On the Road with OTTO

I spent this past weekend in lovely Saratoga Springs, NY, where my husband (the inspiration for OTTO) and I attended the opening of an amazing Porsche exhibit, “Porsche: 60 Years of Speed & Style,” at the Saratoga Auto Museum. The great staff at the museum are fans of OTTO, so they set me up with a signing at the exhibit opening’s cocktail party. I ended up selling lots of books, and meeting lots of great car people!

If you’re in the area and love cars, you should definitely check out the exhibit. While I signed and schmoozed, my husband ogled the extraordinary cars on display, including this aluminum-bodied Porsche Gmünd Coupe, a 356 model that was crafted in a sawmill in Austria.

And take a look at this 918 RSR Hybrid, Porsche’s new hybrid supercar.

The next morning, we returned to the museum in our 1967 911S and met up with other Porsche drivers for the Fall Ramble, a rally through the Adirondacks. My husband was in his happy place, behind the wheel, as we toured some amazing fall scenery and twisty, Porsche-friendly roads.

Here we are, driving in caravan behind a particularly-zippy GT3.

I happily volunteered to act as navigator, even though the directions were two pages long…

…and, as it turned out, were missing a crucial turn. The caravan soon broke up, and both of our phones were out of range, so we were hopelessly lost for a while. Yikes! Eventually, we found our way to our destination, a lovely hotel on Lake George, where we enjoyed a very German lunch (schnitzel and German potato salad and Black Forest cupcakes, among other delicacies). While we were there, we got to meet Porsche racing legends Vic Elford and Joe Buzzetta, and I signed a copy of OTTO for Joe’s new grandson. What an honor!

I’m getting really spoiled with these amazing weekends. I hope you’re out there having fun, too!

Bookish Babes in Burlington

Another great weekend, thanks to the good folks at the Burlington Book Festival; the amazing Phoenix Books, which cheerfully and tirelessly sold books at the event; and the other writerly ladies with whom I shared a dinner table, a stage, and a VERY large panel: Elizabeth Bluemle, Jo Knowles, Erica Perl, Tanya Lee Stone, Linda UrbanSarah Aronson, Sarah Albee, Jeannine Atkins, Cynthia Lord, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and Kate Messner. Oh, and a BIG thanks to my husband, for driving, and being all-around awesome.

After a rainy drive through most of lower New England on Saturday, we were welcomed by a beautiful afternoon in Vermont. The above photo is the view from our swanky hotel in Stowe, where everyone seemed to walk around in their bathrobes, having just had spa treatments or a dip in the humungous pool. Not one to resist a trend (or a temptation), I indulged in a very, very luxurious pedicure.

Afterwards, we met up with some of our fellow book festival peeps for dinner. Wine was imbibed, locavoracious (is that a word? if not, it should be) burgers and salads were eaten, and lively conversation was shared. What a treat, to be able to spend some downtime with such smart, funny, lovely people. And I finally got to meet Erica Perl, after many years of appreciation from afar!

Did I mention how great our hotel was? Well, the bonus was that it was close to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, where my husband and I were able to enjoy a good, nutritious Sunday breakfast of warm apple cider donuts and coffee. Already, my day was off to a good start. And it only got better!

Here I am inspecting the roster for the day (and ignoring the extra space in my last name). What a line-up! I’m so honored I was able to be a part of it. And specifically, I got to present my books alongside writer and bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle! I read from UGLY FISH, she read from the amazing My Father, the Dog, we chatted about what inspired our stories, and then I read from OTTO: The Boy Who Loved Cars. My favorite moment was when I’d just opened UGLY FISH to start reading, and a little tyke in the audience turned to her mom and loudly asked, “Mama, is she DONE yet?” Ha!

Here’s a shot of moi in action (I always have a weird look on my face when I’m photographed reading UGLY FISH, because I’m in the midst of doing all the voices):

Afterwards, I participated in a “super panel” featuring all of the participating children’s authors (except for David Macaulay, who was probably still receiving fans in his very long signing line). We talked about “craft” books we recommend (Bird by Bird, one of my own faves, was a common choice), our journeys to become writers, funny kids’ books we like (currently, I’m loving Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, and not just because it’s published by my alma mater, Candlewick), and if we could think of any male middle grade or YA novelists who write from a female perspective. On the spot, we could only come up with Kevin Henkes (Olive’s Ocean and Junonia). Can you think of others?

