Thursday, September 16, 2010

Birthday gift!

For those of you who don't know, yesterday was my birthday! Some people are really nonchalant about their birthdays--if people mention it, great, if not, no big deal. Others dread the day, seeing it only as a depressing reminder of their mortality. Me, I run around for weeks in advance telling everyone that it's my birthday and then I get hyper-excited when anyone wishes me a happy birthday.

Me: I need to set up an appointment, my laptop won't close properly. Also, it's my birthday.

Apple Store Guy: Okay, when would be a good time for you to come in?

Me: Monday would be good. Today, however, is my birthday. How long do you think it will take to fix it?

Apple Store Guy: It doesn't sound like a huge problem, probably not long. Monday at 10?

Me: That works for me. Happy Birthday to me.

Apple Store Guy: Okay. And Happy Birthday!


It's a little obnoxious, but I genuinely love my birthday. I love birthday presents, too, even if they're super-creepy. Last night my friend Melody gave me this--

Yes, Melody the character in The Popularity Papers is named after Melody the friend who gives creepy gifts. They may look nothing alike, but I do believe there is a shared sense of humor.

I've got to stop playing with this creepy thing now, it's driving the cat insane. Insaner.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Princeton Children's Book Festival

Children's book authors are totally weird and I am proud to be one.

I'm not one to put much stock into astrological signs (can everyone born in late August and most of September be doggedly loyal and hyper-organized? How is that possible?) but I do believe that I possess many qualities that gel with the stereotype of a Virgo--I like to be organized and prepared and on time.

So wait, you say, Amy, you're a Virgo? Did we miss your birthday? Actually no, it's WEDNESDAY. MY BIRTHDAY IS WEDNESDAY. This has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but I think it's important for the whole entire world to know. MY BIRTHDAY IS ON SEPTEMBER 15th, WHICH IS WEDNESDAY.

So...preparedness! I was, in some ways, prepared for the festival. Before we went on tour I'd received a letter that made some things very clear--

Each author or illustrator will be assigned one 6' foot table under our tents. Tents will be arranged by color and your location is included in this package. This space is entirely your own for the afternoon, so please feel free to personalize the area with anything you would like to use for display purposes.

When I was in the first grade, Mrs. Bronstien gave me my first homework assignment. I don't know what the assignment was (probably something involving calculus or maybe coloring something in) but I do remember her saying, "Anyone who wants to do this can, but you don't have to" and that pretty much ruined me for homework for life. If you tell me that I don't have to do something, then I'm going to think that it doesn't need doing. Despite all Virgoian instincts, if given the option to be lazy, I'm probably going to take it.

Six feet of table space is a whole lot of space. This became terrifyingly clear to me the moment that I arrived at my big yellow table. All around me, authors and illustrators were constructing elaborately decorated displays to promote their books and setting out dishes of individually-wrapped pieces of chocolate to lure in readers, and I was afloat in a sea of yellow tablecloth. This was bad.

A girl approached my table. "Hi," she said, "I'm Taryn, and I'm your volunteer for the day. Do you need any help with anything?"

"YES!!!" I roared, whipping out my sketchbook and starting to draw. "I'm going to draw and ink this in. You are going to erase my pencil marks and color in the drawings. Cool?"

Taryn's eyes widened. All of the other volunteers were sort of wandering around or getting cups of water for their authors. "Yes!" She squeaked, and I threw an eraser to her. Sure, I hadn't prepared with decorations, but I had my art supplies and I was prepared to decorate. I churned out drawings of Julie, Lydia, a monster alien with a book, another monster alien with a book, and two vases of flowers. Taryn erased like she'd been born with a Staedtler Mars White Plastic in her hand and then ran off to find tape and more Sharpies. In an hour we had quite possibly the most beautiful table in the entire festival.

Taryn and me and our mind-bogglingly beautiful table.

I tell myself that I'm going to be better prepared next time--we'll see. But our solution worked pretty well, and a lot of kids stopped by the booth to have me sign their new copies of The Popularity Papers, so our excessive use of Princeton Library tape was not for nothing.

A blue-tongued reader checks out her freshly-signed copy of The Popularity Papers.

And so ends this streak of book events that I've been on. My next event (that I know of) is on September 24th in Lee, Massachusetts, where I won't forget to bring my camera (like I did on Friday when I went to Lititz--I love you, Aaron's Books! Also, the town of Lititz smells like chocolate. I like Lititz) and I'll be at the Ocean County Library in Tom's River, NJ, for Bookfest on the 25th.

Until then, I've got some actual authorin' to do. It will be really nice to just sit at my drafting table to draw--it's been a while. Unless we're counting the decorations at the Princeton Children's Book Festival...

