Posts Tagged ‘author talks’

20150911_191359I’ve been terribly delinquent about writing up the Jack Gantos talk I attended a few weeks ago, when he came to Porter Square Books to promote his latest novel/memoir, The Trouble In Me.

Gantos being Gantos, he took a long, meandering path toward explaining his book. It took him 15 minutes to mention Trouble. First, he summarized his writing process (fountain pen and paper), and how every book crystallizes through the messy process of jotting down random ideas and observations in a journal, which he carries everywhere. Somehow he transitioned from this to reminiscing about his childhood, and the day he stood on the U.S.S. Intrepid watching a military plane explode in the sky after a mechanical failure (no one was hurt–the pilot parachuted safely down). His father’s naval career features quite prominently in Trouble, not to mention Dead End in Norvelt.


Read Full Post »

penderwicks in springI was lucky enough to catch Jeanne Birdsall on her book tour to promote The Penderwicks in Spring. Porter Square Books was packed all the way to the door–and the person we have to thank for it all is a young Penderwicks fan who wrote to Birdsall awhile back, asking her to put the bookstore on her list of tour locations. That fan was in the crowd when Birdsall spoke, and I hope she got a free book or two as a reward.

Predictably enough, one of the first questions Birdsall got was, “where do you get your ideas?” You could almost sense Birdsall rolling her eyes, but she must be used to it by now, and patiently explained the influence of childhood favorites like Five Children And It, not to mention Little Women (though she stressed several times she wouldn’t be killing off any of the sisters). She also emphasized her steadfast belief in the importance of books for the 8-12 age range, which is why Penderwicks in Spring leaps forward five years in time, allowing Batty, age 10, to be our narrator. Although Jane, Skye and Rosalind show up, we never see anything from their perspective, and Birdsall confirmed she has no desire to get inside their teenage brains. Other highlights from her talk:

  • the Penderwicks have a new sibling! Lydia, age two, was added to the story so Birdsall could write the fifth and final book from Lydia’s perspective, when she’ll be ten or so. If Lydia’s toddler personality is anything to go on, I have high hopes for the sequel.
  • by Penderwicks in Spring, faithful Hound was so old he had to die, but Birdsall was kind enough to kill him off between books. Not that it made it any easier…any mention of Hound in this book is a tearjerker.
  • Hound’s willing-to-eat-anything personality is based on a dog Birdsall had as a kid. Her dog really did eat everything, including the labels off all the canned goods in the kitchen, setting off pandemonium on the cooking front.
  • for anyone who dreads the prospect of a Penderwicks movie, fear not. Birdsall has no intention of selling the rights, and she’s not a fan of the book-to-movie route, since it ruins how every reader has imagined the book. As Birdsall pointed out, can anyone separate Harry Potter from the face of Daniel Radcliffe anymore?
  • when Birdsall first began writing, the Penderwicks were named the Pendergasts. But when Birdsall showed the draft to friend and fellow author Patricia MacLachlan, MacLachlan, with much swearing, kept getting the name wrong by adding extra “r’s” where they didn’t belong, and got so frustrated she convinced Birdsall to change the name.
  • Birdsall may be the only New Englander who welcomed this past winter. Penderwicks in Spring begins in April, when there’s still snow on the ground. But the past winters have been so mild that Birdsall considered changing the book to begin in March–until this year, when the weather confirmed that snow in April still makes sense.

Read Full Post »

Tomie dePaola

my rendition of Tomie dePaola, give or take a couple pen strokes

This year, the Leslie Riedel Memorial Lecture brought beloved author and illustrator Tomie dePaola, whose career in children’s book spans fifty years, to the Concord Free Public Library on Saturday. In attendance were a handful of children and rows of adults. The adults may have had more fun.

DePaola is the kind of guest you hope for at dinner parties. With an impish grin, a ready laugh, and impeccable delivery, he had us in stitches the entire evening. From his perch on a plump leather swivel chair, dePaola regaled us with sassy unfiltered anecdotes from his life. Topics of conversation ranged from what theater and picture books have in common, to how he got his start as an author, to his most infuriating picture book pet peeves.

