Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!"

The title of this post is the final line of Fareweel to a' Our Scottish Fame, a poem by poet Robert Burns. It seemed an appropriate note to begin this photojournal of my recent week in Scotland with my wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and her boyfriend.

Here we are, arriving at the gate to our house in Inverness.

me, Adam, Gypsy, DonnaJo, JoanMarie

Inverness is an amazingly beautiful city to walk through, day or night. This is taken from the bridge over River Ness.

And check out this amazing used bookstore, Leakey's Bookshop!

Growing up (meaning, from birth until now), I've been fascinated by monster legends. When I learned a trip to Loch Ness was on the itinerary, I nerded out! Any good book on the Loch Ness Monster will include a photo taken near Urquhart Castle. And now I was there!

And on the Loch Ness by Jacobite boat tour, I saw him!

From the front window at our house, I did some editing of an upcoming book while looking out at a castle. It was an inspirational and magical view. In fact, another writer wrote a fairly popular seven-part children's book series in Scotland. And, for at least a few of those books, she wrote them while looking out at another castle. But more on that later! Here was my view.

We then hopped a train to Pitlochry and hiked to the smallest distillery in Scotland. I'm not a big fan of alcoholic drinks, especially alcoholic drinks that taste like alcohol...(shudder)...but I love the history behind things that other people are connoisseurs of. The Edradour Distillery had a great tour, and the free sample they gave while describing the distillery's background made my face and body go like this: shudder!

And here's a cool group shot on a rare sunny day.

Adam, DonnaJo, Gypsy, JoanMarie, me

We had something called "high tea" at Culloden House, which is a beautiful place with a beautiful walled garden. I drank my tea with...wait... I just realized I ordered coffee and drank coffee at a high tea. That's awesome! (I'm such an American.) Anyway, I drank my coffee with my pinkie raised, which felt utterly appropriate.

The Culloden House had a cool, detailed chess board that displayed the long battle between the Scottish and British, which is talked about everywhere. I'm not a big fan of battles and wars, but sometimes they provide the inspiration for really cool, detailed gameboards.

We stopped by the Clava Cairns for a drizzly stroll through the prehistoric cemetery. At least, that's what archaeologists assume it was. You see, it's prehistory, which means the people back then didn't think tourists would care about what in the world they were doing with all those stones. But we're pretty sure it's a cemetery. Or something ceremonial. When you find a pile of prehistoric rocks, it's probably one of those two things. And it's always cool to look at!

The next few days were spent in Edinburgh. If you're a frequenter to my blog, you know that I often take haunted history walking tours when I visit cities. Adam, JoanMarie, and I went on the Cadies and Witchery Tour, which was one of the most entertaining tours I've taken. Not only was the guide a great storyteller of dark Edinburgh history, they periodically had another cast member appear in various guises to add to the craziness.

Another incredible walking tour was the Literary Pub Tour. They have two cast members, Clart and McBrain. Clart is fascinated by the debauchery of Edinburgh's literary superstars, and McBrain is a "tourist" who would like to clean up the story a bit. We roamed the city, stopping in several pubs for a break, which for most people meant a drink or two.

McBrain and Clart

For the final castle on this trip, we went to Edinburgh Castle. Inside a small chapel, St. Margaret's, the oldest surving building in the city, JoanMarie took a picture of me taking a picture of Adam taking a picture of a stained glass picture of William Wallace (a.k.a. Braveheart).

Previously, I mentioned a writer who wrote some fairly successful books in Scotland, which was inspired by many places around Scotland. The first book was written in a coffee house which later became a Chinese buffet and is now a cafe. But she wrote the next few books in the back room of a cafe that's still there, The Elephant House. I'm speaking, of course, about J.K. Rowling and the phenomenon known as Harry Potter. 

Of course, I had to eat a meal in that back room, which overlooks Edinburgh Castle. Talk about inspirational!

JoanMarie went into the ladies' room, where fans leave messages, and I'm just going to hope and assume the owners are okay with that.