Thursday, September 9, 2010


It's always nice to come home to find that the cat hasn't gruesomely murdered the housesitter. As I write this, Tilda the Much Maligned is on me like white on rice, and has been for the past twelve hours. She seems extremely happy to have us home, which will last right about until I wrestle her down and clip her claws. Then she'll just be extremely happy to have Mark home.

Here are some numbers for The Popularity Papers Goes Midwest Tour:

4,728 miles
14 states
11 hotels
9 visits with friends
10 book events
19 book stores visited
4 motel waffles consumed
2 couples married
3 friends gave birth
2 friends who live in Ohio named Jessica but who are more often than not called "Jessi"
2 baseball games
4 run-ins with the Wimpy Kid Ice Cream Truck
14,827 insects died horribly on Tali's windshield and front bumper
18 different bedrooms
7 new bruises on my legs from stumbling around 18 different bedrooms
6 times crossing the Mississippi
9 sing-alongs to The Proclaimers' one-hit wonder "500 Miles"

Bookstores that hosted events--

Books & Co. in Beavercreek, Ohio
Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati, Ohio
Cover to Cover Books in Columbus, Ohio
Kids Ink in Indianapolis, Indiana
Puddin'Head Books in St. Louis, Missouri
Bookworm in Omaha, Nebraska
Barnes & Noble in Rochester, Minnesota
Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Wonderland Books in Rockford, Illinois
Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, Pennsylvania

Friends and family that invited us to stay with them and raid their refrigerators--

My in-laws in Beavercreek, Ohio, the first stop on the tour, who brought all sorts of knitters and one of Mark's former teachers to the Books & Co. event

Heather, Jeremy, and little Elli, who entertained us mightily with her dancing skills in Lebanon, Ohio

Sonia, Michael, and Bear, who hosted us in Des Moines the week before their wedding in LA, because they had nothing better to do

Anna and Jeremy, who will, one day, witness my awesome bowling skills

John/Brother Stephen, who needs to find a way to catch this season of Project Runway because the new hour and a half format is EXCELLENT

Kathleen, Eric, Julia, and Ari, who are to blame for Mark's newfound addiction to Rock Band

and Jessi, Marc, and Ben, who actually gave up their bedroom so that we would be more comfortable (Jessi and Marc, Ben got to stay in his own crib)

Amazing, right? We saw the Great Plains, and the Rockies, and Mt. Rushmore, and Buffalo Bill's grave, and the gift store at Buffalo Bill's grave, we ate Indian food in Cheyenne, I didn't eat Spam in the Spam Museum, we took naughty photos of the Jolly Green Giant, and witnessed some dear friends get married. It was quite a journey, one that I'll never forget, mostly because we took a billion million pictures.

But it's not over, folks. Tomorrow night I'll be at the Lititz KidLit Festival (and I just found out that there's a chocolate factory in Lititz, uhmahgawduhmahgawd) and on Saturday I'll be at the Princeton Children's Book Festival. This tour may be over, but the touring continues.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 20: Pennsylvania and home

Inside the Commonwealth of Atticus Phanaticus.

So much cat to hug! So much mail to sort through! So much laundry to do! So many dead insects from Iowa and Nebraska and Wisconsin to scrape off the front bumper of the car. So many episodes of Project Runway to catch up on! And my goodness, the fridge is really clean.

Tomorrow after a good night of sleep and a good day of not driving I'll write a very thoughtful post on what this trip meant, a summary of the things that we did and saw, a thank you to all the wonderful booksellers who hosted events, the friends who let us into their homes, and the readers who showed support for The Popularity Papers. Until then, a few ridiculous pictures of Atticus from our trip home.

Did you know that Bedford, PA, has a building shaped like an enormous coffee pot? Atticus knows.

Atticus salutes our state capitol in Harrisburg with his nose-tongue.

From the inside of the capitol building.

I'd write more tonight, but this cat needs some good lovin'. And we need to go to Wawa to pick up dinner. It's really, really good to be home.

Flying Atticus

Not every shot is a winner.

Some of you may be wondering, How do you get Atticus to fly for those awesome pictures? Well, dear blog reader, we repeatedly hurl him in the air until we get a good shot (or until we're giggling too much to continue or until people give us weird looks). Here are the ones from our little photo session atop Mt. Washington.

In this shot, we completely miss the Pittsburgh skyline.

Timing is everything.

Sometimes I may throw him with a little too much enthusiasm.


Now he looks like he's jumping off a bridge.

And doing a martial arts move on Pittsburgh.


Atticus does his best impression of the Goodyear Blimp.

The winning shot.

Day 19: Pittsburgh


LAST STOP ON THE TOUR!!! My friend Bethany is sad because she's under the impression that I'll stop blogging once the tour ends and she'll have nothing silly to read when she's feeding baby Rhys at early o'clock in the morning. No worries, new mothers! The tour may be ending but the tour blog will continue--on Friday I'll be in Lititz, PA for a book event, and on Saturday I'll be at the Princeton Children's Book Festival. As long as Jason has the strength and fortitude to send me somewhere, the blog will continue, and that guy is looking very healthy.

