October 5-25, 2011:

A lot to catch up on as I have been in a whirl the past twenty days, having been in New City for a conference, Minnesota for two readings, speaking at Mt. Holyoke, at a workshop at the Eric Carle Museum, have six writers on a retreat at my house, and got a lot of book work done as well.

So let’s begin way back after my return from Scotland.

On the 5th I dealt with getting tickets to Minnesota, Heidi and I spoke with our Bad Girls editor, and I tried to catch up on mail.

6th: I did a SKYPE visit with some 7th graders studying Girl in a Cage, managed to work on some small rewrites for the Last Laughs book while admiring the amazing illustrations. And waded through more mail, and fell into bed early.

7th: Worked during the day on a new chapter for the Seelie Wars trilogy and sent it off to Adam, then had tea at 4 with friend Patricia Lewis in Northampton.

8th: Went to the Paradise City Arts Fest with my friend Bob Marstall, bought a few Christmas presents, had lunch with our old friends Bobbin and Eric, John&Polly, with lots of reminiscing.

9th: Worked much of the day on house stuff, and had dinner with Heidi and Maddison and the DiTerlizzis.

1oth: Poetry day, working on Thunder Underground poems and some adult poetry as well and worked on two speeches, one for Mout Holyoke and one for an Indiana Library conference.

11th: A full day of writing, catching up on reading a lot of magazines, more house work, laundry, picking up books from huge piles, reading a good section of a biography of Denys Finch Hatton.

12th: Spinning of poetry wheels, mostly Thunder Underground, managed to delete much of the day before’s work, had dinner with Ann Wheelock at Green Street Cafe which is always fun.

13th: I took a morning train into New York, reading magazines (more catch up) and more Denys Finch Hatton bio and wrote some more poetry. Staying over at friend Bonnie Bryant’s apartment, went to a panel on writing fantasy with Holly Black, Delia Sherman, and other smart, articular women writers.

14th: Breakfast with agent, lunch with editor Jill Santopolo, dinner with another friend and Birdland Big Band Jazz. Wish I’d remembered my earplugs. It was great but we were practically sitting in the drummer’s lap. A dinner in the Village at a found restaurant which proved delightful.

15th: Signing Last Dragon at Comicon with Rebecca Guay, did two interviews with her, but the place was too overwhelming for me to stay long. Though I did seek out David White and bought a book from him, and then Peter Beagle where I bought two from him (all Christmakkah presents). Then I met my Birdland friend at the Metropolitan, where we saw the Steiglitz show, then had a lovely dinner, and afterwards a long and cozy walk along the Highline.

16th: Drove home with Rebecca Guay and Scott Fischer, and managed to get to bed at a reasonable time, though my friend Steve Gould–here to see his daughter who is a freshman at Smith–arrived too late for me to spend any time with him.

17th: So Steve got up early in order for us to have a chat before Heidi arrived to take me to the airport and off I went to Minneapolis. Adam and Betsy picked me up, and I spent the day with them until 5 when the editor of my poetry book Things to Say to a Dead Man got me for a quick dinner and then I gave a reading of the book at Hamline University. We used up half of three boxes of tissues and sold lots of books.

18th: Betsy and I went clothes shopping,  had lunch, bought gifts, and when the kids got home, we all went out to dinner at my favorite Greek restaurant, Christos.

19th: Adam and I worked on several projects, including a book trailer for Snow in Summer, and plotting much of the first book of the Seelie Wars. We’ve already written 10,000 words. Then my editor Jim picked me up for my second reading at The Loft. Sold more books. In fact, between the two readings, we sold 83 Things to Say to a Dead Man, not bad for poetry!

20th: I flew home on an early flight, and then went to get my hair done. In between, much to do about various mail and email.

21st: Patricia Gauch was doing a master class at the Eric Carle Museum on writing picture books, and I sat in on it and was a second voice. Then we went out with a group of folks from the Museum and another author but service was so bad at the restaurant that after waiting two hours for the main course to be served, I had to leave without eating because I had an early start for the next day.

22nd: At 9:15 I gave the keynote address for the Mount Holyoke College Write Angles Conference and stayed most of the day. But I was too exhausted by the end to go out to a movie with friend Bob.

23rd: Six writers showed up between the afternoon and evening, who were staying at the house for a writers’ retreat. Besides more revisions on Thunder Underground, I began work on a new book proposal for short novel, Centaur Field. Heidi and I went off to see Glen and her boyfriend Jason’s new apartment in Northampton and to meet Jason’s parents. All very lovely.

24th: Retreat in full swing. I got a flu shot, had tea at 2:30 with friend Jody, and dinner at the Green Street Cafe with friends Geri (complimentary aunt) and Susan who’s daughter Gavi is a freshman at Smith. Much fun talk ensued, though Gavi had to leave early for a dance class. Heidi and I gave the retreat writers a tour of the children’s book art in the house from 9 p.m. to 10.

25th: Retreating writers still here. I went to my regular writing group, which I had missed sorely the last five months. Then back in time for dinner with the retreat group. In between I finished the two chapters and book proposal for the new middle grade novel, Centaur Field (will go over it tomorrow and send it on) as well as worked over the first proofs for How Do dinosaurs Celebrate Christmas and How Do Dinosaurs Celebrate Chanukah, two  books for 2012 with Mark Teague’s best art ever.

After that snap shot of twenty days of my life, I wonder if you are as tired as I am!

Interstitial Moment

The start of a new speech, one I am giving in Indiana:

Unless you have been living under a bridge with the trolls, you will know that books are under a real threat these days after 500 years of type on paper.

