Tuesday, September 26, 2017

All Children Need Books. Period.

I'm working on a presentation for the Tennessee Association of School Librarians Conference.

Here are some 2016 statistics regarding public school children statewide in Tennessee:

48.9% receive free or reduced-price school lunch
32.3% live in families that receive SNAP (food stamps)
24.1% live in poverty
11% live in extreme poverty
5% live in foster care

48.4% of 3rd-5th graders are reading at proficient level

Of 4th-graders eligible for free lunch, 22% are reading at proficient level.

This means that 88% of 4th-grades NOT eligible for free lunch are reading at proficient level.

This is the difference poverty makes. If you aren't poor enough for free lunch, you've got nearly a 9/10 chance of reading proficiently in fourth grade. If you are, it drops to 1/5.

I could throw more statistics at you--I've been working on this for two days--but the upshot is, poor kids need books.

Poor kids need books. Get them some. It's the way out.

Monday, September 25, 2017

On Tour: Where I'm Gonna Be

Okay, everyone! My official book tour for The War I Finally Won starts Friday!

Below is a listing of the events I believe to be open to the public:

Friday, September 29th: SCBWI Children's and YA Booksigning Party, Franklin, TN
***through special permission I will be signing TWIFW ahead of its Tuesday release date***
7:30-9:30 pm, Embassy Suites in Franklin. Open to all, and lots of writers will be there!

Monday, October 2nd
Moore High School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Tuesday, October 3rd:  Release Date of The War I Finally Won!
Encyclomedia Conference, Oklahoma City
Signings from 9:45-10:30, 1:00-1:45, and 2:00-2:30
Sequoyah Book  Award Author Panel with Victoria Jamieson and Lois Ruby, 11:15-12:00

Wednesday, October 11th: Chevy Chase Library, Washington, DC
afternoon event, time tk

Thursday October 12th: A Likely Story Bookstore, Sykesville MD
Educators' Night Wine & Cheese
7:00 pm

Saturday, October 14th, Southern Festival of Books, Nashville, TN
3:00-4:00 Presentation with Alan Gratz, author of Refugee
4:00-4:30 booksigning

Come visit! I'd love to meet you!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy Birthday, Beautiful!

It's only 10:45 am and already it's been a weird day.

For starters, my dog collapsed this morning, in the middle of a joyful romp up our hill. It appears she now has heart problems. She's at the vet getting sorted, and the people at the vet were all kind and reassuring, but it's odd writing without her snoring in my office and it wasn't a good start to my day.

After I got back from the vet's I made myself a second pot of coffee, because circumstances called for it.

My writing so far this morning is lousy. I do not blame the excess caffeine. I blame my procrastination 3 months ago which has caused this deadline jam which means I can not just walk away from my desk today but must sit churning out lousy words.

Oh well. First draft. (Brace yourself, Jessica!) (That's my editor. My long-suffering editor.)

The good news is that today is the third birthday of my penultimate nephew, Fred. All my nephews are brilliant and funny and I love them individually and as a pack. I rejoice in my nephews. When I facetimed Fred and his older brother this morning they shrieked with joy and ran around showing me their new house and Fred's presents, a scooter and a microphone and a balloon that somehow sings "Happy Birthday" in Mickey Mouse's voice when you smack it. No kidding.

A few months ago when I was visiting my sister, I picked Fred up, just at one point in the day. He was chattering away, but suddenly he looked down at my face, cradled it in his two chubby hands, and said, in a tone of delighted wonder, "Oh--you're beautiful!"

I have no idea what made him say that, but I have a feeling that I'll remember it all my days.

Happy Birthday, Fred. You're beautiful, too.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Serendipity in Siricusa

So, this just happened. Really, it did. I’m typing this sitting on the floor near the front doors of Catania airport, in Sicily, because they won’t let us check our luggage until two hours before the scheduled flight time (the flight is already an hour late). And I’m so excited I got out my laptop. When I get wifi I’ll post this, and then I’ll really start writing.
I’m in Sicily, which is more or less insane. We scheduled this trip—which is actually a golf trip organized by the association for which my husband rates golf courses—way before I knew I’d have a book tour starting September 28th or that my Egypt manuscript due September 27th. Even knowing how full my September would be, my progress on the new book this summer was slow. I love summer and my girl was home, and I wanted to have fun. Also it was the first time in five years I was writing from a point-of-view other than my beloved Ada’s, and that was difficult. Also everything was a hot mess, as is usual with first drafts. Sometimes it’s hard to keep going when you know what you’ve written so far is shite.
So. Challenged by my friend Dan Gutman to make an audacious goal and achieve it, I joined the September Squad, with the goal of either 50,000 words or a finished draft by the end of the month (If I’ve got 50,000 words and I’m still not finished, the book is much more complex than I thought). I was plugging along happily until I hit this trip. I brought my laptop and my manuscript, but then I’d think—I could write today, or I could explore the Sicilian countryside on horseback, and I picked horseback, and learned what olive groves look like, young and old, and about wild fennel and wild thyme and the exact shade of the Mediterranean Sea, and then I bought a bikini and it’s not like I’m not taking the book seriously, it’s just that I’m not sure I’ll ever be in Sicily again. I’d be a shame to not pay attention.
Meanwhile, I’d hit a place in the Egypt book where I was really really pleased with a particular scene, and with its implications for the rest of the novel, but I was aware that I was lacking a crucial piece of background—that what I had happening needed an antecedent I couldn’t yet identify. So, that’s what first drafts are for. I kept on.
Mostly the itinerary for this trip is pre-arranged, but yesterday my husband and I looked hard at today’s proposed schedule, and thought it lacking, so we hared off on our own. Our hotel concierge suggested we would enjoy Siricusa, an ancient harbor. We arranged for a driver to take us there and then become our tour guide and show us the highlights. Unfortunately the driver we got didn’t speak any English and had never been to Siricusa at all. He got comprehensively lost in the ancient town, driving in circles the wrong way on streets designated pedestrian-only. He stopped several times to ask other Italians for directions. Finally he just stopped the van, threw us out, and told us he’d come back in four hours. By that time we whole-heartedly agreed. His meandering had shown us a basic layout of the town, and we immediately walked to the ancient piazza fronting the 7th century Byzantine cathedral which was a modification of a 5th-century-BC temple to Athena.
So that was cool. We looked at some other stuff. Then I saw a poster advertising a museum exhibit of Egyptian coffins dug up from Deir El-Bahari, which is to say the dig near Hatshepsut’s temple. So we paid five euros and went in. Turned out it was a traveling exhibition from a museum in Brussels.

Turned out it contained EXACTLY the information I needed. Two specific items. I’ve solved the plot issue and I’ve gotten a translation of an ancient source I was searching for, and it was brilliant, absolutely amazingly brilliant, and I have no idea on earth how I came to find this information about 20th dynasty papyri and ushabti in the middle of Siracusa where I hadn’t planned on visiting until yesterday. It’s all amazing. It’s beyond amazing.

So I’m ignoring the rest of my tour group to sit on the airport floor, laptop on my lap, and type this, and the others are sort of guessing that maybe I’m a writer after all. And it’s the icing on the cake, baby. The icing on the Italian cake.