One more tour on our Scotland trip...The Potter Trail! Another wonderful and enthusiastic guide took us to places related to the series. Ms. Rowling took many of the names for her characters in Grayfriars Kirkyard (a.k.a. a cemetery). For example, the man known as "Scotland's worst poet" was William McGonnegal. Ms. Rowling would sit at a bench beside this grave and brainstorm. creating characters such as Minerva McGonagall.

Since I was editing a book on this trip, in such an important literary place, I did some name-taking from Grayfriars, as well. Beside the grave of Scotland's worst poet is one for a woman with a first name that matches a character in my book. I didn't originally give my character a last name, but now she has one!

Right behind the wall where that bench used to be is George Heriot's School, which was the inspiration for Hogwarts. Students at this real school are actually divided into four houses! See? Write what you know!

Also in the kirkyard are the graves of father and son, Thomas Riddell, changed to Thomas Riddle for anagram's sake in the series. (All these inspirations have been confirmed by Ms. Rowling herself.) And yes, this is me pointing a magic wand handed out by the guide toward the Riddell tombstone.

The tour ended above Victoria Street, which may look to you a lot like Diagon Alley.

After all of this witchcraft and wizardry and pub crawling and haunted history, we took in a church service at the beautiful St. Giles' Cathedral.

Outside, we finally saw and heard a kilt-wearing bagpiper!

Before heading home, I noticed the bookshelves at the bed-and-breakfast where we stayed had been altered a bit from the day we arrived. A book was conveniently placed face-out near the table where we ate breakfast.

Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation
by Robert Burns

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam'd in martial story.
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An' Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England's province stands-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro' many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
O would, ere I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration;
We're bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Goin' Back to Indiana

Before heading to Indiana for their Indiana Library Federation conference, I stayed with my friend (and YA author) Christa Desir and her family near Chicago. Dinnertime conversation involved a lot of talk about comic books and graphic novels, which happens to go great with tater tots! It was also nice to catch up with my canine namesake, Asher the Dog.

We get along great, but he knows who had the name first.

The next morning, I went with the Desirs to their church. It was a beautiful sermon, and I also loved the look and sound of the huge pipe organ.

Book-In-Production Hint #1:
a pipe organ plays an important role

That night in Indiana, I spoke to a roomful of librarians, but only after all of our bellies were fully satisfied. At each table, they had a different question posted to help get conversations started. I specifically chose this table because I love R.L. Stine and can't wait for the upcoming Goosebumps movie!

Either I was really on, there was something funky in the green beans, or that group laughs very easily, because I had such a great time giving my presentation. While I do discuss serious things in my talks, I also like to have fun. But when I make jokes, I pride myself on being able to keep a straight face. This time, however, their laughter got to me and I laughed with them several times. (Next time, I'm totally not breaking!)

But as you can see, this was an exceptionally fun group.

Thanks for inviting me to your conference, Indiana librarians!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sleepy Hollow

A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.
Last week, after a great visit with my publisher, I took a day trip to the village of Sleepy Hollow. I'm not going to tell you which classic story was set in Sleepy Hollow, because if you don't already know...uh...well, I have no inoffensive way to complete that statement. But if you like to take literary detours, this area is a must. 

First, I visited Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving (the dude who wrote the unnamed story).

I'm sure he named his estate after its angle toward the sun, but whenever the tour guide said "Sunnyside," it made me think of eggs. But it was a fantastic tour, and learning more about the man inspired me to read more of his work, which I began to devour that very night.

I then went to Philipsburg Manor, referenced without a name in the story, but confirmed to be the location by Irving in a later essay, and watched a restored waterwheel grind corn into cornmeal just as it would have back then. This place is basically a living history museum and worth an afternoon.
His greatest treasure of historic lore, however, was discovered in an old goblin-looking mill, situated among rocks and water-falls, with clanking wheels, and rushing streams, and all kinds of uncouth noises. A horse-shoe, nailed to the door to keep off witches and evil spirits, showed that this mill was subject to awful visitations.

