's the people. Can I just ask...is every Midwesterner nice? Is it something in the water, or what? And can we ship it to, oh, I don't know...L.A.?
One of these days, we're going to plan a trip that gives us enough extra time to really explore the city. Until then, I'll leave you with a picture of world-famous Sue the T. rex, in her abode at the Field Museum:
Roawrrr!!! Thanks, Chicago...see ya next time!