Below are some memorable moments from the event: (more…)

Read Full Post »

(sorry--no camera on hand)

(didn’t bring the camera)

Tollbooth fans, thank Colonel Lemuel Q Snoopnagle and Juster senior for Norton Juster’s particular brand of humor. Snoopnagle, on his radio program, specialized in spoonerisms (a play on words where two opening syllables are switched) while Juster senior, an architect, would greet his oblivious young son with puns every morning.

“You’re a good kid. I’d like to see you get ahead. You need one.”

Clearly, both influences rubbed off. Light dawned on marble head and Juster has been a gunny pie ever since.

As part of this year’s “Gateway to Reading” Lowell Lecture Series, Juster visited the Boston Public Library last week in an event moderated by Megan Lambert of Simmons college. While Lambert was on a mission to coax Juster into recounting for us some stories he had told her previously over coffee, Juster mostly read some passages from his famous book, The Phantom Tollbooth and shared some stories behind the story. The event was filmed and will be available on the BPL site, but in the meantime:

  • on his writing process: “I discovered as a writer I simply could not start here, end there. I could only do bits and pieces.” So he’d put all his pieces into a drawer and come back periodically to write more bits, until he had an entire story
  • while in the Navy, Juster began sketching, and he would hang his pictures all over the boat to dry. His captain chewed him out for drawing fairies and castles and elves.
  • Milo, of course, is Juster as a boy; Tock is the perfect mentor you can trust; and because life’s not like that, Juster threw in the Humbug
  • Feiffer's portrait of Juster

    Feiffer’s portrait of Juster

    on how Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist for The Village Voice, ended up illustrating Tollbooth: since they shared an apartment at one point, Feiffer was one of the first people to read Tollbooth. He liked it so much, he began drawing little scenes for fun

  • send in the cat cavalry: Feiffer was adamant about not drawing horses, so he begged Juster to put the armies of wisdom on cats instead. Juster said no. In fact, he went out of his way to describe impossible things to draw, for example, the Three Giants of Compromise
  • Feiffer’s revenge: the Whether Man is Feiffer’s portrait of Juster in a toga
  • the one little kid that got it: usually, kids want to know where his ideas come from, or how much he makes. At one school visit, though, a boy asked Juster what was the point of school, anyway, since all he did was memorize boring facts
  • Juster replied, to make connections between the facts–a life-long process
  • the boy: and then what?
  • Juster answered, and then you die.

Juster concluded the event with a Cinderella story ripe with spoonerisms. It ended with the kicker, “if the foo shits, wear it!” (Sigh. And that’s why spoonerisms have gone out of fashion.) Commented another little boy during the Q&A: what did that story mean? It made no sense.

If he had mentioned the lack of Rhyme and Reason, he would have brought down the house.

Read Full Post »

I highly recommend heading over to The Book Smugglers as they host daily guest bloggers throughout this December–including Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. A scholar of folklore as well, Wein chose to talk about the sympathetic magic of reading. In academic terms, she defines it as “objects exerting action ‘on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy.’” For example, a Hershey Bar wrapper and her Pennsylvania childhood.

Wein goes on to theorize that when we give objects and places from works of fiction special significance to bring a fictional world to life, that’s a form of sympathetic magic. I was surprised when she referenced as an example The Code Name Verity Effect, because while I do think we experienced the sympathetic magic of CNV, it wasn’t exactly in the way Wein describes.

In what we coined the “Code Name Verity Effect”, objects, phrases, and places associated with the book gained a certain “cool” status they did not previously possess. At the very basic level, we developed a “secret sympathy” for ordinary items like egg cups and combat boots because they reminded us of Code Name Verity. It was like being in on a secret, delightful. But those vintage egg cups and RAF issue boots didn’t make us feel any closer to Julie and Maddie, or make these characters any more real. Instead, reading about egg cups and combat boots in CNV made us want to geek out over egg cups and combat boots as they exist in our world. Simply put, if Maddie enjoyed eating an egg served in an egg cup, maybe I would, too.

