Friday, December 18, 2015

Bishop Hill Book Signing

Saint Lucia’s Day is celebrated throughout Scandinavian countries as a festival of light. Likewise, in Bishop Hill you’ll find sidewalks lined with hundreds of luminaria, votives set out in simple bags, and windows aglow with still more candles, some real, on the Friday and Saturday nights closest to Dec. 13th.

I was there this year as chauffeur and helper for Lilly Setterdahl. She held a book signing in Bishop Hill’s new Welcome Center for her 19th book, Second Love After 50.

We had perfect weather, as in no snow, for our afternoon. Lilly spent two hours talking to people and selling her new book as well as copies of her other books. I walked the streets visiting old friends and trying to take in all the “new” the village had to offer.

Lilly and I couldn’t stay for the evening’s light show; we had to get back to the Quad Cities. I had to be content with my memories of years past when I spent many chilly hours in the Blacksmith Shop stoking the wood-burning stoves, eating cookies, and drinking the spiced cider. (I would occasionally try some homemade glögg just to see how much pain I could endure.)

From age 9 on my boys and their friends had the run of the village when they weren’t in service as Tomtes and St. Lucia girls. They were free ranging before we had that term.

I dropped Lilly and her gear off in East Moline and had a lot to think about as I made my way across the river to Davenport. I passed a lot of houses decorated for the season, some quite lavishly, but none had the lovely warm glow of the hundreds of candles that filled my memory.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Jan Brett

Somewhere along the line, I missed out on the phenomenon of children’s literature that is Jan Brett. That omission was rectified when I met up with her on a recent sunny Sunday morning at the main branch of the Davenport Public Library.

I should say I met up with her and her entourage. Brett was accompanied by: her husband, a musician in the Boston Symphony; a pair of live Bantam chickens (I’m going to guess that the egg she held up was just the shell); two large fuzzy costumed creatures (one of which had to be a hedgehog); a staff of 3 or 4 people from Iowa City’s Prairie Lights bookstore (there to sell books); and a full compliment of local librarians brought in for extra duty.

Brett’s custom decorated tour bus rolled into Davenport as part of the tour for her latest book, The Turnip, a lavishly illustrated children’s picture book based on a Russian folktale.

I got there soon after the doors opened and picked up a nice assortment of promotional handouts. I readily accepted everything for the purpose of marketing research. My blue mitten indicated what group I was assigned to if I bought a book and wanted it signed. Blue turned out to be the second of four groups. That was an impressive amount of organization. When I saw the length of the line waiting to buy books—I knew it was needed. The tour bus, a crowd of over four hundred people: Brett had indeed achieved “rock star” status.

Brett’s thirty minute talk was part reading and part drawing lesson. I was impressed that she never talked down to the kids in the audience. She used scientific names and terminology to describe the chickens and explain the differences between male and female. Scientific and G-rated. The lesson went well over the top in terms of helpfulness and gentle encouragement for everyone to try their hand at drawing.

I plan to add this experience to my cache of marketing info. I will never be at this level, but there’s still a lot to be learned at the feet of a master.

Friday, December 4, 2015

POV Revisited (Again)

I finished Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News. I’m impressed with how well she handled all the interconnected story lines. More than the story lines, she fully fleshed out the characters—warts and all.

Rereading it made me realize (again) that I did the right thing by limiting my novel to one main POV. I had given each of my four POV characters a good beginning, but having two of them suddenly become quiet after a pivotal scene had been a mistake. Atkinson had her three main POV characters speaking to the reader till the very end. They were allowed plenty of room to wrap up their subplots—for the most part. Some loose threads lingered. A few mysteries remained. Quite enough for her next work in the series.

Her attitude about the lingering mysteries of life:

“Everywhere you looked, there was unfinished business and unanswered questions…

…Everything would remain a mystery. Which meant, if you thought about it, that you should try and clear everything up as much as you could while you were still alive. Find the answers, solve the mysteries, be a good detective. Be a crusader.”

I think “try” is the operative word here. So, if I try this again, having multiple POVs, I’ll have a great example to fall back on. Another case where a writer doesn’t have to play by the strict rules of a genre to succeed.