Friday, April 18, 2014


When I forget to take a lot of pictures at speaking events, it's a sign that I'm enjoying and appreciating the moment. But it's really irritating afterwards! I recently had events in three states, almost back-to-back, and here's a recap of those trips (with far fewer photos than I wish I could share with you).
In Sacramento, California, I spoke at a regional conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, an organization that continues to play a huge role in my career. I gave a talk on adding suspense to any story, did a pro-panel that included Dan Yaccarino, and gave a morning keynote presentation in the room below.

The above photo was taken during the keynote of Nikki Grimes. When I first met Nikki at a convention a couple years ago, it was one of those moments when I couldn't believe someone whose work I respect so much already knew who I was. This conference was a wonderful opportunity to spend more time with her, and hopefully there will be more chances in the future.

In attendance were locals Mike Jung, Emily Jiang, and Naomi Kinsman, three authors I've been fortunate to meet over the years. One day, I'll need to put together my own conference, inviting writers who inspire different aspects of my own writing and that I know I could learn from. And the three of them will speak there. (I haven't asked them yet, but I know they'll do it. Right???)

Next up? Northern Kentucky University.

I always get nervous before speaking at an event open to the public. What if no one shows up? (One benefit to speaking at a school during school hours: The students have to be there!) So when a public event is well attended, it's awesome!

After I was done speaking, I learned that Jasmine Warga was in the audience. Jasmine has her debut novel, My Heart and Other Black Holes, coming out next year!

After this event, I attended another event at KSU: an open mic reading hosted by the school's literature magazine. With another writer there, I read from Thirteen Reasons Why. Then, something I never thought I'd do, I read the very first picture book manuscript I tried to get published, called Stop, Easter Bunny, You Forgot Something! The other writers in the room laughed in all the right spots, including the parts that weren't originally supposed to be funny. And I'm actually very happy they felt comfortable enough to laugh along with me!
I had some free time in Kansas, so I took a walk through the Creation Museum. It was interesting. A little different than what I saw when I attended the American Museum of Natural History.

From Kansas, I flew to Montana for the annual conference of the Montana Library Association. It was immediately obvious why the librarians chose this hotel in Billings.

But I didn't have time to slip down the slide when I first arrived. Why? Because I had to play my first game of Bunco! I remember my mom regularly having a bunch of women over while I was growing up so they could play Bunco. I don't remember my mom or her friends wearing crazy hats, though. And I don't remember them raising scholarship money by having people sit at the same table as me. But that's probably because my mom and her friends weren't Montana librarians!

I gave a talk on writing "gritty" literature and how books like mine can be used at schools or libraries. I then gave a lunchtime keynote, where the audience was great and the dessert was delicious!

Thank you for hosting these great first visits to your states, Kentucky and Montana. I'll be back soon!

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