Sunday, December 30, 2007

Melican Middle School (Plus Borders) Trip Report

After my visit to Algonquin High School, I spent two days visiting Melican Middle School in Northboro, MA. This involved another first for me -- signing not only books, but body parts too! Two palms, a half-dozen arms, and one forehead. No one ever asked me to sign a body part before. I felt like a rock star. Well, sorta...

I also felt unprepared -- I don't own an appropriate body-part-signing pen. My usual purple book-signing pen doesn't cut it. The ink doesn't stick. But permanent marker seems a bit... permanent. And with a signature, it's not like you can say, "It wasn't me." Does anyone have any su
ggestions? Is there a kind of pen that signs well on skin but won't annoy parents? Does the fact that I'm worrying about this make me a complete dork? Is this ever even going to be an issue again?

Just in case, perhaps I should do some testing. When I started signing books, I bought about a dozen different purple pens and tested them out on a book that I didn't like very much. My pen of choice: the Pilot G-2. I could do the same with body pens. Just pick a body part I don't like to test them on. Like my chin. I'm not a fan of my chin, though perhaps that's not the best choice for signature experimentation...

I'd visited this school before (minus any body-part signatures). In October, I spoke with the sixth grade. This time, I came to talk to the seventh and eighth grades. I did ten presentations over the course of two days, and I had lunch in the cafeteria with the students in between talks. It's really a wonderful school filled with great students and teachers.

It's also the school that the main character in INTO THE WILD attends! Chapter three starts right outside at the bus pick-up area. Righ
t here:

Julie's School

I think this is cool. During this visit, I talked with people who would be in Julie's classes, if she weren't, y'know, fictional and stuff.

I also discovered that the Curriculum Coordinator at Melican, Nancy Payne, taught GAIN (the Gifted and Talented program) at Lincoln Street Elementary School when I was a student there! I didn't make the connection during my last visit because when she was my teacher, I called her Mrs. Payne
and now I call her Nancy. Totally different. (Yeah, I totally wouldn't qualify for the gifted program any more.) We reminisced about the time when we all dressed up as figures from famous paintings, and there was a fire drill and one of the fifth grade boys waltzed out of the school as Whistler's Mother, complete with black dress and high heels.

Me and Nancy Payne

In between the two days at Melican, I did a book signing at the Borders in Shrewsbury. I love this Borders. Everyone who works there has been so nice to me. And they give me hot chocolate. I really like hot chocolate. [Brief digression: Once, during a trip to Spain, my husband and I tried to order hot chocolate. Our Spanish is limited to what you learn on Sesame Street, but after a few funny looks, the waiter brought us two cups of very thick hot chocolate. We drank it. The next morning at breakfast, we were served churros with chocolate (donut-like sticks that you dip in chocolate), and we realized that what we'd thought was hot chocolate was actually the chocolate dip for the churros. Yes, we drank the dip. Again, not so "gifted" any more.]

Anyway, this was my very last book event for 2007! If you'd like to see any of my trip reports from other events, I've put links for each event on the Appearances page of my website. Hope you all are having a wonderful last few days of 2007!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Algonquin Regional High School - Trip Report

Happy Holidays everyone!!! The holidays have got me a bit behind on my blogging -- way too much time spent buying last-minute gifts at the mall!! -- but I wanted to tell you all about my great trip up to Massachusetts last week. So let's start with last Tuesday...

Last Tuesday, I visited Algonquin Regional High School in Northboro, Massachusetts. It was my very first high school visit, and I LOVED it. Except for the fact that high school starts really, really early. Here's a quick recap of my day:

5:30am - Alarm beeps. Attempt to shut off alarm. Knock Chapstick off table. Cannot live without Chapstick. Dive under bed to search for Chapstick which has rolled across the room and under the dresser. Flatten onto floor. Find Chapstick. Return to bed.

5:45am - Alarm beeps again. Look at window. It's dark. Also, the shade is down. The two things, while seemingly related, are not. It's actually dark outside, and the alarm is beeping. Shut off alarm. Drag self out of bed and into shower.