Then I signed some books, met some terrific new fans, and it was time to get back on the road for a very, very long drive home. Thankfully, Vermont gifted us with some pretty stellar weather, so we got to enjoy some sublime scenery. All in all, it was a perfect weekend filled with friends and fun and fabulous books. I can’t think of a better way to welcome the fall season.

Fall Follies

Summer is my favorite season, but fall comes in close second. I can smell it in the air, can’t you? My sister is staying with us for the week; on Monday, we went out and bought some autumnal flair for my front porch (photo above). Surprisingly, the greedy squirrels in our neighborhood haven’t feasted on those pumpkins yet. (And YES, that’s my house in the background with shabbily-peeling paint. It’s the next project on a very long To-Do list.)

I’m thrilled to be participating in the Burlington Book Festival this Sunday with some extraordinary colleagues. Will I see you there? Do you really need an excuse to be in Vermont this time of year?

In other news, Scott Magoon and I will be doing an event at the renowned Blue Bunny on the afternoon of Saturday, November 5. Details to come…including info on an OTTO-related craft session we’ll be offering!

What are you doing to ring in the fall season?

A Weekend to Remember

Many thanks to those who came out for my storytelling session at the Providence Arts Festival — and a big thanks to author-illustrator Alison Paul for organizing the event. I walked into the ROOTS cafe to find my very own personalized signing station:

During my performance, I read from OTTO, Ugly Fish, and Rabbit & Squirrel. As an encore, I gave the audience a sneak peek at my upcoming picture book, about a certain aloof porcupine. Here’s the lone photo captured of me in action:

I was thrilled to meet some new friends, including author-illustrator Amy Walrod, and illustrators Amiko Hirao and Jen Corace. A few old friends showed up, too, and even my cousin and her friend made the trip. We celebrated afterwards with sangria and sunshine, sitting outside a bistro on Westminster Street amidst the Festival comings and goings.

And then, yesterday, my husband and I woke up and watched some of the 9/11 remembrance footage. As the bell was rung for each moment of silence, I was transported to where I was when it all happened: first, at my desk at Candlewick, hearing about it in an email from a friend, a message I had to reread several times before I fully understood it. Then, in my car on the way home, after we were all dismissed from work by our tearful bosses, the radio announcer stating that the first Tower had fallen. And then, at home, the first of many drinks in my hand, eyes glued to the television, as the rest became all too clear.

I spent the remainder of yesterday morning weeding, which seemed like an appropriate, grounding (literally and figuratively) thing to do. And then, I attended the opening of Scott Magoon’s art show at the Danforth Museum in Framingham. It seemed right to surround myself with evocative art, and end my day in creative reflection.

If you can get yourself to see it, you MUST go and check out Scott’s installation, which features pieces from all of his books, including those we’ve made together. Here is a photo of moi having a moment next to a particularly restful piece from OTTO:

And here I am next to one of my very favorites, from our upcoming picture book, Mr. Prickles!

Afterwards, the good people at the Danforth asked me if I would sign some stock — and Mr. Magoon generously allowed me to horn in on his signing. What a guy.

All in all, a pretty darn good weekend.

Not Out of the Woods Yet

This past weekend, while it seemed just about everyone was taking their final vacations and hosting Labor Day cookouts and getting their kids ready to go back to school, I was hunched up in my house, struggling with the first major revision of my work in progress. The first revision seems to be the hardest for me — not because of all the changes and cuts that need to be made. It’s because of all the text I have to add. I’m pretty good at cutting away and rearranging; I’m not so eager to tease out new scenes. And this time, I needed to add four new chapters, most of which were filled with a lot of action. Sporty action. Gaah.

