Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Playing Tourist in Your Hometown

I lived in Memphis for ten years before I ever visited Graceland. For the longest time I didn't even know where the place was exactly. One summer an aunt who was a huge Elvis fan came to visit and my husband and I took her over and ended up doing the tour with her, surprising ourselves by enjoying the experience.

The Jungle Room, let me tell you, is strangely fascinating. And the TV screens lining the walls of the Welcome Center, the ones playing endless loops of young Elvis singing and gyrating, are mesmerizing, and a good reminder why every year 600,000 tourists slap down 80 bucks a piece to check the place out.

I don't know why we waited so long.

When my husband and I lived in Lexington, Kentucky we did a better job of playing tourist. We took the kids out to the Horse Park and the horse races at Keeneland. We did the obligatory bourbon tour at Woodford Reserve (multiple times) and poked around the Mary Todd Lincoln House (once).

And when we moved to Columbus, Ohio we were determined to venture forth and see the sights. We did. Sorta. At least the biggies. The Columbus Zoo and the Franklin Park Conservatory. The Columbus Museum of Art and German Village.

And um, yeah. That's about it.

Now our kids are grown up and gallivanting around the world having fun adventures and it's not like we can drive up to Canada every weekend ourselves, so the other day we decided to play tourist in downtown Columbus.

What spurred this on was my husband's company took part in an American Heart Association Walk and he'd sign both of us up and we had to put the location for the Walk onto our GPS.

*Downtown Columbus, for the record, is literally 10 minutes away from where we live.

We parked and found the starting line and walked along with the thousands of other people through the blocked off streets of downtown and pretty much marveled the entire way. Who knew the path by the river was lined with so many lovely fountains?

And huh, this is a really nice city, isn't it, honey?

Anyway, the next day we started early and headed downtown again, already old pros at finding our ten-minutes-away-destination. There's a cool website we stumbled upon with downloadable maps of walking tours and a phone number you can call to listen to interesting historical and architectural and artsy tidbits along the way.

Looking like total touristy doofballs, we walked around with our map and a phone held out between us, on speaker, so we could listen to the fun, never-before-heard-of-factoids about the place where we've lived for nine years.

Did you know, for example, that Columbus used to be the buggy capital of the world?

Or that there's a huge arch leftover from what was once the entrance to a train station (this was an amazing place that was torn down in the 1970's at night, so preservationists couldn't stop the demolition, and in the end, all that was left was the arch. Which is kind of a bummer, but woo woo, progress).

And in front of City Hall there's a three-ton, twenty-foot high bronze statue of Christopher Columbus given to the city by Genoa, Italy, because-- interesting fact: Columbus was named after Columbus. 

We ambled around for four miles, ending at the North Market, the old warehouse that's been converted into a funky farmer's market, where we bought fourteen dollars worth of macarons, planning to eat them later.

But then, changing our minds because we were playing tourist. And tourists eat fourteen dollars worth of macarons whenever they feel like it.

So we did.

The end.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Moving Day, Part Two

The other day I hefted five boxes out of my son's room and mailed them to him in California.

Before I hefted the boxes out of the room, I thumbed through the things left behind--the books on the bookshelves, the plastic bag on the floor filled with lacrosse balls, the rumpled viola sheet music on the desk, the closet, now empty, except for a pair of old soccer cleats.

After I mailed the boxes, I came home and wandered around for a while feeling weepy and silly over feeling weepy because it's not like I didn't know my son was leaving. And anyway, he's happy and I'm happy for him and tra la la.

When my son was packing up the boxes a few weeks earlier, I didn't help him, except to offer garbage bags, in case he wanted to chuck anything in the trash, and a box for Goodwill, in case he wanted to donate anything to Goodwill. I told him he didn't have to make up his mind about anything if he didn't want to. If there was stuff he wasn't sure about, stuff he might want to hold onto, but didn't feel like packing, he could feel free to leave it at our house.

It's not like his room was going anywhere, I told him.

He said, okay.

Which made me wonder if the books left behind and the lacrosse balls and the viola sheet music and the soccer cleats fell into the category of stuff to hold onto for later. Or not.

It's hard to guess the things that matter to people, even people you know well.

When I was packing up the things in my own childhood bedroom a million years ago, I didn't feel a particular attachment to much of it.

I was going away to college 1250 miles away, flying there. So packing space was limited. What I was most worried about were clothes. I didn't have a lot, at least anything that felt fashionable (whatever that was). I'd gone to Catholic schools and had worn uniforms for most of my life. Also, I lived in Connecticut and owned a lot of winter-y related stuff and my college was in Memphis and I suspected I wouldn't need many sweaters and long sleeved blouses, the bulk of my meager wardrobe.