6:15am - Agonize over whether I should wear my black pants or my black pants. Decide on my black pants. (Yes, I obsess over minutiae when I'm nervous. Not to imply that pants are minutiae. On the contrary, clothing oneself is key to a successful book event.)

6:30am - Get in car. Notice thermometer in car says 6. Just 6. Think it's broken.

6:45am - Drive from Worcester to Northboro. Eat Christmas cookies for breakfast en route. Nutritious and delicious. Thermometer now says 0.

7:00am - Arrive at Algonquin. Unsure if queasiness is due to nerves or cookies. Am met by my fabulous host, Algonquin librarian Cheryl Lewis.

7:15am - Set up in library classroom. (Setting up involves propping two books up on stands, finding my notes, and checking to make sure I'm still wearing pants.)

7:30am - Give myself a pep talk: You can do this. You're smart enough, you're strong enough, and you've got enough gel in your hair.

7:35am - First presentation/workshop: Creating Characters. In the workshop part, we develop new motivations for Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. My personal favorite: Cinderella is petrified that the prince will step on her glass slipper as she dances. I think this is a completely reasonable fear. Her shoes are glass. This is not a sensible fashion choice. How do you dance in glass shoes? There's no support. No cushioning. Poor girl's feet must be a mess of blisters by the end of the night.

That should totally have been how he recognized her: seeks out his bride based on blisters. Really, it doesn't make a lick of sense that he seeks out his future bride based on shoe size. Lots of people have the same shoe size -- hence the whole concept of a shoe size. Even if hers are really small, there should be some eight-year-olds running around with similarly petite feet... okay, I'm digressing.

9:05am - Second presentation/workshop: The Joy of Revising. For the workshop portion of this talk, I ask everyone to write the worst sentence they could possibly write, and then everyone votes on the worst and works on that one. Some of my favorites: "My cat is fat." "Frank do be cool.
" "The purple shirt is purple."

10:10am - Third presentation/workshop: also the Joy of Revising. See above.

In the question-and-answer portion of the talk, a student asks if I've never met a fairy. I haven't. (I did once receive a letter from the Tooth Fairy, though. She said she had brown curly hair like my mom, and I thought this was quite an extraordinary coincidence.)

Afterwards, learn that students in one of the prior classes
have nicknamed me the Fairy Woman, which explains the student's question. I've never had a nickname before. I like it. Wish the title came with wings. I really want wings. I know what you're thinking: how will she ever find clothes that fit if she has wings? Well, if I had wings, I'd clearly be famous and asked to endorse many airlines and other flight-related products and therefore be able to afford designer wing-friendly clothing. Or else I'd be locked up in a research lab and dissected.

11:30am - Lunch with Cheryl Lewis. Turkey artichoke sandwiches and very fun conversation. Outside, it's now 25 and feels quite balmy. Plus the sun has risen. And I'm still wearing pants. Yay!

12:35pm - Fourth presentation/workshop: How-I-wrote Into the Wild plus a workshop on point-of-view, during which I retell Snow White (complete with my favorite ending: the evil queen dances to death in red-hot iron shoes at Snow White's wedding, and my major complaints: what's up with the prince liking the dead girl, and why is Snow White not brain-dead?). The students share some great retellings of the Snow White wedding scene.

2:00pm - Meet with the Algonquin Regional High School Book Club. All the members had read Into the Wild -- it was their December book. See, here's the lovely bulletin board with all their books, including Int
o the Wild:

Looky, looky, that's my booky!!!

Chat for an hour. So much fun! The time flies by. I could have talked with them for the rest of the day. They were awesome.

3:15pm - Stay late to talk to one of the book club members, who had questions about publishing. (Really, that is one of the primary reasons that I do school visits: to be able to tell kids who want to write, "I did it; you can too.")

So that was my day! I'll blog soon about the following two days, which involved school visits to Melican Middle School and a book signing at the Borders in Shrewsbury, MA.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Another Massachusetts Trip!

I'm heading up to Massachusetts again for more book fun! On Tuesday, I'll be visiting Algonquin Regional High School in Northboro, MA (the town where I grew up and where INTO THE WILD is set). On Wednesday and Thursday, I'll be returning to Melican Middle School in Northboro. (In October, I visited their sixth grade; this week, I'm visiting the seventh and eighth grades.)