So I did it, slowly and painfully, and emailed it and printed it out for my Trusted Readers. You’d think I’d feel a sense of exhilaration and relief at this point, but no. Because this is just the beginning. I’ve reinforced the major, structural stuff, but I know I still have plenty of dangling threads. Wait, is that a mixed metaphor? I think I’m too tired to care.

On the upside, my family in CT got their power back late last week, so the cheese and chicken are no longer in danger. My grandmother is now gearing up for her trip to Florida, where she will stay until May, and where she can keep her food cold and the rest of her house un-airconditioned, the way she likes it. FYI, Cousin Joyce will be staying in CT, though I’m not sure anyone has broken the news to her yet. If she had a face, I’m sure it would register disappointment.

I’m gearing up for the Providence Arts Festival this Saturday, where I’ll be participating in a storytelling session at the ROOTS Cafe from 12-5 (my slot is at 3:20pm) and selling and signing my books. I’m looking forward to focusing on stories that are finished and published and out in the world, for a change. Will I see you there?

Photo by “dan.”

A bushel of brains

Is it just me, or is the tone of the above fortune a little condescending? Maybe it’s the double smiley emoticon.

I just had my quarterly CT scan yesterday morning, so that handful of patience is going to come in handy. Not that I expect bad news; I just hate waiting, almost as much as I hate having to wake up at 7am to drink 900ml of “creamy vanilla smoothie” (a cruel name for what is actually barium sulfate) prior to the testing. Thankfully, my husband and I have a tradition going where he takes me out for breakfast afterwards, to the best diner in the world, where I enjoy a stack of enormous blueberry pancakes. The whole time they’re putting in the IV and pumping me full of contrast fluids and having me hold my breath for ungodly stretches of time while they scan me, a mantra is repeating in my head: “Pancakes. Pancakes. Pancakes.”

Later, after my system was devoid of barium and full of pancakes, I got some fun news: I’ll be reading and signing OTTO-graphs at my local indie, Books on the Square, on Saturday, October 22 at noon.

“OTTO-graphs.” See what I did there?

Surprise, surprise.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I am not a “sporty” gal by nature. In fact, I have been known to flee from organized athletic competitions of just about any kind. (Except for badminton. I’ll never say no to badminton. Or its fetching footwear.)

Color me surprised, then, when the biggest scene in my current WIP ended up being a sporting event. Whaaaaa? How did I get there? I don’t know, but it happened, and it seems to be where the story needs to go. I feel a little bit like Janeane Garofalo at the end of The Truth About Cats and Dogs, where she’s on roller skates holding a leash with a big slobbering dog at the other end of it, pulling her along. Ultimately, the dog leads her to dreamboat Ben Chaplin and away from Uma Thurman, so it’s not a completely hopeless metaphor. Though I think Ms. Garofalo would agree that winsome heroine, adorably unruly dog, and Ben Chaplin dreaminess aside, the movie itself is pretty terrible.

So…I knew the sporty scene was coming, and I DREADED writing it, because I suffer from the aforementioned sports-aversion, as well as chronic cases of failure-phobia and being-thought-of-as-a-hack syndrome. But finally, yesterday, I wrote it! And it’s kind of terrible! But I can fix it later. For now, I can move on to the scene I really want to write. It’s the last scene in the story, and it features a character I love, who has a big unexpected moment waiting for her. I hope it’s going to work.

In other news, I just got more specifics about my appearance at the Burlington Book Festival on Sunday, September 25. I’ll be appearing with the lovely and brilliant Elizabeth Bluemle from 12:30–1pm, and on something called a Super Panel from 3–4pm, where you can get a load of this line up:

SARAH ALBEE, SARAH ARONSON, JEANNINE ATKINS, ELIZABETH BLUEMLE, JO KNOWLES, KARA LAREAU, CYNTHIA LORD, KATE MESSNER, AMMI-JOAN PAQUETTE, TANYA LEE STONE & LINDA URBAN

Can you think of a group of more kick-ass authors? I myself cannot. If you’re in the Vermont area, I hope you’ll come to this shindig. I’m not even that great at math and I know Vermont + autumn + books = duh.