I left behind my long winter coat, the one my stepfather bought me when I was in ninth grade. I left behind my hefty feather pillow.

My stereo system. My albums. The much-played Van Halen and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and the Journey Escape record that I'd won at the county fair.

My two shelves of books, my prized collection of Trixie Belden books, the complete set of sixteen, the books an aunt had given me when I was a child, two or three a year, on birthdays and at Christmas, the books I'd read over and over, from number one Secret of the Mansion to number sixteen The Mystery of the Missing Heiress, the books that deposited me safely out of my childhood for a blessed few hours here and there.

The day before I flew away to Memphis, I hefted a trunk over to that same aunt's house. Inside the trunk were all of my journals and diaries, every story I'd ever written and two novel manuscripts, photos and mementos.

And then I left my childhood bedroom behind. My younger brother took the room when I went away to college. I gave him the key for the deadbolt lock that my boyfriend had installed on my bedroom door. Why, you might ask, did I need a deadbolt lock on my bedroom door?


Let's just say that after my sophomore year I never went home again except to visit. Somewhere along the way, all of the things I left behind in my childhood bedroom disappeared. The pillow. The albums. The books.

When I graduated from college, my aunt drove from Connecticut to Memphis to attend the ceremony. Inside the car she'd packed the trunk of my stories. She gave them to me, and then she surprised me by giving me the car too.

How do you even begin to express gratitude for gifts like these?

The other day my husband suggested we turn our son's room into a guest room.

Let's wait a little while, I said.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Marcie Colleen's an Author On the Verge

One of the many perks of being a Regional Advisor in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is getting to meet writers and children's book industry people from all over the place.

Last Saturday, for example, the lovely Marcie Colleen, author of a multitude of soon-to-be released picture books and chapter books, was in town. Marcie's connection with an SCBWI chapter in California led to a connection with our local chapter in Ohio

which led to a group of us meeting for breakfast, where we had conversation with Marcie that was too inspirational not to share.

I say inspirational because Marcie has been plugging away writing children's books and pursuing publication for years and now her dream is just about to come true-- not one book on the shelf, but two, followed in the next year by two others, and that is only the beginning.

Inspirational too, because her road to publication was especially rocky, starting in the low moment when she lost her job in New York City.

Marcie's background is in theater education and during the height of the financial crisis in 2009, the theater industry was hurting like every industry. "I was afraid," Marcie told us, "very aware that I was living in one of the most expensive cities in the country and suddenly jobless with no solid prospects on the horizon."

Her mother's gentle reminder that she could always come home was a nice offer-- but also, a jolt of motivation.

Something I always find fascinating when I hear about fellow authors' journeys is how much of an interplay there is between hard work, determination... and luck. Marcie's luck came in the form of her husband's (then her boyfriend) publishing industry contacts. He knew Little Brown editor Alvina Ling and when Marcie wrote her first picture book, he passed it along to Ling to look over.

This is the part of the story that beginning writers dream of and imagine is the secret backdoor way into Publishing.

Splash-of-cold-water Truth: it rarely happens that way in real life, and it didn't happen that way for Marcie either. For one, she admits that her first stab at a picture book wasn't all that great. Fortunately, Alvina Ling was kind enough to not dwell on that with Marcie.

She did not buy the picture book. Instead, she gave Marcie some advice:

Take a writing class
Find a critique group

Marcie did all three of these over the next several years, taking classes online, and when she couldn't find a critique group in her area, forming her own. In the meantime she wrote a ton and read a ton, not submitting anything at all until she felt that she had a better sense of the writing craft and the industry. [shameless plug: it really does help to join SCBWI!]

When she was ready to submit again, she had a few completed polished projects, and one of these snagged the attention of an agent. Things happened quickly after that. One book sale, the picture book The Adventure of the Penguinaut with Scholastic in 2018, and another, Love,Triangle with Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins in 2017.

And then another fun opportunity came her way, the eight-book Super Happy Party Bear series developed with Erin Stein at Macmillan. In the cool twisty world of publishing, the first two books of that series, which were written after the picture books, will be out Sept. 6, 2016 and featured in Target.

Marcie had never written a chapter book up to to that point, but she threw herself into learning about the genre and is happy that she said yes to the opportunity.

And saying yes seemed to be the theme of our group breakfast with Marcie. Yes-- to putting your work out there and facing lots of rejection, Yes-- to plunging into learning everything you can about your craft and the industry, Yes-- to making contacts and new friends, Yes-- to hard work, and

Yes-- to recognizing lucky opportunities when they come your way, even when they don't quite work out how you dream...

Because in the end, saying Yes is the only surefire way to make your dreams come true.