I'll also be doing a bookstore signing while I'm there. On Wednesday, December 19th, I'll be signing copies of INTO THE WILD at the Borders in Shrewsbury, MA. (That's the one on Route 9.) Here are the key details:

Wednesday, December 19th from 3-5pm
Borders Shrewsbury - Signing
476 Boston Turnpike, Shrewsbury, MA

If you're in the area on Wednesday, please stop by and say hi!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Magic Fishbone

Did you know Dickens wrote fairy tales? Until I started researching fairy tales for INTO THE WILD, I had no idea that Dickens wrote anything shorter than 3,000 pages. Today's obscure fairy tale is called "The Magic Fishbone." The original Dickens version is full of fabulous details so I recommend checking it out. But if you don't have time, here's my abridged version:

The Magic Fishbone (from Charles Dickens)

Once upon a time... a king is worried about money.
He has nineteen children and a lot of bills, and it's a long way from payday.

Hold up a second. Bills? Payday? What sort of king is this?

He stops at the market and buys a salmon from Mr. Pickles.

Mr. Pickles??

Not your usual Dickensian character

On his way home, a grand old lady stops him and says he should offer the salmon to his eldest child, Princess Alicia. After she eats it, he should tell her that the leftover fishbone is a magic gift, which will grant a single wish if she wishes at the right time. The king obeys.

Usually you think of fairy godmother magic as a
ll sparkles and rainbows. I love that this fairy's magic involves fish guts.

The next morning, the queen faints. Princess
Alicia fetches a bottle of smelling salts, helps her mother to bed, and then proceeds to both nurse the queen and take care of her eighteen younger siblings for the duration of the queen's illness. The king asks Alicia if she still has the magic fishbone. (She does.) He asks her if she's forgotten it. (She hasn't.)

But she seems to have forgotten to call a doctor...

She then rushes upstairs to confide in her best friend, a doll who is really a duchess.

Yikes. Freaky. Living doll. Was she always
a doll, or did she get turned into a doll for some misdeed? Does she like being a doll, or does she resent all the afternoons spent at tea parties with Alicia's teddy bears? Is Alicia keeping her prisoner?

Another day, a fierce terrier frightens one of th
e little princes so badly that he sticks his hand through a glass door panel. As soon as his siblings see the blood, they begin to wail, but Princess Alicia quiets them all and then cleans and stitches up her brother's wound. Her father again asks her about the magic fishbone. She says she still has it.

Um, I know Mom is sick, but what's Dad do
ing during all of this? And if the wound was deep enough to need stitches, shouldn't a professional look at it?

Later, the baby falls onto the hearth and cries. While she comforts him, she directs her siblings in making dinner, since they
recently lost their cook. Seeing his royal daughter cooking and nursing and keeping house and so forth, the king again asks about the magic fishbone. She says she still has it.

Yes, I know I should be impressed at how self-sufficient she is, yada yada, but I think it's a bit reckless of her not to go to the emergency room. And shouldn't they have baby-proofed the hearth?

Even fairy-tale characters should babyproof.

The king then sighs sadly and says that they ha
ve no money at all. She asks if he has any way of getting any, and he says there isn't. He has tried all he could.

Can't he just raise taxes? What's the point of being king if you can't tax the poor to feed the rich?

As soon as he says this, Alicia draws out the magic fishbone and says, "If you've done everything in your power, then it's time to ask others for help." She then wishes it's payday.

I think Princess Alicia shows a real lack of im
agination here. Given that she only gets one wish, she should have used it for more than just a single payday. Plus she really didn't think through how she phrased her wish. Note that she doesn't ask for the money from payday; she asks for it to actually be payday, i.e. she's asking for time travel. This could really cause all sorts of problems.

Suddenly, it's payday, and the fairy godmother arri
ves. She scolds the king for wanting Alicia to have used the fishbone sooner. He promises he's learned his lesson, and the fairy godmother rewards the family with riches. She then goes to chat with her friend the duchess.

What's up with the duchess? How does she know the fairy? What are they talking about? I want her story!

She has secrets.

After whispering with the duchess, the fairy godmother then announces she is going to fetch Prince Certainpersonio.

