Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Space Campin'

On May 23rd, I posted the following update on Facebook (what I posted on Twitter had a lot fewer characters):
Some of the people I most instantly click with, months or years later, I learn they wish they'd gone to Space Camp. So… I’m seriously thinking of organizing just that. (Seriously.)
Thankfully, people took me seriously! About ten people expressed interest. Because Space Camp for adults is only available a few times each year, schedules often conflicted. But last weekend, four of us took one giant leap (on airplanes) down to Huntsville, Alabama.

Here we are the night before camp, walking around the fenced perimeter, gawking at the rockets, wearing our "You're never too old for Space Camp" t-shirts.

Jason Roer, Tracy Clark, Sandi Greene, and me 

To the left of the entrance is Habitat 1, the camp dorms. Boys are on one level, girls on another, and families on a third.

Jason and I grabbed our linen bags and ran to our room before any roommates could grab "our" top bunks.

The first thing we did as campers was listen to astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson give an inspiring presentation about his five missions aboard the space shuttle. He flew all but one of the shuttles, but the other was flown by his wife!

Each camper was assigned a missions team, and all four of us were put on Team Endeavour.

Then it was time to begin training as astronauts on their many high-end simulators.

Yes, things were a lot more high-tech than the above gift shop rocket.

Here we are sitting in Atlantis.

That photo was taken from a monitor in another part of the ship.

All four of us had seen the movie Space Camp, so were tossing around lines of dialogue several times per hour. When the counselors realized our geeky fandom for that movie, they informed us that this was the actual training shuttle used in that movie (modified for non-Hollywood use).

Throughout our three-day experience, we flew three shuttle missions. Some of us were astronauts, and some worked in Mission Control. For my first mission, I was Commander! Here I am, during training for the mission, gliding the shuttle in for a smooth(ish) landing.

After training, we got into flight suits to fly our first mission.

That mission didn't go too well because of miscommunication with Mission Control. Tracy sat to my right as Pilot, and when things got too crazy, we calmed ourselves down by singing Little Bunny Foo-Foo.

The next day, we performed other simulations, which included rides on the multi-axis trainer...


...and a walk on the moon, courtesy of a 1/6-gravity chair.

We wanted a group photo of us walking on the moon, but the teammate we handed the camera to accidentally flipped it to video.

Shortly after our simulated moonwalks, we learned of the passing of Neil Armstrong, the first man to actually walk on the moon. The tributes to Mr. Armstrong that played on monitors throughout camp made the rest of that day's training extra special, though bittersweet.

We finished building rockets we began to build the previous day. (Somehow, mine ended up on Launchpad 13.) The pinecone I placed in my rocket helped stabilize it as it shot through the air.

Tracy's rocket didn't fly quite as high, but it became a memorable launch when she informed Jason that his missing namebadge and lanyard were about to become astronauts.

For our next mission, I was at CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator), where I was the only person from Mission Control in communication with the shuttle crew (on the monitor above my station).

After our second mission, we sat in a capsule that spun until we reached 3.2 Gs.

For our third mission (lasting two hours), I was at the position of CATO (Communication and Tracking Officer), where I communicated with the public. I also took on the role of Flight Surgeon, solving medical emergencies in both Mission Control and on the shuttle.

Sunday was graduation day. While Team Endeavour didn't win first place for the design of our team patch, and we didn't win first place in the trivia contest, we did win first place for having the most successful mission!

That evening, we met fellow YA authors R.A Nelson (who actually works for NASA!) and Beck McDowell for dinner.