No trip to Sleepy Hollow would be complete (unless you're too cool for this stuff...and you're not!) without spending time at the Old Dutch Church and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favourite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust trees and lofty elms... Over a deep black part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom about it, even in the day time; but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favourite haunts of the headless horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.

Sadly, the bridge is no longer there. And sadlier(?), I never saw the horseman. But I did see something just as creepy! A tree in the process of swallowing a tombstone.

I located the unassuming burial place of Washington Irving and paid my respects (see, I'm trying not to smile in the photo).

I also sought out the graves of people thought to have inspired characters in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. (Oops! I just told you the title of the story.) For example, Katrina Van Tassel may have been inspired by...Catriena Van Tessel.

And finally...
To pass this bridge, was the severest trial. It was at this identical spot that the unfortunate Andre was captured... This has ever since been considered a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the schoolboy who has to pass it alone after dark... Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen, black and towering.

Time to run, Ichabod!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: HAWAII

The 50 States Against Bullying campaign began October 1st at my alma mater in California. Throughout the 2014-2015 school year, I spoke at one high school in every state, plus the District of Columbia. The tour ended, fittingly, in the last state added to the Union.


Other than Oregon, where we have family, this is the only state where my family joined me on the journey. Since this is the Aloha State, we had to fit in some touristy things, too...

...like swimming with dolphins (but not for me, because I'm too chicken for that)...

...taking a submarine tour...

...and visiting the beautiful Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, which highlights Hawaiian culture and natural history. They also currently host a dinosaur exhibit, which Isaiah loved.

While in Honolulu, I was also able to speak at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival. And that meant there were new authors to meet! At midnight the night before, as people do when surrounded by such tropical beauty, Austin Aslan and I met at...Denny's! His book, The Island at the Ends of the World, is a survival story set on these islands, which I can't wait to read. (Read the book's description on his website. You'll want to read it, too!)

At the festival, I met Lisa Freeman and got a signed copy of her novel, Honey Girl. Ms. Freeman had acting roles in some of my all-time favorite movies, so the autograph was extra cool!

For my speech, I was introduced by Stephanie Wang, Miss Chinatown Hawaii. She founded Bully Free Hawaii USA, making her another one of the very inspiring people I've been so fortunate to meet as an author.

But the school that brought this literal cross-country opportunity to a close was Campbell High School in Ewa Beach. Their campus has a Power to Choose Courtyard, surrounded by inspiring quotes.

All of the quotes were beautiful, but I was drawn to the one by Walt Disney, one of my lifelong creative heroes.

In the gym, I first spoke to 7th and 8th graders who walked over from the neighboring middle school. As they arrived, I noticed myself playing with my #ReasonsWhyYouMatter wristband, which matches those that were passed out at each school on the tour. I've worn my same wristband at every stop!

At lunch, I ate and chatted with several students, including members of the Lit Con Club. If this awesome club was around when I was in high school, maybe I would've actually been involved in something!

Then it was back to the gym to talk to mostly freshmen, plus a few sophomore classes.

The following pic was taken by a student during the Question-and-Answer part of my visit. After a few questions, another student shared with the rest of the room how my book helped her through a rough time. And then the other students applauded her bravery! That will remain one of the moments from this tour that will stay with me forever.

Leading up to the Hawaii visit, as the tour began to wind down, I'd been reflecting on what I'd seen and heard since October 1st. I'm still processing it all, and probably will for a while, and this made me reflect on aspects of my own life and what had to line up to bring me here. Being only a few minutes from Pearl Harbor, which I would soon visit with my wife and son, I left Campbell High and drove to Asher Court, a street named after my grandfather. You can read about his role on December 7, 1941 by clicking here.

Along with the wristband, I took another item with me on every stop of the 50 States Against Bullying campaign, but this one no one knew about. The day before that first tour stop was my 39th birthday. When I blew out my candle, I made a special wish concerning this tour. I can't share that wish with you (you know the rules!), but I will say it came true. And the evening after my tour finished, I lit that candle again. JoanMarie and Isaiah helped me blow it out.