Sunday, January 27, 2013

Infatuated Me

by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman

Have you ever had a crush—the type that sends poetry bubbling to the lips?  Who hasn’t? 

One minute you’re sitting on your mat in the kindergarten sharing circle, peaceably noshing graham crackers and milk, and the next, that boy with short blond hair and flinty grey eyes—Marty Fishburn!—rocks the planet. Not that he knows it. He’s too busy unraveling his paper straw, and shows more interest in the fly that lands on the teacher’s head than in you.

Later, when you’re mature, words are required to get a crush rolling. You’ve acquired some confidence in your powers of attraction. A cute cashier in the college bookstore crooks an eyebrow and asks about your day, and you respond with a direct look and sunny smile. Experience leads you to expect a fair fight—or at least an entente cordiale in which both parties attend the negotiations. It might take weeks before you realize you’re not the only customer in the checkout line being checked out. But it’s too late and now you’re besotted. Only careful consideration of the dirt under his nails gives you any hope of recovery.

The most complicated crush of all—and now you know you’re getting older—is one on an institution. It starts insidiously, when you head to the old alma mater for reunion day. Here is the ivy-covered bell tower and the scruffy classrooms where you spent many a day in mild contemplation of the trees outside the window. There is the corner behind the chapel where night-blooming jasmine caresses the walls and you gave up a kiss twenty years earlier. What was that boy’s name?

The soft pump of sprinklers is the only sound when you take an early walk along brilliant lawns while shiny undergraduates set out scones in the alumni center. You pause under a shady oak tree, inspired to scribble a few lines that might turn into a new story. It’s always peaceful on a college campus in the morning, and the woodsy perfume of wet mulch wafts up from pansies that have been planted just in time for your arrival. You—and a thousand others.

Is it your imagination or are students smarter than they were twenty years ago? Logarithms sprawl across blackboards glanced through open doorways. Colorful posters announce lectures by famous writers of whom you’ve never heard, while laughter flashes from the window of a seminar room. What would it be like to be inside that glorious building once more?

Professors with bulging foreheads stroll the quad with far away expressions that suggests E=MC2 in the hopper. You look critically at the lines you’ve written and close the notepad. They wouldn’t fetch a gentleman’s “B,” you fear.

You’ve entered snowball phase. You now love your old school more than when you were a student. Fortunately, the reunion ends before you can get into too much trouble. Monday finds you back in the real world.

Unless, as happened to me, you are suddenly given—voila!—the gift of a year’s residency at the old college. I’m a professor at San Diego State, and last year I won a writing fellowship at my alma mater, Stanford, which has an endowment rivaling the treasury of a European principality.

So I arrive with my research notes and sturdy rolling backpack. A pencil protector isn’t far behind.

The visit starts innocently enough. I’m issued keys, including one to the building next to the iconic bell tower. Roses grace the foyer. My new office is large, with freshly washed windows overlooking the old stone library. At State, the maintenance staff doesn’t do windows. Ever.

A new computer arrives. I log onto the precious university website with its endless collection of e-books and journals available only to subscribers. Bingo! My new ID number and I’m in the castle. 

I can just feel brain cells multiplying. Words crowd onto the page, jostling to get there first. I kick out second drafts with the speed of a laser printer. 

Crumpled pages that miss the wastebasket are gone the next day, as if Aladdin’s genii worked for Facilities Management. At a public school, trashcans are emptied once a week. Communal bins placed in crowded hallways help out when an unfinished cheese sandwich turns ugly on day three or a redolent banana peel becomes embarrassing.

Every week the elite alma mater seems a little more posh until, at the end of the second month, it hits me. I have a hopeless case of unrequited love. This university may enjoy flirting, but it will never be my steady. My heart is swelling and breaking at the same time.

Until the morning when I pass the bell tower as the gardeners are sprucing the campus for graduation weekend. A protective mask over his nose and mouth, the friendly worker gives me a nod and turns back to his task, spray-painting the lawn a bright emerald. 

So that’s how they keep the grass greener at a private college.

It took a few months, but I finally got over my crush. Thankfully. My overheated writing pace steadied into a routine that I could maintain when I returned to State. 

The best moment in an infatuation is when it ends. But please don’t tell Marty Fishburn that I still like him.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pulpwood Queens Weekend

By Margaret Dilloway

I’m getting ready to head to Pulpwood Queens in Jefferson, Texas, again. Jefferson is known for two things: a raucous book convention, and ghosts.  

The Pulpwood Queens is an international book club with more than 500 chapters. It’s run by Kathy Patrick, whose salon, Beauty and the Book, is the only hair salon/bookstore that I know of (and really, what a good concept. Buy a book and read it while your hair sets). Every January, around 400 Pulpwood Queen members congregate in Jefferson to eat, drink, and listen to authors talk about their books.

I first heard about PQ through Jamie Ford. He’d posted a bunch of photos of himself…in a White Rabbit costume…surrounded by the Red Queen and Alice and all these other characters. What the what? I thought to myself. Obviously, this was not your typical book festival, and I wanted to go!

So, last year I went for the first time, dressing as a clown, a circus showgirl, and in an '80s prom dress (each night has a theme). I met Caroline Leavitt, Sarah Jio, Eleanor Brown, Robert Hicks, Carolyn Turgeon, Lisa Wingate, Kathryn Casey, River Jordan, Bill Torgerson, Karen Harrington, Michael Morris, Robert Leleux, Rebecca Rasmussen, Stephanie McAfee, Marybeth Whalen (who looked sooo familiar and then I realized that she’s the image you see when you log into Author Central), and many others. As an extra special bonus, I also get to hang out with my Texan friend Julie Kibler (whose marvelous novel, Calling Me Home, debuts early next month).

