Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Happy Surprises Caronavirus Style

 Many of us have been through the excitement of having a new book released this past spring and summer. And many of us have paired that excitement with the disappointment of having to cancel in person launch events and book promotion activities. We did it all online instead and it was fine. A bit underwhelming, but we survived. 

So, it was a special treat to have an outdoor socially-distanced book signing...two in fact...that friends and family members were excited to attend. Reading aloud from WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY, in a park picnic grove, with everyone spaced apart on picnic tables and folding chairs, or standing, was special. 

Books are meant to be shared with an audience of appreciative potential readers. The park setting hearkened back to days of old when story tellers gathered around the campfire and regaled those in attendance with their folktales, yarns, and stories meant to be passed on.

Instead of a campfire, nature provided the heat. But there was enthusiasm, appreciation, and gratitude for such a small thing to make the day a happy surprise. A family with two children who hadn't been formally invited, stayed to listen. People applauded, pleasantries and kind words were exchanged, treats handed out and books signed. It was a welcome relief to be outside sharing my story for others to pass on.   

Have a book coming out this fall? Don't despair, go to the nearest picnic grove and read to those assembled. It's why we write in the first place, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

But If You Happen to Run Across the Cartoon, Would You Please Let Me Know?

 by Jody Feldman

What started as a memory and an unsuccessful Internet search resulted in an unplanned action on my part, something I’d never done before. Sort of surprised myself; was definitely surprised.

A new thematic thread in my work-in-progress brought thoughts of an editorial cartoon that’s stuck with me for decades. As memory serves, the first panel shows a father and his angelic child. In the next panel(s), the father literally opens the child’s head and fills it with the worst kind of prejudice. Finally, the child’s head is back together, but the angelic countenance has turned demon-like. Very powerful stuff.

I wanted to post that cartoon near my computer as writing inspiration.
No problem, I thought. I’ll find it online. The man who created it has won a Pulitzer Prize, has written an Oscar-winning short film, and is one of the most prolific and celebrated satirists in the country. In the kidlit world, he is best known for, among other books, The Man in the Ceiling and, especially, for illustrating The Phantom Tollbooth.

Piece of cake, right? I’ll Google Jules Feiffer + editorial + (other specific words} and voila! It will appear.

After hours of searching, however, I could not find that one cartoon. As a woman on a mission, though, I changed tactics. I emailed Jules Feiffer. The man is 91 years old, I thought. He can’t be bothered with someone like me, asking him to remember an old editorial cartoon.

But just four hours and six minutes later, there, in my inbox, was a reply; not an automated reply, not from some assistant, no. It was from Jules Feiffer, himself. Jules Feiffer!

After the first rush of giddiness, it dawned on me. Is this how the kiddos feel when we, as authors, answer them? A sense of surprise and awe and joy?


But here, in my house, on my couch, with dinner on the stove, I’m just your average person. Why would my correspondence make difference to a young reader who, for whatever reason, decided to contact me? In their eyes though, just maybe, I’m to them what Jules Feiffer was to me that day.

Given the volume of his work, it’s not surprising that he was only able to steer me in a couple directions to find that cartoon. “Sorry that I can’t help you further,” he wrote, “but, no fear, considering the Trump autocracy, I will, no doubt, touch on the theme again in my online monthly cartoon for Tablet.”

And so, I have no cartoon next to my computer to remind me of that theme for my WIP, but I have an email. And a full-body smile whenever I look at it.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

A Writing Surprise -- by Jane Kelley

Can writers ever be surprised by their own work? After all, every word that lands on the page comes from our minds. Unless you type with your eyes closed, or choose not to correct the computer's auto-correct. 

And yet, I long to be surprised by an image, an insight, or a rebellious character. Sometimes, on my best days, I am. When I'm not grinding prose out to reach an arbitrary word count. Or falling into old hackneyed habits. Or sticking to that outline no matter what goddammit. 

Surprises can be blocked. But can that magic be encouraged? Maybe. If I try not to work so hard. If I feel confident enough to loosen the reins a little bit and look around. If I have kept a corner of myself wild. I haven't spread poison on the lawn just to keep it perfect. 

Then, into that yard I know all too well, might come a bird. 

Be quiet when it arrives. Be careful reaching for your camera. Just see what the owl does, not what you want it to do. 

Listen. The owl is very silent. Nearby the wrens are frantically warning. Stay away from our nest. (I hadn't even known there were babies in that old bird house!) The owl did. The owl also knew it was time for little ones to fly off into the world, even though that meant leaving the safety of the nest. 

This wasn't a happy surprise for the wrens or for the owl. It flew away hungry, though I did my best not to get too close. 

But what a happy surprise for this writer. That something unexpected, and not completely out of the realm of possibility, could come into the yard. 

Shhh. Can you hear the baby turkeys peeping to let their mother know they are here?