Same idea with flying over the Pennines and visiting the Holy Island Seals. Before reading CNV, we didn’t even know they existed. But once we learned about them from Maddie and Julie, the strength of their (or Wein’s) narrative made these places seem special in and of themselves. It’s Wein’s writing that makes us feel an affinity for the seals, not the seals that increase our affinity for Maddie or Julie. Sympathetic magic, the other way around.

Here, let me explain in a diagram.

Here, let me explain in a diagram.

I’m trying to think of a case in my reading experience where Wein’s application of sympathetic magic–ordinary objects, made special from a treasured book, brought me closer to the world of the book–and I keep drawing a blank. I was too old to hope for a Hogwarts letter on my eleventh birthday when I read Harry Potter for the first time. And no amount of Bertie Botts Every Flavor merchandising will make me less of a Muggle. But a real world experience that allows me to relate better to a fictional character–I suppose that connects me to a fictional world more effectively than any object.

Read Full Post »

Ralph Waldo Emerson looks over Jerry's shoulder. Curiously, Emerson wrote one of two books in the Pinkney household. (The other was the Bible.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson looks over Jerry’s shoulder. Curiously, Emerson wrote one of two books in the Pinkney household. (The other was the Bible.)

Thanks to the Leslie Riedel Memorial Lecture for Young Readers, acclaimed illustrator Jerry Pinkney visited the Concord Free Public Library Saturday night (despite the temptation to take the exit leading to the Cape instead). With his wife Gloria’s help, Pinkney walked us through his acclaimed career–which spans almost half a century–as an illustrator of children’s books.

As a child, Pinkney drew on the bedroom walls and grew up in a household full of storytelling, so much so that he considers it among the few possessions his grandparents brought with them when they moved from the South to Philly. The animation and spirit of live storytelling is a quality he tries to capture in his artwork. (more…)

Read Full Post »

susan_cooperBeloved and best known for her The Dark Is Rising fantasy sequence, legendary author Susan Cooper introduced her latest novel, Ghost Hawk, to audiences at Porter Square Books yesterday evening.

Growing up in England during WWII, Cooper studied English under professors J.R.R. Tolkien (who mumbled during lectures) and C.S. Lewis (who had a flair for Renaissance literature). Because the Oxford curriculum extended only to 1832, she “inhaled myths” at university and read lots of Beowulf, Malory, and Spenser. As one friend put it, “they taught us to believe in dragons!” This, combined with her childhood experiences of being read to in bomb shelters during air raids and walking to school with a schoolbag and a gas mask slung over her shoulders, imbued her writing with a strong sense of place and Good & Evil–no surprise to anyone who’s read The Dark is Rising.

The concept for her “most challenging book yet” hatched from Cooper’s interest in place–this time, the woods surrounding her house in Marshfield, Massachusetts. After a trip to the library, she discovered the land she lived on was once inhabited by the Pokanoket tribe before the English deeded it to a man who was, of all things, a cooper.

ghost_hawkFrom there, she started to wonder how local relations between English settlers and Native American deteriorated so rapidly between the first Thanksgiving dinner and King Philip’s War just sixty years later. “I became obsessed with knowing what went wrong,” Cooper said, but “I wasn’t going to write a history book. I’m a storyteller. I make things up.” So she invented the characters of Little Hawk and John Wakely, who, despite their circumstances, develop a genuine but dangerous friendship.

That’s not to say Cooper’s research wasn’t extensive. She read piles of books and archival materials and all of Roger Williams’ letters. The process of writing Ghost Hawk became as mucha voyage of discovery” for herself as Little Hawk and John Wakely’s story is for us. As for the shocking turn of events midway through the book, Cooper assures readers that despite her penchant for brooding myths and her wartime upbringing, because she writes for children, she always leaves the last line of everything not in despair but with hope.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers