Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I’m a Book Bite!

I’m so flattered. Suzanne Lieurance, director of the National Writing for Children Center, interviewed me for her Book Bites for Kids podcast. Each Tuesday, Suzanne chats with a children’s book author and puts the recorded interview up on the NWFCC website. And this week, her guest was me. If you want to hear what I sound like (and trust me, I sound a whole lot better in my head than I do as a recording), click here and scroll down the page to the post for Tuesday, May 29.

I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough to say to fill the whole podcast. Ha! Once I started talking about writing and children’s books, I chattered on and on—and on—as usual.

Thank you, Suzanne, for inviting me to be your guest this week.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

For Teachers and Librarians

I’ve posted a Curriculum Guide to Airball on my website. Barb Bahm, librarian extraordinaire for the Tonganoxie, Kansas, school district, created this guide for the William Allen White Children’s Book Awards and gave me permission to use it.

Thank you, Barb!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wow, Wow, Wow

The Kansas City Literary Festival yesterday was great. The day was perfect—sunny and beautiful. The setting was perfect—the Country Club Plaza (which, for non-Kansas Citians, is a historic, Seville-inspired shopping district that’s a pure delight to wander through, even when there isn’t a festival going on). The festival-goers were perfect—happy, book-loving folks, many with their children, dogs, and grandparents in tow. It was a lovely day, with lots of everything going on, from music to booktalks to readings to cooking and robotics demonstrations to a giant python wrapped around the snake guy’s shoulders. The C-Span BookTV bus was even there, filming and interviewing.

Things were hopping at the Kansas SCBWI tent, too. Sheila Berenson did a great job of coordinating book drawings, author talks, face painting, and other events that drew a lot of kids, parents, and writers to our tent. I ran into old friends I hadn’t seen in much too long and made new friends I hope to see again soon.

This is the first Kansas City Literary Festival in this venue, and I read in the paper this morning that festival planners were so pleased with the outcome that they’ve already begun planning to make this an annual event.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

KS SCBWI Conference Update

The flyer, schedule, and registration form for the Kansas SCBWI 2007 conference, Get Your DUCKS in a Row, to be held Saturday, June 23, at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park is now up at their website. (<—Wow, was that a long, convoluted sentence or what? Sorry.)

Conference speakers include:
Editors—Rachel Orr, HarperCollins; Tanya Dean, Darby Creek Publishing.
Agent—Michelle Andelman, Andrea Brown Literary.
Authors/Illustrators—Elaine Alphin; Richard Jennings; Sue Alexander; Daniel Schwabauer; Laura Huliska-Beith.

I can tell you from personal experience that Kansas SCBWI and Johnson County Community College both know how to put on a terrific conference. This one should be well worth your time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Partners in Crime, the Kansas City chapter of Sisters in Crime, is a rocking bunch. They meet each month at a local Borders, and they always invite a speaker—sometimes an author, more often someone in law enforcement, such as a police officer, district attorney, private eye, or forensic investigator. No matter who they have, the talk is always interesting.

This month’s speaker had been AT&T’s head of security for nearly 30 years, and honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to hearing him all that much. I mean, security guy for the phone company? But, as always, the talk turned out to be fascinating. Corporate security is more than the guards at the door in the pretend police uniforms. The speaker’s department was more like a detective unit, and he regaled us with stories about the cases they handled, including working surveillance to uncover fraud in various locations, such as residential streets, softball games, and a bowling alley. It turns out that when you’re lying low in a residential area, trying to monitor a house, Neighborhood Watch is your worst enemy. (Luckily, if you work for the phone company, you can cook up a cover story about testing signal strength in the area.)

He told us about trying to protect an employee who’d been stalked by an increasingly threatening guy for over two years, to the point of being stabbed in the back while she was out shopping. . . only to find that the woman was stalking—and had stabbed—herself.

He also told us about heading off disgruntled ex-employees who were at high risk for returning to the workplace loaded with weapons. One thing the security department looked for was what he called an Avenger Personality. I know—sounds like a comic book superhero. But in this case it’s the personality type most likely to shoot up a former workplace: white male, usually middle-aged, with an obvious obsession with guns and/or the military (but who has probably never been in the military) and very little in the way of a support system (he’s divorced/never married and is estranged from his family). These were the guys they looked out for, and in at least one case, they thwarted what could have been a real tragedy. They stopped a recently fired man as he drove back into the parking lot, and in his car found a gun, a machete, and his handwritten last will and testament.


As I listened to this man talk, I realized why every Partners in Crime speaker is so fascinating. If you get a person who is truly good at—and loves—his job and ask him to tell you about it, he will show you just exactly what it is that makes that job so interesting to him.

I’m glad I went. I still can’t shake the mental image of phone company guys running surveillance while bowling.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother’s Day!