How much do I love that name?

A half-hour later, Prince Certainpersonio and Princess Alicia are married in a lavish ceremony. The duchess is the matron-of-honor.

Ooh, more about the duchess! She's a matron, so that means she's married. Where's the duke? Does he know she's a doll? Is he a doll too? And can I just say how impressive it is that the fairy godmother pulled together a "lavish" wedding in a half-hour? A half-hour to pick out the band, taste the wedding cake options, fit the dress, send the invitations, select the flowers... Maybe she just stole all the trappings from Cinderella.

And the fairy godmother blesses them with 35 children, none of whom will ever have the measles.

Thirty-five children?!? And this is a reward?

She then takes the fishbone and throws it to the terrible terrier next door. He chokes on it and dies. The end.

I'm thinking she's not a dog person...

For more obscure fairy tales, please check out: Devil with the Three Golden Hairs,
Snow White, Godfather Death, The Tinderbox, The Princess in the Chest, The Juniper Tree, Molly Whuppie, Tatterhood, Jack My Hedgehog, and The Wishing Table.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Galleys for OUT OF THE WILD!

Look, look, look, the galleys for OUT OF THE WILD are here!!! Snoopy Dance of Joy!!!

Wait, before you look, let me back up and explain... OUT OF THE WILD is the sequel to INTO THE WILD, coming out in June 2008. It's my second book. (Here's a summary.) I'm very, very excited about it. A galley (also known as an advance reader's copy or ARC) is the step before it bec
omes a finished book. It's basically a mock-up of what the book will look like, except that it's in paperback, has yet to be proofread, and (in this case) is missing the shiny foil part of the cover art. (The real book will be hardcover and have a shiny silver stripe. Yay for shiny!) Okay, now may I have a drumroll please? Presenting... the galley for OUT OF THE WILD...

And to continue a tradition started by the lovely and talented Diana Peterfreund, here's me with my beloved galleys:

For more pictures of authors reveling in their galleys, click here.

And in case you were wondering, the silhouette on the cover is
Julie on a flying bath mat. Yes, a flying bath mat. :)

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Bancroft School

In tenth grade, our chemistry teacher forced our class to dress up in lab coats and lab goggles and to stand on the stage in the auditorium in front of the entire high school at assembly and sing the Elements Song by Tom Lehrer.

This wasn't a punishment. I think she honestly believed this would be "fun".

It says good things about my school that we weren't mercilessly mocked for this. Still, though, I was rather seriously shy and self-conscious in high school so this episode haunted my nightmares for years. (After I s
aw the movie Titanic, I dreamed about being on the doomed ship as it slipped into the ocean while the orchestra played, "There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium, and hydrogen and oxygen...")

Last Tuesday, I returned to that very auditorium as part of a school visit to my old school, Bancroft School in Worcester, Massachusetts, which I attended from 6th grade through 12th. I was a wee bit nervous. You see, this -- visiting my old school -- was something I'd dreamed about doing for a long, long time. I remember being in sixth grade and sitting in the audience for an assembly and daydreaming that I was a published author, invited ba
ck to talk to the school, and that I wasn't too shy to, y'know, speak. So this was a Big Deal for me.

I had at least three nightmares in preparation for my school visit: one where I'd forgotten to put on pants, one where I forgot what I was going to say, and one where I opened my copy of INTO THE WILD to find that all the text had been replaced by the Periodic Table.

I saved myself from the first nightmare by wearing a skirt, the second nightmare didn't happen, and I haven't had the nerve to check i
nside a copy of INTO THE WILD for the third nightmare. But that's okay because the school visit to Bancroft was AWESOME. I'm talking bottle-it-up-and-save-it awesome. I'm talking Snoopy-Dance-of-Joy awesome.

Here's a recap of the day:

4am - Woke up. Felt like my throat had been skinned. Lurched to shower. Opened mouth to practice talk as showered. Sounded like Jabba the Hut. Panicked.

5am - Debated with husband about whether I c
ould go. Tried to do talk again. Sounded like Jabba the Hut after eating Kermit the Frog.

5:30am - Downed a cup of hot chocolate. Decided I was going anyway, dammit.