For more about Marcie Colleen and her soon-to-be-released array of books, check out her website here:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Don't Know Much About Canadian Geography

Last weekend my husband and I dropped our grown son off at the airport at 4:30 in the morning, said one final goodbye as he tromped off blearily, yet excited, weighted down by multiple backpacks, to embark upon his new life on the opposite side of the country,

and then we got back into the car and my husband asked me if I was going to cry and I said, No.

Maybe I was tired because it was 4:30 in the morning or maybe I'd already made my peace, in a way, with the goodbye to our son--it's not like I didn't know it was coming--and it goes without saying that I am thrilled for him--

Or maybe I was a little excited myself about the adventures that lie ahead, for my son, of course, but also for my husband and me,

and I was looking forward to an actual adventure-- the spur of the moment road trip that my husband and I decided to take that very day.

Neither one of us had ever been to Niagara Falls and the place is less than six hours away and the thought of returning to the dark quiet empty nest house (if you don't count the dog, the cat, the fish, and the possibly enchanted plants in the garden) just seemed kinda depressing to both of us.

So off we went.

But first a pit stop at the airport McDonalds for much needed coffee. And then, off we went!

We went to the Canadian side of Niagara because we had heard from various people in the know that it was the Better Side. Whatever that meant. Something funny about this trip is how unplanned it was.

My husband, if you don't know the guy, is a big-time planner-- (it's his literal job) -- and his planning abilities always spill over into our vacations. I'm talking excel spreadsheets of sights we will see and meals we will eat. Wondering what the restaurant reviews are for that pizza place in San Francisco? My husband can tell you.

My role, on these vacations, is to show up and go with the flow, as we follow his meticulously crafted itinerary.

For some reason though, (my husband's own empty nest melancholy?) there was no meticulously crafted excel spreadsheet for this Niagara trip. 

We were throwing caution to the wind, driving by the seat of our GPS, caught in a bit of traffic crossing the Canadian border because my husband had not googled the various border crossings to compare traffic lines ahead of time!

I know. INSANE!

But somehow we managed to make it over to Canada, chatting as we did about how little we knew about Canada and Niagara Falls. For example, I did not know what province we were in (Ontario), or that there are two Great Lakes in the region (Ontario and Erie).

That the water of the Niagara River is mesmerizing as it flows over the Falls. You can go down into a tunnel and feel the vibrations as it crashes over the rocks. And when you take a boat tour on the river, you'll be close enough to the churning falls to get your hair wet.

I know this because my husband and I did another completely spontaneous thing: we signed up for a bus tour. This is something true Planners NEVER do. I mean, really, why would you pay a tour operator to cart you around from site to site when you could research all of this stuff in advance and cart your own selves around?

We loved our tour guide and we loved being carted around and told what to look at and where to go. We also loved skipping all the long lines and moving with our tour group ahead of all the poor planning do-it-yourselfer-save money suckers people.

The only thing we had to do on the tour was make it back to the bus at the designated time.

Fun fact: We were the last people to make it back to the bus at the designated time. I don't know how this happened to such dutiful obedient rule followers as my husband and me. It was like we had lost our damn minds.

We also may have lost our minds the next day when at the spur-of-the-moment we drove up to a town called Niagara on the Lake, parked our car in the first lot we came to, walked ten steps and wandered into a shop where we discovered that a winery tour was about to begin,

and bought tickets to go on the tour, because what the hey? Why not drink 25 glasses of wine at 10 o'clock in the morning?

Oh my God, that was a fun wine tour.

Ontario, apparently, is known for its wineries. Something something about the climate, the air moving from the lake across the land and bumping into a hill or whatever.

Oh, and there's this crazy good tasting wine called Ice Wine, where the grape growers wait until the grapes are frozen and then they pick them and do whatever it is to make wine with them.

Ice Wine is particularly tasty after you've drunk 20 other glasses of wine.

So tasty, in fact, that you buy a bottle and not realize until after you pay with the weirdo plastic-y Canadian money, that you just spent like, 75 dollars.

Also, the people on the wine tour think you're funny because they're all Canadian and you're the doofball American asking, wait, what lake is this again? after drinking the insanely expensive Ice Wine.

But then, on the bus ride back to town, they forgive you for your ignorance when you tell them that 24 hours earlier you dropped your son off at the airport so he could fly off to his new life on the other side of America. The woman on the bus next to you is your new best friend and she shows you pictures of her grandchildren,

and you think, holy moly, one of these days we're probably going to have grandchildren and won't that be a...(gulp) adventure,

and then it's time to say goodbye to the lovely Canadians, and you and your husband drive back over the border, back to your quiet dark house and happy-to-see-you pets and enchanted plants

where you pour two glasses of Ice Wine

and you say, Cheers.