Monday, April 25, 2016

One Week in Kentucky

A great week speaking in Kentucky began with an airport run-in with Cliff from Cheers. I mean, Hamm from Toy Story and Mack from Cars. I mean, John Ratzenberger!

In my li'l rental car, in which I swoop through areas where I'm speaking to see as many local oddities as I can, I caught a distant ark being built. This isn't being built for a flood, but as a duplicate to one used during a well-known Biblical flood in an attraction called Ark Encounter. Still, if it starts raining a lot, I know where I'm heading!

But I was brought into Kentucky to speak, so I headed to the Grant County Public Library in Williamstown and was given one of the coolest handmade gifts!

Some attendees were in their seats long before I was scheduled to begin. And if you really want an author to feel special, that is precisely how you do it!

As the following road sign proves, if there's anything Kentucky is known for besides horse racing, it's bourbon.

Every few years, I'll take a sip from a shotglass to see if I've finally acquired the taste buds for "adult" beverages. The answer is always an instantaneous "No!" Still, I wanted to check out some of the nearby distilleries due to regional curiosity. But before driving out to any of them, I did more of what I was there for. This time, the seats were filled at Bardstown Middle School.

Their questions were great, which is always the sign of a school that encourages students to think for themselves and think outside the box. Although, when I was leaving, I did catch a couple students trying to escape.

The coolest distillery I visited while in Kentucky was for Maker's Mark. They do everything by hand here, including printing their labels on this press.

If you've ever seen their bottles, they're distinctive because of the dripping red wax on the neck. I learned that those drips are trademarked! Here's what it looks like when the wax-less bottles arrive, get dipped, and then set back on the conveyor belt.

Before my talk at the Nelson County Public Library that evening, I had dinner with a few librarians. Joining us was the mother of a girl who ended her life last year as a seventh grader. This bracelet remains on my wrist as I type this, and will remain here until it wears out.

Then it was time to do my speaking thing!

The next day, I began my journey to Bowling Green, which should have taken an hour and a half. It turned into an all-day adventure as I kept finding road signs luring me to amazing destinations. For example, the land once owned by the following family.

The Lincoln's lived here for the first two years of Abraham's life. They drew their water from this very spring!

Another stop brought me to Hidden River Cave. The next tour didn't leave for a couple hours...unless I didn't mind tagging along with a class of fifth graders. Of course I didn't mind! They made the whole experience much more interesting. And loud! But interesting.

When I arrived in Bowling Green, all of the teen and children's authors who had arrived for the following day's Southern Kentucky Book Festival were hanging out and having a grand ol' time. But I didn't join them. Why? Because I didn't know about it. Why? Because I wasn't invited. Why? Because the event organizers were told I wasn't into that sort of thing. What? Why? Because that's what the person who arranged my visit told them!


For most events I attend, the organizers approach me directly, and sometimes my publisher arranges events. Other times, a booking agency will contact me to see if I'd like to do an event they're working on. Often times, I say yes. The agency takes 20% of whatever I make, as they should. After the event, they'll usually tempt me to sign with them exclusively in exchange for more gigs. Every time, I say no because I like working directly with the venues, and I don't mind making less money per visit if that means I get to meet more readers.

If you've ever contacted me directly about setting up a visit, you know that if you hire me, I'm yours for the entire day. If you want me to speak four four times during the day, plus have lunch with select students, and then speak at a library in the evening, that's great. That's why I'm there.

But at this event, apparently the Book Fest was told I would only speak one hour on Friday and then I would sign for only one hour on Saturday. Meanwhile, the rest of the authors spoke several times throughout the two days, and when they weren't speaking, they were sitting with their books from 9am to 3pm to autograph books for any readers who wanted them.

And I, apparently, don't go for that sort of thing.

Why was this said by the booking agency? Maybe they thought it made me ("their" author) seem important. Maybe one of the other authors brought to the festival by this agency (there were three of us) had demanded this in their contract, and maybe the agency didn't want to make that author look bad. I don't know! Yet...

Either way, I didn't know about any of this at the time, so while the other authors gathered to hang out, I was probably watching YouTube videos in my hotel room. And then, later in the evening, when my friend Katherine Howe arrived, we attended a delicious event called Taste of Bowling Green. Local restaurants showed off their edibles, and a kick-ass band played. We also stepped into a photobooth to document the evening. Do either one of us look like author divas? I don't think so!


The next morning, I arrived at the festival at 9:30am, That's thirty minutes after they opened, which was thirty minutes before my presentation. That's when I noticed all the other authors sitting at tables, ready to sign their books. And that's when I began to question why I wasn't invited to sign books throughout the entire festival. And that's when my jaw began to drop.

So I went and gave my presentation...

,,,and afterwards, I promptly went to the table where my books were stacked and I sat there until 3pm like the good author that I am.