6am - Ferry to Connecticut. No talking. More hot chocolate.

7:30am - Drove to Massachusetts. No talking. More hot chocolate. (I'm not a coffee kind of girl. I like my caffeine to come with marshmallows.)

11:25am - Arrived at Bancroft. Tested voice. So
unded a little less like I'd eaten Kermit the Frog and more like I was Kermit the Frog. Decided that was an improvement. I rather like Muppets.

11:30am - Met my excellent host Sydney Patten, the Cultural Events Coordinator. (I was a Cultural Event. Neat to be referred to as an event.) Saw some familiar and friendly faces in the front office. Also got tour of the school.

The school is now a mix of bits that are the same as I remember (like the theater/auditorium and the stairwell to the library) and brand-new bits (like the playground on the hill instead of a building and the fireplace in the main lobby). The upper school lockers are the same, and stu
dents still don't lock them. But the old cafeteria (site of many an awkward school dance) is now the Multi-Purpose Room, and the old gym is now the cafeteria. It felt surreal to be there. Memories poured over me, and there I was, the Cultural Event.

Highlight of the tour was the theater (which was exactly the same as it was when I stood on that stage in lab coat and goggles). I walked in there, and two high school kids looked over at me and then did double-takes. "Hey, it's the author!" one of them said. The other said, "Whoa, this is, like, extra cool."

At that moment, I felt extra cool.

11:45am - Lunched in a special dining room with the he
admaster, the head of the English department, the director of advanced studies, the school librarian, and other VIPs. Felt a bit like a kid who had snuck a seat at the grown-ups' table. Half of me kept expecting to be sent out to the main cafeteria with the other kids. The other half had a really nice time.

We were joined by a special guest: Ms. Tsang, one of my high school English teachers. She's the teacher who really believed in
me as a writer and really encouraged me. She no longer teaches at Bancroft, but she came in just to see me. How cool is that?

12:30pm - Assembly for the sixth, seventh, and ei
ghth graders. I began by telling them all about the Elements Song incident and then explaining why I had returned to this auditorium, given my past scarring experience here. I had returned in case there was anyone out there who was like me -- anyone who had an impossible dream. I wanted to say something profound and inspiring to those students who dreamed of writing a book or being on Broadway or climbing Mount Everest. As I confessed in my talk, though, I'm just not all that deep. So I asked them to imagine that I'd said something really inspiring and to treasure those words always. I then talked about writing.

The assembly was nothing like my nightmares. Or even like my memories. I remember having cold sweats at the thought of standing
up in assembly and giving a thirty-second announcement. Maybe I've grown up. Maybe I'm older, wiser, stronger, more self-confident, and have better hair. Or maybe it's just that they gave me a microphone. Microphones seem to make me braver. No idea why. I think they're magic. At any rate, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

1:15pm - At the end of my talk, I signed books for a slew of really awesome students. (Actually, all the students were awesome. They laughed at my jokes. Clearly, that's a sign of supreme intelligence an
d taste. Or at least good manners.) Plus I got to see my AP Bio teacher Mrs. Carlson (one of the best teachers I've ever had), and I got to meet Marissa Doyle of the Class of 2k8 (a group of debut authors with YA/MG books out in 2008, modeled after the Class of 2k7, to which I belong), who lives nearby and had come to meet me and see my talk.

1:45pm - Downed tea. No marshmallows but plenty of sugar. Hoped I sounded more like Katherine Hepburn than Kermit the Frog. Decided that even though I was exhilarated from my presentation, I wasn't delusional. No Hepburn for me.

2pm - Presentation for the fourth and fifth graders in the library. When I asked if anyone had read the book, nearly every hand in the room shot up. Never had that happen before. Had to restrain myself from doing a Snoopy Dance of Joy.

2:45pm - More signing. More talking.

3pm - Interviewed by a super-nice journalist for an
article in the Bancroft Bulletin, the school alumni magazine.

4pm - Said good-bye to people and headed home.

9pm - Home. Told husband all the details of the day. Sounded like Jabba the Hut after eating Katherine Hepburn. But it didn't matter any more. I went to bed a very happy Sarah.

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