We said goodbye to Jessi, Marc, and Ben and headed towards our home state of Pennsylvania. I know that Pennsylvania is a big state, and Pittburgh is just about as far from Philadelphia as one can get while still being technically in Pennsylvania, but it felt great to be kind-of back.

Pennsylvania welcomes us! In a blurry sort of way. Imagine that we saw the sign and then rubbed our eyes in disbelief, which is why it is blurry. Yup.

After a quick stop at the Mattress Factory (an art installation museum) we made our way to the top of Mt. Washington to get a good view of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has 446 bridges and I think we may have crossed two-thirds of them to find this scenic outlook. But it was worth it.

Atticus enjoys the view.

The book event was at the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, a suburb of Pittsburgh. One of the great pleasures of being on this tour has been the chance to see all sorts of bookstores in different regions and to meet the staffs there, because book people are my people.

Every time I think of someone taking the time to make a promotional poster on behalf of my book, I feel all warm and gooey inside.

The kids were great and asked really detailed questions. I had never before considered what my favorite page in the book would be.

After the event we checked into our (blissfully wifi-ed) hotel room, freshened up, and headed to PNC Park for a ball game. For those of you who don't know, last night the Pittsburgh Pirates (who are considered to be a pretty terrible baseball team) were playing the Atlanta Braves (who were the best team in the division). If, last night, the Phillies beat the Florida Marlins, and the Pirates somehow managed to beat the Braves, the Phillies would take the lead in the division, so we showed our support for our Phillies by wearing Phillies gear and taking Atticus to the game.

Very odd, Transformer-like sculpture that we saw on the way to the stadium. Go Pittsburgh with your weird public art! Atticus is impressed by all the bridges.

Baseball! Most of the Pirates fans were pretty supportive of our Phillies love, but we got some dirty looks from the Braves fans in attendance.

This is the Pirates mascot. He (I assume it's a he) came over when he saw Atticus and bopped me on the head. I can honestly state that being loved up on by the Phanatic is rougher than being roughed up by the Pittsburgh Parrot. When his back was turned, Atticus stuck his nose-tongue at the Parrot's tush. Mark was terrified that the Parrot was going to kill me.

We live to tell the tale and watch a ball game.

Kudos to the Pirates for having a perogie race during the middle of the game.

And then, inspired by Atticus, the Pirates pulled ahead of the Braves, 5-0! Hooray! All we needed was three more outs and the Pirates would win!!!

And then came the rains.

And it rained and it rained and it rained.

And the grounds crew came out and covered the field.

But we waited it out, because we are Philly fans, and Philly fans wait out the rain. Also, we had walked to the ballpark and didn't want to get soaked on the way home. Finally the game resumed, the Pirates won! And then the Phillies won! And this nice Pirates fan gave Atticus a smooch.


One last big car trip, and then we're going to hug the cat until she remembers who we are.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Days 17 and 18: Chi-town and the Cleve

Atticus is a lover of art. And lions.

Why is it that the hotel in Mitchell, SD with the strange smell and the peeling wallpaper trim had free wifi but the Chicago Hilton wanted to charge me $7.95 an hour? Harumph! And outrage! I recognize that this is how places like the Chicago Hilton make a pile of money, but I was still miffed, which is why I took their complimentary shower-cap that I would have otherwise left untouched. SO THERE, CHICAGO HILTON.

I'm writing this from our far more luxurious and pleasant accommodations in Shaker Heights with our friends Jessi and Marc, who have, as so many of our other wonderful friends on this journey, given us the password to use their wifi. After saying goodbye to Eric and little Ari on Sunday we drove into Chicago for a day of book eventless pure tourism fun. We started off the day in the neighborhood of Oak Park where Frank Lloyd Wright had designed a bunch of private homes. Mark told me that he had kept a key to each of the homes, so that he could sneak in and rearrange the furniture in the event that the homeowners had changed it from his original design.

He may have been an egomaniac, but the man had style.

Frank Lloyd Wright's first independent commission after leaving the architectural firm he was working for in the late 1800s.

Atticus and the famous architect.

After Oak Park we headed into the city to walk around Millenium Park and meet up with Mark's friend Mary, whose daughter Zelda had read and was a fan of the book.

Approaching Chicago. Also known as Chi-town, Chicagoland, The Windy City, Second City, and Hog Butcher for the World.

Sculpture in Millenium Park. There were two of them facing each other, and the faces on the sculptures would change and occasionally spit a fountain of water. It was pretty great.

You go, Chicago with your public art. Mark called this one "the big silver kidney bean". It was terrific.