You know who has great readers? I do! You know who else has great readers? Shannon Messenger. One of her readers brought a lot homemade cookies based on her books. 

Who's that making a face at my cookies? Another author who has amazing readers, Alecia Whitaker. One of her readers brought her senior portraits to the festival, and each picture included books by her favorite author: Ms. Whitaker. While this was my first time meeting Alecia, I had so much fun with her as my seatmate that I will now refer to her as my Sister-From-Another-Mister. The first book I bought at the festival was Wildflower. And yes, of course I had it signed!

An author I'm always happy to see and hang out with while traveling is Phil Bildner. His shirt, in Arabic, reads "Love Conquers Hate". That matched perfectly with my purple shirt, worn in tribute to Prince, who passed away the day before.

I got to meet author M.D. Payne, and found out that he's the husband of the person at Penguin who organized last school year's 50 States Against Bullying campaign. 

A book I've been looking forward to reading, The Serpent King, was written by Jeff Zentner. And now, I own a signed copy! Even better than that, Jeff taught me a new way to eat apples, from the top down, which makes it possible to devour core-and-all. So weird! And so cool!

I also had a great time discussing the fun of co-authoring books with the co-authors of the Doon series, Lorie Langdon and Carey Corp.

The second day of the conference, the organizers were able to squeeze me onto an author panel discussion, which is something I love to do (despite what they had been told). I even got to pose for my first selfie-stick photo with many of my fellow festival authors.

Thanks for a great week, Kentucky!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Doors of Perception

Last week, I spoke at Royal Palm Beach High School in Florida. (I know, sometimes being an author requires you to drag yourself to a place called Royal Palm Beach.) RPBHS was in the midst of week-long events and discussions based around Thirteen Reasons Why. So I'm guessing that's why they invited me!

One student asked me, "Is it weird to think that a whole school is doing this around something you wrote?" Yes, it is. It's very weird!

And it's one of the most amazing things an author can experience.

Students designed book-specific bookmarks, which I've already given a prime spot in my office. But I'm going to assume none of the students ever used the bookmarks while reading 13RW...because they couldn't stop reading it!

Another student designed this poster in the library.

The office door in the library was full of positive notes left by students and faculty.

Then it was time to speak to an audience where so many of the students had already read my book.

During lunch, I dined on Chipotle (they donated everything!) with a group of students wearing shirts designed for this week. These students were chosen from a larger group of students who had created projects--posters, displays, wordles...--dealing with my book.

Then...time to speak again!

Before I left, I was taken on a tour of decorated classroom doors that won a school-wide contest.

Doors, man! I've never been so emotionally moved by...doors!!!

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Between 2 Holidays: ILLINOIS

I usually do a lot of travelling around Easter, though I would never miss being home on that special morning. Like most years, this Easter began with an egg hunt, followed by a hike up Terrace Hill with JoanMarie and Isaiah for a hilltop service.

The next morning, I flew to Illinois to do my part in two week-long high school events. But when I got to my hotel that night, it was being evacuated. The police officer told me it was for "hazmat issues." If you care to know what that issue was, you can click here.

So that's a new travel experience that may find its way into a story one day...

The first school I visited, Lakes Community High School, was in the midst of Writers Week. Obviously, I'm very pleased with how my author career has unfolded, but I've attended enough events similar to this one to wonder where my interests may have turned if I'd been introduced to so many different types of writing careers.


The one speaker I got to hear, Jennifer Dornbush, had a crazy story about how she found her way to crime fiction, It involved dead bodies being brought to her home as a child, and a photo of her Barbie doll in a bodybag.

I shared my author experience with two groups of students in the theater, and led a workshop on writing suspense to a smaller group of writers.

The "green room" was backstage, where departing theater students had left messages on the walls for future students. I love the sentiment below.

The next day, I spoke at Grayslake North High School's Spark Week. Here, many types of arts are explored with many speakers and performers.

At one of my presentations, I was introduced by two students who sang while one of them played the ukulele. I love ukulele! I own a ukulele! This student, though, played her ukulele much better than me. And both students sang much better than me. But, whatever...

Another one of my presentations had me introduced by an accordion and singing pirates. In this case, I have no relation to either the accordion or pirates.

I'm seeing these Writers Week and Spark Week ideas pop up more and more throughout the country, and I really hope it keeps growing. And I hope they keep inviting me!

The next day, I returned home. And I made it home in time to celebrate another beautiful holiday: April Fools' Day!

This year, my son and I made his likeness using a wig, Charlie Brown, and footie pajamas. In the morning, Isaiah told JoanMarie he was going out back to play, and when she and I opened the curtains a few minutes later, "Isaiah" was holding on by one arm to the roof's rain gutter.

Next year's prank is already being planned.