So, was Space Camp worth it? As a total geek for NASA and the Space Camp movie, it was absolutely worth it for the camp experience alone. But before Space Camp, Jason, Tracy, and Sandi were just friendly acquaintances. I critiqued Sandi's manuscript at a writing conference several years ago. I sent Tracy a congratulatory email when she won a Work-In-Progress grant that I'd previously won. And I had lunch with Jason, along with several other people, at a writing conference last year. Since those meetings, I've exchanged a few emails with each of them as their writing careers continued their countdowns to lift-off. But all four of us left Space Camp as full-fledged friends (with more inside-jokes in those three days than it's legal to acquire in most states).
In fact, we left Space Camp with a promise. In a few years, we're coming back. And we're coming back enrolled in the family tract. We may be the space-geekiest members of our families, but they're going up with us!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Back to the Birthplace of 13RW

My family recently returned from a week's vacation in Wyoming. Why Wyoming? (No, that isn't one of their rejected state mottos.) For one, it's absolutely beautiful. For another, we lived there ten years ago for six months. Ten years is a long time to wait to see your good friends again. Those friends have all had children since we lived there, and our li'l one couldn't wait to meet his new friends!

Instead of flying straight to what we still consider our second home, we spent a few days in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ten years ago, when JoanMarie and I drove from Cali to Wyo, we could only spend a few hours in Jackson Hole. And it was great to spend more time there.

In the middle of downtown is a park, and at each corner is a huge arch created with elk antlers. Thankfully, and I hope this is true, the antlers were shed naturally and then collected from the nearby Elk Refuge.

I'm sure Isaiah would love a stroller pulled by horses, but his ride is probably a lot more comfy than a stagecoach.

Don't worry, no bison were harmed to keep Izzy's head warm. (I can't say the same for the bison heads hanging in hotels and restaurants around town.)

We spent many hours in and around Grand Teton National Park. We rode a tram over 4,100 feet up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Waiting for us was a lot of wind, beautiful scenery, and a restaurant that served waffles. Mine had melted butter and brown sugar!

We wanted to take a horseback ride, but when we tried sitting Isaiah on a saddle, he repeated, "All done! All done!" It's been twenty years since I last rode a horse, and it wasn't the best experience, so I was feeling a bit All Done! All Done! before Isaiah let me off the hook.

He also took his first bicycle ride, which he absolutely loved.

We rode six miles toward a market to grab sandwiches and ice cream. When we left the market, we bumped into Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost). I do consider myself 100% hetero, but when he flashed that dimple...

I'm sorry, but you would've giggled, too!

Then we spent some time in a little place called...

And I do wish the National Park Service would change a certain word on some of their signs. (Or is the common definition of that word really a problem?)

Isaiah the Daredevil loved balancing on a log in the water (as long as Daddy didn't let go).

A few feet away, we found another log ride in the forest. Nature sure knows how to have fun!

On our way back to the hotel, we passed the Grand Tetons from a distance. Just opening my eyes in this part of the country fills my soul.

From Jackson Hole, we flew to Sheridan, Wyoming. Ten years ago, JoanMarie and I moved to Sheridan so she could do her college internship. In those six months we formed friendships that fell right back into place the moment we returned.

Here we are with Andy and Denise Brown and their children, and Klay and Melissa Condos and their children. It was nice to see Isaiah bond so well with the other kids.

Sheridan has a 3rd Thursday festival where they block off several downtown streets once a month. The blocks are full of musicians, yummy food, vendors, and tractors!

The Condos family took us on their boat to a cove on a lake where we had a beach all to ourselves.

Klay is a firefighter, which came with perks Isaiah is still talking about.

Ten years ago, when we left Sheridan, they were just beginning to plan the Whitney Commons. It's a beautiful area now, and it was great to see so many people enjoying it.

We stopped at Sheridan Stationery Books & Gallery, which was my first bookstore job. Here we are with Robby (the owner) behind a display of my books. This was to promote my signing later in the week. (And I couldn't leave without buying a couple books: Where the Rivers Run North and Images of America: Sheridan.)

Preparing for my signing in Sheridan felt like coming full-circle. It was during my six-month stay that I came up with the idea for Thirteen Reasons Why. The parking lot of this gas station is where I scribbled several pages of notes that turned into the first several pages of the book.

It was either at the end of 2002 or the beginning of 2003, but I do know it was snowing and the road was iced. It was very early in the morning, still dark, when the premise hit me. I couldn't drive any further or I knew I''d forget important details, so I pulled into a parking space, cranked my heater, and took notes as fast as I could.