Atticus underneath the big silver kidney bean.

Family portrait outside the big silver kidney bean.

Zelda and Atticus. Zelda, by the way, was awesome.

Of course it couldn't be a completely book eventless day--I popped into a Borders to sign some copies of the book and forced a hapless employee to pose for a picture with Atticus.

Benson the Borders Bookseller, Atticus, and a pile of copies of The Popularity Papers.

Mark had read that the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower, but I like to refer to it as That Great Big Black Eyesore in the Middle of A Really Pretty City) charges a pretty penny to go to the top, but you can go to the bar at the top of the Hancock Tower and get just as nice a view. And a drink, so, Atticus in hand, up we went.

The Hancock Tower. Much taller than Atticus.

View from the ladies room at the Hancock Tower. Chicago is so much bigger than most of the cities we've been to on this trip, which was a bit of a culture shock after days of driving through South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

After a full day we headed back to the hotel, did not use wifi, and in the morning packed our bags and headed out of town.

But not before taking photos in front of the Art Institute.

And we were back on the road for the long drive to Cleveland. It was strange to be taking pictures of states where we'd already been, but we still felt the urge to take them.

Hello Indiana!

Goodbye, Indiana.

At Jessi and Marc's we met their son, Ben, for the first time, and he met Atticus for the first time. They seemed to get along.

Or maybe Ben punched Atticus in the eye. Either way, it was cute.

Today we head further east to our last tour stop, the Penguin Book Shop in Sewickley at 4pm. It's strange to be back in our own time zone, and stranger still to be headed home, but we're almost ready.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Days 15 and 16: Wisconsin and Illinois

Thanks Wisconsin!

"Google says that if we don't speed a little we're going to get there three minutes late" Mark said.

After leaving Minneapolis we'd driven down to Wisconsin to visit with our friend John (now known as Brother Stephen, but we still think of him as John). About two years ago John left Philadelphia to pursue his calling to become a monk, and his order keeps a hermitage in the small Wisconsin town of De Soto, WI. John was very happy to see us, fed us copiously, and peppered us with questions about the outside world (Project Runway is now an hour and a half! And sorry, Ugly Betty went downhill).

On the way to the hermitage.

Also on the way to the hermitage.

The hermitage.

Atticus communes with some art in the hermitage.

View from the hermitage. I just like writing "hermitage".

Atticus relaxes in front of the Mississippi.

Mark and John at the roadhouse for dinner.

Roadhouse decor.

After bragging to John about how good we are at getting up early, we woke up late and scrambled to shower, pack, and wolf down a great breakfast that John had prepared for us. Soon we were driving down a very pleasant road that runs alongside the Mississippi River, and about half an hour into the trip Mark was able to get a signal on his iPhone. This was when he said,

"Google says that if we don't speed a little we're going to get there three minutes late."

I know that I have mentioned before that I am originally from Long Island. My first driver's license was issued by the state of New York. For those of you who don't know what that implies, when someone says, "Google says that if we don't speed a little we're going to get there three minutes late," I hear, "DRIVE!!! DRIVE LIKE THE WIND!!! BECOME THE MANIAC SPEED DEMON THAT YOU SO ESSENTIALLY ARE!!!! GO! GO! GO!!!!!!!!!" All the years of living in Philadelphia melted away and I was, once more, a New York driver--pushy, foul-mouthed, with little to no regard for posted traffic laws.

Now I'm not proud of speeding or hurling obscenities at other motorists (although seriously, drivers of Wisconsin, would it kill you to lay off the cell phones?) but the thought of being late to an event was, again, horrifying to me. One day, something will happen that is beyond my control and I will be late, but so help me, today was not going to be that day. We arrived at Wonderland Books and Toys in Rockford with our hearts racing and our eyes wild, and with ten minutes to spare.

We drove past cheese.

We made it to Illinois.

We resisted any urge to stop.

We made it!

And thank goodness for our rampant law-breaking, because every minute spent at Wonderland was great. The kids were funny and asked good questions, the booksellers were really enthusiastic, and there was free ice cream. I swear, we are going to be more mindful of our alarm clocks.

Display at Wonderland.

Look! A line! I don't like to stand in lines, but I'm somehow okay with other people standing in lines to see me.

Stephanie, me, Renae, and Erin reading some books.

After the event we drove very, very slowly and carefully to Glen Ellyn to visit with my old friend Eric and meet his younger daughter, Ari, for the first time.

Eric and Ari, being cute.

Tomorrow, we head in to Chicago, but for tonight we play Rock Band with Eric. I've never played before, but if I'm any bit as good as I was at Big Buck Hunter at the roadhouse with Mark and John, then we're in for a rough evening.

Brother Stephen is an excellent shot. I kept missing elk and hitting raccoons. And trees. And cows. And air.