I had a great Mom’s Day. It started a little early for my taste. My son is on a travel baseball team*, and they had a tournament this weekend. We rolled out of bed at 5:30 this morning so we could be at the ballfield by 7:00. But breakfast was waiting for us when got up because last night I took my daughter to a birthday party, and while I was gone, my son baked a pan of sweet rolls he learned to make in FACS (family and consumer science—what we used to call home ec) and wrapped them up for Mother’s Day breakfast this morning. The kid has his moments!

And tonight my husband fixed Mother’s Day dinner—steaks grilled outside, with potatoes and corn on the cob. The big guy has his moments, too.

In between baseball and eating, my daughter and I managed to slip off to the nursery and buy tomato plants, begonias for the hanging baskets on my front porch, potting soil, and the best plant-related item I’ve ever purchased: a hanging basket so full of tomato plants—with at least a hundred little green tomatoes already on the vine—that I had to have help lifting it into my car. Now I don’t have to wait till July for garden-fresh tomatoes. I’ll have them in a week or so. And they’ll be hanging outside my door, ready to be picked.

Is there anything better on this earth than a just-picked tomato, still warm from the sun?

* About my son, I know I’m his mother, so my opinion is slightly biased, but man can that kid pitch a baseball. And here’s the great part: It wasn’t that long ago, maybe two years, that he would do anything to get out of pitching. (My son: “Coach, my arm’s hurting. I don’t know how much longer I can go.” Coach: “But son, you haven’t faced a batter yet.”) It wasn’t because he couldn’t throw, but because he was afraid he wouldn’t throw well, and everyone would see, and then he’d look stupid. There’s no place to hide on a pitcher’s mound. But he liked to pitch (when no one was looking), and he’s left-handed (which he knew would be valuable to his team, especially as they got older), so he took lessons and made himself do it anyway, and now he can’t wait to get on the mound. He wants to start every game.

I remind him of this whenever he thinks something’s too hard. I tell him, “See? When you push yourself through adversity, you get to the other side better and stronger.” He, of course, rolls his eyes and says, “Does everything have to be a lesson?” Sorry, son, but yes, when you’re a mom, everything does have to be a lesson.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Kansas City Literary Festival

On Saturday, May 19, I’ll take part (a small part) in the Kansas City Literary Festival at the Country Club Plaza. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and includes author readings and booksignings, storytelling, food demonstations, puppet shows, theatre presentations, music and skits by Radio Disney, jazz from the American Jazz Museum, robotics demonstations, a snake guy, film-making, vendors, literary organizations, and lots, lots more (as I clicked through the website, I couldn’t believe how much more—this is going to be a great day). Authors include Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, Michael Bechloss, Nancy Pickard, Roderick Townley, Wyatt Townley, Malachy McCourt, and Vicki Grove. If you live anywhere near Kansas City, this is the place to be on May 19.

The festival will be divided into four sections with a stage in each section. I’ll be signing books from 11:30 to noon in the Kids section. Afterward I’ll hang out with the Kansas Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in Tent 204, where I’ll take part in the Middle Grade Booktalk from 2:05 to 2:35 p.m.

Sheila Berenson, Kansas SCBWI secretary, has done a fabulous job—on very short notice—of organizing the Kansas SCBWI tent and getting Kansas and Missouri SCBWI members into other festival venues. She’s been like the guy on stage trying to keep all the plates spinning, and to Sheila’s credit, she hasn’t let any of them fall. Thank you, Sheila!

Monday, May 07, 2007

I Love My Library

As I’ve mentioned before, I love my library, for many reasons, including this new one:

I strolled into the library last week, and there it was—a display of my books in the center of the main aisle. How cool am I?

Actually, how cool is my library? In truth, it’s a very cool library for reasons that have nothing to do with me. I live in a small town, but our library is great—roomy, comfy, technologically savvy, with a healthy collection (and new books coming in all the time), a librarian who is on top of everything, and a staff that offers all kinds of programs and activities. We’re pretty fortunate here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Great Week

What a wonderful week I had. On Tuesday, I visited Lansing Middle School, and the students, faculty, and staff were terrific. I did assemblies for the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, led a writing workshop, and ate a school lunch that was actually. . . pretty good. The whole school had read Airball and seemed enthusiastic about it. They even gave me a red wooden gift box of goodies related to the book—tea, candle, Jayhawk mug, mini basketball, keychain, chocolate (the path to a writer’s heart always goes through chocolate!). . .

. . . and a pair of undershorts signed, “We loved your book! Thanks, LMS.”

How very cool and creative! A big THANK YOU to Marlene Brown, LMS librarian, who invited me, made sure everything went smoothly, and treated me like royalty all day.

On Wednesday, I drove out to Manhattan for the North Central Kansas Library System (NCKLS) Book Fair. This was my second year to attend, and (as I’ve said before) any day spent with writers and librarians is, by definition, a good day.