When I got home later in the day, I wrote the first ten pages of what became my first published novel. The left and middle sections of the house below, attached to the two-story main house, are where JoanMarie and I lived. While someone is renting "our house" now, we remain friends with the person who owns the property. Stacie even invited us to stay in the main house with her for a night while in town.

It was odd to picture myself sitting in that gas station, and then at the kitchen table, having no idea how that idea and those words would change my life. (And yes, I got the main character Clay's name from my Sheridan friend Klay.)

Stacie works at the Wyoming Girls School, so on our last day in town I gave a presentation there. The students asked some of the best questions, and made some of the best observations, of any school visit I've done.

While I worked at Sheridan Stationery, I also worked part-time as an Assistant Children's Librarian (my first library job). I spoke at the Fulmer Public Library later that same day, and my one-time boss delayed a trip to the mountains to see me.

Thanks, Michelle!

The most touching part of the week was watching my 20-month-old son feel right at home among the same bookshelves where I used to watch other children feel right at home.

But Isaiah's favorite part of the week probably came later that afternoon. We took him to walk amongst the construction equipment parked a couple blocks from the library. Doesn't this look like he's standing in front of the right foot of a Transformer?

Thank you, Wyoming. You inspired me ten years ago. And you inspire me still.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

SCBWI 2012

If you've followed my blog for over a year, you may recall that I head to L.A. each summer for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators conference. Why has this been an annual pilgrimage for me since 2000? I attended this conference for eight years before my first book came out for the inspiration, advice, and community. And now I get to return the favor from the other side of the podium. Here are the writers who attended my workshop on adding suspense to any novel.
For that presentation, titled No Bookmarks Allowed!, I used this photo of Lisa Yee being terrified by M&Ms. (Yes, it makes sense within the context of my talk. At least, I hope it does!) For the rest of the conference, she had people asking her about this rather unusual phobia.
I gave a second presentation with fellow Class of 2k7 classmates Greg Neri and Greg Fishbone (The Gregs) on using social media to promote your books. This photo was taken at the faculty afterparty, not during our workshop (in case you thought this was one of those conference where no one's actually there to learn, they just come to party).
Speaking of parties, yes, that's definitely a part of it. They had DJs! They had dancin'! And since the theme was the Hippie Hop, they even had a cocktail called Purple Haze!
Here I am with Tammi Sauer and Sue Fliess. Peace!
There was a limbo contest. And just because Lin Oliver is SCBWI's Executive Director, she didn't receive any special treatment.
I met Pamela Wells, whoseHeartbreakers novel is being developed as a movie called Hot Mess with Selena Gomez. Though we initially connected because of the Selena connection, we also left as friends.
For those of you on Twitter begging for daily updates on the Thirteen Reasons Why movie, I did have lunch with two of the movie's producers while in L.A. Unfortunately, I can't tell you any of the cool details we discussed. Oh, you're still going to ask? Well, that's part of why I love you! I met Sara Shepard, who wrote a little series called Pretty Little Liars. (During our conversation, I didn't get the feeling she was lying about anything!)
Nikki Grimes attended our 2k7 workshop, which was kind of intimidating because she's kind of completely awesome.
Dan Gutman wrote one of my favorite middle grade books, The Kid Who Ran For President.
This conference is a great chance to hang out with author friends you rarely get to see, such as Jennifer Bosworth whose book Struck received a great blurb from a guy named Me. (That's not his real name, but it's what I call him.)
The autograph party is always crazy, hectic, and fun. For the past few years, I've been lucky enough to sign beside Jim Averbeck. Getting to chat with him between autograph duties has become a nice way to end this annual conference experience.
Of course, I get plenty of books signed, too! I still have most middle grade and teen novels personalized to me, but Isaiah's building quite a collection, as well. The first book I had signed to both of us is The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming.
Here are all of the signed books I brought home for Izzy:
I'll begin reading them to him tonight!