Now I can’t be absolutely sure about all of you, but I still believe in books. These days such sentiment means one is either an author or a very old person, or perhaps a very old author—and I readily admit to being both. I couldn’t disguise it if I tried. And while saying in public that I still believe in books is somewhat tantamount to sitting on one’s front porch and shouting at anyone who comes close, “Get off my lawn!” I tell you now a third time, I still believe in books.

And as we have seen, in rather too many fantasy novels lately, anything that is said three times has power. And while it’s true I may be indulging in some actual magical thinking, I believe in those hard or paperbound creations with pages that must be turned by hand and which–once upon a time–were well and carefully edited, beautifully and professionally illustrated, and (dare I point out) well written, too.

There, I have thrown down a particular gauntlet. Take it up if you will.

But to place something more onto the blaze I have started, I remind us all that Steve Jobs just died. I have a vision of him sitting somewhere with a long-faced, heavy-browed, bearded man who is wearing a cloth cap and a heavy robe that is surmounted by an accordion-pleated stiff lace collar and. . .no, dear friends, it is not God he is sitting with. Rather, it is Johannes Guttenberg the blacksmith, goldsmith, and publisher who invented modern printing. In my vision, Jobs and Guttenberg are drinking beers and discussing the delivery systems for story.

Because as much as I still believe in books, I believe in story more, as well as poetry and nonfiction. I believe that we humans are the only ones in our universe who are able to tell stories, make up poems, and craft pieces of nonfiction. Yes, animals have their own communication systems: they can speak to one another of flight and food and that other F best left to chic lit and slippery soft porn novels. Yes, bees can dance out a map to the nearest honey source, dolphins can click sophisticated alerts about the next school of edible fish on the move, wolves in packs hunt by calling out their positions to one another,  crows advise their own flocks and others of danger, chimps and apes have been taught minimal signing.

Yes and yes, I know all that. But we humans have not only a talent, but a craving for, an addiction to, and a cultural need for stories. We are, if you will, the lying animal. The storytelling creature. The owner of the make-believe gene.

October 1-October 4, 2011:

The saga of getting home starts with endings. I got a hair cut, tea with Christine in her sitooterie, dinner with Debby and Bob, and repacked everything once again, mailing home stuff that was too heavy to carry and that made closing the suitcase impossible.

Then bright and early Sunday morning, I put my stuff into the car and drove over to Debby’s house as she will have my car for the winter. Then she drove me–without trouble, though at times it was bucketing down–to the airport.

The Scottish and airplane portion of the trip was entirely without note. I got settled in quickly, no problem with bags, nice folks sitting next to me. I watched (for the first time) GranTorino with Clint Eastwood, and a forgettable Owen Wilson film (aren’t they all?) about Paris and time travel. I liked the bit parts–Hemingway, Scott and Zelda, Dali, and especially Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, but the rest–feh!

But once I got to the US, the trip turned into a saga. At Newark airport, it took over an hour to get through customs. (If I’d gone straight on to Hartford, customs usually takes at most fifteen minutes.) The bus into the city was late. Dropped at Port Authority, I couldn’t find a cab for over twenty-five minutes. It was shift change, and all the taxis zipped past with their Off Duty lights on. (There were NONE at the taxi line in front of Port Authority.) Finally, I hauled my ever-increasingly heavy two bags and bottle of single malt for my host along two avenue blocks and five streets in the rain looking for a cab. My bag fell over, twisting my fingers and ripping off half of my fourth finger’s nail so hard there was blood.

At last a cab and then a second materialized. Got me uptown. I fell onto my friend’s guest bed crying, “Sanctuary!”

We had an early dinner, but my body whispered seductively, “You have turned into a pumpkin.” Because–of course–six o’clock in New York is elven o’clock in St Andrews. I (wo)manly stayed up till 8:30, then said goodnight to mine host, and fell into the aforementioned bed and stone-slept until 5 a.m.

The next morning the train was an hour late. Which made, with my various delays, the trip from Newark to Hatfield (I am not counting sleep time or dinner/breakfast time) longer than my flight across the Atlantic. The hours just don’t add up. I have to find a better way home.

Greeting me at home– besides my love granddaughters Glen and Maddison, and the ever wonderful daughter Heidi–my first copy of THINGS TO SAY TO A DEAD MAN, a copy of SISTER BEAR, several reprint pieces in anthologies, etc. News that a favorite illustrator of mine has signed up to do YOU NEST HERE WITH ME. And several copyedited mss. will be heading my way any minute.

Heidi and I went clothes shopping and we bumped into our dear friend Angela DiTerlizzi and her marvelous daughter Sophia. I scored big in the clothing buy, necessary since I left a lot of stuff (of course) in Scotland. And I managed to go to hear poet Jane Hirschfield (an old friend from our teaching days at Centrum writing conference) do her Q&A session with Smith students but there was no way I could stay up for her reading later. Jetleg was (and is) still dogging me.

September 28-September 30, 2011

The run down to my return home to the States begins in earnest. As usual, I spent a lot of time moving stuff from one place to another–clothes in different closets, more work on the garden room, getting rid of past sell-by-date food, taking stuff to the recycling, forgetting to take other stuff to recycling. It is a shell game, really.

I wrote a few poems, sold some other poems, got book reviews, packed and unpacked, and dreamed of home, that old drill.

Also the Kingask Cottage people who will be renting out my house, Wayside, while I am gone (short but expensive breaks, no pets, no small children, no students) came to take photos and talk to me about my responsibilities (putting away breakables, etc.)    info@kingask-cottages.co.uk though I am not on their website yet. If I am lucky, the rentals should pay for my Scottish council taxes. But “lucky” is the word, because who knows if the place will rent at all?

I also had tea with friends Marianna and Pete one day, Nora the next, dinner with Claire, tea with Janie, all within three days. The social whirl.

Did I mention packing?



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