This year, I’m going with extra-special purpose. The Pulpwood Queen clubs voted my newest novel, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, Bonus Book of the Year, an honor previously won by Jamie Ford, Jeannette Walls, and Jennie Helderman. I’m so honored and pleased.

And like I said, Jefferson’s known for its ghosts. This year, after I booked our B&B, I thought, “Hmm, I wonder if this place is haunted?” Lo and behold, a Google search told me, “It’s the  most haunted place you could hope to stay.” Gulp. 

Don’t worry, my husband’s going with me, and he won’t mind if I wake him up every time I have to use the facilities. I’ll have to see if there’s an app to translate ghost voices.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Give a Book on Behalf of Sandy Hook

by Susan McBeth

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

What do Seth Godin, international bestselling author and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and ten of Southern California’s most talented and beloved children’s authors and illustrators have in common?  The answer is that they have all inspired this individual, for one brief moment in time, to take on a leadership role to move a tribe connected to an idea.  What does that mean precisely, you may ask?

Like everyone else, I was stunned and horrified by the senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.  As I sat glued to the television set, trying to make sense out of something that is frankly beyond my powers of comprehension, I remember feeling an overwhelming despair and fear that, as moved and shocked as we all were by this tragedy, gun control laws would likely not change and mentally ill individuals would still not receive the resources they so desperately need.

I was waiting for our leaders to act – to do something – to change something – to lead us out of this dark hole so that we could rest assured that a tragedy like this would not occur again.   It was then that I remembered Seth Godin’s words and realized that any one of us could be a leader, could enact change.  I could not bear the thought that the loss of those beautiful and innocent lives would change nothing.  And I could not wait for anyone else to do something.  So I chose to act. 

Godin assured me that all I needed to form a tribe was a shared interest and a way to communicate.   It was clear there existed a shared interest.  Everyone wanted to help, as evidenced by the international outpouring of donations rained on the Sandy Hook community immediately following the shooting.  When those donations exceeded the capacity of their community to distribute, Sandy Hook representatives advised that the best way we could honor their memory was to make a difference in our own communities.

How then to move our tribe to make such a difference?  Enter ten of the most talented and beloved children’s authors and illustrators in Southern California who, through their books, illustrations, and appearances inspire, delight, and teach on a daily basis.  They could communicate our message, and so I enlisted their support and created a “Give a Book on Behalf of Sandy Hook” book drive and fundraising campaign to take place on Saturday, February 2, 2013, from 2:00-5:00pm at Yellow Book Road children’s bookstore in San Diego.

On this one afternoon, we ask all San Diegans to join our tribe to communicate to the Sandy Hook community, and to the world, that we can make a difference, that we send a message of compassion, hope, and change.  On that one afternoon, join our tribe, come out and meet David Shannon, Robin Preiss Glasser, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Marla Frazee, Susie Ghahremani, Candace Ryan, Annika Nelson, Edith Hope Fine, Salina Yoon, and KathleenKrull.  Our goal is to sell 450 books, representing the student body at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The authors will autograph books, and then you, too, can include a personal message as well.

The books, as well as the proceeds from the sales thereof, will be donated to the San Diego Center for Children, a non-profit organization that for 125 years, has cared for San Diego’s must vulnerable children by providing expert therapeutic care and counseling for children and teens suffering from mental health challenges.  The donated books will support their highly successful Intensive Reading Improvement Program, and the donated funds will support their treatment programs to equip these special children with tools to make them successful, self-confident, and contributing members of society.

For more information, visit Adventures by the Book.   I believe in our tribe!

Friday, January 4, 2013

What is Talent?

By Marjorie Hart 

Happy New Year! 2012 was a year to remember, but I'm looking forward to the next best thing in 2013.  For new ideas I turn to my sister, Katherine, who is 91 and author of six books. I find she's already in the middle of projects,  waiting for the reprint of her WWII story about her husband, Bail Our Over the Balkans and finishing two more books. Katherine is never idle.

Neither are writers or readers. When readers tell their remarkable stories, I insist that they write it before it's forgotten. Some have, others will, but too often I hear, "I don't have that kind of talent." 

What is talent? Can it be developed?

Webster's definition doesn't satisfy, though several bestsellers have been intriguing. My mother's favorite quote was:Talent is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. In a recent splurge of emails, Katherine and I reminisced on the subject going back to the Thirties. This was one of them.

Winter came one early morning in Iowa--so cold our bedroom wallpaper was covered in a layer of frost. I couldn't bear to dip my toe from the covers. At the last moment, I dashed downstairs to the kitchen which was heated by an enormous black coal stove. Katherine, standing by the oven door, was practicing Kreutzer violin exercises, the music rack too hot to touch. By the time I warmed my hands with a cup of cocoa she had finished an hour of practice "because my teacher said so."

In our small town, music contests became the most captivating event of the year. A win at the district meant advancing to the state contest at the University of Iowa, and then to the national in Cleveland. Our Story City High School superintendent was so enthusiastic, he excused Katherine from study hall to "go home and practice." As a sophomore, she became a contestant at the state level and I was thrilled to be in the crowded auditorium. Excited for her, though anxious, I noted the heavy competition of contestants from much larger cities and the intimidating sight of judges so close to the stage. Katherine, the last one to compete--our mother was the  accompanist--entered the stage confidently to perform the dazzling Bruch violin concerto. Every so often--though not often enough--there are unforgetable moments when I can still feel goosebumps at the memory. .   

"Oh my," a lady said when she finished, "how lucky to have that God given talent!"

Katherine's response: "Marjorie — I didn't have much talent — mostly practice and a good teacher."